It was in the autumn of 1863, only a few weeks after Mr. Hahn’s visit to Ginzling and Dornauberg. There were war and rumors of war in the air. The Austrians and the Prussians were both mobilizing army-corps after army-corps, and all the Tyrolese youth, liable to service, were ordered to join their regiments. The Schleswig-Holstein question was being violently debated in the German and the English press, the former clamoring for blood, the latter counselling moderation. The Danish press was as loud-mouthed as any, and, if the battles could have been fought with words, would no doubt have come out victorious.
It had been a sad day at the Hill-top. Early in the morning Hansel, with a dozen other young fellows of the neighborhood, had marched away to the music of fife and drum, and there was no knowing when they would come back again. A dismal whitish fog had been hovering about the fields all day long, but had changed toward evening into a fine drizzling rain,—one of those slow, hopeless rains that seem to have no beginning and no end. Old Mother Uberta, who, although she pretended to be greatly displeased at Ilka’s matrimonial choice, persisted in holding her responsible for all her lover’s follies, had been going about the house grumbling and scolding since the early dawn.
“Humph,” said Mother Uberta, as she lighted a pine-knot and stuck it into a crack in the wall (for it was already dark, and candles were expensive), “it is a great sin and shame—the lad is neither crooked nor misshapen—the Lord has done well enough by him, Heaven knows; and yet never a stroke of work has he done since his poor father went out of the world as naked as he came into it. A shiftless, fiddling, and galavanting set they have always been, and me then as has only this one lass, givin’ her away, with my eyes wide open, into misery.”
Ilka, who was sitting before the open fire-place mingling her furtive tears with the wool she was carding, here broke into a loud sob, and hid her face in her hands.
“You always say mean things to me, mother, when Hansel is away,” sobbed she, “but when he is here, you let on as if you liked him ever so much.”
The mother recognized this as a home-thrust, and wisely kept silent. She wet her finger-tips, twirled the thread, stopped the wheel, inspected some point in its mechanism with a scowl of intense preoccupation, and then spun on again with a severe concentration of interest as if lovers were of small consequence compared to spinning-wheels. Mother Uberta was a tall, stately woman of fifty, with a comely wrinkled face, and large, well-modelled features. You saw at once that life was a serious business to her, and that she gave herself no quarter.