CHAPTER XVIII. WINTER IN DORFLI
The snow was lying so high around the hut that the windows looked
level with the ground, and the door had entirely disappeared from
view. If Alm-Uncle had been up there he would have had to do what
Peter did daily, for fresh snow fell every night. Peter had to
get out of the window of the sitting-room every morning, and if
the frost had not been very hard during the night, he immediately
sank up to his shoulders almost in the snow and had to struggle
with hands, feet, and head to extricate himself. Then his mother
handed him the large broom, and with this he worked hard to make
a way to the door. He had to be careful to dig the snow well
away, or else as soon as the door was opened the whole soft mass
would fall inside, or, if the frost was severe enough, it would
have made such a wall of ice in front of the house that no one
could have gone in or out, for the window was only big enough for
Peter to creep through. The fresh snow froze like this in the
night sometimes, and this was an enjoyable time for Peter, for he
would get through the window on to the hard, smooth, frozen
ground, and his mother would hand him out the little sleigh, and
he could then make his descent to Dorfli along any route he
chose, for the whole mountain was nothing but one wide, unbroken
Alm-Uncle had kept his word and was not spending the winter in
his old home. As soon as the first snow began to fall, he had
shut up the hut and the outside buildings and gone down to Dorfli
with Heidi and the goats. Near the church was a straggling
half-ruined building, which had once been the house of a person
of consequence. A distinguished soldier had lived there at one
time; he had taken service in Spain and had there performed many
brave deeds and gathered much treasure. When he returned home to
Dorfli he spent part of his booty in building a fine house, with
the intention of living in it. But he had been too long
accustomed to the noise and bustle of arms and the world to care
for a quiet country life, and he soon went off again, and this
time did not return. When after many long years it seemed certain
that he was dead, a distant relative took possession of the
house, but it had already fallen into disrepair, and he had no
wish to rebuild it. So it was let to poor people, who paid but a
small rent, and when any part of the building fell it was allowed
to remain. This had now gone on for many years. As long ago as
when his son Tobias was a child Alm-Uncle had rented the tumble-
down old place. Since then it had stood empty, for no one could
stay in it who had not some idea of how to stop up the holes and
gaps and make it habitable. Otherwise the wind and rain and snow
blew into the rooms, so that it was impossible even to keep a
candle alight, and the indwellers would have been frozen to death
during the long cold winters. Alm-Uncle, however, knew how to
mend matters. As soon as he made up his mind to spend the winter
in Dorfli, he rented the old place and worked during the autumn
to get it sound and tight. In the middle of October he and Heidi
took up their residence there.
On approaching the house from the back one came first into an
open space with a wall on either side, of which one was half in
ruins. Above this rose the arch of an old window thickly
overgrown with ivy, which spread over the remains of a domed roof
that had evidently been part of a chapel. A large hall came next,
which lay open, without doors, to the square outside. Here also
walls and roof only partially remained, and indeed what was left
of the roof looked as if it might fall at any minute had it not
been for two stout pillars that supported it. Alm-Uncle had here
put up a wooden partition and covered the floor with straw, for
this was to be the goats' house. Endless passages led from this,
through the rents of which the sky as well as the fields and the
road outside could be seen at intervals; but at last one came to
a stout oak door that led into a room that still stood intact.
Here the walls and the dark wainscoting remained as good as ever,
and in the corner was an immense stove reaching nearly to the
ceiling, on the white tiles of which were painted large pictures
in blue. These represented old castles surrounded with trees, and
huntsmen riding out with their hounds; or else a quiet lake
scene, with broad oak trees and a man fishing. A seat ran all
round the stove so that one could sit at one's ease and study the
pictures. These attracted Heidi's attention at once, and she had
no sooner arrived with her grandfather than she ran and seated
herself and began to examine them. But when she had gradually
worked herself round to the back, something else diverted her
attention. In the large space between the stove and the wall four
planks had been put together as if to make a large receptacle for
apples; there were no apples, however, inside, but something
Heidi had no difficulty in recognising, for it was her very own
bed, with its hay mattress and sheets, and sack for a coverlid,
just as she had it up at the hut. Heidi clapped her hands for joy
and exclaimed, "O grandfather, this is my room, how nice! But
where are you going to sleep?"
"Your room must be near the stove or you will freeze," he
replied, "but you can come and see mine too."
Heidi got down and skipped across the large room after her
grandfather, who opened a door at the farther end leading into a
smaller one which was to be his bedroom. Then came another door.
Heidi pushed it open and stood amazed, for here was an immense
room like a kitchen, larger than anything of the kind that Heidi
had seen before. There was still plenty of work for the
grandfather before this room could be finished, for there were
holes and cracks in the walls through which the wind whistled,
and yet he had already nailed up so many new planks that it
looked as if a lot of small cupboards had been set up round the
room. He had, however, made the large old door safe with many
screws and nails, as a protection against the outside air, and
this was very necessary, for just beyond was a mass of ruined
buildings overgrown with tall weeds, which made a dwelling-place
for endless beetles and lizards.
Heidi was very delighted with her new home, and by the morning
after their arrival she knew every nook and corner so thoroughly
that she could take Peter over it and show him all that was to be
seen; indeed she would not let him go till he had examined every
single wonderful thing contained in it.
Heidi slept soundly in her corner by the stove; but every morning
when she first awoke she still thought she was on the mountain,
and that she must run outside at once to see if the fir trees
were so quiet because their branches were weighed down with the
thick snow. She had to look about her for some minutes before she
felt quite sure where she was, and a certain sensation of trouble
and oppression would come over her as she grew aware that she was
not at home in the hut. But then she would hear her grandfather's
voice outside, attending to the goats, and these would give one
or two loud bleats, as if calling to her to make haste and go to
them, and then Heidi was happy again, for she knew she was still
at home, and she would jump gladly out of bed and run out to the
animals as quickly as she could. On the fourth morning, as soon
as she saw her grandfather, she said, "I must go up to see
grandmother to-day; she ought not to be alone so long."
But the grandfather would not agree to this. "Neither to-day nor
to-morrow can you go," he said; "the mountain is covered
fathom-deep in snow, and the snow is still falling; the sturdy
Peter can hardly get along. A little creature like you would soon
be smothered by it, and we should not be able to find you again.
Wait a bit till it freezes, then you will be able to walk over
the hard snow."
Heidi did not like the thought of having to wait, but the days
were so busy that she hardly knew how they went by.
Heidi now went to school in Dorfli every morning and afternoon,
and eagerly set to work to learn all that was taught her. She
hardly ever saw Peter there, for as a rule he was absent. The
teacher was an easy-going man who merely remarked now and then,
"Peter is not turning up to-day again, it seems, but there is a
lot of snow up on the mountain and I daresay he cannot get
along." Peter, however, always seemed able to make his way
through the snow in the evening when school was over, and he then
generally paid Heidi a visit.
At last, after some days, the sun again appeared and shone
brightly over the white ground, but he went to bed again behind
the mountains at a very early hour, as if he did not find such
pleasure in looking down on the earth as when everything was
green and flowery. But then the moon came out clear and large and
lit up the great white snowfield all through the night, and the
next morning the whole mountain glistened and sparkled like a
huge crystal. When Peter got out of his window as usual, he was
taken by surprise, for instead of sinking into the soft snow he
fell on the hard ground and went sliding some way down the
mountain side like a sleigh before he could stop himself. He
picked himself up and tested the hardness of the ground by
stamping on it and trying with all his might to dig his heels
into it, but even then he could not break off a single little
splinter of ice; the Alm was frozen hard as iron. This was just
what Peter had been hoping for, as he knew now that Heidi would
be able to come up to them. He quickly got back into the house,
swallowed the milk which his mother had put ready for him, thrust
a piece of bread in his pocket, and said, "I must be off to
school." "That's right, go and learn all you can," said the
grandmother encouragingly. Peter crept through the window
again--the door was quite blocked by the frozen snow
outside--pulling his little sleigh after him, and in another
minute was shooting down the mountain.
He went like lightning, and when he reached Dorfli, which stood
on the direct road to Mayenfeld, he made up his mind to go on
further, for he was sure he could not stop his rapid descent
without hurting himself and the sleigh too. So down he still went
till he reached the level ground, where the sleigh came to a
pause of its own accord. Then he got out and looked round. The
impetus with which he had made his journey down had carried him
some little way beyond Mayenfeld. He bethought himself that it
was too late to get to school now, as lessons would already have
begun, and it would take him a good hour to walk back to Dorfli.
So he might take his time about returning, which he did, and
reached Dorfli just as Heidi had got home from school and was
sitting at dinner with her grandfather. Peter walked in, and as
on this occasion he had something particular to communicate, he
began without a pause, exclaiming as he stood still in the middle
of the room, "She's got it now."
"Got it? what?" asked the Uncle. "Your words sound quite warlike,
"The frost," explained Peter.
"Oh! then now I can go and see grandmother!" said Heidi joyfully,
for she had understood Peter's words at once. "But why were you
not at school then? You could have come down in the sleigh," she
added reproachfully, for it did not agree with Heidi's ideas of
good behavior to stay away when it was possible to be there.
"It carried me on too far and I was too late," Peter replied.
"I call that being a deserter," said the Uncle, "and deserters
get their ears pulled, as you know."
Peter gave a tug to his cap in alarm, for there was no one of
whom he stood in so much awe as Alm-Uncle.
"And an army leader like yourself ought to be doubly ashamed of
running away," continued Alm-Uncle. "What would you think of your
goats if one went off this way and another that, and refused to
follow and do what was good for them? What would you do then?"
"I should beat them," said Peter promptly.
"And if a boy behaved like these unruly goats, and he got a
beating for it, what would you say then?"
"Serve him right," was the answer.
"Good, then understand this: next time you let your sleigh carry
you past the school when you ought to be inside at your lessons,
come on to me afterwards and receive what you deserve."
Peter now understood the drift of the old man's questions and
that he was the boy who behaved like the unruly goats, and he
looked somewhat fearfully towards the corner to see if anything
happened to be there such as he used himself on such occasions
for the punishment of his animals.
But now the grandfather suddenly said in a cheerful voice, "Come
and sit down and have something, and afterwards Heidi shall go
with you. Bring her back this evening and you will find supper
waiting for you here."
This unexpected turn of conversation set Peter grinning all over
with delight. He obeyed without hesitation and took his seat
beside Heidi. But the child could not eat any more in her
excitement at the thought of going to see grandmother. She pushed
the potatoes and toasted cheese which still stood on her plate
towards him while Uncle was filling his plate from the other
side, so that he had quite a pile of food in front of him, but he
attacked it without any lack of courage. Heidi ran to the
cupboard and brought out the warm cloak Clara had sent her; with
this on and the hood drawn over her head, she was all ready for
her journey. She stood waiting beside Peter, and as soon as his
last mouthful had disappeared she said, "Come along now." As the
two walked together Heidi had much to tell Peter of her two goats
that had been so unhappy the first day in their new stall that
they would not eat anything, but stood hanging their heads, not
even rousing themselves to bleat. And when she asked her
grandfather the reason of this, he told her it was with them as
with her in Frankfurt, for it was the first time in their lives
they had come down from the mountain. "And you don't know what
that is, Peter, unless you have felt it yourself," added Heidi.
The children had nearly reached their destination before Peter
opened his mouth; he appeared to be so sunk in thought that he
hardly heard what was said to him. As they neared home, however,
he stood still and said in a somewhat sullen voice, "I had rather
go to school even than get what Uncle threatened."
Heidi was of the same mind, and encouraged him in his good
intention. They found Brigitta sitting alone knitting, for the
grandmother was not very well and had to stay the day in bed on
account of the cold. Heidi had never before missed the old figure
in her place in the corner, and she ran quickly into the next
room. There lay grandmother on her little poorly covered bed,
wrapped up in her warm grey shawl.
"Thank God," she exclaimed as Heidi came running in; the poor old
woman had had a secret fear at heart all through the autumn,
especially if Heidi was absent for any length of time, for Peter
had told her of a strange gentleman who had come from Frankfurt,
and who had gone out with them and always talked to Heidi, and
she had felt sure he had come to take her away again. Even when
she heard he had gone off alone, she still had an idea that a
messenger would be sent over from Frankfurt to fetch the child.
Heidi went up to the side of the bed and said, "Are you very ill,
"No, no, child," answered the old woman reassuringly, passing her
hand lovingly over the child's head, "It's only the frost that
has got into my bones a bit."
"Shall you be quite well then directly it turns warm again?"
"Yes, God willing, or even before that, for I want to get back to
my spinning; I thought perhaps I should do a little to-day, but
to-morrow I am sure to be all right again." The old woman had
detected that Heidi was frightened and was anxious to set her
mind at ease.
Her words comforted Heidi, who had in truth been greatly
distressed, for she had never before seen the grandmother ill in
bed. She now looked at the old woman seriously for a minute or
two, and then said, "In Frankfurt everybody puts on a shawl to go
out walking; did you think it was to be worn in bed,
"I put it on, dear child, to keep myself from freezing, and I am
so pleased with it, for my bedclothes are not very thick," she
"But, grandmother," continued Heidi, "your bed is not right,
because it goes downhill at your head instead of uphill."
"I know it, child, I can feel it," and the grandmother put up her
hand to the thin flat pillow, which was little more than a board
under her head, to make herself more comfortable; "the pillow was
never very thick, and I have lain on it now for so many years
that it has grown quite flat."
"Oh, if only I had asked Clara to let me take away my Frankfurt
bed," said Heidi. "I had three large pillows, one above the
other, so that I could hardly sleep, and I used to slip down to
try and find a flat place, and then I had to pull myself up
again, because it was proper to sleep there like that. Could you
sleep like that, grandmother?"
"Oh, yes! the pillows keep one warm, and it is easier to breathe
when the head is high," answered the grandmother, wearily raising
her head as she spoke as if trying to find a higher
resting-place. "But we will not talk about that, for I have so
much that other old sick people are without for which I thank
God; there is the nice bread I get every day, and this warm wrap,
and your visits, Heidi. Will you read me something to-day?"
Heidi ran into the next room to fetch the hymn book. Then she
picked out the favorite hymns one after another, for she knew
them all by heart now, as pleased as the grandmother to hear them
again after so many days. The grandmother lay with folded hands,
while a smile of peace stole over the worn, troubled face, like
one to whom good news has been brought.
Suddenly Heidi paused. "Grandmother, are you feeling quite well
"Yes, child, I have grown better while listening to you; read it
to the end."
The child read on, and when she came to the last words:--
As the eyes grow dim, and darkness Closes round, the soul grows
clearer, Sees the goal to which it travels, Gladly feels its
home is nearer."
the grandmother repeated them once or twice to herself, with a
look of happy expectation on her face. And Heidi took equal
pleasure in them, for the picture of the beautiful sunny day of
her return home rose before her eyes, and she exclaimed joyfully,
"Grandmother, I know exactly what it is like to go home." The old
woman did not answer, but she had heard Heidi's words, and the
expression that had made the child think she was better remained
on her face.
A little later Heidi said, "It is growing dark and I must go
home; I am glad to think, that you are quite well again."
The grandmother took the child's hand in hers and held it
closely. "Yes," she said, "I feel quite happy again; even if I
have to go on lying here, I am content. No one knows what it is
to lie here alone day after day, in silence and darkness, without
hearing a voice or seeing a ray of light. Sad thoughts come over
me, and I do not feel sometimes as if I could bear it any longer
or as if it could ever be light again. But when you come and read
those words to me, then I am comforted and my heart rejoices once
Then she let the child go, and Heidi ran into the next room, and
bid Peter come quickly, for it had now grown quite dark. But when
they got outside they found the moon shining down on the white
snow and everything as clear as in the daylight. Peter got his
sleigh, put Heidi at the back, he himself sitting in front to
guide, and down the mountain they shot like two birds darting
through the air.
When Heidi was lying that night on her high bed of hay she
thought of the grandmother on her low pillow, and of all she had
said about the light and comfort that awoke in her when she heard
the hymns, and she thought: if I could read to her every day,
then I should go on making her better. But she knew that it would
be a week, if not two, before she would be able to go up the
mountain again. This was a thought of great trouble to Heidi, and
she tried hard to think of some way which would enable the
grandmother to hear the words she loved every day. Suddenly an
idea struck her, and she was so delighted with it that she could
hardly bear to wait for morning, so eager was she to begin
carrying out her plan. All at once she sat upright in her bed,
for she had been so busy with her thoughts that she had forgotten
to say her prayers, and she never now finished her day without
When she had prayed with all her heart for herself, her
grandfather and grandmother, she lay back again on the warm soft
hay and slept soundly and peacefully till morning broke.