By Johanna Spyri
Public Domain Books
Chapter IV. The Visit to Grandmother
The next morning the sun came out early as bright as ever, and then Peter appeared with the goats, and again the two children climbed up together to the high meadows, and so it went on day after day till Heidi, passing her life thus among the grass and flowers, was burnt brown with the sun, and grew so strong and healthy that nothing ever ailed her. She was happy too, and lived from day to day as free and lighthearted as the little birds that make their home among the green forest trees. Then the autumn came, and the wind blew louder and stronger, and the grandfather would say sometimes, “To-day you must stay at home, Heidi; a sudden gust of the wind would blow a little thing like you over the rocks into the valley below in a moment.”
Whenever Peter heard that he must go alone he looked very unhappy, for he saw nothing but mishaps of all kinds ahead, and did not know how he should bear the long dull day without Heidi. Then, too, there was the good meal he would miss, and besides that the goats on these days were so naughty and obstinate that he had twice the usual trouble with them, for they had grown so accustomed to Heidi’s presence that they would run in every direction and refuse to go on unless she was with them. Heidi was never unhappy, for wherever she was she found something to interest or amuse her. She liked best, it is true, to go out with Peter up to the flowers and the great bird, where there was so much to be seen, and so many experiences to go through among the goats with their different characters; but she also found her grandfather’s hammering and sawing and carpentering very entertaining, and if it should chance to be the day when the large round goat’s-milk cheese was made she enjoyed beyond measure looking on at this wonderful performance, and watching her grandfather, as with sleeves rolled back, he stirred the great cauldron with his bare arms. The thing which attracted her most, however, was the waving and roaring of the three old fir trees on these windy days. She would run away repeatedly from whatever she might be doing, to listen to them, for nothing seemed so strange and wonderful to her as the deep mysterious sound in the tops of the trees. She would stand underneath them and look up, unable to tear herself away, looking and listening while they bowed and swayed and roared as the mighty wind rushed through them. There was no longer now the warm bright sun that had shone all through the summer, so Heidi went to the cupboard and got out her shoes and stockings and dress, for it was growing colder every day, and when Heidi stood under the fir trees the wind blew through her as if she was a thin little leaf, but still she felt she could not stay indoors when she heard the branches waving outside.
Then it grew very cold, and Peter would come up early in the morning blowing on his fingers to keep them warm. But he soon left off coming, for one night there was a heavy fall of snow and the next morning the whole mountain was covered with it, and not a single little green leaf was to be seen anywhere upon it. There was no Peter that day, and Heidi stood at the little window looking out in wonderment, for the snow was beginning again, and the thick flakes kept falling till the snow was up to the window, and still they continued to fall, and the snow grew higher, so that at last the window could not be opened, and she and her grandfather were shut up fast within the hut. Heidi thought this was great fun and ran from one window to the other to see what would happen next, and whether the snow was going to cover up the whole hut, so that they would have to light a lamp although it was broad daylight. But things did not get as bad as that, and the next day, the snow having ceased, the grandfather went out and shovelled away the snow round the house, and threw it into such great heaps that they looked like mountains standing at intervals on either side the hut. And now the windows and door could be opened, and it was well it was so, for as Heidi and her grandfather were sitting one afternoon on their three-legged stools before the fire there came a great thump at the door followed by several others, and then the door opened. It was Peter, who had made all that noise knocking the snow off his shoes; he was still white all over with it, for he had had to fight his way through deep snowdrifts, and large lumps of snow that had frozen upon him still clung to his clothes. He had been determined, however, not to be beaten and to climb up to the hut, for it was a week now since he had seen Heidi.
“Good-evening,” he said as he came in; then he went and placed himself as near the fire as he could without saying another word, but his whole face was beaming with pleasure at finding himself there. Heidi looked on in astonishment, for Peter was beginning to thaw all over with the warmth, so that he had the appearance of a trickling waterfall.
“Well, General, and how goes it with you?” said the grandfather, “now that you have lost your army you will have to turn to your pen and pencil.”
“Why must he turn to his pen and pencil?” asked Heidi immediately, full of curiosity.
“During the winter he must go to school,” explained her grandfather, “and learn how to read and write; it’s a bit hard, although useful sometimes afterwards. Am I not right, General?”
“Yes, indeed,” assented Peter.
Heidi’s interest was now thoroughly awakened, and she had so many questions to put to Peter about all that was to be done and seen and heard at school, and the conversation took so long that Peter had time to get thoroughly dry. Peter had always great difficulty in putting his thoughts into words, and he found his share of the talk doubly difficult to-day, for by the time he had an answer ready to one of Heidi’s questions she had already put two or three more to him, and generally such as required a whole long sentence in reply.
The grandfather sat without speaking during this conversation, only now and then a twitch of amusement at the corners of his mouth showed that he was listening.
“Well, now, General, you have been under fire for some time and must want some refreshment, come and join us,” he said at last, and as he spoke he rose and went to fetch the supper out of the cupboard, and Heidi pushed the stools to the table. There was also now a bench fastened against the wall, for as he was no longer alone the grandfather had put up seats of various kinds here and there, long enough to hold two persons, for Heidi had a way of always keeping close to her grandfather whether he was walking, sitting or standing. So there was comfortable place for them all three, and Peter opened his round eyes very wide when he saw what a large piece of meat Alm-Uncle gave him on his thick slice of bread. It was a long time since Peter had had anything so nice to eat. As soon as the pleasant meal was over Peter began to get ready for returning home, for it was already growing dark. He had said his “good-night” and his thanks, and was just going out, when he turned again and said, “I shall come again next Sunday, this day week, and grandmother sent word that she would like you to come and see her one day.”
It was quite a new idea to Heidi that she should go and pay anybody a visit, and she could not get it out of her head; so the first thing she said to her grandfather the next day was, “I must go down to see the grandmother to-day; she will be expecting me.”
“The snow is too deep,” answered the grandfather, trying to put her off. But Heidi had made up her mind to go, since the grandmother had sent her that message. She stuck to her intention and not a day passed but what in the course of it she said five or six times to her grandfather, “I must certainly go to-day, the grandmother will be waiting for me.”
On the fourth day, when with every step one took the ground crackled with frost and the whole vast field of snow was hard as ice, Heidi was sitting on her high stool at dinner with the bright sun shining in upon her through the window, and again repeated her little speech, “I must certainly go down to see the grandmother to-day, or else I shall keep her waiting too long.”
The grandfather rose from table, climbed up to the hay-loft and brought down the thick sack that was Heidi’s coverlid, and said, “Come along then!” The child skipped out gleefully after him into the glittering world of snow.
The old fir trees were standing now quite silent, their branches covered with the white snow, and they looked so lovely as they glittered and sparkled in the sunlight that Heidi jumped for joy at the sight and kept on calling out, “Come here, come here, grandfather! The fir trees are all silver and gold!” The grandfather had gone into the shed and he now came out dragging a large hand-sleigh along with him; inside it was a low seat, and the sleigh could be pushed forward and guided by the feet of the one who sat upon it with the help of a pole that was fastened to the side. After he had been taken round the fir trees by Heidi that he might see their beauty from all sides, he got into the sleigh and lifted the child on to his lap; then he wrapped her up in the sack, that she might keep nice and warm, and put his left arm closely round her, for it was necessary to hold her tight during the coming journey. He now grasped the pole with his right hand and gave the sleigh a push forward with his two feet. The sleigh shot down the mountain side with such rapidity that Heidi thought they were flying through the air like a bird, and shouted aloud with delight. Suddenly they came to a standstill, and there they were at Peter’s hut. Her grandfather lifted her out and unwrapped her. “There you are, now go in, and when it begins to grow dark you must start on your way home again.” Then he left her and went up the mountain, pulling his sleigh after him.
Heidi opened the door of the hut and stepped into a tiny room that looked very dark, with a fireplace and a few dishes on a wooden shelf; this was the little kitchen. She opened another door, and now found herself in another small room, for the place was not a herdsman’s hut like her grandfather’s, with one large room on the ground floor and a hay-loft above, but a very old cottage, where everything was narrow and poor and shabby. A table was close to the door, and as Heidi stepped in she saw a woman sitting at it, putting a patch on a waistcoat which Heidi recognised at once as Peter’s. In the corner sat an old woman, bent with age, spinning. Heidi was quite sure this was the grandmother, so she went up to the spinning-wheel and said, “Good- day, grandmother, I have come at last; did you think I was a long time coming?”
The woman raised her head and felt for the hand that the child held out to her, and when she found it, she passed her own over it thoughtfully for a few seconds, and then said, “Are you the child who lives up with Alm-Uncle, are you Heidi?”
“Yes, yes,” answered Heidi, “I have just come down in the sleigh with grandfather.”
“Is it possible! Why your hands are quite warm! Brigitta, did Alm- Uncle come himself with the child?”
Peter’s mother had left her work and risen from the table and now stood looking at Heidi with curiosity, scanning her from head to foot. “I do not know, mother, whether Uncle came himself; it is hardly likely, the child probably makes a mistake.”
But Heidi looked steadily at the woman, not at all as if in any uncertainty, and said, “I know quite well who wrapped me in my bedcover and brought me down in the sleigh: it was grandfather.”
“There was some truth then perhaps in what Peter used to tell us of Alm-Uncle during the summer, when we thought he must be wrong,” said grandmother; “but who would ever have believed that such a thing was possible? I did not think the child would live three weeks up there. What is she like, Brigitta?”
The latter had so thoroughly examined Heidi on all sides that she was well able to describe her to her mother.
“She has Adelaide’s slenderness of figure, but her eyes are dark and her hair curly like her father’s and the old man’s up there: she takes after both of them, I think.”
Heidi meanwhile had not been idle; she had made the round of the room and looked carefully at everything there was to be seen. All of a sudden she exclaimed, “Grandmother, one of your shutters is flapping backwards and forwards; grandfather would put a nail in and make it all right in a minute, or else it will break one of the panes some day; look, look, how it keeps on banging!”
“Ah, dear child,” said the old woman, “I am not able to see it, but I can hear that and many other things besides the shutter. Everything about the place rattles and creaks when the wind is blowing, and it gets inside through all the cracks and holes. The house is going to pieces, and in the night, when the two others are asleep, I often lie awake in fear and trembling, thinking that the whole place will give way and fall and kill us. And there is not a creature to mend anything for us, for Peter does not understand such work.”
“But why cannot you see, grandmother, that the shutter is loose. Look, there it goes again, see, that one there!” And Heidi pointed to the particular shutter.
“Alas, child, it is not only that I cannot see–I can see, nothing, nothing,” said the grandmother in a voice of lamentation.
“But if I were to go outside and put back the shutter so that you had more light, then you could see, grandmother?”
“No, no, not even then, no one can make it light for me again.”
“But if you were to go outside among all the white snow, then surely you would find it light; just come with me, grandmother, and I will show you.” Heidi took hold of the old woman’s hand to lead her along, for she was beginning to feel quite distressed at the thought of her being without light.
“Let me be, dear child; it is always dark for me now; whether in snow or sun, no light can penetrate my eyes.”
“But surely it does in summer, grandmother,” said Heidi, more and more anxious to find some way out of the trouble, “when the hot sun is shining down again, and he says good-night to the mountains, and they all turn on fire, and the yellow flowers shine like gold, then, you will see, it will be bright and beautiful for you again.”
“Ah, child, I shall see the mountains on fire or the yellow flowers no more; it will never be light for me again on earth, never.”
At these words Heidi broke into loud crying. In her distress she kept on sobbing out, “Who can make it light for you again? Can no one do it? Isn’t there any one who can do it?”
The grandmother now tried to comfort the child, but it was not easy to quiet her. Heidi did not often weep, but when she did she could not get over her trouble for a long while. The grandmother had tried all means in her power to allay the child’s grief, for it went to her heart to hear her sobbing so bitterly. At last she said, “Come here, dear Heidi, come and let me tell you something. You cannot think how glad one is to hear a kind word when one can no longer see, and it is such a pleasure to me to listen to you while you talk. So come and sit beside me and tell me something; tell me what you do up there, and how grandfather occupies himself. I knew him very well in old days; but for many years now I have heard nothing of him, except through Peter, who never says much.”
This was a new and happy idea to Heidi; she quickly dried her tears and said in a comforting voice, “Wait, grandmother, till I have told grandfather everything, he will make it light for you again, I am sure, and will do something so that the house will not fall; he will put everything right for you.”
The grandmother was silent, and Heidi now began to give her a lively description of her life with the grandfather, and of the days she spent on the mountain with the goats, and then went on to tell her of what she did now during the winter, and how her grandfather was able to make all sorts of things, seats and stools, and mangers where the hay was put for Little Swan and Little Bear, besides a new large water-tub for her to bathe in when the summer came, and a new milk-bowl and spoon, and Heidi grew more and more animated as she enumerated all the beautiful things which were made so magically out of pieces of wood; she then told the grandmother how she stood by him and watched all he did, and how she hoped some day to be able to make the same herself.
The grandmother listened with the greatest attention, only from time to time addressing her daughter, “Do you hear that, Brigitta? Do you hear what she is saying about Uncle?”
The conversation was all at once interrupted by a heavy thump on the door, and in marched Peter, who stood stock-still, opening his eyes with astonishment, when he caught sight of Heidi; then his face beamed with smiles as she called out, “Good-evening, Peter.”
“What, is the boy back from school already?” exclaimed the grandmother in surprise. “I have not known an afternoon pass so quickly as this one for years. How is the reading getting on, Peter?”
“Just the same,” was Peter’s answer.
The old woman gave a little sigh. “Ah, well,” she said, “I hoped you would have something different to tell me by this time, as you are going to be twelve years old this February.”
“What was it that you hoped he would have to tell you?” asked Heidi, interested in all the grandmother said.
“I mean that he ought to have learnt to read a bit by now," continued the grandmother. “Up there on the shelf is an old prayer-book, with beautiful songs in it which I have not heard for a long time and cannot now remember to repeat to myself, and I hoped that Peter would soon learn enough to be able to read one of them to me sometimes; but he finds it too difficult.”
“I must get a light, it is getting too dark to see,” said Peter’s mother, who was still busy mending his waistcoat. “I feel too as if the afternoon had gone I hardly know how.”
Heidi now jumped up from her low chair, and holding out her hand hastily to the grandmother said, “Good-night, grandmother, if it is getting dark I must go home at once,” and bidding good-bye to Peter and his mother she went towards the door. But the grandmother called out in an anxious voice, “Wait, wait, Heidi; you must not go alone like that, Peter must go with you; and take care of the child, Peter, that she does not fall, and don’t let her stand still for fear she should get frozen, do you hear? Has she got anything warm to put around her throat?”
“I have not anything to put on,” called back Heidi, “but I am sure I shall not be cold,” and with that she ran outside and went off at such a pace that Peter had difficulty in overtaking her. The grandmother, still in distress, called out to her daughter, “Run after her, Brigitta; the child will be frozen to death on such a night as this; take my shawl, run quickly!”
Brigitta ran out. But the children had taken but a few steps before they saw the grandfather coming down to meet them, and in another minute his long strides had brought him to their side.
“That’s right, Heidi; you have kept your word,” said the grandfather, and then wrapping the sack firmly round her he lifted her in his arms and strode off with her up the mountain. Brigitta was just in time to see him do all this, and on her return to the hut with Peter expressed her astonishment to the grandmother. The latter was equally surprised, and kept on saying, “God be thanked that he is good to the child, God be thanked! Will he let her come to me again, I wonder! the child has done me so much good. What a loving little heart it is, and how merrily she tells her tale!” And she continued to dwell with delight on the thought of the child until she went to bed, still saying now and again, “If only she will come again! Now I have really something left in the world to take pleasure in.” And Brigitta agreed with all her mother said, and Peter nodded his head in approval each time his grandmother spoke, saying, with a broad smile of satisfaction, “I told you so!”
Meanwhile Heidi was chattering away to her grandfather from inside her sack; her voice, however, could not reach him through the many thick folds of her wrap, and as therefore it was impossible to understand a word she was saying, he called to her, “Wait till we get home, and then you can tell me all about it.” They had no sooner got inside the hut than Heidi, having been released from her covering, at once began what she had to say, “Grandfather, to-morrow we must take the hammer and the long nails and fasten grandmother’s shutter, and drive in a lot more nails in other places, for her house shakes and rattles all over.”
“We must, must we? who told you that?” asked her grandfather.
“Nobody told me, but I know it for all that,” replied Heidi, “for everything is giving way, and when the grandmother cannot sleep, she lies trembling for fear at the noise, for she thinks that every minute the house will fall down on their heads; and everything now is dark for grandmother, and she does not think any one can make it light for her again, but you will be able to, I am sure, grandfather. Think how dreadful it is for her to be always in the dark, and then to be frightened at what may happen, and nobody can help her but you. To-morrow we must go and help her; we will, won’t we, grandfather?”
The child was clinging to the old man and looking up at him in trustful confidence. The grandfather looked down at Heidi for a while without speaking, and then said, “Yes, Heidi, we will do something to stop the rattling, at least we can do that; we will go down about it to-morrow!”
The child went skipping round the room for joy, crying out, “We shall go to-morrow! we shall go to-morrow!”
The grandfather kept his promise. On the following afternoon he brought the sleigh out again, and as on the previous day, he set Heidi down at the door of the grandmother’s hut and said, “Go in now, and when it grows dark, come out again.” Then he put the sack in the sleigh and went round the house.
Heidi had hardly opened the door and sprung into the room when the grandmother called out from her corner, “It’s the child again! here she comes!” and in her delight she let the thread drop from her fingers, and the wheel stood still as she stretched out both her hands in welcome. Heidi ran to her, and then quickly drew the little stool close up to the old woman, and seating herself upon it, began to tell and ask her all kinds of things. All at once came the sound of heavy blows against the wall of the hut and the grandmother gave such a start of alarm that she nearly upset the spinning-wheel, and cried in a trembling voice, “Ah, my God, now it is coming, the house is going to fall upon us!” But Heidi caught her by the arm, and said soothingly, “No, no, grandmother, do not be frightened, it is only grandfather with his hammer; he is mending up everything, so that you shan’t have such fear and trouble.”
“Is it possible! is it really possible! so the dear God has not forgotten us!” exclaimed the grandmother. “Do you hear, Brigitta, what that noise is? Did you hear what the child says? Now, as I listen, I can tell it is a hammer; go outside, Brigitta, and if it is Alm-Uncle, tell him he must come inside a moment that I may thank him.”
Brigitta went outside and found Alm-Uncle in the act of fastening some heavy pieces of new wood along the wall. She stepped up to him and said, “Good-evening, Uncle, mother and I have to thank you for doing us such a kind service, and she would like to tell you herself how grateful she is; I do not know who else would have done it for us; we shall not forget your kindness, for I am sure–”
“That will do,” said the old man, interrupting her.
“I know what you think of Alm-Uncle without your telling me. Go indoors again, I can find out for myself where the mending is wanted.”
Brigitta obeyed on the spot, for Uncle had a way with him that made few people care to oppose his will. He went on knocking with his hammer all round the house, and then mounted the narrow steps to the roof, and hammered away there, until he had used up all the nails he had brought with him. Meanwhile it had been growing dark, and he had hardly come down from the roof and dragged the sleigh out from behind the goat-shed when Heidi appeared outside. The grandfather wrapped her up and took her in his arms as he had done the day before, for although he had to drag the sleigh up the mountain after him, he feared that if the child sat in it alone her wrappings would fall off and that she would be nearly if not quite frozen, so he carried her warm and safe in his arms.
So the winter went by. After many years of joyless life, the blind grandmother had at last found something to make her happy; her days were no longer passed in weariness and darkness, one like the other without pleasure or change, for now she had always something to which she could look forward. She listened for the little tripping footstep as soon as day had come, and when she heard the door open and knew the child was really there, she would call out, “God be thanked, she has come again!” And Heidi would sit by her and talk and tell her everything she knew in so lively a manner that the grandmother never noticed how the time went by, and never now as formerly asked Brigitta, “Isn’t the day done yet?” but as the child shut the door behind her on leaving, would exclaim, “How short the afternoon has seemed; don’t you think so, Brigitta?” And this one would answer, “I do indeed; it seems as if I had only just cleared away the mid-day meal.” And the grandmother would continue, “Pray God the child is not taken from me, and that Alm-Uncle continues to let her come! Does she look well and strong, Brigitta?” And the latter would answer, “She looks as bright and rosy as an apple.”
And Heidi had also grown very fond of the old grandmother, and when at last she knew for certain that no one could make it light for her again, she was overcome with sorrow; but the grandmother told her again that she felt the darkness much less when Heidi was with her, and so every fine winter’s day the child came travelling down in her sleigh. The grandfather always took her, never raising any objection, indeed he always carried the hammer and sundry other things down in the sleigh with him, and many an afternoon was spent by him in making the goatherd’s cottage sound and tight. It no longer groaned and rattled the whole night through, and the grandmother, who for many winters had not been able to sleep in peace as she did now, said she should never forget what the Uncle had done for her.