Rico and Stineli.
Chapter XVII. 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.