Heidi/Chapter 15

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Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Chapter XV: Preparations for a Journey

The kind doctor who had given the order that Heidi was to be sent home was walking along one of the broad streets towards Herr Sesemann's house. It was a sunny September morning, so full of light and sweetness that it seemed as if everybody must rejoice. But the doctor walked with his eyes fastened to the ground and did not once lift them to the blue sky above him. There was an expression of sadness on his face, formerly so cheerful, and his hair had grown greyer since the spring. The doctor had had an only daughter, who, after his wife's death, had been his sole and constant companion, but only a few months previously death had deprived him of his dear child, and he had never been the same bright and cheery man since.

Sebastian opened the door to him, greeting him with every mark of respectful civility, for the doctor was not only the most cherished friend of the master and his daughter, but had by his kindness won the hearts of the whole household.

"Everything as usual, Sebastian?" asked the doctor in his pleasant voice as he preceded Sebastian up the stairs.

"I am glad you have come, doctor," exclaimed Herr Sesemann as the latter entered. "We must really have another talk over this Swiss journey; do you still adhere to your decision, even though Clara is decidedly improving in health?"

"My dear Sesemann, I never knew such a man as you!" said the doctor as he sat down beside his friend. "I really wish your mother was here; everything would be clear and straightforward then and she would soon put things in right train. You sent for me three times yesterday only to ask me the same question, though you know what I think."

"Yes, I know, it's enough to make you out of patience with me; but you must understand, dear friend"--and Herr Sesemann laid his hand imploringly on the doctor's shoulder--"that I feel I have not the courage to refuse the child what I have been promising her all along, and for months now she has been living on the thought of it day and night. She bore this last bad attack so patiently because she was buoyed up with the hope that she should soon start on her Swiss journey, and see her friend Heidi again; and now must I tell the poor child, who has to give up so many pleasures, that this visit she has so long looked forward to must also be cancelled? I really have not the courage to do it."

"You must make up your mind to it, Sesemann," said the doctor with authority, and as his friend continued silent and dejected he went on after a pause, "Consider yourself how the matter stands. Clara has not had such a bad summer as this last one for years. Only the worst results would follow from the fatigue of such a journey, and it is out of the question for her. And then we are already in September, and although it may still be warm and fine up there, it may just as likely be already very cold. The days too are growing short, and as Clara cannot spend the night up there she would only have a two hours' visit at the outside. The journey from Ragatz would take hours, for she would have to be carried up the mountain in a chair. In short, Sesemann, it is impossible. But I will go in with you and talk to Clara; she is a reasonable child, and I will tell her what my plans are. Next May she shall be taken to the baths and stay there for the cure until it is quite hot weather. Then she can be carried up the mountain from time to time, and when she is stronger she will enjoy these excursions far more than she would now. Understand, Sesemann, that if we want to give the child a chance of recovery we must use the utmost care and watchfulness."

Herr Sesemann, who had listened to the doctor in sad and submissive silence, now suddenly jumped up. "Doctor," he said, "tell me truly: have you really any hope of her final recovery?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Very little," he replied quietly. "But, friend, think of my trouble. You have still a beloved child to look for you and greet you on your return home. You do not come back to an empty house and sit down to a solitary meal. And the child is happy and comfortable at home too. If there is much that she has to give up, she has on the other hand many advantages. No, Sesemann, you are not so greatly to be pitied--you have still the happiness of being together. Think of my lonely house!"

Herr Sesemann was now striding up and down the room as was his habit when deeply engaged in thought. Suddenly he came to a pause beside his friend and laid his hand on his shoulder. "Doctor, I have an idea; I cannot bear to see you look as you do; you are no longer the same man. You must be taken out of yourself for a while, and what do you think I propose? That you shall take the journey and go and pay Heidi a visit in our name."

The doctor was taken aback at this sudden proposal and wanted to make objections, but his friend gave him no time to say anything. He was so delighted with his idea, that he seized the doctor by the arm and drew him into Clara's room. The kind doctor was always a welcome visitor to Clara, for he generally had something amusing to tell her. Lately, it is true, he had been graver, but Clara knew the reason why and would have given much to see him his old lively self again. She held out her hand to him as he came up to her; he took a seat beside her, and her father also drew up his chair, and taking Clara's hand in his began to talk to her of the Swiss journey and how he himself had looked forward to it. He passed as quickly as he could over the main point that it was now impossible for her to undertake it, for he dreaded the tears that would follow; but he went on without pause to tell her of his new plan, and dwelt on the great benefit it would be to his friend if he could be persuaded to take this holiday.

The tears were indeed swimming in the blue eyes, although Clara struggled to keep them down for her father's sake, but it was a bitter disappointment to give up the journey, the thought of which had been her only joy and solace during the lonely hours of her long illness. She knew, however, that her father would never refuse her a thing unless he was certain that it would be harmful for her. So she swallowed her tears as well as she could and turned her thoughts to the one hope still left her. Taking the doctor's hand and stroking it, she said pleadingly,--

"Dear doctor, you will go and see Heidi, won't you? and then you can come and tell me all about it, what it is like up there, and what Heidi and the grandfather, and Peter and the goats do all day. I know them all so well! And then you can take what I want to send to Heidi; I have thought about it all, and also something for the grandmother. Do pray go, dear doctor, and I will take as much cod liver oil as you like."

Whether this promise finally decided the doctor it is impossible to say, but it is certain that he smiled and said,--

"Then I must certainly go, Clara, for you will then get as plump and strong as your father and I wish to see you. And have you decided when I am to start?"

"To-morrow morning--early if possible," replied Clara.

"Yes, she is right," put in Herr Sesemann; "the sun is shining and the sky is blue, and there is no time to be lost; it is a pity to miss a single one of these days on the mountain."

The doctor could not help laughing. "You will be reproaching me next for not being there already; well, I must go and make arrangements for getting off."

But Clara would not let him go until she had given him endless messages for Heidi, and had explained all he was to look at so as to give her an exact description on his return. Her presents she would send round later, as Fraulein Rottenmeier must first help her to pack them up; at that moment she was out on one of her excursions into the town which always kept her engaged for some time. The doctor promised to obey Clara's directions in every particular; he would start some time during the following day if not the first thing in the morning, and would bring back a faithful account of his experiences and of all he saw and heard.

The servants of a household have a curious faculty of divining what is going on before they are actually told about anything. Sebastian and Tinette must have possessed this faculty in a high degree, for even as the doctor was going downstairs, Tinette, who had been rung for, entered Clara's room.

"Take that box and bring it back filled with the soft cakes which we have with coffee," said Clara, pointing to a box which had been brought long before in preparation for this. Tinette took it up, and carried it out, dangling it contemptuously in her hand.

"Hardly worth the trouble I should have thought," she said pertly as she left the room.

As Sebastian opened the door for the doctor he said with a bow, "Will the Herr Doctor be so kind as to give the little miss my greetings?"

"I see," said the doctor, "you know then already that I am off on a journey."

Sebastian hesitated and gave an awkward little cough. "I am--I have--I hardly know myself. O yes, I remember; I happened to pass through the dining-room and caught little miss's name, and I put two and two together--and so I thought--"

"I see, I see," smiled the doctor, "one can find out a great many thinks by thinking. Good-bye till I see you again, Sebastian, I will be sure and give your message."

The doctor was hastening off when he met with a sudden obstacle; the violent wind had prevented Fraulein Rottenmeier prosecuting her walk any farther, and she was just returning and had reached the door as he was coming out. The white shawl she wore was so blown out by the wind that she looked like a ship in full sail. The doctor drew back, but Fraulein Rottenmeier had always evinced peculiar appreciation and respect for this man, and she also drew back with exaggerated politeness to let him pass. The two stood for a few seconds, each anxious to make way for the other, but a sudden gust of wind sent Fraulein Rottenmeier flying with all her sails almost into the doctor's arms, and she had to pause and recover herself before she could shake hands with the doctor with becoming decorum. She was put out at having been forced to enter in so undignified a manner, but the doctor had a way of smoothing people's ruffled feathers, and she was soon listening with her usual composure while he informed her of his intended journey, begging her in his most conciliatory voice to pack up the parcels for Heidi as she alone knew how to pack. And then he took his leave.

Clara quite expected to have a long tussle with Fraulein Rottenmeier before she would get the latter to consent to sending all the things that she had collected as presents for Heidi. But this time she was mistaken, for Fraulein Rottenmeier was in a more than usually good temper. She cleared the large table so that all the things for Heidi could be spread out upon it and packed under Clara's own eyes. It was no light job, for the presents were of all shapes and sizes. First there was the little warm cloak with a hood, which had been designed by Clara herself, in order that Heidi during the coming winter might be able to go and see grandmother when she liked, and not have to wait till her grandfather could take her wrapped up in a sack to keep her from freezing. Then came a thick warm shawl for the grandmother, in which she could wrap herself well up and not feel the cold when the wind came sweeping in such terrible gusts round the house. The next object was the large box full of cakes; these were also for the grandmother, that she might have something to eat with her coffee besides bread. An immense sausage was the next article; this had been originally intended for Peter, who never had anything but bread and cheese, but Clara had altered her mind, fearing that in his delight he might eat it all up at once and make himself ill. So she arranged to send it to Brigitta, who could take some for herself and the grandmother and give Peter his portion out by degrees. A packet of tobacco was a present for grandfather, who was fond of his pipe as he sat resting in the evening. Finally there was a whole lot of mysterious little bags, and parcels, and boxes, which Clara had had especial pleasure in collecting, as each was to be a joyful surprise for Heidi as she opened it. The work came to an end at last, and an imposing-looking package lay on the floor ready for transport. Fraulein Rottenmeier looked at it with satisfaction, lost in the consideration of the art of packing. Clara eyed it too with pleasure, picturing Heidi's exclamations and jumps of joy and surprise when the huge parcel arrived at the hut.

And now Sebastian came in, and lifting the package on to his shoulder, carried it off to be forwarded at once to the doctor's house.