Heidi/Chapter 17

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Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Chapter XVII: A Compensation

The next morning the doctor climbed up from Dorfli with Peter and the goats. The kindly gentleman tried now and then to enter into conversation with the boy, but his attempts failed, for he could hardly get a word out of Peter in answer to his questions. Peter was not easily persuaded to talk. So the party silently made their way up to the hut, where they found Heidi awaiting them with her two goats, all three as fresh and lively as the morning sun among the mountains.

"Are you coming to-day?" said Peter, repeating the words with which he daily greeted her, either in question or in summons.

"Of course I am, if the doctor is coming too," replied Heidi.

Peter cast a sidelong glance at the doctor. The grandfather now came out with the dinner bag, and after bidding good-day to the doctor he went up to Peter and slung it over his neck. It was heavier than usual, for Alm-Uncle had added some meat to-day, as he thought the doctor might like to have his lunch out and eat it when the children did. Peter gave a grin, for he felt sure there was something more than ordinary in it.

And so the ascent began. The goats as usual came thronging around Heidi, each trying to be nearest her, until at last she stood still and said, "Now you must go on in front and behave properly, and not keep on turning back and pushing and poking me, for I want to talk to the doctor," and she gave Snowflake a little pat on the back and told her to be good and obedient. By degrees she managed to make her way out from among them and joined the doctor, who took her by the hand. He had no difficulty now in conversing with his companion, for Heidi had a great deal to say about the goats and their peculiarities, and about the flowers and the rocks and the birds, and so they clambered on and reached their resting-place before they were aware. Peter had sent a good many unfriendly glances towards the doctor on the way up, which might have quite alarmed the latter if he had happened to notice them, which, fortunately, he did not.

Heidi now led her friend to her favorite spot where she was accustomed to sit and enjoy the beauty around her; the doctor followed her example and took his seat beside her on the warm grass. Over the heights and over the far green valley hung the golden glory of the autumn day. The great snow-field sparkled in the bright sunlight, and the two grey rocky peaks rose in their ancient majesty against the dark blue sky. A soft, light morning breeze blew deliciously across the mountain, gently stirring the bluebells that still remained of the summer's wealth of flowers, their slender heads nodding cheerfully in the sunshine. Overhead the great bird was flying round and round in wide circles, but to- day he made no sound; poised on his large wings he floated contentedly in the blue ether. Heidi looked about her first at one thing and then at another. The waving flowers, the blue sky, the bright sunshine, the happy bird--everything was so beautiful! so beautiful! Her eyes were alight with joy. And now she turned to her friend to see if he too were enjoying the beauty. The doctor had been sitting thoughtfully gazing around him. As he met her glad bright eyes, "Yes, Heidi," he responded, "I see how lovely it all is, but tell me--if one brings a sad heart up here, how may it be healed so that it can rejoice in all this beauty?"

"Oh, but," exclaimed Heidi, "no one is sad up here, only in Frankfurt."

The doctor smiled and then growing serious again he continued, "But supposing one is not able to leave all the sadness behind at Frankfurt; can you tell me anything that will help then?"

"When you do not know what more to do you must go and tell everything to God," answered Heidi with decision.

"Ah, that is a good thought of yours, Heidi," said the doctor. "But if it is God Himself who has sent the trouble, what can we say to Him then?"

Heidi sat pondering for a while; she was sure in her heart that God could help out of every trouble. She thought over her own experiences and then found her answer.

"Then you must wait," she said, "and keep on saying to yourself: God certainly knows of some happiness for us which He is going to bring out of the trouble, only we must have patience and not run away. And then all at once something happens and we see clearly ourselves that God has had some good thought in His mind all along; but because we cannot see things beforehand, and only know how dreadfully miserable we are, we think it is always going to be so."

"That is a beautiful faith, child, and be sure you hold it fast," replied the doctor. Then he sat on a while in silence, looking at the great overshadowing mountains and the green, sunlit valley below before he spoke again,--

"Can you understand, Heidi, that a man may sit here with such a shadow over his eyes that he cannot feel and enjoy the beauty around him, while the heart grows doubly sad knowing how beautiful it could be? Can you understand that?"

A pain shot through the child's young happy heart. The shadow over the eyes brought to her remembrance the grandmother, who would never again be able to see the sunlight and the beauty up here. This was Heidi's great sorrow, which re-awoke each time she thought about the darkness. She did not speak for a few minutes, for her happiness was interrupted by this sudden pang. Then in a grave voice she said,--

"Yes, I can understand it. And I know this, that then one must say one of grandmother's hymns, which bring the light back a little, and often make it so bright for her that she is quite happy again. Grandmother herself told me this."

"Which hymns are they, Heidi?" asked the doctor.

"I only know the one about the sun and the beautiful garden, and some of the verses of the long one, which are favorites with her, and she always likes me to read them to her two or three times over," replied Heidi.

"Well, say the verses to me then, I should like to hear them too," and the doctor sat up in order to listen better.

Heidi put her hands together and sat collecting her thoughts for a second or two: "Shall I begin at the verse that grandmother says gives her a feeling of hope and confidence?"

The doctor nodded his assent, and Heidi began,--

Let not your heart be troubled Nor fear your soul dismay, There is a wise Defender And He will be your stay. Where you have failed, He conquers, See, how the foeman flies! And all your tribulation Is turned to glad surprise.

If for a while it seemeth His mercy is withdrawn, That He no longer careth For His wandering child forlorn, Doubt not His great compassion, His love can never tire, To those who wait in patience He gives their heart's desire.

Heidi suddenly paused; she was not sure if the doctor was still listening. He was sitting motionless with his hand before his eyes. She thought he had fallen asleep; when he awoke, if he wanted to hear more verses, she would go on. There was no sound anywhere. The doctor sat in silence, but he was certainly not asleep. His thoughts had carried him back to a long past time: he saw himself as a little boy standing by his dear mother's chair; she had her arm round his neck and was saying the very verses to him that Heidi had just recited--words which he had not heard now for years. He could hear his mother's voice and see her loving eyes resting upon him, and as Heidi ceased the old dear voice seemed to be saying other things to him; and the words he heard again must have carried him far, far away, for it was a long time before he stirred or took his hand from his eyes. When at last he roused himself he met Heidi's eyes looking wonderingly at him.

"Heidi," he said, taking the child's hand in his, "that was a beautiful hymn of yours," and there was a happier ring in his voice as he spoke. "We will come out here together another day, and you will let me hear it again."

Peter meanwhile had had enough to do in giving vent to his anger. It was now some days since Heidi had been out with him, and when at last she did come, there she sat the whole time beside the old gentleman, and Peter could not get a word with her. He got into a terrible temper, and at last went and stood some way back behind the doctor, where the latter could not see him, and doubling his fist made imaginary hits at the enemy. Presently he doubled both fists, and the longer Heidi stayed beside the gentleman, the more fiercely did he threaten with them.

Meanwhile the sun had risen to the height which Peter knew pointed to the dinner hour. All of a sudden he called at the top of his voice, "It's dinner time."

Heidi was rising to fetch the dinner bag so that the doctor might eat his where he sat. But he stopped her, telling her he was not hungry at all, and only cared for a glass of milk, as he wanted to climb up a little higher. Then Heidi found that she also was not hungry and only wanted milk, and she should like, she said, to take the doctor up to the large moss-covered rock where Greenfinch had nearly jumped down and killed herself. So she ran and explained matters to Peter, telling him to go and get milk for the two. Peter seemed hardly to understand. "Who is going to eat what is in the bag then?" he asked.

"You can have it," she answered, "only first make haste and get the milk."

Peter had seldom performed any task more promptly, for he thought of the bag and its contents, which now belonged to him. As soon as the other two were sitting quietly drinking their milk, he opened it, and quite trembled for joy at the sight of the meat, and he was just putting his hand in to draw it out when something seemed to hold him back. His conscience smote him at the remembrance of how he had stood with his doubled fists behind the doctor, who was now giving up to him his whole good dinner. He felt as if he could not now enjoy it. But all at once he jumped up and ran back to the spot where he had stood before, and there held up his open hands as a sign that he had no longer any wish to use them as fists, and kept them up until he felt he had made amends for his past conduct. Then he rushed back and sat down to the double enjoyment of a clear conscience and an unusually satisfying meal.

Heidi and the doctor climbed and talked for a long while, until the latter said it was time for him to be going back, and no doubt Heidi would like to go and be with her goats. But Heidi would not hear of this, as then the doctor would have to go the whole way down the mountain alone. She insisted on accompanying him as far as the grandfather's hut, or even a little further. She kept hold of her friend's hand all the time, and the whole way she entertained him with accounts of this thing and that, showing him the spots where the goats loved best to feed, and others where in summer the flowers of all colors grew in greatest abundance. She could give them all their right names, for her grandfather had taught her these during the summer months. But at last the doctor insisted on her going back; so they bid each other good-night and the doctor continued his descent, turning now and again to look back, and each time he saw Heidi standing on the same spot and waving her hand to him. Even so in the old days had his own dear little daughter watched him when he went from home.

It was a bright sunny autumn month. The doctor came up to the hut every morning, and thence made excursions over the mountain. Alm-Uncle accompanied him on some of his higher ascents, when they climbed up to the ancient storm-beaten fir trees and often disturbed the great bird which rose startled from its nest, with the whirl of wings and croakings, very near their heads. The doctor found great pleasure in his companion's conversation, and was astonished at his knowledge of the plants that grew on the mountain: he knew the uses of them all, from the aromatic fir trees and the dark pines with their scented needles, to the curly moss that sprang up everywhere about the roots of the trees and the smallest plant and tiniest flower. He was as well versed also in the ways of the animals, great and small, and had many amusing anecdotes to tell of these dwellers in caves and holes and in the tops of the fir trees. And so the time passed pleasantly and quickly for the doctor, who seldom said good-bye to the old man at the end of the day without adding, "I never leave you, friend, without having learnt something new from you."

On some of the very finest days, however, the doctor would wander out again with Heidi, and then the two would sit together as on the first day, and the child would repeat her hymns and tell the doctor things which she alone knew. Peter sat at a little distance from them, but he was now quite reconciled in spirit and gave vent to no angry pantomime.

September had drawn to its close, and now one morning the doctor appeared looking less cheerful than usual. It was his last day, he said, as he must return to Frankfurt, but he was grieved at having to say good-bye to the mountain, which he had begun to feel quite like home. Alm-Uncle, on his side, greatly regretted the departure of his guest, and Heidi had been now accustomed for so long to see her good friend every day that she could hardly believe the time had suddenly come to separate. She looked up at him in doubt, taken by surprise, but there was no help, he must go. So he bid farewell to the old man and asked that Heidi might go with him part of the return way, and Heidi took his hand and went down the mountain with him, still unable to grasp the idea that he was going for good. After some distance the doctor stood still, and passing his hand over the child's curly head said, "Now, Heidi, you must go back, and I must say good-bye! If only I could take you with me to Frankfurt and keep you there!"

The picture of Frankfurt rose before the child's eyes, its rows of endless houses, its hard streets, and even the vision of Fraulein Rottenmeier and Tinette, and she answered hesitatingly, "I would rather that you came back to us."

"Yes, you are right, that would be better. But now good-bye, Heidi." The child put her hand in his and looked up at him; the kind eyes looking down on her had tears in them. Then the doctor tore himself away and quickly continued his descent.

Heidi remained standing without moving. The friendly eyes with the tears in them had gone to her heart. All at once she burst into tears and started running as fast as she could after the departing figure, calling out in broken tones: "Doctor! doctor!"

He turned round and waited till the child reached him. The tears were streaming down her face and she sobbed out: "I will come to Frankfurt with you, now at once, and I will stay with you as long as you like, only I must just run back and tell grandfather."

The doctor laid his hand on her and tried to calm her excitement. "No, no, dear child," he said kindly, "not now; you must stay for the present under the fir trees, or I should have you ill again. But hear now what I have to ask you. If I am ever ill and alone, will you come then and stay with me? May I know that there would then be some one to look after me and care for me?"

"Yes, yes, I will come the very day you send for me, and I love you nearly as much as grandfather," replied Heidi, who had not yet got over her distress.

And so the doctor again bid her good-bye and started on his way, while Heidi remained looking after him and waving her hand as long as a speck of him could be seen. As the doctor turned for the last time and looked back at the waving Heidi and the sunny mountain, he said to himself, "It is good to be up there, good for body and soul, and a man might learn how to be happy once more."