Gateway to the Classics: Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Heidi by  Johanna Spyri

Sunday Bells

H EIDI was standing under the waving fir trees waiting for her grandfather, who was going down with her to grandmother's, and then on to Dörfli to fetch her box. She was longing to know how grandmother had enjoyed her white bread and impatient to see and hear her again; but no time seemed weary to her now, for she could not listen long enough to the familiar voice of the trees, or drink in too much of the fragrance wafted to her from the green pastures where the golden-headed flowers were glowing in the sun, a very feast to her eyes. The grandfather came out, gave a look round, and then called to her in a cheerful voice, "Well, now we can be off."

It was Saturday, a day when Alm-Uncle made everything clean and tidy inside and outside the house; he had devoted his morning to this work so as to be able to accompany Heidi in the afternoon, and the whole place was now as spick and span as he liked to see it. They parted at the grandmother's cottage and Heidi ran in. The grandmother had heard her steps approaching and greeted her as she crossed the threshold, "Is it you, child? Have you come again?"

Then she took hold of Heidi's hand and held it fast in her own, for she still seemed to fear that the child might be torn from her again. And now she had to tell Heidi how much she had enjoyed the white bread, and how much stronger she felt already for having been able to eat it, and then Peter's mother went on and said she was sure that if her mother could eat like that for a week she would get back some of her strength, but she was so afraid of coming to the end of the rolls, that she had only eaten one as yet. Heidi listened to all Brigitta said, and sat thinking for a while. Then she suddenly thought of a way.

"I know, grandmother, what I will do," she said eagerly, "I will write to Clara, and she will send me as many rolls again, if not twice as many as you have already, for I had ever such a large heap in the wardrobe, and when they were all taken away she promised to give me as many back, and she would do so I am sure."

"That is a good idea," said Brigitta; "but then, they would get hard and stale. The baker in Dörfli makes the white rolls, and if we could get some of those he has over now and then—but I can only just manage to pay for the black bread."

A further bright thought came to Heidi, and with a look of joy, "Oh, I have lots of money, grandmother," she cried gleefully, skipping about the room in her delight, "and I know now what I will do with it. You must have a fresh white roll every day, and two on Sunday, and Peter can bring them up from Dörfli."

"No, no, child!" answered the grandmother, "I cannot let you do that; the money was not given to you for that purpose; you must give it to your grandfather, and he will tell you how you are to spend it."

But Heidi was not to be hindered in her kind intentions, and she continued to jump about, saying over and over again in a tone of exultation, "Now, grandmother can have a roll every day and will grow quite strong again—and, Oh, grandmother," she suddenly exclaimed with an increase of jubilation in her voice, "if you get strong everything will grow light again for you; perhaps it's only because you are weak that it is dark." The grandmother said nothing, she did not wish to spoil the child's pleasure. As she went jumping about Heidi suddenly caught sight of the grandmother's song book, and another happy idea struck her, "Grandmother, I can also read now, would you like me to read you one of your hymns from your old book?"

"Oh, yes," said the grandmother, surprised and delighted; "but can you really read, child, really?"

Heidi had climbed on to a chair and had already lifted down the book, bringing a cloud of dust with it, for it had lain untouched on the shelf for a long time. Heidi wiped it, sat herself down on a stool beside the old woman, and asked her which hymn she should read.

"What you like, child, what you like," and the grandmother pushed her spinning-wheel aside and sat in eager expectation waiting for Heidi to begin. Heidi turned over the leaves and read a line out softly to herself here and there. At last she said, "Here is one about the sun, grandmother, I will read you that." And Heidi began, reading with more and more warmth of expression as she went on,—

The morning breaks,

And warm and bright

The earth lies still

In the golden light—

For Dawn has scattered the clouds of night.

God's handiwork

Is seen around,

Things great and small

To His praise abound—

Where are the signs of His love not found?

All things must pass,

But God shall still

With steadfast power

His will fulfil—

Sure and unshaken is His will.

His saving grace

Will never fail,

Though grief and fear

The heart assail—

O'er life's wild seas He will prevail.

Joy shall be ours

In that garden blest,

Where after storm

We find our rest—

I wait in peace—God's time is best.

The grandmother sat with folded hands and a look of indescribable joy on her face, such as Heidi had never seen there before, although at the same time the tears were running down her cheeks. As Heidi finished, she implored her, saying, "Read it once again, child, just once again."

And the child began again, with as much pleasure in the verses as the grandmother,—

Joy shall be ours

In that garden blest,

Where after storm

We find our rest—

I wait in peace—God's time is best.

"Ah, Heidi, that brings light to the heart! What comfort you have brought me!"

And the old woman kept on repeating the glad words, while Heidi beamed with happiness, and she could not take her eyes away from the grandmother's face, which had never looked like that before. She had no longer the old troubled expression, but was alight with peace and joy as if she were already looking with clear new eyes into the garden of Paradise.

Some one now knocked at the window and Heidi looked up and saw her grandfather beckoning her to come home with him. She promised the grandmother before leaving her that she would be with her the next day, and even if she went out with Peter she would only spend half the day with him, for the thought that she might make it light and happy again for the grandmother gave her the greatest pleasure, greater even than being out on the sunny mountain with the flowers and goats. As she was going out Brigitta ran to her with the frock and hat she had left. Heidi put the dress over her arm, for, as she thought to herself, the grandfather had seen that before, but she obstinately refused to take back the hat; Brigitta could keep it, for she should never put it on her head again. Heidi was so full of her morning's doings that she began at once to tell her grandfather all about them: how the white bread could be fetched every day from Dörfli if there was money for it, and how the grandmother had all at once grown stronger and happier, and light had come to her. Then she returned to the subject of the rolls. "If the grandmother won't take the money, grandfather, will you give it all to me, and I can then give Peter enough every day to buy a roll and two on Sunday?"

"But how about the bed?" said her grandfather. "It would be nice for you to have a proper bed, and there would then be plenty for the bread."

But Heidi gave her grandfather no peace till he consented to do what she wanted; she slept a great deal better, she said, on her bed of hay than on her fine pillowed bed in Frankfurt. So at last he said, "The money is yours, do what you like with it; you can buy bread for grandmother for years to come with it."

Heidi shouted for joy at the thought that grandmother would never need any more to eat hard black bread, and "Oh, grandfather!" she said, "everything is happier now than it has ever been in our lives before!" and she sang and skipped along, holding her grandfather's hand as light-hearted as a bird. But all at once she grew quiet and said, "If God had let me come at once, as I prayed, then everything would have been different, I should only have had a little bread to bring to grandmother, and I should not have been able to read, which is such a comfort to her; but God has arranged it all so much better than I knew how to; everything has happened just as the other grandmother said it would. Oh, how glad I am that God did not let me have at once all I prayed and wept for! And now I shall always pray to God as she told me, and always thank Him, and when He does not do anything I ask for I shall think to myself, It's just like it was in Frankfurt: God, I am sure, is going to do something better still. So we will pray every day, won't we, grandfather, and never forget Him again, or else He may forget us."

"And supposing one does forget Him?" said the grandfather in a low voice.

"Then everything goes wrong, for God lets us then go where we like, and when we get poor and miserable and begin to cry about it no one pities us, but they say, You ran away from God, and so God, who could have helped you, left you to yourself."

"That is true, Heidi; where did you learn that?"

"From grandmamma; she explained it all to me."

The grandfather walked on for a little while without speaking, then he said, as if following his own train of thought: "And if it once is so, it is so always; no one can go back, and he whom God has forgotten, is forgotten for ever."

"Oh, no, grandfather, we can go back, for grandmamma told me so, and so it was in the beautiful tale in my book—but you have not heard that yet; but we shall be home directly now, and then I will read it you, and you will see how beautiful it is." And in her eagerness Heidi struggled faster and faster up the steep ascent, and they were no sooner at the top than she let go her grandfather's hand and ran into the hut. The grandfather slung the basket off his shoulders in which he had brought up a part of the contents of the trunk which was too heavy to carry up as it was. Then he sat down on his seat and began thinking.

Heidi soon came running out with her book under her arm. "That's right, grandfather," she exclaimed as she saw he had already taken his seat, and in a second she was beside him and had her book open at the particular tale, for she had read it so often that the leaves fell open at it of their own accord. And now in a sympathetic voice Heidi began to read of the son when he was happily at home, and went out into the fields with his father's flocks, and was dressed in a fine cloak, and stood leaning on his shepherd's staff watching as the sun went down, just as he was to be seen in the picture. But then all at once he wanted to have his own goods and money and to be his own master, and so he asked his father to give him his portion, and he left his home and went and wasted all his substance. And when he had nothing left he hired himself out to a master who had no flocks and fields like his father, but only swine to keep; and so he was obliged to watch these, and he only had rags to wear and a few husks to eat, such as the swine fed upon. And then he thought of his old happy life at home and of how kindly his father had treated him and how ungrateful he had been, and he wept for sorrow and longing. And he thought to himself, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I am not worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.' " And when he was yet a great way off his father saw him . . . Here Heidi paused in her reading. "What do you think happens now, grandfather?" she said. "Do you think the father is still angry and will say to him, 'I told you so!' Well, listen now to what comes next." His father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." But the father said to his servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." And they began to be merry.

"Isn't that a beautiful tale, grandfather," said Heidi, as the latter continued to sit without speaking, for she had expected him to express pleasure and astonishment.

"You are right, Heidi; it is a beautiful tale," he replied, but he looked so grave as he said it that Heidi grew silent herself and sat looking quietly at her pictures. Presently she pushed her book gently in front of him and said, "See how happy he is there," and she pointed with her finger to the figure of the returned prodigal, who was standing by his father clad in fresh raiment as one of his own sons again.

A few hours later, as Heidi lay fast asleep in her bed, the grandfather went up the ladder and put his lamp down near her bed so that the light fell on the sleeping child. Her hands were still folded as if she had fallen asleep saying her prayers, an expression of peace and trust lay on the little face, and something in it seemed to appeal to the grandfather, for he stood a long time gazing down at her without speaking. At last he too folded his hands, and with bowed head said in a low voice, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee and am not worthy to be called Thy son." And two large tears rolled down the old man's cheeks.

Early the next morning he stood in front of his hut and gazed quietly around him. The fresh bright morning sun lay on mountain and valley. The sound of a few early bells rang up from the valley, and the birds were singing their morning song in the fir trees. He stepped back into the hut and called up, "Come along, Heidi! the sun is up! Put on your best frock, for we are going to church together!"

Heidi was not long getting ready; it was such an unusual summons from her grandfather that she must make haste. She put on her smart Frankfurt dress and soon went down, but when she saw her grandfather she stood still, gazing at him in astonishment. "Why, grandfather!" she exclaimed, "I never saw you look like that before! and the coat with the silver buttons! Oh, you do look nice in your Sunday coat!"

The old man smiled and replied, "And you too; now come along!" He took Heidi's hand in his and together they walked down the mountain-side. The bells were ringing in every direction now, sounding louder and fuller as they neared the valley, and Heidi listened to them with delight. "Hark at them, grandfather! it's like a great festival!"

The congregation had already assembled and the singing had begun when Heidi and her grandfather entered the church at Dörfli and sat down at the back. But before the hymn was over every one was nudging his neighbor and whispering, "Do you see? Alm-Uncle is in church!"

Soon everybody in the church knew of Alm-Uncle's presence, and the women kept on turning round to look and quite lost their place in the singing. But everybody became more attentive when the sermon began, for the preacher spoke with such warmth and thankfulness that those present felt the effect of his words, as if some great joy had come to them all. At the close of the service Alm-Uncle took Heidi by the hand, and on leaving the church made his way towards the pastor's house; the rest of the congregation looked curiously after him, some even following to see whether he went inside the pastor's house, which he did. Then they collected in groups and talked over this strange event, keeping their eyes on the pastor's door, watching to see whether Alm-Uncle came out looking angry and quarrelsome, or as if the interview had been a peaceful one, for they could not imagine what had brought the old man down, and what it all meant. Some, however, adopted a new tone and expressed their opinion that Alm-Uncle was not so bad after all as they thought, "for see how carefully he took the little one by the hand." And others responded and said they had always thought people had exaggerated about him, that if he was so downright bad he would be afraid to go inside the pastor's house. Then the miller put in his word, "Did I not tell you so from the first? What child is there who would run away from where she had plenty to eat and drink and everything of the best, home to a grandfather who was cruel and unkind, and of whom she was afraid?"

And so everybody began to feel quite friendly towards Alm-Uncle, and the women now came up and related all they had been told by Peter and his grandmother, and finally they all stood there like people waiting for an old friend whom they had long missed from among their number.

Meanwhile Alm-Uncle had gone into the pastor's house and knocked at the study door. The latter came out and greeted him, not as if he was surprised to see him, but as if he had quite expected to see him there; he probably had caught sight of the old man in church. He shook hands warmly with him, and Alm-Uncle was unable at first to speak, for he had not expected such a friendly reception. At last he collected himself and said, "I have come to ask you, pastor, to forget the words I spoke to you when you called on me, and to beg you not to owe me ill-will for having been so obstinately set against your well-meant advice. You were right, and I was wrong, but I have now made up my mind to follow your advice and to find a place for myself at Dörfli for the winter, for the child is not strong enough to stand the bitter cold up on the mountain. And if the people down here look askance at me, as at a person not to be trusted, I know it is my own fault, and you will, I am sure, not do so."

The pastor's kindly eyes shone with pleasure. He pressed the old man's hand in his, and said with emotion, "Neighbor, you went into the right church before you came to mine; I am greatly rejoiced. You will not repent coming to live with us again; as for myself, you will always be welcome as a dear friend and neighbor, and I look forward to our spending many a pleasant winter evening together, for I shall prize your companionship, and we will find some nice friends too for the little one." And the pastor laid his hand kindly on the child's curly head and took her by the hand as he walked to the door with the old man. He did not say good-bye to him till they were standing outside, so that all the people standing about saw him shake hands as if parting reluctantly from his best friend. The door had hardly shut behind him before the whole congregation now came forward to greet Alm-Uncle, every one striving to be the first to shake hands with him, and so many were held out that Alm-Uncle did not know with which to begin; and some said, "We are so pleased to see you among us again," and another, "I have long been wishing we could have a talk together again," and greetings of all kinds echoed from every side, and when Alm-Uncle told them he was thinking of returning to his old quarters in Dörfli for the winter, there was such a general chorus of pleasure that any one would have thought he was the most beloved person in all Dörfli, and that they had hardly known how to live without him. Most of his friends accompanied him and Heidi some way up the mountain, and each as they bid him good-bye made him promise that when he next came down he would without fail come and call. As the old man at last stood alone with the child, watching their retreating figures, there was a light upon his face as if reflected from some inner sunshine of heart. Heidi, looking up at him with her clear steady eyes, said, "Grandfather, you look nicer and nicer to-day, I never saw you quite like that before."

"Do you think so?" he answered with a smile. "Well, yes, Heidi, I am happier to-day than I deserve, happier than I had thought possible; it is good to be at peace with God and man! God was good to me when He sent you to my hut."

When they reached Peter's home the grandfather opened the door and walked straight in. "Good-morning, grandmother," he said. "I think we shall have to do some more patching, up before the autumn winds come."

"Dear God, if it is not Uncle!" cried the grandmother in pleased surprise. "That I should live to see such a thing! and now I can thank you for all that you have done for me. May God reward you! may God reward you!" She stretched out a trembling hand to him, and when the grandfather shook it warmly, she went on, still holding his, "And I have something on my heart I want to say, a prayer to make to you! If I have injured you in any way, do not punish me by sending the child away again before I lie under the grass. Oh, you do not know what that child is to me!" and she clasped the child to her, for Heidi had already taken her usual stand close to the grandmother.

"Have no fear, grandmother," said Uncle in a reassuring voice, "I shall not punish either you or myself by doing so. We are all together now, and pray God we may continue so for long."

Brigitta now drew the Uncle aside towards a corner of the room and showed him the hat with the feathers, explaining to him how it came there, and adding that of course she could not take such a thing from a child.

But the grandfather looked towards Heidi without any displeasure of countenance and said, "The hat is hers, and if she does not wish to wear it any more she has a right to say so and to give it to you, so take it, pray."

Brigitta was highly delighted at this. "It is well worth more than ten shillings!" she said as she held it up for further admiration. "And what a blessing Heidi has brought home with her from Frankfurt! I have thought sometimes that it might be good to send Peter there for a little while; what do you think, Uncle?"

A merry look came into the grandfather's eye. He thought it would do Peter no harm, but he had better wait for a good opportunity before starting. At this moment the subject of their conversation himself rushed in, evidently in a great hurry, knocking his head violently against the door in his haste, so that everything in the room rattled. Gasping and breathless he stood still after this and held out a letter. This was another great event, for such a thing had never happened before; the letter was addressed to Heidi and had been delivered at the post-office in Dörfli. They all sat down round the table to hear what was in it, for Heidi opened it at once and read it without hesitation. The letter was from Clara. The latter wrote that the house had been so dull since Heidi left that she did not know how to bear herself, and she had at last persuaded her father to take her to the baths at Ragatz in the coming autumn; grandmamma had arranged to join them there, and they both were looking forward to paying her and her grandfather a visit. And grandmamma sent a further message to Heidi which was that the latter had done quite right to take the rolls to the grandmother, and so that she might not have to eat them dry, she was sending some coffee, which was already on its way, and grandmamma hoped when she came to the Alm in the autumn that Heidi would take her to see her old friend.

There were exclamations of pleasure and astonishment on hearing all this news, and so much to talk and ask about that even the grandfather did not notice how the time was passing; there was general delight at the thought of the coming days, and even more at the meeting which had taken place on this one, and the grandmother spoke and said, "The happiest of all things is when an old friend comes and greets us as in former times; the heart is comforted with the assurance that some day everything that we have loved will be given back to us. You will come soon again, uncle, and you child, to-morrow?"

The old man and Heidi promised her faithfully to do so; then it was time to break up the party, and these two went back up the mountain. As they had been greeted with bells when they made their journey down in the morning, so now they were accompanied by the peaceful evening chimes as they climbed to the hut, which had quite a Sunday-like appearance as it stood bathed in the light of the low evening sun.

But when grandmamma comes next autumn there will be many fresh joys and surprises both for Heidi and grandmother; without doubt a proper bed will be put up in the hay-loft, for wherever grandmamma steps in, there everything is soon in right order, outside and in.


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