M EANWHILE what do you suppose had been happening at home? When she had finished her washing and had dried the clothes on the bushes, Doña Teresa folded them and carried them back to the house, and began her ironing.
She didn't think much about the time because she was so busy with her work, but at last she felt hungry and glanced out at the shadow of the fig tree to see what time it was.
She was surprised to see the shadow already quite long and pointing toward the east.
"Well," thought she to herself, "I'll get myself something to eat, and by that time the children will be home and as hungry as two bears. I think I'll get something especially good for their supper."
She hummed a little tune as she worked, and every little while she glanced out the open door to see if they were not coming. By and by she noticed that the sky was overcast and then she heard a clap of thunder. It was the very same clap of thunder that had frightened the Twins in the cactus grove.
"The holy saints above us!" cried Doña Teresa aloud. "The children should have been home long ago. Where can they be!" She ran to the door just in time to see Tonto come ambling slowly into the yard alone and go to his own place in the shed.
Doña Teresa's eyes almost popped out of her head with surprise and fright. She threw on her rebozo and ran over to Pedro's hut. Pedro's wife was just examining Pablo's ears to see if he had really washed himself in the river, when Doña Teresa arrived, quite breathless, at the door.
"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.
Doña 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. Doña 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.
At last it was time for Pancho to come home. Poor Doña 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?" Doña 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 Doña Teresa.
In a moment the priest appeared at the door, and Doña 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 Doña 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," Doña 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."
Doña 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 Doña Teresa she cried out, "Has Pancho come?"
"No," sobbed Doña 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."
Doña 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 Doña 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 Doña 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.