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Where is Heidi?

On 12 June 1827, a Swiss writer named Johanna Spyri was born. As an adult living in Zurich, she began to write about life in the Swiss countryside where she grew up. It is there in the Alps that her most famous character Heidi lives. While Heidi has captured the hearts of readers around the world, it is first her abrasive grandfather that she must charm.

‘So, so, what is the meaning of this?’ he asked gruffly, as he gave the child an abrupt shake of the hand, and gazed long and scrutinizingly at her from under his bushy eyebrows. Heidi stared steadily back at him in return with unflinching gaze, for the grandfather, with his long beard and thick grey eyebrows that grew together over his nose and looked just like a bush, was such a remarkable appearance, that Heidi was unable to take her eyes off him. Meanwhile Dete had come up, with Peter after her, and the latter now stood still a while to watch what was going on.

‘I wish you good-day, Uncle,’ said Dete, as she walked towards him, ‘and I have brought you Tobias and Adelaide’s child. You will hardly recognize her, as you have never seen her since she was a year old.’

From Heidi, Philadelphia David McKay Company 1922 edition. Artist Jessie Wilcox Smith. Source: NYPL.
‘And what has the child to do with me up here?’ asked the old man curtly. ‘You there,’ he then called out to Peter, ‘be off with your goats, you are none too early as it is, and take mine with you.’

Peter obeyed on the instant and quickly disappeared, for the old man had given him a look that made him feel that he did not want to stay any longer.

‘The child is here to remain with you,’ Dete made answer. ‘I have, I think, done my duty by her for these four years, and now it is time for you to do yours.’

‘That’s it, is it?’ said the old man, as he looked at her with a flash in his eye. ‘And when the child begins to fret and whine after you, as is the way with these unreasonable little beings, what am I to do with her then?’

‘That’s your affair,’ retorted Dete. ‘I know I had to put up with her without complaint when she was left on my hands as an infant, and with enough to do as it was for my mother and myself. Now I have to go and look after my own earnings, and you are the next of kin to the child. If you cannot arrange to keep her, do with her as you like. You will be answerable for the result if harm happens to her, though you have hardly need, I should think, to add to the burden already on your conscience.’

Now Dete was not quite easy in her own conscience about what she was doing, and consequently was feeling hot and irritable, and said more than she had intended. As she uttered her last words, Uncle rose from his seat. He looked at her in a way that made her draw back a step or two, then flinging out his arm, he said to her in a commanding voice: ‘Be off with you this instant, and get back as quickly as you can to the place whence you came, and do not let me see your face again in a hurry.’

Dete did not wait to be told twice. ‘Goodbye to you then, and to you too, Heidi,’ she called, as she turned quickly away and started to descend the mountain at a running pace, which she did not slacken till she found herself safely again at Dorfli, for some inward agitation drove her forwards as if a steam-engine was at work inside her. Again questions came raining down upon her from all sides, for everyone knew Dete, as well as all particulars of the birth and former history of the child, and all wondered what she had done with it.

From every door and window came voices calling: ‘Where is the child?’ ‘Where have you left the child, Dete?’ and more and more reluctantly Dete made answer, ‘Up there with Alm-Uncle!’ ‘With Alm-Uncle, have I not told you so already?’

When orphan Heidi is sent to live with her grandfather in the mountains, the two grow to love each other dearly. Heidi charms everyone she meets — but then her strict aunt sends her away again to live in the town. Despite a wonderful new friendship there, Heidi longs to return to her happy life in the mountains. Is there any way she can have both? In this Oxford Childrens Classic edition of Heidi, readers old and new will love this enchanting story set against the wonderful Alpine backdrop.

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