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It was a beautiful Sunday in autumn, and across the Lake of Riva there was to be a "dance evening," and Rico was to go over there to play; so he would not be able to pass the day with Stineli and the rest. They talked this over and over through the week, for it was a great trial to them all when Rico did not come for Sunday; and Stineli tried to find all sorts of little reasons to reconcile Rico, and to make the affair seem less unpleasant.
"You will go across the lake in the sunlight, and return under the beautiful stars; and we shall be thinking of you the whole time," she said to him, when he first mentioned that he should be away on Sunday.
On Saturday evening Rico brought his violin, for Stineli's greatest pleasure was to hear him play. The lad played lovely tunes one after another; but they were all sad melodies, and seemed to make him sadder still, for he looked down at his instrument with a kind of indignant sorrow, as if it did him a real injury.
Suddenly he pushed it away from him, long before the clock had struck ten, and said, "I am going away."
Mrs. Menotti tried to detain him; she could not understand what was amiss. Stineli had looked steadily at him while he was playing. Now she said, quietly,--
"I will go with you a little way."
"No," cried Silvio; "do not go. Stay here with me."
"Yes, yes, Stineli!" said Rico. "Stay here, and let me go alone."
And, saying this, he looked at his friend exactly as he had looked when he came away from the schoolmaster's house, and joined Stineli at the wood-pile, so long ago, saying then, "It is all of no use!"
Stineli went to Silvio's bedside, and said softly, "Be a good boy, Silvio; and to-morrow I will tell you the very prettiest and drollest story about Peterli; but now do not make a noise."
Silvio really did keep quiet, and Stineli went after Rico. When they reached the hedge, Rico turned about, and pointed towards the brightly lighted window that looked so pleasant and friendly from the garden, and said, "Go back there, Stineli. You belong there, and there you are at home; but I belong in the streets. I am a homeless fellow, and shall always be so: now let me go away."
"No, no; I will not let you go in this mood, Rico. Where do you mean to go?"
"To the lake," said the young man; and went towards the bridge. As they stood together on the little mound, they were silent for a while, listening to the murmur of the waves. At last, Rico said,--
"Do you understand, if you were not here, I would go away at once, far away?--but I do not know where I should go. Wherever I go, I shall be homeless, and have to be fiddling forever in public-houses where they are noisy, just as if they had lost their senses, and I must always sleep in a room in which I dislike to be; but you belong to them there in that beautiful house, and I do not belong anywhere. And I tell you, Stineli, when I look down there, I think if my mother had only cast me to the waves before she died, then I should not have been this homeless wanderer."
With ever-increasing trouble, Stineli listened to these words of her friend; but when he pronounced these last, she became really alarmed, and said hastily, "O Rico! you ought not to say such things. I am sure that you have not said 'Our Father' for a long, long time; and these wicked thoughts are the consequence."
"No: I have not prayed for a long time," said Rico. "I have forgotten how."
These words gave his companion a severe shock.
"Oh, dear! what would my grandmother say to this, Rico?" she cried, in distress. "She would be in sad trouble about you. Do not you remember how she told us, 'He who forgets his Lord's Prayer is sure to get into trouble?' Rico, you must learn it again. I will teach it to you this minute: it will not take you long."
And the good girl began, with pious zeal, and repeated the prayer twice or thrice over to her friend; and, while she thus emphasized the words, she noticed that there was a great deal of especial comfort for Rico contained therein; and, as she ended, she said,--
"Do not you see, Rico, if all the kingdom belongs to the good God, He can surely find you a home? for He has all the power, so He can give it to you if He chooses."
"Now you can plainly see, Stineli," replied the youth, "if the good God has a home for me in His kingdom, and has the power to give it to me, and does not, it is because He does not choose to."
"Yes; but you forget something," continued Stineli. "The good God may say, 'If Rico wants any thing from me, he should pray to me.'"
In reply to this, Rico had no answer. He remained silent for some time; then he said, "Repeat the Lord's Prayer again, Stineli: I will learn it."
His companion gladly complied, and it was soon learned. Then they separated, and each went home; but Rico's thoughts were busy with the "kingdom and the power."
Once more in his quiet room, he prayed humbly, and with a softened heart; for he felt that he had been in the wrong to believe that the good God ought to give him what he wished for, when he did not even remember to pray to Him.
Stineli returned to the garden very full of anxious thought. She turned over and over in her mind whether she ought to tell all this to Mrs. Menotti. Perhaps she might be able to find some other employment for Rico than this fiddling in the public-houses for dancing, that was so detestable to the lad. But the thought of troubling Mrs. Menotti with her affairs passed quickly from her mind as she entered the room again.
Silvio lay upon his pillows with flushed cheeks, breathing heavily and irregularly; and by the bedside sat his mother, and wept.
The little invalid had had another of his severe attacks, and a little anger at Stineli's absence had increased the fever. His mother was so cast down, that she did not seem to Stineli the same person at all. When she, at last, recovered her spirits a little, she said,--
"Come here, Stineli. Sit down here by my side: I want to tell you something.
"I have something that lies very heavily at my heart; so heavily, that sometimes it seems to me that I cannot bear it any longer. It is true you are young, but you are so sensible, and have seen a great deal; and it seems to me that I should be relieved if I could talk it over with you.
"You see how Silvio suffers, and how ill he is,--my only son. Now I have not only the distress of his sickness, which can never be healed, but I often feel that perhaps it is a punishment from God, because I am holding and enjoying an unlawful property: although, to be sure, I did not seek to get it, and do not wish to keep it. But I will tell you every thing from the beginning.
"When we were married, Menotti and I,--he brought me over from Riva, where my father still lives,--Menotti had a very good friend living here, who was just about leaving, because the land had become hateful to him, owing to the death of his wife. This friend had a house--a little one--and large fields, though they were not very productive. He wanted my husband to take them all, and said that the land did not yield much; but if he would keep it all in good order, and the house also, that he would return to claim it in a few years.
"So the friends made their arrangements together, and said nothing about interest. My husband said, 'You will want to find every thing as it should be when you return;' for he meant to put it all in good condition, and understood the cultivating of land perfectly, which was thoroughly well known to his friend, who willingly left it all in his hands. But about one year later the railroad was built, and the little house had to come down, and the garden was taken too, with the fields, for the railway went right through them. So my husband got a great deal more money than they were really worth, and bought a far better piece of land and a garden, and built a house, all with the money; and the land produced fully twice what the other had, and we had most abundant harvests. I often said, 'It does not really belong to us, and we are living in luxury from the property of another. How I wish that we knew where he is!' But my husband quieted me, and said, 'I am keeping it all in order for him, and when he comes it is all his; and as to the profit that I have laid aside, he must have his share also.'
"Then Silvio was born; and when I discovered that the little fellow was ill, I kept saying over and over to my husband, 'We are living on property to which we have no right, and we are punished for it.' And sometimes it was so dreadful to me that poverty would have been more tolerable, and I would have gladly been homeless.
"My husband always tried to console me, and said, 'You will see how pleased he will be with me when he returns.' But he did not return. My husband died: it is now four years ago. Oh, what a life I have led since then! always thinking how can I be free from this unlawful property without doing any thing wrong, for it is my duty to keep it in good condition until our friend comes; and then I feared that he might be in misery somewhere while I am living so comfortably on his property, and know nothing of his whereabouts."
Stineli felt sincerely how much Mrs. Menotti was to be pitied; for she perfectly well understood her feeling, and how she was always reproaching herself for a thing that she could not change, and she comforted the good woman, saying,--
"When any one does not mean to do wrong, and means not to do wrong, then there is nothing but to trust to the good God and pray to Him for help; for He can turn our evil into His good, and He will do so when we are truly repentant over evil. I know all this from my grandmother's teaching; for once I was in great distress, and did not know what to do."
Then she told about Rico and the lake that he was always thinking of, and how she was the cause of his running away, and full of fear that it had cost him his life. But she said that she felt perfectly at ease after she had cast her burden on the Lord; and she advised Mrs. Menotti to do likewise, and assured her that she would derive the truest comfort from so doing. After this conversation Mrs. Menotti felt much relieved, and said they would all go to rest now, and thanked her young counsellor for her advice.
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