"S ANTA MARIA!" said the Twins' mother, getting up from her seat under a coconut tree and going up the steps into her little kitchen. "Felix is already back from the field, and it is time the children were home from school! They are late and they will be very hungry. I must make a fire at once. Then, when they come, it will not take long to cook the rice."
She started to make a fire, but there was no wood in the kitchen. So she climbed down the steps again, and went under the house. The house was set up on high posts, and under it there was always a pile of dry guava branches and mangrove wood for fuel.
Dingo lived under the house, too, when he was at home,
and there were baskets
there besides, and a heap of peanut straw. There were
also an old farm cart and a pile of boards. Two hens
had already gone to roost on the
"Shoo!" said the Twins' mother, flapping her skirt at them.
When they fled squawking, she gathered a bundle of sticks in her arms and toiled up to her kitchen again.
"Ramon must bring up some wood for me as soon as he comes home," she said aloud to herself when she reached the kitchen. She threw the sticks down on the floor and prepared to make a fire.
The stove was just a long box standing on four legs. It was filled with earth. First she put three stones together on top of the earth, like this:
Then she piled sticks between the stones and lighted them. She washed four handfuls of rice and put them in an earthen pot. Then she filled the pot with water from a long hollow bamboo tube and set it on the stones. Soon the fire was crackling merrily and the steam was sailing in little clouds up into the thatch of the roof above her head.
When all this was done, she looked out of the window,—at least she tried to, but she couldn't see out because the window was closed and there was no glass in it. Instead of glass there were little thin shells set in a sliding frame, and of course she could not see through that. She pushed back the shell window and looked out. She heard Dingo barking. Then she heard voices. Then she saw Ramon and Rita coming along the shore of the bay, with Dingo jumping up to give them dog kisses. She ran out to meet them and give them mother kisses too. Then they all came back into the kitchen together.
When Ramon had brought up more wood from under the house, he said to his mother, "Manang" (that was their pet name for her), "I am so hungry I could eat a plate of rice as big as this house!"
"So could I," Rita chimed in.
"Ay! What shall I do!" cried their mother, throwing up her hands in mock despair. "There is not so much as a single roomful cooking in the pot." She smiled down at them and added, "But, my nenes" (that was her pet name for them), "may it not be that your eyes hold more than your stomachs? I put four handfuls in the pot. It would be sad indeed to see you burst yourselves."
Rita peeped into the pot. "There is no danger of our bursting ourselves, if that's all you are going to cook," she cried. "I could eat every bit of that myself."
This time their mother did not smile at them. "It is
all we can spare
The Twins stared at their mother.
"But, Manang, we cannot live without rice! We have it every single meal," said Ramon.
His mother pinched his cheek. "You have not gone hungry
yet," she said, "and if we are careful, and if Father
has good luck with his fishing, we shall have enough to
eat, even if we do have very little rice." She took
"There are some
"Take off your shoes!" their mother called after them. "If you don't, you will get them wet and muddy, and you must keep them nice for school."
The Twins sat down at once and took
off their shoes. They left them at the foot of a
coconut tree and ran along the
A turtle, which had been sunning itself on a log near by, slid into the water with a splash. A little fish swam slowly down stream among the reeds near the shore. The children saw both the turtle and the fish, but not a single crab could they find. In vain Ramon lay on his stomach on the bank and poked about in the river mud with a stick, getting his arms smeared with black to the elbows. At last he rose to his knees in disgust.
"May the plague take all crabs!" he said to Rita. "I'm not going to poke about here any more. There aren't any here, anyway. I'm going farther up the river and try again. Come along." He sprang to his feet, and the two trotted away up stream, with Dingo at their heels.
Soon they came to the place where old Bobtail, the carabao, was wallowing and splashing about in the muddy water. The flies, as usual, were buzzing about him in swarms, and the white heron was on his back gobbling them up. The ducks were swimming near by. They were catching flies, too.
Dingo did not like Bobtail. Once, when he had barked at him, old Bobtail had chased him so that Dingo had had to run for his life. He had jumped over a bamboo fence on to a young maguey plant. The sharp spines of the maguey had stuck into Dingo. As soon as he could pick himself up he had run home with his tail between his legs, yelping all the way, and had hidden himself under the house to nurse his wounds. Ever since that time he had not liked Bobtail.
Now, when he saw the carabao deep in the mud and water, he thought his chance had come. He knew he could run away before old Bobtail could climb out of the mud and run after him. So he jumped about on the bank and barked and barked. He meant to make old Bobtail think he was a very dangerous dog indeed, who would like nothing better than to snap off his head at one bite.
Old Bobtail was a gentle beast nearly all the time, but he did not like Dingo any better than Dingo liked him, so he began to climb right out of the water, grunting and wallowing about in a way to scare even an elephant or a tiger if there had been any such beasts about, which of course there were not.
The white heron screamed and flew away to the mangrove swamp with her long legs streaming out behind her. The ducks swam up the river as fast as they could go, and as for Dingo and the Twins, they ran like a streak of lightning for home. Of course Dingo got there first. He ran under the house, and was already hidden beneath the farm wagon when the Twins scrambled up the steps and dashed into the kitchen.
"Oh! Oh!" cried their mother, "you can't have caught any crabs in this time! Why are you back so soon?"
She looked up from her
"What in the world is the matter?" she cried, gazing at them in surprise.
"Bobtail!" gasped the
Their mother dropped the banana she was just about to
put in the
She ran to the door and looked out. There was Bobtail in the dooryard, dripping with mud and grunting with rage.
"The saints preserve us, the beast has
gone mad!" she cried, slamming the door shut, as if
she thought he might try to climb the steps and come
into the kitchen. "He has been dragging the plow all
day in the
"We don't know. We haven't seen him," wailed the Twins.
Their mother ran to the front of the house, slid back
the shell window, and looked out. There, directly
before her, lay the blue waters of Manila Bay, dotted
with the sails of
"Ay! Ay!" she cried to the children. "Your father is nowhere to be seen!"
She ran to the kitchen window and called, "Felix! Felix!"
The Twins stuck their heads out too and shouted, "Father! Father!"
When he heard their voices, Dingo under the house gave a mournful howl. Old Bobtail heard him, and the voice of his enemy seemed to rouse him to fresh fury. There was a ring in his nose and a rope was fastened to the ring. The rope had been tied to one of his horns to keep it out of the way, but in his fit of temper it had become loosened and now was hanging on the ground. When Dingo howled, old Bobtail shook his head angrily and started toward the house. In doing so he stepped on the rope and pulled his own nose. This was too much!
Maybe he thought Dingo had pulled his nose. Anyway, he
gave a savage grunt and plunged forward as if he meant
to find him. He was too big to get under the house, and
besides there was a bamboo lattice to keep him out, but
he put his head down and looked through the opening by
the kitchen steps. When Dingo saw the carabao's nose so
near him, he yelped as if he had fallen again on a
maguey plant. Then he dashed through a hole in the
lattice on the opposite side of the house and never
stopped running until he was out of sight. He ran
through the coconut grove, past the clump of banana
trees, past the bamboos along the river, and sat down
at last with his tongue hanging out, on top of a little
hill back of the
Just then around the corner of the house came the Twins' father, carrying the empty basket in one hand and in the other the bamboo pail which held the milk. When he saw the basket old Bobtail thought there might be something good to eat in it; so he came lumbering along toward his master.
"Come in, come in quick!" screamed the children and their mother. "He's as mad as he can be!" They thought old Bobtail might try to toss Felix up in the air, as carabaos sometimes do when they are angry.
But Felix was not afraid. He held out the basket, and
the great beast stopped and sniffed at it. "Poor old
Bobtail!" said Felix, "it was hot in the
"He chased us!" cried Rita.
"We ran home as fast as we could," shouted Ramon.
"Dingo barked at him," explained the mother. "It made Bobtail angry, and now Dingo has run away."
Felix handed the milk to Petra. "Bring me some water," he said to Ramon.
Ramon ran into the kitchen and brought out a long bamboo tube filled with water. His father emptied it on the carabao's back, then old Bobtail acted as pleased as a cat when its fur is stroked.
"He is quiet enough now," said Felix. "It was only a passing fit of anger. He was hot and tired, and that pest of a Dingo must have driven him wild. He deserves a beating. Come, Ramon, there is no more danger. Climb up on his back and drive him to pasture." Ramon was used to taking care of the carabao and, no longer afraid of him, he ran down the steps, seized Bobtail's stumpy tail, and planting one foot firmly against his hind leg, climbed to a seat on his broad back.
His father took the rope's end in his hand and
started toward the pasture.
Rita and her mother watched them from the kitchen door, and when they saw that all danger was past, turned back to the stove where their supper was cooking. Alas! it was not cooking any more. The fire had gone out and the rice was only half done.
Rita ran for more sticks, her mother blew on the coals and fed the flames with dry leaves and twigs, and soon the pot was bubbling away merrily again.
Ramon and his father were gone for some time, for they had to mend the bamboo fence around the pasture where old Bobtail had broken through. When they came home, supper was waiting for them, and, although there was not as much rice as they would have liked, there were plenty of fried bananas, and Petra had also cooked some dried fish, since there were no crabs.