It was many rough uphill miles to the alps where the goats were pastured, and the stout little legs ached with weariness long before they reached the patches of green grass which were reserved for them. On the way up they passed fields where cows were grazing, and Bello had hard work to keep the goats in the path, but these pastures were only for cows, and goats were not allowed in them. For two hours they climbed steadily up and up, following a mountain path that led sometimes beside a rushing brook, sometimes along the edges of dizzy precipices, and always among rocks with wonderful views of distant snow-capped peaks above them and green, green valleys below.
At last, when it seemed to the weary children that they could not go another step, they came out upon a high pasture, where Fritz called a halt. The goats leaped joyfully forward, snatching greedy mouthfuls of the rich green grass which grew among the rocks. Bello flopped heavily down on a flat stone with his tongue hanging out, and Fritz and the Twins rolled over on their backs on a soft carpet of grass to rest.
Almost at once Seppi said, "I'm hungry."
"So 'm I," said Leneli.
"You'll be hungry all the time up here," said Fritz encouragingly. "It's the air."
"Let's eat," urged Seppi.
Fritz took the package of luncheon from his pocket and opened it.
"It looks very small. It looks a great deal smaller than it did at home," said Leneli. "I wonder why?"
"You are hungrier now than you were then," said Fritz.
"I could eat it all myself," said Seppi.
"But you won't," laughed Fritz; "I'll see to that." He divided the bread and cheese into three equal portions and handed one to each of the Twins. The third he put in his own pocket. "Now I don't care what you do with yours," he said; "only, if you eat it all now, you'll be hungry enough to browse with the goats before it's time to go home. Better take just a bite and a drink of water and eat more by and by."
Seppi looked hungrily at his portion and took a bite. Then he just couldn't stop, and before he knew it his whole luncheon was gone and it was only nine o'clock in the morning!
Leneli took two bites of hers, and then, wrapping it carefully in the piece of cloth, placed it high up on an overhanging rock out of the way of temptation. Then, while Fritz was teaching Seppi all the tricks of a goat-boy's trade, she found a soft patch of grass all spangled with blue gentians and fell asleep with her head on her arm. She slept for some time, and Fritz and Seppi, seeing how tired she was, did not disturb her.
She was roused at last by the tinkling of a goat-bell almost over her head, and woke up just in time to see her luncheon, cloth and all, disappearing into the mouth of Nanni, the brown goat! Poor Leneli screamed with dismay, and Fritz and Seppi, thinking perhaps she had hurt herself, came dashing to her side. Leneli was boiling with rage. She could only point at Nanni, who stood calmly out of reach above them with the last scrap of cloth dangling from her lips.
"You wretched, black-hearted pig of a goat!" she screamed, stamping her foot. "You've eaten every bit of my lunch, and I'd only taken two little teeny bites! Oh, I wish I'd eaten it all like that greedy Seppi!"
Fritz and Seppi were sorry, but when they saw the goat looking down at Leneli so calmly while she stormed and scolded below, they rolled over on the ground helpless with laughter.
"It's all very well for you to laugh, sniffed Leneli; you've both got your lunches," and she went away quite sulkily and sat down on a stone by herself. Bello came and sat beside her and licked her hand.
Fritz had to dash away just then after a straying goat, but he was soon back again with his luncheon in his hand. "Here," he said, "you can have some of my bread and cheese."
"Oh, Fritzi," said Leneli gratefully, "you are as good and kind as that goat is bad, but I'm going to take only a teeny mouthful, just to keep me from starving!"
"All right," said Fritz, holding the slice of bread for her to bite. "To-morrow we'll ask Mother to put up more bread and cheese, and if you get hungry again, you can milk old Nanni herself and get even with her that way."
"But I don't know how to milk," said Leneli with her mouth full.
"It's time you learned then," said Fritz briskly. "You've seen Mother do it over and over again. Come, I'll teach you."
Nanni, the goat, had leaped down from her high perch, and was now taking a drink from a little sparkling mountain rill which flowed through the pasture.
"Come along," said Fritz. "There's no time like the present," and, taking his cup in his hand, he started toward her.
Leneli hung back a little. "Nanni is the naughtiest goat in the whole flock," she said resentfully. "If it weren't for getting my lunch back, I wouldn't try to milk her."
It may be that Nanni heard it and was offended, or it may be that she knew that she had no milk to give them so early in the morning. Anyway, she made up her mind she would not be bothered at that time of day, so as fast as they came near her, she walked on a few steps, and by the time they had reached that spot she had moved farther still.
"We mustn't frighten her," said Fritz, "It's bad for the milk."
For some time they patiently followed her about, and at last just as they were ready to lay hands upon her, she suddenly leaped upon a rock and from that to a higher one, until she stood far out of reach on a dizzy overhanging cliff.
"That Nanni!" cried Fritz wrathfully as he prepared to follow her. "She'll break her pesky neck and mine too some day."
He climbed a tree for a short cut to the cliff and dropped from an overhanging branch to the narrow shelf of rock in front of the goat. Bello, meanwhile, ran back and forth below, barking like everything, but quite unable either to follow Nanni up the steep trail, or to climb the tree as Fritz had done.
"Come, Nanni," said Fritz, holding out his hand as he stepped carefully toward her.
Nanni sniffed and backed. Leneli and Seppi watched from below, breathless with anxiety. If she should back too much she might fall over the cliff and be killed. If she should dash forward she might knock Fritz over it instead. But Fritz was a wise goat-boy! He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a handful of salt, which he kept for just such times as this. He held it out toward Nanni and carefully and slowly backed away from the edge of the cliff, coaxing her to follow him. As she stepped forward, he stepped back, and in this way led her by a roundabout path down the farther side of the rocks to the place where the other goats wore still feeding.
"Oh, Fritzi, I never could do that," said Leneli, hugging him when he was on safe ground once more. "I should be so frightened."
"I could," said Seppi promptly; "I'm not afraid."
"Don't you try it, young man," said Fritz, "unless it's the only thing you can do. The best goat-boy is the one who keeps his goats from getting into such places. It's much cleverer to keep out of trouble than to get out."
They gave up the milking lesson for the time being, but when the long day was over and they were on their way down the mountain-pass in the late afternoon, they came to a wide level space. Here they paused, and, while Seppi stood with his arm about Nanni's neck and fed her handfuls of green grass, Leneli really did milk enough for a refreshing drink to sustain her on the long homeward journey.
Singing, playing tunes on the horn, and rousing the ever-ready echoes with their yodels, they ran down the steep mountain path in a much shorter time than it had taken to climb it in the morning, and came in sight of the old farm-house just as the Angelus rang again in the little white village spire. They paused on the mountain path and bent their heads, but Nanni was not a religious goat! She remembered the glimpse she had had the night before of green things growing in the garden and suddenly bolted down the steep path at a break-neck speed. All the rest of the flock followed pell-mell after her, and the children were obliged to cut short their prayers in order to save the carrot-tops from being eaten up.
The last mile was covered in record-breaking time, and before the cuckoo clock struck seven the children and goats and dog all came galloping into the yard together.