For several days Miss Rottenmeier had been wandering silently about the house. When she went from room to room or along the corridors, she would often glance back as if she were afraid that somebody was following her. If she had to go to the upper floor, where the gorgeous guest-rooms were, or to the lower story, where the big ball-room was situated, she always told Tinette to come with her. The strange thing was, that none of the servants dared to go anywhere alone and always found an excuse to ask each other’s company, which requests were always granted. The cook, who had been in the house for many years, would often shake her head and mutter: “That I should live to see this!”
Something strange and weird was happening in the house. Every morning, when the servants came down-stairs, they found the front door wide open. At first everybody had thought that the house must have been robbed, but nothing was missing. Every morning it was the same, despite the double locks that were put on the door. At last John and Sebastian, taking courage, prepared themselves to watch through a night to see who was the ghost. Armed and provided with some strengthening liquor, they repaired to a room down-stairs. First they talked, but soon, getting sleepy, they leaned silently back in their chairs. When the clock from the old church tower struck one, Sebastian awoke and roused his comrade, which was no easy matter. At last, however, John was wide awake, and together they went out into the hall. The same moment a strong wind put out the light that John held in his hand. Rushing back, he nearly upset Sebastian, who stood behind him, and pulling the butler back into the room, he locked the door in furious haste. When the light was lit again, Sebastian noticed that John was deadly pale and trembling like an aspen leaf. Sebastian, not having seen anything, asked anxiously: “What is the matter? What did you see?”
“The door was open and a white form was on the stairs; it went up and was gone in a moment,” gasped John. Cold shivers ran down the butler’s back. They sat without moving till the morning came, and then, shutting the door, they went upstairs to report to the housekeeper what they had seen. The lady, who was waiting eagerly, heard the tale and immediately sat down to write to Mr. Sesemann. She told him that fright had paralyzed her fingers and that terrible things were happening in the house. Then followed a tale of the appearance of the ghost. Mr. Sesemann replied that he could not leave his business, and advised Miss Rottenmeier to ask his mother to come to stay with them, for Mrs. Sesemann would easily despatch the ghost. Miss Rottenmeier was offended with the tone of the letter, which did not seem to take her account seriously. Mrs. Sesemann also replied that she could not come, so the housekeeper decided to tell the children all about it. Clara, at the uncanny tale, immediately exclaimed that she would not stay alone another moment and that she wished her father to come home. The housekeeper arranged to sleep with the frightened child, while Heidi, who did not know what ghosts were, was perfectly unmoved. Another letter was despatched to Mr. Sesemann, telling him that the excitement might have serious effects on his daughter’s delicate constitution, and mentioning several misfortunes that might probably happen if he did not relieve the household from this terror.
This brought Mr. Sesemann. Going to his daughter’s room after his arrival, he was overjoyed to see her as well as ever. Clara was also delighted to see her father.
“What new tricks has the ghost played on you, Miss Rottenmeier?” asked Mr. Sesemann with a twinkle in his eye.
“It is no joke, Mr. Sesemann,” replied the lady seriously. “I am sure you will not laugh tomorrow. Those strange events indicate that something secret and horrible has happened in this house in days gone by.”
“Is that so? this is new to me,” remarked Mr. Sesemann. “But will you please not suspect my venerable ancestors? Please call Sebastian; I want to speak to him alone.”
Mr. Sesemann knew that the two were not on good terms, so he said to the butler:
“Come here, Sebastian, and tell me honestly, if you have played the ghost for Miss Rottenmeier’s pastime?”
“No, upon my word, master; you must not think that,” replied Sebastian frankly. “I do not like it quite myself.”
“Well, I’ll show you and John what ghosts look like by day. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, strong young men like you! Now go at once to my old friend, Dr. Classen, and tell him to come to me at nine o’clock to-night. Tell him that I came from Paris especially to consult him, and that I want him to sit up all night with me. Do you understand me, Sebastian?”
“Yes indeed! I shall do as you say, Mr. Sesemann.” Mr. Sesemann then went up to Clara’s room to quiet and comfort her.
Punctually at nine o’clock the doctor arrived. Though his hair was grey, his face was still fresh, and his eyes were lively and kind. When he saw his friend, he laughed aloud and said: “Well, well, you look pretty healthy for one who needs to be watched all night.”
“Have patience, my old friend,” replied Mr. Sesemann. “I am afraid the person we have to sit up for will look worse, but first we must catch him.”
“What? Then somebody is sick in this house? What do you mean?”
“Far worse, doctor, far worse. A ghost is in the house. My house is haunted.”
When the doctor laughed, Mr. Sesemann continued: “I call that sympathy; I wish my friend Miss Rottenmeier could hear you. She is convinced that an old Sesemann is wandering about, expiating some dreadful deed.”
“How did she make his acquaintance?” asked the doctor, much amused.
Mr. Sesemann then explained the circumstances. He said that the matter was either a bad joke which an acquaintance of the servants was playing in his absence, or it was a gang of thieves, who, after intimidating the people, would surely rob his house by and by.
With these explanations they entered the room where the two servants had watched before. A few bottles of wine stood on the table and two bright candelabra shed a brilliant light. Two revolvers were ready for emergencies.
They left the door only partly open, for too much light might drive the ghost away. Then, sitting down comfortably, the two men passed their time by chatting, taking a sip now and then.
“The ghost seems to have spied us and probably won’t come to-day,” said the doctor.
“We must have patience. It is supposed to come at one,” replied his friend.
So they talked till one o’clock. Everything was quiet, and not a sound came from the street. Suddenly the doctor raised his finger.
“Sh! Sesemann, don’t you hear something?”
While they both listened, the bar was unfastened, the key was turned, and the door flew open. Mr. Sesemann seized his revolver.
“You are not afraid, I hope?” said the doctor, getting up.
“Better be cautious!” whispered Mr. Sesemann, seizing the candelabrum in the other hand. The doctor followed with his revolver and the light, and so they went out into the hall.
On the threshhold stood a motionless white form, lighted up by the moon.
“Who is there?” thundered the doctor, approaching the figure. It turned and uttered a low shriek. There stood Heidi, with bare feet and in her white night-gown, looking bewildered at the bright light and the weapons. She was shaking with fear, while the two men were looking at her in amazement.
“Sesemann, this seems to be your little water carrier,” said the doctor.
“Child, what does this mean?” asked Mr. Sesemann. “What did you want to do? Why have you come down here?”
Pale from fright, Heidi said: “I do not know.”
The doctor came forward now. “Sesemann, this case belongs to my field. Please go and sit down while I take her to bed.”
Putting his revolver aside, he led the trembling child up-stairs.
“Don’t be afraid; just be quiet! Everything is all right; don’t be frightened.”
When they had arrived in Heidi’s room, the doctor put the little girl to bed, covering her up carefully. Drawing a chair near the couch, he waited till Heidi had calmed down and had stopped trembling. Then taking her hand in his, he said kindly: “Now everything is all right again. Tell me where you wanted to go?”
“I did not want to go anywhere,” Heidi assured him; “I did not go myself, only I was there all of a sudden.”
“Really! Tell me, what did you dream?”
“Oh, I have the same dream every night. I always think I am with my grandfather again and can hear the fir-trees roar. I always think how beautiful the stars must be, and then I open the door of the hut, and oh, it is so wonderful! But when I wake up I am always in Frankfurt.” Heidi had to fight the sobs that were rising in her throat.
“Does your back or your head hurt you, child?”
“No, but I feel as if a big stone was pressing me here.”
“As if you had eaten something that disagreed with you?”
“Oh no, but as if I wanted to cry hard.”
“So, and then you cry out, don’t you?”
“Oh no, I must never do that, for Miss Rottenmeier has forbidden it.”
“Then you swallow it down? Yes? Do you like to be here?”
“Oh yes,” was the faint, uncertain reply.
“Where did you live with your grandfather?”
“Up on the Alp.”
“But wasn’t it a little lonely there?”
“Oh no, it was so beautiful!”—But Heidi could say no more. The recollection, the excitement of the night and all the restrained sorrow overpowered the child. The tears rushed violently from her eyes and she broke out into loud sobs.
The doctor rose, and soothing her, said: “It won’t hurt to cry; you’ll go to sleep afterward, and when you wake up everything will come right.” Then he left the room.
Joining his anxious friend down-stairs, he said: “Sesemann, the little girl is a sleep-walker, and has unconsciously scared your whole household. Besides, she is so home-sick that her little body has wasted away. We shall have to act quickly. The only remedy for her is to be restored to her native mountain air. This is my prescription, and she must go tomorrow.”
“What, sick, a sleep-walker, and wasted away in my house! Nobody even suspected it! You think I should send this child back in this condition, when she has come in good health? No, doctor, ask everything but that. Take her in hand and prescribe for her, but let her get well before I send her back.”
“Sesemann,” the doctor replied seriously, “just think what you are doing. We cannot cure her with powders and pills. The child has not a strong constitution, and if you keep her here, she might never get well again. If you restore her to the bracing mountain air to which she is accustomed, she probably will get perfectly well again.”
When Mr. Sesemann heard this he said, “If that is your advice, we must act at once; this is the only way then.” With these words Mr. Sesemann took his friend’s arm and walked about with him to talk the matter over. When everything was settled, the doctor took his leave, for the morning had already come and the sun was shining in through the door.