T HE children, meanwhile, were sleeping soundly in their hard bed. They were so tired that they did not wake up even when a tiny stream of water broke through a crevice in the rocks and splashed down on Tonio's head. It ran off his hair just as the rain ran off the thatched roof of their little adobe hut.
About nine o'clock the rain stopped and the moon shone out from behind the clouds. An owl
hooted; a fox ran right over the roof of their cave, making a soft
At last, however, something did wake Tita. She sat up in terror. A flickering light that wasn't moonlight was dancing about the cave! It was so bright that she could see everything about them as plain as day.
She clutched Tonio, shook him gently, and whispered in his ear, "Tonio, Tonio, wake up."
Tonio stirred and opened his mouth, but Tita clapped her hand over it. She was so afraid he would make a noise. When he saw the flickering light Tonio almost shouted for joy, for he was sure that his father had found them at last.
The flickering light grew brighter. They heard the crackling of flames and men's voices, and saw sparks. Very quietly they squirmed around on their stomachs until they could peep out of the opening of their cave.
This is what they saw!
There on the ground a few feet in front of their hiding-place was a fire, and two men were beside it. Their horses were tied to bushes not far away. One of the men was broiling meat on the end of a stick. The smell of it made the children very hungry. The other man was drinking something hot from a cup. They both had guns, and the guns were leaning against the rocks just below the cave where the children were hidden.
The man who was standing up was tall and had a fierce black mustache. He had on a big sombrero, and under a fold of his serape Tonio could see a cartridge-belt and the handle of a revolver.
"It's the Tall Man that Father and Pedro were talking to in front of the pulque shop," whispered Tonio.
Tita was so frightened that she shook like a leaf and her teeth chattered.
Pretty soon the Tall Man spoke. "The others ought to be here soon," he said. "They'll see the fire. Put on a few more sticks and make it flame up more."
The other man gave a last turn to the meat, handed it stick and all to the Tall Man, and disappeared behind the bushes to search for wood.
He had not yet come back, when there was the sound of horses' feet, and a man rode into sight, dismounted, hitched his horse, and joined the Tall Man by the fire.
One by one others came, until there were ten men standing about and talking together in low tones. Last of all there was the thud-thud of two more horses and who should come riding into the firelight but Pancho on Pinto, and Pedro on another horse!
When they joined the circle, Tonio almost sprang up and shouted. He did make a little jump, but Tita clutched him and held him back. He loosened a pebble at the mouth of the cave by his motion and it clattered down over the rock. The man who had gone for the wood was just putting his load down by the fire when the pebble came rattling down beside him.
"What's that?" he said, and sprang for his rifle.
Tonio hastily drew in his head. The men all listened intently for a few minutes, and looked cautiously about them.
"It's nothing but a pebble," said the Tall Man at last. "No one will disturb us here. And if they should,"—he tapped the handle of his revolver and smiled,—"we'd give them such a warm welcome they would be glad to stay with us—quietly—oh, very quietly!"
The other men grinned a little, as if they saw a joke in this, and then they all sat down in a circle around the fire.
Pancho and Pedro sat where the children could look right at them. The Tall Man was the only one who did not sit down. He stood up and began to talk.
"Well, men," he said. "I knew I could count on you! Brave fellows like you know well when a blow must be struck, and where is the true Mexican who was ever afraid to strike a blow when he knew that it was needed?
"We come of a race of fighters! And once Mexico belonged to them! Our Indian forefathers did not serve a race of foreign tyrants as we, their sons, do! Look about you on Mexico! Where in the whole world can be found such a land? The soil so rich that it yields crops that burden the earth, and mountains full of gold and silver and precious stones! And it is for this reason we are enslaved!
"If our land were less rich and less beautiful, if it bore no such crops, if its sunshine
were not so bright, and its mountains yielded no such treasure, we should be free men
"But the world envied our possessions. You know how Cortez, long ago, came from Spain and when our forefathers met him with friendliness he slew men, women, and children, tore down their ancient temples, and set the churches of Spain in their places!
"The Spaniards turned our fathers from free and brave men into a conquered and enslaved people, and worst of all they mixed their hated blood with ours. From the days of Cortez until now in one way or another we have submitted to oppression, until the spirit of our brave Indian ancestors is almost dead within us!
"And for what do we serve these aristocrats? For the privilege of remaining ignorant! For the privilege of tilling their fields, which were once ours! For the privilege of digging our gold and silver and precious stones out of their mines to make them rich! For the privilege of living in huts while they live in palaces! For the privilege of being robbed and beaten in the name of laws we never heard of and which we had no part in making, though this country is called a Republic! A Republic!—Bah!—A Republic where more than half the people cannot read! A Republic of cattle! A Republic where men like you work for a few pence a day, barely enough to keep body and soul together—and even that pittance, you must spend in stores owned by the men for whom you work!
"The little that you earn goes straight back into the pockets of your masters! Do you not see it? Do you not see if they own the land and the supplies they own you too? They call you free men—but are you free? What are you free to do? Free to starve if you will not work on their terms, or if you will not strike a blow for freedom. Are not my words true? Speak up and answer me! Are you satisfied? Are you free?"
The Tall Man stopped and waited for an answer. The fire flickered over the dark faces of angry men, and Pedro stirred uneasily as if he would like to say something.
"Speak out, Pedro. Tell us your story," said the Tall Man.
Pedro stood up and shook his fist at the fire. "Every word you speak is true," he said. "Who should know better than I? I had a small farm some miles from here, left me by my father. It was my own, and I tilled my land and was content. My father could not read, neither could I. No one told me of the laws.
"At last one day a rural rode to my house, and said, 'Pedro, why have you not obeyed the law? The law says that if you did not have your property recorded before a magistrate by the first of last month it should be taken from you and given to the State.'
" 'But I have never heard of such a law,' I said to him. He answered, 'Ignorance excuses no man. Your farm belongs to the state.' And I and my family were turned out of the house in which I and my father before me had been born. All our neighbors were treated in the same way. In despair we went away to the hacienda of Señor Fernandez, and there we work for a pittance as you say. And our homes! That whole region was turned over by the President, not long after, to a rich friend of his, who now owns it as a great estate!
"Many of my old neighbors are now his peons—working for him on land that was once their own and that was taken from them by a trick—by a trick, I say,"—his voice grew thick, and he sat down heavily in his place.
Another man, a stranger to Tonio, sprang to his feet. "Ah, if that were all!" he said; "but even in peonage we are not left undisturbed! It was only a year ago that I was riding into town on my donkey with some chickens to sell, when an officer stopped me and brought me before the Jefe Politico.
" 'Why have you not obeyed the law?' said the magistrate. 'I know of no law that I have not obeyed,' I said. 'You may tell me that,' said the scoundrel, 'but to make me believe it is another matter. You must know very well that a law was passed not long ago that every peon must wear dark trousers if he wishes to enter a town.'
" 'I have no dark trousers,' said I, 'and I have no money to buy them. I have worn such white trousers as these since I was a boy, as have all the men in this region.' 'That makes no difference to me,' he said; 'law is law.' I was put in prison and made to work every day on a bridge that the Government was building! I never saw my donkey or the chickens again. My wife did not know where I was for two weeks.
"While I was working on the bridge five other men whom I knew were seized and treated in the same way. It is my belief that there is no such law. They wanted workmen for that bridge and that was the cheapest way to get them!"
"Where are those other five men who were imprisoned, too? Have they no spirit?" It was the Tall Man who spoke.
"They have spirit," the man answered, "but they also have large families. They fear to leave them lest they starve. They are helpless."
"Say rather they are fools," said the Tall Man when the stranger sat down. "Why had they not the spirit like you to take things in their own hands—to revenge their wrongs? As for myself," he went on, "every one knows my story.
"The blood of my Indian ancestors was too hot in my veins for such slavery—by whatever name you call it. I broke away, and my name is now a terror in the region that I call mine.
"It is no worse to take by violence than by fraud. My land was taken from me by fraud. Very well, I take back what I can by violence. The rich call us bandits, but there is already an army of one thousand men waiting for you to join them, and we call ourselves Soldiers of the Revolution. We have risen up to get for ourselves some portion of what we have lost.
"Will you not join us? Our general is a peon like yourselves. He feels our wrongs because he has suffered them, and he fights like a demon to avenge them. Ride away to-night with me! You shall see something besides driving other people's cattle—and being driven like cattle yourselves!"
The Tall Man stopped talking and waited for an answer. No one spoke. The men gazed silently into the fire as if they were trying to think out something that was very puzzling.
The Tall Man spoke again. "Sons of brave ancestors, do you know where you are?" he said. "Do you know what this great pyramid is?" He pointed directly up toward the cave, and Tonio and Tita, who had listened to every word, instantly popped their heads out of sight like frightened rabbits.
"This stone mountain was built by your Indian ancestors hundreds of years ago. It is the burial-place of their dead. It is called the Pyramid of the Moon. Look at it! Have the Spaniards built anything greater? Mexico has many mighty monuments which show the glory which was ours before the Spaniards came.
"I have seen the ruins of great cities—cities full of stone buildings covered with wonderful carvings, all speaking of the magnificence of the days of Cuauhtemoc. Here in this place the souls of those brave ancestors listen for your answer. There are many people who do not know—who do not feel—who are content to be like the sheep on the hillside; but you, you know your wrongs,—come with us and avenge them!"