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Poor Theodora lived in a lonesome cottage in a wood, not far distant from the banks of the Danube. Her husband, who was a fisherman, had died, in the bloom of life, only a short time before. The one comfort which she had in her early widowhood was her only son, a kind, handsome boy, of about five years old, who was called Augustus. That which she considered of the greatest importance, was the teaching him to be good and pious; and her unceasing care was to preserve for him the paternal cottage, and the right of fishing. It is true that she had been obliged for the present to give up the fishing; and the fishing tackle of her late husband, as it hung useless on the wall, and his fishing-boat, which lay turned upside down near the cottage, were painful sights to her. In the meantime she supported herself and her son by making fishing-nets, in which she was very skilful; and often at midnight, when little Augustus had been long asleep, she worked unweariedly for him. Nor had the little fellow, on his part, any other thought than how to give his mother pleasure. The good mother wept on every occasion which reminded her of her late husband : and Augustus, when he saw this, did all that lay in his childish power to comfort her. A few days after the death of her beloved husband, her brother, who was a fisherman in the next village, came and brought her a fish as a present. Theodora looked at the beautiful carp, and began to weep: “Ah!” said she; “ I did not think that I should ever have had again such a fine fish in my cottage.”
“Do not cry, mother!” said little Augustus; “ when I am a great man I will catch you fish enough.”
The sorrowful mother smiled again, and said, “ Yes, Augustus, I hope that you will some day be the comfort of my age. Be only as good and upright a man as your father, and I shall then be the happiest of mothers.”
Once, upon a fine autumn day, Theodora, from early morning, was busied upon a large fishing-net, which she wished to finish that day. In the meantime the boy collected, in the surrounding wood, beech-nuts, from which his mother wanted to press the oil, in order that she might have a cheap light for her netting in the long winter evenings. Little Augustus rejoiced, above all things, whenever he could bring to his mother his oblong, deep, hand-basket heaped up with beechnuts. His mother praised him always when he did so, in order to animate him to industry, and to accustom him to a life of labour. It was now getting towards noon, and the little fellow was hungry and weary: at length the mid-day bell sounded in the next village, and his mother called him to dinner. She had set out the little dinner, which consisted
of a dishful of milk, into which bread had been broken, under the beautiful beech-tree that stood not far from the cottage in an open green space of the wood.
After the bread and milk had been eaten, and the dish was empty, the mother said to the boy, “ Now lie down in the shade of the tree and sleep a little : I will go on with my work, and will come again at the right time and wake you. Now, sleep well!” cried she, as she looked round her once again, and then went with the empty dish into the cottage.
In a little while she returned and looked. The little boy lay sleeping on the green turf: his curly head rested on one arm, whilst the other was thrown round his tidy little basket. He smiled in sleep, and his countenance and his rosy cheek were sweetly shaded by the wavering beach-leaves.
She hastened back again to her work, and netted on industriously till the net was finished. The hours passed, over her work, like so many minutes. She went now to waken little Augustus, but she found him no longer under the beech-tree.
“ The industrious child is again at his work with his little basket,” said she, joyfully. Ah! she foreboded not what a grief awaited her.
She went back again, and spread out the net upon the green turf. She found here and there a place in it which required mending; and so a considerable time passed. But as the boy still did not come back with his basket, she began to be uneasy about him. She sought for him through the whole wood, which was about three miles long, and a mile and a half broad, but she found him nowhere. She shouted a hundred times, “ Augustus !-Augustus !” but she received no answer.
She was very much frightened: she felt the most extreme anxiety. “If he should,” said she, “ have forgotten the warning which I have often so earnestly repeated, and have ventured down to the water !” She trembled at the very thought, and ran down to the river: but neither could she perceive anything of him there. She then went weeping and lamenting to the village. A crowd of people collected round the mourning mother: all had compassion on her, especially her brother: not one of them, however, knew anything of the boy. In the meantime, the whole village assembled determined, with one mind, to seek the child. Some betook themselves to the wood, others to the surrounding country, and others again to the river, to look for him. Night approached, and nowhere had anybody discovered the least trace of him.
“ If he be drowned in the Danube," said one of the fishermen of the village, “we shall certainly find the body. We know the course of the water well: below there, on the gravel, where the great willow-tree stands, it will certainly cast him up again.”
The mother shuddered at these words, and went back to her cottage full of distress, and watched and wept there solitarily through the night. As soon as the light of morning shewed itself, she hastened down to the river, to find, perhaps, there the body of her beloved child. Yes, for many days and many weeks went she, every morning and evening, with terrified heart, and wandered lamenting up and down the stream. The fishermen who, in the early dawn, were on the river at their daily work, or were returning from it late in the evening, saw her often wandering thus, and often, too, raising her hands to heaven, and were all of them heartily sorry for her.
So passed on a long time. The body never came to view :