It was just sunset, but the children could not see the beautiful colours of the evening sky, after they had gone a short distance into the thick woods.
“Do you suppose there are any bears around?” whispered Bertha.
The trees looked very black. It seemed to the little girl as though she kept seeing the shadow of some big animal hiding behind them.
“No, indeed,” answered Hans, quite scornfully. “Too many people go along this path for bears to be willing to stay around here. You would have to go farther up into the forest to find them. But look quickly, Bertha. Do you see that rabbit jumping along? Isn’t he a big fellow?”
“See! Hans, he has noticed us. There he goes as fast as his legs can carry him.”
By this time, the children had reached the top of a hill. The trees grew very thick and close. On one side a torrent came rushing down over the rocks and stones. It seemed to say:
“I cannot stop for any one. But come with me, come with me, and I will take you to the beautiful Rhine. I will show you the way to pretty bridges, and great stone castles, and rare old cities. Oh, this is a wonderful world, and you children of the Black Forest have a great deal to see yet.”
“I love to listen to running water,” said Bertha. “It always has a story to tell us.”
“Do you see that light over there, away off in the distance?” asked Hans. “It comes from a charcoal-pit. I can hear the voices of the men at their work.”
“I shouldn’t like to stay out in the dark woods all the time and make charcoal,” answered his sister. “I should get lonesome and long for the sunlight.”
“It isn’t very easy work, either,” said Hans. “After the trees have been cut down, the pits have to be made with the greatest care, and the wood must be burned just so slowly to change it into charcoal. I once spent a day in the forest with some charcoal-burners. They told such good stories that night came before I had thought of it.”
“I can see the village ahead of us,” said Bertha, joyfully.
A few minutes afterward, the children were running up the stone steps of their own home.
“We had such a good time,” Hans told his mother, while Bertha went to Gretchen and gave her some cakes she had brought her from the coffee-party.
“I’m so sorry you couldn’t go,” she told her sister.
“Perhaps I can next time,” answered Gretchen. “But, of course, we could not all leave mother when she had so much work to do. So I just kept busy and tried to forget all about it.”
“You dear, good Gretchen! I’m going to try to be as patient and helpful as you are,” said Bertha, kissing her sister.
THE BEAUTIFUL CASTLE
“Father’s coming, father’s coming,” cried Bertha, as she ran down the steps and out into the street.