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Many beautiful Sundays followed; and, whenever it was possible, the grandmother so arranged it that Stineli got, now and then, a spare moment; but the work in the house increased daily. Rico passed many hours standing on the threshold of his cottage looking longingly across the way, in the hope of seeing Stineli come out.
Towards September, when people often sat before their houses in order to enjoy, to the utmost, the last warm evenings of the season, the schoolmaster placed himself before his door, but he looked very thin and coughed continually; and at last, one morning when he tried to rise, his strength deserted him completely, and he fell back upon his pillow.
There he lay very still, and busy with all sorts of thoughts; and he wondered what would come to pass when he died. He had no children, and his wife had been dead for a long time, and there was only in old maid-servant to live with him and take care of the house. He was principally occupied in thinking of what would become of all the things that belonged to him when he should be gone; and, as his fiddle hung directly opposite to him on the wall, he said to himself, "I must leave that behind me too."
Then he remembered the day when Rico stood before him and played on the instrument, and he felt as if he had rather let the boy have the fiddle than to let it go to a distant cousin who did not understand the use of it at all. And he thought that, if it were to go very cheap, perhaps Rico could buy it. Presently he bethought himself that if he could not use the violin, neither would he have any use for money. For all that, he could not bring himself to let the instrument, for which he had paid down six hard gulden, go for nothing.
So he pondered and pondered how he could manage to obtain something in exchange; but at last it was quite clear to him that there, where he was fast going, he could not take his violin with him, neither could he take any thing that he might get for it, for all must remain behind.
While he was lying there the fever became greater and greater, and he lay, towards evening and all night long, fighting with all sorts of strange thoughts, and old, long-forgotten events rose before his mind and perplexed him; so that at last, towards morning, he lay on his bed utterly exhausted, and with only one thought or wish,--viz., to be able to do one kind deed, one good action, and that quickly, before it was too late. He knocked against the wall with his stick until the old maid-servant heard him and came in to him; and then he sent her over to the grandmother, to ask her to come to him as quickly as possible.
She did come almost immediately; and before she had fairly time to ask him how he found himself, he said,--
"Will you be so good as to take down the fiddle that hangs there on the wall, and give it to the little orphan boy? I wish to make him a present of it, and he must be very careful of it."
Naturally the good woman was very much surprised, and could not refrain from exclaiming repeatedly, "What will Rico do with it? What will Rico say to this?" Presently she noticed, however, that the schoolmaster seemed a little restless, as if he were in a hurry to have the thing done.
So she left him, and hastened as quickly as possible across the fields with the gift under her arm; for she was also impatient to know how Rico would take this rare piece of good fortune.
He was standing in the doorway of his cottage. At a motion from the grandmother, he ran towards her.
"Here, Rico," she said, and handed him the violin. "The schoolmaster sends this to you: it is yours."
The boy stood as if he were in a dream, but it was true. The grandmother was really standing there, holding the fiddle out to him.
Trembling with pleasure and excitement, he took his present at last, put it on his arm, and gazed at it in a silly sort of way, as if he thought it might vanish presently, as quickly as it had come, if he did not keep his eyes on it.
"You must be very careful of it," said the old woman, delivering her message faithfully. She was much inclined to laugh, however; for it did not seem to her that the warning was at all necessary. "And, Rico, think about the teacher, and do not forget what he has done for you: he is very ill."
The grandmother went into the house with these words; and the boy hastened up into his own bedroom, where he was always alone.
There he sat and fiddled, and played on and on, and forgot all about eating or drinking, or how the time sped on. At last, when it was almost dark, he came to himself, and went down-stairs. The cousin came out from the kitchen, saying, "You can have something to eat to-morrow morning. You have behaved so to-day that you won't get any thing more."
The boy did not feel hungry, although he had not eaten since the early morning, and went quite unconsciously across into the opposite house, and entered the kitchen. He was looking for the grandmother.
Stineli was standing by the hearth, arranging the fire. When she caught sight of Rico, she shouted aloud for joy; for the ground had almost burned beneath her feet, she had been so impatient all day--ever since her grandmother had told her the great news--to get away, and express her delight to Rico; but she had not dared to leave the house for an instant. Now she was fairly beside herself, and called out, again and again, "You have got it now! You have got it now!"
Hearing the noise, the grandmother came out of the sitting-room; and Rico hastened towards her, saying, "May I go to thank the teacher, if he is sick?"
After thinking a while,--for she remembered how very ill the schoolmaster looked in the morning when she saw him,--the good woman said, "Wait a few moments, Rico, I will go with you;" and stepped into her room to put on a clean apron. Then they went over to the schoolhouse. The grandmother entered first. Rico followed, his fiddle under his arm. He had not once laid it down since it had come into his possession.
The teacher lay on his bed, looking very feeble indeed. The lad stepped to the bedside and looked down at his fiddle and could scarcely speak, but his eyes sparkled so brightly that the good man had no difficulty in understanding him: he cast a pleased look towards the boy, and nodded at him. Then he beckoned the grandmother to draw near. Rico moved a little to one side, and the teacher said with a weak voice, "Grandmother, I should be very glad if you would say 'Our Father' for me, I feel so very much troubled."
Just at this moment the prayer-bell sounded. The grandmother folded her hands and repeated the Lord's Prayer, and Rico also folded his hands. Every thing was quiet in the room. After a while the grandmother bent over and closed the old teacher's eyes, for he had passed away. Then she took Rico by the hand, and went softly home with him.
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