The cold, dismal December days had come. It was always long after dark now, before Veronica got home; but she never had to hurry, for fear of going through the wood alone, for there stood Blasi always ready at the turf hut on the edge of Fohrensee, just where the houses ceased and it began to be lonely. If it was fine, he was walking up and down before the hut; if it stormed, he was standing under the shelter of the roof. He was never absent and he never came too late. Yet he was busy all day long, and had to run half the way to get to the hut in time. His master did not let him off one moment before the appointed day’s work was over, Blasi’s application to learn the saddler’s trade had been favorably received by Gertrude and he had set to work at once. Now that he worked from morning till night he never had time to put his hands in his pockets, and the saddler kept him up to the mark, proud of showing how well he himself understood the business. Blasi was contented, and more than contented with his life; he had a new and very happy consciousness of being of use, and he had risen in his own estimation. He felt like a man of property, almost like a gentleman. By the time he had finished his day’s work, and hurried down to Fohrensee and walked back again, he was so tired that he was ready to go to bed directly; he had no time nor desire to loaf. And so it came about that when Veronica wished to give him his piece of money every evening he objected; for he said he did not want to be paid; he preferred to have his services accepted on the ground of friendship. Veronica consented to accept them on that ground, but from time to time she would say, “Blasi, this is your birthday,” or “To-day is the cherry-festival, I should like to make you a little present,” or “I have had extra work to-day, and I should like to give you part of the extra pay, for if you had not been coming for me, I could not have waited to do it, so it is fairly yours;” and each time she pressed into his hand such a large piece of money that he soon had a considerable sum laid away. Then one day she gave him a silk handkerchief; and another day half-a-dozen new shirts, white as snow; and then again a package of handkerchiefs hemmed and ready for use; and all this increase of property raised his standard of living, and excited his ambition.
The night before Christmas, Veronica was late in coming home. It was dark and stormy. She had been delayed at the school, making preparations for leaving everything in order for the holiday.
When she came into the sitting-room she found her mother at work by lamp-light, mending a ragged old mail-bag. Advancing years had told upon Gertrude; and although industrious as ever, she could not work as easily as she once did.
“Oh mother, I cannot let you do that heavy piece of work,” said Veronica, as soon as she saw what her mother was about. “Didn’t I tell you that I would come home in time to dress the house for Christmas, and now you have not only done all that, but you are at work on that old mail-bag. I can’t bear to have you do so. Why won’t you let me do something for you, and take a little rest yourself. You look so tired.”