CHAPTER XIX. THE WINTER CONTINUES
Peter arrived punctually at school the following day. He had
brought his dinner with him, for all the children who lived at a
distance regularly seated themselves at mid-day on the tables,
and resting their feet firmly on the benches, spread out their
meal on their knees and so ate their dinner, while those living
in Dorfli went home for theirs. Till one o'clock they might all
do as they liked, and then school began again. When Peter had
finished his lessons on the days he attended school, he went over
to Uncle's to see Heidi.
When he walked into the large room at Uncle's to-day, Heidi
immediately rushed forward and took hold of him, for it was for
Peter she had been waiting. "I've thought of something, Peter,"
she said hastily.
"What is it?" he asked.
"You must learn to read," she informed him.
"I have learnt," was the answer.
"Yes, yes, but I mean so that you can really make use of it,"
continued Heidi eagerly.
"I never shall," was the prompt reply.
"Nobody believes that you cannot learn, nor I either now," said
Heidi in a very decided tone of voice. "Grandmamma in Frankfurt
said long ago that it was not true, and she told me not to
Peter looked rather taken aback at this piece of intelligence.
"I will soon teach you to read, for I know how," continued Heidi.
"You must learn at once, and then you can read one or two hymns
every day to grandmother."
"Oh, I don't care about that," he grumbled in reply.
This hard-hearted way of refusing to agree to what was right and
kind, and to what Heidi had so much at heart, aroused her anger.
With flashing eyes she stood facing the boy and said
threateningly, "If you won't learn as I want you to, I will tell
you what will happen; you know your mother has often spoken of
sending you to Frankfurt, that you may learn a lot of things, and
I know where the boys there have to go to school; Clara pointed
out the great house to me when we were driving together. And they
don't only go when they are boys, but have more lessons still
when they are grown men. I have seen them myself, and you mustn't
think they have only one kind teacher like we have. There are
ever so many of them, all in the school at the same time, and
they are all dressed in black, as if they were going to church,
and have black hats on their heads as high as that--" and Heidi
held out her hand to show their height from the floor.
Peter felt a cold shudder run down his back.
"And you will have to go in among all those gentlemen," continued
Heidi with increasing animation, "and when it comes to your turn
you won't be able to read and will make mistakes in your
spelling. Then you'll see how they'll make fun of you; even worse
than Tinette, and you ought to have seen what she was like when
she was scornful."
"Well, I'll learn then," said Peter, half sorrowfully and half
Heidi was instantly mollified. "That's right, then we'll begin at
once," she said cheerfully, and went busily to work on the spot,
dragging Peter to the table and fetching her books.
Among other presents Clara had sent Heidi a book which the latter
had decided, in bed the night before, would serve capitally for
teaching Peter, for it was an A B C book with rhyming lines. And
now the two sat together at the table with their heads bent over
the book, for the lesson had begun.
Peter was made to spell out the first sentence two or three times
over, for Heidi wished him to get it correct and fluent. At last
she said, "You don't seem able to get it right, but I will read
it aloud to you once; when you know what it ought to be you will
find it easier." And she read out:--
A B C must be learnt to-day
Or the judge will call you up to pay.
"I shan't go," said Peter obstinately.
"Go where?" asked Heidi.
"Before the judge," he answered.
"Well then make haste and learn these three letters, then you
won't have to go."
Peter went at his task again and repeated the three letters so
many times and with such determination that she said at last,--
"You must know those three now."
Seeing what an effect the first two lines of verse had had upon
him, she thought she would prepare the ground a little for the
"Wait, and I will read you some of the next sentences," she
continued, "then you will see what else there is to expect."
And she began in a clear slow voice:--
D E F G must run with ease
Or something will follow that does not please.
Should H I J K be now forgot
Disgrace is yours upon the spot.
And then L M must follow at once
Or punished you'll be for a sorry dunce.
If you knew what next awaited you
You'd haste to learn N O P Q.
Now R S T be quick about
Or worse will follow there's little doubt.
Heidi paused, for Peter was so quiet that she looked to see what
he was doing. These many secret threats and hints of dreadful
punishments had so affected him that he sat as if petrified and
stared at Heidi with horror-stricken eyes. Her kind heart was
moved at once, and she said, wishing to reassure him, "You need
not be afraid, Peter; come here to me every evening, and if you
learn as you have to-day you will at last know all your letters,
and the other things won't come. But you must come regularly, not
now and then as you do to school; even if it snows it won't hurt
Peter promised, for the trepidation he had been in had made him
quite tame and docile. Lessons being finished for this day he now
Peter obeyed Heidi's instructions punctually, and every evening
went diligently to work to learn the following letters, taking
the sentences thoroughly to heart. The grandfather was frequently
in the room smoking his pipe comfortably while the lesson was
going on, and his face twitched occasionally as if he was
overtaken with a sudden fit of merriment. Peter was often invited
to stay to supper after the great exertion he had gone through,
which richly compensated him for the anguish of mind he had
suffered with the sentence for the day.
So the winter went by, and Peter really made progress with his
letters; but he went through a terrible fight each day with the
He had got at last to U. Heidi read out:--
And if you put the U for V,
You'll go where you would not like to be.
Peter growled, "Yes, but I shan't go!" But he was very diligent
that day, as if under the impression that some one would seize
him suddenly by the collar and drag him where he would rather not
go. The next evening Heidi read:--
If you falter at W, worst of all,
Look at the stick against the wall.
Peter looked at the wall and said scornfully, "There isn't one."
"Yes, but do you know what grandfather has in his box?" asked
Heidi. "A stick as thick almost as your arm, and if he took that
out, you might well say, look at the stick on the wall."
Peter knew that thick hazel stick, and immediately bent his head
over the W and struggled to master it. Another day the lines
Then comes the X for you to say
Or be sure you'll get no food to-day.
Peter looked towards the cupboard where the bread and cheese were
kept and said crossly, "I never said that I should forget the X."
"That's all right; if you don't forget it we can go on to learn
the next, and then you will only have one more," replied Heidi,
anxious to encourage him.
Peter did not quite understand, but when Heidi went on and
And should you make a stop at Y,
They'll point at you and cry, Fie, fie.
All the gentlemen in Frankfurt with tall black hats on their
heads, and scorn and mockery in their faces rose up before his
mind's eye, and he threw himself with energy on the Y, not
letting it go till at last he knew it so thoroughly that he could
see what it was like even when he shut his eyes.
He arrived on the following day in a somewhat lofty frame of
mind, for there was now only one letter to struggle over, and
when Heidi began the lesson with reading aloud:--
Make haste with Z, if you're too, slow
Off to the Hottentots you'll go.
Peter remarked scornfully, "I dare say, when no one knows even
where such people live."
"I assure you, Peter," replied Heidi, "grandfather knows all
about them. Wait a second and I will run and ask him, for he is
only over the way with the pastor." And she rose and ran to the
door to put her words into action, but Peter cried out in a voice
"Stop!" for he already saw himself being carried off by Alm-Uncle
and the pastor and sent straight away to the Hottentots, since as
yet he did not know his last letter. His cry of fear brought
"What is the matter?" she asked in astonishment.
"Nothing! come back! I am going to learn my letter," he said,
stammering with fear. Heidi, however, herself wished to know
where the Hottentots lived and persisted that she should ask her
grandfather, but she gave in at last to Peter's despairing
entreaties. She insisted on his doing something in return, and so
not only had he to repeat his Z until it was so fixed in his
memory that he could never forget it again, but she began
teaching him to spell, and Peter really made a good start that
evening. So it went on from day to day.
The frost had gone and the snow was soft again, and moreover
fresh snow continually fell, so that it was quite three weeks
before Heidi could go to the grandmother again. So much the more
eagerly did she pursue her teaching so that Peter might
compensate for her absence by reading hymns to the old woman. One
evening he walked in home after leaving Heidi, and as he entered
he said, "I can do it now."
"Do what, Peter?" asked his mother.
"Read," he answered.
"Do you really mean it? Did you hear that, grandmother?" she
The grandmother had heard, and was already wondering how such a
thing could have come to pass.
"I must read one of the hymns now; Heidi told me to," he went on
to inform them. His mother hastily fetched the book, and the
grandmother lay in joyful expectation, for it was so long since
she had heard the good words. Peter sat down to the table and
began to read. His mother sat beside him listening with surprise
and exclaiming at the close of each verse, "Who would have
thought it possible!"
The grandmother did not speak though she followed the words he
read with strained attention.
It happened on the day following this that there was a reading
lesson in Peter's class. When it came to his turn, the teacher
"We must pass over Peter as usual, or will you try again once
more--I will not say to read, but to stammer through a sentence."
Peter took the book and read off three lines without the
The teacher put down his book and stared at Peter as at some
out-of-the-way and marvellous thing unseen before. At last he
"Peter, some miracle has been performed upon you! Here have I
been striving with unheard-of patience to teach you and you have
not hitherto been able to say your letters even. And now, just as
I had made up my mind not to waste any more trouble upon you, you
suddenly are able to read a consecutive sentence properly and
distinctly. How has such a miracle come to pass in our days?"
"It was Heidi," answered Peter.
The teacher looked in astonishment towards Heidi, who was sitting
innocently on her bench with no appearance of anything
supernatural about her. He continued, "I have noticed a change in
you altogether, Peter. Whereas formerly you often missed coming
to school for a week, or even weeks at a time, you have lately
not stayed away a single day. Who has wrought this change for
good in you?"
"It was Uncle," answered Peter.
With increasing surprise the teacher looked from Peter to Heidi
and back again at Peter.
"We will try once more," he said cautiously, and Peter had again
to show off his accomplishment by reading another three lines.
There was no mistake about it--Peter could read. As soon as
school was over the teacher went over to the pastor to tell him
this piece of news, and to inform him of the happy result of
Heidi's and the grandfather's combined efforts.
Every evening Peter read one hymn aloud; so far he obeyed Heidi.
Nothing would induce him to read a second, and indeed the
grandmother never asked for it. His mother Brigitta could not get
over her surprise at her son's attainment, and when the reader
was in bed would often express her pleasure at it. "Now he has
learnt to read there is no knowing what may be made of him yet."
On one of these occasions the grandmother answered, "Yes, it is
good for him to have learnt something, but I shall indeed be
thankful when spring is here again and Heidi can come; they are
not like the same hymns when Peter reads them. So many words seem
missing, and I try to think what they ought to be and then I lose
the sense, and so the hymns do not come home to my heart as when
Heidi reads them."
The truth was that Peter arranged to make his reading as little
troublesome for himself as possible. When he came upon a word
that he thought was too long or difficult in any other way, he
left it out, for he decided that a word or two less in a verse,
where there were so many of them, could make no difference to his
grandmother. And so it came about that most of the principal
words were missing in the hymns that Peter read aloud.