Heidi Chapter 5

Two Visitors

Two winters had nearly passed. Heidi was happy, for the spring was coming again, with the soft delicious wind that made the fir-trees roar. Soon she would be able to go up to the pasture, where blue and yellow flowers greeted her at every step. She was nearly eight years old, and had learned to take care of the goats, who ran after her like little dogs. Several times the village teacher had sent word by Peter that the child was wanted in school, but the old man had not paid any attention to the message and had kept her with him as before. It was a beautiful morning in March. The snow had melted on the slopes, and was going fast. Snowdrops were peeping through the ground, which seemed to be getting ready for spring. Heidi was running to and fro before the door, when she suddenly saw an old gentleman, dressed in black, standing beside her. As she appeared frightened, he said kindly: “You must not be afraid of me, for I love children. Give me your hand, Heidi, and tell me where your grandfather is.”

“He is inside, making round wooden spoons,” the child replied, opening the door while she spoke.

It was the old pastor of the village, who had known the grandfather years ago. After entering, he approached the old man, saying: “Good-morning, neighbor.”

The old man got up, surprised, and offering a seat to the visitor, said: “Good-morning, Mr. Parson. Here is a wooden chair, if it is good enough.”

Sitting down, the parson said: “It is long since I have seen you, neighbor. I have come to-day to talk over a matter with you. I am sure you can guess what it is about.”

The clergyman here looked at Heidi, who was standing near the door.

“Heidi, run out to see the goats,” said the grandfather, “and bring them some salt; you can stay till I come.”

Heidi disappeared on the spot. “The child should have come to school a year ago,” the parson went on to say. “Didn’t you get the teacher’s warning? What do you intend to do with the child?”

“I do not want her to go to school,” said the old man, unrelentingly.

“What do you want the child to be?”

“I want her to be free and happy as a bird!”

“But she is human, and it is high time for her to learn something. I have come now to tell you about it, so that you can make your plans. She must come to school next winter; remember that.”

“I shan’t do it, pastor!” was the reply.

“Do you think there is no way?” the clergyman replied, a little hotly. “You know the world, for you have travelled far. What little sense you show!”

“You think I am going to send this delicate child to school in every storm and weather!” the old man said excitedly. “It is a two hours’ walk, and I shall not let her go; for the wind often howls so that it chokes me if I venture out. Did you know Adelheid, her mother? She was a sleep-walker, and had fainting-fits. Nobody shall compel me to let her go; I will gladly fight it out in court.”

“You are perfectly right,” said the clergyman kindly. “You could not send her to school from here. Why don’t you come down to live among us again? You are leading a strange life here; I wonder how you can keep the child warm in winter.”

“She has young blood and a good cover. I know where to find good wood, and all winter I keep a fire going. I couldn’t live in the village, for the people there and I despise each other; we had better keep apart.”

“You are mistaken, I assure you! Make your peace with God, and then you’ll see how happy you will be.”

The clergyman had risen, and holding out his hand, he said cordially: “I shall count on you next winter, neighbor. We shall receive you gladly, reconciled with God and man.”

But the uncle replied firmly, while he shook his visitor by the hand: “Thank you for your kindness, but you will have to wait in vain.”

“God be with you,” said the parson, and left him sadly.

The old man was out of humor that day, and when Heidi begged to go to the grandmother, he only growled: “Not to-day.” Next day they had hardly finished their dinner, when another visitor arrived. It was Heidi’s aunt Deta; she wore a hat with feathers and a dress with such a train that it swept up everything that lay on the cottage floor. While the uncle looked at her silently, Deta began to praise him and the child’s red cheeks. She told him that it had not been her intention to leave Heidi with him long, for she knew she must be in his way. She had tried to provide for the child elsewhere, and at last she had found a splendid chance for her. Very rich relations of her lady, who owned the largest house in Frankfurt, had a lame daughter. This poor little girl was confined to her rolling-chair and needed a companion at her lessons. Deta had heard from her lady that a sweet, quaint child was wanted as playmate and schoolmate for the invalid. She had gone to the housekeeper and told her all about Heidi. The lady, delighted with the idea, had told her to fetch the child at once. She had come now, and it was a lucky chance for Heidi, “for one never knew what might happen in such a case, and who could tell—”

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