UP THE ALP ON A SUMMER EVENING
Mr. Sesemann, going upstairs in great agitation, knocked at the housekeeper's door. He asked her to hurry, for preparations for a journey had to be made. Miss Rottenmeier obeyed the summons with the greatest indignation, for it was only half-past four in the morning. She dressed in haste, though with great difficulty, being nervous and excited. All the other servants were summoned likewise, and one and all thought that the master of the house had been seized by the ghost and that he was ringing for help. When they had all come down with terrified looks, they were most surprised to see Mr. Sesemann fresh and cheerful, giving orders. John was sent to get the horses ready and Tinette was told to prepare Heidi for her departure while Sebastian was commissioned to fetch Heidi's aunt. Mr. Sesemann instructed the housekeeper to pack a trunk in all haste for Heidi.
Miss Rottenmeier experienced an extreme disappointment, for she had hoped for an explanation of the great mystery. But Mr. Sesemann, evidently not in the mood to converse further, went to his daughter's room. Clara had been wakened by the unusual noises and was listening eagerly. Her father told her of what had happened and how the doctor had ordered Heidi back to her home, because her condition was serious and might get worse. She might even climb the roof, or be exposed to similar dangers, if she was not cured at once.
Clara was painfully surprised and tried to prevent her father from carrying out his plan. He remained firm, however, promising to take her to Switzerland himself the following summer, if she was good and sensible now. So the child, resigning herself, begged to have Heidi's trunk packed in her room. Mr. Sesemann encouraged her to get together a good outfit for her little friend.
Heidi's aunt had arrived in the meantime. Being told to take her niece home with her, she found no end of excuses, which plainly showed that she did not want to do it; for Deta well remembered the uncle's parting words. Mr. Sesemann dismissed her and summoned Sebastian. The butler was told to get ready for travelling with the child. He was to go to Basle that day and spend the night at a good hotel which his master named. The next day the child was to be brought to her home.
"Listen, Sebastian," Mr. Sesemann said, "and do exactly as I tell you. I know the Hotel in Basle, and if you show my card they will give you good accommodations. Go to the child's room and barricade the windows, so that they can only be opened by the greatest force. When Heidi has gone to bed, lock the door from outside, for the child walks in her sleep and might come to harm in the strange hotel. She might get up and open the door; do you understand?"
"Oh!—Oh!—So it was she?" exclaimed the butler.
"Yes, it was! You are a coward, and you can tell John he is the same. Such foolish men, to be afraid!" With that Mr. Sesemann went to his room to write a letter to Heidi's grandfather.
Sebastian, feeling ashamed, said to himself that he ought to have resisted John and found out alone.
Heidi was dressed in her Sunday frock and stood waiting for further commands.
Mr. Sesemann called her now. "Good-morning, Mr. Sesemann," Heidi said when she entered.
"What do you think about it, little one?" he asked her. Heidi looked up to him in amazement.
"You don't seem to know anything about it," laughed Mr. Sesemann. Tinette had not even told the child, for she thought it beneath her dignity to speak to the vulgar Heidi.
"You are going home to-day."
"Home?" Heidi repeated in a low voice. She had to gasp, so great was her surprise.
"Wouldn't you like to hear something about it?" asked Mr. Sesemann smiling.
"Oh yes, I should like to," said the blushing child.
"Good, good," said the kind gentleman. "Sit down and eat a big breakfast now, for you are going away right afterwards."
The child could not even swallow a morsel, though she tried to eat out of obedience. It seemed to her as if it was only a dream.
"Go to Clara, Heidi, till the carriage comes," Mr. Sesemann said kindly.
Heidi had been wishing to go, and now she ran to Clara's room, where a huge trunk was standing.
"Heidi, look at the things I had packed for you. Do you like them?" Clara asked.
There were a great many lovely things in it, but Heidi jumped for joy when she discovered a little basket with twelve round white rolls for the grandmother. The children had forgotten that the moment for parting had come, when the carriage was announced. Heidi had to get all her own treasures from her room yet. The grandmama's book was carefully packed, and the red shawl that Miss Rottenmeier had purposely left behind. Then putting on her pretty hat, she left her room to say good-bye to Clara. There was not much time left to do so, for Mr. Sesemann was waiting to put Heidi in the carriage. When Miss Rottenmeier, who was standing on the stairs to bid farewell to her pupil, saw the red bundle in Heidi's hand, she seized it and threw it on the ground. Heidi looked imploringly at her kind protector, and Mr. Sesemann, seeing how much she treasured it, gave it back to her. The happy child at parting thanked him for all his goodness. She also sent a message of thanks to the good old doctor, whom she suspected to be the real cause of her going.
While Heidi was being lifted into the carriage, Mr. Sesemann assured her that Clara and he would never forget her. Sebastian followed with Heidi's basket and a large bag with provisions. Mr. Sesemann called out: "Happy journey!" and the carriage rolled away.
Only when Heidi was sitting in the train did she become conscious of where she was going. She knew now that she would really see her grandfather and the grandmother again, also Peter and the goats. Her only fear was that the poor blind grandmother might have died while she was away.
The thing she looked forward to most was giving the soft white rolls to the grandmother. While she was musing over all these things, she fell asleep. In Basle she was roused by Sebastian, for there they were to spend the night.
The next morning they started off again, and it took them many hours before they reached Mayenfeld. When Sebastian stood on the platform of the station, he wished he could have travelled further in the train rather than have to climb a mountain. The last part of the trip might be dangerous, for everything seemed half-wild in this country. Looking round, he discovered a small wagon with a lean horse. A broad-shouldered man was just loading up large bags, which had come by the train. Sebastian, approaching the man, asked some information concerning the least dangerous ascent to the Alp. After a while it was settled that the man should take Heidi and her trunk to the village and see to it that somebody would go up with her from there.
Not a word had escaped Heidi, until she now said, "I can go up alone from the village. I know the road." Sebastian felt relieved, and calling Heidi to him, presented her with a heavy roll of bills and a letter for the grandfather. These precious things were put at the bottom of the basket, under the rolls, so that they could not possibly get lost.
Heidi promised to be careful of them, and was lifted up to the cart. The two old friends shook hands and parted, and Sebastian, with a slightly bad conscience for having deserted the child so soon, sat down on the station to wait for a returning train.
The driver was no other than the village baker, who had never seen Heidi but had heard a great deal about her. He had known her parents and immediately guessed she was the child who had lived with the Alm-Uncle. Curious to know why she came home again, he began a conversation.
"Are you Heidi, the child who lived with the Alm-Uncle?"
"Why are you coming home again? Did you get on badly?"
"Oh no; nobody could have got on better than I did in Frankfurt."
"Then why are you coming back?"
"Because Mr. Sesemann let me come."
"Pooh! why didn't you stay?"
"Because I would rather be with my grandfather on the Alp than anywhere on earth."
"You may think differently when you get there," muttered the baker. "It is strange though, for she must know," he said to himself.
They conversed no more, and Heidi began to tremble with excitement when she recognized all the trees on the road and the lofty peaks of the mountains. Sometimes she felt as if she could not sit still any longer, but had to jump down and run with all her might. They arrived at the village at the stroke of five. Immediately a large group of women and children surrounded the cart, for the trunk and the little passenger had attracted everybody's notice. When Heidi had been lifted down, she found herself held and questioned on all sides. But when they saw how frightened she was, they let her go at last. The baker had to tell of Heidi's arrival with the strange gentleman, and assured all the people that Heidi loved her grandfather with all her heart, let the people say what they would about him.
Heidi, in the meantime, was running up the path; from time to time she was obliged to stop, for her basket was heavy and she lost her breath. Her one idea was: "If only grandmother still sits in her corner by her spinning wheel!—Oh, if she should have died!" When the child caught sight of the hut at last, her heart began to beat. The quicker she ran, the more it beat, but at last she tremblingly opened the door. She ran into the middle of the room, unable to utter one tone, she was so out of breath.
"Oh God," it sounded from one corner, "our Heidi used to come in like that. Oh, if I just could have her again with me before I die. Who has come?"
"Here I am! grandmother, here I am!" shouted the child, throwing herself on her knees before the old woman. She seized her hands and arms and snuggling up to her did not for joy utter one more word. The grandmother had been so surprised that she could only silently caress the child's curly hair over and over again. "Yes, yes," she said at last, "this is Heidi's hair, and her beloved voice. Oh my God, I thank Thee for this happiness." Out of her blind eyes big tears of joy fell down on Heidi's hand. "Is it really you, Heidi? Have you really come again?"
"Yes, yes, grandmother," the child replied. "You must not cry, for I have come and will never leave you any more. Now you won't have to eat hard black bread any more for a little while. Look what I have brought you."
Heidi put one roll after another into the grandmother's lap.
"Ah, child, what a blessing you bring to me!" the old woman cried. "But you are my greatest blessing yourself, Heidi!" Then, caressing the child's hair and flushed cheeks, she entreated: "Just say one more word, that I may hear your voice."
While Heidi was talking, Peter's mother arrived, and exclaimed in her amazement: "Surely, this is Heidi. But how can that be?"
The child rose to shake hands with Brigida, who could not get over Heidi's splendid frock and hat.
"You can have my hat, I don't want it anymore; I have my old one still," Heidi said, pulling out her old crushed straw hat. Heidi had remembered her grandfather's words to Deta about her feather hat; that was why she had kept her old hat so carefully. Brigida at last accepted the gift after a great many remonstrances. Suddenly Heidi took off her pretty dress and tied her old shawl about her. Taking the grandmother's hand, she said: "Good-bye, I must go home to grandfather now, but I shall come again tomorrow. Good-night, grandmother."
"Oh, please come again tomorrow, Heidi," implored the old woman, while she held her fast.
"Why did you take your pretty dress off?" asked Brigida.
"I'd rather go to grandfather that way, or else he might not know me any more, the way you did."
Brigida accompanied the child outside and said mysteriously: "He would have known you in your frock; you ought to have kept it on. Please be careful, child, for Peter tells us that the uncle never says a word to anyone and always seems so angry." But Heidi was unconcerned, and saying good-night, climbed up the path with the basket on her arm. The evening sun was shining down on the grass before her. Every few minutes Heidi stood still to look at the mountains behind her. Suddenly she looked back and beheld such glory as she had not even seen in her most vivid dream. The rocky peaks were flaming in the brilliant light, the snow-fields glowed and rosy clouds were floating overhead. The grass was like an expanse of gold, and below her the valley swam in golden mist. The child stood still, and in her joy and transport tears ran down her cheeks. She folded her hands, and looking up to heaven, thanked the Lord that He had brought her home again. She thanked Him for restoring her to her beloved mountains,—in her happiness she could hardly find words to pray. Only when the glow had subsided, was Heidi able to follow the path again.
She climbed so fast that she could soon discover, first the tree-tops, then the roof, finally the hut. Now she could see her grandfather sitting on his bench, smoking a pipe. Above the cottage the fir-trees gently swayed and rustled in the evening breeze. At last she had reached the hut, and throwing herself in her grandfather's arms, she hugged him and held him tight. She could say nothing but "Grandfather! grandfather! grandfather!" in her agitation.
The old man said nothing either, but his eyes were moist, and loosening Heidi's arms at last, he sat her on his knee. When he had looked at her a while, he said: "So you have come home again, Heidi? Why? You certainly do not look very cityfied! Did they send you away?"
"Oh no, you must not think that, grandfather. They all were so good to me; Clara, Mr. Sesemann and grandmama. But grandfather, sometimes I felt as if I could not bear it any longer to be away from you! I thought I should choke; I could not tell any one, for that would have been ungrateful. Suddenly, one morning Mr. Sesemann called me very early, I think it was the doctor's fault and—but I think it is probably written in this letter;" with that Heidi brought the letter and the bank-roll from her basket, putting them on her grandfather's lap.
"This belongs to you," he said, laying the roll beside him. Having read the letter, he put it in his pocket.
"Do you think you can still drink milk with me, Heidi?" he asked, while he stepped into the cottage. "Take your money with you, you can buy a bed for it and clothes for many years."
"I don't need it at all, grandfather," Heidi assured him; "I have a bed and Clara has given me so many dresses that I shan't need any more all my life."
"Take it and put it in the cupboard, for you will need it some day."
Heidi obeyed, and danced around the hut in her delight to see all the beloved things again. Running up to the loft, she exclaimed in great disappointment: "Oh grandfather, my bed is gone."
"It will come again," the grandfather called up from below; "how could I know that you were coming back? Get your milk now!"
Heidi, coming down, took her old seat. She seized her bowl and emptied it eagerly, as if it was the most wonderful thing she had ever tasted. "Grandfather, our milk is the best in all the world."
Suddenly Heidi, hearing a shrill whistle, rushed outside, as Peter and all his goats came racing down. Heidi greeted the boy, who stopped, rooted to the spot, staring at her. Then she ran into the midst of her beloved friends, who had not forgotten her either. Schwänli and Bärli bleated for joy, and all her other favorites pressed near to her. Heidi was beside herself with joy, and caressed little Snowhopper and patted Thistlefinch, till she felt herself pushed to and fro among them.
"Peter, why don't you come down and say good-night to me?" Heidi called to the boy.
"Have you come again?" he exclaimed at last. Then he took Heidi's proffered hand and asked her, as if she had been always there: "Are you coming up with me to-morrow?"
"No, tomorrow I must go to grandmother, but perhaps the day after."
Peter had a hard time with his goats that day, for they would not follow him. Over and over again they came back to Heidi, till she entered the shed with Bärli and Schwänli and shut the door.
When Heidi went up to her loft to sleep, she found a fresh, fragrant bed waiting for her; and she slept better that night than she had for many, many months, for her great and burning longing had been satisfied. About ten times that night the grandfather rose from his couch to listen to Heidi's quiet breathing. The window was filled up with hay, for from now on the moon was not allowed to shine on Heidi any more. But Heidi slept quietly, for she had seen the flaming mountains and had heard the fir-trees roar.