Rico and Stineli.
Chapter XIV. New Friendships Formed, While the Old Ones are not Forgotten.
 

The next morning, the landlady of the "Golden Sun" stood on the doorstep of her inn, and looked at the heavens to read the signs of the probable weather, and to think over the experiences of the night before. Presently the gardener's boy from Mrs. Menotti's came along. He was both master and servant over the lovely, fruitful property of Mrs. Menotti; for he understood both the care of the garden and the cultivation of the farm, and he looked after and directed all the work himself, and had an easy and good place with her. He was contented, and whistled incessantly.

However, while he stood before the landlady, he stopped for a little, and said, if the little musician of the evening before had not gone away, he was to go over to Mrs. Menotti again, because her little boy wanted to hear him fiddle some more.

"Yes, yes; if Mrs. Menotti is not in a great hurry,"--while she put her arms on her hips, to show that she, at any rate, was not pressed for time. "At the present moment the little musician is sleeping upstairs in his good bed; and I, for one, do not wish to have him disturbed. You may say to Mrs. Menotti that I will send him to her presently. He is not going away. I have taken him under my charge for good and all; for he is a deserted orphan, and does not know where to go; and now he will be well cared for," added she, with emphasis.

The gardener went off with this message.

Rico was allowed to sleep as long as he wanted to; for the landlady was a good-natured woman, though, to be sure, she thought first of her own profit, and afterwards was willing to help others to theirs. When the boy awoke, at last, from his long sleep, his fatigue had quite disappeared; and he came running down the stairs as fresh as possible. The landlady made a sign for him to come into the kitchen, and placed a big bowl of coffee before him, with a nice yellow corn-cake, saying,--

"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.

"Rico."

"Mine is Silvio. How old are you?"

"Almost eleven."

"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.