Rico and Stineli.
Chapter XI. A Long Journey.
 

On that memorable Sunday evening, Rico seated himself on the chair in his gloomy bedroom. There he decided to stay until his cousin had gone to bed.

After Stineli had made the discovery that Rico could go with his fiddle down to the much-wished-for lake, the enterprise seemed a very simple thing to the lad,--so easy, that he only thought of the best way to get off. He had a presentiment that his cousin would probably try to hinder him from going, although he felt sure that she would not miss him after he was away.

So, when she began to scold him when he came home, he said to himself, "I will be off as soon as she is once in her bed."

He had very pleasant thoughts as he sat there in the dark,--of how nice it would be not to hear the scolding voice of his cousin all day long, and of what big bushels of the red flowers he would bring back to Stineli when he returned. And then the picture of the sunny shores of the lake and the purple hills rose before his mind, and he fell asleep. He was not in a very comfortable position, for he had never let his fiddle leave his hand; and he soon awoke again, but it was still dark.

Now he had a clear idea of what he would do. He had his Sunday clothes on, which was good; and his cap was also on his head. He took his fiddle under his arm, and went softly down the steps, slipped the bolt aside, and stole out into the cool air of morning.

The dawn was just showing over the mountains, and in Sils the cocks were crowing. Off he walked briskly, to get well away from the houses and to reach the highway. When he once was on the road, he went along merrily; for he felt quite at home there, he had so often traversed the ground with his father. He could form no idea of how far it really was to the Maloja; and indeed it seemed very long to him, after he had been going for two good hours. Little by little it grew brighter, however; and in about an hour more, when he reached the place before the tavern upon the Maloja, where he used to stand with his father and gaze down the mountain road, the sunny light of morning lay upon the mountains, and the tips of the fir-trees were all touched with gold.

Rico seated himself upon the edge of the roadside. He was very tired, and remembered suddenly that he had not eaten any thing since the noonday meal of the day before. But he was not discouraged, for now the way was all down hill; and, after that, he should undoubtedly reach the lake.

While he sat there, the big post-wagon came rumbling along. He had often seen it as it came through Sils, and always thought that the very greatest happiness upon earth must be experienced by the driver, who sat all day long on the box, and controlled his four horses with his whip. Now he saw this happy creature nearer; for the post-wagon stopped, and the lad never once removed his eyes from the wonderful man, as he came down from his perch, stepped into the inn, and came out again with an enormous piece of black bread in his hand, upon which lay a large piece of cheese.

Next, the driver drew out a strong knife, cut a good big bit of bread, and gave each horse a mouthful in turn, not forgetting himself in the meantime; but upon his own piece of bread he put an equally big morsel of cheese. As they all stood there, eating in happy companionship, the man looked about a little, and presently called out, "Hulloa, little musician! won't you join us too? Come hither."

Now when Rico saw them all eating, he fully realized how very hungry he was. He most gladly accepted the invitation, and approached the driver, who cut such a big slice of bread and also of cheese to give the lad, that Rico did not really know how he should manage to eat it.

He was obliged to put his fiddle down on the ground; and the coachman looked on very complaisantly while the boy ate his breakfast, and said, while he followed his own occupation,--

"You are a very small fiddler. Do you know how to play something?"

"Oh, yes! two songs, besides those I learned from my father," replied Rico.

"Really! And where are you going to on your two little legs?" said the driver. "To Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda," was the serious answer.

At these words, the coachman burst into such boisterous laughter that the boy gazed up at him in great astonishment.

"Well, you are a good one to travel," cried the man, still laughing." Have you any notion how far it is, and that a little musician like you could wear out his two feet, and his soles, too, before he could catch sight of a single drop of the water of the Lake of Garda? Who sends you down there?"

"Nobody. I go of my own accord."

"Well, I never have seen the like of you before," said the man, still laughing good-naturedly. "Where, then, is your home, my boy?"

"I do not know exactly. It may be on the Lake of Garda," was the serious answer.

"What sort of reply is that?"

So saying, the coachman looked with some curiosity at the little figure before him, which certainly did not betray any signs of being neglected. On the contrary, the head, with its black curly hair, and the nice Sunday suit of clothes, gave the lad a very genteel appearance; and his delicate features and earnest eyes bore unmistakable evidence to something noble in his character, and any one who looked at him once was certain to repeat the glance with pleasure.

Such was also the case with the driver. He gazed steadfastly at Rico, and presently said, kindly, "You carry your passport in your face, my boy; and it is not a bad one either, even if you do not know where you belong. What will you give me now, if I will carry you along with me down yonder, on the box?"

Rico stared, for he could scarcely believe his ears at these words. To sit on that high post-wagon, and drive down into the valley! Such luck could never, never be his; of that he was sure. Besides, what had he to give the coachman in exchange?

"I have only my fiddle in the world, and I cannot give that away," he said sadly, after thinking a while.

"Well, I should not know what to do with that box," laughed the driver "Come along. We will get up there, and you may play me a little music."

Rico could not trust his ears; but, sure enough, the coachman pushed him up over the wheel to the top of the coach, climbing up after him. The passengers had all taken their places, the doors were closed, and away they rolled down the road.--the well-known road over which Rico had so often longingly gazed, wishing that he could travel it.

Now his wish was realized. High up between heaven and earth he seemed to be flying, and could not believe that he was not in a dream.

The coachman was revolving in his own mind the question of the boy's belongings.

"Just tell me, now, you little travelling bundle, where your father lives."

He asked this after having cracked his whip many times in succession as loud as he could.

"He is dead."

"Oh, dear! Well, where is your mother, then?"

"She is dead, too."

"Well, there is always a grandfather and a grandmother, or something. Where are yours?"

"All dead."

"At any rate, everybody has some brothers or sisters; where are yours, I should like to know?"

"All are dead," was the sorrowfully repeated answer.

When the driver had convinced himself that they were all gone, he ceased his questions about the relatives, and began in another direction with, "What was your father's name?"

"Henrico Trevillo of Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda."

At last the driver thought he had got at the root of the matter, and said to himself this boy had strayed away, or been carried away, from his home down below there, and it is a good thing for him to get carried back where he belongs; and he thought no more about the affair.

Presently they passed the first very steep bit of the hill, and came to an even stretch of ground, and the driver said, "Now, musician, let us have a jolly song to cheer the way."

Full of satisfaction, and much elated at his high position on his throne under the blue heaven, the boy took his instrument and began to sing in his strong, clear tones,--

    "Little lambkins, come down."

Now it happened that there were three students seated up on the top of the post-wagon: they were off on a vacation trip, and very merry.

So when Rico carolled forth Stineli's song in his gayest manner, they all burst out laughing and shouted, "Stop, singer, stop, and begin over again; we want to sing with you."

Rico obeyed, and the jolly students joined in with all their might,--

  "And the lambkins, and the lambkins,"--

and laughed so extravagantly all the time that they drowned the sound of Rico's fiddle completely. And then one of them would take up the words and sing alone,--

    "And if they forgot it,
    It hurt not a bit."

And then the others joined in, and sang as loudly as possible,--

"And the lambkins, and the lambkins."

And so they went on for a long time. If Rico paused a little, they shouted, "Go on, fiddler; don't stop yet," and threw little pieces of money to him over and over again, until he had quite a heap in his cap.

Within the coach the passengers opened the windows, and stuck their heads out to listen to the merry singing.

Rico started off afresh, and the students also. They divided the song into solos and chorus; and the solo sang very solemnly,--

"And one lake, like another, From water is made."

And then again,--

    "And because they forgot it,
    It hurt not a bit."

And the chorus took it up with,--

  "And the lambkins, and the lambkins."

Then they laughed so that they were almost dead, and were forced to be still for very fatigue and want of breath.

Presently the driver stopped, for it was time for the horses to rest, and also dinner-time. While the good man helped Rico down, he held the little fellow's cap firmly for him, for it had a lot of money in it, and the boy was busy enough with holding his fiddle carefully.

The coachman was perfectly delighted when he saw the money, and said, as he gave Rico the cap, "That is first rate; now you can have a good dinner."

The students leaped down one after the other, and crowded around the fiddler to have a look at him, for they could not see him very well on the top of the coach; and when they discovered what a tiny manikin he was, they began to make merry again. Judging from his voice, they had expected to see a large, strong musician; and the sight of this child seemed to make the fun twice as funny.

They took the little fellow up between them, and carried him with singing and laughter into the inn. There they seated him at the table between two gentlemen, and said that he was their guest; and they all helped him one after the other, and put huge pieces upon his plate, for no one would be outdone by the others in serving him; and the boy had certainly never eaten such a dinner in all his life as he ate that day.

"Tell us where you learned your beautiful song?" asked one of three.

"Stineli made it up," replied Rico, very seriously.

The students looked at each other at these words, and burst out again with laughter.

"So Stineli made it up, did she? Then we must drink her health over it."

Rico had to join in drinking the toast, and was nothing loath to drink to Stineli's health.

But now the time for resting and eating was over; and while they were all taking their places to go on their journey, a stout man came towards Rico,--a man who had such a big stick in his hand, that it looked as if he had torn up a young tree for his walking-stick. He was dressed in a thick, golden-brown stuff from head to foot.

"Come here, little one," he said to Rico. "How nicely you did sing! I heard you here, inside the coach; and my business is also with sheep, for, you know, I am a sheep-dealer; and I want to give you something, because you can sing about them so prettily."

With these words he put a big piece of silver in Rico's hand, for the cap had been emptied by this time, and the contents transferred to the boy's pocket.

After this the man got into the coach, and the driver lifted Rico up to his high seat as if the boy had been a mere feather, and off they went.

As soon as the speed of the start had a little abated, the students called for more music, and Rico played every thing that he could remember ever having heard his father play; and at the end he played,--

  "I sing to thee with heart and voice."

But this tune must have put the students to sleep, for every thing became quite still; and at last the riddle was silent. The evening breeze stirred gently, and the stars climbed silently up into the sky one after the other, until they were shining brightly in every direction.

Rico looked about, and thought of Stineli, of the grandmother, of what they were now doing; and it occurred to him that this was the very time at which the prayer-bell usually rang, and when they were saying "Our Father." He did the same, to be with them in that, at least: folded his hands, and said his prayer piously under the brilliant heavens.