UP IN THE ASH-TREES THE BIRDS PIPED AND SANG MERRILY TOGETHER.
WHERE HAVE YOU COME FROM WITH ALL YOUR HOUSEHOLD GOODS?
SUCH STRAY WAIFS AS YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DO ANYTHING.
WHAT SAMI SINGS WITH THE BIRDS
OLD MARY ANN
For three days the Spring sun had been shining out of a clear sky and
casting a gleaming, golden coverlet over the blue waters of Lake Geneva.
Storm and rain had ceased. The breeze murmured softly and pleasantly up
in the ash-trees, and all around in the green fields the yellow
buttercups and snow-white daisies glistened in the bright sunshine. Under
the ash-trees, the clear brook was running with the cool mountain water
and feeding the gaily nodding primroses and pink anemones on the
hillside, as they grew and bloomed down close to the water.
On the low wall by the brook, in the shadow of the ash-trees, an old
woman was sitting. She was called "Old Mary Ann" throughout the whole
neighborhood. Her big basket, the weight of which had become a little
heavy, she had put down beside her. She was on her way back from La Tour,
the little old town, with the vine-covered church tower and the ruined
castle, the high turrets of which rose far across the blue lake. Old Mary
Ann had taken her work there. This consisted in all kinds of mending
which did not need to be done particularly well, for the woman was no
longer able to do fine work, and never could do it.
Old Mary Ann had had a very changeable life. The place where she now
found herself was not her home. The language of the country was not her
own. From the shady seat on the low wall, she now looked contentedly at
the sunny fields, then across the murmuring brook to the hillside where
the big yellow primroses nodded, while the birds piped and sang in the
green ash-trees above her, as if they had the greatest festival to
"Every Spring, people think it never was so beautiful before, when they
have already seen so many," she now said half aloud to herself, and as
she gazed at the fields so rich in flowers, many of the past years rose
up and passed before her, with all that she had experienced in them.
As a child she had lived far beyond the mountains. She knew so well how
it must look over there now at her father's house, which stood in a field
among white-blooming pear-trees. Over yonder the large village with its
many houses could be seen. It was called Zweisimmen. Everybody called
their house the sergeant's house, although her father quite peacefully
tilled his fields. But that came from her grandfather. When quite a young
fellow, he had gone over the mountains to Lake Geneva and then still
farther to Savoy. Under a Duke of Savoy he had taken part in all sorts of
military expeditions and had not returned home until he was an old man.
He always wore an old uniform and allowed himself to be called sergeant.
Then he married and Mary Ann's father was his only child. The old man
lived to be a hundred years old, and every child in all the region round
knew the old sergeant.
Mary Ann had three brothers, but as soon as one of them grew up he
disappeared, she knew not where. Only this much she understood, that
her mother mourned over them, but her father said quite resignedly
every time: "We can't help it, they will go over the mountains; they
take it from their grandfather." She had never heard anything more
about her brothers.
When Mary Ann grew up and married, her young husband also came into the
house among the pear-trees, for her father was old and could no longer do
his work alone. But after a few years Mary Ann buried her young husband;
a burning fever had taken him off. Then came hard times for the widow.
She had her child, little Sami, to care for, besides her old, infirm
parents to look after, and moreover there was all the work to be done in
the house and in the fields which until now her husband had attended to.
She did what she could, but it was of no use, the land had to be given up
to a cousin. The house was mortgaged, and Mary Ann hardly knew how to
keep her old parents from want. Gradually young Sami grew up and was able
to help the cousin in the fields. Then the old parents died about the
same time, and Mary Ann hoped now by hard work and her son's help little
by little to pay up her debts and once more take possession of her fields