Dietrich, the sheriff of Wildbach, who had once owned considerable property, had for several years been falling into bad ways and by this means had lost his position and his salary. His only occupation was cutting a few tufts of grass from his uncultivated fields, and carrying it home to feed his poor little goat; for himself and his foster-child there were only a few potatoes and a little milk.
After dinner Dietrich would vanish and not appear again until toward night to milk the goat. Then he was seen no more at home; but everyone knew that he sat in the tavern until late at night, and that soon house and land and goat would be taken from him to pay his debts.
As long as his wife had lived things had gone better. They had had more land and a cow, and the wife had worked industriously early and late.
They had never had any children of their own, but an orphan niece of Dietrich’s had been living with them for three years. He had lost his wife the year before, and since then things had gone so rapidly from bad to worse that everyone wondered at the child’s fresh, blooming appearance. She was now eight years old and was everywhere called Rose-Resli, for she was never seen without a rose in her hand or in her mouth. Resli — her real name was Theresa — had such a love for roses, that she gazed with her merry blue eyes so longingly into every garden where roses grew, that the owners inside would call out kindly: “Would you like one?” And Rose-Resli, beaming with delight, would stretch her little hand through the fence and receive her prize gratefully.
So the child was always seen surrounded with roses as soon as they began to bloom, and every one knew the blooming Rose-Resli and were fond of her.
She did not see much of her uncle. In the morning she went to school and at noon he usually said:
“I shall not be home to-night, but you will find something to eat.”
But the cupboard was always empty. It was well that here and there a child at school gave Rose-Resli apples or pears, or even a slice of bread, and often when she had to go hungry, she could run freely to the gardens round about where the roses grew, and gather a few, and in this pleasure she would forget everything else.
To-day again the child had found no supper, but for all that she skipped happily across the meadows. It was a bright Summer evening. The butterflies were fluttering up and down in the blue air and high above the swallows flew round in a circle, twittering, summer-like, and all about in the meadows the crickets were chirping merrily, so that Rose-Resli became more and more gladsome and jumped higher and higher as if she would fly away with the butterflies. Thus in a short time she came to a garden, which lay at a distance, on a wooded hill, and always had the most beautiful roses. The garden was surrounded by a wooden fence, and Rose-Resli quickly climbed up on the lower rail and looked longingly into the garden.
“Come right in,” called a voice from behind the trees; “I know very well what you are looking for; to-day you shall have some more roses.”
Rose-Resli didn’t wait to be asked a second time. She stepped quickly inside, went straight to the fragrant rose-bed and looked in wonderment at the multitude of red and white, light and dark blossoms, glowing and giving forth their perfume together. Then the President’s wife, the owner of the garden, came up to her. She had many times before given roses to Resli, and had just now called her to come in.
“You have come at just the right time to-day, Resli,” she said. “You shall have a big bunch, but many of the roses are ready to fall, you see, so you must be a little quiet and not jump so high, as you usually do, or all the petals will fall off the flowers before you reach home.”
Then the President’s wife carefully cut a rose here and another there, and then two together, light and dark red and white ones, until she made a big, large, wonderful bouquet. Rose-Resli’s eyes grew bigger and bigger, for she had never held anything so wonderfully beautiful in her hand before. But here and there the fragrant petals were falling to the ground and the bare stems looked so sad among the other flowers, that Rose-Resli seemed quite alarmed.
“See! see!” said the lady warningly, “you will have to walk very slowly to your house, or you will not have three left with their petals on when you get there.”
Rose-Resli thanked her politely and started on her way back. This led her past a miserable little hut where lived the “Sorrow-mother,” a quiet woman with a sorrowful face. Rose-Resli had never heard her called anything else, and supposed that she had no other name.