Rico and Stineli.
Chapter XII. It Still Goes On.
 

At last Rico also fell asleep. He only awoke when the driver took hold of him to lift him down. All the passengers descended; and the three students came to the lad, shook him kindly by the hand, and wished a happy journey. One of them called out, "Greet Stineli very kindly for us." Then they disappeared up one of the streets, and Rico could hear them as they sang merrily,--

  "And the lambkins, and the lambkins,"

Rico now stood alone in the darkness. He had not the slightest idea where he was, nor of what he ought to do next. He presently remembered that he had not even thanked the kind coachman who had allowed him to come all this way on the coach, and he felt that he must do that at once.

The coachman and his horses were both invisible, and nothing but darkness was about the boy. At last he espied a lantern hanging up somewhere in the distance, and went towards the light. It was hanging on the stable-door, and the horses were just then brought in. Near the door stood the man with the thick stick. He seemed to be waiting for the driver; so Rico took his stand near by, and waited too.

Probably the sheep-dealer did not recognize the little fiddler in the darkness; but suddenly he exclaimed, quite surprised, "What! is that you, little one? Where are you going to pass the night?"

"I do not know where," replied the boy.

"Well, I never heard of such a thing; at eleven o'clock at night, and a little scrap of a boy like you in a strange place"--

The sheep-dealer seemed to speak in a great hurry, for he could scarcely breathe in his excitement; neither did he finish his sentence, for the driver entered the stable at that moment, and Rico went up to him at once, saying, "I want to thank you for bringing me along with you."

"You have come just in the nick of time. I had almost forgotten you while I was looking after my horses, and I wanted to hand you over to an acquaintance. I was thinking of asking you, good friend," he continued, turning towards the dealer, "if you would not take this little chap along with you, as you are going to Bergamo. He wants to go somewhere on the Lake of Garda. He is one of those who belong here or there. You understand, don't you?"

The sheep-dealer thought of the stories he had heard of lost or stolen children. He looked with pity at Rico, standing in the dim light of the lantern, and said, "He does look as if he were not in exactly the clothes that belong to him. He would become a richer dress, I am sure. I will take him with me."

When he had talked over the sheep-trade a little with the coachman they parted, and the dealer made a sign to Rico that he should follow him.

After a short walk, the man entered an inn, where he seated himself in a corner of the eating-room with the boy beside him.

"Now let us look at your possessions," he said to Rico, "so that we can see what they will allow you to have. Where are you going on the lake?"

"To Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda."

This was Rico's never-failing answer. He drew out his money from his pocket,--a nice little pile of small coins it was, and the big silver bit on the top of all.

"Have you only that one bit of silver?" asked the dealer.

"Yes; only that one. You gave me that," replied the boy.

It pleased the man to think that he was the only one who had given silver; and he was also pleased that the lad was aware of the fact. He felt as if he wanted to give him something more. Just at this moment his supper was placed before him, and the kindly man nodded to his little companion, saying, "I will pay for this, and for your night's lodging also; so you need not touch your little fortune until to-morrow."

Rico was so tired out with all the fiddling and singing, and the long journey, that he could scarcely eat; and as soon as he reached the big bedroom where he was to pass the night with his protector, he was asleep the moment he had put his head on the pillow.

Early the following morning, Rico was awakened from a sound sleep by a powerful grasp. He sprang quickly out of bed. His companion stood ready dressed for the journey, with his big stick in his hand.

It was not long, however, before Rico was also ready, with his fiddle tucked under his arm. They went into the dining-room, and the dealer called for coffee at once. He recommended the lad to make a good meal then; for they had a long journey before them, he said, and one that created an appetite.

When they had breakfasted to their satisfaction, they sallied forth; and, after a little, came round a sharp corner; and how Rico did open his big eyes! for there, before him, lay a great shining lake; and much excited, he shouted out, "Now we are on the Lake of Garda!"

"Not for a long time yet, my boy. This is the Lake of Como."

They went on board a boat, and sailed for several hours after this; and Rico looked about him,--at the sun-bathed shores, and then at the blue waters; and he felt at home at last.

Presently he took his piece of silver from his pocket, and put it down on the table before the dealer.

"What does this mean? Have you too much money by you?" asked the man, who was looking on in surprise, his arms supported on his big stick.

"I must pay to-day," said Rico. "You said so yesterday."

"You are very attentive to what is said to you. That is a very good thing; but that is not the way to do, to put your money down on a table like that. Give it to me."

He took it, and went over to pay for their passage; but when he drew out his heavy leathern purse, full of silver pieces,--for he was doing a large business in selling sheep,--he could not find the heart to take the poor lad's solitary bit of silver; and he brought it back again with the ticket, saying, "There, you can find better use for your money to-morrow. Now you are with me, but who knows how it will be after this? When you are alone down there, and I am not with you any more, shall you be able to find the house where you are going?"

"No; I do not know any thing about the house," replied Rico.

The man was secretly much surprised, and the lad's story seemed very mysterious to him. He did not let this appear, however, and asked no further questions. He said to himself that he should not probably find out any thing more at present, but would ask the coachman about it the next time they met. He probably knew the truth, even better than the child himself did. He felt very sorry for the little fellow, who would soon be deprived of his protection too.

When the boat stopped, the man took Rico's hand in his, saying, "Now I shall not lose you, and you can keep up with me better, for we must hurry along; they won't wait for us."

It was as much as the little fellow could do to keep up with his friend. He did not turn to look to the right hand nor the left, but presently stopped before some strange-looking wagons on wheels. They mounted the step, Rico behind his companion; and the former entered a railroad carriage for the first time.

They flew along for several hours, until at last the dealer stood up, and said, "Now I must go. We are in Bergamo, and you are to stay here quietly; for I have arranged it all for you. You have only to get out when you get there."

"Then shall I be at Peschiera, on the Lake of Garda?" asked Rice.

His companion replied in the affirmative. At last Rico understood--what he had not clearly seen before--how much kindness the dealer had shown to him, and the boy felt very sorry that they must part.

After this Rico sat alone in his corner, and had plenty of time for day-dreaming; for nobody troubled him in any way, although the train had stopped at several stations since his companion left him.

At last the conductor came in, took Rico by the arm, and led him quickly to the door, and lifted him down the steps; then, pointing towards the heights in the distance, he said briefly, "Peschiera;" and in a twinkling he was back again in the carriage, and disappeared in the train as it steamed off.