A GUEST ON THE ALP
The early dawn was tinging the mountains and a fresh morning-breeze rocked the old fir-trees to and fro. Heidi opened her eyes, for the rustling of the wind had awakened her. These sounds always thrilled her heart, and now they drew her out of bed. Rising hurriedly, she soon was neatly dressed and combed.
Coming down the little ladder and finding the grandfather's bed empty, she ran outside. The old man was looking up at the sky to see what the weather was going to be like that day. Rosy clouds were passing overhead, but gradually the sky grew more blue and deep, and soon a golden light passed over the heights, for the sun was rising in all his glory.
"Oh, how lovely! Good-morning, grandfather," Heidi exclaimed.
"Are your eyes bright already?" the grandfather retorted, holding out his hand.
Heidi then ran over to her beloved fir-trees and danced about, while the wind was howling in the branches.
After the old man had washed and milked the goats, he brought them out of the shed. When Heidi saw her friends again, she caressed them tenderly, and they in their turn nearly crushed her between them. Sometimes when Bärli got too wild, Heidi would say: "But Bärli, you push me like the Big Turk," and that was enough to quiet the goat.
Soon Peter arrived with the whole herd, the jolly Thistlefinch ahead of all the others. Heidi, being soon in the mist of them, was pushed about among them. Peter was anxious to say a word to the little girl, so he gave a shrill whistle, urging the goats to climb ahead. When he was near her he said reproachfully: "You really might come with me to-day!"
"No, I can't, Peter," said Heidi. "They might come from Frankfurt any time. I must be home when they come."
"How often you have said that," grumbled the boy.
"But I mean it," replied Heidi. "Do you really think I want to be away when they come from Frankfurt? Do you really think that, Peter?"
"They could come to uncle," Peter growled.
Then the grandfather's strong voice was heard: "Why doesn't the army go forward? Is it the field-marshal's fault, or the fault of the troop?"
Peter immediately turned about and led his goats up the mountain without more ado.
Since Heidi had come home again to her grandfather she did many things that had never occurred to her before. For instance, she would make her bed every morning, and run about the hut, tidying and dusting. With an old rag she would rub the chairs and table till they all shone, and the grandfather would exclaim: "It is always Sunday with us now; Heidi has not been away in vain."
On this day after breakfast, when Heidi began her self-imposed task, it took her longer than usual, for the weather was too glorious to stay within. Over and over again a bright sunbeam would tempt the busy child outside. How could she stay indoors, when the glistening sunshine was pouring down and all the mountains seemed to glow? She had to sit down on the dry, hard ground and look down into the valley and all about her. Then, suddenly remembering her little duties, she would hasten back. It was not long, though, till the roaring fir-trees tempted her again. The grandfather had been busy in his little shop, merely glancing over at the child from time to time. Suddenly he heard her call: "Oh grandfather, come!"
He was frightened and came out quickly He saw her running down the hill crying: "They are coming, they are coming. Oh, the doctor is coming first."
When Heidi at last reached her old friend, he held out his hand, which Heidi immediately seized. In the full joy of her heart, she exclaimed: "How do you do, doctor? And I thank you a thousand times!"
"How are you, Heidi? But what are you thanking me for already?" the doctor asked, with a smile.
"Because you let me come home again," the child explained.
The gentleman's face lit up like sunshine. He had certainly not counted on such a reception on the Alp. On the contrary! Not even noticing all the beauty around him, he had climbed up sadly, for he was sure that Heidi probably would not know him any more. He thought that he would be far from welcome, being obliged to cause her a great disappointment. Instead, he beheld Heidi's bright eyes looking up at him in gratefulness and love. She was still holding his arm, when he said: "Come now, Heidi, and take me to your grandfather, for I want to see where you live."
Like a kind father he had taken her hand, but Heidi stood still and looked down the mountain-side.
"But where are Clara and grandmama?" she asked.
"Child, I must tell you something now which will grieve you as much as it grieves me," replied the doctor. "I had to come alone, for Clara has been very ill and could not travel. Of course grandmama has not come either; but the spring will soon be here, and when the days get long and warm, they will surely visit you."
Heidi was perfectly amazed; she could not understand how all those things that she had pictured to herself so clearly would not happen after all. She was standing perfectly motionless, confused by the blow.
It was some time before Heidi remembered that, after all, she had come down to meet the doctor. Looking up at her friend, she was struck by his sad and cheerless face. How changed he was since she had seen him! She did not like to see people unhappy, least of all the good, kind doctor. He must be sad because Clara and grandmama had not come, and to console him she said: "Oh, it won't last long till spring comes again; then they will come for sure; they'll be able to stay much longer then, and that will please Clara. Now we'll go to grandfather."
Hand in hand she climbed up with her old friend. All the way she tried to cheer him up by telling him again and again of the coming summer days. After they had reached the cottage, she called out to her grandfather quite happily:
"They are not here yet, but it won't be very long before they are coming!"
The grandfather warmly welcomed his guest, who did not seem at all a stranger, for had not Heidi told him many things about the doctor? They all three sat down on the bench before the door, and the doctor told of the object of his visit. He whispered to the child that something was coming up the mountain very soon which would bring her more pleasure than his visit. What could it be?
The uncle advised the doctor to spend the splendid days of autumn on the Alp, if possible, and to take a little room in the village instead of in Ragatz; then he could easily walk up every day to the hut, and from there the uncle could take him all around the mountains. This plan was accepted.
The sun was in its zenith and the wind had ceased. Only a soft delicious breeze fanned the cheeks of all.
The uncle now got up and went into the hut, returning soon with a table and their dinner.
"Go in, Heidi, and set the table here. I hope you will excuse our simple meal," he said, turning to his guest.
"I shall gladly accept this delightful invitation; I am sure that dinner will taste good up here," said the guest, looking down over the sun-bathed valley.
Heidi was running to and fro, for it gave her great joy to be able to wait on her kind protector. Soon the uncle appeared with the steaming milk, the toasted cheese, and the finely-sliced, rosy meat that had been dried in the pure air. The doctor enjoyed his dinner better than any he had ever tasted.
"Yes, we must send Clara up here. How she could gather strength!" he said; "If she would have an appetite like mine to-day, she couldn't help getting nice and fat."
At this moment a man could be seen walking up with a large sack on his shoulders. Arriving on top, he threw down his load, breathing in the pure, fresh air.
Opening the cover, the doctor said: "This has come for you from Frankfurt, Heidi. Come and look what is in it."
Heidi timidly watched the heap, and only when the gentleman opened the box with the cakes for the grandmother she said joyfully: "Oh, now grandmother can eat this lovely cake." She was taking the box and the beautiful shawl on her arm and was going to race down to deliver the gifts, when the men persuaded her to stay and unpack the rest. What was her delight at finding the tobacco and all the other things. The men had been talking together, when the child suddenly planted herself in front of them and said: "These things have not given me as much pleasure as the dear doctor's coming." Both men smiled.
When it was near sunset, the doctor rose to start on his way down. The grandfather, carrying the box, the shawl and the sausage, and the guest holding the little girl by the hand, they wandered down the mountain-side. When they reached Peter's hut, Heidi was told to go inside and wait for her grandfather there. At parting she asked: "Would you like to come with me up to the pasture to-morrow, doctor?"
"With pleasure. Good-bye, Heidi," was the reply. The grandfather had deposited all the presents before the door, and it took Heidi long to carry in the huge box and the sausage. The shawl she put on the grandmother's knee.
Brigida had silently watched the proceedings, and could not open her eyes wide enough when she saw the enormous sausage. Never in her life had she seen the like, and now she really possessed it and could cut it herself.
"Oh grandmother, don't the cakes please you awfully? Just look how soft they are!" the child exclaimed. What was her amazement when she saw the grandmother more pleased with the shawl, which would keep her warm in winter.
"Grandmother, Clara has sent you that," Heidi said.
"Oh, what kind good people they are to think of a poor old woman like me! I never thought I should ever own such a splendid wrap."
At this moment Peter came stumbling in.
"The uncle is coming up behind me, and Heidi must—" that was as far as he got, for his eyes had fastened on the sausage. Heidi, however, had already said good-bye, for she knew what he had meant. Though her uncle never went by the hut any more without stepping in, she knew it was too late to-day. "Heidi, come, you must get your sleep," he called through the open door. Bidding them all good-night, he took Heidi by the hand and under the glistening stars they wandered home to their peaceful cottage.