I N her home at Frankfurt, Clara, the little daughter of Herr Sesemann, was lying on the invalid couch on which she spent her whole day, being wheeled in it from room to room. Just now she was in what was known as the study, where, to judge by the various things standing and lying about, which added to the cosy appearance of the room, the family was fond of sitting. A handsome bookcase with glass doors explained why it was called the study, and here evidently the little girl was accustomed to have her lessons.
Clara's little face was thin and pale, and at this moment her two soft blue eyes were fixed on the clock, which seemed to her to go very slowly this day, and with a slight accent of impatience, which was very rare with her, she asked, "Isn't it time yet, Fraülein Rottenmeier?"
This lady was sitting very upright at a small work-table, busy with her embroidery. She had on a mysterious-looking loose garment, a large collar or shoulder-cape that gave a certain solemnity to her appearance, which was enhanced by a very lofty dome-shaped head dress. For many years past, since the mistress of the house had died, the housekeeping and the superintendence of the servants had been entrusted by Herr Sesemann to Fraülein Rottenmeier. He himself was often away from home, and he left her in sole charge, with the condition only that his little daughter should have a voice in all matters, and that nothing should be done against her wish.
As Clara was putting her impatient question for the second time, Dete and Heidi arrived at the front door, and the former inquired of the coachman, who had just got down from his box, if it was too late to see Fraülein Rottenmeier.
"That's not my business," grumbled the coachman; "ring the bell in the hall for Sebastian."
Dete did so, and Sebastian came downstairs; he looked astonished when he saw her, opening his eyes till they were nearly as big as the large round buttons on his coat.
"Is it too late for me to see Fraülein Rottenmeier?" Dete asked again.
"That's not my business," answered the man; "ring that other bell for the maid Tinette," and without troubling himself any farther Sebastian disappeared.
Dete rang again. This time Tinette appeared with a spotless white cap perched on the top of her head and a mocking expression of face.
"What is it?" she called from the top of the stairs. Dete repeated her question. Tinette disappeared, but soon came back and called down again to Dete, "Come up, she is expecting you."
Dete and Heidi went upstairs and into the study, Tinette following. Dete remained standing politely near the door, still holding Heidi tightly by the hand, for she did not know what the child might take it into her head to do amid these new surroundings.
Fraülein Rottenmeier rose slowly and went up to the little new companion for the daughter of the house, to see what she was like. She did not seem very pleased with her appearance. Heidi was dressed in her plain little woollen frock, and her hat was an old straw one bent out of shape. The child looked innocently out from beneath it, gazing with unconcealed astonishment at the lady's towering head dress.
"What is your name?" asked Fraülein Rottenmeier, after scrutinizingly examining the child for some minutes, while Heidi in return kept her eyes steadily fixed upon the lady.
"Heidi," she answered in a clear, ringing voice.
"What? what? that's no Christian name for a child; you were not christened that. What name did they give you when you were baptized?" continued Fraülein Rottenmeier.
"I do not remember," replied Heidi.
"What a way to answer!" said the lady, shaking her head. "Dete, is the child a simpleton or only saucy?"
"If the lady will allow me, I will speak for the child, for she is very unaccustomed to strangers," said Dete, who had given Heidi a silent poke for making such an unsuitable answer. "She is certainly not stupid nor yet saucy, she does not know what it means even; she speaks exactly as she thinks. To-day she is for the first time in a gentleman's house and she does not know good manners; but she is docile and very willing to learn, if the lady will kindly make excuses for her. She was christened Adelaide, after her mother, my sister, who is now dead."
"Well, that's a name that one can pronounce," remarked Fraülein Rottenmeier. "But I must tell you, Dete, that I am astonished to see so young a child. I told you that I wanted a companion of the same age as the young lady of the house, one who could share her lessons, and all her other occupations. Fraülein Clara is now over twelve; what age is this child?"
"If the lady will allow me," began Dete again, in her usual fluent manner, "I myself had lost count of her exact age; she is certainly a little younger, but not much; I cannot say precisely, but I think she is ten, or thereabouts."
"Grandfather told me I was eight," put in Heidi. Dete gave her another poke, but as the child had not the least idea why she did so she was not at all confused.
"What—only eight!" cried Fraülein Rottenmeier angrily. "Four years too young! Of what use is such a child! And what have you learnt? What books did you have to learn from?"
"None," said Heidi.
"How? what? How then did you learn to read?" continued the lady.
"I have never learnt to read, or Peter either," Heidi informed her.
"Mercy upon us! you do not know how to read! Is it really so?" exclaimed Fraülein Rottenmeier, greatly horrified. "Is it possible—not able to read? What have you learnt then?"
"Nothing," said Heidi with unflinching truthfulness.
"Young woman," said the lady to Dete, after having paused for a minute or two to recover from her shock, "this is not at all the sort of companion you led me to suppose; how could you think of bringing me a child like this?"
But Dete was not to be put down so easily, and answered warmly, "If the lady will allow me, the child is exactly what I thought she required; the lady described what she wished for, a child unlike all other children, and I could find no other to suit, for the greater number I know are not peculiar, but one very much the same as the other, and I thought this child seemed as if made for the place. But I must go now, for my mistress will be waiting for me; if the lady will permit I will come again soon and see how she is getting on." And with a bow Dete quickly left the room and ran downstairs. Fraülein Rottenmeier stood for a moment taken aback and then ran after Dete. If the child was to stop she had many things yet to say and ask about her, and there the child was, and what was more, Dete, as she plainly saw, meant to leave her there.
Heidi remained by the door where she had been standing since she first came in. Clara had looked on during the interview without speaking; now she beckoned to Heidi and said, "Come here!"
Heidi went up to her.
"Would you rather be called Heidi or Adelaide?" asked Clara.
"I am never called anything but Heidi," was the child's prompt answer.
"I am never called anything but Heidi."
"Then I shall always call you by that name," said Clara, "it suits you. I have never heard it before, but neither have I ever seen a child like you before. Have you always had that short curly hair?"
"Yes, I think so," said Heidi.
"Are you pleased to come to Frankfurt?" went on Clara.
"No, but I shall go home to-morrow and take grandmother a white loaf," explained Heidi.
"Well, you are a funny child!" exclaimed Clara. "You were expressly sent for to come here and to remain with me and share my lessons; there will be some fun about them now as you cannot read, something new to do, for often they are dreadfully dull, and I think the morning will never pass away. You know my tutor comes every morning at about ten o'clock, and then we go on with lessons till two, and it does seem such a long time. Sometimes he takes up the book and holds it close up to his face, as if he was very short-sighted, but I know it's only because he wants so dreadfully to gape, and Fraülein Rottenmeier takes her large handkerchief out also now and then and covers her face with it, as if she was moved by what we had been reading, but that is only because she is longing to gape too. And I myself often want to gape, but I am obliged to stop myself, for if Fraülein Rottenmeier sees me gaping she runs off at once and fetches the cod-liver oil and says I must have a dose, as I am getting weak again, and the cod-liver oil is horrible, so I do my best not to gape. But now it will be much more amusing, for I shall be able to lie and listen while you learn to read."
Heidi shook her head doubtfully when she heard of learning to read.
"Oh, nonsense, Heidi, of course you must learn to read, everybody must, and my tutor is very kind, and never cross, and he will explain everything to you. But mind, when he explains anything to you, you won't be able to understand; but don't ask any questions, or else he will go on explaining and you will understand less than ever. Later when you have learnt more and know about things yourself, then you will begin to understand what he meant."
Fraülein Rottenmeier now came back into the room; she had not been able to overtake Dete, and was evidently very much put out; for she had wanted to go into more details concerning the child, and to convince Dete how misleading she had been, and how unfit Heidi was as a companion for Clara; she really did not know what to be about, or how to undo the mischief, and it made her all the more angry that she herself was responsible for it, having consented to Heidi being fetched. She ran backwards and forwards in a state of agitation between the study and the dining-room, and then began scolding Sebastian, who was standing looking at the table he had just finished laying to see that nothing was missing.
"You can finish your thoughts to-morrow morning; make haste, or we shall get no dinner to-day at all."
Then hurrying out she called Tinette, but in such an ill-tempered voice that the maid came tripping forward with even more mincing steps than usual, but she looked so pert that even Fraülein Rottenmeier did not venture to scold her, which only made her suppressed anger the greater.
"See that the room is prepared for the little girl who has just arrived," said the lady, with a violent effort at self-control. "Everything is ready; it only wants dusting."
"It's worth my troubling about," said Tinette mockingly as she turned away.
Meanwhile Sebastian had flung open the folding doors leading into the dining-room with rather more noise than he need, for he was feeling furious, although he did not dare answer back when Fraülein Rottenmeier spoke to him; he then went up to Clara's chair to wheel her into the next room. As he was arranging the handle at the back preparatory to doing so, Heidi went near and stood staring at him. Seeing her eyes fixed upon him, he suddenly growled out, "Well, what is there in me to stare at like that?" which he would certainly not have done if he had been aware that Fraülein Rottenmeier was just then entering the room. "You look so like Peter," answered Heidi. The lady-housekeeper clasped her hands in horror. "Is it possible!" she stammered half-aloud, "she is now addressing the servant as if he were a friend! I never could have imagined such a child!"
Sebastian wheeled the couch into the dining-room and helped Clara on to her chair. Fraülein Rottenmeier took the seat beside her and made a sign to Heidi to take the one opposite. They were the only three at table, and as they sat far apart there was plenty of room for Sebastian to hand his dishes. Beside Heidi's plate lay a nice white roll, and her eyes lighted up with pleasure as she saw it. The resemblance which Heidi had noticed had evidently awakened in her a feeling of confidence towards Sebastian, for she sat as still as a mouse and without moving until he came up to her side and handed her the dish of fish; then she looked at the roll and asked, "Can I have it?" Sebastian nodded, throwing a side glance at Fraülein Rottenmeier to see what effect this request would have upon her. Heidi immediately seized the roll and put it in her pocket. Sebastian's face became convulsed, he was overcome with inward laughter but knew his place too well to laugh aloud. Mute and motionless he still remained standing beside Heidi; it was not his duty to speak, nor to move away until she had helped herself. Heidi looked wonderingly at him for a minute or two, and then said, "Am I to eat some of that too?" Sebastian nodded again. "Give me some then," she said, looking calmly at her plate. At this Sebastian's command of his countenance became doubtful, and the dish began to tremble suspiciously in his hands.
"You can put the dish on the table and come back presently," said Fraülein Rottenmeier with a severe expression of face. Sebastian disappeared on the spot. "As for you, Adelaide, I see I shall have to teach you the first rules of behavior," continued the lady-housekeeper with a sigh. "I will begin by explaining to you how you are to conduct yourself at table," and she went on to give Heidi minute instructions as to all she was to do. "And now," she continued, "I must make you particularly understand that you are not to speak to Sebastian at table, or at any other time, unless you have an order to give him, or a necessary question to put to him; and then you are not to address him as if he was some one belonging to you. Never let me hear you speak to him in that way again! It is the same with Tinette, and for myself you are to address me as you hear others doing. Clara must herself decide what you are to call her."
"Why, Clara, of course," put the latter. Then followed a long list of rules as to general behavior, getting up and going to bed, going in and out of the room, shutting the doors, keeping everything tidy, during the course of which Heidi's eyes gradually closed, for she had been up before five o'clock that morning and had had a long journey. She leant back in her chair and fell fast asleep. Fraülein Rottenmeier having at last come to the end of her sermonizing said, "Now remember what I have said, Adelaide! Have you understood it all?"
"Heidi has been asleep for ever so long," said Clara, her face rippling all over with amusement, for she had not had such an entertaining dinner for a long time.
"It is really insupportable what one has to go through with this child," exclaimed Fraülein Rottenmeier, in great indignation, and she rang the bell so violently that Tinette and Sebastian both came running in and nearly tumbling over one another; but no noise was sufficient to wake Heidi, and it was with difficulty they could rouse her sufficiently to get her along to her bedroom, to reach which she had to pass first through the study, then through Clara's bedroom, then through Fraülein Rottenmeier's sitting-room, till she came to the corner room that had been set apart for her.