NEWS FROM DISTANT FRIENDS
May had come. Warm sunshine was bathing the whole Alp in glorious light, and having melted the last snow, had brought the first spring flowers to the surface. A merry spring wind was blowing, drying up the damp places in the shadow. High above in the azure heaven the eagle floated peacefully.
Heidi and her grandfather were back on the Alp. The child was so happy to be home again that she jumped about among the beloved objects. Here she discovered a new spring bud, and there she watched the gay little gnats and beetles that were swarming in the sun.
The grandfather was busy in his little shop, and a sound of hammering and sawing could be heard. Heidi had to go and see what the grandfather was making. There before the door stood a neat new chair, while the old man was busy making a second.
"Oh, I know what they are for," said Heidi gaily. "You are making them for Clara and grandmama. Oh, but we need a third—or do you think that Miss Rottenmeier won't come, perhaps?"
"I really don't know," said grandfather: "but it is safer to have a chair for her, if she should come."
Heidi, thoughtfully looking at the backless chairs, remarked: "Grandfather, I don't think she would sit down on those."
"Then we must invite her to sit down on the beautiful green lounge of grass," quietly answered the old man.
While Heidi was still wondering what the grandfather had meant, Peter arrived, whistling and calling. As usual, Heidi was soon surrounded by the goats, who also seemed happy to be back on the Alp. Peter, angrily pushing the goats aside, marched up to Heidi, thrusting a letter into her hand.
"Did you get a letter for me on the pasture?" Heidi said, astonished.
"Where did it come from?"
"From my bag."
The letter had been given to Peter the previous evening; putting it in his lunch-bag, the boy had forgotten it there till he opened the bag for his dinner. Heidi immediately recognized Clara's handwriting, and bounding over to her grandfather, exclaimed: "A letter has come from Clara. Wouldn't you like me to read it to you, grandfather?"
Heidi immediately read to her two listeners, as follows:—
We are all packed up and shall travel in two or three days. Papa is leaving, too, but not with us, for he has to go to Paris first. The dear doctor visits us now every day, and as soon as he opens the door, he calls, 'Away to the Alp!' for he can hardly wait for us to go. If you only knew how he enjoyed being with you last fall! He came nearly every day this winter to tell us all about you and the grandfather and the mountains and the flowers he saw. He said that it was so quiet in the pure, delicious air, away from towns and streets, that everybody has to get well there. He is much better himself since his visit, and seems younger and happier. Oh, how I look forward to it all! The doctor's advice is, that I shall go to Ragatz first for about six weeks, then I can go to live in the village, and from there I shall come to see you every fine day. Grandmama, who is coming with me, is looking forward to the trip too. But just think, Miss Rottenmeier does not want to go. When grandmama urges her, she always declines politely. I think Sebastian must have given her such a terrible description of the high rocks and fearful abysses, that she is afraid. I think he told her that it was not safe for anybody, and that only goats could climb such dreadful heights. She used to be so eager to go to Switzerland, but now neither Tinette nor she wants to take the risk. I can hardly wait to see you again!
Good-bye, dear Heidi, with much love from grandmama,
I am your true friend,
When Peter heard this, he swung his rod to right and left. Furiously driving the goats before him, he bounded down the hill.
Heidi visited the grandmother next day, for she had to tell her the good news. Sitting up in her corner, the old woman was spinning as usual. Her face looked sad, for Peter had already announced the near visit of Heidi's friends, and she dreaded the result.
After having poured out her full heart, Heidi looked at the old woman. "What is it, grandmother?" said the child. "Are you not glad?"
"Oh yes, Heidi, I am glad, because you are happy."
"But, grandmother, you seem so anxious. Do you still think Miss Rottenmeier is coming?"
"Oh no, it is nothing. Give me your hand, for I want to be sure that you are still here. I suppose it will be for the best, even if I shall not live to see the day!"
"Oh, but then I would not care about this coming," said the child.
The grandmother had hardly slept all night for thinking of Clara's coming. Would they take Heidi away from her, now that she was well and strong? But for the sake of the child she resolved to be brave.
"Heidi," she said, "please read me the song that begins with 'God will see to it.'"
Heidi immediately did as she was told; she knew nearly all the grandmother's favorite hymns by now and always found them quickly.
"That does me good, child," the old woman said. Already the expression of her face seemed happier and less troubled. "Please read it a few times over, child," she entreated.
Thus evening came, and when Heidi wandered homewards, one twinkling star after another appeared in the sky. Heidi stood still every few minutes, looking up to the firmament in wonder. When she arrived home, her grandfather also was looking up to the stars, murmuring to himself: "What a wonderful month!—one day clearer than the other. The herbs will be fine and strong this year."
The blossom month had passed, and June, with the long, long days, had come. Quantities of flowers were blooming everywhere, filling the air with perfume. The month was nearing its end, when one morning Heidi came running out of the hut, where she had already completed her duties. Suddenly she screamed so loud that the grandfather hurriedly came out to see what had happened.
"Grandfather! Come here! Look, look!"
A strange procession was winding up the Alm. First marched two men, carrying an open sedan chair with a young girl in it, wrapped up in many shawls. Then came a stately lady on horseback, who, talking with a young guide beside her, looked eagerly right and left. Then an empty rolling-chair, carried by a young fellow, was followed by a porter who had so many covers, shawls and furs piled up on his basket that they towered high above his head.
"They are coming! they are coming!" cried Heidi in her joy, and soon the party had arrived at the top. Great was the happiness of the children at seeing each other again. When grandmama had descended from her horse, she tenderly greeted Heidi first, and then turned to the uncle, who had approached the group. The two met like two old friends, they had heard so much about each other.
After the first words were exchanged, the grandmother exclaimed: "My dear uncle, what a wonderful residence you have. Who would have ever thought it! Kings could envy you here! Oh, how well my Heidi is looking, just like a little rose!" she continued, drawing the child closely to her side and patting her cheeks. "What glory everywhere! Clara, what do you say to it all?"
Clara, looking about her rapturously, cried: "Oh, how wonderful, how glorious! I have never dreamt it could be as beautiful as that. Oh grandmama, I wish I could stay here!"
The uncle had busied himself in the meantime with getting Clara's rolling-chair for her. Then, going up to the girl, he gently lifted her into her seat. Putting some covers over her knees, he tucked her feet in warmly. It seemed as if the grandfather had done nothing else all his life than nurse lame people.
"My dear uncle," said the grandmama, surprised, "please tell me where you learned that, for I shall send all the nurses I know here immediately."
The uncle smiled faintly, while he replied: "It comes more from care than study."
His face became sad. Before his eyes had risen bygone times. For that was the way he used to care for his poor wounded captain, whom he had found in Sicily after a violent battle. He alone had been allowed to nurse him till his death, and now he would take just as good care of poor, lame Clara.
When Clara had looked a long time at the cloudless sky above and all the rocky crags, she said longingly: "I wish I could walk round the hut to the fir-trees. If I only could see all the things you told me so much about!"
Heidi pushed with all her might, and behold! the chair rolled easily over the dry grass. When they had come into the little grove, Clara could not see her fill of those splendid trees that must have stood there so many, many years. Although the people had changed and vanished, they had remained the same, ever looking down into the valley.
When they passed the empty goat-shed, Clara said pitifully: "Oh grandmama, if I could only wait up here for Schwänli and Bärli! I am afraid I shan't see Peter and his goats, if we have to go away so soon again."
"Dear child, enjoy now what you can," said the grandmama, who had followed.
"Oh, what wonderful flowers!" exclaimed Clara again; "whole bushes of exquisite, red blossoms. Oh, if I could only pick some of those bluebells!"
Heidi, immediately gathering a large bunch, put them in Clara's lap.
"Clara, this is really nothing in comparison with the many flowers in the pasture. You must come up once and see them. There are so many that the ground seems golden with them. If you ever sit down among them, you will feel as if you could never get up any more, it is so beautiful."
"Oh, grandmama, do you think I can ever go up there?" Clara asked with a wild longing in her eyes. "If I could only walk with you, Heidi, and climb round everywhere!"
"I'll push you!" Heidi said for comfort. To show how easy it was, she pushed the chair at such a rate that it would have tumbled down the mountain, if the grandfather had not stopped it at the last moment.
It was time for dinner now. The table was spread near the bench, and soon everybody sat down. The grandmother was so overcome by the view and the delicious wind that fanned her cheek that she remarked: "What a wondrous place this is! I have never seen its like! But what do I see?" she continued. "I think you are actually eating your second piece of cheese, Clara?"
"Oh grandmama, it tastes better than all the things we get in Ragatz," replied the child, eagerly eating the savory dish.
"Don't stop, our mountain wind helps along where the cooking is faulty!" contentedly said the old man.
During the meal the uncle and the grandmama had soon got into a lively conversation. They seemed to agree on many things, and understood each other like old friends. A little later the grandmama looked over to the west.
"We must soon start, Clara, for the sun is already low; our guides will be here shortly."
Clara's face had become sad, and she entreated: "Oh, please let us stay here another hour or so. We haven't even seen the hut yet. I wish the day were twice as long."
The grandmama assented to Clara's wish to go inside. When the rolling-chair was found too broad for the door, the uncle quietly lifted Clara in his strong arms and carried her in. Grandmama was eagerly looking about her, glad to see everything so neat. Then going up the little ladder to the hay-loft, she discovered Heidi's bed. "Is that your bed, Heidi? What a delicious perfume! It must be a healthy place to sleep," she said, looking out through the window. The grandfather, with Clara, was coming up, too, with Heidi following.
Clara was perfectly entranced. "What a lovely place to sleep! Oh, Heidi, you can look right up to the sky from your bed. What a good smell! You can hear the fir-trees roar here, can't you? Oh, I never saw a more delightful bed-room!"
The uncle, looking at the old lady, said now: "I have an idea that it would give Clara new strength to stay up here with us a little while. Of course, I only mean if you did not object. You have brought so many wraps that we can easily make a soft bed for Clara here. My dear lady, you can easily leave the care to me. I'll undertake it gladly."
The children screamed for joy, and grandmama's face was beaming.
"What a fine man you are!" she burst out. "I was just thinking myself that a stay here would strengthen the child, but then I thought of the care and trouble for you. And now you have offered to do it, as if it was nothing at all. How can I thank you enough, uncle?"
After shaking hands many times, the two prepared Clara's bed, which, thanks to the old lady's precautions, was soon so soft that the hay could not be felt through at all.
The uncle had carried his new patient back to her rolling-chair, and there they found her sitting, with Heidi beside her. They were eagerly talking of their plans for the coming weeks. When they were told that Clara might stay for a month or so, their faces beamed more than ever.
The guide, with the horse, and the carriers of the chair, now appeared, but the last two were not needed any more and could be sent away.
When the grandmother got ready to leave, Clara called gaily to her: "Oh grandmama, it won't be long, for you must often come and see us."
While the uncle was leading the horse down the steep incline, the grandmama told him that she would go back to Ragatz, for the Dörfli was too lonely for her. She also promised to come back from time to time.
Before the grandfather had returned, Peter came racing down to the hut with all his goats. Seeing Heidi, they ran up to her in haste, and so Clara made the acquaintance of Schwänli and Bärli and all the others.
Peter, however, kept away, only sending furious looks at the two girls. When they bade him good-night, he only ran away, beating the air with his stick.
The end of the joyous day had come. The two children were both lying in their beds.
"Oh, Heidi!" Clara exclaimed, "I can see so many glittering stars, and I feel as if we were driving in a high carriage straight into the sky."
"Yes, and do you know why the stars twinkle so merrily?" inquired Heidi.
"No, but tell me."
"Because they know that God in heaven looks after us mortals and we never need to fear. See, they twinkle and show us how to be merry, too. But Clara, we must not forget to pray to God and ask Him to think of us and keep us safe."
Sitting up in bed, they then said their evening prayer. As soon as Heidi lay down, she fell asleep. But Clara could not sleep quite yet, it was too wonderful to see the stars from her bed.
In truth she had never seen them before, because in Frankfurt all the blinds were always down long before the stars came out, and at night she had never been outside the house. She could hardly keep her eyes shut, and had to open them again and again to watch the twinkling, glistening stars, till her eyes closed at last and she saw two big, glittering stars in her dream.