By Johanna Spyri
Public Domain Books
Chapter X. Another Grandmother
There was much expectation and preparation about the house on the following evening, and it was easy to see that the lady who was coming was one whose opinion was highly thought of, and for whom everybody had a great respect. Tinette had a new white cap on her head, and Sebastian collected all the footstools he could find and placed them in convenient spots, so that the lady might find one ready to her feet whenever she chose to sit. Fraulein Rottenmeier went about surveying everything, very upright and dignified, as if to show that though a rival power was expected, her own authority was not going to be extinguished.
And now the carriage came driving up to the door, and Tinette and Sebastian ran down the steps, followed with a slower and more stately step by the lady, who advanced to greet the guest. Heidi had been sent up to her room and ordered to remain there until called down, as the grandmother would certainly like to see Clara alone first. Heidi sat herself down in a corner and repeated her instructions over to herself. She had not to wait long before Tinette put her head in and said abruptly, “Go downstairs into the study.”
Heidi had not dared to ask Fraulein Rottenmeier again how she was to address the grandmother: she thought the lady had perhaps made a mistake, for she had never heard any one called by other than their right name. As she opened the study door she heard a kind voice say, “Ah, here comes the child! Come along in and let me have a good look at you.”
Heidi walked up to her and said very distinctly in her clear voice, “Good-evening,” and then wishing to follow her instructions called her what would be in English “Mrs. Madam.”
“Well!” said the grandmother, laughing, “is that how they address people in your home on the mountain?”
“No,” replied Heidi gravely, “I never knew any one with that name before.”
“Nor I either,” laughed the grandmother again as she patted Heidi’s cheek. “Never mind! when I am with the children I am always grandmamma; you won’t forget that name, will you?”
“No, no,” Heidi assured her, “I often used to say it at home.”
“I understand,” said the grandmother, with a cheerful little nod of the head. Then she looked more closely at Heidi, giving another nod from time to time, and the child looked back at her with steady, serious eyes, for there was something kind and warm- hearted about this new-comer that pleased Heidi, and indeed everything to do with the grandmother attracted her, so that she could not turn her eyes away. She had such beautiful white hair, and two long lace ends hung down from the cap on her head and waved gently about her face every time she moved, as if a soft breeze were blowing round her, which gave Heidi a peculiar feeling of pleasure.
“And what is your name, child?” the grandmother now asked.
“I am always called Heidi; but as I am now to be called Adelaide, I will try and take care–” Heidi stopped short, for she felt a little guilty; she had not yet grown accustomed to this name; she continued not to respond when Fraulein Rottenmeier suddenly addressed her by it, and the lady was at this moment entering the room.
“Frau Sesemann will no doubt agree with me,” she interrupted, “that it was necessary to choose a name that could be pronounced easily, if only for the sake of the servants.”
“My worthy Rottenmeier,” replied Frau Sesemann, “if a person is called ’Heidi’ and has grown accustomed to that name, I call her by the same, and so let it be.”
Fraulein Rottenmeier was always very much annoyed that the old lady continually addressed her by her surname only; but it was no use minding, for the grandmother always went her own way, and so there was no help for it. Moreover the grandmother was a keen old lady, and had all her five wits about her, and she knew what was going on in the house as soon as she entered it.
When on the following day Clara lay down as usual on her couch after dinner, the grandmother sat down beside her for a few minutes and closed her eyes, then she got up again as lively as ever, and trotted off into the dining-room. No one was there. “She is asleep, I suppose,” she said to herself, and then going up to Fraulein Rottenmeier’s room she gave a loud knock at the door. She waited a few minutes and then Fraulein Rottenmeier opened the door and drew back in surprise at this unexpected visit.
“Where is the child, and what is she doing all this time? That is what I came to ask,” said Frau Sesemann.
“She is sitting in her room, where she could well employ herself if she had the least idea of making herself useful; but you have no idea, Frau Sesemann, of the out-of-the-way things this child imagines and does, things which I could hardly repeat in good society.”
“I should do the same if I had to sit in there like that child, I can tell you; I doubt if you would then like to repeat what I did, in good society! Go and fetch the child and bring her to my room; I have some pretty books with me that I should like to give her.”
“That is just the misfortune,” said Fraulein Rottenmeier with a despairing gesture, “what use are books to her? She has not been able to learn her A B C even, all the long time she has been here; it is quite impossible to get the least idea of it into her head, and that the tutor himself will tell you; if he had not the patience of an angel he would have given up teaching her long ago.”
“That is very strange,” said Frau Sesemann, “she does not look to me like a child who would be unable to learn her alphabet. However, bring her now to me, she can at least amuse herself with the pictures in the books.”
Fraulein Rottenmeier was prepared with some further remarks, but the grandmother had turned away and gone quickly towards her own room. She was surprised at what she had been told about Heidi’s incapacity for learning, and determined to find out more concerning this matter, not by inquiries from the tutor, however, although she esteemed him highly for his uprightness of character; she had always a friendly greeting for him, but always avoided being drawn into conversation with him, for she found his style of talk somewhat wearisome.
Heidi now appeared and gazed with open-eyed delight and wonder at the beautiful colored pictures in the books which the grandmother gave her to look at. All of a sudden, as the latter turned over one of the pages to a fresh picture, the child gave a cry. For a moment or two she looked at it with brightening eyes, then the tears began to fall, and at last she burst into sobs. The grandmother looked at the picture–it represented a green pasture, full of young animals, some grazing and others nibbling at the shrubs. In the middle was a shepherd leaning upon his staff and looking on at his happy flock. The whole scene was bathed in golden light, for the sun was just sinking below the horizon.
The grandmother laid her hand kindly On Heidi’s.
“Don’t cry, dear child, don’t cry,” she said, “the picture has reminded you perhaps of something. But see, there is a beautiful tale to the picture which I will tell you this evening. And there are other nice tales of all kinds to read and to tell again. But now we must have a little talk together, so dry your tears and come and stand in front of me, so that I may see you well–there, now we are happy again.”
But it was some little time before Heidi could overcome her sobs. The grandmother gave her time to recover herself, saying cheering words to her now and then, “There, it’s all right now, and we are quite happy again.”
When at last she saw that Heidi was growing calmer, she said, “Now I want you to tell me something. How are you getting on in your school-time; do you like your lessons, and have you learnt a great deal?”
“O no!” replied Heidi, sighing, “but I knew beforehand that it was not possible to learn.”
“What is it you think impossible to learn?”
“Why, to read, it is too difficult.”
“You don’t say so! and who told you that?”
“Peter told me, and he knew all about it, for he had tried and tried and could not learn it.”
“Peter must be a very odd boy then! But listen, Heidi, we must not always go by what Peter says, we must try for ourselves. I am certain that you did not give all your attention to the tutor when he was trying to teach you your letters.”
“It’s of no use,” said Heidi in the tone of one who was ready to endure what could not be cured.
“Listen to what I have to say,” continued the grandmother. “You have not been able to learn your alphabet because you believed what Peter said; but now you must believe what I tell you–and I tell you that you can learn to read in a very little while, as many other children do, who are made like you and not like Peter. And now hear what comes after–you see that picture with the shepherd and the animals–well, as soon as you are able to read you shall have that book for your own, and then you will know all about the sheep and the goats, and what the shepherd did, and the wonderful things that happened to him, just as if some one were telling you the whole tale. You will like to hear about all that, won’t you?”
Heidi had listened with eager attention to the grandmother’s words and now with a sigh exclaimed, “Oh, if only I could read now!”
“It won’t take you long now to learn, that I can see; and now we must go down to Clara; bring the books with you.” And hand in hand the two returned to the study.
Since the day when Heidi had so longed to go home, and Fraulein Rottenmeier had met her and scolded her on the steps, and told her how wicked and ungrateful she was to try and run away, and what a good thing it was that Herr Sesemann knew nothing about it, a change had come over the child. She had at last understood that day that she could not go home when she wished as Dete had told her, but that she would have to stay on in Frankfurt for a long, long time, perhaps for ever. She had also understood that Herr Sesemann would think it ungrateful of her if she wished to leave, and she believed that the grandmother and Clara would think the same. So there was nobody to whom she dared confide her longing to go home, for she would not for the world have given the grandmother, who was so kind to her, any reason for being as angry with her as Fraulein Rottenmeier had been. But the weight of trouble on the little heart grew heavier and heavier; she could no longer eat her food, and every day she grew a little paler. She lay awake for long hours at night, for as soon as she was alone and everything was still around her, the picture of the mountain with its sunshine and flowers rose vividly before her eyes; and when at last she fell asleep it was to dream of the rocks and the snow-field turning crimson in the evening light, and waking in the morning she would think herself back at the hut and prepare to run joyfully out into–the sun–and then– there was her large bed, and here she was in Frankfurt far, far away from home. And Heidi would often lay her face down on the pillow and weep long and quietly so that no one might hear her.
Heidi’s unhappiness did not escape the grandmother’s notice. She let some days go by to see if the child grew brighter and lost her down-cast appearance. But as matters did not mend, and she saw that many mornings Heidi had evidently been crying before she came downstairs, she took her again into her room one day, and drawing the child to her said, “Now tell me, Heidi, what is the matter; are you in trouble?”
But Heidi, afraid if she told the truth that the grandmother would think her ungrateful, and would then leave off being so kind to her, answered, “can’t tell you.”
“Well, could you tell Clara about it?”
“Oh, no, I cannot tell any one,” said Heidi in so positive a tone, and with a look of such trouble on her face, that the grandmother felt full of pity for the child.
“Then, dear child, let me tell you what to do: you know that when we are in great trouble, and cannot speak about it to anybody, we must turn to God and pray Him to help, for He can deliver us from every care, that oppresses us. You understand that, do you not? You say your prayers every evening to the dear God in Heaven, and thank Him for all He has done for you, and pray Him to keep you from all evil, do you not?”
“No, I never say any prayers,” answered Heidi.
“Have you never been taught to pray, Heidi; do you not know even what it means?”
“I used to say prayers with the first grandmother, but that is a long time ago, and I have forgotten them.”
“That is the reason, Heidi, that you are so unhappy, because you know no one who can help you. Think what a comfort it is when the heart is heavy with grief to be able at any moment to go and tell everything to God, and pray Him for the help that no one else can give us. And He can help us and give us everything that will make us happy again.”
A sudden gleam of joy came into Heidi’s eyes. “May I tell Him everything, everything?”
“Yes, everything, Heidi, everything.”
Heidi drew her hand away, which the grandmother was holding affectionately between her own, and said quickly, “May I go?”
“Yes, of course,” was the answer, and Heidi ran out of the room into her own, and sitting herself on a stool, folded her hands together and told God about everything that was making her so sad and unhappy, and begged Him earnestly to help her and to let her go home to her grandfather.
It was about a week after this that the tutor asked Frau Sesemann’s permission for an interview with her, as he wished to inform her of a remarkable thing that had come to pass. So she invited him to her room, and as he entered she held out her hand in greeting, and pushing a chair towards him, “I am pleased to see you,” she said, “pray sit down and tell me what brings you here; nothing bad, no complaints, I hope?”
“Quite the reverse,” began the tutor. “Something has happened that I had given up hoping for, and which no one, knowing what has gone before, could have guessed, for, according to all expectations, that which has taken place could only be looked upon as a miracle, and yet it really has come to pass and in the most extraordinary manner, quite contrary to all that one could anticipate–”
“Has the child Heidi really learnt to read at last?” put in Frau Sesemann.
The tutor looked at the lady in speechless astonishment. At last he spoke again. “It is indeed truly marvellous, not only because she never seemed able to learn her A B C even after all my full explanations, and after spending unusual pains upon her, but because now she has learnt it so rapidly, just after I had made up my mind to make no further attempts at the impossible but to put the letters as they were before her without any dissertation on their origin and meaning, and now she has as you might say learnt her letters over night, and started at once to read correctly, quite unlike most beginners. And it is almost as astonishing to me that you should have guessed such an unlikely thing.”
“Many unlikely things happen in life,” said Frau Sesemann with a pleased smile. “Two things coming together may produce a happy result, as for instance, a fresh zeal for learning and a new method of teaching, and neither does any harm. We can but rejoice that the child has made such a good start and hope for her future progress.”
After parting with the tutor she went down to the study to make sure of the good news. There sure enough was Heidi, sitting beside Clara and reading aloud to her, evidently herself very much surprised, and growing more and more delighted with the new world that was now open to her as the black letters grew alive and turned into men and things and exciting stories. That same evening Heidi found the large book with the beautiful pictures lying on her plate when she took her place at table, and when she looked questioningly at the grandmother, the latter nodded kindly to her and said, “Yes, it’s yours now.”
“Mine, to keep always? even when I go home?” said, Heidi, blushing with pleasure.
“Yes, of course, yours for ever,” the grandmother assured her. “To-morrow we will begin to read it.”
“But you are not going home yet, Heidi, not for years,” put in Clara. “When grandmother goes away, I shall want you to stay on with me.”
When, Heidi went to her room that night she had another look at her book before going to bed, and from that day forth her chief pleasure was to read the tales which belonged to the beautiful pictures over and over again. If the grandmother said, as they were sitting together in the evening, “Now Heidi will read aloud to us,” Heidi was delighted, for reading was no trouble to her now, and when she read the tales aloud the scenes seemed to grow more beautiful and distinct, and then grandmother would explain and tell her more about them still.
Still the picture she liked best was the one of the shepherd leaning on his staff with his flock around him in the midst of the green pasture, for he was now at home and happy, following his father’s sheep and goats. Then came the picture where he was seen far away from his father’s house, obliged to look after the swine, and he had grown pale and thin from the husks which were all he had to eat. Even the sun seemed here to be less bright and everything looked grey and misty. But there was the third picture still to this tale: here was the old father with outstretched arms running to meet and embrace his returning and repentant son, who was advancing timidly, worn out and emaciated and clad in a ragged coat. That was Heidi’s favorite tale, which she read over and over again, aloud and to herself, and she was never tired of hearing the grandmother explain it to her and Clara. But there were other tales in the book besides, and what with reading and looking at the pictures the days passed quickly away, and the time drew near for the grandmother to return home.