One hot morning in early June, Dona Teresa took her washing down to the river, and Tonio and Tita went with her. They found Dona Josefa and Pedro's wife already there with their soiled clothes, and the three women had a good time gossiping together while they soaped the garments and scrubbed them well on stones at the water's edge.
Pablo and the Twins played in the water meanwhile, hunting mud turtles and building dams and trying to catch minnows with their hands.
At last Pablo's mother said to him, "Pablo, take this piece of soap and go behind those bushes and take a bath."
Then she went on telling Dona Teresa about a new pattern of drawn work she was beginning and forgot all about Pablo. Pablo disappeared behind the bush, and no one saw him again that day. He wasn't drowned, but it's my belief that he wasn't bathed either.
However, this story is not about Pablo. It's about Tonio and Tita, and what happened to them.
Dona Teresa said to them, "I wish you would get Tonto and go up the mountain beyond the pasture and bring down a load of wood. Take some lunch with you. You won't get lost, because Tonto knows the way home if you don't. Get all the ocotei branches you can to burn in the brasero."
The Twins were delighted with this errand. It meant a picnic for them, so they ran back to the house and got Tonto and the luncheon and started away down the road as gay as two larks in the spring-time.
They both rode on the donkey's back and they had Tonio's lasso with them. The luncheon was in Tonio's hat as usual. Tonio whistled for Jasmin, but he was nowhere to be found, so they started without him.
They crossed the goat-pasture, and this time Tonio did not forget to put up the bars. They passed the goat too, but Tonio rode right by and hoped the goat wouldn't notice him.
From the goat-pasture they turned into a sort of trail that led up the mountain-side, and rode on for two miles until they came to a thick wood. Here they dismounted and, leaving Tonto to graze comfortably by himself, began to search for ocote wood. Tonio had a machete stuck in his belt.
A machete is a long strong knife, and he used it to cut up the wood into small pieces. Then he tied it up in a bundle with his lasso to carry home on Tonto's back.
The children had such fun wandering about, gathering sticks, and looking for birds' nests that they didn't think a thing about time until they suddenly realized that they were very hungry. They had gone some distance into the wood, and quite out of sight of Tonto by this time.
They sat down on a fallen log and ate their lunch, and then they were thirsty.
"Let's find a brook and get a drink," said Tonio. '"I know there must be one right near here."
They left their bundle of wood and walked for some distance searching for water, but no stream did they find. They grew thirstier and thirstier.
"It seems to me I shall dry up and blow away if we don't find it pretty soon," said Tita.
"I've almost found it, I think," answered Tonio. "It must be right over by those willow trees."
They went to the willow trees but there was no stream there.
"I think we'd better go back and get the wood and start home," said Tita. "We can get a drink in the goat-pasture."
"All right," said Tonio, and he led the way back into the woods.
They looked and looked for the bundle of sticks, but somehow everything seemed different.
"I'm sure it must have been right near here," said Tonio. "I remember that black stump. I'm sure I do, because it looks like a bear sitting up on his hind legs. Don't you remember it, Tita?"
But Tita didn't remember it, and I'm afraid Tonio didn't either, really, for the bundle of sticks certainly was not there. They hunted about for a long time, and at last Tonio said, "I think we'd better go back to Tonto; he may be lonesome."
But Tonto had disappeared too! Tonio was sure he knew just where he had left him, but when they got to the place he wasn't there, and it wasn't the place either! It was very discouraging.
At last Tonio said, "Well, anyway, Tonto knows the way home by himself. We'll just let him find his own way, and we'll go home by ourselves."
"All right," said Tita, and they started down the mountain-side.
They had walked quite a long way when Tita said, "I think we're high enough up so we ought to see the lake." But no lake was in sight in any direction.
Tita began to cry. "We-we-we're just as lost as we can be," she sobbed. "And you did it! You said you knew the way, and you didn't, and now we'll die of hunger and nobody will find us—I want to go home."
"Hush up," said Tonio. "Crying won't help. We'll keep on walking and walking and we'll just have to come to something, some time. And there'll be people there and they'll tell us how to go."
Tonio seemed so sure of this that Tita was a little comforted. They walked for a very long time—hours it seemed to her—before Tita spoke again.
Then she said, "There's a big black cloud, and the sun is lost in it, and it's going to rain, and we aren't anywhere at all yet!"
They had got down to level ground by this time and were walking through a great field of maguey plants. The maguey is a strange great century-plant that grows higher than a man's head. When it gets ready to blossom the center is cut out and the hollow place fills with a sweet juice which Mexicans like to drink. Tonio knew this and thought perhaps he could get a drink in that way.
So he cut down a hollow-stemmed weed with his machete and made a pipe out of it. Then he climbed up on the plant that had been cut and stuck one end of his pipe into the juice, and the other into his mouth. When he had had enough, he boosted Tita up and she got a drink too. This made them feel better, and they walked on until they had passed the maguey plantation and were out in the open fields once more.
The sky grew darker and darker, and there were queer shapes all around them. Giant cacti with their arms reaching out like the arms of a cross loomed up before them. There were other great cacti in groups of tall straight spines, and every now and then a palm tree would spread its spiky leaves like giant fingers against the sky.
Suddenly there was a great clap of thunder, "It's the beginning of the rains," said Tonio.
"Shall we—shall we—be drowned—do you think?" wept Tita. "It's almost night."
Tonio was really a brave boy, but it is no joke to be lost in such country as that, and he knew it.
Tonio was almost crying, too, but he said, "I'll climb the first tree I can get up into and look around." He tried to make his voice sound big and brave, but it shook a little in spite of him.
Soon they came to a mesquite tree. There were long bean-like pods hanging from it. Tonio climbed the tree and threw down some pods. They were good to eat. Tita gathered them up in her rebozo, while Tonio gazed in every direction to see if he could see a house or shelter of any kind.
"I don't see anything but that hill over there," he called to Tita. "It is shaped like a great mound and seems to be all stone and rock. Perhaps if we could get up on top of it and look about we could tell where we are."
"Let's run, then," said Tita.
The children took hold of hands and ran toward the hill. There were cacti of all kinds around them, and as they ran, the spines caught their clothes. The hill seemed to get bigger and bigger as they came nearer to it, and it didn't look like any hill they had ever seen. It was shaped like a great pyramid and was covered with blocks of stone. There were bushes growing around the base and out of cracks between the stones. Tonio tried to climb up but it was so steep he only slipped back into the bushes, every time he tried.
"Oh, Tonio, maybe it isn't a hill at all," whispered Tita. "Maybe it's the castle of some awful creature who will eat us up!"
"Well, whatever it is he won't eat me up!" said Tonio boldly. "I'll stick a cactus down his throat and he'll have to cough me right up if he tries."
"I'll kick and scream so he'll have to cough me up too," sobbed Tita.
Just then there came a flash of lightning. It was so bright that the children saw what they hadn't noticed before. It was a hollow place in the side of the pyramid where a great stone had fallen out, and the dirt underneath had been washed away, leaving a hole big enough for them to crawl into, but it was far above their heads.
At last Tonio climbed into a small tree that grew beside it, bent a branch over, and dropped down into the hollow, holding to the branch by his hands.
Poor Tita never had felt so lonely in her whole life as she did when she saw Tonio disappear into that hole! In a minute he was out again and looking over the edge at her.
"It's all right. You climb up just as I did," he said.
Tita tied the mesquite pods in the end of her rebozo and threw it up to Tonio. Then she too climbed the little tree and dropped from the branch into the mouth of the tiny cave.
A hole in the side of a queer pyramid isn't exactly a cheerful place to be in during a storm, but it was so much better than being lost in a cactus grove that the children felt a little comforted.
The rain began to fall in great splashing drops, but they were protected in their rocky house. They ate the mesquite pods for their supper, and then Tonio said: "Of course, no one will find us to-night, so we'd better go to sleep. We'll play we are foxes. The animals and birds sleep in such places all the time and they're not afraid."
So they curled down in the corner of the cave, and, being very tired, soon fell asleep.