The cemetery where the two little children played, about whom I would like to tell, was high up on a green hillside.
The little village to which it belonged was situated high enough above the wooded valley so that it was often hidden in the
clouds when a boat went by on the blue river below. But the cemetery was even up higher than the village so that its many
black crosses stood out markedly against the blue sky. But it was a hard climb for the funeral processions from the village
to the churchyard because the path that led to the green patch where the chapel was was steep and rocky. But they did it
gladly. For people who live in the mountains cannot stand to be in a valley; it makes them dull and anxious, like it would us
if we had to live in a deep cellar, and so the dead would feel it all the more. They must be buried high up high on the hill so
they can look out into the distance and down into the valley where the boats glide by on the water below.
In a corner of the churchyard there was an abandoned grave. There was nothing but grass on it and a few white and
blue wild flowers lay hidden that no one had planted. For in that grave lay an old bachelor who had neither wife or children
or any other relatives to look after it. He had come from a foreign country but no one knew from where. Every morning he
would climb to the top of the hill and would sit there for hours on end. But he soon died and they buried him. Certainly he
must have had a name but no one knew what it was, not even the grave digger. In the church records there were only
three crosses and beside them the words "an old foreign bachelor, died on such and such a day in the year of Our Lord
such and such".—
That is scant information indeed; but the two little children of the gravedigger about whom I wish to tell, liked that old
abandoned grave in a corner of churchyard; for they were allowed to play on it and tramp around on it as much as they
liked, but they were not allowed to go near the other graves. Those graves were carefully attended to; on them the grass
was cut and trimmed and there were many different flowers in bloom which the gravedigger tended to dutifully every day
with water he had to carry up with great effort from the fountain in the village. On many graves there were even wreaths
and colored ribbons.
"Kati," said the little boy who was kneeling at the abandoned grave and looking with delight at the opening he had dug
at the side of the grave with his little hands, "Kati, our house is finished. I have decorated it with colored stones and
strewn flower petals on it. I am the father and you are the mother. ”Good morning, Mother, what are our children doing?"
"Hans," murmured Kati, "you must not rush things. I have no children yet but I will soon have some." Then she ran in
among the graves and bushes and came back with both hands filled with snails:
"Look here, Father, I already have seven children, seven wonderful little snails!"
"Now let us put them to bed right away, for it is already late."
They plucked green leaves and laid them in the opening, put the colored snail shells on them and covered each one
again with a green leaf.
"Now be quiet, Hans," stammered the little girl. I must sing my children to sleep; I have to be all alone to do that. The
father never sings. In the meantime you can go about your chores."
And Hans ran off and Kati sang with her fine voice:
"Go to sleep all of you,
My seven little ones
In your soft beds.
Slumber sweet, sleep long,
Keep your feet tucked in
Keep them under cover!"
But one leaf started to move and one of the snails under it stuck out its head with tiny horns. Kati tapped its head
with her finger and said: "Wait, Gustel, you are always the naughty one! This morning you did not want to be combed. Go
back to bed now!" And she sang her song again:
"Slumber sweet, sleep long,
Keep your feet tucked in
Keep them under cover!"
When you are asleep,
An angel enters in
Sees all seven of you:
You children white and red,
Greetings from God above,
Have all of you been good?
All seven of mine are good,
Want to enter heaven,
For milk and rolls we thank.
Take greetings back with you:
None let the feet stick out,
All kept under cover."
When she finished singing all seven snails had fallen asleep, or at least they were all still, and since Hans had not yet
returned Kati made a round of the churchyard and looked for more snails. She collected a good number in her apron and
returned to the grave with them. Hans was sitting there waiting.
"Father," she called to him, "Now I have a hundred more children!"
"Listen here," chided Hans, "a hundred children are a lot. We only have one plate and two spoons. What should the
children eat with? No mother has a hundred children. We cannot manage a hundred names. And how should we baptize
our children? Take them all away!"
"No, Hans," said the little girl, "a hundred children, that's just right. I need every one of them."—
Meanwhile the grave digger's wife came with an afternoon snack consisting of two large buttered rolls. She kissed both
children, lifted them up and set them on the grave and said: "Take good care of your new aprons."
They sat there in silence like sparrows and ate.—
But down in the grave the old bachelor heard everything; for the dead hear every word exactly that is spoken on their
grave. He thought about the time when he was a young boy. He had known a little girl, too, and they had played together,
had built houses and had played husband and wife. And then he thought of a later time when he saw the little girl again
when she had grown up. After that he had never heard anything more from her for he had gone his own way and his way
must not have been so nice, and the more he thought about it, and the more the children on his grave went on talking,
the sadder he became. He started to cry and could not stop. And when the gravedigger's wife seated the children on his
grave right over his breast he cried even more. He tried to reach out his arms for he felt that he had to embrace them and
press them to his heart. But that was impossible for on him lay six feet of heavy earth and that was very heavy indeed. He
cried all the more and was still crying long after the gravedigger's wife had taken the children and put them to bed.
On the next morning when the gravedigger went walking through the churchyard he found a spring flowing out from
the old abandoned grave. It came from the tears the old bachelor had shed. It flowed crystal clear from the grave and was
coming out of the opening where the children had dug out their little house. The gravedigger was delighted for now he
would no longer have to fetch water for the flowers from the village and carry it up the steep path. He hollowed out a little
channel for the water and put stones along its edge. From then on he watered all the flowers in the churchyard with the
water from the new spring, and the flowers that bloomed there were more beautiful than ever before. But he did not water
the grave where the old bachelor lay because it was just an old, abandoned grave that no one ever asked about. But in
spite of that, the wild mountain flowers grew on it more profusely than on any other grave, and both children would often
sit beside the spring, play with their paddle wheel and let their paper boats sail in the stream.—
|A Children's Story
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides