Rico and Stineli.
Chapter II. In the School.
 

Rico was almost nine years old, and had been to school for two winters. Up there in the mountains there was no school in the summer-time; for then the teacher had his field to cultivate, and his hay and wood to cut, like everybody else, and nobody had time to think of going to school. This was not a great sorrow for Rico,--he knew how to amuse himself. When he had once taken his place in the morning on the threshold, he would stand there for hours without moving, gazing into the far distance with dreamy eyes, if the door of the house over the way did not open, and a little girl make her appearance and look over at him laughingly. Then Rico ran over to her in a trice, and the children were busy enough in telling each other what had happened since the evening before, and talked incessantly, until Stineli was called into the house. The girl's name was Stineli, and she and Rico were of exactly the same age. They began to go to school at the same time, were in the same classes, and from that time forward were always together; for there was only a narrow path between their cottages, and they were the dearest of friends.

This was the only intimacy that Rico had, for he had no pleasure in the companionship of the other boys; and when they thrashed each other, or played at wrestling, or turned somersaults, he went away without even looking back at them. If they called out after him, "Now it is Rico's turn to be thrashed," he stood perfectly still and did nothing; but he looked at them so strangely with his dark eyes, that no one meddled with him.

In Stineli's company he was always contented. She had a merry little pug-nose, and two brown eyes that were always laughing; and around her head were two thick braids of brown hair, that always looked smooth and neat, for Stineli was a very orderly girl, and knew very well how to take care of herself. For that her daily experience was excellent. It is true Stineli was scarcely nine years old, but she was the eldest daughter of the family, and had to help her mother in every thing, and there was a great deal to be done,--for after Stineli came Trudi and Sami and Peterli, then Urschli and Anne-Deteli and Kunzli, and last of all the baby, who was not baptized. From every corner, at every moment, Stineli was called for; and she had become so handy and skilful with all this practice, that work seemed to turn itself out of her hands of its own accord. She could always put on three stockings and fasten two shoes before Trudi had even placed the legs of the little one she was helping in the right position. And while her mother was calling for Stineli to help her in the kitchen, and the little children wanted her in the bedroom, her father was sure to shout out from the stable for Stineli to come to his help, for he had mislaid his cap, or his whip-lash was in a knot, and she found the one in a trice,--it was generally on the meal-box,--and her limber fingers had no trouble in untying the knotted lash. So, you see, Stineli was always busy running about and working, but always merry with it all, and rejoiced also in winter, when the school began. Then she went with Rico to school and back again, and in recess they were also together. And in summer she was still more happy, for then the lovely Sunday evenings came when she could go out; and she and Rico went, hand in hand,--the lad was always waiting for her in the doorway,--over the big meadow towards the wood on the hill-side that projected far out over the lake like an island. They used to sit up there under the pines, and look out over the green waters of the lake, and had so many questions to ask and so many answers to give, and were so happy, that Stineli was happy all the week in thinking it over and looking forward,--for Sunday always came again.

There was yet one other person in the household who called for Stineli now and then,--that was her old grandmother.

She did not want her assistance, however, but had generally a bit of money to give her that she had put aside, or some little thing that would give the girl pleasure; for the grandmother noticed how much there was for Stineli to do, and that she had less pleasure than other children of her age, and the child was her favorite. She always had something ready so that she could buy herself a red ribbon at the yearly market, or a needle-case, if she wished.

Rico was also a favorite with this good grandmother, and she liked to see the children together, and tried to contrive a little recreation for them now and then.

On summer evenings the grandmother always sat by the door on a tree-stump that was there, and often Stineli and Rico stood by her side while she told them stories. But when the prayer-bell sounded from the little church tower she always said, "Now say, 'Our Father;' and be sure, children, that you never forget to say that prayer every evening; the prayer-bells ring to remind you of that." "Now remember, little ones," she would now and then repeat, "I have lived for a long, long time, and had a great deal of experience, and I have never known a single person who has not, at some time or other in his life, sore need of 'Our Father;' but I have known many a one who has sought to say it anxiously, and not found it, in his great need." So Stineli and Rico stood reverently side by side and said their evening prayer.

Now May had come, and there was only a short time to pass before school would cease, for under the trees there were signs of green, and the snow had melted and vanished in many places. Rico had been standing for a long time in the doorway making these welcome observations. At the same time he looked again and again towards the opposite door, hoping that it would open. It did at last, and out came Stineli.

"How long have you been standing there?" she called out merrily. "It is early to-day, and we can go along slowly."

They took each other's hands, and went towards the schoolhouse.

"Are you always thinking about the lake?" asked Stineli as they went along.

"Yes, of course," said Rico, with a serious expression; "and I often dream about it too, and see great red flowers there, and in the distance the purple mountains."

"Oh! what one dreams does not count," said Stineli. "I dreamed once that Peterli climbed, all alone, to the top of the highest pine-tree; and when he was on the top twig, suddenly he changed into a bird and called out, 'Come, Stineli, and put on my stockings for me.' So you see that it does not mean any thing when you dream."

Rico pondered over this, for his dream might certainly mean something, and yet only be thoughts passing through his mind. Now, however, they were near the schoolhouse, and a troop of noisy children came towards them from the opposite direction. They all entered together, and soon the teacher came in. He was an old man with thin, gray hair, for he had been teacher for an incredibly long time,--so long, that his hair had grown gray and fallen out.

Now a busy spelling and pronouncing began; then followed the multiplication-table, and, lastly, the singing. For this the teacher brought out his old fiddle and tuned it. Then they began, and all shouted at the top of their lungs,--

  "Little lambkins, come down
  From the bright sunny height,"

and the teacher played the accompaniment.

Rico, however, had his eyes fixed so attentively upon the fiddle, and on the teacher's fingers as he touched the strings, that he quite forgot the song; and at this the whole choir lost their pitch, and fell away a half-note, and the fiddle became uncertain, and lost a half-note also; and then the voices fell lower still, until at last nobody could have told where they were going to all together; but the teacher tossed his fiddle upon the table and called out angrily, "What sort of a song do you call that? You are nothing but a lot of screamers! I should like to know who it is who sings false and spoils the whole time."

At this a little boy spoke up,--the one who sat nearest to Rico: "I know why it all goes wrong. It always goes that way when Rico stops singing."

The teacher himself knew that the fiddle was somewhat dependent on Rico's leading.

"Rico, Rico! what is this that I hear?" he said, turning to the lad. "You are generally a well-behaved boy; but inattention is a sad fault, as you now see. One single careless scholar can easily spoil a whole song. Now we will begin anew; and be more attentive, Rico."

After this the boy sang with his steady, clear voice; the fiddle followed, and the children sang with all their might, and it went on very satisfactorily to the very end.

The teacher was well satisfied, and rubbed his hands together, and then drew his bow over the string, saying, with a pleased air, "It is a good instrument, after all."