By Johanna Spyri, 1880


One of the most charming and popular childrens' novels of all time, the story follows the events in the life of a five year old orphan girl Heidi sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.

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On a bright June morning two figures—one a tall girl and the other a child—could be seen climbing a narrow mountain path that winds up from the pretty village of Mayenfeld, to the lofty heights of the Alm mountain. In spite of the hot June sun the child was clothed as if to keep off the bitterest frost. She did not look more than five years old, but what her natural figure was like would be hard to say, for she had on apparently two dresses, one above the other, and over these a thick red woolen shawl. Her small feet were shod in thick, nailed mountain-shoes.

When the wayfarers came to the hamlet known as Doerfli, which is situated half-way up the mountain, they met with greetings from all sides, for the elder girl was now in her old home. As they were leaving the village, a voice called out: "Wait a moment, Dete; if you are going on up the mountain, I will come along with you."

The girl thus addressed stood still, and the child immediately let go her hand and seated herself on the ground.

"Are you tired, Heidi?" asked her companion.

"No, I am hot," answered the child.

"We shall soon get to the top now. You must walk bravely on a little longer, and take good, long steps, and in another hour we shall be there," said Dete.

They were now joined by a stout, good-natured looking woman, who walked on ahead with her old acquaintance.

"And where are you going with the child?" asked the one who had just joined the party. "I suppose it is the child your sister left?"

"Yes," answered Dete. "I am taking her up to Uncle, where she must stay."

"This child stay up there with Alm-Uncle! You must be out of your senses, Dete! How can you think of such a thing! The old man, however, will soon send you both packing off home again!"

"He cannot very well do that, seeing that he is her grandfather. He must do something for her. I have had the charge of the child till now, and I can tell you, Barbel, I am not going to give up the chance which has just fallen to me of getting a good place, for her sake."

"That would be all very well if he were like other people," said Barbel, "but you know what he is. And what can he do with a child, especially with one so young! The child cannot possibly live with him. But where are you thinking of going yourself?"

"To Frankfurt, where an extra good place awaits me," answered Dete.

"I am glad I am not the child," exclaimed Barbel. "Not a creature knows anything about the old man up there. He will have nothing to do with anybody, and never sets his foot inside a church from one year's end to another. When he does come down once in a while, everybody clears out of his way. The mere sight of him, with his bushy, grey eyebrows and immense beard, is alarming enough. All kinds of things are said about him. You, Dete, however, must certainly have learnt a good deal concerning him from your sister."

"Yes, but I am not going to repeat what I heard. Suppose it should come to his ears. I should get into no end of trouble about it."

Barbel put her arm through Dete's in a confidential sort of way, and said: "Now do just tell me what is wrong with the old man. Was he always shunned as he is now, and was he always so cross? I assure you I will hold my tongue if you will tell me."

"Very well then, I will tell you—but just wait a moment," said Dete, looking around for Heidi who had slipped away unnoticed.

"I see where she is," exclaimed Barbel, "look over there!" and she pointed to a spot far away from the footpath. "She is climbing up the slope yonder with Peter and his goats. But tell me about the old man. Did he ever have anything more than his two goats and his hut?"

"I should think so indeed," replied Dete with animation; "he was at one time the owner of one of the largest farms in Domleschg, where my mother used to live. But he drank and gambled away the whole of his property, and when this became known to his mother and father they died of sorrow, one shortly after the other. Uncle, having nothing left to him but his bad name, disappeared and it was heard that he had gone to Naples as a soldier. After twelve or fifteen years he reappeared in Domleschg, bringing with him a young son whom he tried to place with some of his kinspeople. Every door, however, was shut in his face, for no one wished to have any more to do with him. Embittered by this treatment, he vowed never to set foot in Domleschg again, and he then came to Doerfli where he lived with his little boy. His wife, it seemed, had died shortly after the child's birth. He must have accumulated some money during his absence, for he apprenticed his son Tobias to a carpenter. He was a steady lad, and kindly received by every one in Doerfli. His father, however, was still looked upon with suspicion, and it was even rumored that he had killed a man in some brawl at Naples."

"But why does everyone call him Uncle? Surely he can't be uncle to everyone living in Doerfli," asked Barbel.

"Our grandmothers were related, so we used to call him Uncle, and as my father had family connections with so many people in Doerfli, soon everyone fell into the habit of calling him Uncle," explained Dete.

"And what happened to Tobias," further questioned Barbel, who was listening with deep interest.