The mother lifted her face, and her cry rang through the room, "O my sons, my sons!"
She had execrated Timokles at times when she had spoken of him before Heraklas, and he had thought that the execration came from her heart. But she had longed, with pain unspeakable, to see Timokles once more. And now, when she knew that he had been in Alexandria, that he needed a mother's care, that Heraklas, also, had owned allegiance to the Christians' God—when she thought of Christians burned, beheaded, given to wild beasts—when she realized that perhaps she should never see again the face of Timokles or Heraklas, the heart of the mother broke within her, and she wailed, "O my sons! My sons!"
"Hush!" warned the messenger, quickly. "Thy slaves will hear thee!"
The mother seized the messenger's arm.
"Tell me where my sons are," she begged. "I will go to them!"
The messenger looked piercingly at her. He, a Christian, had risked much to bring her this message. Dare he trust this woman, known to be a devout worshiper of Egypt's gods? Would she not betray the fleeing Christians?
"What is it, my mother?" he asked gently.—See page 37.
"Tell me where my sons are!" besought the mother with tears. "Oh, tell me! I cannot lose them! What is my home to me without them? I will not betray any Christian! Only tell me; and let me see my sons again!"
Then the messenger saw in the mother's eyes that she spoke truthfully, but he said, "How can I trust thee?"
"I swear by Isis!" implored the mother.
"Nay," returned, the messenger gravely, "it is not meet that a Christian should bind any one by a heathen oath."
The mother cried out, and besought him, declaring that she would depart from Alexandria, if her sons could not dwell there.
"They cannot, except they risk death," stated the messenger "Thou knowest Timokles' life is forfeit. Knowest thou not how many Christians have fled, and what torments Christians who have been brought here from all Egypt have suffered? Wouldst thou thy two sons should suffer in like manner?"
"I will go into exile with them," answered the woman.
"How wilt thou leave this, thy beautiful home?" asked the messenger.
"I will leave it in the care of my kinsmen," she replied.
"It may never be thine again," warned the messenger.
"Hear me, O Christian!", cried the mother passionately "I know not the Christians' God, but the Emperor Severus shall not take away my sons! I care not if he takes my home!"
"Come then with us," answered the messenger. "I trust thee! May the Christian's God cause thee to know Him!"
That day there passed through Alexandria's streets a chariot drawn by two mules. Seated in the chariot a lady and a child rode in state. The charioteer was only a small lad.
Out of the city by the eastern gate, as they had passed so many times before, Cocce and her mother rode. Who would hinder so devout worshipers of the gods from taking a pleasure drive? Alexandria knew nothing yet of Heraklas' defection.
When Alexandria was some distance behind, the lady spoke.
"Stop the chariot," she commanded.
The young lad obeyed. The woman and child descended to the road.
"I would walk," said the woman. "Drive thou home again, and say thou naught. See, here is something for thee."
She gave him some money.
The lad did as he was bidden. The mother of Heraklas had known whom to choose for her charioteer this day.
The chariot receded. It passed out of sight. A distance away from the road, a man rose and beckoned. It was the messenger of the morning, disguised, as a beggar.
They went northerly toward the sea. The mother's straining eyes looked ever forward. How if the Christians had been discovered! How long the way was!
A faintness seized upon her as they neared the sea. What if her sons were not there? She hurried forward.
The sea splashed on the rocks at her feet. The salt splay blew in her face. They were not here! They were not here!
Out of the recesses of the rocks, some forms arose, and Heraklas, as in a dream, saw his mother, his proud mother—she who had burned incense to the sun, she who had once held the sacred sistrum in Amun's temple, she who had taught him to worship Isis, and Osiris, and Horus, and the River Nile—his mother throw her arms about Timokles, and kiss his scarred cheek, and sob on the young Christian's neck, "O my son, I have missed thee so! I have missed thee so!"
Some ten months later, on the desolate, uninhabited western shore of what the Hebrews called "Yam Suph, the Sea of Weeds," known now as the Red Sea, in the country spoken of by the Romans as part of Ethiopia, now named Nubia, a little company of Christians made ready their evening meal.
Down on the shore a little girl sang. Her voice rose exultantly in a hymn of the early Christians:
"Blessed art thou, O Lord; teach me thy judgments.
"O Lord, thou hast been a refuge for us from generation to generation.
"Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.
"Thou hast healed my soul in that I have sinned against thee."
"O Lord, to thee I flee for refuge. Teach me to do thy will Because thou art my God; Because thou art the fountain of life In thy light shall we see light. Extend thy mercy to them that know thee."
Timokles went toward the shore to call Cocce. As he returned, he saw his mother standing a little apart from the other Christians and gazing toward the northwest, in the direction of Egypt, as she had often gazed since the Christians took refuge here.
"She misseth her home," thought the young man sadly. "It is but a rough abiding-place here for her. And yet Severus hath not found us. I would that she had come here for the love of Christ, and not for love of her two sons, only! Then she would feel, as the others of us do, that there is no one who hath left house or lands for our Lord's sake, but receiveth a hundred-fold in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. Oh, I would that my mother might know how near our Lord can be, even in this desert!"
His mother had ceased to speak of Egypt's gods. She had even read somewhat in the Christians' Book. But to Timokles she seemed no nearer to accepting Christ than when she was in Alexandria. How little we know of the heart-experiences of those persons nearest to us!
Timokles drew nearer. His mother heard his step, and turned toward him, but in place of the homesick longing he had expected to see in her eyes, there was a look that thrilled his soul.
"What is it, my mother?" he asked, gently.
"Timokles," she answered softly, "I was thinking but now of Alexandria and of our dear home there. Timokles, if God had not driven me into the desert, would I ever have found him?"
Timokles trembled with exceeding joy. Could she be speaking of the real God, not of Egypt's idols?
"Hast thou found Him—the Christian's God—my mother?" he asked tremulously.
A holy awe looked from his mother's face.
"Did not his Son say, 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out'?" she answered. "I have come to him, Timokles—even I, the former worshiper of Isis—and he hath not cast me out."
"O my mother!" murmured Timokles, overcome by the glad tidings. "What more can I ask of him than this!"
The sun sank, and Heraklas raised for the little company the evening hymn of the early church. His mother's voice rose clear and sweet, as all sang:
"Children, praise the Lord, Praise ye the name of the Lord. We praise thee, we hymn thee, we bless thee, Because of the greatness of thy glory. O Lord the King, the Father of Christ, Of the spotless Lamb who taketh away The sin of the world, To thee belongeth praise, To thee belongeth song, To thee belongeth glory, to the God And Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, To the Most Holy, unto ages of ages. Amen."
However long their exile might be, whatever privations they might suffer in this desert place, the little company could sing their praises with gratitude, for now not one voice of their number would be silent. Here they would abide, telling of Christ to every heathen wanderer whom they could seek out in these wilds. And if it should please God that henceforth Egypt might never hold a home for them, yet they could dwell in the deserts beyond Rome's dominion, knowing that He who when on earth had no place to lay his head would be with them. He had delivered the last one of the little company from the snare of false gods.
THE SQUASH OF THE ESVIDOS.
Black dog slipped through a swinging gate and Miss Elizabeth followed him into an olive, orchard of small dimensions. The family to whom the black dog belonged was there. The father, Bernardo Esvido, stood on a step-ladder, picking black olives into a bucket half filled with water, the bucket being fastened to Mr. Esvido's waist so that he might use both hands, while the water in the bucket prevented the ripe olives from being bruised. He who picks ripe olives into a hard bucket knows not his business.
Beneath another olive tree sat the mother, the daughter, and the son, washing olives in a water-trough. The small black dog raised his voice, and did his best to inform the Esvidos that a stranger eyed their olive-washing.
"You read Portuguese?" asked Miss Elizabeth, smiling on the busy group. Miss Elizabeth was not a book-agent, but, moved by the religious destitution of the Portuguese, she had devised the plan of buying at some city book-store Bibles or Testaments in Portuguese, and then going into the surrounding country and hunting for Portuguese who could read. To such, on account of their poverty, Miss Elizabeth often sold for ten cents a Bible she had bought for forty or sixty cents. She would gladly have given the Bibles free, but from observation she had become persuaded that those Portuguese who paid a few cents for a Bile were much more likely to read it than were those to whom one was given for nothing.
At Miss Elizabeth's question the united Esvido family looked at the mother. She was the one reader of the group. Many Portuguese do not read, either in English or in their own language. If a Portuguese woman reads Portuguese, her neighbors perhaps know of her accomplishment. Mr. Esvido was proud that his wife knew how to read Portuguese even if he was ignorant. None of the family could read English.
"You like buy Biblia Sagrada?" (Holy Bible) questioned Miss Elizabeth. "It is all Portuguese."
The red book was passed to the mother, who shook olive-leaves and dust from her hands, and took up the Bible. She had dimly known that there was such a book. She remembered hearing of the Biblia Sagrada years ago, when she was a girl in Lisbon, long before she came to California; but none of her acquaintances had such a book, and she had never before to-day seen a Portuguese Bible.
But at last the book was handed back to Miss Elizabeth.
"No money," carelessly explained Mr. Esvido.
The oil-maker who bought the crops of the local olive-growers had not yet paid for the olives. Even ten cents was not in Mr. Esvido's pocket, just now.
Miss Elizabeth looked around. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Esvido seemed very anxious about the Bible, but Miss Elizabeth felt anxious for them. A woman who could read Portuguese ought to have a Bible, and she ought to pay something for it in order to interest her in it thoroughly. Miss Elizabeth's eyes spied a yellow squash. She did not want it, but it would be payment.
"You give me squash, I give you Biblia Sagrada," she proposed.
"How you take it?" asked Mr. Esvido, smiling.
Miss Elizabeth opened her hands with a gesture that showed she meant to carry the squash, hidden as much as possible under her short cape.
"We make trade," agreed Mr. Esvido; and Miss Elizabeth, leaving the Bible, bore the big squash away.
But Miss Elizabeth's yellow burden became very heavy before she had gone far on the long country road. She found at last a wandering piece of newspaper, which she wrapped over as much of the vegetable as possible. The rest her cape covered, and then she marched on toward the far wires of the electric car-line that had brought her into the country. So vanished the squash of the Esvidos from their eyes.
Meantime the Portuguese mother read aloud from the Bible. The daughter, Delpha, listened, while gently rubbing the black olives in the water-trough. She knew of Christ, yet the words of the Biblia Sagrada were unknown.
After this, Mrs. Esvido read the book much in the evenings. Delpha and Mr. Esvido listened, the father listening more because just now he had not his pipe for company. The American who bought the olives declared that no one who picked olives for him must smoke during olive harvest! All his workmen, even when off duty, must refrain from smoking, for the tobacco odor clung to clothing. The olives would absorb tobacco smoke. The oil would be spoiled. Mr. Esvido grumbled much, but obeyed. There was a warning in the fate of the neighbor, Antone Ramos, who in last year's olive season had thought one evening to smoke a pipeful of tobacco secretly, and lo! the American, ever watchful, came to Antone Ramos' house that very night, and the tobacco smoke was perceptible! Antone Ramos was discharged!
Therefore, during this year's olive harvest, Mr. Esvido, with a cautious respect for the American's preternaturally, acute perception concerning tobacco, refrained from smoking, and found solace in listening with Delpha to Mrs. Esvido's evening readings from the Biblia Sagrada. It seemed marvelous to Mr. Esvido that his wife could read. The marvel of it had never lessened for him, and one night he said proudly, "We make good bargain when we give squash for Biblia Sagrada! Biblia Sagrada ver' good book."
One day Mrs. Esvido read something that startled Delpha. Site could hardly believe it possible that her mother hid read aright.
The words in the Portuguese language were these: "Amai a vossos inimigos, fazei bem aos que vos tem odio." (Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you.)
Alas! Delpha knew whom that meant.
There had long been a deep-seated quarrel between her and Sara Frates. Thinking of this bitter animosity, Delpha felt keenly the command, "Fazei bem aos que vos tem odio."
Olive harvest went on. The Esvido olives were gathered. Then Delpha and Sara and others went to work in the American's costly olive-oil mill, scalding the mill-stones and the crushing troughs daily, sweeping the scraps of olive skins from the floors, and scalding the floors to keep every odor away from the precious olive oil. Before beginning this season, the walls of the building had been given a coat of whitewash, and now a wood fire must not be lit anywhere near the premises, for the precious olive oil might take a smoky taste.
It was therefore with great wrath that Delpha, who was careful to obey rules, found one day, in a crushing trough under her supervision, some scattered little pieces of iron. Now iron must never be allowed to come in contact with olive juice. The tannic acid in the olive juice acts very rapidly on the iron, producing a kind of ink, that turns the oil black and almost ruins it. The American's crushing troughs and weights were of granite. Delpha was sure Sara had scattered the pieces of iron in the crushing trough on purpose to bring Delpha into trouble.
"I do something to her!" resolved Delpha fiercely. "I pay her for this!"
Then she remembered, "Fazei bem aos que vos tem odio." (Do good to them that hate you.) To Sara's amazement, Delpha did not retaliate. Sara could not understand why.
Toward the end of the olive season, the American went away for a day. During the noon rest, Delpha, sitting in a side door, thought she caught the odor of smoke. No wood fire was allowed around the oil-mill! Delpha went out to investigate.
She saw a film of smoke rising from a gulch. Delpha discovered that some of the young mill-workers' friends had caught some fish in the bay sparkling in the distance, and had brought them this way going home. The American being absent, the young mill-workers and their friends had made a fire in the gulch, and were merrily broiling fish. Sara was there, disobeying rules with the others.
Delpha ran back to the oil-mill. She hoped the fire's smoke would not injure the oil. She was troubled as she dropped in the door. But she could do nothing.
By and by she heard screams. She sprang up. Sara came running around the mill. Her dress was on fire!
"Delpha! Delpha!" she screamed, "Delpha, help me!" She seemed crazed with fright.
Did a voice say it to Delpha? She snatched a great canvas bag used for olive-picking, and a shawl. She ran to Sara. She breathlessly tore at the blazing garments, rolling Sara in the shawl and canvas bag. Blackened, sobbing, Sara lay at length safe on the ground. Delpha ran for water and olive oil.
As Delpha gently spread some olive oil on the burns, Sara flung her arms about Delpha's neck.
"Amiga!" (friend) she sobbed, and the enmity between the girls was over.
Miles away, Miss Elizabeth one day said to herself, "I don't believe we can ever use that squash I brought home from those Portuguese! But anyhow the squash made that Portuguese woman feel that she paid for the Bible! I hope she reads it, poor soul!"
But Miss Elizabeth did not know the whole story of the squash of the Esvidos, or of the message that the Biblia had brought to Delpha's heart.
THE VERSE MARTIN READ.
Martin put his bare feet down through the thick dust of the country road. It was warm summer, and he was used to going barefoot, even to Sunday-school, from which he was now returning. Over the hot, dry grass of the fields there swayed at frequent intervals the heads of California wild oats. One such stem grew near the road, and Martin, with a quick sweep of his hand, pulled off the wild oat heads and went on through the dusty road, scattering the oats as he walked. Martin was thinking.
"Teacher doesn't know how 'tis," he said. "I have to carry 'round milk mornings and nights, and I have to go down to the barn to hunt eggs, and I have to help pa about the stage horses, and sometimes I have to ride the horses back to be shod, and I have to walk a mile to day-school and back, and learn my lessons, and I'd like to know how teacher thinks I've got much time to read the Bible some every day. There's lots of days I don't believe pa reads any in the Bible. He's too busy driving the stage and 'tending to the horses. And ma doesn't read it, because she has to cook for the teamster boarders. It's a real pretty book teacher's given me, though."
Martin felt inside his jacket, and brought out a little New Testament. It was only a ten-cent Testament, for Miss Bruce, his Sunday-school teacher, did not have money enough to buy Bibles for her class of thirteen boys. She had felt that she must do something, however, for the boys were destitute of Bibles of their own.
The best she could do was to buy small Testaments with red covers, and she had cut a piece of bright red, inch-wide ribbon into thirteen lengths, had raveled out the ends so as to make fringe, and had put a piece of this fringed ribbon into each boy's New Testament for a book-mark. The boys thought a great deal of the pieces of ribbon, they were so bright and pretty. Miss Bruce had written some special little message to each boy in the front of his Testament. The general purport of each message was that the book was given with the teacher's prayer that the boy might learn to love the Bible and might become a real Christian. Some of the boys let the others read what was written in the Testaments, and some boys did not.
Miss Bruce had given them the Testaments to-day, and had said that she hoped each boy would read a little, daily, in his Testament, even if it were only two or three verses.
"I wonder if teacher'll ask me next Sunday whether I've read any?" Martin questioned himself now, as he admiringly eyed his piece of red ribbon. "It'll be a shame if I have to tell her, the first Sunday, that I've forgot it! I'd better read one verse now, so I can say I read that, anyway, if I forget the rest of the week."
Martin sat down beside the road. He was not a very good reader. This was the first piece of the Bible Martin had ever owned. There was an old, unused family Bible at home. A red Testament, was much more attractive to Martin.
"Where'll I read?" Martin asked himself now. "I want an easy verse. Some of them look too hard."
He began and dropped several verses, because of their difficulty. Finally he settled on one, because of its shortness. He read its seven words haltingly but carefully.
"'L-e-s-t'—I don't know that word—'c-o-m-i-n-g'—coming—'s-u-d-d-e-n-l-y—he find you s-l-e-e-p-i-n-g.' 'Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.'"
Of the connection of the verse, and its spiritual significance, Martin knew nothing. The word "l-e-s-t" puzzled him. He would ask somebody about it.
When he helped his father with the horses at the barn that evening, Martin questioned his father about the word "l-e-s-t."
"Haven't you spelled it wrong?" asked his father. "I guess it's 'l-e-a-s-t'—'least'—smallest."
"It's in my new red book," answered Martin, perching on the watering trough. "I'll find the place."
Martin did not know much about New Testament books or chapters, but he knew that verse was on the eighty-second page. Martin had noted the little numbers at the bottom of the pages.
"Here 'tis!" triumphantly exclaimed Martin.
His father took the book. Martin's eager finger pointed to the verse.
"Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping."
The words faced the stage-driver. Well did he know their meaning. Years ago in his mother's home he had been taught from the Bible. His eyes now ran over the preceding verses. He caught parts of them. "The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey." "Watch ye therefore." "Ye know not when the master of the house cometh." "Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping."
"Don't you know what 'l-e-s-t' means?" asked Martin, eager for the explanation.
"Oh—why, yes," responded his father. "It means 'For fear' he should come suddenly."
"Who?" asked Martin.
"The Lord," returned his father gravely.
"Why shouldn't they be sleeping?" asked Martin.
"Who?" said his father, turning to attend to the horses.
"I don't know," said Martin. "I mean my verse."
"Martin," stated the stage-driver, "I'm no hand at explaining. Don't ask any more questions."
Every Sunday after this Miss Bruce persisted in asking whether the boys read in their Testaments.
"It's mean the way some of the boys don't read any, after her giving us all nice red Testaments," Martin told his father. "I don't read much, but I ought to read some, after her fringing that red ribbon! Most verses I read are short, like 'Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.'"
The stage-driver moved uneasily at the words.
"He hasn't forgot that verse after all these weeks?" thought the man.
"I know what that verse means now," went on Martin. "Miss Bruce told me. She says some folks forget they've got to die, and they ought to be ready for that. A good many folks don't become Christians, and Miss Bruce says she's afraid they'll be like that verse, 'Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.' You and I won't be that way, will we, father? I'm going to try to be ready. Ain't you? Miss Bruce says folks ought to always be."
His father's eyes were on the harness he was buckling.
"I hope you'll be ready, Martin," answered the father, "even if I ain't."
The place where Martin lived was a small settlement distant from town. Martin's father, Mr. Colver, not only three days in the week drove the stage, but other days acted as a sort of expressman, bringing freight in a large wagon over the miles from town. One night about nine o'clock, Mr. Colver was on the long, lonely road coming toward home. He had a very heavy load on his wagon. The wheels scraped on the wagon bottom, and the team went with a heavy, dragging sound.
As the heavy wagon came opposite a clump of white blossoming buckeye trees, one of the fore wheels of the dragging wagon suddenly gave way and fell off. Mr. Colver was thrown violently from the wagon's high seat into the road, among the tumbling heavy boxes and barrels. The sharp corner of one box struck Mr. Colver's head near the temple.
The weary horses waited to be urged forward again. They did not know that their driver lay insensible in the road.
It was early gray morning before one of the teamsters who boarded at the Colvers' found Mr. Colver lying still insensible, and brought him home. The blow on the head had been a very dangerous one. Martin gazed awestruck at his father's shut eyes and unconscious face.
"I wonder if pa's going to die?" the boy anxiously thought. "I wonder if pa's ready?"
The sorrowful hours came and went. Mr. Colver regained consciousness, but for weeks he felt the effects of the blow that might have smitten him never to rise.
One night when Martin was going to his room, his father called weakly to the boy.
Martin turned back. He found his mother sitting beside his father.
"Martin," said his father with grave earnestness, "your mother's been reading to me from your Testament. We've been talking about Bible things that we haven't paid much attention to. We were both brought up better, Martin. The Lord's had mercy upon me. He might have taken me suddenly that night, but he knew I wasn't ready, and he had mercy on me. And now, lad, your mother and I thought we would just kneel right down here to-night, and ask the Lord to take each of us, and make us his own. You want to, don't you, my son?"
Martin nodded, and for the first time the stage-driver's family knelt together. They whose souls had been sleeping were awake.
BY THE WAY.
Cliffs by the blue bay held many fossil shells. Children sometimes strayed here and there with hammers, pounding out fossils from fallen pieces of the cliffs. On the extent of sands that bordered the cliffs and stretched up the coast between them and the breakers, old stumps that had been months before brought in by the waves lay half buried from sight. A short distance farther up the coast, the sands went a greater way inland, forming a nook where driftwood and stumps had accumulated. On the sand in this nook stood a horse and an old wagon. Beyond a large log, a little fire of driftwood had been started, and a woman was endeavoring to fry some fish in a spider. Two children had partly unharnessed the horse, and were giving him some dry grass.
From afar, a woman and a girl who had been taking a walk on a road high up on the cliffs, looked curiously down at the persons in the sandy nook.
"I wonder who they are, and what they are traveling that way for?" said the girl to her mother.
"It's the same wagon that was on, the sands last night, I suppose," returned her mother. "The milk boy said he saw a wagon drive on the beach about dark. I wonder if they stayed up here all night? Suppose we walk down, Addie, and talk with that woman."
"I'm afraid she won't want to see us," objected the daughter. "If they had wanted to see anybody, they'd have stopped at the settlement."
Notwithstanding this objection, the mother began to descend the path toward the sands at the bottom of the cliffs. Both Mrs. Weeks and her daughter Addie were somewhat breathless by the time they had pushed their way through the heavy white sand to the spot where the stranger, was cooking. The spider contained only a few very small fish.
"Good-morning," said Mrs. Weeks, pleasantly.
The brown-faced woman who held the spider lifted her eyes and nodded.
"Have you been fishing?" asked Mrs. Weeks.
"We didn't have much luck," murmured the other woman. "Maybe we didn't fish in the best place. Tillie was wanting fish."
The younger of the two children colored and hung her head at this reference to her. The other smiled shyly.
"We have some fresh rock cod up at our house. My brother catches fresh fish for us every day," said Addie to the older little girl. "Don't you want to walk back with me, and, get some of the fish for your mother?"
The child nodded. "We're not beggars, Miss. You must not rob yourself of your own fish," remonstrated, the child's mother; but Addie assured the woman that fish were so plentiful in the settlement that neighbors often gave part of the results of a catch to some one else.
The girl went away over the cliffs with the child. Mrs. Weeks sat down on a log. When Addie and the little girl came back with the fish and some milk, Mrs. Weeks rose and went home with her daughter.
"The woman's husband is dead, and she's driving north with her children," Mrs. Weeks told Addie. "She has an idea she can get work in some cannery up the coast. I told her there were some unoccupied tents in our settlement, and I wished she and the children would come and sleep in the tents, while she's here. But she won't come. I was sorry they slept on the beach last night, but she says they are used to sleeping in the wagon, and it is warm weather, you know."
The wagon did not drive on that day, though the woman and the children kept away from the little summer settlement.
It was the custom of the people of this small settlement to go down on the beach, after dark at evening, and have a camp-fire. Some old stump would be lit, and the people would sit on logs or on the sand about the fire, and talk and sing. The last thing, every night, hymns were sung.
To-night, Addie and her, mother went down to the beach as usual. After sitting by the fire awhile, Addie rose and wandered up the beach, as persons sometimes did, to watch the waves. At a distance from the camp-fire, where the darkness, covered the beach, Addie turned to go back. She was startled by a movement in the darkness.
"Don't be afraid," said the voice of the woman who, with her children, had spent that day in the nook farther up the beach. "The little girls were asleep, and I came here to listen to the folks sing. That's the reason I haven't driven on to-day, because I hoped the folks would sing again to-night, the way they did last night. I haven't heard hymn-singing for years, before. I've lived in mining and such places. I want to ask you a question."
The woman paused.
"Do you suppose my baby's at the River?" she went on.
Addie hardly comprehended the woman's meaning.
"What river?" asked the girl.
"The River they sang about last night," explained the woman.
She motioned toward the group at the distant camp-fire, and Addie remembered that on the previous evening the people had sung:
"Shall we gather at the river?"
"I haven't heard that sung before for years and years," the woman continued. "We used to sing it when I was a little girl at home in the East, but I've mostly forgot such things. Mining camps and a drunk husband make you forget. There never was a church anywhere we lived, and Sam got drunk Sundays. And then he died. I don't suppose Sam got to the River. I don't know. I wish he did. But if my baby's got there, I want to go to the River."
The woman began to sob.
"I never told you about my baby." she faltered. "He was a dreadful nice little—"
"Good-morning!" said Mrs. Weeks pleasantly.
"—baby. I've got some of his things in a little box in the wagon. He died after his father did. I wouldn't feel acquainted with the saints that the folks sang gather at the River; but I'd feel acquainted with my baby. He's there, isn't he?"
"Yes," said Addie softly, "your baby's by the River, and you can go there, too."
The woman tried to control her sobs and listen, while Addie told in as simple language as she could the way to peace.
"It's just coming to Christ, just as we are, and asking him to make us his," finished the girl. "He's promised to forgive, if we're in earnest about asking."
Addie waited a moment.
"Maybe you'd be willing to come to the camp-fire with me," suggested Addie. "Those people are only, some of our neighbors. They like these open-air meetings. Perhaps they'd make the way clearer to you."
"No," said the woman hastily. "No, I'm not fit for such folks, but would you mind doing one thing for me? Will you go back and just sit down, careless like, on one of the logs there by the fire, as if you'd got back from going down to see the breakers roll in, the way some of the folks do? And don't let anybody know you've seen me at all! Don't say one word about me, but when they get through singing some hymn, won't you just start them singing, 'Shall we gather at the River'? I want to hear it once again, but don't let them know they're singing it for me! Will you manage it the way I want?"
"Yes," promised Addie.
The girl went back and sat down on a log beside the fire, with the other people. The fire was beginning to burn low, and the girl was fearful lest at the end of the hymn that was being sung, some one should make a move to go back to the encampment. As soon as she could Addie began:
"Shall we gather at the river?"
The other voices took up the hymn. No one noticed that Addie's voice soon faltered and was still.
"Shall we gather at the river, Where bright angel-feet have trod: With its crystal tide forever Flowing by the throne of God?"
The words rang, out clear and sweet, and then the joyful assurance broke forth:
"Yes, we'll gather at the river, The beautiful, the beautiful river. Gather with the saints at the river That flows by the throne of God."
The words of stanza after stanza floated out into the darkness of the cliffs and upper sands with a distinctness that the loud waves did not overcome. There was no form or, motion visible in all the night that hid the shoreward side of the beach.
The next morning Addle went from the settlement, to carry the woman and her children some milk. When the girl reached the nook, she found it empty. She ran upon the bluffs, and looked northward, but there was neither horse nor wagon visible. The mother, and children had evidently resumed their journey very early, and the turns of the country roads had hidden the travelers. They had vanished forever.
"God guide them to the River!" whispered Addie.
AT COUSIN HARRIET'S
The "filaree," or pinclover; had borne its seeds with curious long ends—those seeds that California children call "clocks"—and among THE filaree there stood, on slender, bare stems, small flowers of the lily family which are known as "bluebells." A boy was walking through the filaria. He was carrying a hatchet and an ax, and he looked tired, though it was early in the day.
"I guess Cousin Harriet doesn't know how hard working on the alkali patch is," he murmured softly. "She isn't like mother:"
The boy's head dropped, and a sob escaped him.
"I wish mother hadn't died;" he said chokingly. "Most every boy has a mother."
He tried to stop crying, but it was hard, for he was overworked, and he was only twelve years old.
Six months before this, his mother had died. Several weeks alter her death, Claude's father had been called East on business; and had left the boy and his younger sisters Rose and Daisy on a ranch owned by Cousin Harriet, several miles from the children's former home. It had been very hard for the children to part from their father so soon after their mother's death, but he told them that while the business that called him East would take a number of months, yet there was some prospect that their mother's own sister, Aunt Jennie, with her husband and little boy, would come with Claude's father on his return. Then they could all live together at the dear home place. So the stay at Cousin Harriet's would not probably be perpetual.
Cousin Harriet was a widow. She looked after her ranch with great diligence. She had several hired men and women, and the ranch was a very busy place. Cousin Harriet was not much used to children, having none of her own, but she tried to do her duty by the three left in her charge. Rose and Daisy did not find the household tasks that were assigned them very difficult. Cousin Harriet secretly did not like boys, however. She tried to treat Claude justly, but the boy sadly missed the mother-love to which he had been accustomed all his life. He was expected to help the hired men on the ranch, and they made him work rather hard, especially since they had been fixing the "alkali patch."
The alkali patch was in the southwest corner of Cousin Harriet's ranch. On several acres, nothing would grow, on account of the alkali in the soil. The alkali stood on the ground in white patches here and there, and Claude hated the sight of it. Cousin Harriet, however, was very enthusiastic about trying to reclaim this "alkali sink," so that it might bear crops.
Alkali extended over the fields of adjoining neighbors, and Cousin Harriet thought that if only her hired men could conquer her alkali patch, then the discouraged neighbors might think it possible to do something with such parts of their land, also. So, one of the first things that was done with Cousin Harriet's "alkali sink" was to make some redwood drains, shaped like the letter V, and place these about three feet below the surface. A "sump," or drainage pit, was dug, too, into which the drains might discharge the alkali water. The hired men expected Claude to help dig the "sump," and it proved quite hard work. So did the pounding of the "hard pan" on the alkali tract, itself. The tough, hard clods of earth were so difficult to pulverize that they had to be pounded with crowbars and axes.
"I used to think that helping pick lemons, at home, was work," Claude thought to-day, as he went toward the part of the ranch where he was expected to work, "but I didn't know about alkali patches, then. And—I had mother."
The tears would come into his eyes.
The hired men were scattered over the extensive alkali tract, and were pounding the clods. Claude chose to work near a man called Neil. The boy liked Neil better than the other men, because he did not speak crossly.
Claude sorrowfully pounded the alkali clods. How tiresome the work was, and how uncomfortably warm the sun! The boy worked dejectedly. After a while, pausing to take breath, he looked up and found Neil also pausing.
"We are tired," said Neil, with a friendly smile.
"Don't you hate this work?" exclaimed Claude vehemently. "I wouldn't touch it, if Cousin Harriet didn't make me."
The hired man looked kindly at the small, tired boy.
"It is not most pleasant," he returned, "but what I think of makes me glad while I work."
"What do you think of?" asked Claude, giving an alkali clod a push.
"I was thinking," answered Neil gently, "how once I had a hard heart—very hard. It was like these clods, where nothing good can grow. People who looked at me could see that my heart was hard. Men would have said, 'Neil's heart can never be different' But Jesus took away my hard heart and gave me a new one. That is what makes me glad all the time, though I work on these hard alkali clods. Some day this patch we work on will be different. There will be beautiful, green, growing crops on it. But that is not so great a change as it is to change a hard heart and get a new heart from our Savior."
Claude did not say anything. He bent over the hard clods and worked silently, but he was not thinking of his work. He was remembering his mother's voice as it had sounded nights when she had knelt beside his bed and prayed that her boy might become a Christian. There had been one night that Claude would always remember, when his mother had come for the last time to his bedside, and prayed feebly for her boy. The next week she had died.
Claude looked up at Neil, now. The man evidently found the work hard, but his face showed that he had spoken truly when he said that he was glad, even though he did work on the hard, alkali clods.
"I wish I were like Neil," thought Claude.
The wish grew. It changed into an earnest prayer, not that he might be like Neil, but a prayer for the same blessing that Neil had—a new heart. No earnest prayer for that gift is ever met by a refusal. Neil watched Claude anxiously, as they worked day by day.
"We can't change ourselves, any more than this alkali plot can change itself," said Neil, "but we can yield ourselves and our life to the blessed Jesus and love him, for he is love."
One day, Claude said softly, "I've done it, Neil. I've given myself to Jesus."
The face of the hired man glowed with added happiness through the toiling days that followed. When the alkali clods were broken and plowed, gypsum was scattered on the land and harrowed in. Then water was turned on and allowed to stand several inches deep over the alkali plot. The water stood for several weeks. Gradually it soaked through the soil and passed out into the drainage pit. After several soakings, alternating with breaking of clods and treatment with gypsum, the former alkali patch was given some seed. How the men watched the land day after day, and how the first green sprouts of corn were hailed! The alkali patch was changed. Cousin Harriet was rejoiced.
"There's so much land saved," she said. "It's a great change."
Neil listened to the words as in a parable. He was thinking of a greater change. He was rejoicing over the boy of the household.
Months had gone by. One day there was a joyful outcry at the farm-house. The little girls rushed out to meet their father. With him was their mother's sister, Aunt Jennie, with her husband and little boy.
Claude was on the ranch at work, and did not hear the joyful outcry at first.
He was not aware of the new-comers, till his father and the two little girls rushed where Claude was working, and the boy's father caught him in a close embrace.
"Come and see Aunt Jennie," his father said to Claude.
"She-she looks like, mamma," whispered Rose tremulously, and Claude came somewhat bashfully into the house.
There he saw a woman whose face did indeed look, like his mother's, and he felt mother-arms put around him. He heard a voice like his mother's say, "Is this my boy?" He felt a warm teardrop on his cheek, and he knew that Aunt Jennie understood and cared for boys, and that he would be indeed "her boy."
That afternoon they all drove away from the ranch, leaving Cousin Harriet smitten with a sudden sense of loneliness, for she had even. grown attached to Claude as well as to his sisters. The boy looked back at the ranch. It was rapidly being left behind, but he could still see the green patch of corn that covered the place where the alkali used to be. Rut the boy was, not thinking of the alkali patch alone. A look of reverent thankfulness came into his face. "Mother will be glad I ever met Neil," he thought.
TWO small brown hands were held outstretched in the air. Cautiously they moved forward, lower and lower. Then they darted and grasped with speed what seemed to be some sand. Something in the sand objected, but the boy held on and gathered sand and all into his tin. He looked with much satisfaction at his presumably indignant prisoner, a spiny gray "horned toad" that had been peaceably sunning himself, nearly buried in sand, on the hill.
The owner of the two nimble hands, Arturo, smiled.
"Get four bit, maybe!" he anticipated.
"Get four bit for tia Marta!"
In California "four bits" means a half dollar. Occasionally somebody on the overland train that stopped at the station in town would be attracted toward a spiny "horned toad" as a curiosity, and would buy one. Arturo meant to try to sell this specimen in that way. If he got the money, he would give it to tia Marta.
Tia Mama was Arturo's aunt. "Tia" means "aunt" in Spanish. Presumably for the reason that nephews are sometimes troublesome to their aunts, there is a Spanish proverb that warns a nephew against making his aunt too frequent visits:
En casa de tia, Mas no cads dia:' ("In the house of thy aunt, But not every day.") Notwithstanding this adage, however, the boy Arturo lived with his Aunt Marta. This was not always pleasant, for neither Arturo nor tia Marta was perfect. Yet they really thought a good deal of each other. The third member of the household was Tia Marta's husband, do (uncle) Diego, but he was very old and lame, and could not work. Tia Marta earned the living, and Arturo usually thought of himself as dwelling with tia Marta rather than do Diego. Arturo never quarreled with his uncle.
When the overland train stopped at the station for water, and Arturo rushed breathlessly to sell his horned toad, the eager boy found no passenger who was desirous of being a customer save an old gentleman who doubtfully offered twenty-five cents for the creature. 'Arturo stuck bravely to his intended price of "four bits," but the train creaked for starting, and, alarmed, the boy hastily handed over the toad, took the quarter of a dollar, and rushed off the train.
The old gentleman shouted from the platform for instructions as to feeding his pet, 'axed Arturo shouted back advice in broken English to let it catch "muchos, muchos" (many) flies, and have "mucho, mucho" air. The toad was in a pasta-board box at present. Arturo was anxious that it should be well treated, for the boy felt it would not be fair to make the creature a prisoner, and then sell it to somebody who would starve it.
The old gentleman seemed satisfied with the shouted directions. But when the train had puffed away, Arturo sat down and wrathfully looked at his quarter of a dollar.
"He had altos pesos!" Arturo muttered; "ought give four bit."
According to Arturo's belief, every American had in his possession "altos pesos," which is Spanish for "high" or "enormous" "dollars," or, as Americans say, "a pile of money." Therefore Arturo felt sure that the old gentleman ought to have given half a dollar for the horned toad.
Arturo was now not at all inclined to give tia Marta the twenty-five cents. He wanted the money himself. Tia Marta was going to wash for somebody to-day, and would get her pay.
What should he buy? Twenty-five cents must not be spent lightly. It was not so often that a horned toad was found or sold.
Arturo did not muse long alone. Another boy had heard Arturo's shouted advice to the old gentleman, and had told two or three comrades. They came about Arturo to proffer advice. "Bollos," or cakes, were joyfully suggested, but Arturo refused.
An older Spanish boy, Manuel, joined the company. He was a lazy fellow, whom a good many of the younger boys admired because he could play a guitar and because he wore cheap jewelry that seemed gorgeous to inexperienced eyes.
Manuel approved of Arturo's rejection of the cake proposition. What good was cake? It would be soon eaten and gone!
Manuel, who was ever bent on securing any money that he could obtain without work, proposed to Arturo that he should buy a certain watch-chain owned by himself. Manuel, who knew that the showy thing was worthless, tried to picture how a fine-looking boy like Arturo would appear with so gorgeous an ornament. The younger boys listened enviously, and Arturo's Spanish love of display began to glow. Yet he was cautious enough to put off Manuel till the next day. Arturo went away, leaving the younger boys gazing enviously after him. His pride was flattered.
As Arturo came into the little yard that was about his humble home, he heard tia Marta singing. Arturo always dreaded to hear her sing, because then he was sure that some calamity had occurred. Tia Marta fully believed in the Spanish saying, "He who sings frightens away his ills."
It was as Arturo thought. Tia Marta had failed to get the day's washing she had expected to have. This seemed very unfortunate, for there was but little in the house to eat. Beans, one of the main staples of food among the Mexicans, were almost gone from the household supplies, and there was no money to buy more. Tia Marta had cooked the last of the beans for supper. The uncle and aunt gave fully half the beans to Arturo, and, being hungry, he ate them. Tia Marta ate little, and urged the rest of the beans on tio Diego.
After supper, the aunt repeated with devout cheerfulness those Spanish sayings, "God sends the sore, and knows the medicine," and "God sends the cold according to our rags." She believed that God would help.
Arturo thought of the twenty-five cents in his pocket. He looked at old tio Diego. Arturo wondered if his uncle were really hungry. Beans! Twenty-five cents would buy beans enough for a number of days. But it would be such a downfall to buy only beans with that twenty-five cents! Tia Marta would probably find some washing soon, and would buy beans herself. Arturo had had enough supper to-night.
Next day Arturo bought the watch-chain. The little boys at school were overawed by his showy ornament, but the teacher thought laughingly, "How these Spanish do like to dress up!"
At night, when Arturo went home with his watch-chain hidden in his pocket, tia Marta was singing again. There was only a little bread and some dried figs for supper, and Arturo's healthy boyish appetite already began to make him sorry for his bargain.
The next day tia Marta sang, and there were only dried figs to eat all day. The next day there were figs for breakfast and figs at noon. Even dried figs were almost gone.
At night, however, tia Marta said joyfully, "I got wash to-morrow!"
Arturo felt relieved.
The next morning there were only two or three figs apiece. When Arturo came home at noon, he found frightened tio Diego crying feebly and leaning over tia Marta, who had sunk in the door-way. Scantily fed tia Marta's strength had given out in the midst of the washing. She said she was only dizzy, but Arturo was frightened by her looks. Suddenly it came to him that he loved her.
Arturo ran out of the house. He ran to a little grocery, and begged the grocer to take the watch-chain for some beans. The grocer only laughed, telling the boy the chain was worthless. But Arturo was desperate. He knew better than to go to Manuel. Manuel would have spent the twenty-five cents long ago, and Arturo pleaded with the grocer. The grocer's wife was in and out, looking after her romping children. She held the worthless, gaudy chain before her black-eyed baby, who clutched it and laughed. The mother laughed, too. Her husband laughed. The baby kept the chain, and crowed.
The grocer's wife filled a big paper bag with beans, and gave it, with a loaf of bread, to Arturo. The boy clasped the packages, and ran.
At home he found tia Marta sitting still with shut eyes.
"Eat!" cried Arturo, thrusting the loaf into her hands.
Tio Diego laughed with joy and put the beans to cooking. Arturo stayed home from school that afternoon, and helped wash. To-morrow the pay would come. Tio Diego tried lamely to help Arturo wash.
Tia Marta was feeling better, and had just declared her intention of washing, when Arturo suddenly forsook the tub and dropped beside her.
"Me malo, malo!" (bad) he sobbed.
He cried bitterly, and told tia Marta about the watch-chain.
Old tia Marta looked pityingly at her shamefaced nephew.
"Poor child!" she said, "thou art young."
But when next day the school teacher asked Arturo the reason of his absence from school the previous afternoon, and he had confessed the whole story, the teacher said, "Arturo, it is more beautiful to have a heart of love toward others than it is to wear a watch-chain even of real gold. Will you remember that?"
Arturo promised, and the teacher said to herself:
"I will see that tia Marta does not come to such straits again."
The Waves splashed on the bold rocks that guard the little harbor of Colombo on the southwest shore of the island of Ceylon. Groves of palm trees looked down on the one-story houses of the town. Upon a rock outside of Colombo stood a barefoot boy, his dark eyes gazing toward the tropically green mountains of the island. His attention was particularly riveted on one of the highest peaks, that one which is known to English-speaking people as "Adam's Peak," and which is reverenced by natives as being the traditional spot from which Buddha ascended to heaven.
"The butterflies are making their pilgrimage to the holy footprint," murmured the boy, Comale, to himself.
He could see from his standpoint great streams of butterflies, taking their flight apparently from all parts of the island, and going toward the famous Peak. These flights of butterflies, occurring occasionally in Ceylon, have won for the butterflies themselves the name of "Samanaliya," since it is thought that the heathen god, Saman, left his footprint on the mountain, and the butterflies, like devout beings, take pains to go on pilgrimage to the holy footprint.
Comale himself knew better than to believe in this old heathen tale, yet he never saw the myriads of flying butterflies without remembering what he had been taught in his earlier years, before Christianity came under the high-pitched roof where Comale's father and mother lived.
Long time did Comale stand on the rock and gaze at the vast numbers of flying, winged "pilgrims." The butterflies seemed countless, and at last Comale, sighing a little, said, "They are very good," and, jumping from his rock, made haste toward the cinnamon gardens where he worked.
Comale was a "peeler." In the perfectly white soil around the city of Colombo, the cinnamon tree flourishes as well as, if not better than, in any other place in the world. It requires much practice to become a skillful peeler of cinnamon, but Comale, having been taught by his father, and being moreover a careful, observing lad, was fast attaining a degree of success in his trade. Formerly the Cingalese had allowed the cinnamon trees to grow to their natural height, about twenty or thirty feet, and naturally the cinnamon bark from such trees had been tough. This was long ago, however, before even the Dutch owned Colombo. Better wisdom came with them, and in these later days of English rule, sensible ideas still prevailed. The cinnamon trees were kept pruned, and the comparatively young shoots were found to produce better cinnamon than old trees had done.
Comale, arriving at the gardens, began to work. The branches he chose for cutting were about three feet long and were the growth of from three to five years.
Comale made longitudinal cuts in the bark, two cuts in a small shoot, more cuts in a large shoot, and then with his instrument carefully removed the bark strips.
He placed the pieces of bark in bundles, in which shape the cinnamon was to stay for a while, that it might ferment, so that the outer skin and the under green portion might be more easily scraped away by Comale with a curved knife. After that, the inner cinnamon bark would dry and draw up, till the pieces looked like quills. But ever, as Comale worked this day, something inly disturbed his thoughts. He was very unhappy.
"Comale," warned his father sharply, "that was a bad cut! Be more careful!"
Comale's father was attending to some bark that had dried to quills. He was putting small cinnamon quills into larger ones, till he made a collection about forty inches long. Then he would bind the cinnamon into bundles by pieces of split bamboo. But Comale's father kept an eye on his son's work, also.
Comale was much abashed at his father's reproof. For a time the lad kept his mind upon the cinnamon. Then his thoughts went back to their old uncomfortable vein, for he found in a tree a little bundle of sticks from four to six inches long, all the sticks placed lengthwise, the whole looking like a small bunch of firewood. Comale knew what this bundle was, well enough, for many a time he had found this kind of a nest of the larva of a moth. He knew it was lined with fine spun silk, and that the heathen people said that the moth used once to be a real person who stole wood, and who, having died, came back to earth again in the form of a moth, condemned, for the former theft, to make little bunches of firewood. Comale sighed as he touched the little bundle hanging from the tree.
He thought of the "good" butterflies that he had that morning seen going on "pilgrimage."
"Some people are good, and some people are bad," thought Comale sadly. "The butterflies go on pilgrimage, but the bad moth's little bundle of firewood hangs in the tree. I wish I did not always do something bad!"
Ordinarily he would not have cared for the acts of either moth or butterfly, but to-day there was in Comale's heart a sense of guilt that found accusation from unwonted sources.
"Comale!" warned his father again, "another false cut!"
Tears of mortification sprang to the lad's eyes. Never had ha seemed to himself to be so awkward a peeler. It was something beside awkwardness that ailed Comale's hand to-day. He was worrying over the possible consequences of a deed of his.
That morning, he and his sister Pidura, who was about his own age, had quarreled. They did not quarrel as often now as they used to before Pidura and he knew anything about the way to be a Christian. They tried to be patient, usually, but this morning there had been a sharp quarrel between the two about the rice for breakfast. After breakfast, Comale, still feeling very angry, had gone into the veranda that each one-story house possesses. This veranda was overshadowed by the high-pitched roof, and while, inside the house, there was matting on the floor, as in Cingalese houses, the veranda had a rough material made from the husks of the cocoanut. This material was so placed as to prevent serpents from crawling into the house. Ceylon has many serpents, and Pidura, Comale's sister, was very much afraid of them. As Comale, yet very angry with his sister, stood in the veranda, it occurred to him that if he pulled away some of the rough cocoanut material, he might leave a place where a serpent could come into the house and scare Pidura. It would be good enough for her, he thought; and not pausing to reason about the consequences of his action, he pulled away the rough material till he left quite a space undefended. He did not believe that Padura would notice it.
He could see her, busy in the kitchen, which is a house separate from a Cingalese dwelling. Her plump, pleasant face bent over the fire, and then again she turned away, her light jacket and striped skirt vanishing toward another corner of the kitchen. Comale half laughed as he thought how scared she would be if a little serpent should find the opening he had made. Then he ran away.
But now, since beginning his day's work, his quarrel and the possible consequences of his misdeed had begun to weigh heavily on Comale's conscience, and had lent an accusing tongue to nature. So true is it that a guilty conscience finds censure where a heart that is at peace with God and man would find no reproving reminder.
Comale could not go home till nightfall, and all day his worry increased. Why had he done so wicked a thing? The quarrel over the trouble about the rice looked so little, now! If a poisonous snake should find that opening, and should creep in, and strike his mother, or Pidura, or the little brother, or, the baby! It was dreadful to think of! Why had he blindly followed his anger? Had he not often heard that he who would be a Christian must forgive others? Instead of forgiving Pidura, he had done something that perhaps might kill her.
"Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you." It was what the missionary had said.
"I ought to have forgiven Pidura!" Comale's heart cried. "Oh, I am bad, bad! How can I bear it, to wait till I can go home to see if all is safe?"
Naturally, Comale's work was not done well, to-day. But he cared little for criticism of his peeling, when at evening the time came to go home. He ran all the way. He plunged headlong into the street where he lived. He ran past the tile-roofed houses. There was his home's veranda with bunches of bananas hanging in the shade, and a basket of cocoa-nuts below. Comale hastened in, out of breath, yet trying to act as if nothing ailed him. Pidura was safe! He saw her. He found his mother and the baby in another room. Comale drew a long breath, and tried to stop trembling. His little brothers were in the street.
It was growing dusk, and another fear beset him. If a serpent had crawled into the house, the creature might have hidden itself, and might not come out till sometime in the night. Comale guiltily slipped into the veranda again. The unprotected portion had not been discovered. It lay exposed as he had left it.
As well as he could, Comale replaced the cocoanut-husk material, so that it might be a defense as before. Then he went softly around within the house, hunting for any possible hiding-place where the enemy he dreaded might be concealed.
"Comale," said his mother, "what are you doing?" And Comale did not dare to hunt any more.
He was dreadfully miserable as he lay that night in the darkness. He could not sleep. He listened for any outcry. To think that he might have let an enemy into his own home! Comale rose upon his elbow to listen. The walls of Cingalese houses are not carried up to the roof, and, because of this, an outcry or conversation in one room can be heard all over the house. Comale listened. Sometimes he fancied he heard the sound of something slipping over the matting on the floor. So worried was he that when he slept it was only by short naps from which he woke with a start, and resumed his listening.
Toward morning, when light began to come, Comale crept from his place. He looked toward where his little brothers slept. Hanging above one of the little boys was a slender dark line. It was alive! It swayed to and fro in the shadows, and seemed to slip a little lower toward the sleeping child. Comale started. He sprang forward with a cry, and caught the swaying thing. But it was no living creature that Comale brought with him to the floor. It was only a long, thin strip of bamboo with which Comale's father had intended to bind cinnamon bark! The strip had been hung up out of the way, and had swung a little in the current of air between the top of the wall and the roof. As the bamboo strip swayed, it had gradually slipped lower and lower toward the sleeping little boy below.
Comale's outcry had aroused the household; and without reserve the penitent lad told to the family the story of his misdeed. His dark-faced father smiled slightly and showed his teeth through his beard. He understood now the mistakes Comale had made in the cinnamon work the previous day.
"A wrong heart makes corundoo peeling go ill, Comale," he said gravely.
"Corundoo" is the native word for cinnamon.
"A wrong heart makes rice-cooking go ill, too," softly confessed Pidura. "I am sorry for yesterday's rice! It was I who made Comale's heart angry."
The father looked from one child to the other.
"Little children, love one another," he said.
AT THE PANADERIA.
The door of the "panaderia" opened. Americans would have called the place a bakery, but the sign said "Panaderia," which might be interpreted "breadery" or bake-house. All California does not read English, and it behooves shop-keepers sometimes to word their signs for the customers desired. In like manner the "Restaurante Mexicana," across the street, on a sign advertised "comidas," or meals, at twenty-five and fifty cents.
Through the panaderia doorway came a girl and a boy. They walked along by the "zanja," or irrigation ditch, that here bordered the road. The fern-leaved pepper trees beside the zanja were dotted with clusters of small, bright red berries.
"Rosa," said the boy, when the two had walked a little way, "I saw in that big yard many purple and green grapes, spread out drying for raisins."
Rosa did not answer. She trudged on, carrying her basket of bread. The brother carried a loaf in brown paper. He and she lived at the panaderia, and had set forth to carry the bread to the two regular customers.
"Rosa," stated the boy again, after a pause, "all the little oranges on the trees over there are green."
Rosa did not even look toward the oranges.
"Rosa," affirmed the boy emphatically, when a few minutes had gone by, "the Chinese doctor is measuring a window in his house! See! He has some little teacups and a teapot in his front room! I saw them just now."
Rosa looked absently toward the old building, inside a window of which was visible the head of the Chinese doctor, who wore black goggles, and who was indeed measuring his window for some reason. Rosa had small hope of the Chinese doctor as a future customer. She had seen him eating his rice with chop-sticks, and he never came to buy a scrap of bread or anything else. Rosa sighed to think what would become of the panaderia, if all the world had the same opinion as the Chinese doctor, in regard to eating. In these days Rosa was in danger of looking upon the world from a strictly calculating standpoint, and of regarding only those people as worthy of her interest who either were or might become customers of the panaderia. Still indeed customers were needed, for the receipts had been slight, lately, and Rosa's grandmother's parrot, Papagayo, a bird of such understanding that he had learned to screech, "Pan por dinero," (bread for money) had recently seen more of the former than of the latter in the shop.
Rosa and her brother still kept by the zanja, even when it turned away from the road. They went on till they reached the orange orchard of the Zanjero of the town. The Zanjero is the man who has the oversight of the irrigation system, and he has deputies under him. Rosa and her brother Joseph thought the Zanjero a great man, and stood much in awe of the irrigation laws concerning stealing water, or raising a gate to waste water, or giving water to persons outside the district.
The two bread-carriers went through the orange orchard, which was not being irrigated at this hour, for the Zanjero was particular himself to keep the hour that he paid for, as other men should be. Up to the Zanjero's house Rosa now carried the bread, and his wife herself paid for it. Rosa tied the coins carefully in one corner of the black shawl that she wore over her head.
"Rosa," anticipated Joseph aloud, as they went away through the orange orchard again, "when I am grown up, I shall be a Zanjero, and we will not have to keep the panaderia!"
But Rosa looked unbelieving. "It is not granted every man to be the Zanjero," returned she gravely, "and I love the panaderia."
It was true. She did love it, even to the castor-oil plants that grew like weeds in neglected places in the yard, and down to the south wall that was hung with a thick veil of red peppers that her grandmother was drying in the sun. It was only because the panaderia had not enough customers that Rosa looked so grave to-day. Besides, the grandmother's birthday was near, and where was money for a present?
At the other house where the children regularly delivered bread, irrigation had been going on all the morning. The half-day of irrigation, for which the owner of this orange orchard had paid, was just over, and the water-gate connecting the man's ditch with the main zanja was being shut when Rosa and Joseph arrived. The little water-gate was like a wooden shovel. It slid down some grooves, and the running water stopped. It squirmed in the zanja an instant. Then the little wooden gate was fastened with a padlock, as every gate must be when the payer for water had received from the Zanjero's deputy the amount of water paid for, whether by the fifty-cent-hour, or the two-dollar-day, or the dollar-and-a-quarter night rate, and whoever unauthorized should unfasten the padlock and open the gate would be a thief of water.
After witnessing the shutting off of the water, Joseph carried his paper-enfolded loaf to the house of this second regular customer, and then the children turned homeward toward the panaderia.
"Pan por dinero!" cried the parrot, Papagayo, when Rosa and Joseph reentered the panaderia; but alas! no customers were there. Only the grandmother sat sewing behind the counter, her blurred old eyes close to the cloth she held.
"I will take care of the panaderia now, grandmother," Rosa offered; and the grandmother answered, "I will rest a little, then."
The poor, dear grandmother! She was so tired and thin, nowadays, and her hands trembled so much! It was hard for her to try to sew. If the panaderia paid better, if there were more regular customers to whom Rosa and Joseph could carry eatables, then the grandmother would not attempt sewing at all, for it strained her eyes very much. But now she did not know what else to do. There must be a living for herself and the children someway.
Rosa found the afternoon long, sitting behind the counter, waiting for customers and trying to sew. A little boy came in and bought a loaf. Two girls bought another. Then the panaderia door ceased to swing, and the quiet afternoon went on. Across the street, women stood here and there and gossiped.
Nobody came. It grew four, then five, then six o'clock. Finally the panaderia door opened, and a woman entered. Rosa sprang up. Here was a customer, at last!
But the woman only came to the counter, and stood still. She was young, very thin and ill, evidently, and her eyes had tears in their depths. Under the black shawl that was over the newcomer's head Rosa spied a dark mark, as of a bruise, on the forehead. The young woman tried to speak.
"I have three little children," she said. "I am sick. I cannot work, and their father drinks mescal—always mescal. I have no money. Will you give me a little bread? I am no beggar, but my babies are so hungry!"
Rosa knew how much harm mescal (a kind of intoxicating drink made from the maguey or Mexican aloe) did among the neighbors. She did not doubt the woman's tale; only it was disappointing, when one thought a real customer had at last come to the panaderia, to find that it was not so. But the girl nodded sympathetically at the conclusion of the young woman's appeal.
"I will speak to grandmother," she promised.
She found her grandmother lying down still, but half awake, and explained to her the situation.
"Yes, yes," returned the grandmother, her wrinkled face full of sympathy. "Give her the bread. Has not the Lord told us to care for the poor? He would not be pleased if we sent her away without bread. Tell the poor woman to come again. The little children, must be fed."
Rosa hurried back to the counter, and gave the woman two fresh loaves and the grandmother's message.
"Gracias!" (thanks) sobbed the young woman and hurried away.
"I hope she will not tell that we gave her bread," murmured Rosa to herself as the usual quiet settled over the panaderia. "We can't afford to give bread to many people."
The weeks went by, and the panaderia did not prosper very well. It grew to be a customary thing for the thin, sick woman to come daily for bread, and she was never refused. She said with a sensitive eagerness that when she was well again she would work and pay all back, and Rosa's grandmother answered "Yes," cheerily, to this promise, though any one who looked at the poor young mother's face could see that there was small prospect of her ever being well again in this world. Her husband still drank.
Times grew harder and harder at the panaderia. In the midst of the winter a heavy blow fell, for the Zanjero's wife took a fancy to making her own bread, and as she was the regular customer who bought more loaves and paid more promptly than the other, the panaderia felt the loss keenly. Customers were very scarce, and the grandmother's eyes became so weak that she could no longer sew. Rosa sewed the little that she could, but some days there was scarcely enough to eat at the panaderia, except the very few loaves in the case—the loaves that the three hardly knew whether to dare eat or not, for fear some one should come in and want to buy. There were many other people who were poor and without work, and the little family kept their troubles to themselves. The poor sick neighbor always came every day and was given bread. Winter passed and spring arrived without much change in the panaderia's prospects.
"We could have eaten that ourselves," thought Rosa one night when the neighbor went out with the bread.
The grandmother had said that the poor were God's care, and he would bless those who for his sake fed them.
"But we keep on being poorer and poorer," thought Rosa with a sigh.
Then she reproached herself. Had not her grandmother said that the Lord cared about the panaderia? One day when spring was turning into summer, the poor neighbor came in earlier than usual. Her face was very white. Rosa and her grandmother were both by the counter. The grandmother smiled and was about to draw out the bread and give it to the woman. But the poor neighbor dropped her head on the counter, and stretched out her hand toward the old grandmother. The grandmother took the hand, and lo! in her own lay a little key.
"Take it to the Zanjero!" sobbed the sick neighbor, "and tell him to forgive! It was the mescal made my husband do it!"
Little by little Rosa and her grandmother pieced together the story of the small key. Some unscrupulous persons wished to obtain water for irrigation without paying for it. A key was made that fitted the padlocks of the little wooden gates leading from the zanja. By night some one must open these gates and close them again before morning. It was thieving, of course, and the Zanjero or his deputies might catch the person who did it. But the sick neighbor's husband, wanting money to buy more mescal, had been induced to undertake the task of stealthily opening the gates. His wife, suspicious of his errand, had followed him on the first night of his attempt. She had seen him stop by a Mexican cactus, and raise something, she knew not what, in the zanja. After he had gone, she went to the spot and putting her hand into the water felt the current that ran through a gate he had opened.
"Then I know!" tearfully declared the woman to Rosa's grandmother. "I follow my husband. I tell him the Zanjero is the friend of the good panaderia that gives the bread! I tell him he shall not open the other gates! I snatch the key! I tell him 'No! No! The panaderia is my friend! The Zanjero is the panaderia's friend!' He shall not cheat the Zanjero! My husband say if he open other gates he get money for mescal. I say 'No!' I run away with key. My husband say, 'Don't tell anybody! I will not open the gates again! Let other men do it.' But I say, 'I must tell, because the Zanjero is the best friend of the panaderia. No one shall cheat the best friend of the panaderia, that feeds our babies so long—all winter and now."
Evidently the woman supposed that the Zanjero was still the principal regular customer of the panaderia. Rosa and her grandmother had never told about his ceasing to buy bread, and the neighbor thought that he was still considered their very chief customer.
That evening Rosa and Joseph took the long-unused path to the Zanjero's house. His wife came to the door.
"Oh," she said, "it's the two little bread-bringers! No, I don't want any bread. Are you trying to get orders?"
"May I see the Zanjero?" asked Rosa gravely.
The Zanjero's wife, whose name in plain English was Mrs. Craig, led the two children into her husband's presence. Rosa, very pale with the thought of being in the presence of so great a man, told her story in trembling tones, and held out the key.
The Zanjero took it, and looked at it curiously.
"Will you forgive?" asked Rosa timorously. "The poor, sick woman asks you to forgive. She says it was the mescal that made her husband do it."
"I presume so," returned the man grimly. "They're all thieves."
But the Zanjero's wife was wiser than her husband. She dropped into a chair and put an arm around Rosa.
"You have not told all the story yet, or else I do not understand," she said gently. "What makes this woman so much your friend that she comes and tells your grandmother about the key?"
So the whole story came out at last—about the long, sad winter at the panaderia; the grandmother's attempts at sewing; her failing eyes; the lack of customers, yet the daily giving of bread to the poor neighbor and her three children; the trust that the Lord knew about the panaderia and its occupants.
The Zanjero's wife understood it all now. She looked up at her husband. There were tears in her eyes as she said:
"While you are forgiving that man, you'd better think how much forgiveness I need for having stopped taking bread of the panaderia in the heart of winter, when they needed the money so badly! To think of their struggling along, and yet giving bread every day to a woman and three babies! If the panaderia folks had not done this, you'd never have found out about this plan to rob the zanja! That woman would simply have kept the story and the key to herself, and those dishonest men would have found somebody else to open the gates at night for them. It was only because she thought that you were a noted customer of the panaderia that she sent you word of this plan to steal the water."
The great Zanjero turned and looked at Rosa.
"Tell that sick woman," he said gravely, "that I forgive her husband for opening the gate, though I don't know how much water he helped steal that night. Tell her, though, that he must never do such a thing again. I am coming to see him myself, and I shall tell him he is forgiven. But he must stop drinking mescal."
"And tell your grandmother," broke in the Zanjero's wife, "that I want three loaves of bread to-morrow morning, and I want bread every day. Here's the money for the three loaves. And I'm going to get you a lot of regular customers! I have friends enough. They'll take bread of you, if I ask them. You poor children! Why didn't you come and tell me about things, long ago?"
So it was that the mercy which the old grandmother showed to the sick neighbor and her children returned in blessing on the panaderia. For the Zanjero's wife rested not till she had fulfilled her promise. Customers became many and well-paying, and the old grandmother, happy in the prosperity, said to Rosa and to Joseph:
"See you, my children? Did I not tell you that the Lord knew about the panaderia? It is he who sends all this good to us who deserve it not."
MISS STRATTON'S PAPER
The wind was blowing quite keenly from the north, and Miss Stratton had the collar of her coat turned up, as she hurried through the darkness of the avenue. She was talking behind her coat collar, the tips of which brushed her lips. If what Miss Stratton said had been audible to any one beside herself, it would have sounded as if she were talking severely to somebody.
"I don't see why you can't throw that evening paper where we can find it!" Miss Stratton was saying under her breath. "We have a broad walk, and there's plenty of room! I've been out in the yard three or four times to-night, and hunted thoroughly, and mother's been out once. Mother's eyes are poor, and she likes to have the paper before dark."
Miss Stratton caught her breath in the cold wind. She hastened by a gas-lamp, climbed the hill, and found her way in darkness up the long steps of a house. She fumbled for the bell and rang it. There was a little stir within, the opening of an interior door to let light into the hall, and then a boy's step. The front door opened. Miss Stratton looked straight into the boyish face that appeared.
"I want to know where you threw our paper to-night," she demanded. "I can't find it anywhere."
The boy stepped one side so that the light within the farther room might fall on Miss Stratton's face. He recognized her.
"Oh," returned the boy, "your paper went up a tree."
"Up a tree!" exclaimed Miss Stratton, indignantly. "Why didn't you come in and tell me, so I'd know where to look for it?"
"If I'd had an extra copy with me, I'd have thrown in another," said the boy—"I'll get you one."
He walked back into the sitting-room, glad to escape from the accusing subscriber, whom he had not expected to see following him to his home. Miss Stratton sternly waited. The boy's sister had come into the hall, and was holding a candle for a light. Her brother came back with the evening paper, and Miss Stratton took it.
"I wish you'd be careful where you throw that paper, Harry," she admonished him, her indignation cooling. "I've spoken to you about that before. I don't like to have to come away up here for the paper. It isn't convenient."
"Yes'm," answered the boy.
Miss Stratton hurried home. When she arrived there, one of the first things she saw gleaming faintly through the garden's darkness, was the missing evening paper that Harry had thrown into a pepper tree near the side fence. During Miss Stratton's absence, the strong wind had shaken the paper down, and it lay at the foot of the tree. "How did he suppose I was going to find that paper up that tree?" questioned Miss Stratton. "I did look up there before dark, but I didn't see anything."
The evening paper was easily discoverable for a week or so after this: Then matters went back to their old state and Miss Stratton frequently spent a quarter of an hour finding her evening paper.
"If he'd take the slightest pains he could throw it on this walk that is ten feet wide!" she would tell herself indignantly, as she pushed aside the branches of blue marguerites and the leaves of calla-lilies, and peered into holes on either side of the steps near the front gate, where the watering of the garden had washed away the soil.
Miss Stratton had liked Harry very much, when he first became paper boy. He had a frank manner that made him friends. At first he carefully threw the paper on Miss Stratton's front piazza. He never skipped an evening, as the former paper boy had sometimes done, and Miss Stratton rejoiced that at last a paper boy who was reliable had been found for the route. Months had passed, and while Harry was as careful at some houses as before, Miss Stratton's was not among that number. Harry had three 'customers on that street and he nightly walked only as far toward Miss Stratton's as would enable him to throw her paper and then, with two or three steps, throw another paper to the neighbor diagonally across the street. A few more steps would have made Harry sure that Miss Stratton's paper fell every night squarely on the broad front path, but he "fired the paper at her," as he expressed it, and the result was Miss Stratton's otherwise unnecessary number of steps hunting after her paper. Yet Harry would have scorned to cheat any customer. He fulfilled the letter of the law. He delivered the paper.
Late one afternoon the minister and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Landler, came by invitation to take supper with Mrs. and Miss Stratton. After a while, as they sat, pleasantly chatting, Mr. Landler spoke of a ship that had been overdue for almost two weeks. A neighbor's son was on board, and this fact caused Mr. and Mrs. Landler to look at the papers, morning and night, as soon as possible, to ascertain if anything had been heard of the missing vessel.
"That's what my daughter and I have been doing, too," returned Mrs. Stratton. "I wonder if this evening's paper hasn't come, so we could look?"
Her daughter glanced at the clock.
"Why, yes!" said she. "That paper ought to have come before now."
Miss Stratton went out and hunted carefully. No paper was visible, search as she might.
"Perhaps it hasn't come yet," she said to the guests, when she came in.
A little later she went out again. Mrs. Landler came to help search, though Miss Stratton disclaimed the need of aid.
"The paper doesn't always fall where I can see it," explained Miss Stratton, mortified at her failure to find the paper for her guests.
"Who brings it around?" asked Mrs. Landler, looking at the broad front walk.
"Harry Butterworth," answered Miss Stratton.
She did not tell of the annoyance Harry had caused her heretofore. Harry's mother was a church friend of the Landlers and the Strattons, and Miss Stratton was loath to expose the boy's shortcomings.
No paper appeared, and after a thorough search, Mrs. Landler and Miss Stratton went into the house. Dusk was coming. Miss Stratton had occasion to go upstairs for something, and glancing out of the front hall window, she saw the twisted roll of that evening's paper lying on a projection of the roof.
"He threw the paper on the roof!" exclaimed Miss Stratton, "and he didn't come in to tell me!"
She pushed up the hall window, and reaching out as far as she dared, she tried with an old umbrella handle to dislodge the paper. She drew breathlessly back.
"It's no use! I can't get it!" she gasped.
She went downstairs and told her mother quietly, but Mrs. Stratton had no scruples about informing her guests what had happened.
"That boy's thrown this evening's paper on the roof!" stated old Mrs. Stratton. "He does put us to so much trouble!"
The minister instantly offered to climb the roof. Miss Stratton and her mother protested, but Mr. Landler took off his coat, climbed out of an upper-story window, and secured the paper. In one column was a notice that the missing ship had been heard from and was safe. Great was the rejoicing around the Strattons' supper-table that their friend's son was not lost.
The next time Mr. Landler saw Harry, the minister said pleasantly, "You gave me quite a climb the other night, my boy."
Harry looked astonished.
"Gave you a climb?" he questioned. "I gave you one?"
"Yes," nodded Mr. Landler. "Miss Stratton's evening paper fell on her roof. My wife and I were taking supper there, so I climbed the roof for the paper."
Harry turned very red. Was ever a paper boy so unfortunate? He knew the paper fell on the roof, but who would have supposed Mr. Landler was at the Strattons'? Harry wanted very much to be thought well of by the minister and his wife. Everybody liked them.
"I didn't know you were there," apologized Harry, hardly knowing what to say.
"No," said the minister, gently, "we never know who may be in any home. You didn't know you were delivering the paper to me. You thought it was to Miss Stratton. Wasn't that it?"
"Yes," acknowledged the boy.
"If the Lord Jesus were here on earth, Harry," went on the minister in a very grave, tender tone, "and if he wanted a little service from you, you wouldn't render it in the way you deliver Miss Stratton's paper, would you? Yet she is his child, one of his representatives on earth, and as you treat her you treat him. 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,' you know, Harry."
The next night Miss Stratton's paper fell with an emphatic thwack in the middle of the front walk. The next night it did the same, and the next, and the next.
"What has changed that boy?" wondered Miss Stratton with grateful relief, as weeks passed and the paper still fell in plain sight.
She did not know that as Harry carefully aimed his papers, the boy thought, "'Ye have done it unto me.'"
AN HONEST DAY'S WORK.
Willis walked down one of the city wharves. He was going to see his father, Mr. Sutherland, who was one of the men employed by the State Harbor Commissioners in repairing wharves. The piles that supported the wharves often needed renewing, being eaten by teredos. Sometimes the flooring of the wharves sagged and needed restoring to the former level.
Willis liked to see the pile-driver with its big hammer. He marveled at the air-pumps with which sagging wharves were raised. Perhaps three air-pumps at a time would be stationed over as many "caps," as the twelve-inch timbers under the wharf's flooring were called. The pumps, being worked, would raise the caps and hold them until blocks could be shoved underneath. Then the pumps were worked some more, and other blocks put under, till the wharf was restored to the required level. Great screws such as are used in raising buildings were also employed under wharves sometimes. There were rocks under some wharves, and water was under others. Whichever it was, Willis' father often had to go under the wharves and climb around among the caps and stringers and piles, repairing.
Seven or eight other men were employed like Mr. Sutherland. It was mid-forenoon, but Willis saw that three or four of the men were not working. They were idling around the engine of the pile-driver, and were eating something that Willis found to be cooked crabs.
"Where's father?" asked Willis. "Under the wharf, working," answered one man. "He thinks the State's looking after him every minute."
Willis saw some planks had been taken up in a distant part of the wharf's flooring. He went there and swung himself down under the wharf. There were rocks there, and Willis, following the sound of a hammer, came to his father.
"That you, Willis?" asked his father pleasantly.
"Pa," said the boy, "some of the other men are up there eating crabs. Why don't you go up and get some, too?"