The following evening great expectation reigned in the house. Tinette had put on a new cap, Sebastian was placing footstools in front of nearly every armchair, and Miss Rottenmeier walked with great dignity about the house, inspecting everything.
When the carriage at last drove up, the servants flew downstairs, followed by Miss Rottenmeier in more measured step. Heidi had been sent to her room to await further orders, but it was not long before Tinette opened the door and said brusquely: “Go into the study!”
The grandmama, with her kind and loving way, immediately befriended the child and made her feel as if she had known her always. To the housekeeper’s great mortification, she called the child Heidi, remarking to Miss Rottenmeier: “If somebody’s name is Heidi, I call her so.”
The housekeeper soon found that she had to respect the grandmother’s ways and opinions. Mrs. Sesemann always knew what was going on in the house the minute she entered it. On the following afternoon Clara was resting and the old lady had shut her eyes for five minutes, when she got up again and went into the dining-room. With a suspicion that the housekeeper was probably asleep, she went to this lady’s room, knocking loudly on the door. After a while somebody stirred inside, and with a bewildered face Miss Rottenmeier appeared, staring at the unexpected visitor.
“Rottenmeier, where is the child? How does she pass her time? I want to know,” said Mrs. Sesemann.
“She just sits in her room, not moving a finger; she has not the slightest desire to do something useful, and that is why she thinks of such absurd things that one can hardly mention them in polite society.”
“I should do exactly the same thing, if I were left alone like that. Please bring her to my room now, I want to show her some pretty books I have brought with me.”
“That is just the trouble. What should she do with books? In all this time she has not even learned the A,B,C for it is impossible to instil any knowledge into this being. If Mr. Candidate was not as patient as an angel, he would have given up teaching her long ago.”
“How strange! The child does not look to me like one who cannot learn the A,B,C,” said Mrs. Sesemann. “Please fetch her now; we can look at the pictures anyway.”
The housekeeper was going to say more, but the old lady had turned already and gone to her room. She was thinking over what she had heard about Heidi, making up her mind to look into the matter.
Heidi had come and was looking with wondering eyes at the splendid pictures in the large books, that Grandmama was showing her. Suddenly she screamed aloud, for there on the picture she saw a peaceful flock grazing on a green pasture. In the middle a shepherd was standing, leaning on his crook. The setting sun was shedding a golden light over everything. With glowing eyes Heidi devoured the scene; but suddenly she began to sob violently.
The grandmama took her little hand in hers and said in the most soothing voice: “Come, child, you must not cry. Did this remind you of something? Now stop, and I’ll tell you the story to-night. There are lovely stories in this book, that people can read and tell. Dry your tears now, darling, I must ask you something. Stand up now and look at me! Now we are merry again!”
Heidi did not stop at once, but the kind lady gave her ample time to compose herself, saying from time to time: “Now it’s all over. Now we’ll be merry again.”
When the child was quiet at last, she said: “Tell me now how your lessons are going. What have you learnt, child, tell me?”
“Nothing,” Heidi sighed; “but I knew that I never could learn it.”
“What is it that you can’t learn?”
“I can’t learn to read; it is too hard.”
“What next? Who gave you this information?”
“Peter told me, and he tried over and over again, but he could not do it, for it is too hard.”
“Well, what kind of boy is he? Heidi, you must not believe what Peter tells you, but try for yourself. I am sure you had your thoughts elsewhere when Mr. Candidate showed you the letters.”
“It’s no use,” Heidi said with such a tone as if she was resigned to her fate.
“I am going to tell you something, Heidi,” said the kind lady now. “You have not learnt to read because you have believed what Peter said. You shall believe me now, and I prophesy that you will learn it in a very short time, as a great many other children do that are like you and not like Peter. When you can read, I am going to give you this book. You have seen the shepherd on the green pasture, and then you’ll be able to find out all the strange things that happen to him. Yes, you can hear the whole story, and what he does with his sheep and his goats. You would like to know, wouldn’t you, Heidi?”
Heidi had listened attentively, and said now with sparkling eyes: “If I could only read already!”
“It won’t be long, I can see that. Come now and let us go to Clara.” With that they both went over to the study.
Since the day of Heidi’s attempted flight a great change had come over the child. She had realized that it would hurt her kind friends if she tried to go home again. She knew now that she could not leave, as her Aunt Deta had promised, for they all, especially Clara and her father and the old lady, would think her ungrateful. But the burden grew heavier in her heart and she lost her appetite, and got paler and paler. She could not get to sleep at night from longing to see the mountains with the flowers and the sunshine, and only in her dreams she would be happy. When she woke up in the morning, she always found herself on her high white bed, far away from home. Burying her head in her pillow, she would often weep a long, long time.
Mrs. Sesemann had noticed the child’s unhappiness, but let a few days pass by, hoping for a change. But the change never came, and often Heidi’s eyes were red even in the early morning. So she called the child to her room one day and said, with great sympathy in her voice: “Tell me, Heidi, what is the matter with you? What is making you so sad?”
But as Heidi did not want to appear thankless, she replied sadly: “I can’t tell you.”
“No? Can’t you tell Clara perhaps?”
“Oh, no, I can’t tell anyone,” Heidi said, looking so unhappy that the old lady’s heart was filled with pity.
“I tell you something, little girl,” she continued. “If you have a sorrow that you cannot tell to anyone, you can go to Our Father in Heaven. You can tell Him everything that troubles you, and if we ask Him He can help us and take our suffering away. Do you understand me, child? Don’t you pray every night? Don’t you thank Him for all His gifts and ask Him to protect you from evil?”
“Oh no, I never do that,” replied the child.
“Have you never prayed, Heidi? Do you know what I mean?”
“I only prayed with my first grandmother, but it is so long ago, that I have forgotten.”
“See, Heidi, I understand now why you are so unhappy. We all need somebody to help us, and just think how wonderful it is, to be able to go to the Lord, when something distresses us and causes us pain. We can tell Him everything and ask Him to comfort us, when nobody else can do it. He can give us happiness and joy.”
Heidi was gladdened by these tidings, and asked: “Can we tell Him everything, everything?”
“Yes, Heidi, everything.”
The child, withdrawing her hand from the grandmama, said hurriedly, “Can I go now?”
“Yes, of course,” was the reply, and with this Heidi ran to her room. Sitting down on a stool she folded her hands and poured out her heart to God, imploring Him to help her and let her go home to her grandfather.
About a week later, Mr. Candidate asked to see Mrs. Sesemann, to tell her of something unusual that had occurred. Being called to the lady’s room, he began: “Mrs. Sesemann, something has happened that I never expected,” and with many more words the happy grandmama was told that Heidi had suddenly learned to read with the utmost correctness, most rare with beginners.
“Many strange things happen in this world,” Mrs. Sesemann remarked, while they went over to the study to witness Heidi’s new accomplishment. Heidi was sitting close to Clara, reading her a story; she seemed amazed at the strange, new world that had opened up before her. At supper Heidi found the large book with the beautiful pictures on her plate, and looking doubtfully at grandmama, she saw the old lady nod. “Now it belongs to you, Heidi,” she said.
“Forever? Also when I am going home?” Heidi inquired, confused with joy.
“Certainly, forever!” the grandmama assured her. “Tomorrow we shall begin to read it.”
“But Heidi, you must not go home; no, not for many years,” Clara exclaimed, “especially when grandmama goes away. You must stay with me.”
Heidi still looked at her book before going to bed that night, and this book became her dearest treasure. She would look at the beautiful pictures and read all the stories aloud to Clara. Grandmama would quietly listen and explain something here and there, making it more beautiful than before. Heidi loved the pictures with the shepherd best of all; they told the story of the prodigal son, and the child would read and re-read it till she nearly knew it all by heart. Since Heidi had learned to read and possessed the book, the days seemed to fly, and the time had come near that the grandmama had fixed for her departure.