Chapter XX. News From Distant Friends
It was the month of May. From every height the full fresh streams of spring were flowing down into the valley. The clear warm sunshine lay upon the mountain, which had turned green again. The last snows had disappeared and the sun had already coaxed many of the flowers to show their bright heads above the grass. Up above the gay young wind of spring was singing through the fir trees, and shaking down the old dark needles to make room for the new bright green ones that were soon to deck out the trees in their spring finery. Higher up still the great bird went circling round in the blue ether as of old, while the golden sunshine lit up the grandfather's hut, and all the ground about it was warm and dry again so that one might sit out where one liked. Heidi was at home again on the mountain, running backwards and forwards in her accustomed way, not knowing which spot was most delightful. Now she stood still to listen to the deep, mysterious voice of the wind, as it blew down to her from the mountain summits, coming nearer and nearer and gathering strength as it came, till it broke with force against the fir trees, bending and shaking them, and seeming to shout for joy, so that she too, though blown about like a feather, felt she must join in the chorus of exulting sounds. Then she would run round again to the sunny space in front of the hut, and seating herself on the ground would peer closely into the short grass to see how many little flower cups were open or thinking of opening. She rejoiced with all the myriad little beetles and winged insects that jumped and crawled and danced in the sun, and drew in deep draughts of the spring scents that rose from the newly-awakened earth, and thought the mountain was more beautiful than ever. All the tiny living creatures must be as happy as she, for it seemed to her there were little voices all round her singing and humming in joyful tones, "On the mountain! on the mountain!"
From the shed at the back came the sound of sawing and chopping, and Heidi listened to it with pleasure, for it was the old familiar sound she had known from the beginning of her life up here. Suddenly she jumped up and ran round, for she must know what her grandfather was doing. In front of the shed door already stood a finished new chair, and a second was in course of construction under the grandfather's skilful hand.
"Oh, I know what these are for," exclaimed Heidi in great glee. "We shall want them when they all come from Frankfurt. This one is for Grandmamma, and the one you are now making is for Clara, and then--then, there will, I suppose, have to be another," continued Heidi with more hesitation in her voice, "or do you think, grandfather, that perhaps Fraulein Rottenmeier will not come with them?"
"Well, I cannot say just yet," replied her grandfather, "but it will be safer to make one so that we can offer her a seat if she does."
Heidi looked thoughtfully at the plain wooden chair without arms as if trying to imagine how Fraulein Rottenmeier and a chair of this sort would suit one another. After a few minutes' contemplation, "Grandfather," she said, shaking her head doubtfully, "I don't think she would be able to sit on that."
"Then we will invite her on the couch with the beautiful green turf feather-bed," was her grandfather's quiet rejoinder.
While Heidi was pausing to consider what this might be there approached from above a whistling, calling, and other sounds which Heidi immediately recognised. She ran out and found herself surrounded by her four-footed friends. They were apparently as pleased as she was to be among the heights again, for they leaped about and bleated for joy, pushing Heidi this way and that, each anxious to express his delight with some sign of affection. But Peter sent them flying to right and left, for he had something to give to Heidi. When he at last got up to her he handed her a letter.
"There!" he exclaimed, leaving the further explanation of the matter to Heidi herself.
"Did some one give you this while you were out with the goats," she asked, in her surprise.
"No," was the answer.
"Where did you get it from then?
"I found it in the dinner bag."
Which was true to a certain extent. The letter to Heidi had been given him the evening before by the postman at Dorfli, and Peter had put it into his empty bag. That morning he had stuffed his bread and cheese on the top of it, and had forgotten it when he fetched Alm-Uncle's two goats; only when he had finished his bread and cheese at mid-day and was searching in the bag for any last crumbs did he remember the letter which lay at the bottom.
Heidi read the address carefully; then she ran back to the shed holding out her letter to her grandfather in high glee. "From Frankfurt! from Clara! Would you like to hear it?"
The grandfather was ready and pleased to do so, as also Peter, who had followed Heidi into the shed. He leant his back against the door post, as he felt he could follow Heidi's reading better if firmly supported from behind, and so stood prepared to listen.
"Dearest Heidi,-- Everything is packed and we shall start now in two or three days, as soon as papa himself is ready to leave; he is not coming with us as he has first to go to Paris. The doctor comes every day, and as soon as he is inside the door, he cries, 'Off now as quickly as you can, off to the mountain.' He is most impatient about our going. You cannot think how much he enjoyed himself when he was with you! He has called nearly every day this winter, and each time he has come in to my room and said he must tell me about everything again. And then he sits down and describes all he did with you and the grandfather, and talks of the mountains and the flowers and of the great silence up there far above all towns and the villages, and of the fresh delicious air, and often adds, 'No one can help getting well up there.' He himself is quite a different man since his visit, and looks quite young again and happy, which he had not been for a long time before. Oh, how I am looking forward to seeing everything and to being with you on the mountain, and to making the acquaintance of Peter and the goats.
"I shall have first to go through a six weeks' cure at Ragatz; this the doctor has ordered, and then we shall move up to Dorfli, and every fine day I shall be carried up the mountain in my chair and spend the day with you. Grandmamma is travelling with me and will remain with me; she also is delighted at the thought of paying you a visit. But just imagine, Fraulein Rottenmeier refuses to come with us. Almost every day grandmamma says to her, 'Well, how about this Swiss journey, my worthy Rottenmeier? Pray say if you really would like to come with us.' But she always thanks grandmamma very politely and says she has quite made up her mind. I think I know what has done it: Sebastian gave such a frightful description of the mountain, of how the rocks were so overhanging and dangerous that at any minute you might fall into a crevasse, and how it was such steep climbing that you feared at every step to go slipping to the bottom, and that goats alone could make their way up without fear of being killed. She shuddered when she heard him tell of all this, and since then she has not been so enthusiastic about Switzerland as she was before. Fear has also taken possession of Tinette, and she also refuses to come. So grandmamma and I will be alone; Sebastian will go with us as far as Ragatz and then return here.
"I can hardly bear waiting till I see you again. Good-bye, dearest Heidi; grandmamma sends you her best love and all good wishes.--Your affectionate friend, "Clara."
Peter, as soon as the conclusion of the letter had been reached, left his reclining position and rushed out, twirling his stick in the air in such a reckless fashion that the frightened goats fled down the mountain before him with higher and wider leaps than usual. Peter followed at full speed, his stick still raised in air in a menacing manner as if he was longing to vent his fury on some invisible foe. This foe was indeed the prospect of the arrival of the Frankfurt visitors, the thought of whom filled him with exasperation.
Heidi was so full of joyful anticipation that she determined to seize the first possible moment next day to go down and tell grandmother who was coming, and also particularly who was not coming. These details would be of great interest to her, for grandmother knew well all the persons named from Heidi's description, and had entered with deep sympathy into all that the child had told her of her life and surroundings in Frankfurt. Heidi paid her visit in the early afternoon, for she could now go alone again; the sun was bright in the heavens and the days were growing longer, and it was delightful to go racing down the mountain over the dry ground, with the brisk May wind blowing from behind, and speeding Heidi on her way a little more quickly than her legs alone would have carried her.
The grandmother was no longer confined to her bed. She was back in her corner at her spinning-wheel, but there was an expression on her face of mournful anxiety. Peter had come in the evening before brimful of anger and had told about the large party who were coming up from Frankfurt, and he did not know what other things might happen after that; and the old woman had not slept all night, pursued by the old thought of Heidi being taken from her. Heidi ran in, and taking her little stool immediately sat down by grandmother and began eagerly pouring out all her news, growing more excited with her pleasure as she went on. But all of a sudden she stopped short and said anxiously, "What is the matter, grandmother, aren't you a bit pleased with what I am telling you?"
"Yes, yes, of course, child, since it gives you so much pleasure," she answered, trying to look more cheerful.
"But I can see all the same that something troubles you. Is it because you think after all that Fraulein Rottenmeier may come?" asked Heidi, beginning to feel anxious herself.
"No, no! it is nothing, child," said the grandmother, wishing to reassure her. "Just give me your hand that I may feel sure you are there. No doubt it would be the best thing for you, although I feel I could scarcely survive it."
"I do not want anything of the best if you could scarcely survive it," said Heidi, in such a determined tone of voice that the grandmother's fears increased as she felt sure the people from Frankfurt were coming to take Heidi back with them, since now she was well again they naturally wished to have her with them once more. But she was anxious to hide her trouble from Heidi if possible, as the latter was so sympathetic that she might refuse perhaps to go away, and that would not be right. She sought for help, but not for long, for she knew of only one.
"Heidi," she said, "there is something that would comfort me and calm my thoughts; read me the hymn beginning: 'All things will work for good.'"
Heidi found the place at once and read out in her clear young voice:--
All things will work for good To those who trust in Me; I come with healing on my wings, To save and set thee free.
"Yes, yes, that is just what I wanted to hear," said the grandmother, and the deep expression of trouble passed from her face. Heidi looked at her thoughtfully for a minute or two and then said, "Healing means that which cures everything and makes everybody well, doesn't it, grandmother?"
"Yes, that is it," replied the old woman with a nod of assent, "and we may be sure everything will come to pass according to God's good purpose. Read the verse again, that we may remember it well and not forget it again."
And Heidi read the words over two or three times, for she also found pleasure in this assurance of all things being arranged for the best.
When the evening came, Heidi returned home up the mountain. The stars came out overhead one by one, so bright and sparkling that each seemed to send a fresh ray of joy into her heart; she was obliged to pause continually to look up, and as the whole sky at last grew spangled with them she spoke aloud, "Yes, I understand now why we feel so happy, and are not afraid about anything, because God knows what is good and beautiful for us." And the stars with their glistening eyes continued to nod to her till she reached home, where she found her grandfather also standing and looking up at them, for they had seldom been more glorious than they were this night.
Not only were the nights of this month of May so clear and bright, but the days as well; the sun rose every morning into the cloudless sky, as undimmed in its splendor as when it sank the evening before, and the grandfather would look out early and exclaim with astonishment, "This is indeed a wonderful year of sun; it will make all the shrubs and plants grow apace; you will have to see, general, that your army does not get out of hand from overfeeding." And Peter would swing his stick with an air of assurance and an expression on his face as much as to say, "see to that."
So May passed, everything growing greener and greener, and then came the month of June, with a hotter sun and long light days, that brought the flowers out all over the mountain, so that every spot was bright with them and the air full of their sweet scents. This month too was drawing to its close when one day Heidi, having finished her domestic duties, ran out with the intention of paying first a visit to the fir trees, and then going up higher to see if the bush of rock roses was yet in bloom, for its flowers were so lovely when standing open in the sun. But just as she was turning the corner of the hut, she gave such a loud cry that her grandfather came running out of the shed to see what had happened.
"Grandfather, grandfather!" she cried, beside herself with excitement. "Come here! look! look!"
The old man was by her side by this time and looked in the direction of her outstretched hand.
A strange looking procession was making its way up the mountain; in front were two men carrying a sedan chair, in which sat a girl well wrapped up in shawls; then followed a horse, mounted by a stately-looking lady who was looking about her with great interest and talking to the guide who walked beside her; then a reclining chair, which was being pushed up by another man, it having evidently been thought safer to send the invalid to whom it belonged up the steep path in a sedan chair. The procession wound up with a porter, with such a bundle of cloaks, shawls, and furs on his back that it rose well above his head.
"Here they come! here they come!" shouted Heidi, jumping with joy. And sure enough it was the party from Frankfurt; the figures came nearer and nearer, and at last they had actually arrived. The men in front put down their burden, Heidi rushed forward and the two children embraced each other with mutual delight. Grandmamma having also reached the top, dismounted, and gave Heidi an affectionate greeting, before turning to the grandfather, who had meanwhile come up to welcome his guests. There was no constraint about the meeting, for they both knew each other perfectly well from hearsay and felt like old acquaintances.
After the first words of greeting had been exchanged grandmamma broke out into lively expressions of admiration. "What a magnificent residence you have, Uncle! I could hardly have believed it was so beautiful! A king might well envy you! And how well my little Heidi looks--like a wild rose!" she continued, drawing the child towards her and stroking her fresh pink cheeks. "I don't know which way to look first, it is all so lovely! What do you say to it, Clara, what do you say?"
Clara was gazing round entranced; she had never imagined, much less seen, anything so beautiful. She gave vent to her delight in cries of joy. "O grandmamma," she said, "I should like to remain here for ever."
The grandfather had meanwhile drawn up the invalid chair and spread some of the wraps over it; he now went up to Clara.
"Supposing we carry the little daughter now to her accustomed chair; I think she will be more comfortable, the travelling sedan is rather hard," he said, and without waiting for any one to help him he lifted the child in his strong arms and laid her gently down on her own couch. He then covered her over carefully and arranged her feet on the soft cushion, as if he had never done anything all his life but attend on cripples. The grandmamma looked on with surprise.
"My dear Uncle," she exclaimed, "if I knew where you had learned to nurse I would at once send all the nurses I know to the same place that they might handle their patients in like manner. How do you come to know so much?"
Uncle smiled. "I know more from experience than training," he answered, but as he spoke the smile died away and a look of sadness passed over his face. The vision rose before him of a face of suffering that he had known long years before, the face of a man lying crippled on his couch of pain, and unable to move a limb. The man had been his Captain during the fierce fighting in Sicily; he had found him lying wounded and had carried him away, and after that the captain would suffer no one else near him, and Uncle had stayed and nursed him till his sufferings ended in death. It all came back to Uncle now, and it seemed natural to him to attend on the sick Clara and to show her all those kindly attentions with which he had been once so familiar.
The sky spread blue and cloudless over the hut and the fir trees and far above over the high rocks, the grey summits of which glistened in the sun. Clara could not feast her eyes enough on all the beauty around her.
"O Heidi, if only I could walk about with you," she said longingly, "if I could but go and look at the fir trees and at everything I know so well from your description, although I have never been here before."
Heidi in response put out all her strength, and after a slight effort, managed to wheel Clara's chair quite easily round the hut to the fir trees. There they paused. Clara had never seen such trees before, with their tall, straight stems, and long thick branches growing thicker and thicker till they touched the ground. Even the grandmamma, who had followed the children, was astonished at the sight of them. She hardly knew what to admire most in these ancient trees: the lofty tops rising in their full green splendor towards the sky, or the pillar-like stems, with their straight and gigantic boughs, that spoke of such antiquity of age, of such long years during which they had looked down upon the valley below, where men came and went, and all things were continually changing, while they stood undisturbed and changeless.
Heidi had now wheeled Clara on to the goat shed, and had flung open the door, so that Clara might have a full view of all that was inside. There was not much to see just now as its indwellers were absent. Clara lamented to her grandmother that they would have to leave early before the goats came home. "I should so like to have seen Peter and his whole flock."
"Dear child, let us enjoy all the beautiful things that we can see, and not think about those that we cannot," grandmamma replied as she followed the chair which Heidi was pushing further on.
"Oh, the flowers!" exclaimed Clara. "Look at the bushes of red flowers, and all the nodding blue bells! Oh, if I could but get up and pick some!"
Heidi ran off at once and picked her a large nosegay of them.
"But these are nothing, Clara," she said, laying the flowers on her lap. "If you could come up higher to where the goats are feeding, then you would indeed see something! Bushes on bushes of the red centaury, and ever so many more of the blue bell- flowers; and then the bright yellow rock roses, that gleam like pure gold, and all crowding together in the one spot. And then there are others with the large leaves that grandfather calls Bright Eyes, and the brown ones with little round heads that smell so delicious. Oh, it is beautiful up there, and if you sit down among them you never want to get up again, everything looks and smells so lovely!"
Heidi's eyes sparkled with the remembrance of what she was describing; she was longing herself to see it all again, and Clara caught her enthusiasm and looked back at her with equal longing in her soft blue eyes.
"Grandmamma, do you think I could get up there? Is it possible for me to go?" she asked eagerly. "If only I could walk, climb about everywhere with you, Heidi!"
"I am sure I could push you up, the chair goes so easily," said Heidi, and in proof of her words, she sent the chair at such a pace round the corner that it nearly went flying down the mountain-side. Grandmamma being at hand, however, stopped it in time.
The grandfather, meantime, had not been idle. He had by this time put the table and extra chairs in front of the seat, so that they might all sit out here and eat the dinner that was preparing inside. The milk and the cheese were soon ready, and then the company sat down in high spirits to their mid-day meal.
Grandmamma was enchanted, as the doctor had been, with their dining-room, whence one could see far along the valley, and far over the mountains to the farthest stretch of blue sky. A light wind blew refreshingly over them as they sat at table, and the rustling of the fir trees made a festive accompaniment to the repast.
"I never enjoyed anything as much as this. It is really superb!" cried grandmamma two or three times over; and then suddenly in a tone of surprise,
"Do I really see you taking a second piece of toasted cheese, Clara!"
There, sure enough, was a second golden-colored slice of cheese on Clara's plate.
"Oh, it does taste so nice, grandmamma--better than all the dishes we have at Ragatz," replied Clara, as she continued eating with appetite.
"That's right, eat what you can!" exclaimed Uncle. "It's the mountain air which makes up for the deficiencies of the kitchen."
And so the meal went on. Grandmamma and Alm-Uncle got on very well together, and their conversation became more and more lively. They were so thoroughly agreed in their opinions of men and things and the world in general that they might have been taken for old cronies. The time passed merrily, and then grandmamma looked towards the west and said,--
"We must soon get ready to go, Clara, the sun is a good way down; the men will be here directly with the horse and sedan."
Clara's face fell and she said beseechingly, "Oh, just another hour, grandmamma, or two hours. We haven't seen inside the hut yet, or Heidi's bed, or any of the other things. If only the day was ten hours long!"
"Well, that is not possible," said grandmamma, but she herself was anxious to see inside the hut, so they all rose from the table and Uncle wheeled Clara's chair to the door. But there they came to a standstill, for the chair was much too broad to pass through the door. Uncle, however, soon settled the difficulty by lifting Clara in his strong arms and carrying her inside.
Grandmamma went all round and examined the household arrangements, and was very much amused and pleased at their orderliness and the cozy appearance of everything. "And this is your bedroom up here, Heidi, is it not?" she asked, as without trepidation she mounted the ladder to the hay loft. "Oh, it does smell sweet, what a healthy place to sleep in." She went up to the round window and looked out, and grandfather followed up with Clara in his arms, Heidi springing up after them. Then they all stood and examined Heidi's wonderful hay-bed, and grandmamma looked thoughtfully at it and drew in from time to time fragrant draughts of the hay-perfumed air, while Clara was charmed beyond words with Heidi's sleeping apartment.
"It is delightful for you up here, Heidi! You can look from your bed straight into the sky, and then such a delicious smell all round you! and outside the fir trees waving and rustling! I have never seen such a pleasant, cheerful bedroom before."
Uncle looked across at the grandmamma. "I have been thinking," he said to her, "that if you were willing to agree to it, your little granddaughter might remain up here, and I am sure she would grow stronger. You have brought up all kinds of shawls and covers with you, and we could make up a soft bed out of them, and as to the general looking after the child, you need have no fear, for I will see to that." Clara and Heidi were as overjoyed at these words as if they were two birds let out of their cages, and grandmamma's face beamed with satisfaction.
"You are indeed kind, my dear Uncle," she exclaimed; "you give words to the thought that was in my own mind. I was only asking myself whether a stay up here might not be the very thing she wanted. But then the trouble, the inconvenience to yourself! And you speak of nursing and looking after her as if it was a mere nothing! I thank you sincerely, I thank you from my whole heart, Uncle." And she took his hand and gave it a long and grateful shake, which he returned with a pleased expression of countenance.
Uncle immediately set to work to get things ready. He carried Clara back to her chair outside, Heidi following, not knowing how to jump high enough into the air to express her contentment. Then he gathered up a whole pile of shawls and furs and said, smiling, "It is a good thing that grandmamma came up well provided for a winter's campaign; we shall be able to make good use of these."
"Foresight is a virtue," responded the lady, amused, "and prevents many misfortunes. If we have made the journey over your mountains without meeting with storms, winds and cloud-bursts, we can only be thankful, which we are, and my provision against these disasters now comes in usefully, as you say."
The two had meanwhile ascended to the hay-loft and begun to prepare a bed; there were so many articles piled one over the other that when finished it looked like a regular little fortress. Grandmamma passed her hand carefully over it to make sure there were no bits of hay sticking out. "If there's a bit that can come through it will," she said. The soft mattress, however, was so smooth and thick that nothing could penetrate it. Then they went down again, well satisfied, and found the children laughing and talking together and arranging all they were going to do from morning till evening as long as Clara stayed. The next question was how long she was to remain, and first grandmamma was asked, but she referred them to the grandfather, who gave it as his opinion that she ought to make the trial of the mountain air for at least a month. The children clapped their hands for joy, for they had not expected to be together for so long a time.
The bearers and the horse and guide were now seen approaching; the former were sent back at once, and grandmamma prepared to mount for her return journey.
"It's not saying good-bye, grandmamma," Clara called out, "for you will come up now and then and see how we are getting on, and we shall so look forward to your visits, shan't we, Heidi?"
Heidi, who felt that life this day had been crowded with pleasures, could only respond to Clara with another jump of joy.
Grandmamma being now seated on her sturdy animal, Uncle took the bridle to lead her down the steep mountain path; she begged him not to come far with her, but he insisted on seeing her safely as far as Dorfli, for the way was precipitous and not without danger for the rider, he said.
Grandmamma did not care to stay alone in Dorfli, and therefore decided to return to Ragatz, and thence to make excursions up the mountain from time to time.
Peter came down with his goats before Uncle had returned. As soon as the animals caught sight of Heidi they all came flocking towards her, and she, as well as Clara on her couch, were soon surrounded by the goats, pushing and poking their heads one over the other, while Heidi introduced each in turn by its name to her friend Clara.
It was not long before the latter had made the long-wished-for acquaintance of little Snowflake, the lively Greenfinch, and the well-behaved goats belonging to grandfather, as well as of the many others, including the Grand Turk. Peter meanwhile stood apart looking on, and casting somewhat unfriendly glances towards Clara.
When the two children called out, "Good-evening, Peter," he made no answer, but swung up his stick angrily, as if wanting to cut the air in two, and then ran off with his goats after him.
The climax to all the beautiful things that Clara had already seen upon the mountain came at the close of the day.
As she lay on the large soft bed in the hay loft, with Heidi near her, she looked out through the round open window right into the middle of the shining clusters of stars, and she exclaimed in delight,--
"Heidi, it's just as if we were in a high carriage and were going to drive straight into heaven."
"Yes, and do you know why the stars are so happy and look down and nod to us like that?" asked Heidi.
"No, why is it?" Clara asked in return.
"Because they live up in heaven, and know how well God arranges everything for us, so that we need have no more fear or trouble and may be quite sure that all things will come right in the end. That's why they are so happy, and they nod to us because they want us to be happy too. But then we must never forget to pray, and to ask God to remember us when He is arranging things, so that we too may feel safe and have no anxiety about what is going to happen."
The two children now sat up and said their prayers, and then Heidi put her head down on her little round arm and fell off to sleep at once, but Clara lay awake some time, for she could not get over the wonder of this new experience of being in bed up here among the stars. She had indeed seldom seen a star, for she never went outside the house at night, and the curtains at home were always drawn before the stars came out. Each time she closed her eyes she felt she must open them again to see if the two very large stars were still looking in, and nodding to her as Heidi said they did. There they were, always in the same place, and Clara felt she could not look long enough into their bright sparkling faces, until at last her eyes closed of their own accord, and it was only in her dreams that she still saw the two large friendly stars shining down upon her.