Rico and Stineli.
Chapter XIII. On the Distant, Beautiful Lake.
 

Rico went forward a little way from the building at which the train had stopped, and looked about. This white house, the barren square in front of it, the straight road in the distance, were all new and strange to his eyes. He had not seen any of them before; and he said to himself, "I have not come to the right place after all." He went sadly down the road between the trees, however, until presently the road made a turn, and the boy stood as if transfixed, and believed himself dreaming, for before him lay the lake, heavenly blue in the brilliant sunlight, with its warm, still shores; and yonder were the mountains, and the sunny bay was there, where the friendly houses sparkled in the distance.

Now he knew where he was. He had seen all this before, he had stood in this very place, he knew the trees perfectly well; but where was the cottage? It must have stood there, close to where he now was, but it was not visible.

The old road was there below. Oh! he knew that well; and there, there were the great shining red flowers with such green leaves. A little stone bridge ought to be there, somewhere over the outlet of the lake: he had often passed over that little bridge, but could not see it where he stood, however.

Rico started off, as if driven by the longing that now took possession of him. Down the road he ran; and over there,--yes, that was the little stone bridge. Every thing came back to him: there he had crossed, and somebody held him by the hand,--his mother. Suddenly his mother's face came before his eyes quite distinctly; he had never seen it so clearly before. He remembered how she had stood there and looked at him with loving eyes. It all came back to his mind with a rush.

He threw himself down on the ground by the bridge, and cried and sobbed aloud, "O mother! where are you, mother? Where is my home, mother?"

He lay there for a long, long time, and cried until his great sorrow was somewhat stilled. He thought his heart must burst, and as if all the grief that had been hitherto pent up within his bosom must now find an outlet.

When at last he raised himself from the ground, the sun had already declined in the heavens, and the golden twilight lay over the lake. The mountains were turning purple, and a sunny mist lay all over the shores. This was the way his lake had always looked to Rico in his dreams, only the reality was even more lovely than he had remembered it.

And his great wish rose again in his mind as he sat there, "Oh, if I could show this to Stineli!"

At last the sun sunk below the horizon, and the light slowly died out. Rico arose, and passed along the road towards the red flowers. A narrow lane branched off from the main road at this place. There they stood, one bush after another: it looked like a great garden. There was, truly, only an open fence about the whole; and within the flowers, the trees, and the grape-vines were all growing together.

At the farther end stood a pretty house with wide open doors; and in the garden a lad was moving about cutting big bunches of golden grapes now from this vine, now from that, all the while whistling merrily.

Rico gazed at the flowers, and thought, "If Stineli could only see them!" He stood for a long time thoughtfully by the fence. Presently the lad espied him, and called out, "Come in, fiddler; and play a pretty song, if you know one."

The lad spoke in Italian, and it produced a strange sensation in Rico's mind: he understood what he heard, but he never could have said it himself. He entered the garden, and the lad began to try to talk with him; but when he found that Rico could not reply, he pointed towards the open door, giving Rico to understand that he was to go there to play.

When Rico approached the door, he found that it opened directly into a bedroom. A little bed stood within, near which was seated a woman who was knitting with red yarn. Rico placed himself before the threshold, and began to play and sing his song,--

"Little lambkins, come down."

When he had finished, the pale face of a little boy was suddenly raised from the pillows of the bed; and Rico heard the words,--

"Play again."

Rico played another tune.

"Play again" was repeated. This went on for five or six times, until Rico had exhausted his stock of songs and tunes; and he put his fiddle under his arm, and was moving away, when the little boy began to call out piteously,--

"Oh, do stay! Do play again! Play something else!" Then the woman stood up, and came towards Rico.

She placed something in his hand, and at first he did not understand what she wanted; but presently he remembered what Stineli had said, that if he went to a door, and played on his fiddle, the people would give him something. The woman asked him kindly where he came from, and where he was going to; but he could not answer her. She then asked if he were with his parents? He shook his head. If he were alone? He nodded assent. Where he was going so late in the evening? Rico shook his head, to denote uncertainty. A great pity took possession of the woman for the little stranger; and she called to the boy who worked in the garden, and bade him conduct the fiddler to the inn of the "Golden Sun." Perhaps the landlord would understand his language, for he had been away in foreign parts for a long time. She bade the gardener to say to the landlord that she wished him to let the lad stay there over night, that she would pay for it; and, in the morning, set the little fellow off in the right direction towards his destination. He was so young,--"only a little older than my boy," she added, compassionately; and also would the landlord give the boy something to eat.

Again the child on the bed called out, "He must play again;" and would not stop until his mother said, "He will come again. Now he must sleep, and you too."

The gardener walked on in advance of Rico, who knew, however, what was to be done; for he had understood what the woman said perfectly.

In about ten minutes they had reached the town. In one of the little streets the gardener entered a house, and proceeded at once to the dining-room, which was filled with tobacco-smoke, and with men seated at little tables all about.

Then the gardener gave his message, to which the landlord replied, "It is all right." The landlady came too, and both looked Rico over from head to foot. When the guests at the neighboring tables espied the fiddle under Rico's arm, several of them called out together, "There is music!" And another one shouted, "Play something, boy, quickly; something gay!" And they all began to shout for music so noisily that the landlord could hardly make Rico hear him when he asked what language he spoke, and whence he came. Rico replied in his own language that he came down over the Maloja, that he could understand every thing that was said to him, but could not reply in the same language. The landlord understood him, and said that he had been up there in the mountains, and they would have a little conversation later; but now the boy must really play something, for the guests called for music incessantly.

Rico, obedient as ever, began to play, and also to sing his own song as usual. But the company did not understand the words, and the tune seemed very dull to them also. Some began to make jokes and noises, while others called for something different,--a dance, or a pretty tune.

Rico sang every verse of his song to the very end; for when he had once begun it, he would not stop until it was finished properly. When he had finished, he bethought himself. He knew no dance music, so that was out of the question. The hymn he had learned from the grandmother was very slow, and they would not understand that either. Then he remembered, and began the air,--

  "Una Sera
  In Peschiera."

Scarcely had he brought forth the first notes of this tune, when every thing became still; and in a moment or two voices broke forth from the different tables round about the room, and they sang in chorus as the boy had never yet heard any one sing. He became excited presently, and played with great feeling, while the men sang enthusiastically; and as soon as one verse was ended, Rico began the music for the next without hesitating, for he had learned, from hearing his father play it, exactly how the accompaniment should be, and when to stop. When he had reached the finale, such a storm of applause broke forth that the boy was quite overwhelmed. All the men called out and shouted, striking their fists upon the tables for pleasure; and then they all came about little Rico with their glasses, and they all wanted to drink with him. Some took him by the shoulders, and all shouted at him, and made such a racket with their surprise and pleasure, that Rico became very much frightened, and turned paler and paler every moment.

What had he done, however, but play their own Peschiera song, that belonged to them alone, and which no stranger could ever learn; and this child had played it as firmly and correctly as if he had been a Peschierana. Such a wonderful event was enough to arouse these lively fellows to the utmost; and they could not cease talking about it, and wondering about this strange little fiddler, and drinking with him, to express their friendliness.

At last the landlady interposed. She brought a plate full of rice, and a big piece of chicken. She beckoned Rico aside, saying to the men they must let him have a little quiet now; he needed food; he was as pale as chalk from excitement. She placed the dish upon a little table in one corner, and encouraged him to eat heartily: she was sure he needed it, he was such a little scrap. To tell the truth, Rico did enjoy his supper wonderfully well. Since the coffee in the morning, not a mouthful had passed his lips; and so much had happened to excite him too.

As soon as he had eaten all that there was upon his plate, his poor little eyes closed from fatigue, and he had the greatest difficulty in keeping them open long enough to answer the landlord's questions of where he belonged, and where he was going, while he also praised the child's music. Rico answered that he belonged to nobody, and was going nowhere.

The landlord spoke kindly and encouragingly to the boy, telling him that he should be cared for that night, and in the morning he could go to see Mrs. Menotti, who had sent him there. She was a good, kind woman, said the landlord, who could perhaps employ him in her household, if he had no place to go to where he belonged.

His wife, who stood by, plucked him constantly by the sleeve, trying to stop him from talking; but he finished what he had to say, nevertheless, for he had no idea what she meant by it all.

Pretty soon the men at the tables began to clamor again: they were calling for their song.

The landlady, however, asserted herself. "No, no! on Sunday you shall have it again; the child is tired to death." So saying, she took Rico by the hand, and led him up into a big room where the harnesses hung. A big heap of corn lay in one corner, and a bed stood in the other. In a very few moments the boy was fast asleep.

Later, when every thing had become quite silent in the house, the landlord sat at the little table where Rico had eaten his supper, and before him stood his wife, for she was still busy in clearing away the tables; and she said with great earnestness, "You must not send him back again to Mrs. Menotti. Such a boy as that will be most useful to me in every possible way; and did not you notice how beautifully he fiddled? They were all crazy about it. Look out! he is a far better player than any of our three; and he will learn to play for dancing in no time; and you will have a musician to whom you need pay nothing, and who will play every evening when they dance; and you can let him out also to go to the other places. Don't you let him slip through your fingers. He is a pretty little fellow, and I like him. We must keep him ourselves."

"Well, I am satisfied," said the landlord, and understood that his wife had made a hit this time that was sure to turn out well.