TWO VISITS AND WHAT CAME OF THEM
QUICKLY the winter passed, and still more quickly the bright glad summer, and now another winter was drawing to its close. Heidi was still as light-hearted and happy as the birds, and looked forward with more delight each day to the coming spring, when the warm south wind would roar through the fir trees and blow away the snow, and the warm sun would entice the blue and yellow flowers to show their heads, and the long day's out on the mountain would come again, which seemed to Heidi the greatest joy that the earth could give. Heidi was now in her eighth year; she had learnt all kinds of useful things from her grandfather; she knew how to look after the goats as well as any one, and Little Swan and Bear would follow her like two faithful dogs, and give a loud bleat of pleasure when they heard her voice. Twice during the course of this last winter Peter had brought up a message from the schoolmaster at Dörfli, who sent word to Alm-Uncle that he ought to send Heidi to school, as she was over the usual age, and ought indeed to have gone the winter before. Uncle had sent word back each time that the schoolmaster would find him at home if he had anything he wished to say to him, but that he did not intend to send Heidi to school, and Peter had faithfully delivered his message.
When the March sun had melted the snow on the mountainside and the snowdrops were peeping out all over the valley, and the fir trees had shaken off their burden of snow and were again merrily waving their branches in the air, Heidi ran backwards and forwards with delight first to the goat-shed then to the fir trees, and then to the hut door, in order to let her grandfather know how much larger a piece of green there was under the trees, and then would run off to look again, for she could hardly wait till everything was green and the full beautiful summer had clothed the mountain with grass and flowers. As Heidi was thus running about one sunny March morning, and had just jumped over the water-trough for the tenth time at least, she nearly fell backwards into it with fright, for there in front of her, looking gravely at her, stood an old gentleman dressed in black. When he saw how startled she was, he said in a kind voice, “Don’t be afraid of me, for I am very fond of children. Shake hands! You must be the Heidi I have heard of; where is your grandfather?”
“He is sitting by the table, making round wooden spoons,” Heidi informed him, as she opened the door.
He was the old village pastor from Dörfli who had been a neighbor of Uncle’s when he lived down there, and had known him well. He stepped inside the hut, and going up to the old man, who was bending over his work, said, “Good-morning, neighbor.”
The grandfather looked up in surprise, and then rising said Good-morning” in return. He pushed his chair towards the visitor as he continued, “If you do not mind a wooden seat there is one for you.”
The pastor sat down. “It is a long time since I have seen you, neighbor,” he said.
“Or I you,” was the answer.
“I have come to-day to talk over something with you,” continued the pastor. “I think you know already what it is that has brought me here,” and as he spoke he looked towards the child who was standing at the door, gazing with interest and surprise at the stranger.
“Heidi, go off to the goats,” said her grandfather. “You take them a little salt and stay with them till I come.”
Heidi vanished on the spot.
“The child ought to have been at school a year ago, and most certainly this last winter,” said the pastor. “The school-master sent you word about it, but you gave him no answer. What are you thinking of doing with the child, neighbor?”
“I am thinking of not sending her to school,” was the answer.
The visitor, surprised, looked across at the old man, who was sitting on his bench with his arms crossed and a determined expression about his whole person.
“How are you going to let her grow up then?” he asked.
“I am going to let her grow up and be happy among the goats and birds; with them she is safe, and will learn nothing evil.”
“But the child is not a goat or a bird, she is a human being. If she learns no evil from these comrades of hers, she will at the same time learn nothing; but she ought not to grow up in ignorance, and it is time she began her lessons. I have come now that you may have leisure to think over it, and to arrange about it during the summer. This is the last winter that she must be allowed to run wild; next winter she must come regularly to school every day.”
“She will do no such thing,” said the old man with calm determination.
“Do you mean that by no persuasion can you be brought to see reason, and that you intend to stick obstinately to your decision?” said the pastor, growing somewhat angry. “You have been about the world, and must have seen and learnt much, and I should have given you credit for more sense, neighbor.”
“Indeed,” replied the old man, and there was a tone in his voice that betrayed a growing irritation on his part too, “and does the worthy pastor really mean that he would wish me next winter to send a young child like that some miles down the mountain on ice-cold mornings, through storm and snow, and let her return at night when the wind is raging, when even one like ourselves would run a risk of being blown down by it and buried in the snow? And perhaps he may not have forgotten the child’s mother, Adelaide? She was a sleep-walker, and had fits. Might not the child be attacked in the same way if obliged to over-exert herself? And some one thinks they can come and force me to send her? I will go before all the courts of justice in the country, and then we shall see who will force me to do it!”
“You are quite right, neighbor,” said the pastor in a friendly tone of voice. “I see it would have been impossible to send the child to school from here. But I perceive that the child is dear to you; for her sake do what you ought to have done long ago: come down into Dörfli and live again among your fellowmen. What sort of a life is this you lead, alone, and with bitter thoughts towards God and man! If anything were to happen to you up here who would there be to help you? I cannot think but what you must be half-frozen to death in this hut in the winter, and I do not know how the child lives through it!”
“The child has young blood in her veins and a good roof over her head, and let me further tell the pastor, that I know where wood is to be found, and when is the proper time to fetch it; the pastor can go and look inside my wood-shed; the fire is never out in my hut the whole winter through. As to going to live below, that is far from my thoughts; the people despise me and I them; it is therefore best for all of us that we live apart.”
“No, no, it is not best for you; I know what it is you lack,” said the pastor in an earnest voice. “As to the people down there looking on you with dislike, it is not as bad as you think. Believe me, neighbor; seek to make your peace with God, pray for forgiveness where you need it, and then come and see how differently people will look upon you, and how happy you may yet be.”
The pastor had risen and stood holding out his hand to the old man as he added with renewed earnestness, “I will wager, neighbor, that next winter you will be down among us again, and we shall be good neighbors as of old. I should be very grieved if any pressure had to be put upon you; give me your hand and promise me that you will come and live with us again and become reconciled to God and man.”
Alm-Uncle gave the pastor his hand and answered him calmly and firmly, “You mean well by me I know, but as to that which you wish me to do, I say now what I shall continue to say, that I will not send the child to school nor come and live among you.”
“Then God help you!” said the pastor, and he turned sadly away and left the hut and went down the mountain.
Alm-Uncle was out of humor. When Heidi said as usual that afternoon, “Can we go down to grandmother now?” he answered, “Not to-day.” He did not speak again the whole of that day, and the following morning when Heidi again asked the same question, he replied, “We will see.” But before the dinner bowls had been cleared away another visitor arrived, and this time it was Cousin Dete. She had a fine feathered hat on her head, and a long trailing skirt to her dress which swept the floor, and on the floor of a goatherd’s hut there are all sorts of things that do not belong to a dress.
The grandfather looked her up and down without uttering a word. But Dete was prepared with an exceedingly amiable speech and began at once to praise the looks of the child. She was looking so well she should hardly have known her again, and it was evident that she had been happy and well-cared-for with her grandfather; but she had never lost sight of the idea of taking the child back again, for she well understood that the little one must be much in his way, but she had not been able to do it at first. Day and night, however, she had thought over the means of placing the child somewhere, and that was why she had come to-day, for she had just heard of something that would be a lucky chance for Heidi beyond her most ambitious hopes. Some immensely wealthy relatives of the people she was serving, who had the most splendid house almost in Frankfurt, had an only daughter, young and an invalid, who was always obliged to go about in a wheeled chair; she was therefore very much alone and had no one to share her lessons, and so the little girl felt dull. Her father had spoken to Dete’s mistress about finding a companion for her, and her mistress was anxious to help in the matter, as she felt so sympathetic about it. The lady-housekeeper had described the sort of child they wanted, simple-minded and unspoilt, and not like most of the children that one saw now-a-days. Dete had thought at once of Heidi and had gone off without delay to see the lady-housekeeper, and after Dete had given her a description of Heidi, she had immediately agreed to take her. And no one could tell what good fortune there might not be in store for Heidi, for if she was once with these people and they took a fancy to her, and anything happened to their own daughter—one could never tell, the child was so weakly—and they did not feel they could live without a child, why then the most unheard-of luck—
“Have you nearly finished what you had to say?” broke in Alm-Uncle, who had allowed her to talk on uninterruptedly so far.
“Ugh!” exclaimed Dete, throwing up her head in disgust, “one would think I had been talking to you about the most ordinary matter; why there is not one person in all Prättigau who would not thank God if I were to bring them such a piece of news as I am bringing you.”
“You may take your news to anybody you like, I will have nothing to do with it.”
But now Dete leaped up from her seat like a rocket and cried, “If that is all you have to say about it, why then I will give you a bit of my mind. The child is now eight years old and knows nothing, and you will not let her learn. You will not send her to church or school, as I was told down in Dörfli, and she is my own sister’s child. I am responsible for what happens to her, and when there is such a good opening for a child, as this which offers for Heidi, only a person who cares for nobody and never wishes good to any one would think of not jumping at it. But I am not going to give in, and that I tell you; I have everybody in Dörfli on my side; there is not one person there who will not take my part against you; and I advise you to think well before bringing it into court, if that is your intention; there are certain things which might be brought up against you which you would not care to hear, for when one has to do with law-courts there is a great deal raked up that had been forgotten.”
“Be silent!” thundered the Uncle, and his eyes flashed with anger. “Go and be done with you! and never let me see you again with your hat and feather, and such words on your tongue as you come with to-day!” And with that he strode out of the hut.
“You have made grandfather angry,” said Heidi, and her dark eyes had anything but a friendly expression in them as she looked at Dete.
“He will soon be all right again; come now, said Dete hurriedly, “and show me where your clothes are.”
“I am not coming,” said Heidi.
“Nonsense,” continued Dete; then altering her tone to one half-coaxing, half-cross, “Come, come, you do not understand any better than your grandfather; you will have all sorts of good things that you never dreamed of.” Then she went to the cupboard and taking out Heidi’s things rolled them up in a bundle. “Come along now, there’s your hat; it is very shabby but will do for the present; put it on and let us make haste off.”
“I am not coming,” repeated Heidi.
“Don’t be so stupid and obstinate, like a goat; I suppose it’s from the goats you have learnt to be so. Listen to me: you saw your grandfather was angry and heard what he said, that he did not wish to see us ever again; he wants you now to go away with me and you must not make him angrier still. You can’t think how nice it is at Frankfurt, and what a lot of things you will see, and if you do not like it you can come back again; your grandfather will be in a good temper again by that time.”
“Can I return at once and be back home again here this evening?” asked Heidi.
“What are you talking about, come along now! I tell you that you can come back here when you like. To-day we shall go as far as Mayenfeld, and early to-morrow we shall start in the train, and that will bring you home again in no time when you wish it, for it goes as fast as the wind.”
Dete had now got the bundle under her arm and the child by the hand, and so they went down the mountain together.
As it was still too early in the year to take his goats out, Peter continued to go to school at Dörfli, but now and again he stole a holiday, for he could see no use in learning to read, while to wander about a bit and look for stout sticks which might be wanted some day he thought a far better employment. As Dete and Heidi neared the grandmother’s hut they met Peter coming round the corner; he had evidently been well rewarded that day for his labors, for he was carrying an immense bundle of long thick hazel sticks on his shoulders. He stood still and stared at the two approaching figures; as they came up to him, he exclaimed, “Where are you going, Heidi?”
“I am only just going over to Frankfurt for a little visit with Dete,” she replied; “but I must first run in to grandmother, she will be expecting me.”
“No, no, you must not stop to talk; it is already too late,” said Dete, holding Heidi, who was struggling to get away, fast by the hand. “You can go in when you come back, you must come along now,” and she pulled the child on with her, fearing that if she let her go in Heidi might take it into her head again that she did not wish to come, and that the grandmother might stand by her. Peter ran into the hut and banged against the table with his bundle of sticks with such violence that everything in the room shook, and his grandmother leaped up with a cry of alarm from her spinning-wheel. Peter had felt that he must give vent to his feelings somehow.
“What is the matter? What is the matter?” cried the frightened old woman, while his mother, who had also started up from her seat at the shock, said in her usual patient manner, “What is it, Peter? why do you behave so roughly?”
“Because she is taking Heidi away,” explained Peter.
“Who? who? where to, Peter, where to?” asked the grandmother, growing still more agitated; but even as she spoke she guessed what had happened, for Brigitta had told her shortly before that she had seen Dete going up to Alm-Uncle. The old woman rose hastily and with trembling hands opened the window and called out beseechingly, “Dete, Dete, do not take the child away from us! do not take her away!”
The two who were hastening down the mountain heard her voice, and Dete evidently caught the words, for she grasped Heidi’s hand more firmly. Heidi struggled to get free, crying, “Grandmother is calling, I must go to her.”
But Dete had no intention of letting the child go, and quieted her as best she could; they must make haste now, she said, or they would be too late and not able to go on the next day to Frankfurt, and there the child would see how delightful it was, and Dete was sure would not wish to go back when she was once there. But if Heidi wanted to return home she could do so at once, and then she could take something she liked back to grandmother. This was a new idea to Heidi, and it pleased her so much that Dete had no longer any difficulty in getting her along.
After a few minutes’ silence, Heidi asked, “What could I take back to her?”
“We must think of something nice,” answered Dete; “a soft roll of white bread; she would enjoy that, for now she is old she can hardly eat the hard, black bread.”
“No, she always gives it back to Peter, telling him it is too hard, for I have seen her do it myself,” affirmed Heidi. “Do let us make haste, for then perhaps we can get back soon from Frankfurt, and I shall be able to give her the white bread to-day.” And Heidi started off running so fast that Dete with the bundle under her arm could scarcely keep up with her. But she was glad, nevertheless, to get along so quickly, for they were nearing Dörfli, where her friends would probably talk and question in a way that might put other ideas into Heidi’s head. So she went on straight ahead through the vil lage, holding Heidi tightly by the hand, so that they might all see that it was on the child’s account she was hurrying along at such a rate. To all their questions and remarks she made answer as she passed, “I can’t stop now, as you see, I must make haste with the child as we have yet some way to go.”
“Are you taking her away?” “Is she running away from Alm-Uncle?” “It’s a wonder she is still alive!” “But what rosy cheeks she has!” Such were the words which rang out on all sides, and Dete was thankful that she had not to stop and give any distinct answers to them, while Heidi hurried eagerly forward without saying a word.
From that day forward Alm-Uncle looked fiercer and more forbidding than ever when he came down and passed through Dörfli. He spoke to no one, and looked such an ogre as he came along with his pack of cheeses on his back, his immense stick in his hand, and his thick, frowning eyebrows, that the women would call to their little ones, “Take care! get out of Alm-Uncle’s way or he may hurt you!”
The old man took no notice of anybody as he strode through the village on his way to the valley below, where he sold his cheeses and bought what bread and meat he wanted for himself. After he had passed the villagers all crowded together looking after him, and each had something to say about him: how much wilder he looked than usual, how now he would not even respond to anybody’s greeting, while they all agreed that it was a great mercy the child had got away from him, and had they not all noticed how the child had hurried along as if afraid that her grandfather might be following to take her back? Only the blind grandmother would have nothing to say against him, and told those who came to her to bring her work, or take away what she had spun, how kind and thoughtful he had been with the child, how good to her and her daughter, and how many afternoons he had spent mending the house which, but for his help, would certainly by this time have fallen down over their heads. And all this was repeated down in Dörfli; but most of the people who heard it said that grandmother was too old to understand, and very likely had not heard rightly what was said; as she was blind she was probably also deaf.
Alm-Uncle went no more now to the grandmother’s house, and it was well that he had made it so safe, for it was not touched again for a long time. The days were sad again now for the old blind woman, and not one passed but what she would murmur complainingly, “Alas! all our happiness and pleasure have gone with the child, and now the days are so long and dreary! Pray God, I see Heidi again once more before I die!”