Early that evening, when Pancho had rounded up the cows and taken them back again to pasture, and the goat had been milked, the animals fed, and supper eaten and cleared away, the Twins and their father and mother sat down together outside their cabin door.
The moon had risen and was shining so brightly that it made beautiful patterned shadows under the fig tree. There were pleasant evening sounds all about. Sometimes it was the hoot of an owl or the chirp of a cricket, but oftener it was the sound of laughter and of children's voices from the huts near by.
The red rooster, the turkey, and the hens were all asleep in the fig tree. Tita could see their bunchy shadows among the shadows of the leaves. The cat was away hunting for field-mice. Jasmin sat beside Tonio, with his tongue hanging out, and everything was very quiet and peaceful.
Then suddenly, quite far away, they heard a faint tinkling sound. "Ting-a-ling-ling; ting-a-ling-ling," it went, and then there was a voice singing:—
"Crown of the high hill
That with your cool shadow
Gives me life,
Where is my beloved?
Oh, beautiful hill,
Where dwells my love?
If I am sleeping,
I'm dreaming of thee;
If I am waking, thee only I see."
The voice came nearer and nearer, and children's voices began to join in the singing, and soon Tonio and Tita could see dark forms moving in the moonlight. There was one tall figure, and swarming around it there were ever so many short ones.
"It's José with his guitar!" cried the Twins, and they flew out to meet him. Dona Teresa and Pancho came too.
"God give you good evening," they all cried out to each other when they met; and then José said, "Have you plenty of sweet potatoes, Dona Teresa? We have come with our dishes and our pennies."
"Yes," laughed Dona Teresa. "I thought you might come to-night and I knew your sweet tooth, José! And all these little ones, have they each got a sweet tooth too?"
"Oh yes, Dona Teresa, please cook us some sweet potatoes, won't you?" the children begged. They held up their empty dishes.
"Well, then, come in, all of you," said Dona Teresa, "and I will see what I can do."
She hurried back to the cabin. Pancho went with her, and José and the Twins and all the other children came trooping after them and swarmed around the cabin door.
Pancho made a little brasero right in the middle of the open space beside the fig tree. He made it of stones, and built a fire in it.
While he was doing that, Dona Teresa got her sweet potatoes ready to cook, and when she came out with the cooking-dish and a jug of syrup in her hands, the children set up a shout of joy.
"Now sit down, all of you," commanded Dona Teresa, as she knelt beside the brasero and poured the syrup into the cooking-pan. "It will take some time to cook enough for every one, and if you are in too much of a hurry you may burn your fingers and your tongue. José, you tell us a story while we are waiting."
So they all sat down in a circle around Dona Teresa with José opposite her, and the fire flickered in the brasero, and lighted up all the eager brown faces and all the bright black eyes, as they watched Dona Teresa's cooking-pan.
Then José told the story of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby; and after that he told how Br'er Rabbit made a riding-horse out of Br'er Fox; and when he had finished, the sweet potatoes were ready.
"Who shall have the first piece?" asked Dona Teresa, holding up a nice brown slice.
"José, José," cried all the children.
José took out his penny and gave it to Dona Teresa, and held out his dish. She took up a big piece of sweet potato on the end of a pointed stick. It was almost safely landed in José's dish, when suddenly there was a great flapping of wings and a loud "Cock-a-doodle-doo," right behind José!
The red rooster had opened his eyes, and when he saw the glow of the fire, he thought it must be morning. So he crowed at once, and then flew right down off his perch, and before any one knew what he was after or could stop him, he had snatched José's candied sweet potato off the end of Dona Teresa's stick, and was running away with it as fast as he could go!
"Thanks be to God," said José, "that piece was still very hot!"
The red rooster soon found that out for himself. He was so afraid that somebody would get his morsel away from him that he swallowed it whole, boiling hot syrup and all! He thought it was worse than the red pepper and the gold paint he had taken that morning.
He opened his bill wide and squawked with pain, and his eyes looked wild. The children rolled on the ground with laughter. The last they saw of the red rooster he was running to the back of the house, where a dish of water was kept for the chickens; and it is perfectly true that for three days after that he could hardly crow at all!
Dona Teresa was dreadfully ashamed of the red rooster. She apologized and gave José another piece of sweet potato at once, and then she passed out more pieces to the children, and said:—
"Now mind you don't behave like the rooster! You see what he got for being greedy."
The children sucked their pieces slowly, so as to make them last a long time, and while they got themselves all sticky with syrup, José told them the story of Cinderella and her glass slippers and her pumpkin coach, and two ghost stories.
"Where did you learn so many beautiful stories, José?" asked Tonio when he had finished the last one. "Did you read them out of a book?" (You see Tonio and Tita and some of the older children went to school and were beginning to read a little.)
José shook his head. "No," he said, "I didn't read them out of books. I never had a chance to go to school when I was a boy. I tell you these stories just as they were told to me by my mother when I was as small as you are. And she couldn't read either, so somebody must have told them to her. Not everything comes from books, you see."
"Yes," said Dona Teresa. "I heard them from my mother when I was a child, and she couldn't read any more than Pancho and I can. But with these children here it will be different. They can get stories from you, and out of the books too. It is a great thing to have learning, though a peon can get along with very little of it, praise God."
Up to this time Pancho had not said a single word. He had brought sticks for the fire and had listened silently to the stories; but now he spoke.
"When the peons get enough learning, they will learn not to be peons at all," he said.
"But whatever will they be then?" gasped Dona Teresa. "Surely they must be whatever the good God made them, and if they are born peons—"
She stopped and looked a little alarmed, as if she thought perhaps after all it might be as well for Tonio and Tita to be like most of the people she knew—quite unable to read or write.
She crossed herself, and snatched Tita to her breast.
"You shall not learn enough to make you fly away from the nest, my bird!" she said.
Then Pancho spoke again. "With girls it does not matter," he said. "Girls do not need to know anything but how to grind corn and make tortillas, and mind the babies—that is what girls are for. But boys—boys will be men and—" But here it seemed to occur to him that perhaps he was saying too much, and he became silent again.
José had listened thoughtfully, and when Pancho finished he sighed a little and made a soft little "ting-ting-a-ting-ting" on his guitar-strings. Then he jumped up and began to sing and dance, playing the guitar all the while. It was a song about the little dwarfs, and the children loved it.
"Oh, how pretty are the dwarfs,
The little ones, the Mexicans!
Out comes the pretty one,
Out comes the ugly one,
Out comes the dwarf with his jacket of skin."
José sang,—and every time he came to the words,—
"Out comes the little one,
Out comes the pretty one,"
he stooped down as he danced and made himself look as much like a dwarf as he possibly could.
When he had finished the Dwarf Song, José tucked his guitar under his arm, and bowed politely to Dona Teresa and Pancho.
"Adios!" he said. "May you rest well."
"Adios, adios!" shouted all the children.
And Pancho and Dona Teresa and the Twins replied: "Adios! God give you sweet sleep."
Then José and the children went away, and the tinkle of the guitar grew fainter and fainter in the distance. When they could no longer hear it, Dona Teresa went into the cabin, unrolled the mats, and laid out the pillows, and soon the Twins and their father and mother were all sound asleep on their hard beds.
When at last everything was quiet, the red rooster came stepping round from behind the house, and looked at the dying coals of the fire as if he wondered whether they were good to eat. He seemed to think it best not to risk it, however, for he flew up into the fig tree once more and settled himself for the night.