Heidi, her years of wandering and yearning

Heidi, her years of wandering and learning; a story for children and those who love children was written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri (12 June 1827 – 7 July 1901) in 1880. The book is about a little girl Heidi, who lost her parents and was taken under the care of Aunt Dete. The story tells her life on the Swiss Alps with Aunt Dete and her family, her secluded grandfather, the illiterate goat-herd Peter and the disabled Klara.

Full text of CHAPTER I


From the pleasant village of Mayenfeld a path leads through green fields, richly covered with trees, to the foot of the mountain, which from this side overhangs the valley with grave and solemn aspect.

Where the path begins to grow steeper, begins also the heath with its short grass ; and the perfume of sweet mountain plants seems to advance as if welcoming the traveller. From this spot the footpath rises almost perpendicularly to the summit.

Along this steep mountain path a stout, healthy girl was climbing, one clear, sunny morning in June, leading by the hand a child, whose cheeks were so glowing red that she looked as if an inward flame

were shining through her sunburned skin. And little wonder, for the child was as much wrapped up on this sunny June morning as if to protect her from bitter frost. The little girl could be scarcely

more than five years old; but her natural size could not even be guessed at, for she had on two, if not three, dresses, one over the other, and over all, wound round and round, was a great red woollen shawl ; so that the little shapeless figure, with its heavy hobnailed mountain shoes, toiled hot and weary up the steep hillside. They had gone on in this way for perhaps an hour from the valley, when they reached

the hamlet, lying halfway up the Alm, which is called Dorfli. Here the wanderers were hailed and oreeted from almost every doorway, now from a window, and once from , the road ; for the girl had

reached her native villagre. She did not, however, pause at all, but answered all questions and greetings as she went along, till they reached the end of the hamlet, where only a few scattered cottages stood.

Here some one called from a doorway :

“ Wait a minute, Dete, I will go with you if you are going farther.” As Dete stood still, the child freed herself from her grasp, and seated herself upon the ground.

“Are you tired, Heidi?” asked her companion, ” No, but hot,” replied the child.

” We are almost at the top. You must exert yourself a little more, and take very long steps, and in an hour we shall be there,” said Dete encouragingly.

A broad, good-natured-looking woman came from a doorway, and joined the pair ; and the little one followed the two old acquaintances, who were deep in conversation about the inhabitants of Dorfli and the surrounding cottages.

” But where are you really taking the child, Dete?” asked the newcomer. “It is of course your sister’s child, the one she left when she died.”

“It is,” said Dete. “I am taking her up to the uncle’s, she must stay with him,”

“What, leave this child with the Alm uncle ! You have lost your senses, Dete. How can you think of such a thing ? He will soon send you to the right about with your plans.”

” No, that he cannot do ; he is her grandfather, and must do his share. I have cared for the child up to this time ; and now, Barbel, I have the offer of a situation which I cannot let escape because of this child. Let her grandfather now take his turn.”

” Yes, if he were like other people, Dete,” rejoined Barbel anxiously. ” But there, you know all about that. What can he do with the child ? Such a small one, too ! It will never succeed. But where are you going?”

“To Frankfort,” explained Dete, “where I am promised an unusually good place.

The family were at the baths last summer.

I had the care of their rooms in the hotel, and looked after their comfort so well that they wanted to take me back with them then. Now they have come again, and repeat their offer ; and you may believe that I mean to accept this time.”

” I should not like to be in this child’s place,” said Barbel, with a gesture of aversion..

” No one knows how he lives up there. He will have nothing to do with other people, year in year out. He never sets foot in a church ; and when he comes dawn here once a year, with his thick stick, everyone avoids him, and is afraid. With his thick gray eyebrows, arid his frightful beard, he looks so like a heathen and an Indian, that everyone is thankful not to meet him in a solitary place alone;”

“But for all that,” said Dete defiantly, ” he is the grandfather, and must take care of the child. He will probably do it no harm, or will have to answer for it if he does. It is not my affair.”

“I should really like to know,” said Barbel inquiringly, ” what that old man has on his conscience, that he casts such glances about him, and lives all alone up there on the Alp, and never lets himself be seen. They say all sorts of queer things about him ; but you must know the truth from your sister, do you not, Dete ? ”

” Certainly, but I will not tell ; for if he should ever know that I had said anything, should not I get a scolding ! ”

But Barbel had long wanted to know why the Alm uncle had such a look of dislike to other people, and why he lived alone up on the mountain; and why people spoke so cautiously about him, as if they could not say anything favorable, and would not speak against him. Neither did Barbel know why the old man was always called in Dorfli the Alm uncle. He could not be the real uncle of all the inhabitants ; but as they always called him so, she did the same.

Barbel had only been married a short time, and came to live in the village after her wedding. She formerly lived in Prattigau, and therefore did not know all the ins and outs of the life there, nor the peculiarities of the people in Dorfli and the neighborhood. Her good friend Dete, however, was born in Dorfli, and had always lived there with her mother until her death ; then she went to Ragatz Bad, and served in the big hotel as chambermaid, with very good wages.

That very morning Dete had come with the child from Ragatz ; a friend had given them a ride in a hay-cart as far as Mayenfeld. Barbel, having learned thus far, hastened to improve the opportunity to find out still more. So she laid her hand confidentially on her friend’s arm, saying:

” From you, Dete, one can know the real truth about the Alm uncle, and not be dependent on what the people here say. Do tell me. What is amiss with the old man ? and has he always been feared, and always seemed to hate his fellow-beings as he does now ? ”

” Whether he has always been like this I cannot be expected to know exactly, as I am just twenty-six years old, and he is at least seventy ; so you will not require me to tell you how he was when young. If I could only be sure that what I tell you will not be directly known in all Prattigau, I might give you some information ; for my mother and he both came from Domleschg.”

“O Dete ! ” replied Barbel, somewhat offended, ” what do you mean ? They are not such terrible gossips in Prattigau. afterall ; and I can keep a secret, if necessary. So tell me, do, and you shall never have to be sorry for it.”

” Well, I will ; but mind you keep your word,” said Dete warningly. She turned to look behind, to see if the child were near enough to hear what they said, but Heidi was nowhere to be seen. She must have ceased following for a long time, but they were too busy talking to notice her absence. Dete stopped, and looked about in every direction. The path made one or two curves, but yet the eye could follow it almost down to Dorfli. There was no one visible for its whole length.

” I see her now ! ” exclaimed Barbel ;

“down there, don’t you see her?” and she pointed to a spot quite distant from the mountain path. ”

She is climbing up the cliff with Peter the goatherd and his flock.

“I wonder why he is so late to-day. It is lucky for us, for you can go on with your story while he looks after the child.”

“It will not be necessary for Peter to exert himself much in looking after her,” said Dete. ” She uses her own eyes, and sees all that goes on. I have found that out, and it will be of use to her now, for the old man has only his two goats and the Alm hut.’

” Used he to have more ? ” asked Barbel.

” He ? Yes, indeed ; he had much more, formerly,” replied Dete eagerly.

” He had once the very best peasant’s farm in Domleschg. He was the eldest son, and had only one brother, who was quiet and steady. But the elder would do nothing but play the gentleman, and travel through the country with bad company, about whom no one knew anything ; and he lost his whole property at play and in extravagance, and when it became known, his father and mother died one after another from mortification, and his brother was reduced to beggary, and obliged to go no one knows where, for vexation ; and the uncle, who no longer had anything but A bad name, also disappeared. At first, no one knew where he had gone ; but after a while they learned that he had joined the army, and gone to Naples. Then nothing more was known for twelve years or more. Then he all at once appeared in Domleschg, with a half-grown boy, and sought to introduce him to his

relations there ; but every door was closed against him. This made him very bitter. He said he would never set foot in Domleschg again, and so he came to Dorfli. He lived here with his boy, and must have had property, for he gave Tobias, his son, a trade. He was a nice fellow, a carpenter, and well liked by every one in Dorfli. But the old man trusted no one. It was said that he had deserted from Naples. He had a bad time of it ; having killed some one, not in battle, you understand, but in a brawl. But we recognized the relationship, because my great- grandmother and his mother were sisters ; so we called him uncle, and as we are related to everybody in Dorfli, on our father’s side, gradually everybody called him uncle ; and since he has moved up here on to the Alm, he is known to every one as the Alm uncle.”

” But what happened to Tobias?” said Barbel, who had listened eagerly.

” Only wait, I am coming to that ; I can’t tell everything at once.

” Tobias was sent to learn his trade in Mcls ; and when he had learned it he returned to Dorfli, and married my sister Adelheid, whom he had always liked. And when they were married, they got along well enough together ; but that did not last long. Two years after his marriage, as he was helping to build a house, a beam fell on him, and killed him, and he was brought all crushed to his home ; and Adelheid fell ill from the shock and from sorrow, and had a fever from which she never recovered. She, who was formerly so strong and hearty, fell often into swoons, so that one could not tell if she were waking or asleep. Only two months after Tobias’s death we buried Adelheid. Everybody was talking far and wide of the sad fate of these two and they said softly, and then aloud, that it was the punishment that the uncle deserved for his godless life ; and the pastor, appealing to his conscience, told him that he must now do penance : but he became more and more gloomy and morose, spoke to no one, and at last every one avoided him. Then we heard that he had gone up on to the Alm, never coming down, but living a solitary life, at war with God and man.

“ We took Adelheid’s little child to live with u.s, my mother and I. Heidi was a year old. Then, after my mother’s death, I decided to go to the baths to earn something; and taking the child with me, I gave her in charge of old Ursel in Pfafferserdorf. I could remain at the baths during the winter, for there was plenty of work for me, and I can sew and mend very nicely. The same family returned early this spring from Frankfort whom I served last year, and they again wish to take me back with them. So I am going the day after tomorrow ; and it is a good place, I assure you.”

” And you will leave the child up there with that old man ? I cannot understand what you are thinking of, Dete,” said Barbel reproachfully.

” What do you mean by that?” answered Dete. ” I have done my share for the child, and what more can I do ? It is not to be expected that I can carry a child of five years old to Frankfort with me. But where are you going, Barbel ? Here we are already half-way up the Alm.”

” I am almost come to the place,” said Barbel. ” I have something to say to the mother of Peter the goatherd ; she spins for me in the winter. So good-bye, Dete !  Good luck to you ! ”

Dete held out her hand to her companion, and stood still while the latter went toward the small dark-brown cottage  which stood a little way from the path, in a hollow where it was somewhat protected from the mountain winds. Standing half-way up the Alm, it was fortunately situated

in the sheltered hollow, and yet looked so crazy and weather-worn that it must have been a dangerous dwelling when the Fohnwind blew strongly over the Alm, making everything shake and tremble, and setting- all the rotten beams a-creaking.

It could not have stood long, in its present condition, on the summit, but would speedily have been swept down into the valley. This was the dwelling of goat- Peter, the eleven years old boy whose business it was to drive the goats from Dorfli. every morning, up on to the Alm. to let them pasture on the short, succulent bushes that grow there. In the evening he led his nimble- footed herd down into Dorfli again, gave a shrill whistle on his finofers, at the sound of which the owners came to the little square to fetch each his own goat. Generally little boys and girls came for the animals — such gentle creatures could do no harm — and thus Peter was for a short time every day with companions of his own age ; otherwise he lived during the entire summer only with his goats.

To be sure, he had his mother and his blind grandmother ; but he left the hut early in the morning, and returned late at night at Dorfli, because he liked to amuse himself with the children there as long as possible, spending only enough time at home to swallow his bread and milk as fast as he could, to get off early with the goats in the morning, and to his pillow at night.

His father, who followed the same business, and was called also goat- Peter, had been killed while felling wood the year before. His mother, whose name was Brigitte, was always spoken of as goat- Peter, or goat- Peter’s mother, from the connection ; and for everybody, far and near, his blind grandmother had the same name. Dete stood waiting for certainly ten minutes, looking in every direction for the children and the goats, who were nowhere to be seen ; then she climbed still higher to get a view of the valley, searching in every direction, with signs of increasing impatience on her face and in her movements. In the mean time, the children had gone quite round in another
direction ; for Peter knew of many spots where all sorts of bushes and herbs grew that were good for his goats to nibble at, and to reach which he twisted and turned about from one place to another with his flock. At first the child climbed after him, but with the greatest difficulty. Enveloped as she was in her heavy wraps, and suffering from their weight and moreover from heat, she was obliged to exert all her little strength.

She said nothing, however, but looked now fixedly at Peter, who, with his bare feet and light trousers, sprang here and there without the least trouble ; now observing the goats, which, with their thin, slender legs, climbed still more easily over the stocks and stones, and even up the precipices. Suddenly the child sat down, pulled off shoes and stockings as quickly as possible, stood up again, threw off the thick red shawl, unfastened her dress, cast that away, and had still another to strip off; for Dete had put on all the child’s Sunday clothes over her every-day garments, for convenience’ sake, so that no one else need carry them. In a twinkling the child tore off her every-day dress too, and stood in her light petticoat, and stretched her bare arms with delight out of the short sleeves of her little shirt into the cooling wind.

Then she folded all her clothes together into a neat little heap, and leaving, climbed up after the goats to Peter ; going with them as lightly and easily as the very best.

Peter had not noticed what the child was about while she stood behind ; but when she sprang up beside him in her new dress, he grinned in the most comical way; then, looking back, he perceived the little heap of clothes, and his grin became wider, until his mouth seemed to extend from ear to ear ; but he said never a word.

Now that the child felt herself so free and comfortable, she began to talk to her companion, and he had to answer all sorts of questions. She wanted to know how many goats he had, where he was taking them, and what he did when he reached his destination. At last, however, the children and the goats reached the hut, when Aunt Dete caught sight of them.

As soon as the latter saw the little company of climbers, she shouted out,

“What are you about, Heidi? How you look ! What have you done with our two dresses and the shawl, and the new shoes that I bought you for the mountain, and the new stockings I knit you myself? Are they all gone, all ? Heidi, what have you done with them all ? ”

The child pointed quietly down the mountain-side, saying only, “There.” Dete looked ; and following the direction of the child’s finger, certainly, down there she saw something lying, on the top of which was a red spot. Could that be the shawl ?

” You mischievous child ! ” cried Dete, in great excitement. ” What are you thinking of? Why have you taken everything off ? What does it mean?”

” I do not need them,” replied the child, and did not look sorry for what she had done.

“Oh, you unlucky, thoughtless Heidi! Have you no idea about things ? ” said Dete, scolding and complaining at the same time. ” Who is to go down for them ? It will be at least a half hour’s work. Come, Peter, run down and fetch them for me ; don’t stand there staring, as if you were nailed to the ground.”

” I am too late already,” said he slowly, and stood without stirring from the spot, with his hands in his pockets, just as he stood when Dete’s cry of alarm first reached his ears.

” You stand there, and open your eyes as wide as you can, but do not stir,” cried Aunt Dete to him again. ” Come now, you shall have something nice ; do you see this ? ” showing him a new, shining

five-cent piece.

In an instant he ran down the mountain, taking the shortest way, and reaching the clothes by great strides, seized them in his arms, and was back again so quickly that Dete was forced to praise him, while she gave him the promised five-cent piece without delay. Peter stuck it quickly deep into his pocket, while his face beamed and shone with pleasure ; for a like treasure rarely fell to his lot.

” You can carry the bundle for us up to the uncle’s, you are going that way, I believe,” said Dete, while she applied herself to climbing the steep path that made an abrupt ascent from behind the goatherd’s hut. He was quite ready, and followed her, carrying the bundle under his left arm, while he swung his rod with his right, Heidi and the goats sprang joyfully about in every direction.

In this manner the little procession reached at last the summit of the Alm, after about three-quarters of an hour’s climbing. There stood the old uncle’s hut, exposed, it is true, to all the winds of heaven, but getting the advantage of every ray of sunlight, and commanding too a most beautiful view of the


Behind the hut stood three big, very old pine-trees, with long, thick, untrimmed branches ; and then the mountain background rose up, up to the old gray rocks, first over beautiful slopes covered with succulent herbs, then through thickly Strewn bowlders, and at last came the bald, steep pinnacles.

On the side of his hut overlooking the valley, and fastened there securely, the uncle had placed a bench. Here he was now seated, his pipe in his mouth, his hands resting on his knees, looking quietly down at the children, the goats, and Aunt Dete, as they came clambering up.

Heidi reached the summit first, and going directly towards the old man, stretched out her hand to him, saying, ” Good-evening, grandfather.”

” Well, well, what does this mean ? ” answered the Alm uncle harshly; gave his hand, however, to the child, looking at her with a long, piercing gaze from under his bushy eyebrows.

Heidi returned his look with equal steadiness, not once letting her eyes swerve from his face. Such a strange-looking man as her grandfather, with his long beard, his gray eyebrows growing together in the middle like a bush, seemed to her worthy of study.

In the mean time Dete and the goatherd stood beside Heidi, Peter looking on to see what was to happen.

” I wish you good-day, uncle,” said Dete, stepping up. ” I bring you Tobias and Adelheid’s child. You will scarcely recognize her, for you have not seen her since she was a year old.”

“And what is the child to do with me ? ” asked the old man. ” You there ! ” he called out to Peter, “go on with your goats. You are none too early. Take mine along with you.”

Peter heard, and obeyed ; for the uncle had looked at him, and that was enough.

“The child must stay here with you,” asserted Dete. ” I have done my share for it these four years past, now it is your turn.”

“Indeed!” said the old man, casting a withering glance at Dete; “and if the child begins to cry for you, and whimper, as these senseless little creatures do, what is it be done then ? ”

“That is your affair,” said Dete. “I mean, no one told me how I was to manage with her, when she was thrown on my hands a three years old child ; and I had already as much as I could do for my mother and myself. Now I must go with my emplovers, and you are the next of kin to the child. If you won’t keep her, do with her as you like. If anything happens to her, you know, there will be no further trouble.”

Dete’s conscience was not easy about this proceeding ; and therefore she was working herself into a passion, and said more about what she really meant. As she uttereu these last words, the uncle stood up, and looked at her so strangely that she involuntarily drew back several steps. He stretched forth his arm, and said in a commanding voice, ” Go back to the place from whence you came, and do not show yourself here again in a hurry.”

“Then farewell, and you also, Heidi,” said Dete, not meaning to wait for a repetition of these words ; and she ran down the mountain-side, without stopping, till she reached Dorfli, for her inward excite- ment drove her onward as if impelled by steam. In Dorfli everybody called to her, even more glamorously than before, for all were curious to know what had become of the child. They knew Dete very well, and to whom the child belonged, and all its former history. So they called from door and window,

“Where’s the child?” “What have you done with the little one, Dete ? ”

She shouted back impatiently, without stopping: “Up there with the Alm uncle, I say. Don’t you understand?”

But she was very uncomfortable ; for the women all exclaimed, ” How could you do such a thing?” “That poor child ! ”

” The idea of leaving such a helpless child up there ! ” and again and again, “The poor little tot!” and soon, and so on.

Dete ran on as quickly as possible, and was soon beyond the reach of their voices ; for she was not happy about her conduct, as her mother had given the child into her charge on her death-bed. But she tried to quiet her conscience by saying to herself that she could do more for the child when she had earned something ; and she was glad to get away as quickly as possible from her old friends, who questioned her too closely, and to go into service with a good family.

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