SOMETHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
The next day dawned cloudless and fair. The grandfather was still with the children, when Peter came climbing up; his goats kept at a good distance from him, to evade the rod, which was striking right and left. The truth was that the boy was terribly embittered and angry by the changes that had come. When he passed the hut in the morning, Heidi was always busy with the strange child, and in the evening it was the same. All summer long Heidi had not been up with him a single time; it was too much! And to-day she was coming at last, but again in company with this hateful stranger.
It was then that Peter noticed the rolling-chair standing near the hut. After carefully glancing about him, he rushed at the hated object and pushed it down the incline. The chair fairly flew away and had soon disappeared.
Peter's conscience smote him now, and he raced up the Alp, not daring to pause till he had reached a blackberry bush. There he could hide, when the uncle might appear. Looking down, he watched his fallen enemy tumbling downwards, downwards.
Sometimes it was thrown high up into the air, to crash down again the next moment harder than ever. Pieces were falling from it right and left, and were blown about. Now the stranger would have to travel home and Heidi would be his again! But Peter had forgotten that a bad deed always brings a punishment.
Heidi just now came out of the hut. The grandfather, with Clara, followed. Heidi at first stood still, and then, running right and left, she returned to the old man.
"What does this mean? Have you rolled the chair away Heidi?" he asked.
"I am just looking for it everywhere, grandfather. You said it was beside the shop door," said the child, still hunting for the missing object. A strong wind was blowing, which at this moment violently closed the shop-door.
"Grandfather, the wind has done it," exclaimed Heidi eagerly. "Oh dear! if it has rolled all the way down to the village, it will be too late to go to-day. It will take us a long time to fetch it."
"If it has rolled down there, we shall never get it any more, for it will be smashed to pieces," said the old man, looking down and measuring the distance from the corner of the hut.
"I don't see how it happened," he remarked.
"What a shame! now I'll never be able to go up to the pasture," lamented Clara. "I am afraid I'll have to go home now. What a pity, what a pity!"
"You can find a way for her to stay, grandfather, can't you?"
"We'll go up to the pasture to-day, as we have planned. Then we shall see what further happens."
The children were delighted, and the grandfather lost no time in getting ready. First he fetched a pile of covers, and seating Clara on a sunny spot on the dry ground, he got their breakfast.
"I wonder why Peter is so late to-day," he said, leading his goats out of the shed. Then, lifting Clara up on one strong arm, he carried the covers on the other.
"Now, march!" he cried. "The goats come with us."
That suited Heidi, and with one arm round Schwänli and the other round Bärli, she wandered up. Her little companions were so pleased at having her with them again that they nearly crushed her with affection.
What was their astonishment when, arriving on top, they saw Peter already lying on the ground, with his peaceful flock about him.
"What did you mean by going by us like that? I'll teach you!" called the uncle to him.
Peter was frightened, for he knew the voice.
"Nobody was up yet," the boy retorted.
"Have you seen the chair?" asked the uncle again.
"Which?" Peter growled.
The uncle said no more. Unfolding the covers, he put Clara down on the dry grass. Then, when he had been assured of Clara's comfort, he got ready to go home. The three were to stay there till his return in the evening. When dinner time had come, Heidi was to prepare the meal and see that Clara got Schwänli's milk.
The sky was a deep blue, and the snow on the peaks was glistening. The eagle was floating above the rocky crags. The children felt wonderfully happy. Now and then one of the goats would come and lie down near them. Tender little Snowhopper came oftener than any and would rub her head against their shoulders.
They had been sitting quietly for a few hours, drinking in the beauty about them, when Heidi suddenly began to long for the spot where so many flowers grew. In the evening it would be too late to see them, for they always shut their little eyes by then.
"Oh, Clara," she said hesitatingly, "would you be angry if I went away from you a minute and left you alone? I want to see the flowers; But wait!—" Jumping away, she brought Clara some bunches of fragrant herbs and put them in her lap. Soon after she returned with little Snowhopper.
"So, now you don't need to be alone," said Heidi. When Clara had assured her that it would give her pleasure to be left alone with the goats, Heidi started on her walk. Clara slowly handed one leaf after another to the little creature; it became more and more confiding, and cuddling close to the child, ate the herbs out of her hand. It was easy to see how happy it was to be away from the boisterous big goats, which often annoyed it. Clara felt a sensation of contentment such as she had never before experienced. She loved to sit there on the mountain-side with the confiding little goat by her. A great desire rose in her heart that hour. She longed to be her own master and be able to help others instead of being helped by them. Many other thoughts and ideas rushed through her mind. How would it be to live up here in continual sunshine? The world seemed so joyous and wonderful all of a sudden. Premonitions of future undreamt-of happiness made her heart beat. Suddenly she threw both arms about the little goat and said: "Oh, little Snowhopper how beautiful it is up here! If I could always stay with you!"
Heidi in the meantime had reached the spot, where, as she had expected, the whole ground was covered with yellow rock-roses. Near together in patches the bluebells were nodding gently in the breeze. But all the perfume that filled the air came from the modest little brown flowers that hid their heads between the golden flower-cups. Heidi stood enraptured, drawing in the perfumed air.
Suddenly she turned and ran back to Clara, shouting to her from far: "Oh, you must come, Clara, it is so lovely there. In the evening it won't be so fine any more. Don't you think I could carry you?"
"But Heidi," Clara said, "of course you can't; you are much smaller than I am. Oh, I wish I could walk!"
Heidi meditated a little. Peter was still lying on the ground. He had been staring down for hours, unable to believe what he saw before him. He had destroyed the chair to get rid of the stranger, and there she was again, sitting right beside his playmate.
Heidi now called to him to come down, but as reply he only grumbled: "Shan't come."
"But you must; come quickly, for I want you to help me. Quickly!" urged the child.
"Don't want to," sounded the reply.
Heidi hurried up the mountain now and shouted angrily to the boy: "Peter, if you don't come this minute, I shall do something that you won't like."
Those words scared Peter, for his conscience was not clear. His deed had rejoiced him till this moment, when Heidi seemed to talk as if she knew it all. What if the grandfather should hear about it! Trembling with fear, Peter obeyed.
"I shall only come if you promise not to do what you said," insisted the boy.
"No, no, I won't. Don't be afraid," said Heidi compassionately: "Just come along; it isn't so hard."
Peter, on approaching Clara, was told to help raise the lame child from the ground on one side, while Heidi helped on the other. This went easily enough, but difficulties soon followed. Clara was not able to stand alone, and how could they get any further?
"You must take me round the neck," said Heidi, who had seen what poor guides they made.
The boy, who had never offered his arm to anybody in his life, had to be shown how first, before further efforts could be made. But it was too hard. Clara tried to set her feet forward, but got discouraged.
"Press your feet on the ground more and I am sure it will hurt you less," suggested Heidi.
"Do you think so?" said Clara, timidly.
But, obeying, she ventured a firmer step and soon another, uttering a little cry as she went.
"Oh, it really has hurt me less," she said joyfully.
"Try it again," Heidi urged her. Clara did, and took another step, and then another, and another still. Suddenly she cried aloud: "Oh, Heidi, I can do it. Oh, I really can. Just look! I can take steps, one after another."
Heidi rapturously exclaimed: "Oh, Clara, can you really? Can you walk? Oh, can you take steps now? Oh, if only grandfather would come! Now you can walk, Clara, now you can walk," she kept on saying joyfully.
Clara held on tight to the children, but with every new step she became more firm.
"Now you can come up here every day," cried Heidi. "Now we can walk wherever we want to and you don't have to be pushed in a chair any more. Now you'll be able to walk all your life. Oh, what joy!"
Clara's greatest wish, to be able to be well like other people, had been fulfilled at last. It was not very far to the flowering field. Soon they reached it and sat down among the wealth of bloom. It was the first time that Clara had ever rested on the dry, warm earth. All about them the flowers nodded and exhaled their perfume. It was a scene of exquisite beauty.
The two children could hardly grasp this happiness that had come to them. It filled their hearts brimming full and made them silent. Peter also lay motionless, for he had gone to sleep.
Thus the hours flew, and the day was long past noon. Suddenly all the goats arrived, for they had been seeking the children. They did not like to graze in the flowers, and were glad when Peter awoke with their loud bleating. The poor boy was mightily bewildered, for he had dreamt that the rolling-chair with the red cushions stood again before his eyes. On awaking, he had still seen the golden nails; but soon he discovered that they were nothing but flowers. Remembering his deed, he obeyed Heidi's instructions willingly.
When they came back to their former place, Heidi lost no time in setting out the dinner. The bag was very full to-day, and Heidi hurried to fulfill her promise to Peter, who with bad conscience had understood her threat differently. She made three heaps of the good things, and when Clara and she were through, there was still a lot left for the boy. It was too bad that all this treat did not give him the usual satisfaction, for something seemed to stick in his throat.
Soon after their belated dinner, the grandfather was seen climbing up the Alp. Heidi ran to meet him, confusedly telling him of the great event. The old man's face shone at this news. Going over to Clara, he said: "So you have risked it? Now we have won."
Then picking her up, he put one arm around her waist, and the other one he stretched out as support, and with his help she marched more firmly than ever. Heidi jumped and bounded gaily by their side. In all this excitement the grandfather did not lose his judgment, and before long lifted Clara on his arm to carry her home. He knew that too much exertion would be dangerous, and rest was needed for the tired girl.
Peter, arriving in the village late that day, saw a large disputing crowd. They were all standing about an interesting object, and everybody pushed and fought for a chance to get nearest. It was no other than the chair.
"I saw it when they carried it up," Peter heard the baker say. "I bet it was worth at least five hundred francs. I should just like to know how it has happened."
"The wind might have blown it down," remarked Barbara, who was staring open-mouthed at the beautiful velvet cushions. "The uncle said so himself."
"It is a good thing if nobody else has done it," continued the baker. "When the gentleman from Frankfurt hears what has happened, he'll surely find out all about it, and I should pity the culprit. I am glad I haven't been up on the Alm for so long, else they might suspect me, as they would anybody who happened to be up there at the time."
Many more opinions were uttered, but Peter had heard enough. He quietly slipped away and went home. What if they should find out he had done it? A policeman might arrive any time now and they might take him away to prison. Peter's hair stood up on end at this alarming thought.
He was so troubled when he came home that he did not answer any questions and even refused his dish of potatoes. Hurriedly creeping into bed, he groaned.
"I am sure Peter has eaten sorrel again, and that makes him groan so," said his mother.
"You must give him a little more bread in the morning, Brigida. Take a piece of mine," said the compassionate grandmother.
When Clara and Heidi were lying in their beds that night, glancing up at the shining stars, Heidi remarked: "Didn't you think to-day, Clara, that it is fortunate God does not always give us what we pray for fervently, because He knows of something better?"
"What do you mean, Heidi?" asked Clara.
"You see, when I was in Frankfurt I prayed and prayed to come home again, and when I couldn't, I thought He had forgotten me. But if I had gone away so soon you would never have come here and would never have got well."
Clara, becoming thoughtful, said: "But, Heidi, then we could not pray for anything any more, because we would feel that He always knows of something better."
"But, Clara, we must pray to God every day to show we don't forget that all gifts come from Him. Grandmama has told me that God forgets us if we forget Him. But if some wish remains unfulfilled we must show our confidence in Him, for he knows best."
"How did you ever think of that?" asked Clara.
"Grandmama told me, but I know that it is so. We must thank God to-day that He has made you able to walk, Clara."
"I am glad that you have reminded me, Heidi, for I have nearly forgotten it in my excitement."
The children both prayed and sent their thanks up to heaven for the restoration of the invalid.
Next morning a letter was written to grandmama, inviting her to come up to the Alp within a week's time, for the children had planned to take her by surprise. Clara hoped then to be able to walk alone, with Heidi for her guide.
The following days were happier still for Clara. Every morning she awoke with her heart singing over and over again, "Now I am well! Now I can walk like other people!"
She progressed, and took longer walks every day. Her appetite grew amazingly, and the grandfather had to make larger slices of the bread and butter that, to his delight, disappeared so rapidly. He had to fill bowl after bowl of the foaming milk for the hungry children. In that way they reached the end of the week that was to bring the grandmama.