HEIDI





ON SUNDAY WHEN THE CHURCH BELLS RING

 

Heidi was standing under the swaying fir-trees, waiting for her grandfather to join her. He had promised to bring up her trunk from the village while she went in to visit the grandmother. The child was longing to see the blind woman again and to hear how she had liked the rolls. It was Saturday, and the grandfather had been cleaning the cottage. Soon he was ready to start. When they had descended and Heidi entered Peter's hut, the grandmother called lovingly to her: "Have you come again, child?"

She took hold of Heidi's hand and held it tight. Grandmother then told the little visitor how good the rolls had tasted, and how much stronger she felt already. Brigida related further that the grandmother had only eaten a single roll, being so afraid to finish them too soon. Heidi had listened attentively, and said now: "Grandmother, I know what I shall do. I am going to write to Clara and she'll surely send me a whole lot more."

But Brigida remarked: "That is meant well, but they get hard so soon. If I only had a few extra pennies, I could buy some from our baker. He makes them too, but I am hardly able to pay for the black bread."

Heidi's face suddenly shone. "Oh, grandmother, I have an awful lot of money," she cried. "Now I know what I'll do with it. Every day you must have a fresh roll and two on Sundays. Peter can bring them up from the village."

"No, no, child," the grandmother implored. "That must not be. You must give it to grandfather and he'll tell you what to do with it."

But Heidi did not listen but jumped gaily about the little room, calling over and over again: "Now grandmother can have a roll every day. She'll get well and strong, and," she called with fresh delight, "maybe your eyes will see again, too, when you are strong and well."

The grandmother remained silent, not to mar the happiness of the child. Seeing the old hymn-book on the shelf, Heidi said:

"Grandmother, shall I read you a song from your book now? I can read quite nicely!" she added after a pause.

"Oh yes, I wish you would, child. Can you really read?"

Heidi, climbing on a chair, took down the dusty book from a shelf. After she had carefully wiped it off, she sat down on a stool.

"What shall I read, grandmother?"

"Whatever you want to," was the reply. Turning the pages, Heidi found a song about the sun, and decided to read that aloud. More and more eagerly she read, while the grandmother, with folded arms, sat in her chair. An expression of indescribable happiness shone in her countenance, though tears were rolling down her cheeks. When Heidi had repeated the end of the song a number of times, the old woman exclaimed: "Oh, Heidi, everything seems bright to me again and my heart is light. Thank you, child, you have done me so much good."

Heidi looked enraptured at the grandmother's face, which had changed from an old, sorrowful expression to a joyous one.

She seemed to look up gratefully, as if she could already behold the lovely, celestial gardens told of in the hymn.

Soon the grandfather knocked on the window, for it was time to go. Heidi followed quickly, assuring the grandmother that she would visit her every day now; on the days she went up to the pasture with Peter, she would return in the early afternoon, for she did not want to miss the chance to make the grandmother's heart joyful and light. Brigida urged Heidi to take her dress along, and with it on her arm the child joined the old man and immediately told him what had happened.

On hearing of her plan to purchase rolls for the grandmother every day, the grandfather reluctantly consented.

At this the child gave a bound, shouting: "Oh grandfather, now grandmother won't ever have to eat hard, black bread any more. Oh, everything is so wonderful now! If God Our Father had done immediately what I prayed for, I should have come home at once and could not have brought half as many rolls to grandmother. I should not have been able to read either. Grandmama told me that God would make everything much better than I could ever dream. I shall always pray from now on, the way grandmama taught me. When God does not give me something I pray for, I shall always remember how everything has worked out for the best this time. We'll pray every day, grandfather, won't we, for otherwise God might forget us."

"And if somebody should forget to do it?" murmured the old man.

"Oh, he'll get on badly, for God will forget him, too. If he is unhappy and wretched, people don't pity him, for they will say: 'he went away from God, and now the Lord, who alone can help him, has no pity on him'."

"Is that true, Heidi? Who told you so?"

"Grandmama explained it all to me."

After a pause the grandfather said: "Yes, but if it has happened, then there is no help; nobody can come back to the Lord, when God has once forgotten him."

"But grandfather, everybody can come back to Him; grandmama told me that, and besides there is the beautiful story in my book. Oh, grandfather, you don't know it yet, and I shall read it to you as soon as we get home."

The grandfather had brought a big basket with him, in which he carried half the contents of Heidi's trunk; it had been too large to be conveyed up the steep ascent. Arriving at the hut and setting down his load, he had to sit beside Heidi, who was ready to begin the tale. With great animation Heidi read the story of the prodigal son, who was happy at home with his father's cows and sheep. The picture showed him leaning on his staff, watching the sunset. "Suddenly he wanted to have his own inheritance, and be able to be his own master. Demanding the money from his father, he went away and squandered all. When he had nothing in the world left, he had to go as servant to a peasant, who did not own fine cattle like his father, but only swine; his clothes were rags, and for food he only got the husks on which the pigs were fed. Often he would think what a good home he had left, and when he remembered how good his father had been to him and his own ungratefulness, he would cry from repentance and longing. Then he said to himself: 'I shall go to my father and ask his forgiveness.' When he approached his former home, his father came out to meet him—"

"What do you think will happen now?" Heidi asked. "You think that the father is angry and will say: 'Didn't I tell you?' But just listen: 'And his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck. And the son said: Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in Thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son. But the father said to his servants: Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat and be merry: For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to be merry."

"Isn't it a beautiful story, grandfather?" asked Heidi, when he sat silently beside her.

"Yes, Heidi, it is," said the grandfather, but so seriously that Heidi quietly looked at the pictures. "Look how happy he is," she said, pointing to it.

A few hours later, when Heidi was sleeping soundly, the old man climbed up the ladder. Placing a little lamp beside the sleeping child, he watched her a long, long time. Her little hands were folded and her rosy face looked confident and peaceful. The old man now folded his hands and said in a low voice, while big tears rolled down his cheeks: "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and Thee, and am no more worthy to be Thy son!"

The next morning found the uncle standing before the door, looking about him over valley and mountain. A few early bells sounded from below and the birds sang their morning anthems.

Re-entering the house, he called: "Heidi, get up! The sun is shining! Put on a pretty dress, for we are going to church!"

That was a new call, and Heidi obeyed quickly. When the child came downstairs in her smart little frock, she opened her eyes wide. "Oh, grandfather!" she exclaimed, "I have never seen you in your Sunday coat with the silver buttons. Oh, how fine you look!"

The old man, turning to the child, said with a smile: "You look nice, too; come now!" With Heidi's hand in his they wandered down together. The nearer they came to the village, the louder and richer the bells resounded. "Oh grandfather, do you hear it? It seems like a big, high feast," said Heidi.

When they entered the church, all the people were singing. Though they sat down on the last bench behind, the people had noticed their presence and whispered it from ear to ear. When the pastor began to preach, his words were a loud thanksgiving that moved all his hearers. After the service the old man and the child walked to the parsonage. The clergyman had opened the door and received them with friendly words. "I have come to ask your forgiveness for my harsh words," said the uncle. "I want to follow your advice to spend the winter here among you. If the people look at me askance, I can't expect any better. I am sure, Mr. Pastor, you will not do so."

 

The pastor's friendly eyes sparkled, and with many a kind word he commended the uncle for this change, and putting his hand on Heidi's curly hair, ushered them out. Thus the people, who had been all talking together about this great event, could see that their clergyman shook hands with the old man. The door of the parsonage was hardly shut, when the whole assembly came forward with outstretched hands and friendly greetings. Great seemed to be their joy at the old man's resolution; some of the people even accompanied him on his homeward way. When they had parted at last, the uncle looked after them with his face shining as with an inward light. Heidi looked up to him and said: "Grandfather, you have never looked so beautiful!"

"Do you think so, child?" he said with a smile. "You see, Heidi, I am more happy than I deserve; to be at peace with God and men makes one's heart feel light. God has been good to me, to send you back."

When they arrived at Peter's hut, the grandfather opened the door and entered. "How do you do, grandmother," he called out. "I think we must start to mend again, before the fall wind comes."

"Oh my God, the uncle!" exclaimed the grandmother in joyous surprise. "How happy I am to be able to thank you for what you have done, uncle! Thank you, God bless you for it."

With trembling joy the grandmother shook hands with her old friend. "There is something else I want to say to you, uncle," she continued. "If I have ever hurt you in any way, do not punish me. Do not let Heidi go away again before I die. I cannot tell you what Heidi means to me!" So saying, she held the clinging child to her.

"No danger of that, grandmother, I hope we shall all stay together now for many years to come."

Brigida now showed Heidi's feather hat to the old man and asked him to take it back. But the uncle asked her to keep it, since Heidi had given it to her.

"What blessings this child has brought from Frankfurt," Brigida said. "I often wondered if I should not send our little Peter too. What do you think, uncle?"

The uncle's eyes sparkled with fun, when he replied: "I am sure it would not hurt Peter; nevertheless I should wait for a fitting occasion before I sent him."

The next moment Peter himself arrived in great haste. He had a letter for Heidi, which had been given to him in the village. What an event, a letter for Heidi! They all sat down at the table while the child read it aloud. The letter was from Clara Sesemann, who wrote that everything had got so dull since Heidi left. She said that she could not stand it very long, and therefore her father had promised to take her to Ragatz this coming fall. She announced that Grandmama was coming too, for she wanted to see Heidi and her grandfather. Grandmama, having heard about the rolls, was sending some coffee, too, so that the grandmother would not have to eat them dry. Grandmama also insisted on being taken to the grandmother herself when she came on her visit.

Great was the delight caused by this news, and what with all the questions and plans that followed, the grandfather himself forgot how late it was. This happy day, which had united them all, caused the old woman to say at parting: "The most beautiful thing of all, though, is to be able to shake hands again with an old friend, as in days gone by; it is a great comfort to find again, what we have treasured. I hope you'll come soon again, uncle. I am counting on the child for tomorrow."

This promise was given. While Heidi and her grandfather were on their homeward path, the peaceful sound of evening bells accompanied them. At last they reached the cottage, which seemed to glow in the evening light.




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