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Timoteo by Mary E. Bamford

 

Two white jaw-bones of a whale stood upright in the sunshine, their surfaces showing to a near observer numerous small indentations that caught the dust. The jaw-bones were relics from a little whaling station that had once been in business near the town. Even now whales occasionally wander from the great Pacific into the blue bay on which this old, partly Spanish, California town was situated.

The two white jaw-bones now served the purpose of gate-posts, and stood some six feet high beside the front gate that opened into a garden where red hollyhocks rose higher than the humbled jaw-bones. Inside the gate, the front walk had long been paved with the vertebrae of whales, each vertebra being laid separately.

No one who had not seen such a walk would realize how well whales' vertebrae will answer for paving. Some of the old vertebrae had now sunk below the original level of the walk, so that the path by which a person went to the old adobe house beyond the red hollyhocks was somewhat uneven as to surface.

The long, low house was partly roofed with tiles, and the adobe walls of the dwelling were a yard thick, as any one might see who looked at the windowsills.

On one of these broad sills Isabelita leaned, her black eyes fixed on the bone gate-posts that she could see through the blossoming hollyhocks. There was a displeased expression on the young girl's face. She was watching for her brother Timoteo, who would soon come from school.

"He must go for the cow tonight," resolved Isabelita aloud in Spanish. "I will not go! I wish the Americans had never come to this town! In the old days, my father says, there were no cattle notices on the trees. My father did not have to go for cows every night!" And Isabelita frowned as she remembered the notices about letting cattle run loose upon the highway.

These Spanish--and--English notices were now nailed on pines here and there along the roads, and proved a source of inquiry to wandering Americans who saw the boards with their heading:

"AVISO!!"

preceded by two inverted exclamation points and followed by two others in the upright position--that some Americans have perhaps been wont to think is the only attitude in which an exclamation point can stand, Americans not being accustomed to the ease with which an exclamation point can stand on its head, when used in Spanish literature.

But it was not only with cattle notices and Americans that Isabelita was offended this day. She was in a bad humor, and nothing suited her. Hence it was in no pleasant voice that she called to Timoteo, when he at last made his appearance between the bony gate-posts:

"Hombre bobo, thou must go for the cow tonight!"

Now, "hombre bobo" means much the same as our word "booby," therefore this was not a very soothing manner of beginning her information. To Isabelita's surprise, however, Timoteo answered only "Yes," and, coming in, put his one book carefully away, and then went forth for the cow, as he had been bidden. Isabelita stared after him. She had at least expected a quarrel.

Isabelita would have been more surprised still, if she could have seen what Timoteo did after reaching the place in the woods where the cow was tethered. He threw himself down; crushing the fragrant, small-leaved vines of "yerba buena" as he fell, and, hiding his face, Timoteo cried in a half-angry, half-hopeless tumult of feeling. The pink blossoming thistles nodded, and the cow looked wonderingly at the lad, but no one else saw or heard him. By and by he sat up.

"Teacher never like me any more," he told himself, his lips quivering. "Americanos tell her my father lazy, my mother no clean. And I try, I try!"

He choked down a sob. A new teacher had come to the public school, a sweet-faced, pleasant-toned young lady, whom Timoteo was ready to obey devotedly from the first time she smiled on the school. Timoteo did want to learn to be somebody! He looked with admiration on the Americans boys' clothes and on an especial blue necktie that Herbert Page wore. Timoteo wondered how it would seem to have a father who worked and who provided his family with plenty to wear. The lad Timoteo meant to be like one of the Americans when he grew up. He would work, instead of lounging about the streets all day, smoking "cigarros."

But alas! That day he had overheard some of the American boy scholars talking to the teacher about the Spanish ones.

"There's Timoteo," he overheard Herbert Page say. "You don't want to have him for your milk-man, Miss Montgomery! I don't believe they keep the milk pails any too clean at his house. Laziness and dirt go together in these Spanish houses!"

Poor Timoteo! He had hoped the teacher and her mother would take milk of him. Miss Montgomery had almost promised to, before this, and one customer for milk made such a difference in Timoteo's home finances!

"But now she never like me any more," Timoteo hopelessly forewarned himself, as he sat among the trees, his eyes yet red with crying. "And I try, I try! I have learned wash my hands clean, when I go school. And I try so hard learn read and write!"

Timoteo sighed heavily. He did not hate those American boys who looked so much nicer than he. He only had a sorrowful, hopeless feeling as he unfastened the cow and started homeward with her.

But when the cow lumbered in through the two white, strange gate- posts at home, she swerved aside a little, and Timoteo saw, standing under the tall red hollyhocks, his teacher, Miss Montgomery. She had a bright tin pail in her hand, and she wanted some milk.

Timoteo's eyes brightened.

"I go wash my hands clean, clean!" he cried, and, disappearing, came back a few minutes after, holding out his palms for Miss Montgomery's inspection.

She smiled, and gave him the pail.

"Poor little fellow!" she thought, as she watched him milking. "I'm afraid some of our American boys don't have charity enough for him."

Timoteo beamed with happiness as he returned the pail brimming with milk. He was Miss Montgomery's milkman regularly after that, and when, on Sundays, Miss Montgomery taught a Sunday-school class of boys, Timoteo always slipped in and listened, though the teacher wondered sometimes if the boy could understand.

There were fair-haired American boys who looked down on Timoteo at school and who made him feel that a Spanish boy was an inferior. Sometimes Timoteo almost felt as if some of the Chinese boys, in the small fishing-village outside the town, were happier than he, for they did not seem to care to know anything but how to dry nets and dry fish. Herbert Page was one of the school boys who always felt superior to Timoteo. Timoteo did not wonder at it. He had a very humble opinion of himself, yet sometimes he wished Herbert would only look at him as he passed by. Herbert would not have spoken rudely to Timoteo. That, Herbert would have considered degrading. He simply ignored the Spanish boys of the school.

One Saturday morning, when Timoteo stood on the edge of the cliffs outside the town, he saw Herbert picking his way out over the long stretches of rocks to seaward; a basket on his arm and a stick in his hand.

"He go to get abalones, and think he can knock them off with a stick!" laughed Timoteo.

Herbert had not long lived in this vicinity, and he did not know the tenacity with which the large, oval-shaped shell, called abalone, or ear-shell, which is so well known and valued for its beautifully colored, irridescent lining, clings to the rock when the shell's inmate is living. At school, the day before, Timoteo had heard Herbert say that he intended going after abalones on Saturday.

"He no get any," prophesied Timoteo, gazing after Herbert's disappearing figure.

Timoteo himself was out abalone-hunting. This was one of the ways by which he occasionally earned a few cents, visitors to the town buying the large shells for curiosities. But Timoteo had with him a long iron spike with which he intended to urge the abalone-shells from the rocks.

The abalone has a large, very strong, white "foot" inside its long shell, and there is a row of holes in the shell itself. It is conjectured that the abalone perhaps exhausts the air under the shell, and so causes the shell to cling more tightly to the rock than ever, through atmospheric pressure. It is very difficult to take an abalone from its rocky home, unless the creature is surprised.

Timoteo, however, was acquainted with abalones, and made good use of his weapon. He clambered far out over the wet rocks for hours, finding abalones now and then, and waging war on these thick, rough ovals that clung so tightly to the rock, the beautiful colors of the abalone-shells entirely concealed. Timoteo saw nothing more of Herbert, during these hours of work.

Timoteo succeeded in getting three abalones, the last an especially large shell. He sat down on the rocks to rest, after the long struggle with this big abalone. The tide was rising. He would go home soon now.

While he sat there, it seemed to him that he heard the sound of outcries. At first he thought it was the gulls. Half in fun he shouted in reply. The distant cries seemed redoubled. Timoteo caught up his basket and long spike. He sprang to his feet.

"Where is it?" he thought, confused with the splash of waves and the toss of spray.

He listened. He sped, shouting, over the rocks in the direction from which the cries seemed to come. He stopped now and then to listen. Yes, it was a human voice that cried for help. It was not the gulls.

"Adonde?" (Where?) "Adonde?" shouted Timoteo, forgetting his English in his excitement.

The answering shouts grew more distinct. Timoteo climbed over the wet rocks till he found himself near a place where the sounds seemed to come from between two rocks. Timoteo saw a boy reach up part way between the two rocks. The boy could not crawl out. The hole between the rocks was not big enough.

"Timoteo!" screamed a voice, and Timoteo recognized Herbert.

"Say!" Herbert called, "run for help, won't you? I was out here abalone-hunting, and I guess one of these big rocks must have been poised just right to topple over. Anyhow, in climbing down here I managed to topple it. It didn't fall on me, but it fell against the other rocks so that there isn't room for me to crawl out of here! I can't make the rock budge, now. And the tide's coming! I thought I'd drown, away out here, alone. You can't do anything with that spike. It needs three or four men with levers. Run! The tide's up to my waist, now! There isn't room between these rocks to crawl out."

For one moment Timoteo stood still and looked at Herbert. Then the Spanish boy turned and flew over the rocks. Leaping from one slippery foothold to another, he rushed toward the cliffs, up the cliff road, on to the clusters of Chinese huts that made a little fishing-village by itself on the edge of the bay. Whatever Spanish or English vocabulary Timoteo used, he aroused two or three Chinamen to forsake their frames of drying fish and cease tossing over the other small fish that lay drying on the ground.

Seizing the long, heavy iron rods with which the Chinese were wont to go abalone-hunting, the three Celestials followed in Timoteo's wake toward the place where Herbert anxiously awaited rescue. There was much prying with the iron rods before the stone was finally tilted enough so that the drenched prisoner was released.

"My father pay you," gratefully promised Herbert to the Chinamen, who nodded and plodded cheerfully back toward their tiny fishing- village.

Herbert looked at Timoteo.

"I'm much obliged to you," said Herbert. "You were good to run for help."

But now that Timoteo had seen the success of his helpers, an abashed silence seemed to have overtaken him. He did not answer. The silence lasted till the two boys reached the cliffs. Herbert grew uneasy. His conscience accused him somewhat.

"Come to my house, Timoteo, and my father will give you something for helping me," promised Herbert uneasily, as the boys climbed the cliffs.

Timoteo shook his head, but he did not look up.

"See here, Timoteo," burst out Herbert, stopping on top of the cliffs, "what's the matter? Do you hate me?"

Timoteo glanced up slowly. His dark eyes were full of appeal.

"You no talk to teacher any more about me?" he besought. "You no tell her my father lazy, we no-'count folks?"

Timoteo's voice shook. He hurried on: "I like teacher. I try be clean. I wash my hands, my face, all time. I do ver' good to the teacher. But my mother differ from your mother. Your mother give you nice clean shirt and clothes. My mother too poor. I try learn, read, spell. I grow like American boy."

It was the appeal of a soul that looked from Timoteo's eyes. Herbert flushed.

"Why, you poor fellow, of course you try!" he answered heartily. "I- -I'm sorry if I've ever said anything to the teacher that made you feel badly, Timoteo. I won't do it again, and the other boys sha'n't, either! The teacher knows how hard you try. She said the other day that you were a good boy. Come on up to our house. Won't you?"

But Timoteo smiled, and shook his head, and went away on the long road that led toward home. The heart of the Spanish boy was very happy. He had done good to his enemy, and that enemy was turned into a friend. And the teacher had said that Timoteo was a good boy! She knew how hard he tried!

Timoteo sang for joy as he ran.

"I will learn! I will learn! I shall be like los Americanos!" he sang, and then he remembered how he had been tempted for one instant not to help Herbert. Timoteo shivered at the remembered temptation. He sang again for very joy at having been helped to forgive his enemy.

In the pines Timoteo stopped, and looked upward through the swaying treetops.

"A Dios sea gloria por Jesu-Christo," he murmured reverently. ("To God be glory through Jesus Christ.")