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CHAPTER XXI. HOW LIFE WENT ON AT GRANDFATHER'S
The sun had just risen above the mountains and was shedding its first golden rays over the hut and the valley below. Alm-Uncle, as was his custom, had been standing in a quiet and, devout attitude for some little while, watching the light mists gradually lifting, and the heights and valley emerging from their twilight shadows and awakening to another day.
The light morning clouds overhead grew brighter and brighter, till at last the sun shone out in its full glory, and rock and wood and hill lay bathed in golden light.
Uncle now stepped back into the hut and went softly up the ladder. Clara had just opened her eyes and was looking with wonder at the bright sunlight that shone through the round window and danced and sparkled about her bed. She could not at first think what she was looking at or where she was. Then she caught sight of Heidi sleeping beside her, and now she heard the grandfather's cheery voice asking her if she had slept well and was feeling rested. She assured him she was not tired, and that when she had once fallen asleep she had not opened her eyes again all night. The grandfather was satisfied at this and immediately began to attend upon her with so much gentleness and understanding that it seemed as if his chief calling had been to look after sick children.
Heidi now awoke and was surprised to see Clara dressed, and already in the grandfather's arms ready to be carried down. She must be up too, and she went through her toilette with lightning-like speed. She ran down the ladder and out of the hut, and there further astonishment awaited her, for grandfather had been busy the night before after they were in bed. Seeing that it was impossible to get Clara's chair through the hut-door, he had taken down two of the boards at the side of the shed and made an opening large enough to admit the chair; these he left loose so that they could be taken away and put up at pleasure. He was at this moment wheeling Clara out into the sun; he left her in front of the hut while he went to look after the goats, and Heidi ran up to her friend.
The fresh morning breeze blew round the children's faces, and every fresh puff brought a waft of fragrance from the fir trees. Clara drew it in with delight and lay back in her chair with an unaccustomed feeling of health and comfort.
It was the first time in her life that she had been out in the open country at this early hour and felt the fresh morning breeze, and the pure mountain air was so cool and refreshing that every breath she drew was a pleasure. And then the bright sweet sun, which was not hot and sultry up here, but lay soft and warm on her hands and on the grass at her feet. Clara had not imagined that it would be like this on the mountain.
"O Heidi, if only I could stay up here for ever with you," she exclaimed happily, turning in her chair from side to side that she might drink in the air and sun from all quarters.
"Now you see that it is just what I told you," replied Heidi delighted; "that it is the most beautiful thing in the world to be up here with grandfather."
The latter at that moment appeared coming from the goat shed and bringing two small foaming bowls of snow-white milk - one for Clara and one for Heidi.
"That will do the little daughter good," he said, nodding to Clara; "it is from Little Swan and will make her strong. To your health, child! drink it up."
Clara had never tasted goat's milk before; she hesitated and smelt it before putting it to her lips, but seeing how Heidi drank hers up without hesitating, and how much she seemed to like it, Clara did the same, and drank till there was not a drop left, for she too found it delicious, tasting just as if sugar and cinnamon had been mixed with it.
"To-morrow we will drink two," said the grandfather, who had looked on with satisfaction at seeing her follow Heidi's example.
Peter now arrived with the goats, and while Heidi was receiving her usual crowded morning greetings, Uncle drew Peter aside to speak to him, for the goats, bleated so loudly and continuously in their wish to express their joy and affection that no one could be heard near them.
"Attend to what I have to say," he said. "From to-day be sure you let Little Swan go where she likes. She has an instinct where to find the best food for herself, and so if she wants to climb higher, you follow her, and it will do the others no harm if they go too; on no account bring her back. A little more climbing won't hurt you, and in this matter she probably knows better than you what is good for her; I want her to give as fine milk as possible. Why are you looking over there as if you wanted to eat somebody? Nobody will interfere with you. So now be off and remember what I say."
Peter was accustomed to give immediate obedience to Uncle, and he marched off with his goats, but with a turn of the head and roll of the eye that showed he had some thought in reserve. The goats carried Heidi along with them a little way, which was what Peter wanted. "You will have to come with them," he called to her, "for I shall be obliged to follow Little Swan."
"I cannot," Heidi called back from the midst of her friends, "and I shall not be able to come for a long, long time - not as long as Clara is with me. Grandfather, however, has promised to go up the mountain with both of us one day."
Heidi had now extricated herself from the goats and she ran back to Clara. Peter doubled his fists and made threatening gestures towards the invalid on her couch, and then climbed up some distance without pause until he was out of sight, for he was afraid Uncle might have seen him, and he did not care to know what Uncle might have thought of the fists.
Clara and Heidi had made so many plans for themselves that they hardly knew where to begin. Heidi suggested that they should first write to grandmamma, to whom they had promised to send word every day, for grandmamma had not felt sure whether it would in the long run suit Clara's health to remain up the mountain, or if she would continue to enjoy herself there. With daily news of her granddaughter she could stay on without anxiety at Ragatz, and be ready to go to Clara at a moment's notice.
"Must we go indoors to write?" asked Clara, who agreed to Heidi's proposal but did not want to move from where she was, as it was so much nicer outside. Heidi was prepared to arrange everything. She ran in and brought out her school-book and writing things and her own little stool. She put her reading book and copy book on Clara's knees, to make a desk for her to write upon, and she herself took her seat on the stool and sat to the bench, and then they both began writing to grandmamma. But Clara paused after every sentence to look about her; it was too beautiful for much letter writing. The breeze had sunk a little, and now only gently fanned her face and whispered lightly through the fir trees. Little winged insects hummed and danced around her in the clear air, and a great stillness lay over the far, wide, sunny pasture lands. Lofty and silent rose the high mountain peaks above her, and below lay the whole broad valley full of quiet peace. Only now and again the call of some shepherd-boy rang out through the air, and echo answered softly from the rocks. The morning passed, the children hardly knew how, and now grandfather came with the mid-day bowls of steaming milk, for the little daughter, he said, was to remain out as long as there was a gleam of sun in the sky. The mid-day meal was set out and eaten as yesterday in the open air. Then Heidi pushed Clara's chair under the fir trees, for they had agreed to spend the afternoon under their shade and there tell each other all that had happened since Heidi left Frankfurt. If everything had gone on there as usual in a general way, there were still all kinds of particular things to tell Heidi about the various people who composed the Sesemann household, and who were all so well known to Heidi.
So they sat and chatted under the trees, and the more lively grew their conversation, the more loudly sang the birds overhead, as if wishing to take part in the children's gossip, which evidently pleased them. So the hours flew by and all at once, as it seemed, the evening had come with the returning Peter, who still scowled and looked angry.
"Good-night, Peter," called out Heidi, as she saw he had no intention of stopping to speak.
"Good-night, Peter," called out Clara in a friendly voice. Peter took no notice and went surlily on with his goats,
As Clara saw the grandfather leading away Little Swan to milk her, she was suddenly taken with a longing for another bowlful of the fragrant milk, and waited impatiently for it.
"Isn't it curious, Heidi," she said, astonished at herself, "as long as I can remember I have only eaten because I was obliged to, and everything used to seem to taste of cod liver oil, and I was always wishing there was no need to eat or drink; and now I am longing for grandfather to bring me the milk."
"Yes, I know what it feels like," replied Heidi, who remembered the many days in Frankfurt when all her food used to seem to stick in her throat. Clara, however, could not understand it; the fact was that she had never in her life before spent a whole day in the open air, much less in such high, life-giving mountain air. When grandfather at last brought her the evening milk, she drank it up so quickly that she had emptied her bowl before Heidi, and then she asked for a little more. The grandfather went inside with both the children's bowls, and when he brought them out again full he had something else to add to their supper. He had walked over that afternoon to a herdsman's house where the sweetly-tasting butter was made, and had brought home a large pat, some of which he had now spread thickly on two good slices of bread. He stood and watched with pleasure while Clara and Heidi ate their appetising meal with childish hunger and enjoyment.
That night, when Clara lay down in her bed and prepared to watch the stars, her eyes would not keep open, and she fell asleep as soon as Heidi and slept soundly all night - a thing she never remembered having done before. The following day and the day after passed in the same pleasant fashion, and the third day there came a surprise for the children. Two stout porters came up the mountain, each carrying a bed on his shoulders with bedding of all kinds and two beautiful new white coverlids. The men also had a letter with them from grandmamma, in which she said that these were for Clara and Heidi, and that Heidi in future was always to sleep in a proper bed, and when she went down to Dorfli in the winter she was to take one with her and leave the other at the hut, so that Clara might always know there was a bed ready for her when she paid a visit to the mountain. She went on to thank the children for their long letters and encouraged them to continue writing daily, so that she might be able to picture all they were doing.
So the grandfather went up and threw back the hay from Heidi's bed on to the great heap, and then with his help the beds were transported to the loft. He put them close to one another so that the children might still be able to see out of the window, for he knew what pleasure they had in the light from the sun and stars.
Meanwhile grandmamma down at Ragatz was rejoicing at the excellent news of the invalid which reached her daily from the mountain. Clara found the life more charming each day and could not say enough of the kindness and care which the grandfather lavished upon her, nor of Heidi's lively and amusing companionship, for the latter was more entertaining even than when in Frankfurt with her, and Clara's first thought when she woke each morning was, "Oh, how glad I am to be here still."
Having such fresh assurances each day that all was going well with Clara, grandmamma thought she might put off her visit to the children a little longer, for the steep ride up and down was somewhat of a fatigue to her.
The grandfather seemed to feel an especial sympathy for this little invalid charge, for he tried to think of something fresh every day to help forward her recovery. He climbed up the mountain every afternoon, higher and higher each day, and came home in the evening with a large bunch of leaves which scented the air with a mingled fragrance as of carnations and thyme, even from afar. He hung it up in the goat shed, and the goats on their return were wild to get at it, for they recognised the smell. But Uncle did not go climbing after rare plants to give the goats the pleasure of eating them without any trouble of finding them; what he gathered was for Little Swan alone, that she might give extra fine milk, and the effect of the extra feeding was shown in the way she flung her head in the air with ever-increasing frolicsomeness, and in the bright glow of her eye.
Clara had now been on the mountain for three weeks. For some days past the grandfather, each morning after carrying her down, had said, "Won't the little daughter try if she can stand for a minute or two?" And Clara had made the effort in order to please him, but had clung to him as soon as her feet touched the ground, exclaiming that it hurt her so. He let her try a little longer, however, each day.
It was many years since they had had such a splendid summer among the mountains. Day after day there were the same cloudless sky and brilliant sun; the flowers opened wide their fragrant blossoms, and everywhere the eye was greeted with a glow of color; and when the evening came the crimson light fell on mountain peaks and on the great snow-field, till at last the sun sank in a sea of golden flame.
And Heidi never tired of telling Clara of all this, for only higher up could the full glory of the colors be rightly seen; and more particularly did she dwell on the beauty of the spot on the higher slope of the mountain, where the bright golden rock-roses grew in masses, and the blue flowers were in such numbers that the very grass seemed to have turned blue, while near these were whole bushes of the brown blossoms, with their delicious scent, so that you never wanted to move again when you once sat down among them.
She had just been expatiating on the flowers as she sat with Clara under the fir trees one evening, and had been telling her again of the wonderful light from the evening sun, when such an irrepressible longing came over her to see it all once more that the jumped up and ran to her grandfather, who was in the shed, calling out almost before she was inside, -
"Grandfather, will you take us out with the goats to-morrow? Oh, it is so lovely up there now!"
"Very well," he answered, "but if I do, the little daughter must do something to please me: she must try her best again this evening to stand on her feet."
Heidi ran back with the good news to Clara, and the latter promised to try her very best as the grandfather wished, for she looked forward immensely to the next day's excursion. Heidi was so pleased and excited that she called out to Peter as soon as she caught sight of him that evening, -
"Peter, Peter, we are all coming out with you to-morrow and are going to stay up there the whole day."
Peter, cross as a bear, grumbled some reply, and lifted his stick to give Greenfinch a blow for no reason in particular, but Greenfinch saw the movement, and with a leap over Snowflake's back she got out of the way, and the stick only hit the air.
Clara and Heidi got into their two fine beds that night full of delightful anticipation of the morrow; they were so full of their plans that they agreed to keep awake all night and talk over them until they might venture to get up. But their heads had no sooner touched their soft pillows than the conversation suddenly ceased, and Clara fell into a dream of an immense field, which looked the color of the sky, so thickly inlaid was it with blue bell-shaped flowers; and Heidi heard the great bird of prey calling to her from the heights above, "Come! come! come!"
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXII. SOMETHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENS