Irmgard was a little Swiss girl.
Her father was a guide, her brother was a herdsman, her sister was a dairymaid, and her mother was the dearest mother in the world, so Irmgard thought.
Irmgard had a cow. Yes, a cow of her very own. It was a present from her uncle who lived far away across the mountains.
He had sent the cow by her brother Peter, with a message which pleased Irmgard very much.
"Tell Irmgard," her uncle had said to Brother Peter, "that this cow is her own; and she must learn to milk, and churn, and print butter; for when I come at Christmas to see her I shall expect a pound of butter printed by her own little hands for my Christmas gift."
You can just imagine how Irmgard felt when she heard this! and her sister Rose promised to teach her how to do all these things, as soon as the cows came home from their summer pasture.
Now in Irmgard's country, when the winter snows melt, the herdsmen take the cows to pasture high up in the mountains, where the grass grows green and the cool winds blow.
The milkmaids go, too, to take care of the milk, and they all live happily in the highlands till the snow comes again in the fall.
Irmgard wanted her cow to go with the rest, of course; so the very first night after the cow came she told her all about it.
"The cows will be going to pasture very soon," she said to her, "and you will want to go, I know, so I will let you. You are my very own cow, but I will let you go where the little flowers bloom and the grass is so green. Brother Peter says it is a most wonderful place. You can see the snow on the mountain top, while you eat the grass on the mountain side. You must grow fat, too," said Irmgard, "and give a great deal of milk; for when you come back in the fall I shall milk you myself."
The cow chewed her cud, and switched her tail, as she listened, but Irmgard knew by her eyes that she was anxious to go.
It was a great day when the cows went to the pasture. All the cows in town went. They wore bells about their necks, and marched in a long line. Irmgard's cow had ribbons on her horns, and the little girl thought she was the prettiest cow in the whole line.
Irmgard watched the cows as long as they were in sight. Once her cow looked back and called "Moo! moo!" just as if she were saying good-by.
"Good-by," cried Irmgard.
"Good-by," said Brother Peter and Sister Rose, who were going, too; and away they all went, leaving Irmgard in the valley.
Summer was a busy time for Irmgard.
She was her mother's chief helper when
Sister Rose was away, and there was always
something for her to do. The days slipped
by so quickly that she was really astonished
one evening in the early fall, when her
father came in from a trip with some
"I passed the cows on the road to-day. They will be here to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" cried Irmgard, dancing with delight.
"Yes, to-morrow," said her father,"and your cow"—but here he stopped and put his hand over his mouth.
"I can't tell. It is a secret," he said, when Irmgard looked at him in wonder.
"Oh! father, father! please tell!" begged Irmgard. "What is it about my cow?"
But her father would not tell. "I can't
tell, even if you guess it," he said, "for
Brother Peter and Sister Rose said to me
again and again: 'Don't tell Irmgard that
Irmgard could not keep from guessing. "My cow gives more milk than any other cow!" No, that was not it, she knew by her father's smile. "Her milk is the richest!" Still she was wrong.
"Oh! mother," she cried, "what do you think it can be?"
"I am not going to guess," said her mother, "because it is a secret; but perhaps you will dream it when you go to sleep, to-night."
So Irmgard went to sleep, and dreamed all night of cool pastures and green grass and cows, but she could not dream what the wonderful secret was.
Early the next morning she went out and sat by the roadside, and waited and watched,—waited and watched until it seemed to her as if she could not wait another minute; and just about then she heard a sound far up the road.
Tinkle, tinkle! Irmgard knew what that meant. The cows were coming!
Tinkle, tinkle! They were a little nearer.
Tinkle, tinkle! There they came!
The leader cow stepped proudly in front. Then came Irmgard's Aunt Gundel's cows. They were very sleek and very fat.
The herdsmen nodded to the little girl. "Good morning, Irmgard," they said, and they smiled as if they knew the secret.
Then came her next-door neighbor's cows. He was with them himself, and he, too, looked at Irmgard.
"Good news for you," he called as he passed.
"Oh! what can it be? What can it be?" cried Irmgard. "Will they never come?"
At last her mother's cows came slowly down the path. There were six of them, and they greeted Irmgard with their soft, loving eyes. "We know," they seemed to say, "but we cannot tell."
Irmgard almost held her breath with excitement. There came Sister Rose (she was smiling) and Brother Peter (so was he) and her cow,—and close behind trotted the dearest, loveliest, frisky baby calf!
The secret was out, and Irmgard was the happiest little girl in Switzerland. Her cow had a calf.