Produced by Juliet Sutherland and Distributed Proofreaders
RICO AND WISELI
RICO AND STINELI
HOW WISELI WAS PROVIDED FOR
Translated By Louise Brooks
RICO AND STINELI
I. IN THE QUIET HOUSE
II. IN THE SCHOOL
III. THE OLD SCHOOLMASTER’S FIDDLE IV. THE BEAUTIFUL, DISTANT LAKE WITHOUT A NAME V. A SAD HOUSE, BUT THE LAKE GETS A NAME VI. RICO’S MOTHER
VII. A PRECIOUS LEGACY, AND A PRECIOUS PRAYER VIII. ON THE LAKE OF SILS
IX. A PERPLEXING AFFAIR
X. A LITTLE LIGHT
XI. A LONG JOURNEY
XII. IT STILLS GOES ON
XIII. ON THE DISTANT, BEAUTIFUL LAKE XIV. NEW FRIENDSHIPS FORMED, WHILE THE OLD ONES ARE NOT FORGOTTEN XV. SILVIO’S WISHES PRODUCE RESULTS
XVI. COUNSEL THAT BRINGS JOY TO MANY XVII. BACK AGAIN OVER THE MOUNTAINS
XVIII. TWO HAPPY TRAVELLERS
XIX. CLOUDS ON THE BEAUTIFUL LAKE OF GARDA XX. AT HOME
XXI. SUNSHINE ON THE LAKE OF GARDA
HOW WISELI WAS PROVIDED FOR
II. AT HOME WHERE ALL ARE HAPPY
III. ALSO AT HOME
IV. AT COUSIN GOTTI’S
V. HOW TIME WENT ONE, AND SUMMER CAME VI. OLD AND NEW
VII. ANDREW IS BETTER, AND SOMEBODY ELSE, ALSO VIII. SOMETHING VERY STRANGE HAPPENS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
“So the lad seated himself, and placed his fiddle in position.”
“Rico played correctly, and with enthusiasm.”
“Wiseli hastened into the room, and went to her mother’s side.”
“Andrew raised himself in his bed to see who was there.”
RICO AND STINELI.
IN THE QUIET HOUSE.
In the Ober Engadin, on the highway up to Maloja, stands the lonely village of Sils; and back towards the mountains, across the fields, nestles a little cluster of huts known as Sils Maria. Here, in an open field, two cottages stand, facing each other.
Noticeable in both are the old wooden house-doors, and the tiny windows quite imbedded in the thick walls. A bit of a garden-plot belongs to one of these poor dwellings, where the pot-herbs and the cabbages look only a trifle better than their spindling companions the flowers.
The other house has nothing but a little shed, where two or three hens may be seen running in and out. This cottage is smaller than its neighbor, and its wooden door is quite black from age.
Out of this door every morning, at the same hour, came a large man. In order to pass out he was obliged to stoop, so tall was he. His hair was black and glossy, and his eyes were also black; and under his finely-shaped nose grew a thick black beard, completely hiding the lower part of his face; so that, except the glistening of his white teeth when he spoke, nothing was visible. But he rarely spoke.
Everybody in Sils knew the man, but he was never called by his name,–it was always “the Italian.” He went by the foot-path across to Sils every day regularly, and thence up to Maloja. They were working on the highway in that place, and there he found employment.
When, however, he did not have work up there, he went down to the Baths of St. Moritz. Houses were being built down there, and he found work in plenty; and there passed the day, only returning to his cottage at nightfall.
When he came out of his house in the morning, he was usually followed by a little boy, who lingered on the threshold after his father had gone on his way, and looked with his big black eyes for a long time in the direction his father had taken; but where he was looking that no one could have told, for his eyes had a faraway look, as if they saw nothing that lay before them and near, but were searching for something invisible to everybody.
On Sunday mornings, when the sun shone brightly, father and son would saunter up the road together; and the close resemblance between them was most striking, for the child was the man in miniature, only his face was small and pale,–with his father’s well-formed nose, to be sure; but his mouth had an expression of great sadness, as if he could not laugh. In his father’s face this could not be detected, on account of the beard.
When they walked along together, side by side, they did not talk; but the father usually hummed a tune softly,–sometimes quite aloud,–and the lad listened attentively. On rainy Sundays they sat at the window together in the cottage, and seldom talked then; but the man drew his harmonica from his pocket, and played one tune after another to the lad, who listened most earnestly. Sometimes he would take a comb, or even a leaf, and coax forth music; or he would shape a bit of wood with his knife, and whistle a tune upon that. It really seemed as if there were no object from which he could not draw forth sweet sounds. Once, however, he brought a fiddle home with him, and the boy was so delighted with the instrument, that he never forgot it. The man played one tune after another, while the child listened and looked with all his might; and when the fiddle was laid aside, the little fellow took it up, and tried to find out for himself how the music was made. And it could not have sounded so very badly, for his father had smiled, saying, “Come, now!” and placed the big fingers of his left hand over his son’s, and held the little hand and the bow together in his right; and thus they played for a long time, and produced a great many sweet tunes.
On the following day, after his father’s departure, the boy tried again and again to play, until at last he did succeed in producing a tune quite correctly. Soon after, however, the fiddle disappeared, and never made its appearance again.
Often, when they were together, the man would begin to sing softly,–softly at first, then more and more distinctly as he became more interested, and the boy know the words, he could at least follow the tune. The father sang Italian always; and the child understood a great deal, but not well enough to sing. One tune, however, he knew better than any other, for his father had repeated it many hundred times. It was part of a long song, and began in this wise:–
“One evening In Peschiera.”
It was a sad melody that some one had arranged to a pretty ballad, and it particularly pleased the lad, so that he always sang it with pleasure and with a feeling of awe; and it sounded very sweetly, for the lad had a clear, bell-like voice, that harmonized beautifully with his father’s strong basso. And each time after they had sung this song from beginning to end, his father clapped the boy kindly on the shoulder, saying, “Well done, Henrico! well done!” This was the way his father called him, but he was called “Rico” only by everybody else.
There was a cousin who lived in the cottage with them, and who mended and cooked and kept the house in order. In the winter she sat by the stove and spun, and Rico had to consider how he could enter the room, very carefully; for as soon as he had opened the door, his cousin called out, “Do let that door alone, or we shall have it cold enough in the room here.”
In winter he was very often alone with his cousin; for when his father had work to do in the valley, he would be away for long weeks at a time.
IN THE SCHOOL.
Rico was almost nine years old, and had been to school for two winters. Up there in the mountains there was no school in the summer-time; for then the teacher had his field to cultivate, and his hay and wood to cut, like everybody else, and nobody had time to think of going to school. This was not a great sorrow for Rico,–he knew how to amuse himself. When he had once taken his place in the morning on the threshold, he would stand there for hours without moving, gazing into the far distance with dreamy eyes, if the door of the house over the way did not open, and a little girl make her appearance and look over at him laughingly. Then Rico ran over to her in a trice, and the children were busy enough in telling each other what had happened since the evening before, and talked incessantly, until Stineli was called into the house. The girl’s name was Stineli, and she and Rico were of exactly the same age. They began to go to school at the same time, were in the same classes, and from that time forward were always together; for there was only a narrow path between their cottages, and they were the dearest of friends.
This was the only intimacy that Rico had, for he had no pleasure in the companionship of the other boys; and when they thrashed each other, or played at wrestling, or turned somersaults, he went away without even looking back at them. If they called out after him, “Now it is Rico’s turn to be thrashed,” he stood perfectly still and did nothing; but he looked at them so strangely with his dark eyes, that no one meddled with him.
In Stineli’s company he was always contented. She had a merry little pug-nose, and two brown eyes that were always laughing; and around her head were two thick braids of brown hair, that always looked smooth and neat, for Stineli was a very orderly girl, and knew very well how to take care of herself. For that her daily experience was excellent. It is true Stineli was scarcely nine years old, but she was the eldest daughter of the family, and had to help her mother in every thing, and there was a great deal to be done,–for after Stineli came Trudi and Sami and Peterli, then Urschli and Anne-Deteli and Kunzli, and last of all the baby, who was not baptized. From every corner, at every moment, Stineli was called for; and she had become so handy and skilful with all this practice, that work seemed to turn itself out of her hands of its own accord. She could always put on three stockings and fasten two shoes before Trudi had even placed the legs of the little one she was helping in the right position. And while her mother was calling for Stineli to help her in the kitchen, and the little children wanted her in the bedroom, her father was sure to shout out from the stable for Stineli to come to his help, for he had mislaid his cap, or his whip-lash was in a knot, and she found the one in a trice,–it was generally on the meal-box,–and her limber fingers had no trouble in untying the knotted lash. So, you see, Stineli was always busy running about and working, but always merry with it all, and rejoiced also in winter, when the school began. Then she went with Rico to school and back again, and in recess they were also together. And in summer she was still more happy, for then the lovely Sunday evenings came when she could go out; and she and Rico went, hand in hand,–the lad was always waiting for her in the doorway,–over the big meadow towards the wood on the hill-side that projected far out over the lake like an island. They used to sit up there under the pines, and look out over the green waters of the lake, and had so many questions to ask and so many answers to give, and were so happy, that Stineli was happy all the week in thinking it over and looking forward,–for Sunday always came again.
There was yet one other person in the household who called for Stineli now and then,–that was her old grandmother.
She did not want her assistance, however, but had generally a bit of money to give her that she had put aside, or some little thing that would give the girl pleasure; for the grandmother noticed how much there was for Stineli to do, and that she had less pleasure than other children of her age, and the child was her favorite. She always had something ready so that she could buy herself a red ribbon at the yearly market, or a needle-case, if she wished.
Rico was also a favorite with this good grandmother, and she liked to see the children together, and tried to contrive a little recreation for them now and then.
On summer evenings the grandmother always sat by the door on a tree-stump that was there, and often Stineli and Rico stood by her side while she told them stories. But when the prayer-bell sounded from the little church tower she always said, “Now say, ‘Our Father;’ and be sure, children, that you never forget to say that prayer every evening; the prayer-bells ring to remind you of that.” “Now remember, little ones,” she would now and then repeat, “I have lived for a long, long time, and had a great deal of experience, and I have never known a single person who has not, at some time or other in his life, sore need of ‘Our Father;’ but I have known many a one who has sought to say it anxiously, and not found it, in his great need.” So Stineli and Rico stood reverently side by side and said their evening prayer.
Now May had come, and there was only a short time to pass before school would cease, for under the trees there were signs of green, and the snow had melted and vanished in many places. Rico had been standing for a long time in the doorway making these welcome observations. At the same time he looked again and again towards the opposite door, hoping that it would open. It did at last, and out came Stineli.
“How long have you been standing there?” she called out merrily. “It is early to-day, and we can go along slowly.”
They took each other’s hands, and went towards the schoolhouse.
“Are you always thinking about the lake?” asked Stineli as they went along.
“Yes, of course,” said Rico, with a serious expression; “and I often dream about it too, and see great red flowers there, and in the distance the purple mountains.”
“Oh! what one dreams does not count,” said Stineli. “I dreamed once that Peterli climbed, all alone, to the top of the highest pine-tree; and when he was on the top twig, suddenly he changed into a bird and called out, ‘Come, Stineli, and put on my stockings for me.’ So you see that it does not mean any thing when you dream.”
Rico pondered over this, for his dream might certainly mean something, and yet only be thoughts passing through his mind. Now, however, they were near the schoolhouse, and a troop of noisy children came towards them from the opposite direction. They all entered together, and soon the teacher came in. He was an old man with thin, gray hair, for he had been teacher for an incredibly long time,–so long, that his hair had grown gray and fallen out.
Now a busy spelling and pronouncing began; then followed the multiplication-table, and, lastly, the singing. For this the teacher brought out his old fiddle and tuned it. Then they began, and all shouted at the top of their lungs,–
“Little lambkins, come down
From the bright sunny height,”
and the teacher played the accompaniment.
Rico, however, had his eyes fixed so attentively upon the fiddle, and on the teacher’s fingers as he touched the strings, that he quite forgot the song; and at this the whole choir lost their pitch, and fell away a half-note, and the fiddle became uncertain, and lost a half-note also; and then the voices fell lower still, until at last nobody could have told where they were going to all together; but the teacher tossed his fiddle upon the table and called out angrily, “What sort of a song do you call that? You are nothing but a lot of screamers! I should like to know who it is who sings false and spoils the whole time.”
At this a little boy spoke up,–the one who sat nearest to Rico: “I know why it all goes wrong. It always goes that way when Rico stops singing.”
The teacher himself knew that the fiddle was somewhat dependent on Rico’s leading.
“Rico, Rico! what is this that I hear?” he said, turning to the lad. “You are generally a well-behaved boy; but inattention is a sad fault, as you now see. One single careless scholar can easily spoil a whole song. Now we will begin anew; and be more attentive, Rico.”
After this the boy sang with his steady, clear voice; the fiddle followed, and the children sang with all their might, and it went on very satisfactorily to the very end.
The teacher was well satisfied, and rubbed his hands together, and then drew his bow over the string, saying, with a pleased air, “It is a good instrument, after all.”
THE OLD SCHOOLMASTER’S FIDDLE.
Stineli and Rico freed themselves from the crowd of children gathered before the schoolhouse, and wandered off together. “Were you thinking so that you could not sing with us to-day, Rico?” asked Stineli. “Were you thinking again about the lake?”
“No, it was quite another thing,” replied the boy. “I know how to play ‘Little lambkins, come down,’ if I only had a fiddle.”
Judging from the deep sigh that accompanied these words, the wish must have weighed heavily on Rico’s heart. The sympathetic little Stineli began at once to contrive some means of helping him to get his wish.
“We will buy one together, Rico,” she said suddenly, full of delight at a happy thought that had entered her head. I have ever so many pieces of money,–as many as twelve. How much have you got?”
“None at all,” said the boy sadly. “My father gave me some before he went away, but my cousin said I should only spend it foolishly, and she took it from me, and put it up on the shelf in a box where I cannot get it.”
Such a trifle did not discourage Stineli. “Perhaps we have enough without that, and my grandmother will give me some more soon,” she said consolingly. “You know, Rico, a fiddle can’t cost so very much; it is nothing but a bit of old wood with four strings stretched across it, that will be cheap, I’m sure. You must ask the teacher about it to-morrow morning, and then we will try to find one.”
So it was settled, and Stineli resolved to do all she could at home to make herself useful by getting up bright and early, and making the fire before her mother was afoot, thinking that, if she worked busily from morning till night, perhaps her grandmother would put a bit of money for her in the bag.
After school the next day Stineli went out and waited alone behind the wood-pile at the schoolhouse corner, for Rico had made up his mind at last to ask the teacher how much it would cost to buy a fiddle. He was such a long time about it, that Stineli kept peeping out from behind the wood-pile, quite overcome with impatience, but only saw the other school children who were standing about and playing; but now certainly,–yes, that was Rico who came around the corner.
“What did he say? How much does it cost?” cried Stineli, almost breathless with suspense.
“I had not the courage to ask,” was the sad answer.
“Oh, what a shame!” said the girl, and stood still and disappointed for a moment, but not more. “Never mind, Rico; you can try again to-morrow,” she said cheerfully, taking him by the hand and turning homeward. “I got another bit of money from my grandmother this morning, because I got up early and was in the kitchen when she came in.”
The same thing happened, however, the next day and the day after. Rico stood for half an hour before the door without getting courage to go in to ask his question. At last Stineli made up her mind to go herself, if this lasted three days more. On the fourth day, however, as Rico was standing, timid and depressed, before the door, it opened suddenly, and the teacher came out quickly, and ran into Rico with such force, that the slender little fellow, who did not weigh more than a feather, was thrown backward several feet. The teacher stood looking at the child in great surprise and some displeasure. Then he said, “What does this mean, Rico? Why do you stand before the door without knocking, if you have a message to deliver? If you have no message, why do you not go away? If you wish to tell me any thing, do so at once. What is it that you wish?”
“How much does a fiddle cost?” Rico blurted out his question in great fear and haste. The teacher’s surprise and displeasure increased visibly.
“I do not understand, Rico,” he said, with a severe glance at the boy. Have you come here on purpose to mock me? or have you any particular reason for asking this? What did you mean to say?”
“I did not mean any thing,” said Rico abashed, “only to ask how much it would cost to buy a fiddle.”
“You did not understand me just now,–pay attention to what I am saying. There are two ways of asking a question: either to obtain information, or simply from idle curiosity, which is foolishness. Now pay attention, Rico: is this a mere idle question, or did somebody send you who wishes to buy a fiddle?”
“I want to buy one myself,” said the boy, taking courage a little; but he was frightened when the angry reply came, “What! what did you say? A forlorn little fellow like you buy a fiddle! Do you even know what the instrument is? Have you any idea of how old I was, and what I knew, before I obtained one? I was a teacher, a regular teacher; was twenty-two years old, with an assured profession, and not a child like you.
“Now I will tell you what a fiddle costs, and then you will see how foolish you are. Six hard gulden I paid for mine. Can you realize what that means? We will separate it into blutsgers. If one gulden contains a hundred blutsgers, then six guldens will be equal to six times one hundred,–quickly, quickly! Now, Rico, you are generally ready enough.”
“Six hundred blutsgers,” said the lad softly, for he was quite overpowered with the magnitude of this sum as compared with Stineli’s twelve blutsgers.
“And, moreover, my son, do you imagine that you have only to take a fiddle in your hand to be able to play on it at once? It takes a long time to do that. Come in here now, for a moment.” And the teacher opened the door, and took his fiddle from its place on the wall. “There,” he said, as he placed it on Rico’s arm, “take the bow in your hand,–so, my boy; and if you can play me _c, d, e, f_, I will give you a half-gulden.”
Rico had the fiddle really in his hand; his eyes sparkled with fire; _c, d, e, f,_–he played the notes firmly and perfectly correctly. “You little rascal!” cried the astonished teacher, “where did you learn that? Who taught you? How do you find the notes?”
“I can do more than that, if I may,” said the boy.
And Rico played correctly, and with enthusiasm,–
“Little lambkins, come down
From the bright sunny height;
The daylight is fading,
The sun says, ‘Good-night!'”
[Illustration: RICO PLAYED CORRECTLY, AND WITH ENTHUSIASM]
The teacher sunk into a chair, and put his spectacles on his nose. His eyes rested on Rico’s fingers as he played, then on his sparkling eyes, and again on his hands. When the air was finished, he said, “Come here to me, Rico;” and, moving his chair into the light, he placed the lad directly before him. “Now I have something to say to you. Your father is an Italian; and I know that down there all sorts of things go on of which we have no idea here in the mountains. Now look me straight in the eye, and answer me truly and honestly. How did you learn to play this air so correctly?”
Looking up with his honest eyes, the boy replied, “I learned it from you, in the school where it is so often sung.”
These words gave an entirely new aspect to the affair. The teacher stood up, and went back and forth several times in the room. Then he was himself the cause of this wonderful event; there was no necromancy concerned in it.
In a far better humor, he took out his purse, saying, “Here is your half-gulden, Rico; it is justly yours. Now go; and for the future be very attentive to the music-lesson as long as you go to the school. In that way you may, perhaps, accomplish something; and in twelve or fourteen years perhaps you may be able to buy a fiddle. Now you may go.”
Rico cast one look at the fiddle, and departed with deep sadness in his heart.
Stineli came running to meet him from behind the wood-pile. “You did stay a long time. Have you asked the question?”
“It is all of no use,” said the boy; and his eyebrows came together in his distress, and formed a thick black line across his forehead over his eyes. “A fiddle costs six hundred blutsgers; and in fourteen years I can buy one, when everybody will be dead. Who will be living fourteen years from now? There, you may have this; I do not want it.” With these words he pressed the half-gulden into Stineli’s hand.
“Six hundred blutsgers!” repeated the girl, horrified. “But where did this half-gulden come from?”
Rico told her all that had happened at the teacher’s, ending with the same words expressing his great regret, “It is all of no use!”
Stineli tried to console him a little with the half-gulden; but he was furious at the thought of the innocent piece of money, and would not even look at it.
So Stineli said, “I will put it with my blutsgers, and we will have it all between us.”
Stineli herself was very much discouraged now; but as they went around the corner into the field, the little pathway that led to their doors shone so prettily in the bright sunlight, and the plat before the houses was so white and dry, that she called out,–
“See, see! now it is summer, Rico; and we can go up into the wood, and we will be happy again. Shall we go next Sunday?”
“Nothing will ever make me happy again,” said Rico; “but if you want to go, I will go with you.”
When they reached the door, they had arranged to go to the wood on the following Sunday, and Stineli was very happy at the thought. She did all that she was able to do through the week, and there was a great deal of work for her. Peterli, Sami, and Urschli had the measles, and in the stable one of the goats was sick, and needed hot water very often; and Stineli had to run hither and thither, lending a helping hand in every direction as soon as she came home from school, and on Saturday all day long until late in the evening; and then there were the stable buckets to be cleaned. But that night her father said,–
“Stineli _is_ a handy child.”
THE BEAUTIFUL DISTANT LAKE WITHOUT A NAME
When Stineli awoke on the following Sunday morning, she was conscious of an unusual light-heartedness, and at first could not understand the cause, until she remembered what day it was, and that her grandmother had said, on the previous evening, “To-morrow you must have the whole afternoon to yourself: it is rightfully yours.”
After dinner was finished, and all the dishes taken away, and the table washed off by Stineli, Peterli called out, “Come here to me;” and the two others screamed, “No, to me!” and her father said, “Now Stineli must go to look after the goats.”
But at this moment her grandmother went through the kitchen, and made a sign to Stineli to follow her.
“Now go in peace, my child,” she said. “I will take care of the goats and the children; but be sure to come home, both of you, punctually when the bell rings for prayer.” The grandmother knew very well that there were two of them.
Off flew Stineli, like a bird whose cage-door has suddenly been opened; and outside stood Rico, who had been waiting for a long time. They went on together, across the meadow towards the wood.
On the mountains the sun was shining brightly, and the blue heavens lay over all the landscape. They were obliged to pass, for a little while, through the shade in the snow; but the sun was shining a little farther on, and shimmered on the waters of the lake, and there were lovely dry spots on the slope that was almost hanging over the lake.
There the children seated themselves. A sharp wind came down from the heights, and whistled about their ears. Stineli was as happy as happy could be. She shouted out, again and again, “Oh, look, Rico; look! How beautiful it is in the sun! Now summer has come, look how the lake glistens! There cannot be a more beautiful lake than this one anywhere,” she said confidently.
“Yes, yes, Stineli! You ought to see the lake I know about just once,” said Rico; and looked so longingly across the lake, that it seemed as if that which he wanted to see began just beyond their vision.
“Over there are no dark fir-trees, with sharp needles, but shining green leaves, and great red flowers; and the mountains are not so high and dark, nor so near, but lie off in the distance, and are purple; and the sky and the lake are all golden and still and warm. There the wind does not feel like this, and one’s feet never get full of snow; and one can sit all day long on the sunny ground, and look about.”
Stineli was quite carried away by this description. She already saw the red flowers and the golden lake before her eyes, and seemed to know exactly how beautiful it all was.
“Perhaps you may be able to go there again to see it all, Rico. Do you know the way?”
“You must cross the Maloja. I have been there with my father once. He pointed me out the road that goes all the way down the mountain,–first this way, then that, and far below lies the lake; but so far, so far, that it is scarcely possible to go there.”
“Oh! that is easy enough,” said Stineli. “You have to go farther and farther, that is all; and at the end you will surely get there.”
“But my father told me something else. Do you know, Stineli, when you are travelling and stop at an inn, and eat something and sleep there, then there is something to pay, and you must have money for that.”
“Oh! we have lots of money,” cried Stineli triumphantly. But her companion was not triumphant.
“That is exactly as good as nothing. I know that by the affair of the fiddle,” he said sadly.
“Then it will be better for you to stay at home, Rico. Look! it is beautiful here at home, I am sure.”
The lad sat thoughtfully silent for a long time, leaning his head on his hand, and his eyebrows brought in a close line down over his eyes. At last he turned again to Stineli, who had been gathering the soft green moss that grew around the spot where they were lying, and of which she made a tiny bed with two pillows and a coverlet. She meant to carry them home to the sick Urschli.
“You say I had better stay at home, Stineli; but, do you know, it is just as if I did not know where my home really is.”
“Oh, dear me! what do you mean?” cried the girl; and in her surprise she threw away a whole handful of moss. Your home is here, of course. It is always home where father and mother”–She stopped suddenly. Rico had no mother, and his father had been away now for a very long time; and the cousin? Stineli never went near that cousin, who had never spoken one pleasant word to her. The child did not know what to say, but it was not natural to her to remain long in uncertainty. Rico had already fallen into one of his reveries, when she grasped him by the arm, and said,–
“I should just like to know something; that is, the name of the lake where it is so lovely.”
Rico pondered. “I do not know,” he said; and felt very much surprised himself as he spoke.
Now Stineli proposed that they should ask somebody what it was called; for even if Rico had ever so much money, and was able to travel, he must know how to inquire the way, and what the name of the lake was. They began at once to think of whom they should inquire,–of the teacher, or of the grandmother.
At last it occurred to Rico that his father would know better than anybody else, and he thought he would certainly ask him when he came home again.
The time had slipped away quickly as they sat talking, and presently the children heard the distant sound of a bell. They recognized the sound. It was the bell for prayers.
They sprang up quickly, and ran off, hand in hand, down the hill-side through bushes, and through the snow across the meadow; and it had scarcely stopped ringing when they reached the door where the grandmother was on the lookout for them.
Stineli had to go at once into the house, and her grandmother said quickly, “Go home directly, Rico, and do not hang around the door any longer.”
The grandmother had never said such a thing to him before, although he had always been in the habit of hanging around the door; for he was never in haste to go home, and stood always for a while before he could make up his mind to enter. He obeyed at once, however, and went into the house.
A SAD HOUSE, BUT THE LAKE GETS A NAME.
Rico did not find his cousin in the sitting-room; so he went to the kitchen, and opened the door. There she stood; but before he could enter, she raised her finger, saying, “Sch! sch! Do not open and shut the doors, and make a noise, as if there were four of you. Go into the other room, and keep still. Your father is lying in the bedroom up there. They brought him home in a wagon: he is sick.”
Rico went into the room, seated himself on a bench, and did not stir.
He sat there for at least a half-hour. Presently he heard the cousin moving about in the kitchen. Then he thought that he would go up very softly, and peep into the bedroom. Perhaps his father would like something to eat: it was long past the meal-time.
He slipped behind the stove, mounted the little steps, and went very softly into the bedroom. After a while he returned, went at once into the kitchen, approached quite close to his cousin, and said softly,–
“Cousin, come up.”
The woman was about to strike him angrily, when she happened to glance at his face. He was perfectly colorless,–cheeks and lips as white as a sheet, and his eyes looked so black that the cousin was almost afraid of him.
“What is the matter with you?” she asked hastily, and followed him almost involuntarily.
He mounted the little steps softly, and entered the chamber. His father lay on the bed with staring, wide-open eyes,–he was dead.
“Oh, my God!” screamed the cousin, and ran crying out of the door that opened upon the passage on the other side of the room, went down the staircase, and across into the opposite house, where she called out to tell the neighbor and the grandmother the sad news; and thence she ran on to the teacher and to the mayor.
One after another they came, and entered the quiet room until it was full of people; for the news spread from one to another of what had taken place. And in the midst of all the tumult, and of all the clamor of the crowd of neighbors, Rico stood by the bedside speechless, motionless, and gazed at his father. All through the week the house was filled with people who wished to look at the man, and hear from the cousin how it had all happened; so that the lad heard it repeated over and over, that his father had been at work down in St. Gall on the railroad.
He had received a deep wound on the head when they were blasting a rock; and, as he could not work any longer, he wished to go home to take care of himself until the wound was healed. But the long journey–sometimes on foot, sometimes in an open wagon–was too much for him; and when he had reached his home on Sunday, towards evening, he he had lain down on the bed never to rise again. Without any one knowing it, he had passed away; for he was already stiff when Rico had found him. On the following Sunday the burial took place. Rico was the only mourner to follow the coffin. Several kind neighbors joined in, and thus the little procession went on to Sils. In the church, Rico heard the pastor when he read out, “The deceased was called Henrico Trevillo, and was a native of Peschiera on the Lake of Garda.”
These words brought the feeling to Rico that he had heard something that he knew perfectly well before, and yet could not recollect. He had always seen a picture of the lake before his eyes when he had sung,–
with his father, but he had never known the reason. He repeated the name softly to himself, while one old song after another arose in his memory.
As he came back from the burial all alone, he saw the grandmother seated on the log of wood, and Stineli by her side. She beckoned him to come over to them. She gave the lad a bit of cake and another to Stineli, and said now they might go off together for a walk. Rico ought not to be alone.
So the children rambled off together, hand in hand. The grandmother remained seated on her log, sadly gazing after the black-haired lad until they had wandered slowly up the hillside and passed out of sight. Then she said softly to herself,–
“Whate’er He does, or lets be done,
Is always for the best.”
Along the road from Sils came the teacher leaning on his staff. He had assisted at the burial. He coughed and cleared his throat; and as he drew near to the grandmother and bade her “good evening,” he seated himself by her side. “If you have no objection, I will sit here with you for a few moments, neighbor,” said he; “for I feel very badly in my throat and chest. But what can we expect when we are almost seventy years old, and have witnessed such a funeral as this one to-day? He was not thirty-five years of age, and as strong as a tree.”
“It always sets me thinking,” said the grandmother, “when I, an old woman of seventy-five years, am left, and here and there a young person is called away,–a useful one, too.”
“Yet the old folks are good for something. Who else can set an example to the youth?” remarked the teacher. “But what is your opinion, neighbor: what will become of the little fellow over yonder, do you think?”
“Yes, what will become of him?” repeated the old woman. “I also ask myself that question; and if my only reliance were upon human help, I should not know of an answer. But there is a heavenly Father who looks after the forsaken children. He will provide something for the lad.”
“Will you not tell me, neighbor, how it happened that the Italian married the daughter of your friend who lived over there opposite? One never knows how these people may turn out.”
“It happened as such things always happen, neighbor. You know how my old friend Anne-Dete had lost all her children, and her husband also, and lived alone in the cottage over yonder with Marie-Seppli, who was a merry little girl. About eleven or twelve years ago Trevillo made his appearance here. He had work in the Maloja, and came down here with the other boys; and he and Marie-Seppli had scarcely become acquainted before they were resolved to have each other.
“And it must be said, in justice to Trevillo, that he was not only a handsome fellow who was agreeable to everybody, but also an industrious and well-conducted man, with whom Anne-Dete (the mother) was well pleased. Naturally she wished that they should stay in the house and live with her, and Trevillo would gladly have done so. He was fond of his wife’s mother, and he always did as Marie-Seppli wished him to. He had taken her, however, towards the Maloja in his walks, and they had together looked down the road where you can see how far it goes winding down the mountain; and he had told her how every thing was down there where he was born. So Marie-Seppli got it into her head that she must go there, and no matter how much her mother worried and fretted, and said that they could not live there, she still was bent upon going; and Trevillo himself said that as to living there she need not fear, for he had a nice little property and a house; but, for his part, he would like to see a little of the world. But the bride prevailed, and after the wedding she was all for starting directly down the mountain.
“She wrote to her mother occasionally that it was very nice where they lived, and that Trevillo was the best of husbands.
“About five or six years later, who should walk into the room where Anne-Dete was sitting but Trevillo, leading a little boy by the hand. He said, ‘There, mother, this is the only thing I have left of Marie-Seppli. She lies buried down yonder with her other little children. This one was her first, and her favorite.’
“This is what my old friend told me. Then he threw himself down on the bench where he had first seen his wife, saying that he should like to make his home there with her and the boy, if she had no objection, for down below it was not possible for him to continue to live. This was joy and sorrow at the same time for Anne-Dete.
“Little Rico was then about four years old,–a quiet, thoughtful boy, never noisy or mischievous, and the very apple of her eye; but she died in the course of a year, and Trevillo was advised to take a cousin of hers to keep house for him and his boy.”
“So, so!” said the teacher when the old woman was silent, having finished her story. “I had not understood all this thoroughly before. Perhaps some of Trevillo’s relations will come forward, in good time, and they can be asked to do something for the child.”
“Relations!” said the grandmother with a sigh. “That cousin is a relation, and little enough of comfort he gets from her in the course of the year.”
The schoolmaster rose with difficulty from his seat. “I am going down-hill, neighbor,” he said, shaking his head. “I cannot imagine where my strength has gone to.”
The old woman encouraged him, and said he was still a young man in comparison with her. But, in truth, it did surprise her to see how slowly and painfully he walked as he left her.
A PRECIOUS LEGACY, AND A PRECIOUS PRAYER.
Many beautiful Sundays followed; and, whenever it was possible, the grandmother so arranged it that Stineli got, now and then, a spare moment; but the work in the house increased daily. Rico passed many hours standing on the threshold of his cottage looking longingly across the way, in the hope of seeing Stineli come out.
Towards September, when people often sat before their houses in order to enjoy, to the utmost, the last warm evenings of the season, the schoolmaster placed himself before his door, but he looked very thin and coughed continually; and at last, one morning when he tried to rise, his strength deserted him completely, and he fell back upon his pillow.
There he lay very still, and busy with all sorts of thoughts; and he wondered what would come to pass when he died. He had no children, and his wife had been dead for a long time, and there was only in old maid-servant to live with him and take care of the house. He was principally occupied in thinking of what would become of all the things that belonged to him when he should be gone; and, as his fiddle hung directly opposite to him on the wall, he said to himself, “I must leave that behind me too.”
Then he remembered the day when Rico stood before him and played on the instrument, and he felt as if he had rather let the boy have the fiddle than to let it go to a distant cousin who did not understand the use of it at all. And he thought that, if it were to go very cheap, perhaps Rico could buy it. Presently he bethought himself that if he could not use the violin, neither would he have any use for money. For all that, he could not bring himself to let the instrument, for which he had paid down six hard gulden, go for nothing.
So he pondered and pondered how he could manage to obtain something in exchange; but at last it was quite clear to him that there, where he was fast going, he could not take his violin with him, neither could he take any thing that he might get for it, for all must remain behind.
While he was lying there the fever became greater and greater, and he lay, towards evening and all night long, fighting with all sorts of strange thoughts, and old, long-forgotten events rose before his mind and perplexed him; so that at last, towards morning, he lay on his bed utterly exhausted, and with only one thought or wish,–viz., to be able to do one kind deed, one good action, and that quickly, before it was too late. He knocked against the wall with his stick until the old maid-servant heard him and came in to him; and then he sent her over to the grandmother, to ask her to come to him as quickly as possible.
She did come almost immediately; and before she had fairly time to ask him how he found himself, he said,–
“Will you be so good as to take down the fiddle that hangs there on the wall, and give it to the little orphan boy? I wish to make him a present of it, and he must be very careful of it.”
Naturally the good woman was very much surprised, and could not refrain from exclaiming repeatedly, “What will Rico do with it? What will Rico say to this?” Presently she noticed, however, that the schoolmaster seemed a little restless, as if he were in a hurry to have the thing done.
So she left him, and hastened as quickly as possible across the fields with the gift under her arm; for she was also impatient to know how Rico would take this rare piece of good fortune.
He was standing in the doorway of his cottage. At a motion from the grandmother, he ran towards her.
“Here, Rico,” she said, and handed him the violin. “The schoolmaster sends this to you: it is yours.”
The boy stood as if he were in a dream, but it was true. The grandmother was really standing there, holding the fiddle out to him.
Trembling with pleasure and excitement, he took his present at last, put it on his arm, and gazed at it in a silly sort of way, as if he thought it might vanish presently, as quickly as it had come, if he did not keep his eyes on it.
“You must be very careful of it,” said the old woman, delivering her message faithfully. She was much inclined to laugh, however; for it did not seem to her that the warning was at all necessary. “And, Rico, think about the teacher, and do not forget what he has done for you: he is very ill.”
The grandmother went into the house with these words; and the boy hastened up into his own bedroom, where he was always alone.
There he sat and fiddled, and played on and on, and forgot all about eating or drinking, or how the time sped on. At last, when it was almost dark, he came to himself, and went down-stairs. The cousin came out from the kitchen, saying, “You can have something to eat to-morrow morning. You have behaved so to-day that you won’t get any thing more.”
The boy did not feel hungry, although he had not eaten since the early morning, and went quite unconsciously across into the opposite house, and entered the kitchen. He was looking for the grandmother.
Stineli was standing by the hearth, arranging the fire. When she caught sight of Rico, she shouted aloud for joy; for the ground had almost burned beneath her feet, she had been so impatient all day–ever since her grandmother had told her the great news–to get away, and express her delight to Rico; but she had not dared to leave the house for an instant. Now she was fairly beside herself, and called out, again and again, “You have got it now! You have got it now!”
Hearing the noise, the grandmother came out of the sitting-room; and Rico hastened towards her, saying, “May I go to thank the teacher, if he is sick?”
After thinking a while,–for she remembered how very ill the schoolmaster looked in the morning when she saw him,–the good woman said, “Wait a few moments, Rico, I will go with you;” and stepped into her room to put on a clean apron. Then they went over to the schoolhouse. The grandmother entered first. Rico followed, his fiddle under his arm. He had not once laid it down since it had come into his possession.
The teacher lay on his bed, looking very feeble indeed. The lad stepped to the bedside and looked down at his fiddle and could scarcely speak, but his eyes sparkled so brightly that the good man had no difficulty in understanding him: he cast a pleased look towards the boy, and nodded at him. Then he beckoned the grandmother to draw near. Rico moved a little to one side, and the teacher said with a weak voice, “Grandmother, I should be very glad if you would say ‘Our Father’ for me, I feel so very much troubled.”
Just at this moment the prayer-bell sounded. The grandmother folded her hands and repeated the Lord’s Prayer, and Rico also folded his hands. Every thing was quiet in the room. After a while the grandmother bent over and closed the old teacher’s eyes, for he had passed away. Then she took Rico by the hand, and went softly home with him.
ON THE LAKE OF SILS.
Stineli did not recover herself during the entire week, her joy was so great; but it seemed as if that week were ten days longer than any other, for Sunday seemed never to come.
At last it did come, and a golden sun shone over the harvest fields, and she and Rico went up under the fir-trees, where the sparkling lake lay spread out at their feet; and the girl’s heart was so overflowing with happiness, that she had to dance about and shout aloud before she seated herself on the moss, on the very edge of the slope. There she could see every thing round about,–the sunny heights and the lake, and, stretched over all, the blue heavens.
Suddenly she called out, “Come now, Rico; we will sing,–sing for ever so long.”
So the lad seated himself by Stineli’s side, and placed his fiddle in position,–for he had, of course, brought that too,–and began to play, and the children sang,–
“Little lambkins, come down
From the bright, sunny height,”
until they had sung all the verses; but Stineli had not had half enough.
“We will sing more,” she said, and went on,–
“Little lambkins, above
On the bright, pleasant hill,
The sunlight is sparkling,
The winds are not still.”
And then Rico sang the verse and was pleased and said, “Sing some more.”
Stineli was quite excited: thought a bit, and looked up, then down, and sang again,–
“And the lambkins, and the lambkins, And the heavens so blue;
And red and white flowers,
And the green grasses, too.”
Then Rico fiddled and sung the verse with her, and said again, “Some more.”
Stineli laughed, and, glancing at Rico, sang,–
“And a sad little boy,
And a very gay maid;
And a lake like another,
That from water is made.”
Laughing and singing, Stineli went
“And the lambkins, and the lambkins, They jumped up so high,
And all were most merry,
And did not know why.
“And a boy and a girl
By the lake-side did sit,
And because they forgot it,
It hurt not a bit.”
Now they began at the very beginning, and sang the whole thing through again, and made merry over it, and were so happy that they sang it at least ten times over; and the more they repeated it, the better it sounded to their ears.
After this Rico played several tunes that he had learned from his father; but they soon came back to their own song, and began that again.
In the midst of it the girl stopped and said, “It has just come into my head how you can go down to the other lake, and will not need any money either.”
Rico paused suddenly and gazed at his companion, awaiting what was coming next.
“Don’t you see,” she said earnestly, “now you have a fiddle, and you know a song. You can go and play your song, and sing before the taverns; then the people will give you something to eat and to drink, and let you sleep there, for they will see that you are not a beggar. So you can go on until you reach the lake; and, coming home, you can do the same thing again.”
Rico reflected over these words, but Stineli would give him no time for dreaming: she wanted to go on with the song.
They made so much noise themselves, that they did not hear the prayer-bell at all; and did not notice what time it was until reminded by the growing darkness, and perceived the grandmother looking about anxiously for them before they reached the houses.
But Stineli was too much excited to be subdued by any thing. She ran on towards her grandmother, and said, “You have no idea how beautifully Rico can fiddle; and we have made a song of our own, for ourselves only. We will sing it to you this very moment.”
And before there was time to answer, they began and sang it all through; and the good grandmother listened with real pleasure to their sweet, clear voices.
She seated herself on the log; and, when the children had finished, said, “Come now, Rico, I want you to play for me; and you and I will sing together. Do you know the song that begins,–
“‘I sing to thee with heart and voice?'”
Rico had probably heard the hymn, but he did not know it correctly, and said that he wished first to hear it from the grandmother, and he would follow her softly on his violin, and then he would be sure of it.
So they began; and first the grandmother repeated the words of a verse to the children, and then they all sang it together,–
“I sing to thee with heart and voice, Lord, whom my soul obeys.
I sing, and bid all earth rejoice: Thou teachest me thy praise.
“I know that thou the fountain art
Of joy,–the eternal spring
Which, into every willing heart,
Healing and good dost bring.
“Why do we worry over sin?
Why sorrow night and day?
Come, bring thy load, cast it on Him Who fashioned thee from clay.
“He never yet has done amiss;
And, perfect in His sight,
All that He does or orders is
Sure to be finished right.
“Now only let His will be done,
Nor clamor constantly,
Peace to thy heart on earth will come, And joy eternally.”
“It is well,” said the grandmother. “Now we know a proper evening hymn, and you may go quickly to rest, my children.”
A PERPLEXING AFFAIR.
When Rico entered the cottage that evening it was later than usual, for he had spent a full half-hour in singing the hymn. As he went in, his cousin came flying towards him.
“Are you beginning in this style already?” she called out. “The supper stood waiting for you a whole hour: now I have put it away. Go to your bedroom; and if you turn out a good-for-nothing and a scamp, it is no fault of mine. I don’t know any thing that I had not rather do than look after a boy like you.”
Rico never answered a single word, no matter how much his cousin might scold at him; but this evening he looked at her, and said,–
“I can get out of your way, cousin.”
She shoved the bolt in on the house-door with such violence that the door shook, and went into the sitting-room, slamming that door behind her. Rico went up into his dark little bedroom.
On the following day, as all the big family in the other cottage were eating their supper,–the parents, the grandmother, and all the children,–the cousin came running over, and called out from the door to ask if they knew any thing about Rico: she had no idea where he could be.
“He will come fast enough when it is time for supper,” replied the father quietly.
The cousin entered the room. She had been quite sure that the lad was there, and she expected him to come out if she only stood at the door and asked for him.
Now she went on to tell them that he had not made his appearance at breakfast, nor at dinner-time, and that he had not been in bed the previous night, for she had found it as she had left it; and she believed that he must have gone away very early in the morning before daybreak, wandering about as he was in the habit of doing, for the bolt was pushed aside on the house-door when she went to open it. She thought at first that she must have forgotten to bolt it the night before in her anger, for nobody knew how angry she had been.
“Something has happened to him,” said the father, quite unmoved. “He has probably fallen into some cleft up there on the mountain: it often happens to little boys who go climbing about everywhere.
“You ought to have spoken of it earlier in the day,” he went on slowly. “We shall have to go to look for him, and in the night you can’t see any thing.”
At these words the cousin broke out into a terrible uproar. She expected there would be all sorts of fault found with her; that was always the way when you had suffered for years, and never said any thing about it.
“Nobody would ever believe,” she said,–and spoke a truthful word then, at least,–“what a sly, cunning, deceitful boy that is, and what a life he has led me these four years. He will turn out a regular vagabond, a tramp, a disgraceful creature.”
The grandmother had ceased eating for several minutes. She now rose from the table, and went up to the cousin, who was talking very noisily.
“Stop, neighbor, stop,” she said; and repeated it twice without effect. “I know Rico very well; I have always known him ever since he was brought here to his grandmother. If I were in your place, I would not say another word, but stop to think whether the lad, to whom perhaps something dreadful has happened, and who may be standing up there before God at this moment, may not have some complaint against somebody,–somebody who had done him a heavy injury, all deserted as he is, with her cruel words.”
Since Rico’s disappearance, the way the lad looked at her on that last evening had occurred several times to the cousin’s mind, and how he said,–
“I can easily get out of your way.”
That was why she had made such a noise about it, in order to drown these words. Now she did not dare to look the grandmother in the face, but said that she must go: perhaps Rico might be at the cottage by this time, which she would very gladly have had come true.
From this day forward the cousin never spoke another word against Rico in the grandmother’s hearing; nor, indeed, did she often speak of him at all. She believed, as did all the neighbors far and near, that the lad was dead; and she was thankful that nobody knew about the words he had said to her on that last evening.
The next morning after this event was made known, Stineli’s father went out to the thrashing-floor and picked himself out a stout stick. He said that he would call some of the neighbors together: they must go search for the lad somewhere towards the glaciers and up by the ravines.
Stineli crept out after him, and he said, when he noticed her, “That is right, come and help me to search; you can get into the corners better than I can.”
At last, after they had found a big beanpole, Stineli ventured to say, “But father, if Rico went along the high-road, then he could not fall into any thing, could he?”
“Oh, perhaps he might,” replied her father. “Such thoughtless boys as he often stray off the road, and fall into ravines and places: they don’t know themselves where they are going, and he was always moving about more or less.”
That this was true of Rico nobody knew better than Stineli; and she became dreadfully anxious from that time forth, which anxiety increased every day to such a degree that she could neither eat nor sleep for sorrow, and did her work, day after day, as if she did not know what she was about.
Rico was not found: nobody had seen any thing of him. They ceased to search for him, and the folks soon began to find consolation in the thought, “It is just as well for the little fellow, after all; he was forsaken, and had no one to care for him.”
A LITTLE LIGHT.
Stineli grew more and more thin and quiet from day to day. The little ones called out complainingly, “Stineli never tells us stories now, and never laughs any more.” Her mother said to her father, “Do you notice how changed she is?” And her father replied, “It is because she grows so fast. She must get a little goat’s milk early in the mornings.”
After this had gone on for three weeks or so, Stineli’s grandmother called the girl into her bedroom one evening, and said, “My dear Stineli, I can very well understand that you cannot forget your friend Rico, but you must try to remember that it is God’s will that he should be taken away; and that, as it is so, it is also the best thing for Rico, as we must try to think.”
At these words Stineli began to weep as her grandmother had never seen her do before; and she sobbed and sobbed, saying, “The good God did not do it: I did it, grandmother; and therefore I feel as if I should die of anxiety. It was I who proposed to Rico to go to find the lake, and now he has fallen into a ravine, and is dead; it has hurt him dreadfully, and it is all my fault.” Then the poor child cried and sobbed pitifully. It seemed to the grandmother as if a heavy weight were lifted from her heart as she heard these words of Stineli’s. She had given up Rico as lost; and had in secret believed that the child had fled from the unkind treatment he had received at home, and was lying somewhere in the water, or was lost in the woods. Now a new hope arose in her heart.
She succeeded in quieting Stineli enough to persuade her to relate the whole story about the lake, of which the grandmother was in total ignorance: how Rico had always been talking about this lake, and how he had longed to go to find it, and how, at last, Stineli had suggested the way for him to do so. It really seemed most likely that Rico had started to find the lake, but her father’s mention of the ravines had destroyed all hope in Stineli.
The good old woman took her granddaughter by the hand, and drew her towards her, saying, “Now, Stineli, I have something to explain to you. Do you remember what the old song says,–the one we sang with Rico on the last evening we were together?–
“‘All that He does or orders is
Sure to be finished right.'”
Now you see, that although the good God did not exactly do this thing,–as if He had let Rico die in his bed, for instance,–yet the thing is in His hand all the same, although you have it turned aside, perhaps, a little; for certainly the good God is stronger than this little Stineli. And, now that you have made this sad mistake, it will be a lesson to you for all the rest of your life, no matter how it may turn out in the end, that children should not run away into the unknown world, nor undertake things about which they are utterly ignorant; and that without saying a word to their parents or to their grandmothers, who love them so well. But now the kind God has allowed it to happen, and we may certainly hope that it will all be finished right.
“Now ponder this well, my Stineli, and never forget what you have thus learned by experience; and now–for I see how heavily it weighs down your heart–it will be well for you to go to pray to the good God, that He will allow this mistake of yours and Rico to turn out all right. And then you can be happy again, Stineli, and I shall be so, too; for I believe firmly that Rico is living, and that the good God has not forsaken him.”
And Stineli became after this like her former happy self; and, although she missed Rico constantly, still she no longer felt worried, nor did she reproach herself, but looked continually down the road to Maloja, expecting to see him.
A LONG JOURNEY.
On that memorable Sunday evening, Rico seated himself on the chair in his gloomy bedroom. There he decided to stay until his cousin had gone to bed.
After Stineli had made the discovery that Rico could go with his fiddle down to the much-wished-for lake, the enterprise seemed a very simple thing to the lad,–so easy, that he only thought of the best way to get off. He had a presentiment that his cousin would probably try to hinder him from going, although he felt sure that she would not miss him after he was away.
So, when she began to scold him when he came home, he said to himself, “I will be off as soon as she is once in her bed.”
He had very pleasant thoughts as he sat there in the dark,–of how nice it would be not to hear the scolding voice of his cousin all day long, and of what big bushels of the red flowers he would bring back to Stineli when he returned. And then the picture of the sunny shores of the lake and the purple hills rose before his mind, and he fell asleep. He was not in a very comfortable position, for he had never let his fiddle leave his hand; and he soon awoke again, but it was still dark.
Now he had a clear idea of what he would do. He had his Sunday clothes on, which was good; and his cap was also on his head. He took his fiddle under his arm, and went softly down the steps, slipped the bolt aside, and stole out into the cool air of morning.
The dawn was just showing over the mountains, and in Sils the cocks were crowing. Off he walked briskly, to get well away from the houses and to reach the highway. When he once was on the road, he went along merrily; for he felt quite at home there, he had so often traversed the ground with his father. He could form no idea of how far it really was to the Maloja; and indeed it seemed very long to him, after he had been going for two good hours. Little by little it grew brighter, however; and in about an hour more, when he reached the place before the tavern upon the Maloja, where he used to stand with his father and gaze down the mountain road, the sunny light of morning lay upon the mountains, and the tips of the fir-trees were all touched with gold.
Rico seated himself upon the edge of the roadside. He was very tired, and remembered suddenly that he had not eaten any thing since the noonday meal of the day before. But he was not discouraged, for now the way was all down hill; and, after that, he should undoubtedly reach the lake.
While he sat there, the big post-wagon came rumbling along. He had often seen it as it came through Sils, and always thought that the very greatest happiness upon earth must be experienced by the driver, who sat all day long on the box, and controlled his four horses with his whip. Now he saw this happy creature nearer; for the post-wagon stopped, and the lad never once removed his eyes from the wonderful man, as he came down from his perch, stepped into the inn, and came out again with an enormous piece of black bread in his hand, upon which lay a large piece of cheese.
Next, the driver drew out a strong knife, cut a good big bit of bread, and gave each horse a mouthful in turn, not forgetting himself in the meantime; but upon his own piece of bread he put an equally big morsel of cheese. As they all stood there, eating in happy companionship, the man looked about a little, and presently called out, “Hulloa, little musician! won’t you join us too? Come hither.”
Now when Rico saw them all eating, he fully realized how very hungry he was. He most gladly accepted the invitation, and approached the driver, who cut such a big slice of bread and also of cheese to give the lad, that Rico did not really know how he should manage to eat it.
He was obliged to put his fiddle down on the ground; and the coachman looked on very complaisantly while the boy ate his breakfast, and said, while he followed his own occupation,–
“You are a very small fiddler. Do you know how to play something?”
“Oh, yes! two songs, besides those I learned from my father,” replied Rico.
“Really! And where are you going to on your two little legs?” said the driver. “To Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda,” was the serious answer.
At these words, the coachman burst into such boisterous laughter that the boy gazed up at him in great astonishment.
“Well, you are a good one to travel,” cried the man, still laughing.” Have you any notion how far it is, and that a little musician like you could wear out his two feet, and his soles, too, before he could catch sight of a single drop of the water of the Lake of Garda? Who sends you down there?”
“Nobody. I go of my own accord.”
“Well, I never have seen the like of you before,” said the man, still laughing good-naturedly. “Where, then, is your home, my boy?”
“I do not know exactly. It may be on the Lake of Garda,” was the serious answer.
“What sort of reply is that?”
So saying, the coachman looked with some curiosity at the little figure before him, which certainly did not betray any signs of being neglected. On the contrary, the head, with its black curly hair, and the nice Sunday suit of clothes, gave the lad a very genteel appearance; and his delicate features and earnest eyes bore unmistakable evidence to something noble in his character, and any one who looked at him once was certain to repeat the glance with pleasure.
Such was also the case with the driver. He gazed steadfastly at Rico, and presently said, kindly, “You carry your passport in your face, my boy; and it is not a bad one either, even if you do not know where you belong. What will you give me now, if I will carry you along with me down yonder, on the box?”
Rico stared, for he could scarcely believe his ears at these words. To sit on that high post-wagon, and drive down into the valley! Such luck could never, never be his; of that he was sure. Besides, what had he to give the coachman in exchange?
“I have only my fiddle in the world, and I cannot give that away,” he said sadly, after thinking a while.
“Well, I should not know what to do with that box,” laughed the driver “Come along. We will get up there, and you may play me a little music.”
Rico could not trust his ears; but, sure enough, the coachman pushed him up over the wheel to the top of the coach, climbing up after him. The passengers had all taken their places, the doors were closed, and away they rolled down the road.–the well-known road over which Rico had so often longingly gazed, wishing that he could travel it.
Now his wish was realized. High up between heaven and earth he seemed to be flying, and could not believe that he was not in a dream.
The coachman was revolving in his own mind the question of the boy’s belongings.
“Just tell me, now, you little travelling bundle, where your father lives.”
He asked this after having cracked his whip many times in succession as loud as he could.
“He is dead.”
“Oh, dear! Well, where is your mother, then?”
“She is dead, too.”
“Well, there is always a grandfather and a grandmother, or something. Where are yours?”
“At any rate, everybody has some brothers or sisters; where are yours, I should like to know?”
“All are dead,” was the sorrowfully repeated answer.
When the driver had convinced himself that they were all gone, he ceased his questions about the relatives, and began in another direction with, “What was your father’s name?”
“Henrico Trevillo of Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda.”
At last the driver thought he had got at the root of the matter, and said to himself this boy had strayed away, or been carried away, from his home down below there, and it is a good thing for him to get carried back where he belongs; and he thought no more about the affair.
Presently they passed the first very steep bit of the hill, and came to an even stretch of ground, and the driver said, “Now, musician, let us have a jolly song to cheer the way.”
Full of satisfaction, and much elated at his high position on his throne under the blue heaven, the boy took his instrument and began to sing in his strong, clear tones,–
“Little lambkins, come down.”
Now it happened that there were three students seated up on the top of the post-wagon: they were off on a vacation trip, and very merry.
So when Rico carolled forth Stineli’s song in his gayest manner, they all burst out laughing and shouted, “Stop, singer, stop, and begin over again; we want to sing with you.”
Rico obeyed, and the jolly students joined in with all their might,–
“And the lambkins, and the lambkins,”–
and laughed so extravagantly all the time that they drowned the sound of Rico’s fiddle completely. And then one of them would take up the words and sing alone,–
“And if they forgot it,
It hurt not a bit.”
And then the others joined in, and sang as loudly as possible,–
“And the lambkins, and the lambkins.”
And so they went on for a long time. If Rico paused a little, they shouted, “Go on, fiddler; don’t stop yet,” and threw little pieces of money to him over and over again, until he had quite a heap in his cap.
Within the coach the passengers opened the windows, and stuck their heads out to listen to the merry singing.
Rico started off afresh, and the students also. They divided the song into solos and chorus; and the solo sang very solemnly,–
“And one lake, like another, From water is made.”
And then again,–
“And because they forgot it,
It hurt not a bit.”
And the chorus took it up with,–
“And the lambkins, and the lambkins.”
Then they laughed so that they were almost dead, and were forced to be still for very fatigue and want of breath.
Presently the driver stopped, for it was time for the horses to rest, and also dinner-time. While the good man helped Rico down, he held the little fellow’s cap firmly for him, for it had a lot of money in it, and the boy was busy enough with holding his fiddle carefully.
The coachman was perfectly delighted when he saw the money, and said, as he gave Rico the cap, “That is first rate; now you can have a good dinner.”
The students leaped down one after the other, and crowded around the fiddler to have a look at him, for they could not see him very well on the top of the coach; and when they discovered what a tiny manikin he was, they began to make merry again. Judging from his voice, they had expected to see a large, strong musician; and the sight of this child seemed to make the fun twice as funny.
They took the little fellow up between them, and carried him with singing and laughter into the inn. There they seated him at the table between two gentlemen, and said that he was their guest; and they all helped him one after the other, and put huge pieces upon his plate, for no one would be outdone by the others in serving him; and the boy had certainly never eaten such a dinner in all his life as he ate that day.
“Tell us where you learned your beautiful song?” asked one of three.
“Stineli made it up,” replied Rico, very seriously.
The students looked at each other at these words, and burst out again with laughter.
“So Stineli made it up, did she? Then we must drink her health over it.”
Rico had to join in drinking the toast, and was nothing loath to drink to Stineli’s health.
But now the time for resting and eating was over; and while they were all taking their places to go on their journey, a stout man came towards Rico,–a man who had such a big stick in his hand, that it looked as if he had torn up a young tree for his walking-stick. He was dressed in a thick, golden-brown stuff from head to foot.
“Come here, little one,” he said to Rico. “How nicely you did sing! I heard you here, inside the coach; and my business is also with sheep, for, you know, I am a sheep-dealer; and I want to give you something, because you can sing about them so prettily.”
With these words he put a big piece of silver in Rico’s hand, for the cap had been emptied by this time, and the contents transferred to the boy’s pocket.
After this the man got into the coach, and the driver lifted Rico up to his high seat as if the boy had been a mere feather, and off they went.
As soon as the speed of the start had a little abated, the students called for more music, and Rico played every thing that he could remember ever having heard his father play; and at the end he played,–
“I sing to thee with heart and voice.”
But this tune must have put the students to sleep, for every thing became quite still; and at last the riddle was silent. The evening breeze stirred gently, and the stars climbed silently up into the sky one after the other, until they were shining brightly in every direction.
Rico looked about, and thought of Stineli, of the grandmother, of what they were now doing; and it occurred to him that this was the very time at which the prayer-bell usually rang, and when they were saying “Our Father.” He did the same, to be with them in that, at least: folded his hands, and said his prayer piously under the brilliant heavens.
IT STILL GOES ON.
At last Rico also fell asleep. He only awoke when the driver took hold of him to lift him down. All the passengers descended; and the three students came to the lad, shook him kindly by the hand, and wished a happy journey. One of them called out, “Greet Stineli very kindly for us.” Then they disappeared up one of the streets, and Rico could hear them as they sang merrily,–
“And the lambkins, and the lambkins,”
Rico now stood alone in the darkness. He had not the slightest idea where he was, nor of what he ought to do next. He presently remembered that he had not even thanked the kind coachman who had allowed him to come all this way on the coach, and he felt that he must do that at once.
The coachman and his horses were both invisible, and nothing but darkness was about the boy. At last he espied a lantern hanging up somewhere in the distance, and went towards the light. It was hanging on the stable-door, and the horses were just then brought in. Near the door stood the man with the thick stick. He seemed to be waiting for the driver; so Rico took his stand near by, and waited too.
Probably the sheep-dealer did not recognize the little fiddler in the darkness; but suddenly he exclaimed, quite surprised, “What! is that you, little one? Where are you going to pass the night?”
“I do not know where,” replied the boy.
“Well, I never heard of such a thing; at eleven o’clock at night, and a little scrap of a boy like you in a strange place”–
The sheep-dealer seemed to speak in a great hurry, for he could scarcely breathe in his excitement; neither did he finish his sentence, for the driver entered the stable at that moment, and Rico went up to him at once, saying, “I want to thank you for bringing me along with you.”
“You have come just in the nick of time. I had almost forgotten you while I was looking after my horses, and I wanted to hand you over to an acquaintance. I was thinking of asking you, good friend,” he continued, turning towards the dealer, “if you would not take this little chap along with you, as you are going to Bergamo. He wants to go somewhere on the Lake of Garda. He is one of those who belong here or there. You understand, don’t you?”
The sheep-dealer thought of the stories he had heard of lost or stolen children. He looked with pity at Rico, standing in the dim light of the lantern, and said, “He does look as if he were not in exactly the clothes that belong to him. He would become a richer dress, I am sure. I will take him with me.”
When he had talked over the sheep-trade a little with the coachman they parted, and the dealer made a sign to Rico that he should follow him.
After a short walk, the man entered an inn, where he seated himself in a corner of the eating-room with the boy beside him.
“Now let us look at your possessions,” he said to Rico, “so that we can see what they will allow you to have. Where are you going on the lake?”
“To Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda.”
This was Rico’s never-failing answer. He drew out his money from his pocket,–a nice little pile of small coins it was, and the big silver bit on the top of all.
“Have you only that one bit of silver?” asked the dealer.
“Yes; only that one. You gave me that,” replied the boy.
It pleased the man to think that he was the only one who had given silver; and he was also pleased that the lad was aware of the fact. He felt as if he wanted to give him something more. Just at this moment his supper was placed before him, and the kindly man nodded to his little companion, saying, “I will pay for this, and for your night’s lodging also; so you need not touch your little fortune until to-morrow.”
Rico was so tired out with all the fiddling and singing, and the long journey, that he could scarcely eat; and as soon as he reached the big bedroom where he was to pass the night with his protector, he was asleep the moment he had put his head on the pillow.
Early the following morning, Rico was awakened from a sound sleep by a powerful grasp. He sprang quickly out of bed. His companion stood ready dressed for the journey, with his big stick in his hand.
It was not long, however, before Rico was also ready, with his fiddle tucked under his arm. They went into the dining-room, and the dealer called for coffee at once. He recommended the lad to make a good meal then; for they had a long journey before them, he said, and one that created an appetite.
When they had breakfasted to their satisfaction, they sallied forth; and, after a little, came round a sharp corner; and how Rico did open his big eyes! for there, before him, lay a great shining lake; and much excited, he shouted out, “Now we are on the Lake of Garda!”
“Not for a long time yet, my boy. This is the Lake of Como.”
They went on board a boat, and sailed for several hours after this; and Rico looked about him,–at the sun-bathed shores, and then at the blue waters; and he felt at home at last.
Presently he took his piece of silver from his pocket, and put it down on the table before the dealer.
“What does this mean? Have you too much money by you?” asked the man, who was looking on in surprise, his arms supported on his big stick.
“I must pay to-day,” said Rico. “You said so yesterday.”
“You are very attentive to what is said to you. That is a very good thing; but that is not the way to do, to put your money down on a table like that. Give it to me.”
He took it, and went over to pay for their passage; but when he drew out his heavy leathern purse, full of silver pieces,–for he was doing a large business in selling sheep,–he could not find the heart to take the poor lad’s solitary bit of silver; and he brought it back again with the ticket, saying, “There, you can find better use for your money to-morrow. Now you are with me, but who knows how it will be after this? When you are alone down there, and I am not with you any more, shall you be able to find the house where you are going?”
“No; I do not know any thing about the house,” replied Rico.
The man was secretly much surprised, and the lad’s story seemed very mysterious to him. He did not let this appear, however, and asked no further questions. He said to himself that he should not probably find out any thing more at present, but would ask the coachman about it the next time they met. He probably knew the truth, even better than the child himself did. He felt very sorry for the little fellow, who would soon be deprived of his protection too.
When the boat stopped, the man took Rico’s hand in his, saying, “Now I shall not lose you, and you can keep up with me better, for we must hurry along; they won’t wait for us.”
It was as much as the little fellow could do to keep up with his friend. He did not turn to look to the right hand nor the left, but presently stopped before some strange-looking wagons on wheels. They mounted the step, Rico behind his companion; and the former entered a railroad carriage for the first time.
They flew along for several hours, until at last the dealer stood up, and said, “Now I must go. We are in Bergamo, and you are to stay here quietly; for I have arranged it all for you. You have only to get out when you get there.”
“Then shall I be at Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda?” asked Rice.
His companion replied in the affirmative. At last Rico understood–what he had not clearly seen before–how much kindness the dealer had shown to him, and the boy felt very sorry that they must part.
After this Rico sat alone in his corner, and had plenty of time for day-dreaming; for nobody troubled him in any way, although the train had stopped at several stations since his companion left him.
At last the conductor came in, took Rico by the arm, and led him quickly to the door, and lifted him down the steps; then, pointing towards the heights in the distance, he said briefly, “Peschiera;” and in a twinkling he was back again in the carriage, and disappeared in the train as it steamed off.
ON THE DISTANT, BEAUTIFUL LAKE.
Rico went forward a little way from the building at which the train had stopped, and looked about. This white house, the barren square in front of it, the straight road in the distance, were all new and strange to his eyes. He had not seen any of them before; and he said to himself, “I have not come to the right place after all.” He went sadly down the road between the trees, however, until presently the road made a turn, and the boy stood as if transfixed, and believed himself dreaming, for before him lay the lake, heavenly blue in the brilliant sunlight, with its warm, still shores; and yonder were the mountains, and the sunny bay was there, where the friendly houses sparkled in the distance.
Now he knew where he was. He had seen all this before, he had stood in this very place, he knew the trees perfectly well; but where was the cottage? It must have stood there, close to where he now was, but it was not visible.
The old road was there below. Oh! he knew that well; and there, there were the great shining red flowers with such green leaves. A little stone bridge ought to be there, somewhere over the outlet of the lake: he had often passed over that little bridge, but could not see it where he stood, however.
Rico started off, as if driven by the longing that now took possession of him. Down the road he ran; and over there,–yes, that was the little stone bridge. Every thing came back to him: there he had crossed, and somebody held him by the hand,–his mother. Suddenly his mother’s face came before his eyes quite distinctly; he had never seen it so clearly before. He remembered how she had stood there and looked at him with loving eyes. It all came back to his mind with a rush.
He threw himself down on the ground by the bridge, and cried and sobbed aloud, “O mother! where are you, mother? Where is my home, mother?”
He lay there for a long, long time, and cried until his great sorrow was somewhat stilled. He thought his heart must burst, and as if all the grief that had been hitherto pent up within his bosom must now find an outlet.
When at last he raised himself from the ground, the sun had already declined in the heavens, and the golden twilight lay over the lake. The mountains were turning purple, and a sunny mist lay all over the shores. This was the way his lake had always looked to Rico in his dreams, only the reality was even more lovely than he had remembered it.
And his great wish rose again in his mind as he sat there, “Oh, if I could show this to Stineli!”
At last the sun sunk below the horizon, and the light slowly died out. Rico arose, and passed along the road towards the red flowers. A narrow lane branched off from the main road at this place. There they stood, one bush after another: it looked like a great garden. There was, truly, only an open fence about the whole; and within the flowers, the trees, and the grape-vines were all growing together.
At the farther end stood a pretty house with wide open doors; and in the garden a lad was moving about cutting big bunches of golden grapes now from this vine, now from that, all the while whistling merrily.
Rico gazed at the flowers, and thought, “If Stineli could only see them!” He stood for a long time thoughtfully by the fence. Presently the lad espied him, and called out, “Come in, fiddler; and play a pretty song, if you know one.”
The lad spoke in Italian, and it produced a strange sensation in Rico’s mind: he understood what he heard, but he never could have said it himself. He entered the garden, and the lad began to try to talk with him; but when he found that Rico could not reply, he pointed towards the open door, giving Rico to understand that he was to go there to play.
When Rico approached the door, he found that it opened directly into a bedroom. A little bed stood within, near which was seated a woman who was knitting with red yarn. Rico placed himself before the threshold, and began to play and sing his song,–
“Little lambkins, come down.”
When he had finished, the pale face of a little boy was suddenly raised from the pillows of the bed; and Rico heard the words,–
Rico played another tune.
“Play again” was repeated. This went on for five or six times, until Rico had exhausted his stock of songs and tunes; and he put his fiddle under his arm, and was moving away, when the little boy began to call out piteously,–
“Oh, do stay! Do play again! Play something else!” Then the woman stood up, and came towards Rico.
She placed something in his hand, and at first he did not understand what she wanted; but presently he remembered what Stineli had said, that if he went to a door, and played on his fiddle, the people would give him something. The woman asked him kindly where he came from, and where he was going to; but he could not answer her. She then asked if he were with his parents? He shook his head. If he were alone? He nodded assent. Where he was going so late in the evening? Rico shook his head, to denote uncertainty. A great pity took possession of the woman for the little stranger; and she called to the boy who worked in the garden, and bade him conduct the fiddler to the inn of the “Golden Sun.” Perhaps the landlord would understand his language, for he had been away in foreign parts for a long time. She bade the gardener to say to the landlord that she wished him to let the lad stay there over night, that she would pay for it; and, in the morning, set the little fellow off in the right direction towards his destination. He was so young,–“only a little older than my boy,” she added, compassionately; and also would the landlord give the boy something to eat.
Again the child on the bed called out, “He must play again;” and would not stop until his mother said, “He will come again. Now he must sleep, and you too.”
The gardener walked on in advance of Rico, who knew, however, what was to be done; for he had understood what the woman said perfectly.
In about ten minutes they had reached the town. In one of the little streets the gardener entered a house, and proceeded at once to the dining-room, which was filled with tobacco-smoke, and with men seated at little tables all about.
Then the gardener gave his message, to which the landlord replied, “It is all right.” The landlady came too, and both looked Rico over from head to foot. When the guests at the neighboring tables espied the fiddle under Rico’s arm, several of them called out together, “There is music!” And another one shouted, “Play something, boy, quickly; something gay!” And they all began to shout for music so noisily that the landlord could hardly make Rico hear him when he asked what language he spoke, and whence he came. Rico replied in his own language that he