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When Rico entered the cottage that evening it was later than usual, for he had spent a full half-hour in singing the hymn. As he went in, his cousin came flying towards him.
"Are you beginning in this style already?" she called out. "The supper stood waiting for you a whole hour: now I have put it away. Go to your bedroom; and if you turn out a good-for-nothing and a scamp, it is no fault of mine. I don't know any thing that I had not rather do than look after a boy like you."
Rico never answered a single word, no matter how much his cousin might scold at him; but this evening he looked at her, and said,--
"I can get out of your way, cousin."
She shoved the bolt in on the house-door with such violence that the door shook, and went into the sitting-room, slamming that door behind her. Rico went up into his dark little bedroom.
On the following day, as all the big family in the other cottage were eating their supper,--the parents, the grandmother, and all the children,--the cousin came running over, and called out from the door to ask if they knew any thing about Rico: she had no idea where he could be.
"He will come fast enough when it is time for supper," replied the father quietly.
The cousin entered the room. She had been quite sure that the lad was there, and she expected him to come out if she only stood at the door and asked for him.
Now she went on to tell them that he had not made his appearance at breakfast, nor at dinner-time, and that he had not been in bed the previous night, for she had found it as she had left it; and she believed that he must have gone away very early in the morning before daybreak, wandering about as he was in the habit of doing, for the bolt was pushed aside on the house-door when she went to open it. She thought at first that she must have forgotten to bolt it the night before in her anger, for nobody knew how angry she had been.
"Something has happened to him," said the father, quite unmoved. "He has probably fallen into some cleft up there on the mountain: it often happens to little boys who go climbing about everywhere.
"You ought to have spoken of it earlier in the day," he went on slowly. "We shall have to go to look for him, and in the night you can't see any thing."
At these words the cousin broke out into a terrible uproar. She expected there would be all sorts of fault found with her; that was always the way when you had suffered for years, and never said any thing about it.
"Nobody would ever believe," she said,--and spoke a truthful word then, at least,--"what a sly, cunning, deceitful boy that is, and what a life he has led me these four years. He will turn out a regular vagabond, a tramp, a disgraceful creature."
The grandmother had ceased eating for several minutes. She now rose from the table, and went up to the cousin, who was talking very noisily.
"Stop, neighbor, stop," she said; and repeated it twice without effect. "I know Rico very well; I have always known him ever since he was brought here to his grandmother. If I were in your place, I would not say another word, but stop to think whether the lad, to whom perhaps something dreadful has happened, and who may be standing up there before God at this moment, may not have some complaint against somebody,--somebody who had done him a heavy injury, all deserted as he is, with her cruel words."
Since Rico's disappearance, the way the lad looked at her on that last evening had occurred several times to the cousin's mind, and how he said,--
"I can easily get out of your way."
That was why she had made such a noise about it, in order to drown these words. Now she did not dare to look the grandmother in the face, but said that she must go: perhaps Rico might be at the cottage by this time, which she would very gladly have had come true.
From this day forward the cousin never spoke another word against Rico in the grandmother's hearing; nor, indeed, did she often speak of him at all. She believed, as did all the neighbors far and near, that the lad was dead; and she was thankful that nobody knew about the words he had said to her on that last evening.
The next morning after this event was made known, Stineli's father went out to the thrashing-floor and picked himself out a stout stick. He said that he would call some of the neighbors together: they must go search for the lad somewhere towards the glaciers and up by the ravines.
Stineli crept out after him, and he said, when he noticed her, "That is right, come and help me to search; you can get into the corners better than I can."
At last, after they had found a big beanpole, Stineli ventured to say, "But father, if Rico went along the high-road, then he could not fall into any thing, could he?"
"Oh, perhaps he might," replied her father. "Such thoughtless boys as he often stray off the road, and fall into ravines and places: they don't know themselves where they are going, and he was always moving about more or less."
That this was true of Rico nobody knew better than Stineli; and she became dreadfully anxious from that time forth, which anxiety increased every day to such a degree that she could neither eat nor sleep for sorrow, and did her work, day after day, as if she did not know what she was about.
Rico was not found: nobody had seen any thing of him. They ceased to search for him, and the folks soon began to find consolation in the thought, "It is just as well for the little fellow, after all; he was forsaken, and had no one to care for him."
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