Winter In The Village continued…
“We’ve got it!” announced the boy, on entering.
“What, general?” asked the uncle.
“The snow,” Peter replied.
“Oh, now I can go up to grandmother!” Heidi rejoiced. “But Peter, why didn’t you come to school? You could coast down to-day,” she continued reproachfully.
“I went too far on my sled and then it was too late,” Peter replied.
“I call that deserting!” said the uncle. “People who do that must have their ears pulled; do you hear?”
The boy was frightened, for there was no one in the world whom he respected more than the uncle.
“A general like you ought to be doubly ashamed to do so,” the uncle went on. “What would you do with the goats if they did not obey you any more?”
“Beat them,” was the reply.
“If you knew of a boy that was behaving like a disobedient goat and had to get spanked, what would you say?”
“Serves him right.”
“So now you know it, goat-general: if you miss school again, when you ought to be there, you can come to me and get your due.”
Now at last Peter understood what the uncle had meant. More kindly, the old man then turned to Peter and said, “Come to the table now and eat with us. Then you can go up with Heidi, and when you bring her back at night, you can get your supper here.”
This unexpected change delighted Peter. Not losing any time, he soon disposed of his full plate. Heidi, who had given the boy most of her dinner, was already putting on Clara’s new coat. Then together they climbed up, Heidi chatting all the time. But Peter did not say a single word. He was preoccupied and had not even listened to Heidi’s tales. Before they entered the hut, the boy said stubbornly: “I think I had rather go to school than get a beating from the uncle.” Heidi promptly confirmed him in his resolution.
When they went into the room, Peter’s mother was alone at the table mending. The grandmother was nowhere to be seen. Brigida now told Heidi that the grandmother was obliged to stay in bed on those cold days, as she did not feel very strong. That was something new for Heidi. Quickly running to the old woman’s chamber, she found her lying in a narrow bed, wrapped up in her grey shawl and thin blanket.
“Thank Heaven!” the grandmother exclaimed when she heard her darling’s step. All autumn and winter long a secret fear had been gnawing at her heart, that Heidi would be sent for by the strange gentleman of whom Peter had told her so much. Heidi had approached the bed, asking anxiously: “Are you very sick, grandmother?”
“No, no, child,” the old woman reassured her, “the frost has just gone into my limbs a little.”
“Are you going to be well again as soon as the warm weather comes?” inquired Heidi.
“Yes, yes, and if God wills, even sooner. I want to go back to my spinning-wheel and I nearly tried it to-day. I’ll get up to-morrow, though,” the grandmother said confidently, for she had noticed how frightened Heidi was.
The last speech made the child feel more happy. Then, looking wonderingly at the grandmother, she said: “In Frankfurt people put on a shawl when they go out. Why are you putting it on in bed, grandmother?”
“I put it on to keep me warm, Heidi. I am glad to have it, for my blanket is very thin.”
“But, grandmother, your bed is slanting down at your head, where it ought to be high. No bed ought to be like that.”
“I know, child, I can feel it well.” So saying, the old woman tried to change her position on the pillow that lay under her like a thin board. “My pillow never was very thick, and sleeping on it all these years has made it flat.”
“Oh dear, if I had only asked Clara to give me the bed I had in Frankfurt!” Heidi lamented. “It had three big pillows on it; I could hardly sleep because I kept sliding down from them all the time. Could you sleep with them, grandmother?”
“Of course, because that would keep me warm. I could breathe so much easier, too,” said the grandmother, trying to find a higher place to lie on. “But I must not talk about it any more, for I have to be thankful for many things. I get the lovely roll every day and have this beautiful warm shawl. I also have you, my child! Heidi, wouldn’t you like to read me something to-day?”
Heidi immediately fetched the book and read one song after another. The grandmother in the meantime was lying with folded hands; her face, which had been so sad a short time ago, was lit up with a happy smile.
Suddenly Heidi stopped.
“Are you well again, grandmother?” she asked.
“I feel very much better, Heidi. Please finish the song, will you?”
The child obeyed, and when she came to the last words,
When mine eyes grow dim and sad,
Let Thy love more brightly burn,
That my soul, a wanderer glad,
Safely homeward may return.
“Safely homeward may return!” she exclaimed: “Oh, grandmother, I know what it is like to come home.” After a while she said: “It is getting dark, grandmother, I must go home now. I am glad that you feel better again.”
The grandmother, holding the child’s hand in hers, said: “Yes, I am happy again, though I have to stay in bed. Nobody knows how hard it is to lie here alone, day after day. I do not hear a word from anybody and cannot see a ray of sunlight. I have very sad thoughts sometimes, and often I feel as if I could not bear it any longer. But when I can hear those blessed songs that you have read to me, it makes me feel as if a light was shining into my heart, giving me the purest joy.”
Shaking hands, the child now said good-night, and pulling Peter with her, ran outside. The brilliant moon was shining down on the white snow, light as day. The two children were already flying down the Alp, like birds soaring through the air.
After Heidi had gone to bed that night, she lay awake a little while, thinking over everything the grandmother had said, especially about the joy the songs had given her. If only poor grandmother could hear those comforting words every day! Heidi knew that it might be a week or two again before she could repeat her visit. The child became very sad when she thought how uncomfortable and lonely the old woman would be. Was there no way for help? Suddenly Heidi had an idea, and it thrilled her so that she felt as if she could not wait till morning came to put her plan in execution. But in her excitement she had forgotten her evening prayer, so sitting up in bed, she prayed fervently to God. Then, falling back into the fragrant hay, she soon slept peacefully and soundly still the bright morning came.