In a beautiful house in Frankfurt lived a sick child by the name of Clara Sesemann. She was sitting in a comfortable rolling-chair, which could be pushed from room to room. Clara spent most of her time in the study, where long rows of bookcases lined the walls. This room was used as a living-room, and here she was also given her lessons.
Clara had a pale, thin face with soft blue eyes, which at that moment were watching the clock impatiently. At last she said: “Oh Miss Rottenmeier, isn’t it time yet?”
The lady so addressed was the housekeeper, who had lived with Clara since Mrs. Sesemann’s death. Miss Rottenmeier wore a peculiar uniform with a long cape, and a high cap on her head. Clara’s father, who was away from home a great deal, left the entire management of the house to this lady, on the condition that his daughter’s wishes should always be considered.
While Clara was waiting, Deta had arrived at the front door with Heidi. She was asking the coachman who had brought her if she could go upstairs.
“That’s not my business,” grumbled the coachman; “you must ring for the butler.”
Sebastian, the butler, a man with large brass buttons on his coat, soon stood before her.
“May I see Miss Rottenmeier?” Deta asked.
“That’s not my business,” the butler announced. “Ring for Tinette, the maid.” With that, he disappeared.
Deta, ringing again, saw a girl with a brilliant white cap on her head, coming down the stairway. The maid stopped half-way down and asked scornfully: “What do you want?”
Deta repeated her wish again. Tinette told her to wait while she went upstairs, but it did not take long before the two were asked to come up.
Following the maid, they found themselves in the study. Deta held on to Heidi’s hand and stayed near the door.
Miss Rottenmeier, slowly getting up, approached the newcomers. She did not seem pleased with Heidi, who wore her hat and shawl and was looking up at the lady’s headdress with innocent wonder.
“What is your name?” the lady asked.
“Heidi,” was the child’s clear answer.
“What? Is that a Christian name? What name did you receive in baptism?” inquired the lady again.
“I don’t remember that any more,” the child replied.
“What an answer! What does that mean?” said the housekeeper, shaking her head. “Is the child ignorant or pert, Miss Deta?”
“I shall speak for the child, if I may, madam,” Deta said, after giving Heidi a little blow for her unbecoming answer. “The child has never been in such a fine house and does not know how to behave. I hope the lady will forgive her manners. She is called Adelheid after her mother, who was my sister.”
“Oh well, that is better. But Miss Deta, the child seems peculiar for her age. I thought I told you that Miss Clara’s companion would have to be twelve years old like her, to be able to share her studies. How old is Adelheid?”
“I am sorry, but I am afraid she is somewhat younger than I thought. I think she is about ten years old.”
“Grandfather said that I was eight years old,” said Heidi now. Deta gave her another blow, but as the child had no idea why, she did not get embarrassed.
“What, only eight years old!” Miss Rottenmeier exclaimed indignantly. “How can we get along? What have you learned? What books have you studied?”
“None,” said Heidi.
“But how did you learn to read?”
“I can’t read and Peter can’t do it either,” Heidi retorted.
“For mercy’s sake! you cannot read?” cried the lady in her surprise. “How is it possible? What else have you studied?”
“Nothing,” replied Heidi, truthfully.
“Miss Deta, how could you bring this child?” said the housekeeper, when she was more composed.
Deta, however, was not easily intimidated, and said: “I am sorry, but I thought this child would suit you. She is small, but older children are often spoilt and not like her. I must go now, for my mistress is waiting. As soon as I can, I’ll come to see how the child is getting along.” With a bow she was outside and with a few quick steps hurried down-stairs.
Miss Rottenmeier followed her and tried to call her back, for she wanted to ask Deta a number of questions.
Heidi was still standing on the same spot. Clara had watched the scene, and called to the child now to come to her.
Heidi approached the rolling-chair.
“Do you want to be called Heidi or Adelheid?” asked Clara.
“My name is Heidi and nothing else,” was the child’s answer.
“I’ll call you Heidi then, for I like it very much,” said Clara. “I have never heard the name before. What curly hair you have! Was it always like that?”
“I think so.”
“Did you like to come to Frankfurt?” asked Clara again.
“Oh, no, but then I am going home again to-morrow, and shall bring grandmother some soft white rolls,” Heidi explained.
“What a curious child you are,” said Clara. “You have come to Frankfurt to stay with me, don’t you know that? We shall have our lessons together, and I think it will be great fun when you learn to read. Generally the morning seems to have no end, for Mr. Candidate comes at ten and stays till two. That is a long time, and he has to yawn himself, he gets so tired. Miss Rottenmeier and he both yawn together behind their books, but when I do it, Miss Rottenmeier makes me take cod-liver oil and says that I am ill. So I must swallow my yawns, for I hate the oil. What fun it will be now, when you learn to read!”
Heidi shook her head doubtfully at these prospects.
“Everybody must learn to read, Heidi. Mr. Candidate is very patient and will explain it all to you. You won’t know what he means at first, for it is difficult to understand him. It won’t take long to learn, though, and then you will know what he means.”
When Miss Rottenmeier found that she was unable to recall Deta, she came back to the children. She was in a very excited mood, for she felt responsible for Heidi’s coming and did not know how to cancel this unfortunate step. She soon got up again to go to the dining-room, criticising the butler and giving orders to the maid. Sebastian, not daring to show his rage otherwise, noisily opened the folding doors. When he went up to Clara’s chair, he saw Heidi watching him intently. At last she said: “You look like Peter.”
Miss Rottenmeier was horrified with this remark, and sent them all into the dining-room. After Clara was lifted on to her chair, the housekeeper sat down beside her. Heidi was motioned to sit opposite the lady. In that way they were placed at the enormous table. When Heidi saw a roll on her plate, she turned to Sebastian, and pointing at it, asked, “Can I have this?” Heidi had already great confidence in the butler, especially on account of the resemblance she had discovered. The butler nodded, and when he saw Heidi put the bread in her pocket, could hardly keep from laughing. He came to Heidi now with a dish of small baked fishes. For a long time the child did not move; then turning her eyes to the butler, she said: “Must I eat that?” Sebastian nodded, but another pause ensued. “Why don’t you give it to me?” the child quietly asked, looking at her plate. The butler, hardly able to keep his countenance, was told to place the dish on the table and leave the room.
When he was gone, Miss Rottenmeier explained to Heidi with many signs how to help herself at table. She also told her never to speak to Sebastian unless it was important. After that the child was told how to accost the servants and the governess. When the question came up of how to call Clara, the older girl said, “Of course you shall call me Clara.”
A great many rules followed now about behavior at all times, about the shutting of doors and about going to bed, and a hundred other things. Poor Heidi’s eyes were closing, for she had risen at five that morning, and leaning against her chair she fell asleep. When Miss Rottenmeier had finished instructions, she said: “I hope you will remember everything, Adelheid. Did you understand me?”
“Heidi went to sleep a long time ago,” said Clara, highly amused.
“It is atrocious what I have to bear with this child,” exclaimed Miss Rottenmeier, ringing the bell with all her might. When the two servants arrived, they were hardly able to rouse Heidi enough to show her to her bed-room.