young orphan girl, goes to the Swiss mountains to live with her
grandfather. In the beginning, she is a bit afraid of the gruff old man,
but gradually starts loving him. In the meantime, she makes friends with
Peter, the goatherd. In summers she goes to the valley with Peter and
during winters she visits Peter’s blind grandmother in the village.
Heidi loves nature and she can’t bear to see anyone ‘sad’. But one day,
her aunt Dete arrives and fearing that Heidi is not getting proper
education, she would like Heidi to go with her to the big city. There,
she is to live with a rich family and give company to a sick girl,
Clara. At first, she feels sad and a prisoner. But gradually she
conquers everybody with her sweetness and a great friendship develops
between Clara and Heidi. Thus a new life begins for Heidi but her heart
yearns for her beloved grandfather and her favorite mountains . . .
Johanna Spyri’s Heidi is a classic of children’s literature. The book
has been translated into many languages and is the subject of a number
of motion pictures.
Up the Mountain to Alm-Uncle
From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of the mountains, which on this side look down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley below. The land grows gradually wilder as the path ascends, and the climber has not gone far before he begins to inhale the fragrance of the short grass and sturdy mountain-plants, for the way is steep and leads directly up to the summits above.
On a clear sunny morning in June two figures were seen climbing the narrow mountain path; one, a tall strong-looking girl, the other a child whom she was leading by the hand, and whose little cheeks were so aglow with heat that the crimson color could be seen even through the dark, sun burnt skin. And this was hardly to be wondered at, for in spite of the hot June sun the child was clothed as if to keep off the bitterest frost. She did not look more than five years old, if as much, but what her natural figure was like, it would have been hard to say, for she had apparently two, if not three dresses, one above the other, and over these a thick red woolen shawl wound round about her, so that the little body presented a shapeless appearance, as, with its small feet shod in thick, nailed mountain-shoes, it slowly and laboriously plodded its way up in the heat. The two must have left the valley a good hour’s walk behind them, when they came to the hamlet known as Dörfli, which is situated half-way up the mountain. Here the wayfarers met with greetings from all sides, some calling to them from windows, some from open doors, others from outside, for the elder girl was now in her old home. She did not, however, pause in her walk to respond to her friends’ welcoming cries and questions, but passed on without stopping for a moment until she reached the last of the scattered houses of the hamlet. Here a voice called to her from the door: “Wait a moment, Dete; if you are going up higher, I will come with you.”
The girl thus addressed stood still, and the child immediately let go her hand and seated herself on the ground.
“Are you tired, Heidi?” asked her companion.
“No, I am hot,” answered the child.
“We shall soon get to the top now. You must walk bravely on a little longer, and take good long steps, and in another hour we shall be there,” said Dete in an encouraging voice.
They were now joined by a stout, good-natured looking woman, who walked on ahead with her old acquaintance, the two breaking forth at once into lively conversation about everybody and everything in Dörfli and its surroundings, while the child wandered behind them.
“And where are you off to with the child?” asked the one who had just joined the party. “I suppose it is the child your sister left?”
“Yes,” answered Dete. “I am taking her up to Uncle, where she must stay.”
“The child stay up there with Alm-Uncle! You must be out of your senses, Dete! How can you think of such a thing! The old man, however, will soon send you and your proposal packing off home again!”
“He cannot very well do that, seeing that he is her grandfather. He must do something for her. I have had the charge of the child till now, and I can tell you, Barbel, I am not going to give up the chance which has just fallen to me of getting a good place, for her sake. It is for the grandfather now to do his duty by her.”
“That would be all very well if he were like other people,” asseverated stout Barbel warmly, “but you know what he is. And what can he do with a child, especially with one so young! The child cannot possibly live with him. But where are you thinking of going yourself?”
“To Frankfurt, where an extra good place awaits me,” answered Dete. “The people I am going to were down at the Baths last summer, and it was part of my duty to attend upon their rooms. They would have liked then to take me away with them, but I could not leave. Now they are there again and have repeated their offer, and I intend to go with them, you may be sure of that!”
“I am glad I am not the child!” exclaimed Barbel, with a gesture of horrified pity. “Not a creature knows anything about the old man up there! He will have nothing to do with anybody, and never sets his foot inside a church from one year’s end to another. When he does come down once in a while, everybody clears out of the way from him and his big stick. The mere sight of him, with his bushy grey eyebrows and his immense beard, is alarming enough. He looks like any old heathen or Indian, and few would care to meet him alone.”
“Well, and what of that?” said Dete, in a defiant voice, “he is the grandfather all the same, and must look after the child. He is not likely to do her any harm, and if he does, he will be answerable for it, not I.”
“I should very much like to know,” continued Barbel, in an inquiring tone of voice, “what the old man has on his conscience that he looks as he does, and lives up there on the mountain like a hermit, hardly ever allowing himself to be seen. All kinds of things are said about him. You, Dete, however, must certainly have learnt a good deal concerning him from your sister—am I not right?”
“You are right, I did, but I am not going to repeat what I heard; if it should come to his ears I should get into trouble about it.”
Now Barbel had for long past been most anxious to ascertain particulars about Alm-Uncle, as she could not understand why he seemed to feel such hatred towards his fellow creatures, and insisted on living all alone, or why people spoke about him half in whispers, as if afraid to say anything against him, and yet unwilling to take his side. Moreover, Barbel was in ignorance as to why all the people in Dörfli called him Alm-Uncle, for he could not possibly be uncle to everybody living there. As, however, it was the custom, she did like the rest and called the old man Uncle. Barbel had only lived in Dörfli since her marriage, which had taken place not long before. Previous to that her home had been below in Prättigau, so that she was not well acquainted with all the events that had ever taken place, and with all the people who had ever lived in Dörfli and its neighborhood. Dete, on the contrary, had been born in Dörfli, and had lived there with her mother until the death of the latter the year before, and had then gone over to the Baths at Ragatz and taken service in the large hotel there as chambermaid. On the morning of this day she had come all the way from Ragatz with the child, a friend having given them a lift in a hay-cart as far as Mayenfeld. Barbel was therefore determined not to lose this good opportunity of satisfying her curiosity. She put her arm through Dete’s in a confidential sort of way, and said: “I know I can find out the real truth from you, and the meaning of all these tales that are afloat about him. I believe you know the whole story. Now do just tell me what is wrong with the old man, and if he was always shunned as he is now, and was always such a misanthrope.”
“How can I possibly tell you whether he was always the same, seeing I am only six-and-twenty and he at least seventy years of age; so you can hardly expect me to know much about his youth. If I was sure, however, that what I tell you would not go the whole round of Prättigau, I could relate all kinds of things about him; my mother came from Domleschg, and so did he.”
“Nonsense, Dete, what do you mean?” replied Barbel, somewhat offended, “gossip has not reached such a dreadful pitch in Prättigau as all that, and I am also quite capable of holding my tongue when it is necessary.”
“Very well then, I will tell you—but just wait a moment,” said Dete in a warning voice, and she looked back to make sure that the child was not near enough to hear all she was going to relate; but the child was nowhere to be seen, and must have turned aside from following her companions some time before, while these were too eagerly occupied with their conversation to notice it . . .
© Johanna Spyri