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The Mexican Twins
by Lucy Fitch Perkins
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"Whatever can be the reason that my children are not home?" she gasped. "You remember it was morning when I sent them after wood. They have not been seen since, and Tonto walked into the yard just now all alone, and of course there's nothing to be got out of him! What can have happened to them?"

"Now, never you mind, like a sensible woman," said Pablo's mother soothingly. "They're playing along the way as likely as not and will be at your door before you are. Who should know better than myself the way children will forget the thing they're set to do."

She looked severely at Pablo as she said this, so I judge the examination of his ears had not been satisfactory.

Dona Teresa didn't wait to hear any more, but ran back home, and when the children still did not appear she walked down the road hoping to meet them.

The clouds grew blacker and blacker, and the rain began to fall. Dona Teresa called Jasmin, who had reappeared by this time, and gave him Tonio's shoes to smell of.

"Go find him, go find him," she cried.

Jasmin whined and looked anxious, but just then came a flash of lightning. Jasmin was afraid of lightning, so he crept into Tonto's stall with his tail between his legs and hid there until the storm was over.

II

At last it was time for Pancho to come home. Poor Dona Teresa kept her supper hot and waited anxiously to hear the sound of Pinto's hoofs, but no such sound came. Pancho would go with her, and together they would find their children, she was sure, but six o'clock and seven came, without either Pancho or the children.

It was quite dark when at last she put on her rebozo and ran as fast as she could to the priest's house. The door was opened by the priest's fat sister, who kept house for him.

"Oh, where is the padrecito?" Dona Teresa said to her. "I must see him."

"He is eating his supper," said the fat sister.

"Tell him I am in great trouble," sobbed Dona Teresa.

In a moment the priest appeared at the door, and Dona Teresa kissed the hand he stretched out to her, and told him her anxieties all in one breath.

The padrecito had just had his supper and was feeling very comfortable himself, so he told her he was sure that everything would come out all right. He patted Dona Teresa on the shoulder and said not to worry; that probably Pancho had had to stay to mend a fence somewhere, and the children—why, they had probably stopped to play!

"In pitch darkness and rain, holy father? It cannot be," Dona Teresa moaned.

"Well," said the priest, "if they are not here in an hour we will search for them, but they will surely come soon."

Dona Teresa had such faith in the priest that she went back home, intending to do just what he said, but when she got there she found Pedro's wife waiting for her.

The moment she saw Dona Teresa she cried out, "Has Pancho come?"

"No," sobbed Dona Teresa.

"Neither has Pedro," answered his wife. "I can't think what can be the matter. He never stays out so late as this—especially in a storm. Something dreadful has surely happened."

Dona Teresa told her what the priest had said, but neither one was willing to wait another minute, so they ran together in the rain to the other huts and told the news, and the men formed a searching-party at once.

They put on their grass coats to protect them from the rain, and started off in the darkness and wet, carrying lighted pine torches, and calling loudly, "Pancho—Pedro—Tonio—Tita," every few minutes.



While they were gone Pedro's wife left the baby and Pablo with a neighbor and asked her to send Pablo to the chapel if there should be any news. Then she and Dona Teresa went there to pray.

The chapel door was open and candles were burning on the little altar, as the two women crept in and knelt before the image of the Virgin and Child.

"O Holy Mother," sobbed Dona Teresa, "help us who are mothers, too!"

All night long they knelt on the chapel floor before the images, sobbing and praying, listening for footsteps that did not come, and promising many candles to be placed upon the altar, if only their dear ones could be restored to them.

It was long after the rain was over and the moon shining again that the weary search party returned to the village without any news of the wanderers.



VIII

THE SECRET MEETING



VIII

THE SECRET MEETING

I

The children, meanwhile, were sleeping soundly in their hard bed. They were so tired that they did not wake up even when a tiny stream of water broke through a crevice in the rocks and splashed down on Tonio's head. It ran off his hair just as the rain ran off the thatched roof of their little adobe hut.

About nine o'clock the rain stopped and the moon shone out from behind the clouds. An owl hooted; a fox ran right over the roof of their cave, making a soft pat-pat with his paws that would have frightened them if they had heard it, but they slept on.

At last, however, something did wake Tita. She sat up in terror. A flickering light that wasn't moonlight was dancing about the cave! It was so bright that she could see everything about them as plain as day.

She clutched Tonio, shook him gently, and whispered in his ear, "Tonio, Tonio, wake up."

Tonio stirred and opened his mouth, but Tita clapped her hand over it. She was so afraid he would make a noise. When he saw the flickering light Tonio almost shouted for joy, for he was sure that his father had found them at last.

The flickering light grew brighter. They heard the crackling of flames and men's voices, and saw sparks. Very quietly they squirmed around on their stomachs until they could peep out of the opening of their cave.

This is what they saw!

There on the ground a few feet in front of their hiding-place was a fire, and two men were beside it. Their horses were tied to bushes not far away. One of the men was broiling meat on the end of a stick. The smell of it made the children very hungry. The other man was drinking something hot from a cup. They both had guns, and the guns were leaning against the rocks just below the cave where the children were hidden.

The man who was standing up was tall and had a fierce black mustache. He had on a big sombrero, and under a fold of his serape Tonio could see a cartridge-belt and the handle of a revolver.

"It's the Tall Man that Father and Pedro were talking to in front of the pulque shop," whispered Tonio.

Tita was so frightened that she shook like a leaf and her teeth chattered.

Pretty soon the Tall Man spoke. "The others ought to be here soon," he said. "They'll see the fire. Put on a few more sticks and make it flame up more."

The other man gave a last turn to the meat, handed it stick and all to the Tall Man, and disappeared behind the bushes to search for wood.



He had not yet come back, when there was the sound of horses' feet, and a man rode into sight, dismounted, hitched his horse, and joined the Tall Man by the fire.

One by one others came, until there were ten men standing about and talking together in low tones. Last of all there was the thud-thud of two more horses and who should come riding into the firelight but Pancho on Pinto, and Pedro on another horse!

When they joined the circle, Tonio almost sprang up and shouted. He did make a little jump, but Tita clutched him and held him back. He loosened a pebble at the mouth of the cave by his motion and it clattered down over the rock. The man who had gone for the wood was just putting his load down by the fire when the pebble came rattling down beside him.

"What's that?" he said, and sprang for his rifle.

Tonio hastily drew in his head. The men all listened intently for a few minutes, and looked cautiously about them.

"It's nothing but a pebble," said the Tall Man at last. "No one will disturb us here. And if they should,"—he tapped the handle of his revolver and smiled,—"we'd give them such a warm welcome they would be glad to stay with us—quietly—oh, very quietly!"

The other men grinned a little, as if they saw a joke in this, and then they all sat down in a circle around the fire.

II

Pancho and Pedro sat where the children could look right at them. The Tall Man was the only one who did not sit down. He stood up and began to talk.

"Well, men," he said. "I knew I could count on you! Brave fellows like you know well when a blow must be struck, and where is the true Mexican who was ever afraid to strike a blow when he knew that it was needed?

"We came of a race of fighters! And once Mexico belonged to them! Our Indian forefathers did not serve a race of foreign tyrants as we, their sons, do! Look about you on Mexico! Where in the whole world can be found such a land? The soil so rich that it yields crops that burden the earth, and mountains full of gold and silver and precious stones! And it is for this reason we are enslaved!

"If our land were less rich and less beautiful, if it bore no such crops, if its sunshine were not so bright, and its mountains yielded no such treasure, we should be free men to-day.

"But the world envied our possessions. You know how Cortez, long ago, came from Spain and when our forefathers met him with friendliness he slew men, women, and children, tore down their ancient temples, and set the churches of Spain in their places!

"The Spaniards turned our fathers from free and brave men into a conquered and enslaved people, and worst of all they mixed their hated blood with ours. From the days of Cortez until now in one way or another we have submitted to oppression, until the spirit of our brave Indian ancestors is almost dead within us!

"And for what do we serve these aristocrats? For the privilege of remaining ignorant! For the privilege of tilling their fields, which were once ours! For the privilege of digging our gold and silver and precious stones out of their mines to make them rich! For the privilege of living in huts while they live in palaces! For the privilege of being robbed and beaten in the name of laws we never heard of and which we had no part in making, though this country is called a Republic! A Republic!—Bah!—A Republic where more than half the people cannot read! A Republic of cattle! A Republic where men like you work for a few pence a day, barely enough to keep your body and soul together—and even that pittance you must spend in stores owned by the men for whom you work!

"The little that you earn goes straight back into the pockets of your masters! Do you not see it? Do you not see if they own the land and the supplies they own you too? They call you free men—but are you free? What are you free to do? Free to starve if you will not work on their terms, or if you will not strike a blow for freedom. Are not my words true? Speak up and answer me! Are you satisfied? Are you free?"

III

The Tall Man stopped and waited for an answer. The fire flickered over the dark faces of angry men, and Pedro stirred uneasily as if he would like to say something.

"Speak out, Pedro. Tell us your story," said the Tall Man.

Pedro stood up and shook his fist at the fire. "Every word you speak is true," he said. "Who should know better than I? I had a small farm some miles from here, left me by my father. It was my own, and I tilled my land and was content. My father could not read, neither could I. No one told me of the laws.

"At last one day a rural[20] rode to my house, and said, 'Pedro, why have you not obeyed the law? The law says that if you did not have your property recorded before a magistrate by the first of last month it should be taken from you and given to the State.'



"'But I have never heard of such a law,' I said to him. He answered, 'Ignorance excuses no man. Your farm belongs to the state.' And I and my family were turned out of the house in which I and my father before me had been born. All our neighbors were treated in the same way. In despair we went away to the hacienda of Senor Fernandez, and there we work for a pittance as you say. And our homes! That whole region was turned over by the President, not long after, to a rich friend of his, who now owns it as a great estate!

"Many of my old neighbors are now his peons—working for him on land that was once their own and that was taken from them by a trick—by a trick, I say,"—his voice grew thick, and he sat down heavily in his place.

Another man, a stranger to Tonio, sprang to his feet. "Ah, if that were all!" he said; "but even in peonage we are not left undisturbed! It was only a year ago that I was riding into town on my donkey with some chickens to sell, when an officer stopped me and brought me before the Jefe Politico.[21]

"'Why have you not obeyed the law?' said the magistrate. 'I know of no law that I have not obeyed,' I said. 'You may tell me that,' said the scoundrel, 'but to make me believe it is another matter. You must know very well that a law was passed not long ago that every peon must wear dark trousers if he wishes to enter a town.'

"'I have no dark trousers,' said I, 'and I have no money to buy them. I have worn such white trousers as these since I was a boy, as have all the men in this region.' 'That makes no difference to me,' he said; 'law is law.' I was put in prison and made to work every day on a bridge that the Government was building! I never saw my donkey or the chickens again. My wife did not know where I was for two weeks.

"While I was working on the bridge five other men whom I knew were seized and treated in the same way. It is my belief that there is no such law. They wanted workmen for that bridge and that was the cheapest way to get them!"

"Where are those other five men who were imprisoned, too? Have they no spirit?" It was the Tall Man who spoke.

"They have spirit," the man answered, "but they also have large families. They fear to leave them lest they starve. They are helpless."

"Say rather they are fools," said the Tall Man when the stranger sat down. "Why had they not the spirit like you to take things in their own hands—to revenge their wrongs? As for myself," he went on, "every one knows my story.

"The blood of my Indian ancestors was too hot in my veins for such slavery—by whatever name you call it. I broke away, and my name is now a terror in the region that I call mine.

"It is no worse to take by violence than by fraud. My land was taken from me by fraud. Very well, I take back what I can by violence. The rich call us bandits, but there is already an army of one thousand men waiting for you to join them, and we call ourselves Soldiers of the Revolution. We have risen up to get for ourselves some portion of what we have lost.

"Will you not join us? Our general is a peon like yourselves. He feels our wrongs because he has suffered them, and he fights like a demon to avenge them. Ride away to-night with me! You shall see something besides driving other people's cattle—and being driven like cattle yourselves!"

The Tall Man stopped talking and waited for an answer. No one spoke. The men gazed silently into the fire as if they were trying to think out something that was very puzzling.

The Tall Man spoke again. "Sons of brave ancestors, do you know where you are?" he said. "Do you know what this great pyramid is?" He pointed directly up toward the cave, and Tonio and Tita, who had listened to every word, instantly popped their heads out of sight like frightened rabbits.

"This stone mountain was built by your Indian ancestors hundreds of years ago. It is the burial-place of their dead. It is called the Pyramid of the Moon. Look at it! Have the Spaniards built anything greater? Mexico has many mighty monuments which show the glory which was ours before the Spaniards came.

"I have seen the ruins of great cities—cities full of stone buildings covered with wonderful carvings, all speaking of the magnificence of the days of Cuauhtemoc.[22] Here in this place the souls of those brave ancestors listen for your answer. There are many people who do not know—who do not feel—who are content to be like the sheep on the hillside; but you, you know your wrongs,—come with us and avenge them!"

IV

The man who had gone for the wood now spoke. He took up one of the rifles. "See!" he said, "we have guns enough for you, and you have horses. It is time to start. The morning will soon be here."

The men rose slowly from their places around the fire. Tonio saw some of them glance fearfully around at the great Pyramid of the Moon in which they were hidden and furtively cross themselves. Then he heard his father's voice. It was the first time Pancho had spoken.

"I will go with you," said Pancho. "I am no sheep. I, too, have suffered many things. My wife is a strong woman. She will look after the children while I am gone. I have no fear for them."

When Tita heard her father say these dreadful words she almost screamed, but now Tonio clapped his hand over her mouth.

"Keep still," he whispered in her ear. "Those other men might kill us if they knew we were here and had heard everything."

Tita hid her face on her arms, and her whole body shook with sobs, but she did not make a sound—not even when she saw Pancho and Pedro ride away with the two men whom they had first seen by the fire.

Four of the other men went with them too. The ones who had made the sign of the cross did not go.

The children could catch only a few words of what they said when Pancho and Pedro and the others rode away, but it sounded like this: "—Our wives—our children—we shall not forget—by and by—perhaps in the spring—" And then they heard the voice of the Tall Man speaking very sharply.

"If you will not go with us, see that you keep silence," he said. "If any news of this gets about in this region we shall know whom to blame and to punish! We shall come back and we shall know," and then "A dios[23]—a dios—a dios—" and the hoof-beats of horses as they rode away, then silence again, and the moon sailing away toward the west, with only the glow of the dying coals to show that any one had been there at all.



When they were gone, the children wept together as if their hearts would break, but soon the birds began to sing, and the sky grew brighter and brighter in the east, and the coming of the sunshine comforted them.

When it was quite light they let themselves down out of their nest and warmed themselves over the coals. They had nothing to eat, of course, and they did not know which way to go. But Tonio had an idea.

"Father and Pedro came from this direction," he said, pointing toward the south, "and so the hacienda must be somewhere over that way."

V

They started bravely toward the south and had not gone far when they struck a rough road. Tonio stooped down and found the fresh prints of Pinto's hoofs in the mud.

"This is the way," he cried joyfully. "I'm sure of it."

They walked on and on, but they were too hungry to go very fast. By and by they sat down on a stone to rest. They had been there only a short time when they heard the beat of horses' hoofs, and galloping down a hill they saw two people on horseback. One was a lady. The other was a man.

The children watched them eagerly, and in a moment Tita sprang up and began to run towards them, shouting joyfully, "It's the Senorita Carmen!"

Then Tonio ran too. When Carmen saw the two wild little figures she shouted and waved her hand to them, and she and the mozo,[24] or servant, who was on the other horse, galloped as fast as they could up the hill to meet them.

When they reached the children, Carmen sprang down from her horse and threw her bridle-rein to the mozo. Then she quickly opened a little bundle which he handed her, and gave the children each a drink of milk, and some food, and all the while she murmured comforting things to them.

"Poor little ones—poor little souls!" she said, patting them. "We have been looking for you, the mozo and I, since daybreak! Where have you been, my poor pigeons? Your mother is nearly wild with grief! Tell me, have you seen anything of your father or Pedro? They have not been home either. We thought perhaps they might be searching for you too."



Tonio and Tita both had their hungry mouths so full they could not answer just then, but when the mozo had lifted Tita up on the horse behind Carmen, and had taken Tonio up on his own horse, and they were on their way home, they told Carmen and the mozo just how they got lost, only neither one said a single word about their father or Pedro, or the Tall Man, or the group they had seen around the fire.

They remembered what the Tall Man had said about coming back to punish any one who should tell of the secret meeting, and they remembered how fierce his voice sounded as he said it.

When at last they rode into the gate of the hacienda every one was so glad to see them that the Twins felt like heroes.

Jose waved his hat and shouted when he saw them coming, and Jasmin came tearing out to meet them with his tongue hanging out and his tail stuck straight out behind him like the smoke behind a fast locomotive.

The news spread quickly through the village, and all the boys and girls and the mothers came swarming out of their huts to greet them and to ask a thousand questions about where they had been.



The first one to reach them was Dona Teresa. She came running out of the chapel, with her rebozo flying out behind her almost like Jasmin's tail, and she clasped them in her arms and kissed them again and again and called them her lambs, her angels, her precious doves.

She kissed the hands of Carmen and thanked her, and then she ran back with the Twins to the chapel and made them say a prayer of thankfulness with her before the image of the Virgin.

VI

It was not until she had them all to herself in their little adobe hut that she made them tell her every word about their adventure. Of course they told their mother everything—about the fire and the Tall Man, and the guns, and what he said about coming back to punish any one who told.

Dona Teresa rocked back and forth on her knees and wiped her eyes on her apron as she listened to them, while at the same time she made them hot chocolate on the brasero.

As they were drinking it she said to them: "Listen, my children. I will tell you a secret. Promise me first that you will never, never tell what I am going to tell you now!"

The children promised.

Then Dona Teresa went on: "I am not wholly surprised at your father's disappearance. I knew he had seen the Tall Man. I knew it after Judas Iscariot's Day. The Tall Man talked then with him and Pedro and some others, and asked them to join the Revolution. I begged him on my knees not to go, but he said: 'If I go it is only to make things better for us all. I'm tired of this life. Peons might just as well be slaves.'"

"What is the Revolution?" asked Tonio.

"Oh, I don't know," sobbed Dona Teresa. "Your father says it is rising up to fight against wrongs and oppression. He says the Government is in league with the rich and powerful and even with the Church"—here Dona Teresa crossed herself—"to keep the poor people down, and to take away their land. He says the Revolution is going to give back the land to the people and give them a better chance.

"That's what the Tall Man told him. But to me it looks like just adding to our poverty. Here at least we have a roof over our heads, and food, such as it is, and I could be content. What good it will do any one to go out and get shot I cannot see,—but then, of course, I am only a woman." She finished with a sob.



"Father told the Tall Man that you were a strong woman and that he had no fear for us because you would look after us while he is gone," said Tita.

"And so I will, my lamb," said Dona Teresa. "It is not for nothing that I am the best ironer and the best cook on the hacienda. You shall not suffer, my pigeons. But you must help me. You must never, never, NEVER tell any one where your father has gone. Senor Fernandez would be angry. It might injure your father very much. We must be silent, and work hard to make up for his absence. I shall tell Pedro's wife. She knows about the Tall Man, and it was the first thing we both thought of when your father and Pedro did not come home last night. But Pablo doesn't know a thing about it, and he must not know. I'm afraid Pablo couldn't keep a secret!"

This made the Twins feel very grown up and important. Perhaps after all their father would come back and things would be better for them all, they thought. He probably knew best, for was he not a man? And so they lay down on their hard beds, warmed and fed and comforted, and slept, while Dona Teresa went over and told Pedro's wife all that the Twins had told her.

[20] Roo-rahl'.

[21] Hay'fay pō-lee'tī-co.

[22] Kwow'tē-mōk.

[23] Ah dee-ōs'.

[24] Mō'sō.



IX

CHRISTMAS AT THE HACIENDA



IX

CHRISTMAS AT THE HACIENDA

I

Days and weeks and months went by and still there was no news of the wanderers. Dona Teresa worked hard at her washing and cooking, and with the goat's milk and the eggs managed to get enough to feed the Twins and herself. But the time seemed long and lonely, and she spent many hours before the image of the Virgin in the chapel, praying for Pancho's safe return. She even paid the priest for special prayers, and out of her scanty earnings bought candles to burn upon the altar. At last the Christmas season drew near.

The celebration of Christmas lasts for more than a whole week in Mexico. Every evening for eight evenings before Christmas all the people in the village met together and marched in a procession all round the hacienda. This procession is called the Pasada.[25]

Everybody marched in it, and when on the first evening they came to the priest's house, he came out and stood beside his door and gave to each person a lighted candle, which his fat housekeeper handed out to him.

Then while all the people stood there with the candles shining like little stars, he told them this story, to remind them of the meaning of the procession:—

"Listen, my children," he said. "Long years ago, just before our Saviour was born, Mary, his mother, went with Joseph, her husband, from the little town of Nazareth, where they lived, into Judea. They had to make this journey because a decree had been passed that every one must be taxed.

"Joseph and the Blessed Mother of our Lord were always obedient to the law, so they went at once to Bethlehem in Judea, which was the place where their names had to be enrolled. My children, you also should obey in all things, as they did. Discontent and rebellion should have no place in your lives,—as it had no place in theirs.

"When Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem they found the town so full of people, who had come from far and near for this purpose, that there was no room for them in the inn. For eight days they wandered about seeking a place to rest and finding none.

"At last, on the ninth day, they were so weary that they took shelter in a stable with the cattle, and there on that night our Blessed Saviour was born. They were poorer than you, my children, for they had no place to lay their heads, and the Queen of Heaven had only a manger in which to cradle her newborn son. It is to commemorate their wanderings that you make your Pasada."

When the priest had finished the story the people all marched away carrying their candles and singing. Each night they marched and sang in this way until at last it was Christmas Eve.

Dona Teresa and the twins went to bed early that night because there was to be high mass in the little chapel at midnight. Dona Teresa slept with one eye open, fearing she might be late, and a few minutes before twelve she was up again.

She washed the Twins' faces to wake them, and then they all three walked in the starlight to the little chapel near the Big House. The altar was blazing with lights, and the floor was covered with the dark figures of kneeling men and women, as the mother and children went in out of the darkness and found a place for themselves in a corner near the door.

When the service was over, Dona Teresa hurried home to set the house in order and to prepare the Christmas dinner for the Twins. She had made up her mind that the red rooster must surely be caught and cooked, because she wanted to keep the turkey until Pancho should be at home to share in the feast.

She had planned it all carefully. "It will be quite easy to creep up under the fig tree while the red rooster is asleep and seize him by the legs," she said to the Twins as they walked home from the chapel. "Only you must be very quiet indeed or he will wake up and crow. You know he is a light sleeper!"

They slipped through the gate and into the yard as quietly as they could. They reached the fig tree without making a single sound and Dona Teresa peered cautiously into the dark branches.

She saw a large shadow at the end of the limb where the red rooster always slept and, stretching her hand very stealthily up through the branches, she suddenly grabbed him by the legs—or she thought she did.

But the owner of the legs gobbled loud enough to wake every one in the village, if they hadn't been awake already!

"It's the turkey, after all," gasped Dona Teresa. Just then there was a loud crow from the roof, and they saw the silhouette of the red rooster making all haste to reach the ridge-pole and fly down on the other side.

Dona Teresa was in despair, but she held on to the turkey. "That rooster is bewitched," she said.

Just then the turkey stopped gobbling long enough to peck vigorously at Tonio, who came to help his mother, and Dona Teresa said, "Well, then, we'll eat the turkey, anyway, though I had hoped to wait until your father gets home. But we must have something for our Christmas dinner, and there's no telling when we shall see the red rooster again."

"I shouldn't want to eat the red rooster, anyway," said Tita. "He seems just like a member of the family."

And so the Christmas dinner was settled that way.

The turkey wasn't the only thing they had. There was rice soup first, then turkey, and they had frijoles, and tortillas, of course, and bananas beside, and all the sweet potatoes cooked in syrup that they could possibly hold. It took Dona Teresa so long to cook it all on her little brasero that she didn't go back to bed at all, though the Twins had another nap before morning.

They had their dinner early, and when they had finished eating, Tita said, "We must give a Christmas dinner to the animals too."

So Tonio brought alfalfa in from the field on purpose for Tonto, and the red rooster appeared in time to share with the hens twice as much corn as was usually given them. The cat had a saucer of goat's milk, and Tonio even found some bones for Jasmin, so every single one of them had a happy Christmas Day.

At dusk when candles began to glimmer about the village and all the people were getting ready for the Christmas Pasada, Dona Teresa said to the Twins, "You take your candles and run along with Pablo. I am going to the chapel." And while all the other people marched round among the cabins, singing, she stayed on her knees before the image of the Virgin, praying once more for Pancho's safe return.

When they reached the priest's house, the priest himself joined the procession and marched at the head of it, bearing in his hands large wax images of the Holy Family. Behind him came Lupito, the young vaquero who had taken Pancho's place on the hacienda, with his new wife, and following them, if you had been there, you might have seen Pedro's wife and baby, and Rafael and Jose and Dona Josefa, and Pablo and the Twins with Juan and Ignacio and a crowd of other children and grown people whose names I cannot tell you because I do not know them all.

As they passed the chapel, Dona Teresa came out and slipped into line behind the Twins. If she had been looking in the right direction just at that minute she might have seen two dark figures come out from behind some bushes near the priest's house, and though they had no candles, fall in at the end of the procession and march with them to the entrance of the Big House. But she kept her eyes on her candle, which she was afraid might be blown out by the wind.



When they reached the doorway every one stopped while Lupito and his new wife sang a song saying that the night was cold and dark and the wind was blowing, and asking for shelter, just as if they were Joseph and Mary, and the Big House were the inn in Bethlehem.

Then a voice came from the inside of the Big House as if it were the innkeeper himself answering Joseph and Mary. It was really the mozo's voice, and it said, No, they could not come in, that there was no more room in the inn.

Then Lupito and his wife sang again and told the innkeeper that she who begged admittance and had not where to lay her head, was indeed the Queen of Heaven.

At this name the door was flung wide open, and the priest, bearing the images of the Virgin and Child and Joseph, entered with Lupito and all the others singing behind him.

The priest led the procession through the entrance arch to the patio, and there he placed the images in a shrine, all banked with palms and flowering plants, which had been placed in the patio on purpose to receive them.

Then he lifted his hand and prayed, and blessed the people, and the whole procession passed in front of the images, each one kneeling before them long enough to leave his lighted candle stuck in a little framework before the shrine. Senor Fernandez and his wife Carmen watched the scene from one end of the patio.



Dona Teresa and the Twins were among the first ones to leave their candles, and afterward they stood under the gallery which ran around the patio, to watch the rest of the procession.

Everything was quiet until this was done, because this part of Christmas was just like a church service. One by one the people knelt before the images, crossed themselves, and joined the group under the gallery. Last of all came the two dark figures without any candles.

Up to that moment they had lingered behind the others in the background, and had kept as much as possible in the shadow, but now they stood right in front of the Holy Family with all the candles shining directly into their brown faces—and who should they be but Pancho and Pedro come back from the war?

II

The moment she saw Pancho, Dona Teresa gave a loud scream of joy, and then she rushed right by every one—almost stepping on the toes of the priest himself—and threw her arms around his neck, while the Twins, who got there almost as soon as she did, clasped an arm or a leg, or whatever part of their father they could get hold of.

At the same time Pedro's wife, with her baby on her arm and Pablo beside her, made a dash for Pedro, but Pablo got there first because, you remember, his mother was fat. And Pedro was so glad to see them he tried to hug her and the baby both at once, while Pablo hung round his neck, only as he was a small man he couldn't begin to reach round, and had to take them one at a time after all.

Everybody was so glad to see Pancho and Pedro, and so glad for the happiness that had come to their wives and children on Christmas Day that everybody shook hands with everybody else, and talked and asked questions without waiting for anybody to answer them, until it sounded almost like the animals on San Ramon's Day.

After Pancho and Pedro had greeted their families, and had said how Pablo and the Twins had grown, and Pedro's wife had told him that the baby had six teeth, and the baby had bitten Pedro's finger to prove it, he and Pancho broke away from them and went to pay their respects to Senor Fernandez and the priest, who were standing together, talking in low tones and watching the crowd round the wanderers.



Pancho and Pedro had reason to dread what Senor Fernandez and the priest might say to them. They thought the priest might say, "Is this obedience, my sons?" and they thought very possibly Senor Fernandez might say something like this: "Well, my men, do you think you can play fast and loose with your job like that? You'll have to learn a hacienda can't be run that way. There's plenty of other help, so you may see if you can find work elsewhere."

But as they came before Senor Fernandez and bowed humbly with their sombreros in their hands, the priest glanced at their ragged clothes and their thin faces and said something in a low tone to Senor Fernandez, and although Pancho and Pedro listened they couldn't hear a word of it except "Christmas Day."

Senor Fernandez gazed at them rather sternly for a moment without speaking and then he said: "Well, Pancho and Pedro, I suppose you've been out seeing the world, and would like to have your old jobs back again, eh? You don't deserve it, you rascals, but I think I can use the men who have taken your places elsewhere on the hacienda, so if you like you can take your boat again the first of the year, Pedro; and Pancho, you can begin your rounds next week. Now, go and enjoy yourselves with your families!"

And if you'll believe me, he never even asked them where they had been! Pancho and Pedro went back to their wives, who were watching the interview anxiously from the other side of the patio, and the wives knew the moment they saw the men's faces that everything was all right and they could be happy once more.

The rest of the people had already gone into the dining-room of the Big House and were eagerly watching a great earthenware boat that hung from the middle of the ceiling. They knew that the boat was full of good things to eat. Beside the boat stood pretty Carmen with a long stick in one hand and a white cloth in the other.



As Pancho and Pedro with their wives and Pedro's baby came into the room, she was saying: "Now, I'll blindfold each of you, one at a time, and you must whack the pinata[26] real hard or nothing at all will happen! I'll begin!"

She tied the cloth about her own eyes, turned round three times, and then struck out with the stick. But she didn't come anywhere near the pinata. Instead she nearly cracked Jose's head!

Everybody laughed, and then it was Lupito's turn. Lupito was a great man at roping bulls, or breaking wild horses, but he couldn't hit the boat with his eyes covered any better than Carmen had.

Then Jose tried. He struck the pinata—but it was only a love-pat. The boat swung back and forth a little, but not a thing dropped overboard.

At last Carmen cried out, "Come, Tonio, see if you have not a better aim than the rest of us."

Tonio stepped boldly into the middle of the room and Carmen bandaged his eyes, turned him round and gave him the stick. Tonio knew what was in that boat, and he was bound to get it out if he could, so he struck out with a kind of sideways sweep and struck the ship whack on the prow!

It was made of earthenware on purpose so it would break easily, and the moment Tonio struck it there was a crashing sound, and then a perfect rain of cakes and candies, and bananas, and oranges, and peanuts, and other goodies which fell all over the floor, and it wasn't two minutes before every one in the room had his mouth full and both hands sticky.

Dona Teresa and Pancho watched the fun for a while, and then Dona Teresa whispered to Pancho: "My angel, when did you eat last? You look hungry."

Pancho at that very moment had his mouth full of banana, but he managed to say: "Last night I had some tortillas. I have had nothing since until now."

"Bless my soul!" cried Dona Teresa. "Come home with me at once. Thanks be to the Holy Virgin, you'll share the turkey with us after all! I had to cook him because we couldn't catch the rooster! Tell the Twins and come right along."



III

So while the guitars were tinkling and the rest of the people were still singing and dancing and having the merriest kind of a merry Christmas, Pancho and his family said good-night politely to Senor Fernandez and his wife and slipped quietly away to the little adobe hut under the fig tree.

When they were inside their little home once more, Dona Teresa made a fire in the brasero and heated some of the turkey for Pancho, and while he ate, Tonio and Tita stood on each side of their one chair, in which he sat, and listened with their eyes and mouths both while their father told about his adventures as a Soldier of the Revolution. And then they told him all about the night they were lost, and the secret meeting, and he was so astonished that he could hardly believe they had not dreamed it until Tita told him just what the Tall Man had said, and what Pedro had said, and about the pebble that rolled down.

Then he said, "Have you told any one about this?"

And Dona Teresa answered proudly, "Not a soul. Not even the priest."

"You've done well, then," Pancho said. "The Tall Man punishes those who spoil his plans by talking of them. He has raised an army of two thousand men in such ways. We enlisted for only four months, and in that time we turned the region to the south of us altogether into the hands of the Revolutionists. I intended to return home at the end of the four months, but finally stayed a month more to finish the campaign."

"I knew you would come some time, my angel," cried Dona Teresa. "I have prayed every day before the Virgin for your safe return."

"As God wills it," Pancho answered soberly. "I meant at any rate to strike my blow for freedom, and to try to make things better for us all."

"Well, have you?" asked Dona Teresa.

Pancho scratched his head with the old puzzled expression on his face. "I don't know," he said at last. "Things are not right as they are,—I know that,—and they never will be right if no one ever complains or protests or makes any fuss about it. And I know, too, that these uprisings never will stop until Mexico is better governed, and poor people have the chance they long for and do not know how to get for themselves. It is something just to keep things stirred up. Perhaps some time Tonio here can think out what ought to be done. He may even be a great general some day."

"Heaven forbid!" cried Dona Teresa. She almost upset Pancho's dish, she was so emphatic. "There has been enough of going to war in this family!"

"Well," said Pancho, "war isn't very pleasant. I've seen enough of it to know that: but peace isn't very pleasant either, when your life is without hope and you must live like the animals—if you live at all."

"Now that I have you at home again, I, for one, am quite content," said Dona Teresa; and then she went to unroll the mats and put the children to bed.

They were so tired that they went to sleep in their corner in no time at all, and when she had snuffed the candles before the Virgin, Dona Teresa came back to Pancho and sat with him beside the embers still glowing in the brasero.

She told him everything that had happened on the hacienda while he was away, and Pancho told her all the strange sights he had seen, and the new things he had learned, and at last he said:—

"Anyway, I've made up my mind that Tonio shall have more learning than he can get on this hacienda, though I don't know yet how it can be brought about. Somehow children must know more than their parents if things are ever to be better for the poor people of Mexico."

And Dona Teresa answered, "Well, anyway, we have each other and the Twins, so let's take comfort in that, right now, even if there are many things in the world that can't be set right yet awhile."

Just then the first streak of dawn showed red over the eastern hills. Out in the fig tree the red rooster shook himself and crowed, and to Pancho, as he stretched himself on his own hard bed in his own poor little home once more, it sounded exactly as if he said,

"Cock-a-doodle-do-oo. We're glad to see you-oo-oo."

[25] Pah-sah'dah.

[26] Pin-yah'tah.



Transcriber's note: Inconsistent hyphenation (beehives/bee-hives, gatekeeper/ gate-keeper) has been retained. The marker for footnote [9] is not present in the original and its location has been inferred.

THE END

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