HEIDI





GREAT DISTURBANCES IN THE SESEMANN HOUSE

 

A short time after the tutor had arrived next morning, the door-bell rang so violently that Sebastian thought it must be Mr. Sesemann himself. What was his surprise when a dirty street-boy, with a barrel-organ on his back, stood before him!

"What do you mean by pulling the bell like that?" the butler said.

"I want to see Clara."

"Can't you at least say 'Miss Clara', you ragged urchin?" said Sebastian harshly.

"She owes me forty pennies," said the boy.

"You are crazy! How do you know Miss Clara lives here?"

"I showed her the way yesterday and she promised to give me forty pennies."

"What nonsense! Miss Clara never goes out. You had better take yourself off, before I send you!"

The boy, however, did not even budge, and said: "I saw her. She has curly hair, black eyes and talks in a funny way."

"Oh," Sebastian chuckled to himself, "that was the little Miss."

Pulling the boy into the house, he said: "All right, you can follow me. Wait at the door till I call you, and then you can play something for Miss Clara."

Knocking at the study-door, Sebastian said, when he had entered: "A boy is here who wants to see Miss Clara."

Clara, delighted at his interruption, said: "Can't he come right up, Mr. Candidate?"

But the boy was already inside, and started to play. Miss Rottenmeier was in the adjoining room when she heard the sounds. Where did they come from? Hurrying into the study, she saw the street-boy playing to the eager children.

"Stop! stop!" she called, but in vain, for the music drowned her voice. Suddenly she made a big jump, for there, between her feet, crawled a black turtle. Only when she shrieked for Sebastian could her voice be heard. The butler came straight in, for he had seen everything behind the door, and a great scene it had been! Glued to a chair in her fright, Miss Rottenmeier called: "Send the boy away! Take them away!"

Sebastian obediently pulled the boy after him; then he said: "Here are forty pennies from Miss Clara and forty more for playing. It was well done, my boy."

With that he closed the door behind him. Miss Rottenmeier found it wiser now to stay in the study to prevent further disturbances. Suddenly there was another knock at the door. Sebastian appeared with a large basket, which had been brought for Clara.

"We had better have our lesson before we inspect it," said Miss Rottenmeier. But Clara, turning to the tutor, asked: "Oh, please, Mr. Candidate, can't we just peep in, to see what it is?"

"I am afraid that you will think of nothing else," the teacher began. Just then something in the basket, which had been only lightly fastened, moved, and one, two, three and still more little kittens jumped out, scampering around the room with the utmost speed. They bounded over the tutor's boots and bit his trousers; they climbed up on Miss Rottenmeier's dress and crawled around her feet. Mewing and running, they caused a frightful confusion. Clara called out in delight: "Oh, look at the cunning creatures; look how they jump! Heidi, look at that one, and oh, see the one over there?"

Heidi followed them about, while the teacher shook them off. When the housekeeper had collected her wits after the great fright, she called for the servants. They soon arrived and stored the little kittens safely in the new bed.

No time had been found for yawning that day, either!

When Miss Rottenmeier, who had found out the culprit, was alone with the children in the evening, she began severely:

"Adelheid, there is only one punishment for you. I am going to send you to the cellar, to think over your dreadful misdeeds, in company with the rats."

A cellar held no terrors for Heidi, for in her grandfather's cellar fresh milk and the good cheese had been kept, and no rats had lodged there.

But Clara shrieked: "Oh, Miss Rottenmeier, you must wait till Papa comes home, and then he can punish Heidi."

The lady unwillingly replied: "All right, Clara, but I shall also speak a few words to Mr. Sesemann." With those words she left the room. Since the child's arrival everything had been upset, and the lady often felt discouraged, though nothing remarkable happened for a few days.

Clara, on the contrary, enjoyed her companion's society, for she always did funny things. In her lesson she could never get her letters straight. They meant absolutely nothing to her, except that they would remind her of goats and eagles. The girls always spent their evenings together, and Heidi would entertain her friend with tales of her former life, till her longing grew so great that she added: "I have to go home now. I must go tomorrow."

Clara's soothing words and the prospect of more rolls for the grandmother kept the child. Every day after dinner she was left alone in her room for some hours. Thinking of the green fields at home, of the sparkling flowers on the mountains, she would sit in a corner till her desire for all those things became too great to bear. Her aunt had clearly told her that she might return, if she wished to do so, so one day she resolved to leave for the Alm-hut. In a great hurry she packed the bread in the red shawl, and putting on her old straw hat, started off. The poor child did not get very far. At the door she encountered Miss Rottenmeier, who stared at Heidi in mute surprise.

"What are you up to?" she exploded. "Haven't I forbidden you to run away? You look like a vagabond!"

"I was only going home," whispered the frightened child.

"What, you want to run away from this house? What would Mr. Sesemann say? What is it that does not suit you here? Don't you get better treatment than you deserve? Have you ever before had such food, service and such a room? Answer!"

"No," was the reply.

"Don't I know that?" the furious lady proceeded. "What a thankless child you are, just idle and good-for-nothing!"

But Heidi could not bear it any longer. She loudly wailed: "Oh, I want to go home. What will poor Snowhopper do without me? Grandmother is waiting for me every day. Poor Thistlefinch gets blows if Peter gets no cheese, and I must see the sun again when he says good-night to the mountains. How the eagle would screech if he saw all the people here in Frankfurt!"

"For mercy's sake, the child is crazy!" exclaimed Miss Rottenmeier, running up the stairs. In her hurry she had bumped into Sebastian, who was just then coming down.

"Bring the unlucky child up!" she called to him, rubbing her head.

"All right, many thanks," answered the butler, rubbing his head, too, for he had encountered something far harder than she had.

When the butler came down, he saw Heidi standing near the door with flaming eyes, trembling all over. Cheerfully he asked: "What has happened, little one? Do not take it to heart, and cheer up. She nearly made a hole in my head just now, but we must not get discouraged. Oh, no!—Come, up with you; she said so!"

Heidi walked up-stairs very slowly. Seeing her so changed, Sebastian said:

"Don't give in! Don't be so sad! You have been so courageous till now; I have never heard you cry yet. Come up now, and when the lady's away we'll go and look at the kittens. They are running round like wild!"

Nodding cheerlessly, the child disappeared in her room.

That night at supper Miss Rottenmeier watched Heidi constantly, but nothing happened. The child sat as quiet as a mouse, hardly touching her food, except the little roll.

Talking with the tutor next morning, Miss Rottenmeier told him her fears about Heidi's mind. But the teacher had more serious troubles still, for Heidi had not even learned her A,B,C in all this time.

Heidi was sorely in need of some clothes, so Clara had given her some. Miss Rottenmeier was just busy arranging the child's wardrobe, when she suddenly returned.

"Adelheid," she said contemptuously, "what do I find? A big pile of bread in your wardrobe! I never heard the like. Yes, Clara, it is true." Then, calling Tinette, she ordered her to take away the bread and the old straw hat she had found.

"No, don't! I must keep my hat! The bread is for grandmother," cried Heidi in despair.

"You stay here, while we take the rubbish away," said the lady sternly.

Heidi threw herself down now on Clara's chair and sobbed as if her heart would break.

"Now I can't bring grandmother any rolls! Oh, they were for grandmother!" she lamented.

"Heidi, don't cry any more," Clara begged. "Listen! When you go home some day, I am going to give you as many rolls as you had, and more. They will be much softer and better than those stale ones you have kept. Those were not fit to eat, Heidi. Stop now, please, and don't cry any more!"

Only after a long, long time did Heidi become quiet. When she had heard Clara's promise, she cried: "Are you really going to give me as many as I had?"

At supper, Heidi's eyes were swollen and it was still hard for her to keep from crying. Sebastian made strange signs to her that she did not understand. What did he mean?

Later, though, when she climbed into her high bed, she found her old beloved straw hat hidden under her cover. So Sebastian had saved it for her and had tried to tell her! She crushed it for joy, and wrapping it in a handkerchief, she hid it in the furthest corner of her wardrobe.




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