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

There Is Great Commotion in the Large House

S EBASTIAN had just shown the tutor into the study on the following morning when there came another and very loud ring at the bell, which Sebastian ran quickly to answer. "Only Herr Sesemann rings like that," he said to himself; "he must have returned home unexpectedly." He pulled open the door, and there in front of him he saw a ragged little boy carrying a hand-organ on his back.

"What's the meaning of this?" said Sebastian angrily. "I'll teach you to ring bells like that! What do you want here?"

"I want to see Clara," the boy answered.

"You dirty, good-for-nothing little rascal, can't you be polite enough to say 'Miss Clara'? What do you want with her?" continued Sebastian roughly.

"She owes me fourpence," explained the boy.

"You must be out of your mind! And how do you know that any young lady of that name lives here?"

"She owes me twopence for showing her the way there, and twopence for showing her the way back."

"See what a pack of lies you are telling! The young lady never goes out, cannot even walk; be off and get back to where you came from, before I have to help you along."

But the boy was not to be frightened away; he remained standing, and said in a determined voice, "But I saw her in the street, and can describe her to you; she has short, curly black hair, and black eyes, and wears a brown dress, and does not talk quite like we do."

"Oho!" thought Sebastian, laughing to himself, "the little miss has evidently been up to more mischief." Then, drawing the boy inside he said aloud, "I understand now, come with me and wait outside the door till I tell you to go in. Be sure you begin playing your organ the instant you get inside the room; the lady is very fond of music."

Sebastian knocked at the study door, and a voice said, "Come in."

"There is a boy outside who says he must speak to Miss Clara herself," Sebastian announced.

Clara was delighted at such an extraordinary and unexpected message.

"Let him come in at once," replied Clara; "he must come in, must he not," she added, turning to her tutor, "if he wishes so particularly to see me?"

The boy was already inside the room, and according to Sebastian's directions immediately began to play his organ. Fraülein Rottenmeier, wishing to escape the A B C, had retired with her work to the dining-room. All at once she stopped and listened. Did those sounds come up from the street? And yet they seemed so near! But how could there be an organ playing in the study? And yet—it surely was so. She rushed to the other end of the long dining-room and tore open the door. She could hardly believe her eyes. There, in the middle of the study, stood a ragged boy turning away at his organ in the most energetic manner. The tutor appeared to be making efforts to speak, but his voice could not be heard. Both children were listening delightedly to the music.

"Leave off! leave off at once!" screamed Fraülein Rottenmeier. But her voice was drowned by the music. She was making a dash for the boy, when she saw something on the ground crawling towards her feet—a dreadful dark object—a tortoise. At this sight she jumped higher than she had for many long years before, shrieking with all her might, "Sebastian! Sebastian!"

The organ-player suddenly stopped, for this time her voice had risen louder than the music. Sebastian was standing outside bent double with laughter, for he had been peeping to see what was going on. By the time he entered the room Fraülein Rottenmeier had sunk into a chair.

"Take them all out, boy and animal! Get them away at once!" she commanded him.

Sebastian pulled the boy away, the latter having quickly caught up the tortoise, and when he had got him outside he put something into his hand. "There is the fourpence from Miss Clara, and another fourpence for the music. You did it all quite right!" and with that he shut the front door upon him.

Quietness reigned again in the study, and lessons began once more; Fraülein Rottenmeier now took up her station in the study in order by her presence to prevent any further dreadful goings-on.

But soon another knock came to the door, and Sebastian again stepped in, this time to say that some one had brought a large basket with orders that it was to be given at once to Miss Clara.

"For me?" said Clara in astonishment, her curiosity very much excited, "bring it in at once that I may see what it is like."

Sebastian carried in a large covered basket and retired.

"I think the lessons had better be finished first before the basket is unpacked," said Fraülein Rottenmeier.

Clara could not conceive what was in it, and cast longing glances towards it. In the middle of one of her declensions she suddenly broke off and said to the tutor, "Mayn't I just give one peep inside to see what is in it before I go on?"

"On some considerations I am for it, on others against it," he began in answer; "for it, on the ground that if your whole attention is directed to the basket—" but the speech remained unfinished. The cover of the basket was loose, and at this moment one, two, three, and then two more, and again more kittens came suddenly tumbling on to the floor and racing about the room in every direction, and with such indescribable rapidity that it seemed as if the whole room was full of them. They jumped over the tutor's boots, bit at his trousers, climbed up Fraülein Rottenmeier's dress, rolled about her feet, sprang up on to Clara's couch, scratching, scrambling, and mewing: it was a sad scene of confusion. Clara, meanwhile, pleased with their gambols, kept on exclaiming, "Oh, the dear little things! how pretty they are! Look, Heidi, at this one; look, look, at that one over there!" And Heidi in her delight kept running after them first into one corner and then into the other. The tutor stood up by the table not knowing what to do, lifting first his right foot and then his left to get it away from the scrambling, scratching kittens. Fraülein Rottenmeier was unable at first to speak at all, so overcome was she with horror, and she did not dare rise from her chair for fear that all the dreadful little animals should jump upon her at once. At last she found voice to call loudly, "Tinette! Tinette! Sebastian! Sebastian!"

They came in answer to her summons and gathered up the kittens; by degrees they got them all inside the basket again and then carried them off to put with the other two.

To-day again there had been no opportunity for gaping. Late that evening, when Fraülein Rottenmeier had somewhat recovered from the excitement of the morning, she sent for the two servants, and examined them closely concerning the events of the morning. And then it came out that Heidi was at the bottom of them, everything being the result of her excursion of the day before. Fraülein Rottenmeier sat pale with indignation and did not know at first how to express her anger. Then she made a sign to Tinette and Sebastian to withdraw, and turning to Heidi, who was standing by Clara's couch, quite unable to understand of what sin she had been guilty, began in a severe voice,—

"Adelaide, I know of only one punishment which will perhaps make you alive to your ill conduct, for you are an utter little barbarian, but we will see if we cannot tame you so that you shall not be guilty of such deeds again, by putting you in a dark cellar with the rats and black beetles."

Heidi listened in silence and surprise to her sentence, for she had never seen a cellar such as was now described; the place known at her grandfather's as the cellar, where the fresh made cheeses and the new milk were kept, was a pleasant and inviting place; neither did she know at all what rats and black beetles were like.

But now Clara interrupted in great distress. "No, no, Fraülein Rottenmeier, you must wait till papa comes; he has written to say that he will soon be home, and then I will tell him everything, and he will say what is to be done with Heidi."

Fraülein Rottenmeier could not do anything against this superior authority, especially as the father was really expected very shortly. She rose and said with some displeasure, "As you will, Clara, but I too shall have something to say to Herr Sesemann." And with that she left the room.

Two days now went by without further disturbance. Fraülein Rottenmeier, however, could not recover her equanimity; she was perpetually reminded by Heidi's presence of the deception that had been played upon her, and it seemed to her that ever since the child had come into the house everything had been topsy-turvy, and she could not bring things into proper order again. Clara had grown much more cheerful; she no longer found time hang heavy during the lesson hours, for Heidi was continually making a diversion of some kind or other. She jumbled all her letters up together and seemed quite unable to learn them, and when the tutor tried to draw her attention to their different shapes, and to help her by showing her that this was like a little horn, or that like a bird's bill, she would suddenly exclaim in a joyful voice, "That is a goat!" "That is a bird of prey!" For the tutor's descriptions suggested all kinds of pictures to her mind, but left her still incapable of the alphabet. In the later afternoons Heidi always sat with Clara, and then she would give the latter many and long descriptions of the mountain and of her life upon it, and the burning longing to return would become so overpowering that she always finished with the words, "Now I must go home! to-morrow I must really go!" But Clara would try to quiet her, and tell Heidi that she must wait till her father returned, and then they would see what was to be done. And if Heidi gave in each time and seemed quickly to regain her good spirits, it was because of a secret delight she had in the thought that every day added two more white rolls to the number she was collecting for grandmother; for she always pocketed the roll placed beside her plate at dinner and supper, feeling that she could not bear to eat them, knowing that grandmother had no white bread and could hardly eat the black bread which was so hard. After dinner Heidi had to sit alone in her room for a couple of hours, for she understood now that she might not run about outside at Frankfurt as she did on the mountain, and so she did not attempt it. Any conversation with Sebastian in the dining-room was also forbidden her, and as to Tinette, she kept out of her way, and never thought of speaking to her, for Heidi was quite aware that the maid looked scornfully at her and always spoke to her in a mocking voice. So Heidi had plenty of time from day to day to sit and picture how everything at home was now turning green, and how the yellow flowers were shining in the sun, and how all around lay bright in the warm sunshine, the snow and the rocks, and the whole wide valley, and Heidi at times could hardly contain herself for the longing to be back home again. And Dete had told her that she could go home whenever she liked. So it came about one day that Heidi felt she could not bear it any longer, and in haste she tied all the rolls up in her red shawl, put on her straw hat, and went downstairs. But just as she reached the hall-door she met Fraülein Rottenmeier herself, just returning from a walk, which put a stop to Heidi's journey.

Fraülein Rottenmeier stood still a moment, looking at her from top to toe in blank astonishment, her eye resting particularly on the red bundle. Then she broke out,—

"What have you dressed yourself like that for? What do you mean by this? Have I not strictly forbidden you to go running about in the streets? And here you are ready to start off again, and going out looking like a beggar."

"I was not going to run about, I was going home," said Heidi, frightened.

"What are you talking about! Going home! You want to go home?" exclaimed Fraülein Rottenmeier, her anger rising. "To run away like that! What would Herr Sesemann say if he knew! Take care that he never hears of this! And what is the matter with his house, I should like to know! Have you not been better treated than you deserved? Have you wanted for a thing? Have you ever in your life before had such a house to live in, such a table, or so many to wait upon you? Have you?"

"No," replied Heidi.

"I should think not indeed!" continued the exasperated lady. "You have everything you can possibly want here, and you are an ungrateful little thing; it's because you are too well off and comfortable that you have nothing to do but think what naughty thing you can do next!"

Then Heidi's feelings got the better of her, and she poured forth her trouble. "Indeed I only want to go home, for if I stay so long away Snowflake will begin crying again, and grandmother is waiting for me, and Greenfinch will get beaten, because I am not there to give Peter any cheese, and I can never see how the sun says good-night to the mountains; and if the great bird were to fly over Frankfurt he would croak louder than ever about people huddling all together and teaching each other bad things, and not going to live up on the rocks, where it is so much better."

"Heaven have mercy on us, the child is out of her mind!" cried Fraülein Rottenmeier, and she turned in terror and went quickly up the steps, running violently against Sebastian in her hurry. "Go and bring that unhappy little creature in at once," she ordered him, putting her hand to her forehead which she had bumped against his.

Sebastian did as he was told, rubbing his own head as he went, for he had received a still harder blow.

Heidi had not moved; she stood with her eyes aflame and trembling all over with inward agitation.

"What, got into trouble again?" said Sebastian in a cheerful voice; but when he looked more closely at Heidi and saw that she did not move, he put his hand kindly on her shoulder, and said, trying to comfort her, "There, there, don't take it to heart so much; keep up your spirits, that is the great thing! She has nearly made a hole in my head, but don't you let her bully you." Then seeing that Heidi still did not stir, "We must go; she ordered me to take you in."

Heidi now began mounting the stairs, but with a slow, crawling step, very unlike her usual manner. Sebastian felt quite sad as he watched her, and as he followed her up he kept trying to encourage her. "Don't you give in! don't let her make you unhappy! You keep up your courage! Why we've got such a sensible little miss that she has never cried once since she was here; many at that age cry a good dozen times a day. The kittens are enjoying themselves very much up in their home; they jump about all over the place and behave as if they were little mad things. Later we will go up and see them, when Fraülein is out of the way, shall we?"

Heidi gave a little nod of assent, but in such a joyless manner that it went to Sebastian's heart, and he followed her with sympathetic eyes as she crept away to her room.

At supper that evening Fraülein Rottenmeier did not speak, but she cast watchful looks towards Heidi as if expecting her at any minute to break out in some extraordinary way; but Heidi sat without moving or eating; all that she did was to hastily hide her roll in her pocket.

When the tutor arrived next morning, Fraülein Rottenmeier drew him privately aside, and confided her fear to him that the change of air and the new mode of life and unaccustomed surroundings had turned Heidi's head; then she told him of the incident of the day before, and of Heidi's strange speech. But the tutor assured her she need not be in alarm; he had already become aware that the child was somewhat eccentric, but otherwise quite right in her mind, and he was sure that, with careful treatment and education, the right balance would be restored, and it was this he was striving after. He was the more convinced of this by what he now heard, and by the fact that he had so far failed to teach her the alphabet, Heidi seeming unable to understand the letters.

Fraülein Rottenmeier was considerably relieved by his words, and released the tutor to his work. In the course of the afternoon the remembrance of Heidi's appearance the day before, as she was starting out on her travels, suddenly returned to the lady, and she made up her mind that she would supplement the child's clothing with various garments from Clara's wardrobe, so as to give her a decent appearance when Herr Sesemann returned. She confided her intention to Clara, who was quite willing to make over any number of dresses and hats to Heidi; so the lady went upstairs to overhaul the child's belongings and see what was to be kept and what thrown away. She returned, however, in the course of a few minutes with an expression of horror upon her face.

"What is this, Adelaide, that I find in your wardrobe!" she exclaimed. "I never heard of any one doing such a thing before! In a cupboard meant for clothes, Adelaide, what do I see at the bottom but a heap of rolls! Will you believe it, Clara, bread in a wardrobe! a whole pile of bread! Tinette," she called to that young woman, who was in the dining-room, "go upstairs and take away all those rolls out of Adelaide's cupboard and the old straw hat on the table."

"No! no!" screamed Heidi. "I must keep the hat, and the rolls are for grandmother," and she was rushing to stop Tinette when Fraülein Rottenmeier took hold of her. "You will stop here, and all that bread and rubbish shall be taken to the place they belong to," she said in a determined tone as she kept her hand on the child to prevent her running forward.

Then Heidi in despair flung herself down on Clara's couch and broke into a wild fit of weeping, her crying becoming louder and more full of distress every minute, while she kept on sobbing out at intervals, "Now grandmother's bread is all gone! They were all for grandmother, and now they are taken away, and grandmother won't have one," and she wept as if her heart would break. Fraülein Rottenmeier ran out of the room. Clara was distressed and alarmed at the child's crying. "Heidi, Heidi," she said imploringly, "pray do not cry so! listen to me; don't be so unhappy; look now, I promise you that you shall have just as many rolls, or more, all fresh and new to take to grandmother when you go home; yours would have been hard and stale by then. Come, Heidi, do not cry any more!"

Heidi could not get over her sobs for a long time; she would never have been able to leave off crying at all if it had not been for Clara's promise, which comforted her. But to make sure that she could depend upon it she kept on saying to Clara, her voice broken with her gradually subsiding sobs, "Will you give me as many, quite as many, as I had, for grandmother?" And Clara assured her each time that she would give her as many, "or more," she added, "only be happy again."

Heidi appeared at supper with her eyes red with weeping, and when she saw her roll she could not suppress a sob. But she made an effort to control herself, for she knew she must sit quietly at table. Whenever Sebastian could catch her eye this evening he made all sorts of strange signs, pointing to his own head and then to hers, and giving little nods as much as to say, "Don't you be unhappy! I have got it all safe for you."

When Heidi was going to get into bed that night she found her old straw hat lying under the counterpane. She snatched it up with delight, made it more out of shape still in her joy, and then, after wrapping a handkerchief round it, she stuck it in a corner of the cupboard as far back as she could.

It was Sebastian who had hidden it there for her; he had been in the dining-room when Tinette was called, and had heard all that went on with the child and the latter's loud weeping. So he followed Tinette, and when she came out of Heidi's room carrying the rolls and the hat, he caught up the hat and said, "I will see to this old thing." He was genuinely glad to have been able to save it for Heidi, and that was the meaning of his encouraging signs to her at supper.


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