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—”
“Have you finished?” the old man interrupted her at last.
“Why, one might think I was telling you the silliest things. There is not a man in Prätiggan who would not thank God for such news.”
“Bring them to somebody else, but not to me,” said the uncle, coldly.
Deta, flaming up, replied: “Do you want to hear what I think? Don’t I know how old she is; eight years old and ignorant of everything. They have told me that you refuse to send her to church and to school. She is my only sister’s child, and I shall not bear it, for I am responsible. You do not care for her, how else could you be indifferent to such luck. You had better give way or I shall get the people to back me. If I were you, I would not have it brought to court; some things might be warmed up that you would not care to hear about.”
“Be quiet!” the uncle thundered with flaming eyes. “Take her and ruin her, but do not bring her before my sight again. I do not want to see her with feathers in her hat and wicked words like yours.”
With long strides he went out.
“You have made him angry!” said Heidi with a furious look.
“He won’t be cross long. But come now, where are your things?” asked Deta.
“I won’t come,” Heidi replied.
“What?” Deta said passionately. But changing her tone, she continued in a more friendly manner: “Come now; you don’t understand me. I am taking you to the most beautiful place you have ever seen.” After packing up Heidi’s clothes she said again, “Come, child, and take your hat. It is not very nice, but we can’t help it.”
“I shall not come,” was the reply.
“Don’t be stupid and obstinate, like a goat. Listen to me. Grandfather is sending us away and we must do what he commands, or he will get more angry still. You’ll see how fine it is in Frankfurt. If you do not like it, you can come home again and by that time grandfather will have forgiven us.”
“Can I come home again to-night?” asked Heidi.
“Come now, I told you you could come back. If we get to Mayenfeld today, we can take the train to-morrow. That will make you fly home again in the shortest time!”
Holding the bundle, Deta led the child down the mountain. On their way they met Peter, who had not gone to school that day. The boy thought it was a more useful occupation to look for hazel-rods than to learn to read, for he always needed the rods. He had had a most successful day, for he carried an enormous bundle on his shoulder. When he caught sight of Heidi and Deta, he asked them where they were going.
“I am going to Frankfurt with Aunt Deta,” Heidi replied; “but first I must see grandmother, for she is waiting.”
“Oh no, it is too late. You can see her when you come back, but not now,” said Deta, pulling Heidi along with her, for she was afraid that the old woman might detain the child.
Peter ran into the cottage and hit the table with his rods. The grandmother jumped up in her fright and asked him what that meant.
“They have taken Heidi away,” Peter said with a groan.
“Who has, Peter? Where has she gone?” the unhappy grandmother asked. Brigida had seen Deta walking up the footpath a short while ago and soon they guessed what had happened. With a trembling hand the old woman opened a window and called out as loudly as she could: “Deta, Deta, don’t take the child away. Don’t take her from us.”
When Heidi heard that she struggled to get free, and said: “I must go to grandmother; she is calling me.”
But Deta would not let her go. She urged her on by saying that she might return soon again. She also suggested that Heidi might bring a lovely present to the grandmother when she came back.
Heidi liked this prospect and followed Deta without more ado. After a while she asked: “What shall I bring to the grandmother?”
“You might bring her some soft white rolls, Heidi. I think the black bread is too hard for poor grandmother to eat.”
“Yes, I know, aunt, she always gives it to Peter,” Heidi confirmed her. “We must go quickly now; we might get to Frankfurt today and then I can be back tomorrow with the rolls.”
Heidi was running now, and Deta had to follow. She was glad enough to escape the questions that people might ask her in the village. People could see that Heidi was pulling her along, so she said: “I can’t stop. Don’t you see how the child is hurrying? We have still far to go,” whenever she heard from all sides: “Are you taking her with you?” “Is she running away from the uncle?” “What a wonder she is still alive!” “What red cheeks she has,” and so on. Soon they had escaped and had left the village far behind them.
From that time on the uncle looked more angry than ever when he came to the village. Everybody was afraid of him, and the women would warn their children to keep out of his sight.
He came down but seldom, and then only to sell his cheese and buy his provisions. Often people remarked how lucky it was that Heidi had left him. They had seen her hurrying away, so they thought that she had been glad to go.
The old grandmother alone stuck to him faithfully. Whenever anybody came up to her, she would tell them what good care the old man had taken of Heidi. She also told them that he had mended her little house. These reports reached the village, of course, but people only half believed them, for the grandmother was infirm and old. She began her days with sighing again. “All happiness has left us with the child. The days are so long and dreary, and I have no joy left. If only I could hear Heidi’s voice before I die,” the poor old woman would exclaim, day after day.