Rico and Stineli.
Chapter IV. The Beautiful Distant Lake Without a Name
 

When Stineli awoke on the following Sunday morning, she was conscious of an unusual light-heartedness, and at first could not understand the cause, until she remembered what day it was, and that her grandmother had said, on the previous evening, "To-morrow you must have the whole afternoon to yourself: it is rightfully yours."

After dinner was finished, and all the dishes taken away, and the table washed off by Stineli, Peterli called out, "Come here to me;" and the two others screamed, "No, to me!" and her father said, "Now Stineli must go to look after the goats."

But at this moment her grandmother went through the kitchen, and made a sign to Stineli to follow her.

"Now go in peace, my child," she said. "I will take care of the goats and the children; but be sure to come home, both of you, punctually when the bell rings for prayer." The grandmother knew very well that there were two of them.

Off flew Stineli, like a bird whose cage-door has suddenly been opened; and outside stood Rico, who had been waiting for a long time. They went on together, across the meadow towards the wood.

On the mountains the sun was shining brightly, and the blue heavens lay over all the landscape. They were obliged to pass, for a little while, through the shade in the snow; but the sun was shining a little farther on, and shimmered on the waters of the lake, and there were lovely dry spots on the slope that was almost hanging over the lake.

There the children seated themselves. A sharp wind came down from the heights, and whistled about their ears. Stineli was as happy as happy could be. She shouted out, again and again, "Oh, look, Rico; look! How beautiful it is in the sun! Now summer has come, look how the lake glistens! There cannot be a more beautiful lake than this one anywhere," she said confidently.

"Yes, yes, Stineli! You ought to see the lake I know about just once," said Rico; and looked so longingly across the lake, that it seemed as if that which he wanted to see began just beyond their vision.

"Over there are no dark fir-trees, with sharp needles, but shining green leaves, and great red flowers; and the mountains are not so high and dark, nor so near, but lie off in the distance, and are purple; and the sky and the lake are all golden and still and warm. There the wind does not feel like this, and one's feet never get full of snow; and one can sit all day long on the sunny ground, and look about."

Stineli was quite carried away by this description. She already saw the red flowers and the golden lake before her eyes, and seemed to know exactly how beautiful it all was.

"Perhaps you may be able to go there again to see it all, Rico. Do you know the way?"

"You must cross the Maloja. I have been there with my father once. He pointed me out the road that goes all the way down the mountain,--first this way, then that, and far below lies the lake; but so far, so far, that it is scarcely possible to go there."

"Oh! that is easy enough," said Stineli. "You have to go farther and farther, that is all; and at the end you will surely get there."

"But my father told me something else. Do you know, Stineli, when you are travelling and stop at an inn, and eat something and sleep there, then there is something to pay, and you must have money for that."

"Oh! we have lots of money," cried Stineli triumphantly. But her companion was not triumphant.

"That is exactly as good as nothing. I know that by the affair of the fiddle," he said sadly.

"Then it will be better for you to stay at home, Rico. Look! it is beautiful here at home, I am sure."

The lad sat thoughtfully silent for a long time, leaning his head on his hand, and his eyebrows brought in a close line down over his eyes. At last he turned again to Stineli, who had been gathering the soft green moss that grew around the spot where they were lying, and of which she made a tiny bed with two pillows and a coverlet. She meant to carry them home to the sick Urschli.

"You say I had better stay at home, Stineli; but, do you know, it is just as if I did not know where my home really is."

"Oh, dear me! what do you mean?" cried the girl; and in her surprise she threw away a whole handful of moss. Your home is here, of course. It is always home where father and mother"--She stopped suddenly. Rico had no mother, and his father had been away now for a very long time; and the cousin? Stineli never went near that cousin, who had never spoken one pleasant word to her. The child did not know what to say, but it was not natural to her to remain long in uncertainty. Rico had already fallen into one of his reveries, when she grasped him by the arm, and said,--

"I should just like to know something; that is, the name of the lake where it is so lovely."

Rico pondered. "I do not know," he said; and felt very much surprised himself as he spoke.

Now Stineli proposed that they should ask somebody what it was called; for even if Rico had ever so much money, and was able to travel, he must know how to inquire the way, and what the name of the lake was. They began at once to think of whom they should inquire,--of the teacher, or of the grandmother.

At last it occurred to Rico that his father would know better than anybody else, and he thought he would certainly ask him when he came home again.

The time had slipped away quickly as they sat talking, and presently the children heard the distant sound of a bell. They recognized the sound. It was the bell for prayers.

They sprang up quickly, and ran off, hand in hand, down the hill-side through bushes, and through the snow across the meadow; and it had scarcely stopped ringing when they reached the door where the grandmother was on the lookout for them.

Stineli had to go at once into the house, and her grandmother said quickly, "Go home directly, Rico, and do not hang around the door any longer."

The grandmother had never said such a thing to him before, although he had always been in the habit of hanging around the door; for he was never in haste to go home, and stood always for a while before he could make up his mind to enter. He obeyed at once, however, and went into the house.