Peter arrived punctually at school next day. He had brought his lunch with him in a bag, for all the children that came from far away ate in school, while the others went home. In the evening Peter as usual paid his visit to Heidi.
The minute he opened the door she ran up to him, saying: “Peter, I have to tell you something.”
“Say it,” he replied.
“You must learn to read now,” said the child.
“I have done it already.”
“Yes, yes, Peter, but I don’t mean it that way,” Heidi eagerly proceeded; “you must learn so that you really know how afterwards.”
“I can’t,” Peter remarked.
“Nobody believes you about that any more, and I won’t either,” Heidi said resolutely. “When I was in Frankfurt, grandmama told me that it wasn’t true and that I shouldn’t believe you.”
Peter’s astonishment was great.
“I’ll teach you, for I know how; when you have learnt it, you must read one or two songs to grandmother every day.”
“I shan’t!” grumbled the boy.
This obstinate refusal made Heidi very angry. With flaming eyes she planted herself before the boy and said: “I’ll tell you what will happen, if you don’t want to learn. Your mother has often said that she’ll send you to Frankfurt. Clara showed me the terrible, large boys’ school there, where you’ll have to go. You must stay there till you are a man, Peter! You mustn’t think that there is only one teacher there, and such a kind one as we have here. No, indeed! There are whole rows of them, and when they are out walking they have high black hats on their heads. I saw them myself, when I was out driving!”
Cold shivers ran down Peter’s back.
“Yes, you’ll have to go there, and when they find out that you can’t read or even spell, they’ll laugh at you!”
“I’ll do it,” said Peter, half angry and half frightened.
“Oh, I am glad. Let us start right away!” said Heidi joyfully, pulling Peter over to the table. Among the things that Clara had sent, Heidi had found a little book with the A,B,C and some rhymes. She had chosen this for the lessons. Peter, having to spell the first rhyme, found great difficulty, so Heidi said, “I’ll read it to you, and then you’ll be able to do it better. Listen:
If A, B, C you do not know,
Before the school board you must go.
“I won’t go,” said Peter stubbornly.
“Before the court.”
“Hurry up and learn the three letters, then you won’t have to!”
Peter, beginning again, repeated the three letters till Heidi said:
“Now you know them.”
Having observed the good result of the first rhyme, she began to read again:
D, E, F, G you then must read,
Or of misfortune take good heed!
If H,I,J,K are forgot,
Adversity is on the spot
Who over L and M doth stumble,
Must pay a penance and feel humble.
There’s trouble coming; if you knew,
You’d quickly learn N, O, P, Q.
If still you halt on R, S, T,
You’ll suffer for it speedily.
Heidi, stopping, looked at Peter, who was so frightened by all these threats and mysterious horrors that he sat as still as a mouse. Heidi’s tender heart was touched, and she said comfortingly: “Don’t be afraid, Peter; if you come to me every day, you’ll soon learn all the letters and then those things won’t happen. But come every day, even when it snows. Promise!”
Peter did so, and departed. Obeying Heidi’s instructions, he came daily to her for his lesson.
Sometimes the grandfather would sit in the room, smoking his pipe; often the corners of his mouth would twitch as if he could hardly keep from laughing.
He generally invited Peter to stay to supper afterwards, which liberally rewarded the boy for all his great exertions.
Thus the days passed by. In all this time Peter had really made some progress, though the rhymes still gave him difficulty.
When they had come to U, Heidi read:
Whoever mixes U and V,
Will go where he won’t want to be!
If W you still ignore,
Look at the rod beside the door.
Often Peter would growl and object to those measures, but nevertheless he kept on learning, and soon had but three letters left.
The next few days the following rhymes, with their threats, made Peter more eager than ever.
If you the letter X forget
For you no supper will be set.
If you still hesitate with Y,
For shame you’ll run away and cry.
When Heidi read the last,
And he who makes his Z with blots,
Must journey to the Hottentots.
Peter sneered: “Nobody even knows where they are!”
“I am sure grandfather does,” Heidi retorted, jumping up. “Just wait one minute and I shall ask him. He is over with the parson,” and with that she had opened the door.
“Wait!” shrieked Peter in great alarm, for he saw himself already transported to those dreadful people. “What is the matter with you?” said Heidi, standing still.
“Nothing, but stay here. I’ll learn,” he blubbered. But Heidi, wanting to know something about the Hottentots herself, could only be kept back by piteous screams from Peter. So at last they settled down again, and before it was time to go, Peter knew the last letter, and had even begun to read syllables. From this day on he progressed more quickly.
It was three weeks since Heidi had paid her last visit to the grandmother, for much snow had fallen since. One evening, Peter, coming home, said triumphantly:
“I can do it!”
“What is it you can do, Peter?” asked his mother, eagerly.
“What, is it possible? Did you hear it, grandmother?” exclaimed Brigida.
The grandmother also was curious to learn how this had happened.
“I must read a song now; Heidi told me to,” Peter continued. To the women’s amazement, Peter began. After every verse his mother would exclaim, “Who would have ever thought it!” while the grandmother remained silent.
One day later, when it happened that it was Peter’s turn to read in school, the teacher said:
“Peter, must I pass you by again, as usual? Or do you want to try—I shall not say to read, but to stammer through a line?”
Peter began and read three lines without stopping.
In dumb astonishment, the teacher, putting down his book, looked at the boy.
“What miracle has happened to you?” he exclaimed. “For a long time I tried to teach you with all my patience, and you were not even able to grasp the letters, but now that I had given you up as hopeless, you have not only learnt how to spell, but even to read. How did this happen, Peter?”
“It was Heidi,” the boy replied.
In great amazement, the teacher looked at the little girl. Then the kind man continued:
“I have noticed a great change in you, Peter. You used to stay away from school, sometimes more than a week, and lately you have not even missed a day. Who has brought about this change?”
Every evening now Peter on his return home read one song to his grandmother, but never more. To the frequent praises of Brigida, the old woman once replied: “I am glad he has learnt something, but nevertheless I am longing for the spring to come. Then Heidi can visit me, for when she reads, the verses sound so different. I cannot always follow Peter, and the songs don’t thrill me the way they do when Heidi says them!”
And no wonder! For Peter would often leave out long and difficult words,—what did three or four words matter! So it happened sometimes that there were hardly any nouns left in the hymns that Peter read.