"You can have this every morning, if you will, and something much better at dinner and supper time; for then there is cooking for the guests, and there is always something left over. You can do errands for me in return for it; and you can make this your home, and have your bedroom to yourself, and not be obliged to go wandering about in the world. Now it lies with you to decide."
To this Rico replied, simply,—
"Yes, I will;" for he could say that in the language in which the landlady spoke.
Now she conducted him through the whole house, through the out-buildings, the stable, into the vegetable-garden and the hen-house; and she explained the situation of all the places to him, and told him where he must turn to go to the grocer and to the shoemaker, and to all the important trades-people in fact. Rico listened attentively; and, to test his understanding, the landlady sent him at once to three or four places, to fetch a variety of things, such as oil, soap, thread, and a boot that had been mended; for she noticed that the boy could say single words perfectly well.
All these errands were done to her perfect satisfaction; and at last she said, "Now you may go over to Mrs. Menotti with your fiddle, and stay there until the evening."
Rico was delighted at this permission; for he would pass by the lake, and see the beautiful flowers he loved so well.
As soon as he reached the lake-side, over he ran to the little bridge, and seated himself there to watch the beautiful water, and the mountains bathed in golden mist; and he could scarcely tear himself away from it all.
But he did; for he realized now that he had duties toward the landlady, and must obey her, because she gave him food and lodging.
As he entered the garden, the little boy heard his footstep, for the door was always open; and he called out,—
"Come here, and play some more."
Mrs. Menotti came out, and gave her hand kindly to Rico, and drew him into the room with her. It was a large room, and you could look through the wide doorway out into the garden where the flowers were to be seen. The little bed on which the sick child lay was directly opposite the door; and there were only chests and tables and chairs in the room, but no other beds. At night the child was carried into the neighboring room, and his bed also, and was placed there beside his mother for the night; and in the morning he was carried back again, bed and all. For in this large room the sun shone brightly, making long shining stripes across the floor that made a dancing pattern on the ground, and amused the child amazingly. Near the bed stood two little crutches; and now and then his mother lifted the little cripple from his bed, placed the crutches under his arms, and led him about the room once or twice; for he could not walk, nor even stand alone. His little legs were quite paralyzed, and he had never been able to use them at all.
When Rico entered the room, the child pulled himself into a sitting position by means of a long rope that hung down over his bed from the ceiling for that purpose; for he could not sit up without assistance.
Rico went to the bedside, and looked at the child in silence. Such little thin arms and small slender fingers, and such a pale little face, Rico had never seen; and two big eyes looked forth from the face, and gazed at Rico as if they would pierce him through and through; for the child, who seldom saw any thing new, and longed for variety with all his heart, examined every thing that came in his way very sharply.
"What is your name?" asked the child.
"Mine is Silvio. How old are you?"
"And so am I," said the child.
"O Silvio! what are you saying?" said his mother at this. "You are not quite four yet. Time does not go so fast as that."
"Play something more."
The mother seated herself by the bedside. Rico placed himself at a little distance, and began to play on his fiddle. Silvio could not have enough of it; and no sooner had Rico finished one piece than he shouted, "Play another." Six times each, at the very least, had all the pieces been repeated, when Mrs. Menotti went out, and returned with a plate filled with yellow grapes, saying that Rico ought to rest, and sit down by the bedside, and eat some grapes with Silvio.
She went out into the garden herself while the children were eating, and was glad to be able to do so, and to attend to various little matters of her own; for it was seldom that she could leave the bedside of her little cripple, for he would not let her leave him, and cried bitterly for her to return; so it was a real blessing to her to be able to get away for a few moments.
The two boys soon came to a most excellent understanding of each other; for Rico could reply very well to Silvio's questions, and managed to make himself very well understood, even when he could not find exactly the proper words, and it was very amusing to Silvio to talk with him. His mother had plenty of time to look at all the flower-beds, and to examine the fine fig-trees in the orchard, and to overlook every thing, without being called for once by her little boy.
When she returned to the house, however, and Rico arose to take his departure, Silvio set up a great shout, and clung to Rico with both hands, and would not let him go until he had promised to come back the next day, and every day. But Mrs. Menotti was a cautious woman. She had understood the message sent by the landlady as it was intended, and quieted her son, promising him to go herself to the landlady to talk with her; because Rico, she said, was not able to promise to do any thing himself, but must obey the landlady in every thing. At last the child released Rico, and gave him his hand; and the latter reluctantly left the room. He would have vastly preferred to remain there where it was quiet and neat, and where Silvio and his mother were so kind to him.
Several days had slipped by, when, towards evening, Mrs. Menotti made her appearance, dressed in her best attire, in the doorway of the "Golden Sun;" and the landlady ran joyfully to meet her, and led her up into the upper hall. When they were there, Mrs. Menotti asked very politely if it would inconvenience the landlady very much to allow Rico to come over to her two or three times in the week towards evening, he was so amusing, and entertained her little sick son so well. She would gladly recompense the landlady in any way she might think desirable.
It flattered the landlady to have the handsomely dressed Mrs. Menotti thus asking a favor of her; and it was quickly arranged that Rico should go to Mrs. Menotti on every free evening that he had; and in return, Mrs. Menotti promised to provide the orphan's clothing, which pleased the landlady extremely; for now she had really nothing to pay out for the little boy, and he brought her in a great deal of money. So it was arranged to the entire satisfaction of the two women, and they took leave of each other in very friendly terms.
In this way passed many days. Rico could soon speak Italian as if he had always spoken it. And, in truth, he had once spoken it as his native language, so one thing after another came back to him; and as he had a good ear, he soon spoke exactly like an Italian born, so that all who knew him to be a stranger wondered at him. He was very useful to the landlady,—more so even than she had expected would be the case,—for he was so neat and orderly: quite as much so as she herself, if not more, for she was not very patient over her work; and when preparations were necessary for a fete or for a wedding, Rico was called upon to do it, for he had a great deal of taste, and knew how to carry it out in decorations. If he had any errand to do abroad he was back again in an incredibly short time, for he never stopped to chatter by the way. If people questioned him, he always turned on his heel and left them. This pleased the landlady mightily when she noticed it, and it created such a feeling of respect for the lad in her mind, that she herself did not question him; and so it came to pass that, indeed, nobody really knew how he came to Peschiera. But a story was spread abroad, that everybody believed, to the effect that he had been left an orphan without protection in the mountains, and neglected and mishandled, so that at last he ran away, suffering many things on the long journey until he reached Peschiera, where the inhabitants were not rough as they are in the mountains, and that he was glad to remain there with them. Whenever the landlady told his story, she did not fail to add, "He deserves it, too,—all the kindness that we show him, and his comfortable home under our roof."
Now the first "dance Sunday" of the season had come, and such an enormous crowd of guests assembled in the "Golden Sun," that there seemed a great doubt if they could all be accommodated there; but everybody wished to see and to hear the little stranger who played so wonderfully; and also they who had heard him on the evening of his arrival were the very first to come, and were impatient for him to play their song again.
The landlady ran hither and thither in her excitement, and glowed and glistened in her heat, as if she were herself the "Golden Sun;" and when she met her husband, she always said triumphantly, "Did not I tell you so?"
Rico heard "dance music" for the first time played by the three fiddlers who came to the inn; but he caught the melodies at once, and had no trouble in playing them, and never forgot them, for they were so often repeated during the long "dance evening," that they became very familiar to him.
After the dancing they wanted their Peschiera song, with Rico's accompaniment; and even if there seemed to be a deal of noise all the early part of the evening, now, in truth, it had really just begun; and they became so excited that little quiet Rico was frightened, and thought they would end by killing each other certainly.
But it was all in friendly wise. He came in for his share, and was so stormily applauded, and his musical performance was hailed with such ear-splitting cries of approval, that his only thought at last was, "Oh, when will this have an end!" for nothing was so very unpleasant to the boy as boisterousness.
In the evening the landlady said to her husband, "Did you notice Rico could play all the pieces with the musicians? Next time we shall only need two fiddlers." And the man replied, well pleased, "We must give Rico something."
Two days later there was a dance in Desenzano, and Rico was sent over there with the fiddlers. Now he was let out for hire. The same noise and merriment was repeated; and, although they did not call for the Peschiera song in Desenzano, still there were plenty of other songs just as noisy, and Rico thought only from beginning to end, "If it were but over!"
He brought a whole pocketful of money home with him, which he poured out in a heap on the table without even counting it, for he thought it was all the landlady's by right; and she praised him in return, and placed a big piece of apple-pie before him for supper. On Sunday again there was dancing in Riva; but this was a pleasure to Rico, for Riva was the spot over across the lake which could be seen from Peschiera, looking like a peaceful little bay, and where the pretty white houses looked so friendly and attractive.
The musicians were rowed all together across the lake in an open boat under the clear heavens; and Rico thought, "Oh, if I could be rowed across here, with Stineli by my side! How astonished she would be at the lake, whose beauty she would not believe in."
But once on the other shore, the noise began again, and the boy became impatient to be off; for the view of Riva from across the lake, lying in the lovely light of evening, was far more beautiful than being there in the midst of the noise and tumult.
However, when there were no dances at which he must play, the lad was always allowed to go in the evening to little Silvio, and to remain as long as he wished; for the landlady was anxious to show her willingness to accommodate Mrs. Menotti. This was always a pleasure to Rico. Whenever he passed along the lake-side, he went over to the little stone bridge, and sat there for a while on the ground; for this was the only place in the world where he had a home-like feeling, because what he saw there he had seen before, and also here the vision of his mother rose most clearly before his memory.
There she had certainly stood by the water-side, and washed something, while she would look around at him occasionally, and say a few loving words; and he was always sitting, he remembered, in that very place where he now sat. He was always most unwilling to leave this spot, but the knowledge that Silvio was constantly listening for him drove him onward.
When he entered the garden, he had also a feeling of contentment; and entered the neat, quiet house with pleasure. Mrs. Menotti had a more truly friendly manner toward him than anybody else, and he was fully sensible of her kindness. She felt the warmest pity for the lonely orphan, as she called him; for she had also heard the story of his escape as it was current in the neighborhood. She never asked him questions concerning his life in the mountains, however; for she thought it would arouse sad memories in his mind. She felt, also, that Rico did not receive the care that a lad of his age and quiet disposition really needed; but she was sensible that she could do nothing in that direction, only to have him with her as often and as long as possible. Often she would place her hand on his head, saying sadly, "Poor little orphan!"
To Silvio, Rico grew more and more necessary every day. Early in the morning he began to fret for him; and when his pain came on he became very restless, and could not be pacified until Rico came. For, since Rico had mastered the language thoroughly, he had developed an inexhaustible fund of stories that delighted the little invalid beyond measure.
Stineli was the theme on which Rico most often fell, and it made him so happy even to talk about her, that he became animated and quite transfigured in the recital. He knew hundreds of stories, such as when Stineli caught little Sami by the leg, once on a time, just as he was about to fall into the water-butt, and how she held him with all her might, while they both screamed as loud as they could until their father came slowly to their aid,—for he always moved slowly. He said that children did nothing but scream: it was their nature, and did not mean that they were in trouble. And he told Silvio how Stineli could cut out figures from paper for Peterli, make all sorts of furniture and things for the baby-house for Urschli from moss, and bits of wood, or any thing that came to hand.
And how they all called and clamored for their elder sister when they were ill, because she told them such wonderful stories that they quite forgot their pains while listening. Rico also told the story of his beautiful walks with Stineli, and became so much excited in his talk that Silvio caught the inspiration, and asked for more and more, calling out, "Tell me about Stineli again!" as soon as Rico paused to take breath. One evening the child broke out into the wildest excitement when Rico took his leave, saying that he would not be able to come on the following day nor on Sunday. Silvio shrieked for his mother as if the house were burning, and he were in the midst of the flames; and as she came hurrying to him from the garden, almost frightened to death at his noise, he declared "Rico should not go again back to the inn; but must stay always, always with them. You must stay here, Rico. You must never, never go away!"
But Rico said, "I would stay most gladly; but I cannot."
Mrs. Menotti was much perplexed. She knew very well how valuable Rico's services were to the inn-keepers, and that she could never obtain him under any consideration. She tried to silence her little son to the best of her ability, while she drew Rico to her side, saying, as was her wont, "Poor little orphan!" Whereupon Silvio called out angrily, "What is an orphan? I want to be an orphan too."
These words aroused his mother; and she cried out, in her turn, "Silvio, you wicked child! Do you know that an orphan is a wretched child, who has neither father nor mother, and no home on all the earth?"
Rico's black eyes were fixed on Mrs. Menotti's face, and then seemed to grow blacker and more black every minute; but she did not notice them. She had ceased to think about the lad while she was giving this explanation of an orphan to her son. The little fellow slipped quietly and unperceived away.
When Mrs. Menotti observed his absence, she thought he had stolen away in order not to excite Silvio further by taking leave, and she was pleased at his thoughtfulness. Seating herself by the bedside of her child, she said, "I want to make you understand how it is, Silvio; and then you will stop being so naughty, I hope. It is not possible to take a child away from any one; and, even if I took Rico from the landlady, she would have a right to come and take you away from me. Then you would not be able to see the garden nor the flowers any more, and would have to sleep quite alone in the room with the harnesses where Rico dislikes so much to sleep. Don't you remember what he has told you about that? What would you do then?"
"Come right home again," said the child decidedly; but he was quite still after that, and soon lay down and slept.
Rico passed through the garden, along the street, and down to the lake. There he sat down on his favorite spot, leaned his head upon his hands, and said, in tones of utter despair, "Now I know the truth, mother. Now I know that I have no home,—none in the whole world."
And there he sat until late in the night, alone with his sad thoughts; and would have rather remained there forever, but he was obliged to go back into his uncomfortable bedroom at last.
SILVIO'S WISHES PRODUCE RESULTS.
But the excitement had not subsided in Silvio's mind, by any means; and now that he knew that two days must elapse before Rico could come again, he began to cry early in the morning, "Rico won't come to-day! Rico won't come to-day!" and scarcely ceased until the evening; and the second day it was the same, but on the third,—he was tired out by that time, and seemed like a little heap of straw, that the least spark could have reduced to ashes.
In the evening Rico made his appearance, quite worn out with the noise and tumult of the dances for which he had been obliged to play. Since he had fully realized that he had no home on the earth, the thought of Stineli had become of more importance than ever, and he said to himself,—
"There is only Stineli in the whole world to whom I belong, or who troubles her head about me!" And he felt a terrible homesickness for Stineli. He had scarcely reached the side of Silvio's bed when he said, "Do you know, Silvio, with Stineli only can one feel perfectly well, and nowhere else." These words were scarcely out of his mouth before the little invalid hoisted himself up like a flash, calling out at the top of his lungs, "Mother, I must have Stineli; Stineli must come; only with Stineli can one feel perfectly well, and nowhere else."
His mother came at his call; and as she had often listened to Rico's stories about Stineli and her brothers and sisters with great interest, she knew at once what they were talking about, and replied, "Yes, yes; it would suit me very well. I could find great use for Stineli for you, and for myself, if I only had her here."
But such an indefinite way of talking did not suit Silvio in the least, for he was interested, heart and soul, in the matter.
"You can have her at once," he cried out. "Rico knows where she is: he must go to fetch her. I want her every day, and always. To-morrow Rico must go to get her: he knows where."
Now that his mother saw that the little fellow had thought the whole thing out, and was really in serious earnest about it, she tried to turn his attention away, and to introduce other thoughts into his mind, for she had often heard the story of the incredible adventures Rico passed through on his journey over the mountains, and of the wonder of his having survived and come down safely, and that the mountaineer were a fearful and wild people. She was, therefore, fully persuaded that nobody could bring a girl away, and certainly not a tender little lad like Rico. He might meet a sad fate, and be lost altogether, if he attempted any thing of the kind; and then she would be responsible for it all. She would not run that risk,—she thought she had enough to bear already.
So she placed all the impossibility of the affair before Silvio's eyes, and told him of the terrible circumstances, and of the wicked men whom Rico would have to encounter, and who might ruin him. But nothing had the slightest effect. The little fellow had set his heart upon this thing as he never had upon any thing before; and whatever his mother brought forward, and no matter how anxiously she insisted, the moment she ceased the child said, "Rico must go to fetch her: he knows where to find her."
Then his mother replied, "And even if he does know, do you mean to say that he would run the risk and go into such dangerous places, when he can live comfortably as he does here, and never have to do with any wicked men again?"
Then Silvio looked at Rico, and said, "Will you go to fetch Stineli, Rico, or not?"
"Yes; I will," said Rico firmly.
"Oh, merciful heavens! now Rico is getting unmanageable too," cried the mother, quite horrified. "And now I do not know what to do. Take your fiddle, Rico, and play something, and sing; I must go into the garden." And the good woman ran quickly forth into the garden under the fig-trees, for she thought that her little son would forget the thing more quickly if he had not a chance to talk to her about it.
But the two good friends within neither played nor sang, but excited each other almost to fever point with all kinds of representations of how Stineli should be brought there, and of what would happen afterwards when she had fairly arrived. Rico utterly forgot to take his leave, although it was quite dark; and Mrs. Menotti purposely remained in the garden, thinking that Silvio would soon fall asleep. At last, however, she did come in, and Rico took his departure at once; but she had a bad time of it with Silvio, after all. He positively would not close his eyes until his mother promised that Rico should go to fetch Stineli; but she could not make any such promise, and the little fellow did not cease insisting until his mother said, "Be quiet, now; the night will set every thing straight." For she thought in the night he will forget his notion, as had often been the case, and he will have some other fancy.
At last the child was quiet and slept; but his mother had miscalculated the affair. Scarcely was it dawn when the little fellow called out from his bed, "Is every thing set straight now, mother?"
As it was impossible for her to reply in the affirmative to this question, the storm broke out again, and a more violent one than she had ever experienced before with her little boy, and lasted through the whole day quite late into the evening; and on the following day the same thing recommenced.
Silvio had never been so persistent in any fancy before. When he screamed and cried she was able to bear it; but when the hours of pain and suffering came, and the child went on whining and complaining in the most touching manner, saying,
"One only feels perfectly well with Stineli, and nowhere else," that cut his mother to the heart, and seemed like a reproach to her, as if she would not do something that might make him well again; but how could she possibly even think of it?
She had heard herself Rico's answer to Silvio when he asked if he knew how to go to Stineli. It was,—
"No, I do not know the way; but I can easily find one."
She went on hoping day after day that Silvio would take up some new whim, as had always before been the case: she had never found it otherwise. If he had wished for something when he was well, he had always given it up when his pain came on. But it was quite different this time, and there really was a reason too. Rico's stories and remarks about his friend Stineli had taken firm possession of the mind of the over-sensitive child; and he believed that nothing would hurt him again, if she were only by his side. So Silvio went on day after day in increasing distress; and his mother did not know where to turn for counsel and support.
COUNSEL THAT BRINGS JOY TO MANY.
In all this trouble and uncertainty it was a real comfort to Mrs. Menotti to see the long black coat of the kind-hearted old priest, who had not been to visit her for a long time, coming through the garden gate.
She sprang up from her seat, crying out joyfully, "Look, Silvio; there comes the dear, good priest!" and went towards him. But Silvio, in his anger over every thing, said, as loud as he could, "I would rather it were Stineli!"
Then he crept quickly under the coverlet, so that the priest need not know where the voice came from. His mother, however, was dreadfully shocked, and begged the good man, who now entered the room, not to take offence at this greeting, as it was not really so bad as it sounded.
Silvio did not stir, but said softly, under the bed-cover,—
"I really mean just what I say."
The father must have had a suspicion of where the voice came from. He stepped at once to the bedside; and, though there was not a hair of Silvio's head even to be seen, he said, "God bless you, my son! how are you? How is your health nowadays? and why do you creep into this hidden hole like a little badger? Come out, and explain it all to me. What do you mean by Stineli?"
Now Silvio crept forth, for he had the priest in great respect now that he was so close to him. He stretched out his little thin hand in greeting, and said, "Rico's Stineli, I mean."
His mother now interposed with the explanation, for the father shook his head very doubtfully as he seated himself by the bedside. The good woman related the whole affair about Stineli, and told how her little boy had got the idea firmly fixed in his noddle that he would never be well again unless this Stineli could come to him; and how even Rico had become unreasonable, and declared that he could go to fetch Stineli, even though he did not know a single stock nor stone of the way; and it was such a long journey up into the mountains, moreover, and it was impossible to realize what horrible people they were who lived up there. But it proved how very bad they must be when a tender little fellow like Rico preferred to incur the great danger of the journey than to remain among such rude folk. "If it were practicable," however, added Mrs. Menotti, "no money would seem to me wasted that would procure me such a girl to quiet Silvio's longing, and to have some one to help take care of him;" for sometimes she had almost too much to endure, and felt as if she must give up altogether. And Rico, who was usually very discreet in his conversation, was of the opinion that nobody could help her so much nor so well in every way as this same Stineli. He ought to know her very well, too; and certainly, if she really corresponded to his description, it would be a great escape for such a girl to get away from the mountains; but she did not know of anybody who would do them such a favor as to bring her.
To all this discourse the kind priest lent an attentive ear in profound silence, until Mrs. Menotti had quite finished. Indeed, he could not have got a word in edgewise if he had been inclined; for the good woman had not opened her heart for a long time, and it was so full that it almost choked her when she gave her words full expression, and she quite lost her breath.
Now quiet reigned for a while, then the good man began very calmly to smoke his second pipe; and presently he said, "H—m, h—m, Mrs. Menotti; I rather think you have an impression of the mountaineers that is decidedly exaggerated. There are good Christians there as elsewhere; and now that there are so many ways of doing things discovered, it would be also quite possible to get up there without danger. We must bethink ourselves about that, and find out about it."
After this opinion, the priest stopped to refresh himself a little from his snuffbox; then he went on:—
"There are all sorts of trades-people who are always coming down to Bergamo,—sheep and horse dealers: they know the road well enough, of course. We can obtain information, and then bethink ourselves: we can find a way sooner or later. It you are in earnest about it, Mrs. Menotti, I will look about a little. I go every year once or twice to Bergamo, and I will take the thing in hand for you."
Mrs. Menotti was so filled with gratitude at this promise, that words utterly failed her that were, in her opinion, adequate to express her thanks. Suddenly all the heavy thoughts had vanished that had oppressed her day and night for such a long time past, and in which she was getting more and more involved the more she puzzled over them, so that at the last she saw no hope of a decision. Now the Father took the whole burden upon himself, and she could refer her troublesome little Silvio to him.
While this conference was taking place, the little invalid had almost pierced the priest through with his great gray eyes, so great was his interest in what they said. When the priest arose, and held his hand towards the child to say good-by, the little thin fingers were pressed into his big palm as if he were making a firm contract.
The father gave his promise to bring tidings as soon as he had obtained the necessary information; and then they could decide whether the thing could be done, or whether Silvio must give up his wish altogether.
Week after week slipped by, but Silvio did not waver. He had a firm ground of hope now by which to hold; and, moreover, Rico had become so lively and amusing, that he was hardly to be recognized. It acted upon him like a spark that kindled a joyful bonfire when he learned the priest's comforting words; and a new life was awakened in the lad. He knew more stories to tell Silvio than ever before; and when he took his fiddle in his hand, he produced such heart-stirring tones and tunes, that Mrs. Menotti could not tear herself from the room where the boys were, and was full of astonishment at Rico's store of music.
It was only in this room at Mrs. Menotti's that Rico fully enjoyed his instrument. It sounded so well in the large, lofty space, where it was quiet and peaceful, without a taint of tobacco-smoke, or the clamor of noisy men; and he was not confined to dance music, but at liberty to play as his fancy directed. Every day he went with increasing pleasure to Mrs. Menotti's, and often said to himself, as he entered, "This is the way it must feel when one is entering his own home."
But it was not his home: he only was permitted to go there for a little while, and away again.
There had come over Rico a very decided change within a short time; and the landlady, who perceived it clearly, was greatly perplexed thereby. When she placed a nasty broken pail of refuse before him, saying, "There, Rico, carry this to the hens," he would step aside a little, put his hands behind his back, to show that he did not mean to touch the pail, and say quietly, "I prefer that some one else should do that;" and when she brought out an old pair of shoes and handed them to him to carry to the cobbler, he did the same, saying. "I prefer that you should give them to another person to carry."
Now the landlady was a clever woman, and knew how to put two and two together; and it had not escaped her that Rico was quite another person within a short time, and looked very differently too. Mrs. Menotti had always dressed him very nicely since she had undertaken that office; but when she observed how well his clothes became him, and what an air of real gentility he had, she used finer materials than at first; and the lad always took good care of his person and his dress, for he detested uncleanliness and disorder, both on his own appearance and in his surroundings. All of this was not unnoticed, nor did she ever forget that even as Rico had poured out his pocketful of gold upon the table before her after his first "dance evening," so had he continued to do faithfully, and not so much as looked as if he would like to keep one bit for himself.
He brought more and more each time; for it was not only for his dance music that he was called so often, but because of his songs, that were very popular.
And the landlady recognized that it was her best policy to treat him always kindly and well; and she did not trouble him about the hens nor the shoes, and required such little services from him no more.
It was now three years since Rico made his first entry into Peschiera. He was now a tall, fourteen-year old stripling, and whoever laid eyes upon him found him pleasing to look upon.
Once again the golden sun of autumn burnished the surface of the Lake of Garda, and the heavens lay blue above the tranquil waves. In the garden the great bunches of grapes hung gold against the trellises, and the red flowers of the oleander glistened in the sunbeams.
It was quiet in Silvio's room, for his mother was without in the garden gathering grapes and figs for the evening. The invalid lay listening for Rico's step, for this was the time of his usual visit. The wicket opened: Silvio pulled himself up in his bed. A long black coat came slowly toward the door,—it was the priest. Silvio did not think of hiding himself this time. He stretched out his little arm as far as he was able, to shake hands with the good man, before he had fairly entered the room.
This welcome pleased the priest, who walked at once into the room, and to the child's bedside, even though he saw Mrs. Menotti's form behind him in the garden.
"This is right, my son," he said. "And how do you find yourself?"
"All right," said Silvio quickly; and, looking eagerly at the good man, he added softly, "When may Rico go?"
Seating himself by the bedside, the good man said, a little pompously, "To-morrow, at five o'clock, Rico will start, my son."
Mrs. Menotti entered as he was speaking, and it was with some difficulty that the priest could quiet her enough to get a chance to tell his story in a consecutive way, and to make himself understood; and all the time he was speaking, Silvio's eyes were fixed upon his face like a little sparrow-hawk.
He had come directly from Bergamo, where he had passed two days. He had made all the necessary arrangements with a horse-trader,—a friend of his who had been travelling, for thirty years or more, every autumn, and knew the way over the mountains that Rico must take. He knew, also, how the journey could be made without leaving the coach, or sleeping by the way. He was going there himself, and would take Rico under his charge, if the lad would go to Bergamo by the early train. The man knew all the drivers and conductors, also; and would arrange for his and his companion's return, and recommend them so well that there would be no trouble or danger.
The Father was convinced that there was no hindrance to Rico's going in perfect safety, and gave his blessing to the undertaking.
As he stood by the garden-hedge, after saying good-by to Silvio, Mrs. Menotti, who had accompanied him thus far, detained him for a moment, to ask again, full of sudden anxiety, "Oh, there will not be any danger to his life, I hope? Nor that he may lose his way, and go wandering about in the mountains? You do not think that possible, do you, Father?" But the good man quieted her fears; and she returned to the house, thinking of what there remained to do for Rico, who entered the garden at this moment, and was greeted by such a startling cry of joy from Silvio, that he reached the bedside in three leaps to find out what it all meant.
"What is the matter? What ails you?" Rico kept asking; and Silvio repeated, "I will tell you, I will tell you!" until, in real anxiety, his mother came to his aid. Soon, however, she left the boys to enjoy their happiness together; and went about her business, which she thought very important. She fetched a portmanteau, and placed a huge piece of smoked meat first of all at the bottom, then a half loaf of bread, a big parcel of preserved plums and figs, and a bottle of wine, carefully wrapped in a cloth. Then came the clothes,—two shirts and a pair of shoes, two pair of stockings, and pocket-handkerchiefs; for it seemed always to Mrs. Menotti as if Rico were going to the farthermost part of the world; and she only now fully realized how dearly she loved the lad, for she felt that she could not get on without him.
All the while, as she was packing, she would pause, sit down, and say to herself, anxiously, "Oh, I do hope there will not be an accident!"
Presently she brought the portmanteau down-stairs, and counselled Rico to go at once and explain to the landlady how every thing had happened; and to ask if she would allow him to go, and not oppose it; and afterwards Rico was to carry the portmanteau to the station.
The boy was in the greatest surprise over his portmanteau. He obeyed in silence, as usual, however, and went to the landlady. He explained to her that he was going back to the mountains to bring Stineli back with him, and that the priest had arranged it so that he was to start on the following morning at five o'clock.
It produced a feeling of respect at once in the mind of the landlady when she found that the priest was at the head of the business. But she naturally wished to know who this Stineli might be, and what the idea was in fetching her; for she hoped it might be on her account.
She only found out that Stineli was a girl whose name was Stineli, and that she was coming to Mrs. Menotti. So she let the thing go; for she would not interfere, for the world, with that lady's wishes. She was only too glad that Rico had been left to her for so long. She took it for granted that Stineli was Rico's sister, only that he had not said so, because he never did say any thing about his family.
So she told all the guests in the inn that evening that Rico was going to bring his sister down to Peschiera, because he had found out how well they all lived there.
In order to show how highly she held the lad in respect, she had a big basket brought down from the attic, and filled it with sausages and cheese, and slices of bread, and eggs, saying,—
"You must not get hungry on the way; and what is left over, you can eat while you are there. It will not be too much; and coming back, you will need something too. You are certainly coming back, Rico, are you not?"
"Certainly," replied the lad. "In eight days I shall be back again."
In Mrs. Menotti's hands he placed his beloved fiddle, for he would not have trusted it to any one else; and then he took his leave for eight days, for he could easily be back again in that time, if every thing went well.
BACK AGAIN OVER THE MOUNTAINS.
Full of impatience, Rico stood at the station long before the appointed time, and could scarcely be quiet while waiting for the train. Again he took his seat in the carriage, as he had done three years before, but not now crouched timidly in a corner with his violin in his hand. He took a whole seat for himself this time; for he placed his portmanteau and his basket next him, and they took up a deal of room. He met the horse-dealer in Bergamo without difficulty, and they travelled along in the same carriage together, and then across the lake. When they left the boat they went towards the inn, where the big post-wagon stood with the horses already harnessed. It all came back to Rico's memory with great distinctness,—how he had stood there in the night, quite alone, after the students had all gone their ways; and opposite he espied the stable-door where he had seen the lantern hanging, and had found the friendly sheep-dealer again. It was evening now; and they took their places at once in the coach, and went towards the mountain. Rico sat within, this time, with his companion, and had scarcely settled himself comfortably in his corner when his eyes closed and he slept; for he had not slept an hour on the preceding night, so great had been his excitement. Now he made it up, without once awakening, until the sun stood high in the heavens, and the coach moved very slowly; and when he stuck his head out of the window, he saw, to his utter astonishment, that they were ascending the zigzag road up the Maloja, that was so familiar to him from his childhood.
He could not see much from the window,—only a turning in the road now and then; but now he did want to see everything that lay about them. At last the coach stopped: they had reached the summit. There was the inn, there the spot where he had sat and talked with the driver. All the passengers got out for a moment, and the horses were fed. Rico also descended, and asked very humbly of the driver if he might be allowed to take a seat on the box with him.
"Will you let me climb up there, and ride as far as Sils?" he asked.
"Up with you!" said the coachman. They all took their places, and merrily rolled the coach down the smooth road and along the level way. Now they reached the lake. Yonder lay the wooded peninsula, and there the white houses of Sils, and beyond was Sils Maria. The little church shone in the morning sunshine, and over towards the mountain were two cottages. Rico's heart began to beat wildly. Where was Stineli? A few steps farther, and the coach stood still in Sils.
Stineli had suffered a great deal since her friend's disappearance. The children were larger, and the work ever increasing; and the greater part fell to her share, for she was the eldest of the children, and the youngest of the rest of the family; so the cry was always, "Stineli can do this: she is old enough now;" and presently, "Stineli must look after that, she is so young." She had no one with whom to share her pleasures since Rico's departure, even if she had a moment to herself.
Her good grandmother had died the year before, and from that time forward the girl had no relaxation whatever; but from morning to evening there was nothing but incessant toil.
She never lost heart, however, although she had wept bitterly over the loss of her grandmother; and every day the thought arose several times in her mind, without her good grandmother and Rico the world was no longer as beautiful as formerly.
On a sunny Saturday morning she came out of the stable with a big bundle of straw poised on her head. She meant to weave some nice brushes, for the evening sweeping. The sun was shining all down the pathway towards Sils, and she stood gazing in that direction. An unknown lad came along the road,—certainly no Silser, she thought; and yet as he drew near he stood still and looked at her, and she returned his gaze, and was much perplexed. In an instant, however, away went her bundle of straw, and she rushed forward towards the motionless figure before her, crying out,—
"O Rico! are you still alive? Have you come back again? But how big you are, Rico! I did not know you, at first; but as soon as I saw your face, then I was sure,—nobody has a face like yours."
So Stineli stood with glowing cheeks before the lad; and he grew as white as chalk from excitement, and could not find words to speak his joy, but looked and looked at the girl. Presently he said,—
"You have grown, too, Stineli, but are not otherwise changed. The nearer I came to the house, the more anxious I got lest you might be altered."
"Oh, to think that you are really here, Rico!" cried Stineli, joyfully. "Oh, if the grandmother only knew! But come in, Rico; they will all be surprised." She ran on before to open the door, and Rico followed.
The children hid themselves one behind the other; and their mother rose and greeted the lad as if he were a stranger, and asked what his wishes were. Neither she nor the children had an idea who he was. Now Trudi and Sami came into the room, and bowed to him as they passed through. "Does not one of you know him?" said Stineli, at last. "Don't you see it is Rico?"
They were astonished and full of their surprise when their father came to his dinner. Rico advanced towards him, offering his hand, which the man took, but looked steadily at the strange lad.
"Is it some kind of a relation?" he asked; for he was never very sure about the members of the family who sometimes visited them.
"Even the father does not know him," said Stineli, rather vexed.
"Why, it is Rico, father!"
"Well, well: that is good," remarked he; and looked the lad well over from head to foot this time, adding,—
"You need not be ashamed to show yourself. Have you learned some sort of a trade? Let us all be seated, and then you can tell us what has happened to you."
But Rico did not sit down at once: he kept looking towards the doorway. At last he asked, hesitatingly,—
"Where is the grandmother?"
"She lies over there in Sils, not far from the old schoolmaster," was the reply. Rico had hesitated with his question, for he feared this would be the answer; he had noticed the grandmother's absence at once. He took his seat with the others at the table, but was silent for a while, and could not eat a morsel: he had loved the grandmother dearly. However, the father wanted to hear his story, and to know what had become of him on the day they all searched for him in the ravines, and what he had seen and done in the world. So the boy told all his story, and about Mrs. Menotti and Silvio; and explained distinctly that he wished to take Stineli back with him to Peschiera, if her parents would consent. Stineli made very big eyes while her friend was talking: she had not lost one word of his history. Her heart was as if on fire with joy. To go to Rico's beautiful lake with him, to live with Mrs. Menotti and her sick son, who was so anxious for her to come,—that would be happiness indeed!
There was a long silence after this. Stineli's father never decided hastily. At last he said, "It is true that when one goes among strangers there is much to be learned; but I cannot let Stineli go,—there can be no question of that. She is needed here at home; but one of the others may go,—Trudi, perhaps."
"Yes, yes: that will do," said the mother. "I cannot get along without Stineli."
Then Trudi raised her head from her plate, and said, "That suits me very well. There is nothing but children's racket here at home."
Stineli did not speak. She only looked anxiously towards Rico, wondering if he would not say any thing more since her father seemed so decided, and whether he would take Trudi with him as proposed. The lad, however, looked calmly at her father, saying, "No: that won't do at all. It is precisely Stineli whom the sick boy Silvio wishes, and nobody else; and he knows very well what he wants. He would only send Trudi home again, and she would have taken the journey for nothing. Mrs. Menotti told me to say, that if Stineli got on well with her son, she would give her every month five gulden to send home to her family, if they cared for it; and I am sure that Stineli and Silvio will agree famously,—just as sure as if I saw it with my own eyes now," added the lad.
Pushing his plate to one side, Stineli's father put his cap on his head. He had finished his dinner; and when he had some very severe thinking to do, he was always more comfortable with his cap on. It seemed to help him to collect his thoughts.
He thought, always in silence, how much labor he would have to perform before he could earn even one good gulden; and he said to himself, "Five gulden every month without lifting a finger."
So he shoved his cap first on one side and then on the other; and said, at last, "She may go. One of the others can do the work in the house."
Stineli's eyes sparkled, but the mother looked sadly at all the little heads and plates. Who would keep them all nice and in order?
But the father's cap got another shove. Something else had occurred to him.
"Stineli has not yet been confirmed, and ought to be before she goes away."
"I am not to be confirmed for two years yet, father," said the girl eagerly; "so that I can go away for two years perfectly well, and come back quite in time for that."
This was a good decision, and everybody was satisfied. The father and mother thought, even if every thing does go badly without Stineli, it will only be for a while; and when she comes back again, all will be well. And Trudi thought, "Just as soon as she comes back again, I will go and then we shall see if I come back."
But Rico and Stineli merely glanced at each other, and laughed with their eyes for pure joy.
As the father looked upon the affair as settled, he rose from the table, saying, "She may go to-morrow: then we shall know where we stand."
Her mother, on the contrary, objected to this, saying that it could not be managed so quickly, and complained bitterly, until her father gave in, and said she should go the following Monday, and would not hear of a later date; for he thought that there would be a continual fuss until the departures were fairly over.
Work there was now for Stineli in abundance. Rico understood that this must be the case, and he addressed himself to Sami, and said he would like to see whether every thing remained as formerly in Sils-Maria; and that he had a sack and a basket to fetch from Sils, and perhaps Sami would go with him to help him; so they went forth.
Firstly, Rico paused before his former home, and gazed at the old house-door and the hen-house. It was just as it had been. He asked Sami who lived there now,—if his cousin were there, and alone.
But he heard that the cousin had long ago gone away towards Silvaplana, and nobody knew any thing about her; for she had not shown her face in Sils-Maria again.
There were people living in the house, about whom Rico knew nothing. Everywhere that he went with Sami, from the old well-known houses and stables the people stared at him as if he were an utter stranger; not one of them recognized him in the least.
As he crossed over, towards evening, to Sils, he turned aside a little towards the churchyard. He wanted to see the grave where the old grandmother was buried; but Sami did not rightly know where she lay.
They returned home just as it was growing dark, laden with basket and portmanteau. Stineli stood at the well, and brushed out the stable buckets for the last time; and as Rico stood there by her side, she said, flushed with pleasure, and with her exertions over the pails, "I can scarcely believe that it is true, Rico."
"But I do," said he so decidedly, that the girl looked at him surprised. "But of course, Stineli," he added, "you have not been thinking it out this long time as I have."
There was a change in Rico that the girl noticed at once. Formerly he would not have spoken in this firm and decided manner.
They had arranged a bed for Rico up in the room under the roof. He carried his things up there, and meant to open them the following morning.
When they were all seated the next day at table,—a beautiful, clear Sunday morning,—down came Rico, and poured out before Urschli and Peterli a big heap of plums and figs. The latter fruit they had never seen at all; and the plums were finer than any that they were accustomed to; and his sausages and meat and eggs he placed in the middle of the table. As soon as their admiration and surprise had a little subsided, they all fell to and ate with a wonderful relish, and the children were munching the sweet figs quite late into the evening.
TWO HAPPY TRAVELLERS.
On Monday evening the journey was to begin. The horse-dealer had impressed this fact so thoroughly on Rico's memory, that there was not a chance for a mistake. After the farewells were all said, Rico and Stineli went towards Sils together, while her mother, with all the little children clustered about her, stood upon the doorstep and looked after them.
Sami accompanied them to carry the portmanteau on his head, and Rico carried the basket on one side, and Stineli held it on the other. Stineli's clothes had just filled it.
When they reached the church in Sils, Stineli said, "Oh, if my grandmother could only see us now! We will go to say good-by to her, Rico." He was very willing, and told Stineli how he had already tried to find the grave, but had not succeeded.
The girl was better informed than her brother.
When the post-wagon came along and stopped, the driver called out, "Are the couple ready who are to go down to the Lake of Garda? I was asking for them yesterday."
The horse-dealer had given them a good recommendation; and the driver called out that they should climb up to the top: the others had found it too cold. "You are younger," he said.
So saying, he helped them up to the seats behind the box, and took out a thick horse-blanket, and wrapped them up snugly therein; and off they went.
For the first time since they had come together again, the two young people were alone, and could talk freely and undisturbed, and tell each other how they had passed the three long years since they parted. And they chattered away happily under the starry heavens, never thinking of sleep in their joy at being together.
Towards morning they reached the lake, and arrived in Peschiera at the same hour as Rico had before arrived, and walked along the road to the lake-side. But Rico did not wish his companion to see the lake until she had reached the spot he called his own; so he led her through the trees until they came to the little stone bridge in the open.
There lay the lake in the light of the setting sun; and the children sat side by side on the little mound, and gazed across the water.
There it was, just as Rico had described it, but more, much more lovely; for such colors Stineli had never seen before.
She looked about her towards the purple mountains, across the golden waters, and she cried out with all her heart, "Yes, it is finer than the Lake of Sils."
But Rico felt that it had never yet been so exquisitely beautiful as on this evening when he and Stineli saw it together.
Rico had another secret joy that he cherished in his heart. How surprised Silvio and his mother would be to see them! Nobody had expected them back so soon. Nobody would look for them before the end of the week, and now there they sat by the lake-side.
They did not quit the little mound until the sun had fairly disappeared.
Rico pointed out to his companion the spot where his mother stood washing something in the lake, and how he used to sit waiting until she had finished; and then he told how they walked back together, hand in hand, over the little bridge.
"But where did you go when you went back?" asked Stineli. "Have you never found the house that you returned to?"
Rico could not say. "When I go up there, away from the lake towards the railroad, I seem to remember that there I stood with my mother, or sat with her upon a garden-seat with the red flowers before us; but now nothing is to be seen like the house, and I do not even recognize the road at all."
At last they arose, and went towards the garden. Rico carried the portmanteau, and the girl the basket. As they entered the garden, Stineli called out too loud, in her delight, "Oh, the beautiful, beautiful flowers!"
Silvio heard these unfortunate words, and pulled himself up in an instant, crying out, at the top of his lungs,—
"Here comes Rico with his Stineli!"
His poor mother thought that he had an attack of fever. She thrust her things back into the chest which she was arranging,—every thing in again, pell-mell,—and ran quickly to the bedside.
At that moment Rico walked boldly into the room, and the good woman almost fell over backward in her surprise and delight; for until that very instant she had secretly been a prey to the darkest fears, always believing that Rico's adventure would cost him his life.
A maiden came behind Rico, with a friendly face that won Mrs. Menotti's heart in a twinkling, for she was a very impressionable woman.
First of all, however, she shook Rico's hands almost off in her welcoming grasp; and in the meantime Stineli had gone over to the bedside and placed her arm about the thin shoulders of the child, and smiled into his face as if they were old and dear friends, while Silvio in return put his arm about her neck, and drew her face down to his.
Straightway Stineli placed a present for the child before him. She had put it conveniently in her pocket, so that she could place her hand on it at once. It was a toy that had been Peterli's favorite before any other,—a pine-cone, with a thin wire introduced into each little opening between the hard scales, and a little figure, made of sole-leather, perched on the top of each bit of wire. All these tiny figures shook and nodded so merrily towards each other, and had such funnily painted little faces, that Silvio could scarcely stop laughing at them.
Mrs. Menotti had learned from Rico all that he had to tell her of importance while this play went on,—for she was anxious to learn from himself that all had gone quietly and safely,—then she turned to the girl, and greeted her with heartfelt kindness; and Stineli made answer more with her kindly eyes than with her tongue, for she could not speak a word of Italian, and had to help herself out with such Romanish words as she had learned.
But she was quick-witted, and found a way to make herself understood without difficulty; for, if the right word was wanting, she described the thing cleverly with her fingers, and by all sorts of signs, which amused Silvio exceedingly; for it was a kind of game of guessing for him all the time.
Now Mrs. Menotti went over to the cupboard, where all the service for the table was kept, and brought out tablecloth and plates, cold chicken, fruit, and wine; which, when Stineli observed, she hastened after her to aid her, and did it so neatly and handily that there remained little for Mrs. Menotti to do; and she stood gazing at the nimble, willing girl, who had soon served Silvio also, as he lay in bed, cutting his food for him, and helping him neatly and rapidly, which pleased the child very much.
Mrs. Menotti seated herself, saying, "I have not had such help as this in many a year; but, come now, Stineli: sit down, and eat with us."
And they sat and chatted and ate together, as if they were old friends who had always been accustomed to such free intercourse.
Rico began to give an account of the journey after they had finished eating, and Stineli meanwhile quietly replaced every thing in the cupboard; for she knew well enough, without being told, how such work should be done. Then she seated herself by Silvio's bedside, and made shadow pictures on the wall with her supple fingers; and Silvio laughed aloud, and called the names,—"A hare! A beast with horns! A spider with long legs!"
So sped away the first evening quickly and merrily, and they all were taken by surprise when it struck ten o'clock. Rico rose, for he knew he must be going; but a dark cloud came over his countenance.
He said shortly, "Good-night," and went away. But the girl ran after him; and in the garden she took his hand, saying, "Now you must not be sad, Rico, it is so beautiful here. I cannot tell you how lovely I find it, nor how happy I am; and I owe it all, all to you. And you will come again to-morrow, and every day, will you not, Rico?"
"Yes," he said; and looked at Stineli with a most melancholy expression. "Yes; and every evening, when it is most beautiful, I must be off and away, because I belong to nobody."
"Oh! do not think in that way, Rico," said his friend encouragingly. "Have we not always belonged to each other, and have not I often rejoiced over that thought all these three years that are past? And when things were almost unsupportable, and I longed to get away, have not I always said to myself, 'If I could only be with Rico again, I would bear any thing?' And now it has come about as we wished, and, indeed, far better than I had imagined; and will you not be happy with me, Rico?"
"Yes; that I will," said the lad; and his countenance cleared a little.
He did belong to somebody, after all; and Stineli's words had restored his tranquility. They shook hands again; and Rico went through the garden-gate, and away.
When Stineli returned to the room, and, by Mrs. Menotti's directions, was about to say good-night to Silvio, the child began to dispute again, and declared that he would not be separated from his newly-found friend even for a few hours; but would have her sit by his bedside all night long, and say funny words to him, and look at him with her laughing eyes.
Nothing that his mother could say produced any impression upon him, until she spoke thus: "Very well; if you keep Stineli standing by your bed to amuse you all night, she will soon be as ill as you are, and not be able to get up at all, but have to lie in bed, and you will not see her for a long time."
So, after a while, the child released his hold of Stineli's arm, and said,—
"There, go to sleep; but come to me again to-morrow early."
This was promised; and Mrs. Menotti showed the girl into a neat little bedroom that looked out upon the garden, whence a delicious scent of flowers rose through the open window.
With every day that passed Stineli became more and more necessary to little Silvio. If she only went out-of-doors for a few moments, he considered it a misfortune. He was obedient and quiet enough, however, when she stayed with him; and did every thing she bade him do, and did not tease his mother as before.
And it seemed as if the nervous little fellow had less frequent attacks of pain since Stineli's arrival. Indeed, he had not complained since her coming, and she had been with them many days.
It must certainly be acknowledged that she was the most amusing of companions, and turned every thing that came in her way into a game. She had always lived with children, and constantly had their entertainment in her mind. She had also learned a great many words from Silvio, and could soon chatter away with him at her ease; and when she did get the words twisted and upside down, it was even more funny, and Silvio looked upon that as a game made expressly for him.
Mrs. Menotti never saw Rico entering the garden but she ran towards him, for now she was at liberty to move about freely; and she always drew him a little aside to tell him what a treasure he had brought into the house for her, how happy and gay her Silvio had become, and that she never would have believed that such a girl as Stineli existed on the face of the earth; for with Silvio she was as merry as if her only pleasure consisted in playing the little games he liked, while she was as wise and intelligent as any grown woman with Mrs. Menotti, and understood housework so that it all seemed to go on of its own accord; and nicely, too, as if every day were Sunday. In short, Mrs. Menotti could not find words enough to praise Stineli in all the ways in which she found her admirable; and Rico was always happy in listening to these praises.
When they all sat together in the pleasant room, and exchanged loving and happy glances, they felt that they never wanted to be separated, and called themselves the happiest family in the whole world, and needed for nothing.
But the clouds on Rico's brow grew dark as night came on, and towards ten o'clock every thing looked black and blacker; and even if Mrs. Menotti, in her contentment, did not notice it, Stineli did, and secretly worried over it, thinking, "It is just as if there were a thunder-storm in the air."
CLOUDS ON THE BEAUTIFUL LAKE OF GARDA.
It was a beautiful Sunday in autumn, and across the Lake of Riva there was to be a "dance evening," and Rico was to go over there to play; so he would not be able to pass the day with Stineli and the rest. They talked this over and over through the week, for it was a great trial to them all when Rico did not come for Sunday; and Stineli tried to find all sorts of little reasons to reconcile Rico, and to make the affair seem less unpleasant.
"You will go across the lake in the sunlight, and return under the beautiful stars; and we shall be thinking of you the whole time," she said to him, when he first mentioned that he should be away on Sunday.
On Saturday evening Rico brought his violin, for Stineli's greatest pleasure was to hear him play. The lad played lovely tunes one after another; but they were all sad melodies, and seemed to make him sadder still, for he looked down at his instrument with a kind of indignant sorrow, as if it did him a real injury.
Suddenly he pushed it away from him, long before the clock had struck ten, and said, "I am going away."
Mrs. Menotti tried to detain him; she could not understand what was amiss. Stineli had looked steadily at him while he was playing. Now she said, quietly,—
"I will go with you a little way."
"No," cried Silvio; "do not go. Stay here with me."
"Yes, yes, Stineli!" said Rico. "Stay here, and let me go alone."
And, saying this, he looked at his friend exactly as he had looked when he came away from the schoolmaster's house, and joined Stineli at the wood-pile, so long ago, saying then, "It is all of no use!"
Stineli went to Silvio's bedside, and said softly, "Be a good boy, Silvio; and to-morrow I will tell you the very prettiest and drollest story about Peterli; but now do not make a noise."
Silvio really did keep quiet, and Stineli went after Rico. When they reached the hedge, Rico turned about, and pointed towards the brightly lighted window that looked so pleasant and friendly from the garden, and said, "Go back there, Stineli. You belong there, and there you are at home; but I belong in the streets. I am a homeless fellow, and shall always be so: now let me go away."
"No, no; I will not let you go in this mood, Rico. Where do you mean to go?"
"To the lake," said the young man; and went towards the bridge. As they stood together on the little mound, they were silent for a while, listening to the murmur of the waves. At last, Rico said,—
"Do you understand, if you were not here, I would go away at once, far away?—but I do not know where I should go. Wherever I go, I shall be homeless, and have to be fiddling forever in public-houses where they are noisy, just as if they had lost their senses, and I must always sleep in a room in which I dislike to be; but you belong to them there in that beautiful house, and I do not belong anywhere. And I tell you, Stineli, when I look down there, I think if my mother had only cast me to the waves before she died, then I should not have been this homeless wanderer."
With ever-increasing trouble, Stineli listened to these words of her friend; but when he pronounced these last, she became really alarmed, and said hastily, "O Rico! you ought not to say such things. I am sure that you have not said 'Our Father' for a long, long time; and these wicked thoughts are the consequence."
"No: I have not prayed for a long time," said Rico. "I have forgotten how."
These words gave his companion a severe shock.
"Oh, dear! what would my grandmother say to this, Rico?" she cried, in distress. "She would be in sad trouble about you. Do not you remember how she told us, 'He who forgets his Lord's Prayer is sure to get into trouble?' Rico, you must learn it again. I will teach it to you this minute: it will not take you long."
And the good girl began, with pious zeal, and repeated the prayer twice or thrice over to her friend; and, while she thus emphasized the words, she noticed that there was a great deal of especial comfort for Rico contained therein; and, as she ended, she said,—
"Do not you see, Rico, if all the kingdom belongs to the good God, He can surely find you a home? for He has all the power, so He can give it to you if He chooses."
"Now you can plainly see, Stineli," replied the youth, "if the good God has a home for me in His kingdom, and has the power to give it to me, and does not, it is because He does not choose to."
"Yes; but you forget something," continued Stineli. "The good God may say, 'If Rico wants any thing from me, he should pray to me.'"
In reply to this, Rico had no answer. He remained silent for some time; then he said, "Repeat the Lord's Prayer again, Stineli: I will learn it."
His companion gladly complied, and it was soon learned. Then they separated, and each went home; but Rico's thoughts were busy with the "kingdom and the power."
Once more in his quiet room, he prayed humbly, and with a softened heart; for he felt that he had been in the wrong to believe that the good God ought to give him what he wished for, when he did not even remember to pray to Him.
Stineli returned to the garden very full of anxious thought. She turned over and over in her mind whether she ought to tell all this to Mrs. Menotti. Perhaps she might be able to find some other employment for Rico than this fiddling in the public-houses for dancing, that was so detestable to the lad. But the thought of troubling Mrs. Menotti with her affairs passed quickly from her mind as she entered the room again.
Silvio lay upon his pillows with flushed cheeks, breathing heavily and irregularly; and by the bedside sat his mother, and wept.
The little invalid had had another of his severe attacks, and a little anger at Stineli's absence had increased the fever. His mother was so cast down, that she did not seem to Stineli the same person at all. When she, at last, recovered her spirits a little, she said,—
"Come here, Stineli. Sit down here by my side: I want to tell you something.
"I have something that lies very heavily at my heart; so heavily, that sometimes it seems to me that I cannot bear it any longer. It is true you are young, but you are so sensible, and have seen a great deal; and it seems to me that I should be relieved if I could talk it over with you.
"You see how Silvio suffers, and how ill he is,—my only son. Now I have not only the distress of his sickness, which can never be healed, but I often feel that perhaps it is a punishment from God, because I am holding and enjoying an unlawful property: although, to be sure, I did not seek to get it, and do not wish to keep it. But I will tell you every thing from the beginning.
"When we were married, Menotti and I,—he brought me over from Riva, where my father still lives,—Menotti had a very good friend living here, who was just about leaving, because the land had become hateful to him, owing to the death of his wife. This friend had a house—a little one—and large fields, though they were not very productive. He wanted my husband to take them all, and said that the land did not yield much; but if he would keep it all in good order, and the house also, that he would return to claim it in a few years.
"So the friends made their arrangements together, and said nothing about interest. My husband said, 'You will want to find every thing as it should be when you return;' for he meant to put it all in good condition, and understood the cultivating of land perfectly, which was thoroughly well known to his friend, who willingly left it all in his hands. But about one year later the railroad was built, and the little house had to come down, and the garden was taken too, with the fields, for the railway went right through them. So my husband got a great deal more money than they were really worth, and bought a far better piece of land and a garden, and built a house, all with the money; and the land produced fully twice what the other had, and we had most abundant harvests. I often said, 'It does not really belong to us, and we are living in luxury from the property of another. How I wish that we knew where he is!' But my husband quieted me, and said, 'I am keeping it all in order for him, and when he comes it is all his; and as to the profit that I have laid aside, he must have his share also.'
"Then Silvio was born; and when I discovered that the little fellow was ill, I kept saying over and over to my husband, 'We are living on property to which we have no right, and we are punished for it.' And sometimes it was so dreadful to me that poverty would have been more tolerable, and I would have gladly been homeless.
"My husband always tried to console me, and said, 'You will see how pleased he will be with me when he returns.' But he did not return. My husband died: it is now four years ago. Oh, what a life I have led since then! always thinking how can I be free from this unlawful property without doing any thing wrong, for it is my duty to keep it in good condition until our friend comes; and then I feared that he might be in misery somewhere while I am living so comfortably on his property, and know nothing of his whereabouts."
Stineli felt sincerely how much Mrs. Menotti was to be pitied; for she perfectly well understood her feeling, and how she was always reproaching herself for a thing that she could not change, and she comforted the good woman, saying,—
"When any one does not mean to do wrong, and means not to do wrong, then there is nothing but to trust to the good God and pray to Him for help; for He can turn our evil into His good, and He will do so when we are truly repentant over evil. I know all this from my grandmother's teaching; for once I was in great distress, and did not know what to do."
Then she told about Rico and the lake that he was always thinking of, and how she was the cause of his running away, and full of fear that it had cost him his life. But she said that she felt perfectly at ease after she had cast her burden on the Lord; and she advised Mrs. Menotti to do likewise, and assured her that she would derive the truest comfort from so doing. After this conversation Mrs. Menotti felt much relieved, and said they would all go to rest now, and thanked her young counsellor for her advice.
One beautiful Sunday morning in autumn, Mrs. Menotti seated herself on the garden-bench in the midst of the glowing red flowers, and thoughtfully gazed about her,—now at the oleander and laurel bushes, now at the fig-trees laden with fruit, and again at the vines heavy with golden grapes; and she said, softly, "God knows I should be glad if I could lay aside this feeling of wrong-doing that weighs on my conscience, but certainly such a lovely spot as this one I could never find for a home."
Presently Rico came into the garden. He was obliged to go away in the afternoon; and he never passed a whole day without paying them a visit, if it were possible to do otherwise. As he was passing on towards Silvio's room, Mrs. Menotti called him.
"Come and sit down by me, Rico, for a moment. Who knows how long we may be able to stay in this place together?"
Rico was alarmed.
"Why do you say this, Mrs. Menotti? You do not think of going away, do you?"
Mrs. Menotti had to stop, for she could not tell him all her story. She remembered what Stineli had said to her the evening before about Rico. She was so full of her own thoughts at that time, that she did not fairly take in the import of her words. Now she began to wonder about it, the more she thought it over.
"Do tell me, Rico," she said, "were you ever here earlier?—I mean before; or what made you want to see the lake again, as Stineli told me was the case yesterday?"
"Yes; when I was little," said the lad. "Then I went away."
"How did you get here when you were little, Rico?"
"I was born here."
"What! here? What was your father, if he came here from the mountains yonder?"
"He did not come here from the mountains; only my mother did."
"Do I hear aright, Rico? Was your father born here?"
"Certainly. He was a native of this place."
"You never told me this before. This is wonderful. You have not a name like the people here. What was your father's name?"
"What was his name? It was Henrico Trevillo."
Mrs. Menotti sprang up from the seat as if she had had a shock.
"What did you say, Rico?" she cried out. "What did you say just now? Tell me again."
"I told you my father's name."
Mrs. Menotti was not listening: she ran towards the door.
"Stineli, bring me a kerchief," she cried. "I must go to the priest at once: I am trembling all over."
In great surprise, Stineli brought out the kerchief.
"Come with me a few steps, Rico," said the good woman, as she went through the garden. "I must ask you something more."
Rico had to repeat his father's name twice over; and when they had fairly reached the door of the priest's house, for a third time Mrs. Menotti asked,—
"What did you say it was? Are you quite sure?"
She hurried into the priest's house, and left Rico wondering what could have happened to put her into such a way.
Rico had brought his violin with him, for he knew that Stineli was particularly pleased to hear it. When he reached Silvio's room, he found the little boy and his companion in the best of humor. Stineli had fulfilled her promise about the story of Peterli's funny doings, and this had amused Silvio exceedingly. When the latter espied the violin, he cried out at once, "Now let us sing; let us sing the 'Lambkins' with Stineli."
Stineli had never heard her song since it was composed that day on the mountain, for now Rico played such beautiful airs that she had quite forgotten the old ones. But she was astonished to hear Silvio asking for the German song, for she had no idea of the hundred times the two boys had repeated it during the three years that were past. She was much pleased to hear the old song again, and, above all, to sing it with Rico; and so they began. Silvio sang with all his might,—without understanding a single word, to be sure, but the tune was quite correct. It was the girl's turn to laugh now; for Silvio's pronunciation was most wonderful, and she could not join in for laughter, and it was contagious; for the child could not resist the merry expression of her face, and joined her in laughing, and sang again still more queerly and louder; and all the while Rico played his accompaniment without stopping.
And thus Mrs. Menotti's ears were greeted with laughter and song as she drew near the house on her return, and she could not understand how they could be so light-hearted and merry on such a momentous occasion. She came hastily through the garden, and into the room, and sank upon the nearest seat; for the shock and the joy, and the anticipation of what was to follow, had overpowered her, and she needed to recover herself a little. The sight of her agitation silenced the singers, and they gazed at her in surprise. At last she recovered, and said,—
"Rico,"—and her voice was quite solemn,—"Rico, listen to me. Look about you. This house, this garden, that field,—all, all that you can see, and much that you cannot see, belongs to you: it is all yours. You are the owner; it is your inheritance from your father; your home is here; your name stands in the baptismal record; you are the son of Henrico Trevillo, and he was my husband's dearest friend."
Stineli had understood the whole story at the first word, and her face beamed with unspeakable happiness.
Rico sat as if turned to stone, and made no sound; but Silvio broke out into shouts of delight,—it was all a play to him.
"Oh! now the house belongs to Rico, where is he going to sleep?"
"He can sleep in any room he chooses, Silvio. He can sleep in them all if he wishes to. He can turn us all out-of-doors if he has a mind to, and stay all sole alone in this house."
"I am sure I should much prefer to go away with you, then," said Rico.
"Oh, you good Rico!" cried Mrs. Menotti. "If you will let us stay here, we shall be so glad to remain. I have thought it out as I came along towards home, and know how we can arrange it so that we shall be happy. I will take half of the house of you, and the same with the garden and all the land; so one half will be yours, and the other Silvio's."
"I shall give my half to Stineli," said the child.
"So shall I," said Rico.
"Oh, ho! now the whole thing belongs to her,—the garden, and the house, and all that is in them; and Rico and his fiddle, and I too. Now let us go on with our song."
But Rico did not take the same view of the affair as his little friend. He had thought over Mrs. Menotti's words, and now asked, anxiously,—
"I do not understand how Silvio's house can belong to me because our fathers were friends."
It now occurred to Mrs. Menotti for the first time that Rico did not know any thing about the circumstances; and she told him the whole story, with all the particulars, even more minutely than she had told it to Stineli; and when she had finished they all understood perfectly how it was, and were at liberty to rejoice without restraint; for since the house and all belonged partly to Rico, there was no reason why he should not take possession at once, and never leave them again; and their rejoicing was great.
In the midst of their merry-making Rico said, suddenly,—
"Since things have turned out this way, Mrs. Menotti, do not let any of the arrangements be disturbed in the house; but every thing go on as usual. I will simply come here to live, and you shall be our mother."
"O Rico! to think that it is yours, that it is you who are the master. How good God is to let it all turn out in this way,—that I can give it all to you, and yet stay here myself with a clear conscience. I will be a mother to you, Rico; and indeed you have long been as dear to me as if you were my own child. Now you must call me 'mother,' and so must Stineli; and we shall be the happiest household in all Peschiera."
"Well, now let us finish our song," cried little Silvio; for he was so excited and glad that he felt that singing was the only way to express his joy; and the others were not unwilling to join him, and they did finish their song; then Stineli said,—
"Now will you not sing one other song with me, Rico? You know which one I mean."
And they sang the grandmother's hymn piously, and in beautiful accord, especially the favorite verses at the end,—
"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 the heart on earth will come, And joy eternally."
The next day Rico did not go to Riva. Mother Menotti advised him to go at once to the landlady, to explain to her the change in his circumstances, and to order another fiddler to be sent to Riva, while he at once entered upon his possessions. Well pleased with these suggestions, the youth hastened to carry them out.
The landlady heard his wonderful story with great interest, and at the end she called out to her husband and told it all over to him, and testified real pleasure at the good fortune that had befallen her young friend, and was sincere in what she said. She certainly was sorry to lose him; but she had suspected for some time that the hostess of the "Three Crowns" was making advances to Rico in the hope of enticing him away from her; and that would have been dreadful to the "Golden Sun." Now any danger of that misfortune was averted, and she was glad to hear that Rico was a house and land holder himself, for he was a great favorite with her. Her husband was particularly well pleased; for he had been a friend of Rico's father, and did not now understand why he had not earlier noticed that the lad was the exact image of the man.
So the farewells were all spoken in good feeling, and the landlady took his hand at parting, and asked for his patronage if ever there was occasion for her services in his house.
That very evening the news was known in all Peschiera, with all the true details, and a great many more; and everybody expressed pleasure, and said that Rico looked exactly as if he owned an estate, and would grace the position.
Mother Menotti did not know how she could do enough to make Rico comfortable in his own house. She arranged the big room for him—the one that had two windows overlooking the garden, and with a view over the lake—with beautiful marble statuettes adorning the walls; and on the table she placed a vase of flowers, and the whole room was most prettily furnished, so that Rico stood still on the threshold when, at Mrs. Menotti's request, Stineli led him up there. And when the kind, motherly woman took his hand and led him to the window, and he looked down in the shimmering lake, and over at the purple mountains in the distance, his heart filled to overflowing with thankfulness, and he could only murmur, softly,—
"Oh, how beautiful! And this is my home!" And now day after day the four happy friends lived their peaceful life in the comfortable room looking on the garden, where Silvio lay, and never perceived how the time was speeding away.
In the daytime Rico went about with his whistling servant lad through the fig-trees and over the fields planted with corn, for he wanted to learn the care of it all.
Now the servant naturally thought, "I know much more than my new master," and felt sensible of his superiority over Rico; but when, in the evening, beautiful and heart-stirring music came forth upon the evening breeze from the well-lighted room, where they all sat together, the boy leaned against the hedge and listened for long hours; for music was his greatest delight, and he said to himself, "My master knows more than I do, after all;" and he could not help feeling a great respect for Rico.
SUNSHINE ON THE LAKE OF GARDA.
Two years have passed, every day bringing more enjoyment than the last.
To Stineli came the knowledge that it was time for her to return to her home, and she had many a hard battle with herself to keep up her courage and cheerfulness; for to go away, and probably never return, was the most dreadful prospect that ever presented itself to the young girl's imagination. Rico also knew what was before them, and sometimes he would only speak when it became absolutely necessary. And a strange, unnatural feeling took possession of mother Menotti, and she tried to discover the secret cause; for she had quite forgotten that Stineli was to go home again to be confirmed. When at last the cause of the trouble came out, she said, "Oh! you can put that off for another year;" and so things fell back into their old comfort again.
On the third year, however, a message came from Bergamo (some one came down there from the mountain) that Stineli was wanted at home, and must go. Now there was no help for it. Silvio might fight against it like one possessed: it did no good. Against fate it is useless to struggle.
Mother Menotti said, day after day, towards the end, "Only promise to come back, Stineli. You may tell your father I will do any thing he wishes, if he will only let you come back soon."
Rico said nothing at all. And Stineli went off; and day after day it seemed as if a big black cloud lay over the household, and as if the very sun outside had ceased to shine.
And so it went on from November to Easter, when everybody was rejoicing; but it was still sad in Rico's house. After the Easter festival was over, and every thing was beginning to be more beautiful than ever before in the garden, and flowers and sweet odors were spread all abroad, Rico sat by Silvio's bedside, and played every sad melody that he could remember, until the little fellow was in a most melancholy mood, when suddenly from the garden a merry voice called out,—
"Rico, Rico! have you no more cheerful welcome for me than this?"
Silvio screamed as if beside himself. Rico threw his violin on the bed, and ran out; and mother Menotti came in, half frightened.
On the threshold stood Rico with Stineli; and so in Silvio's room there was the long-lost sunshine back again, and they were as merry as ever again, and happy as they had never believed would be possible during their long separation. There they all sat at table by Silvio's bedside, and questioned and answered, and told all that had happened, and ever and again broke out into rejoicing over their reunion. Who would have thought, to see them there, that any thing could be wanting to the perfect happiness of these four people? But Rico knew another tale. In the midst of all the merriment, he became absent-minded, and fell into one of his old dreamy moods. It did not last as long as formerly, however. He must have reached a satisfactory conclusion pretty soon; for suddenly his reverie was over, and he said these words, with the utmost decision, "Stineli must be my wife this very moment, or else she will have to go away again directly; and that we could not endure."
This decision pleased Silvio mightily; and in a short time they were all of the same way of thinking, that the sooner the marriage took place the better.
On the very most beautiful May morning that ever shone over Peschiera, a long procession started from the church towards the "Golden Sun."
At the head, tall and well-proportioned, came Rico with his stately mien; and at his side walked Stineli, looking happy and pretty, her smooth braids crowned with the fresh bridal wreath. Next in the procession, in a well-upholstered little wagon, drawn by two merry Peschiera urchins, Silvio might be seen, beaming with satisfaction like a triumphant victor; and last of all followed mother Menotti, very much moved and affected, in a rustling wedding-dress; behind her the servant lad, with a nosegay that covered his whole shirt-front; and after them streamed all Peschiera, with the very noisiest kind of participation, for they all wanted to look at the handsome couple, and to do them honor. It was almost like a great family festival, in which they all joined to help the strayed and lost Peschiera boy to found his own home in his native town.
The joy of the landlady of the "Golden Sun," when she saw the procession coming towards her house, is quite indescribable. Whenever the question arose concerning any wedding, low or high, she always said, with emphasis,—
"That is nothing at all in comparison with Rico's wedding in the 'Golden Sun.'"
The house in the garden never again lost its sunshine, and Stineli took good care "Our Father" was never forgotten again; and on every Sunday evening the grandmother's hymn was sung in the garden in full chorus.
HOW WISELI WAS PROVIDED FOR.
On one of the hills surrounding the city of Bern a little village is perched which shall be nameless in this story; but if you are curious, and go there in your travels, perhaps you may recognize it from the following description. On the very top of the hill stands one solitary house, with a beautiful garden about it. It is called "On the Height," and is the property of Colonel Ritter. The descent to the little square, where the church and parsonage stand, is sharp (in the parsonage the colonel's wife passed her happy days of childhood); and somewhat farther down is the schoolhouse, amid a little cluster of houses; while on the left, as you still descend, you see a lonely cottage with a pretty, well-kept garden, surrounded by currant-bushes, and adorned with mignonette and pinks, and a few roses amidst its chiccory and spinach. This is the last house on the road, which, from here on, makes one long stretch downward to the highway that goes far out into the country, parallel with the river Aar.
This long, unbroken descent forms, in winter, the most perfect coasting-ground imaginable; for once you are past the steep bit by the colonel's house, you may go on without interruption quite down to the road by the river; that is, always supposing that you make a fair start at the beginning.
This coast was an endless source of pleasure to the army of children who daily poured out of the door of the old schoolhouse when lesson hours were over, ran to the yard where they had piled their sleds on entering, took each his own from the heap, and scampered off in wild haste to begin their afternoon amusement. How the hours passed no one could imagine: down flew the sleds in a twinkling, and nobody felt the trouble of climbing up the hill, so full were all the little heads of the pleasure of going down again; and so the night, and the time for returning to their homes for supper, always took them by surprise.
This usually occasioned a stormy scene before they left the coasting-ground; for everybody wished to go down "once more," and then "just once more," and then "one single turn more,"—so that everybody hurried and jumped onto the sleds, and flew down and ran up again in a regular hurry-scurry.
A rule had been established to the end that no one should go down the coast while the others were still climbing up, but that all should go down one after the other in good order, to prevent confusion or accidents. Notwithstanding this good rule, there were often many lawless proceedings, especially towards the close of the day, when nobody wished to be the last, and when they all crowded onto the coast very closely together.
This was the state of affairs on a clear evening in January, when the snow fairly crackled under the children's feet as they mounted the hill, and the fields in every direction were frozen so firmly that you could have gone anywhere over them in a sleigh as if they were the highway. The children were all rosy and glowing with their exertions, for they were hurrying up the steep hill, pulling their sleds behind them, turning them about in a flash, jumping upon them, and off again head foremost, not to lose a second of the precious time until the moon shone brightly in the crisp sky, and the evening bells were ringing. All the boys were shouting, "Once more; just once more!" and the girls were as eager as they. At the top, however, where they all threw themselves upon their sleds, there was great excitement and uproar. Three boys each claimed to have reached the top first, and would not yield an inch to each other, but all must go down at once. And so they pushed this way and that, until a big boy called Cheppi was hustled quite against the bank of snow at the side of the coast, and found that his heavily ironed sled was fast in the snow. He was furious, for he saw that now all the other fellows would get off before he could extricate himself. He looked about, and presently espied a little slender girl standing near by in the snow. She was very pale, and held both arms wrapped in her apron to keep them warmer, for all that she trembled and shivered with cold from head to feet. She looked so feeble and miserable, that she seemed to Cheppi just the proper object upon whom to vent his rage.
"Can't you get out of a fellow's way, you stupid thing? What are you standing there for? You have not even a sled with you. Just wait a moment; I'll help you to get along!"
So saying, he thrust his boot into the snow, intending to kick it over the girl. She sprang back, however, quickly, so that she went quite up to her knees in the snow, and said timidly, "I was only looking on."
Cheppi was thrusting his boot into the snow again with the same intention towards the child, when he received such a tremendous box on the ear from behind, that it almost knocked him off his sled. "Just you wait a minute," he shouted, beside himself with anger, for his ear tingled as it had never tingled before; and doubling up his fists, he turned himself to see who was his hidden foe. A boy stood behind him, and looked on very quietly, holding his sled in position for another coast.
"Come on," he said calmly.
It was Otto Ritter, a class-mate of Cheppi, with whom he was always engaged in some little quarrel. Otto was a tall, slender boy, about eleven years old, and not nearly of the same strength as Cheppi; but the latter had learned more than once that with hands and feet Otto was much the more skilful of the two. He did not strike out, but held his fists doubled up, and cried out angrily, "Let me alone: I am not meddling with you."
"But I am with you," replied Otto, in a very warlike tone. "What business have you to chase Wiseli away like that, and then to kick snow at her, I should like to know? I have been looking at you, you coward! teasing a little girl who cannot defend herself."
With these words he turned his back contemptuously towards Cheppi, and called out to Wiseli, who was standing shivering all this time in the deep snow,—
"Come out of the snow, Wiseli. Oh, how you are shivering, child! Have you no sled really, and only been able to look on? Here, take mine, and go down once quickly. Do you know how?"
The pale, timid girl did not know what to make of this kindness. She had been looking on for some little time, watching the sleds as they flew down the hill, and thinking, "Oh, how I should like to go down to the very bottom just once!" when she saw two, and sometimes three, going down on the same sled. But now she might go down all alone by herself, and that, too, on the very handsomest sled on the coast,—the one with a lion's head, that went faster than any other, because it was light, and was bound with iron. She was so happy that she stood still, looking after Cheppi with a half feeling that he might strike her if she dared to enjoy such a piece of good fortune. But there he stood quite tranquilly, as if nothing whatever had happened; and by him stood Otto, with such a protecting air, that she took courage, and seated herself on the handsome sled; and when Otto called out, "Go on; go on, Wiseli!" she obeyed, and away she flew as if the wind were behind her. Very soon Otto heard the coasters all toiling up the hill again, and he called out, "Stay among the first, Wiseli, and go down again; after that we must go home." Wiseli was only too happy to do as she was bid, and enjoyed for a second time the long-wished-for pleasure. Then she brought the sled to its owner, thanking him shyly for his kindness, but more with her beaming eyes than with words; and off she scampered as fast as she could go. Otto felt decidedly happier. "Where is Pussy?" he called out, peering into the already scattering crowd. "Here she is!" replied a merry voice; and out of the knot of children appeared a red-cheeked, plump little girl, who slipped her hand into her big brother's protecting palm, and went with him towards their father's house as quickly as possible. It was very late, and they had over-passed the allotted time for coasting.