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The Mexican Twins by  Lucy Finch Perkins
Table of Contents


 

 

TONIO'S BAD DAY


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I

[59] IT is hard for us to understand how they tell what season it is in a country like Mexico, where there is no winter, and no snow except on the tops of high mountains, and where flowers gloom all the year round.

Tonio and Tita can tell pretty well by the way they go to school. During the very hot dry weather of April and May there is vacation. In June, when the rainy season begins, school opens again. Then, though the rain pours down during some part of every day or night, in between times the sky is so blue, and the sunshine so bright, and the air so sweet, that the Twins like the rainy season really better than the dry.

If you should pass the open door of their school some day when it is in session, you [60] would hear a perfect Babel of voices all talking at once and saying such things as this,—only they would say them in Spanish instead of English,—

"The cat sees the rat. Run, rat, run. Two times six is thirteen, two times seven is fifteen" (I hope you'd know at once that that was wrong). "Mexico is bounded on the north by the United States of America, on the east by the Gulf of Mexico, on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the . . . Cortez conquered Mexico in 1519 and brought the holy Catholic religion to Mexico. The Church is . . ."

Then perhaps you would clap your hands on your ears and think the whole school had gone crazy, but it would only mean that in Mexico the children all study aloud. The sixth grade is as high as any one ever goes, and most of them stop at the fourth.

Senor Fernandez thinks that is learning enough for any peon, and as it is his school, and his teacher, and his land, of course things have to be as he says.

[61] Pancho asked the priest about it one day. He said: "I should like to have Tonio get as much learning as he can. Learning must be a great thing. All the rich and powerful people seem to have it. Perhaps that is what makes them rich and powerful."

But the priest shook his head and said, "Tonio needs only to know how to be good, and obey the Church, and to read and write and count a little. More knowledge than that would make him unhappy and discontented with his lot. You do not wish to make him unhappy. Contentment with godliness is great gain. Is it not so, my son?"

The priest called everybody, even Senor Fernandez himself, "my son," unless he was speaking to a girl or a woman, and then he said, "my daughter."

Pancho scratched his head as if he were very much puzzled by a good many things in this world, but he only said, "Yes, little father," very humbly, and went away to mend the gate of the calves' corral.

II

[62] I am not going to tell you very much about the Twins' school, because the Twins didn't care so very much about it themselves.

But I am going to tell you about one particular day, because that day a great deal happened to Tonio. Some of it wasn't at all pleasant, but you will not be surprised at that when I explain the reason why.

A good many months had passed by since San Ramon's Day, and it was a bright beautiful spring morning, when the Twins left their little adobe hut to go to school.

They had to be there at half past eight, and as the schoolhouse was some distance down the road and there were a great many interesting things on the way, they started rather early.

Dona Teresa gave them two tortillas apiece, rolled up with beans inside, to eat at recess, and Tonio wrapped them in a cloth and carried them in his hat just the way Pancho carried his lunch, only there was no [63] chile sauce, this time. Dona Teresa waved good-bye to them from the trough where she was grinding her corn.

The air was full of the sweet odor of honeysuckle blossoms, and the roadsides were gay with flowers, as the Twins walked along. The birds were flying about getting material for their nests, and singing as if they would split their little throats.

Sheep were grazing peacefully in a pasture beside the road, with their lambs gamboling about them. In a field beyond, the goats were leaping up in the air and butting playfully at each other, as if the lovely day made them feel lively too. Calves were bleating in the corrals, and away off on the distant hillside the children could see cows moving about, and an occasional flash of red when a vaquero rode along, his bright serape flying in the sun.

Farther away there were blue, blue mountain-peaks crowned with glistening snow, and from one of them a faint streak of white smoke rose against the blue of the sky. It [64] was a beautiful morning in a beautiful world where it seemed as if every one was meant to be happy and good.


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The school was not far from the gate where Josť, the gate-keeper, sat all day, waiting to open and close the gate for cowboys as they drove the cattle through.

The Twins stopped to speak to Josť, and [65] just then on a stone right beside the gate Tonio saw a little green lizard taking a sun bath. He was about six inches long and he looked like a tiny alligator.

Tonio crept up behind him very quietly and as quick as a flash caught him by the tail.

Just then the teacher rang the bell, and the Twins ran along to join the other children at the schoolhouse door, but not one of them, not even Tita herself, knew that Tonio had that green lizard in his pocket!

Tonio didn't wear any clothes except a thin white cotton suit, and he could feel the lizard squirming round in his pocket. Tonio didn't like tickling, and the lizard tickled like everything.

As they came into the schoolroom, the boys took off their hats and said, "God give you good day," to the Senor Maestro—that is what they called the teacher.

Then they hung their hats on nails in the wall, while the girls curtsied to the teacher and went to their seats.

[66] When they were all in their places and quiet, the Senor Maestro stood up in front of the school, and raised his hand. At once all the children knelt down beside their seats. The Maestro knelt too, put his hands together, bowed his head, and said a prayer. He was right in the middle of the prayer when the lizard tickled so awfully in Tonio's pocket that Tonio,—I really hate to have to tell it, but facts are facts,—Tonio laughed—aloud!

Then he was so scared, and so afraid he would laugh again if the lizard kept on tickling, that he put his hand in his pocket and took it out. Kneeling in front of Tonio was a boy named Pablo, and the bare soles of his feet were turned up in such a way that Tonio just couldn't help dropping the lizard on to them.

The lizard ran right up Pablo's leg, inside his cotton trousers, and Pablo let out a yell like a wild Indian on the warpath, and began to act as if he had gone crazy.

He jumped up and danced about clutching [67] his clothes, and screaming! The Senor Maestro and the children were perfectly amazed. They couldn't think what ailed Pablo until, all of a sudden, the green lizard dropped on the floor out of his sleeve and scuttled as fast as it could toward the girls' side of the room. Then the girls screamed and stood on their seats until the lizard got out of sight.


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Nobody knew where it had gone, until the Senor Maestro suddenly fished it out of [68] a chink in the adobe wall and held it up by the tail.

"Who brought this lizard into the school-room?" he asked.

Tonio didn't have to say a word. I don't know how they could be so sure of it, but all the children pointed their fingers at Tonio and said, "He did."

The Maestro said very sternly to Tonio, "Go out to the willow tree and bring me a strong switch." Tonio went.

He went very slowly and came back with the willow switch more slowly still.

I think you can guess what happened next—I hope you can, for I really cannot bear to tell you about it. When it was over Tonio was sent home, while all the other children sat straight up in their seats, looking so hard at their books that they were almost cross-eyed, and studying their lessons at the top of their lungs.

If you had asked them then, they would every one have told you that they considered it very wrong to bring lizards to [69] school, and that under no circumstances would they ever think of doing such a thing.


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III

Tonio walked slowly down the road toward his home. He didn't cry, but he looked as if he wished he could just come across somebody else who was doing something wrong! He'd like to teach him better.

When Josť saw him, he called out to him, "Is school out?"

"No," said Tonio. "I am," and he never said another word to Josť.

[70] He had the willow switch in his hand. The Maestro had given it to him, "to remember him by," he said. Tonio felt pretty sure he could remember him without it, but he switched the weeds beside the road with it as he walked along, and there was some comfort in that.

At last he remembered that he had a luncheon in the crown of his hat. He sat down beside the road and ate all four tortillas and every single bean. Then he went home. His mother was not in the house when he got there.

Jasmin came frisking up to Tonio and jumped about him and licked his hand. It seemed strange to Tonio that even a dog cold be cheerful in such a miserable world. He took his lasso down from the wall and went out again with Jasmin.

The Cat was lying back of the house in the sunshine asleep. Tonio pointed her out to Jasmin and he sent her up the fig tree in a hurry. Then Jasmin chased the hens. He drove the red rooster right among the [71] beehives, and when the bees came out to see what was the matter they chased Jasmin instead of the rooster, and stung him on the nose. Jasmin ran away yelping to dig his nose in the dirt, and Tonio went on by himself through the woods.

Soon he came to the stepping-stones that led across the river to the goat-pasture, and there he met Josť's son and another boy.

"Hello, there! Where are you going?" Tonio called to them.

"We aren't going; we've been," said Josť's son, whose name was Juan. The other boy's name was Ignacio.

"Well, where have you been then?" said Tonio. "Down to the lake hunting crabs. We didn't find any," they said.

You see there is no law in Mexico that every child must go to school, and the parents of Juan and Ignacio didn't make them go either, so they often stayed away.

[72] "What's the reason you're not in school?" Juan said to Tonio. "I thought your father always made you go."

"Well," said Tonio, "I—I—hum—well—I thought I would rather play bull-fight up in the pasture! I've got an old goat up there trained so he'll butt every time he sees me, Come along."

The three boys crossed on the stepping-stones, and ran up the hill on the other side of the river to the goat-pasture.

There was a growing hedge of cactus plants around the goat-pasture. This kind of cactus grows straight up in tall, round spikes about as large around as a boy's leg, and higher than a man's head. The spikes are covered with long, stiff spines that stick straight out and prick like everything if you run into them. The only way to get through such a fence is to go to the gate, so the boys ran along until they came to some bars. They opened the bars (and forgot to put them up again) and went into the pasture.


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3

IV

[73] When they got inside the pasture the boys looked about for the goat. This goat was quite a savage one, and was kept all by himself in a small field. It did not take them long to find him. He was grazing quietly in the shadow of a mesquite' tree. As Tonio had the only lasso there was, he knew he [74] could have the game all his own way, so he said,—

"I'll take the first turn with the lasso, Ignacio; you wave your red serape at the goat while Juan stirs him up from behind."

The goat had his head down, eating grass, and did not notice the boys until suddenly Juan split the air behind him with a fearful roar and prodded his legs with a stick.

"Ah, Toro!" roared Juan at the top of his lungs just as he had heard the matadors do at a real bull-fight, and at the same moment Ignacio shook out his red serape.

The goat looked up, saw Tonio and the red serape, and immediately stood up on his hind legs. Then he came down with a thump on his fore feet, put his head down, and ran at Ignacio like a bullet from a gun. Ignacio waved the serape and shouted, and when the goat got very near, he jumped to one side as he had seen the matadors do, and the goat butted with all his might right into the serape.

When he struck the serape his horn went [75] through one end of it. Ignacio had hold of the other end and before he knew what had happened he was rolling backward down a little slope into a pool of water which was the goat's drinking-place.


[Illustration]

Meanwhile the goat went bounding about [76] the pasture with the serape hanging from one horn. Every few minutes he would stamp on it and paw it with his fore feet. Ignacio picked himself out of the water, and then all three boys began a wild chase to get back the serape. It would be a sad day for Ignacio if he went home without it.

Serapes are the most valuable things there are in a peon's hut, and were never intended to be used by goats in this way.

Tonio couldn't lasso the goat because the serape covered his horns, so the boys all tried to snatch off the serape as the goat went galloping past, but every time they tried it the goat butted at them, and they had to run for their lives.

At last the goat stood up on his hind legs and came down on the serape so hard that there was a dreadful tearing sound, and there was the serape torn clear in two and lying on the ground!

When his horns were free, the goat looked around for the boys. He was a very mad goat, and when he saw them he went for [77] them like an express train. Juan ran one way, and Ignacio ran the other. Tonio was a naughty boy, but he wasn't a coward. He kept his lasso whirling over his head, and as the goat came by, out flew the loop and dropped over his horns!

The goat was much stronger than he, but Tonio braced back with all his might and held on to the rope. Then began a wild dance! The goat went bounding around the pasture with Tonio at the other end of the rope bouncing after him.

It was a sight to see, and Juan and Ignacio were not the only ones who saw it either.

V

Senor Fernandez was going by on his fine black horse, and when he heard the yells of the boys he rode up to the pasture to see what was going on. He was right beside the bars when the goat and Tonio came tearing through.

The goat jumped over the bars that the [78] boys had left down, but Tonio caught his foot and fell down, and the goat jerked the rope out of his hands and went careering off over the fields and was soon out of sight.

Tonio sat up all out of breath and looked at Senor Fernandez. Senor Fernandez looked at Tonio. Juan and Ignacio were nowhere to be seen. They were behind bushes in the goat-pasture, and they were both very badly scared.

"Well," said Senor Fernandez at last, "what have you been doing?"

"Just playing bull-fight a little," Tonio answered in a very small voice.

"Didn't you know that was my goat?" said Senor Fernandez severely. "What business have you driving it mad like that? Get up."

Tonio got up. He was stiff and sore all over. Moreover, his hands were all skinned inside, where the rope had pulled through.

"Were you alone?" asked Senor Fernandez.

"Not—very—" stammered Tonio.

[79] "Where are the other boys?" demanded the Senor Fernandez.

"I d—don't know," gasped poor Tonio. "I—I don't see them anywhere." (Tonio was looking right up into the top of the cactus hedge when he said this, so I am quite sure he spoke the truth.)

"Humph," grunted Senor Fernandez. "Go look for them."

Tonio began to hunt around stones and bushes in the pasture with Senor Fernandez following right behind on his horse. It wasn't long before he caught a glimpse of red. It was the pieces of the serape, which Ignacio had picked up. Tonio pointed it out, and Senor Fernandez galloped to it and brought out the two culprits. Then he marched the three boys back to the village in front of his horse, Tonio with his blistered hands and torn clothes, Juan with bumps that were already much swollen, and Ignacio wet as a drowned rat and carrying the rags of the serape.


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When they got back to the river they [81] found Dona Teresa there washing out some clothes. When she saw them coming she stopped rubbing and looked at them. She was perfectly astonished. She supposed, of course, that Tonio was in school.

"Here, Dona Teresa, is a very bad boy," Senor Fernandez said to her. "He has been chasing my goat all around the pasture and lassoing it, and he left the bars down and they are broken besides, and no one knows where the goat is by this time. I'll leave him to you, but I want you to make a thorough job of it."

He didn't say just what she should make a thorough job of, but Tonio hadn't the smallest doubt about what he meant. Dona Teresa seemed to understand too.

Senor Fernandez rode on and left Tonio with his mother while he took the other two boys to their homes. What happened there I do not know, but when she and Tonio were alone I do know that Dona Teresa said sternly, "Go bring me a strong switch from the willow tree," and that Tonio thought, as [82] he went for it, that there were more willow trees in the world than were really needed.

And I know that when Dona Teresa had done "IT"—whatever it was that Senor Fernandez had asked her to do thoroughly—Tonio felt that it would be a very long time before he took any interest in either lizards or goats again.

That evening Pancho went out with Pinto and hunted up the goat and put him back in the pasture and brought home Tonio's lasso, and when he hung it up on the nail he said to Tonio, "I think you're too young to be trusted with a lasso. Let that alone for two weeks."


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That was the very worst of all. To be told that he was too young! Tonio went out and sat down under the fig tree and thought perhaps he'd better run away.

But pretty soon Tita came out and sat down beside him and told him she was sure he never meant any harm about the lizard, and his mother washed his skinned hands and put oil on them, and brought him some [83] molasses to eat on his tortillas just as if she still loved him in spite of everything.

So Tonio went to bed quite comforted, and that was the end of that day.


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