Gateway to the Classics: The Filipino Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
 
The Filipino Twins by  Lucy Fitch Perkins

The Rooster at the Harvest Festival

T HE next morning the whole family slept late. When the children woke, their father and mother had already eaten their breakfast and Felix had gone to get more nipa palms to mend the hole in the roof. Ramon looked anxiously at his mother as she stepped quietly about the little house, to see if she were still crying, but her face looked calm as usual and he almost felt as if the talk of the night must have been a dream.

He and Rita ate their breakfast hurriedly and ran off to school. When they reached it, the morning session had already begun, and they waited a moment, dreading to go in because they were late. At last they timidly opened the door a crack and peeped inside.

Then a surprising thing happened. When she caught sight of them, the teacher herself came forward and hugged them before the whole school, and the children all clapped their hands! Every one in the village knew, by this time, that the Santos family had gone out on the raft and had not been seen since the storm. So when Ramon and Rita walked into the schoolroom, it was no wonder that every one was glad to see them. There was so much excitement over their safe return that the maestra actually gave up a class and asked Ramon and Rita to tell the story of their adventures.

It was very pleasant being heroes and having so much to tell. It was almost worth all the terrors of that awful night, and Ramon made the most of it. He told about the wind and the waves, and the steamer that picked them up, and about all the wonderful things they had seen at the dock in Manila, and the children listened with their eyes wide and their mouths open.


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For two days they were treated as beings apart. The other children vied with one another in attentions, and were proud to be allowed even to walk beside the heroes of such a marvelous experience. Then the excitement died down, and in a week they were no more and no less than they had always been.

Preparations for the coming harvest festival next took the attention of the school, and the talk of the children was all about the prizes to be given for home work at the celebration in the village. Ramon was encouraged to find that only one other child beside himself, a boy named José, had tried to raise chickens, and because of this fact he still hoped against hope that his rooster might take a prize. Out of school hours he watched his young cockerel faithfully, fed it all it would hold, listened with pride to its ridiculous crowing, and tried to make Rita believe that it was the finest young rooster in the whole world.

Rita, meanwhile, wove away at the basket, spending almost every moment of daylight that she could get out of school in working out the intricate pattern.

Though their father and mother said little about their anxieties, the children could not help knowing that things were growing steadily worse and worse for them. There was now very little to eat except camotes, and the fruit which grew so plentifully about them. The rice was entirely gone, the pigs had all been sold, many of the chickens and ducks had been eaten, and the future looked dark indeed. There was now nothing left that he could sell except the carabao, and Felix had made up his mind that he would go hungry himself before he would part with old Bobtail. Even if he had wished to sell him, there was no one to buy, for his neighbors were as poor as himself.

Hoping against hope, he worked away on his raft, even though there was no money to buy twine for the nets, or ropes and pulleys for it. He eked out their scanty meals by catching crabs, with his hands, or by diving to the river-bottom for oysters.

Ramon had long since told Rita about the talk he had overheard in the night, and they, together, had tried to think of some way to help. He told her about the gold-mine he meant to find. Rita sniffed at that plan, but she had nothing better to offer, so one day Ramon went without her to the pasture to hunt for it. Dingo went with him, but he found a nest of turtle eggs instead, and there was no more gold-hunting that day. It was a proud boy and a proud dog that returned to the little farm-house that night, and Ramon decided that perhaps he could support the family better by hunting turtle eggs than by digging for gold.


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That night, at least, they all had a good meal.

In this way, the weeks dragged themselves slowly by, and as the time for harvesting the rice drew near, Felix watched the weather with deepening concern. Another typhoon, or even a violent storm, and their whole living might be swept away. Now that he could no longer fish, the rice crop was his only hope. If anything were to happen to that, he would be ruined indeed.

At last, one night, he said to Petra: "To-morrow I am going to cut the rice. I want to get it in early, for boats from Manila are already appearing along the coast to gather up new grain for the market. The earlier I can get in my crop, the better the price is likely to be; so let us go to bed with the chickens and get up with the dawn."

Long before daylight, the family was wakened by the crowing of Ramon's rooster under the house. It was still so early that the first streak of dawn had not yet reddened the eastern sky. In a very short time, they were all up and out in the rice-field, looking like four dark ghosts as they stooped to cut the stalks of grain. When they had gathered an armful, they bound them together with a wisp of straw and laid the sheaves in a heap on the dyke. Felix was already beginning to collect their sheaves into great baskets, when other reapers, big and little, came into the adjoining fields and began their work. All day long the sound of laughter and singing floated on the summer air, for the yield was better than they had feared and every hour lessened the danger of loss. Even Felix sang a little as his hope grew stronger, and the children, seeing him cheerful, nearly split their throats.

Old Bobtail had been hitched to a farm cart and stood patiently at the edge of the field waiting to take the bundles of grain back to the house, and Ramon, feeling very important, rode on his back and guided him back and forth. While he and Felix brought in the grain, Rita and her mother got it ready for threshing. The rice sheaves were laid in a heap on the hard earth near the door, and when Felix and Ramon brought in the last load, the whole family jumped on it, and stamped and pranced on the pile in order to beat the grain from the straw. For some time this strange dance went on, and then Felix went away to feed the pigs, and Petra took some of the palay under the house to pound off the hulls, so she could cook some of the new rice for their supper.

She was busily thumping away with the pestle on the grain in her mortar, when Ramon, growing tired of his task, was struck with a bright idea. Leaving Rita still stalking solemnly over the rice-pile, he ran to the pasture, and a moment later reappeared with the goat and her little kid.


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He had a rope around the goat's horns, and when he had succeeded in dragging her to the rice-heap, he made her trot back and forth, back and forth, on it. Dingo, seeing this new game, was seized with a sudden desire to help in it, so he dashed after the goat, barking and nipping at her heels, just as he had done when he had found her in the kitchen. Then it was that the goat did some wonderful work as a threshing-machine! Round and round the straw-pile she galloped, with Dingo yelping after her, while Ramon stood in the middle, holding the rope like a horse-trainer in the ring at a circus and shouting at the top of his lungs. At first Petra did not notice the uproar, because she was making such a noise herself pounding the rice, but after a while she stopped to take a breath, and when she heard that fearful chorus, she didn't wait to find out what was the matter, she just screamed: "What on earth are you doing with that goat? Stop it, whatever it is."

While she was saying this, she was on her way to the window as fast as she could go. When she got there, she put her head out and wrung her hands in dismay at the lively scene before her.

Ramon had not heard a word his mother had said, because he and Rita and the goat and Dingo and the kid were making such a bedlam of shouts and bleats and yelps that he could not have heard, even if he had had ears a foot long. He saw her, however, and, thinking she would be pleased at his cleverness, he began to show off a little. He seized the goat by the tail and went careering about on the rice like a typhoon on Manila Bay!


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"Stop, stop!" screamed Petra. "Are you crazy? That goat won't give a drop of milk if you use her like that!"

This time Ramon heard: "We are just threshing out the rice," he shouted back, "and Dingo is helping—"

"I'll warrant Dingo is helping," said Petra, under her breath. "He's the most helpful dog I ever knew."

By the time she had said this she was halfway down the steps, but before she was clear down and on her way to the rice-pile, Ramon somehow suspected she did not approve his methods, so he started for the pasture on the run, dragging the goat after him as fast as she could go. There were times when Ramon could read his mother's thoughts, and at such times he hastened to obey. He thought best to stay in the pasture for a while after that, and did not appear again until the rice was cooked and Rita came out to call him in to supper.

The threshing and winnowing of the pile of rice took two days more, but at last it lay piled in a brown heap on a mat before the door, and Felix sat down on his heels and looked at it in silence for some time.

At last he said: "There is enough for ourselves and a little over. If I sell it all, I can buy the twine and pulleys and ropes that we need, but in that case we shall have to go on short rations all the year. The crop is better than I feared it might be, and if it hadn't been for the typhoon would have been very good indeed. As it is, we must choose. Shall we sell the rice and equip the raft, or keep the rice and give up the fishing?"

"Can't we keep some of it and have the nets and things too?" asked Ramon. He saw his dream of having all the rice he wanted fading away.

Then Petra spoke. "I'd rather pinch along for a few months more," she said, "and have the raft finished. Then we shall have two ways of earning a living. If we should depend on the crop alone and it should fail, we should be worse off than ever. Then we should have neither rice nor fish."

Ramon groaned. "Can't we have all we want just for once?" he begged.

His mother smiled at him. "Yes," she said. "We'll have a feast to celebrate the harvest and send the rest to the market." Her voice was cheerful, though no one knew so well as she how hard it would be to find enough to feed her family with their chief dependence gone.

While Felix and the children stored the rice in sacks, she went into the house, taking with her a large portion to cook for their supper.

The harvest festival was now at hand and the day before the great event was spent in getting ready for it. Petra washed and ironed their clothes so they might appear spotlessly clean even though their garments were worn and old. She also mended the children's shoes, but she could not make them look well however much she tried, so she said to them, "You must have such good manners that no one will notice your shoes." The Twins wondered if any one ever had manners good enough for that.

While their mother washed and mended, the children were busy, too. Rita wrapped her precious basket in a piece of white cloth to protect it, and Ramon made a bamboo cage to carry his rooster in. When it was done, he had the still harder task of catching the rooster and getting him into it. The rooster was now a very handsome young bird. His feathers were a glossy, golden brown, his legs were a healthy yellow, and his red comb stood up bright on his proud head.

Ramon waited until he had gone to roost for the night, and then crept up behind him and seized him by the legs. There was a terrible squawking, and when the astonished fowl found himself shut in the cage, he was so humiliated that he became sullen. His tail-feathers drooped, and he refused even to eat. Ramon put him under the house, where he crowed indignantly at intervals throughout the night.

At last the great day dawned. Ramon hurried early to the pasture and, mounting old Bobtail, drove him to the house. There he was hitched to the cart, which had been loaded with the sacks of grain the night before. An empty bag for a saddle was placed on his back, and when the family was ready to start, Ramon climbed up and seated himself upon it.


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Rita and her mother sat on the bags of rice, Rita holding her precious basket and Petra carrying her embroidered linen which she hoped to sell. Felix handed the bamboo cage up to Ramon, who was unwilling that any one but himself should take charge of his prize rooster, and off they started, with Felix leading Bobtail by the rope in his nose. Dingo brought up the rear of the procession, his tail wagging briskly with excitement.

The road to the village lay along the shore of the bay, and as the cart creaked slowly past the farms of their neighbors, other carts, loaded in much the same way, joined the caravan, and the whole procession moved slowly toward the town.

The streets of the village itself were filled with throngs of white-clad men and gayly dressed women and girls, for the harvest festival was the great event of the year and the farmers from all the region about had flocked to attend the celebration and sell their produce. A group of grain-dealers had come down from Manila to buy rice from the towns along the coast, and the steamer which had brought them was at the dock, waiting to receive its cargo, when the Santos family arrived at the village.

The wives of some of the dealers, and a few American tourists who had come with them, were wandering about the streets, mingling with the crowds, eagerly interested in seeing what the harvest festival in a country town was like.

When Felix saw the strangers, he said to his wife: "There is a steamer at the dock, as sure as anything, and I am going to get there as fast as I can. You and the children wait for me at the schoolhouse."

Petra and the children instantly dismounted, carrying their bundles, and soon the cart was out of sight. Crowds of children, dressed in white and carrying baskets filled with offerings for the exhibition, were already swarming into the schoolhouse when Petra and the Twins arrived.


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The flushed and distracted maestra was receiving them and placing the contents of their baskets on benches and desks about the room, labeling each article with the name of the child whose work it was. Proud mothers followed in her wake, watching to see that their articles were placed so that they would show well, examining the things made by other children, and comparing notes with other mothers. Petra trailed after the Twins, and Dingo, taking it for granted that dogs were invited too, kept close at their heels. Ramon went ahead, carrying the bamboo cage and looking eagerly about to see if there were any other fowls on exhibition.

"Here," said the teacher, holding out her hand, "give me your cock. I will put it beside José's. You and he are the only ones who have sent chickens." She lifted the cage over the heads of the children who were crowding about the long bench filled with vegetables and plumped it down by José's rooster, which was in an open box and was tied only by one leg.

Ramon's rooster had borne a great deal. He had been caught by the legs and crammed into a box too small for him. His protests had brought him no relief and he was now thoroughly enraged. His eyes had red rings around them and his tail-feathers no longer drooped. When the teacher set him down beside the other cage, he felt that his hour had struck. Neither was José's rooster in a mood for trifling. He too had been hardly dealt with, and the two instantly glared at each other with their heads down and their feathers standing in a stiff ruff about their necks. For a moment they eyed each other, and then, before any one could stop them, each flew at the other so fiercely that José's rooster broke his string and Ramon's burst off two of the bamboo slats of his cage and the two fought with beak and claw!

In vain the teacher wrung her hands. She did not dare to separate them for fear of their beaks and spurs. The crowd fell back a little, but the room was full, and the roosters, for lack of space, flew up in the air. José's, seeing a chance to escape, dashed for the open door. Ramon's bird tore after him, and the two lighted on the astonished heads of the children, flapping from one to another as if they were mere stones in their pathway.

They had almost reached the door, over the laughing, screaming crowd, when Dingo saw his duty. He dashed after them, and the next instant birds and dog were tearing like a cyclone up the street, José's rooster in the lead with Ramon's in hot pursuit, and Dingo flying after the two so fast his feet scarcely touched the ground.

Everybody in the village—men, women, and children, tourists and all—raced after them, and never was there such a sight since the Pied Piper 'piped all the children out of Hamelin town. Ramon and José, neck and neck, were only a little way behind Dingo. They were in despair over the loss of their part in the exhibit and determined, if possible, to catch their pets and take them back to the schoolhouse. José's rooster was equally determined to get back to his own roost, and, running and flying by turns and squawking all the way, he got over the ground with amazing speed.

The two boys were soon left behind, and when, a few moments later, they reached José's house, they found the cocks finishing their argument on the roof of the chicken-house, with Dingo dancing helplessly about on the ground.


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The boys were almost as helpless as the dog. In vain they tried to throw water on the crazy creatures. The roosters kept out of reach, and it was not until José's bird flew off the roof on the farther side and hid in the bushes, and Ramon's sank exhausted after one triumphant crow, that Ramon was able to climb up and catch him. Very sadly he took his pet in his arms and, followed by the crowd, returned to the schoolhouse. There he found his broken cage, put the disgraced fowl into it, and tied it up so he should not get out.

There was no chance of any prize for him now, nor for José either, and if it had not been for the teacher there might have been a dispute between the two boys. Each blamed the other for the disaster, but the teacher said soothingly: "If any one is to blame, it is I. I should not have put them beside each other. Next year you had better raise corn or cucumbers, for I will never let another rooster be shown in my schoolhouse!"


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