At the Panaderia
by Mary E.
The door of the "panaderia" opened. Americans would have called the
place a bakery, but the sign said "Panaderia," which might be
interpreted "breadery" or bake-house. All California does not read
English, and it behooves shop-keepers sometimes to word their signs
for the customers desired. In like manner the "Restaurante Mexicana,"
across the street, on a sign advertised "comidas," or meals, at
twenty-five and fifty cents.
Through the panaderia doorway came a girl and a boy. They walked
along by the "zanja," or irrigation ditch, that here bordered the
road. The fern-leaved pepper trees beside the zanja were dotted with
clusters of small, bright red berries.
"Rosa," said the boy, when the two had walked a little way, "I saw
in that big yard many purple and green grapes, spread out drying for
Rosa did not answer. She trudged on, carrying her basket of bread.
The brother carried a loaf in brown paper. He and she lived at the
panaderia, and had set forth to carry the bread to the two regular
"Rosa," stated the boy again, after a pause, "all the little
oranges on the trees over there are green."
Rosa did not even look toward the oranges.
"Rosa," affirmed the boy emphatically, when a few minutes had gone
by, "the Chinese doctor is measuring a window in his house! See! He
has some little teacups and a teapot in his front room! I saw them
Rosa looked absently toward the old building, inside a window of
which was visible the head of the Chinese doctor, who wore black
goggles, and who was indeed measuring his window for some reason.
Rosa had small hope of the Chinese doctor as a future customer. She
had seen him eating his rice with chop-sticks, and he never came to
buy a scrap of bread or anything else. Rosa sighed to think what
would become of the panaderia, if all the world had the same opinion
as the Chinese doctor, in regard to eating. In these days Rosa was in
danger of looking upon the world from a strictly calculating
standpoint, and of regarding only those people as worthy of her
interest who either were or might become customers of the panaderia.
Still indeed customers were needed, for the receipts had been slight,
lately, and Rosa's grandmother's parrot, Papagayo, a bird of such
understanding that he had learned to screech, "Pan por dinero," (bread
for money) had recently seen more of the former than of the latter in
Rosa and her brother still kept by the zanja, even when it turned
away from the road. They went on till they reached the orange orchard
of the Zanjero of the town. The Zanjero is the man who has the
oversight of the irrigation system, and he has deputies under him.
Rosa and her brother Joseph thought the Zanjero a great man, and stood
much in awe of the irrigation laws concerning stealing water, or
raising a gate to waste water, or giving water to persons outside the
The two bread-carriers went through the orange orchard, which was
not being irrigated at this hour, for the Zanjero was particular
himself to keep the hour that he paid for, as other men should be. Up
to the Zanjero's house Rosa now carried the bread, and his wife
herself paid for it. Rosa tied the coins carefully in one corner of
the black shawl that she wore over her head.
"Rosa," anticipated Joseph aloud, as they went away through the
orange orchard again, "when I am grown up, I shall be a Zanjero, and
we will not have to keep the panaderia!"
But Rosa looked unbelieving. "It is not granted every man to be the
Zanjero," returned she gravely, "and I love the panaderia."
It was true. She did love it, even to the castor-oil plants that
grew like weeds in neglected places in the yard, and down to the
south wall that was hung with a thick veil of red peppers that her
grandmother was drying in the sun. It was only because the panaderia
had not enough customers that Rosa looked so grave to-day. Besides,
the grandmother's birthday was near, and where was money for a
At the other house where the children regularly delivered bread,
irrigation had been going on all the morning. The half-day of
irrigation, for which the owner of this orange orchard had paid, was
just over, and the water-gate connecting the man's ditch with the
main zanja was being shut when Rosa and Joseph arrived. The little
water-gate was like a wooden shovel. It slid down some grooves, and
the running water stopped. It squirmed in the zanja an instant. Then
the little wooden gate was fastened with a padlock, as every gate
must be when the payer for water had received from the Zanjero's
deputy the amount of water paid for, whether by the fifty-cent-hour,
or the two-dollar-day, or the dollar-and-a-quarter night rate, and
whoever unauthorized should unfasten the padlock and open the gate
would be a thief of water.
After witnessing the shutting off of the water, Joseph carried his
paper-enfolded loaf to the house of this second regular customer, and
then the children turned homeward toward the panaderia.
"Pan por dinero!" cried the parrot, Papagayo, when Rosa and Joseph
reentered the panaderia; but alas! no customers were there. Only the
grandmother sat sewing behind the counter, her blurred old eyes close
to the cloth she held.
"I will take care of the panaderia now, grandmother," Rosa offered;
and the grandmother answered, "I will rest a little, then."
The poor, dear grandmother! She was so tired and thin, nowadays,
and her hands trembled so much! It was hard for her to try to sew. If
the panaderia paid better, if there were more regular customers to
whom Rosa and Joseph could carry eatables, then the grandmother would
not attempt sewing at all, for it strained her eyes very much. But now
she did not know what else to do. There must be a living for herself
and the children someway.
Rosa found the afternoon long, sitting behind the counter, waiting
for customers and trying to sew. A little boy came in and bought a
loaf. Two girls bought another. Then the panaderia door ceased to
swing, and the quiet afternoon went on. Across the street, women
stood here and there and gossiped.
Nobody came. It grew four, then five, then six o'clock. Finally the
panaderia door opened, and a woman entered. Rosa sprang up. Here was
a customer, at last!
But the woman only came to the counter, and stood still. She was
young, very thin and ill, evidently, and her eyes had tears in their
depths. Under the black shawl that was over the newcomer's head Rosa
spied a dark mark, as of a bruise, on the forehead. The young woman
tried to speak.
"I have three little children," she said. "I am sick. I cannot
work, and their father drinks mescal--always mescal. I have no money.
Will you give me a little bread? I am no beggar, but my babies are so
Rosa knew how much harm mescal (a kind of intoxicating drink made
from the maguey or Mexican aloe) did among the neighbors. She did not
doubt the woman's tale; only it was disappointing, when one thought a
real customer had at last come to the panaderia, to find that it was
not so. But the girl nodded sympathetically at the conclusion of the
young woman's appeal.
"I will speak to grandmother," she promised.
She found her grandmother lying down still, but half awake, and
explained to her the situation.
"Yes, yes," returned the grandmother, her wrinkled face full of
sympathy. "Give her the bread. Has not the Lord told us to care for
the poor? He would not be pleased if we sent her away without bread.
Tell the poor woman to come again. The little children, must be fed."
Rosa hurried back to the counter, and gave the woman two fresh
loaves and the grandmother's message.
"Gracias!" (thanks) sobbed the young woman and hurried away.
"I hope she will not tell that we gave her bread," murmured Rosa to
herself as the usual quiet settled over the panaderia. "We can't
afford to give bread to many people."
The weeks went by, and the panaderia did not prosper very well. It
grew to be a customary thing for the thin, sick woman to come daily
for bread, and she was never refused. She said with a sensitive
eagerness that when she was well again she would work and pay all
back, and Rosa's grandmother answered "Yes," cheerily, to this
promise, though any one who looked at the poor young mother's face
could see that there was small prospect of her ever being well again
in this world. Her husband still drank.
Times grew harder and harder at the panaderia. In the midst of the
winter a heavy blow fell, for the Zanjero's wife took a fancy to
making her own bread, and as she was the regular customer who bought
more loaves and paid more promptly than the other, the panaderia felt
the loss keenly. Customers were very scarce, and the grandmother's
eyes became so weak that she could no longer sew. Rosa sewed the
little that she could, but some days there was scarcely enough to eat
at the panaderia, except the very few loaves in the case--the loaves
that the three hardly knew whether to dare eat or not, for fear some
one should come in and want to buy. There were many other people who
were poor and without work, and the little family kept their troubles
to themselves. The poor sick neighbor always came every day and was
given bread. Winter passed and spring arrived without much change in
the panaderia's prospects.
"We could have eaten that ourselves," thought Rosa one night when
the neighbor went out with the bread.
The grandmother had said that the poor were God's care, and he
would bless those who for his sake fed them.
"But we keep on being poorer and poorer," thought Rosa with a sigh.
Then she reproached herself. Had not her grandmother said that the
Lord cared about the panaderia? One day when spring was turning into
summer, the poor neighbor came in earlier than usual. Her face was
very white. Rosa and her grandmother were both by the counter. The
grandmother smiled and was about to draw out the bread and give it to
the woman. But the poor neighbor dropped her head on the counter, and
stretched out her hand toward the old grandmother. The grandmother
took the hand, and lo! in her own lay a little key.
"Take it to the Zanjero!" sobbed the sick neighbor," and tell him
to forgive! It was the mescal made my husband do it!"
Little by little Rosa and her grandmother pieced together the story
of the small key. Some unscrupulous persons wished to obtain water
for irrigation without paying for it. A key was made that fitted the
padlocks of the little wooden gates leading from the zanja. By night
some one must open these gates and close them again before morning.
It was thieving, of course, and the Zanjero or his deputies might
catch the person who did it. But the sick neighbor's husband, wanting
money to buy more mescal, had been induced to undertake the task of
stealthily opening the gates. His wife, suspicious of his errand, had
followed him on the first night of his attempt. She had seen him stop
by a Mexican cactus, and raise something, she knew not what, in the
zanja. After he had gone, she went to the spot and putting her hand
into the water felt the current that ran through a gate he had opened.
"Then I know!" tearfully declared the woman to Rosa's grandmother.
"I follow my husband. I tell him the Zanjero is the friend of the
good panaderia that gives the bread! I tell him he shall not open the
other gates! I snatch the key! I tell him `No! No! The panaderia is my
friend! The Zanjero is the panaderia's friend!' He shall not cheat the
Zanjero! My husband say if he open other gates he get money for
mescal. I say 'No!' I run away with key. My husband say, 'Don't tell
anybody! I will not open the gates again! Let other men do it.' But I
say, 'I must tell, because the Zanjero is the best friend of the
panaderia. No one shall cheat the best friend of the panaderia, that
feeds our babies so long--all winter and now."
Evidently the woman supposed that the Zanjero was still the
principal regular customer of the panaderia. Rosa and her grandmother
had never told about his ceasing to buy bread, and the neighbor
thought that he was still considered their very chief customer.
That evening Rosa and Joseph took the long-unused path to the
Zanjero's house. His wife came to the door.
"Oh," she said, "it's the two little bread-bringers! No, I don't
want any bread. Are you trying to get orders?"
"May I see the Zanjero?" asked Rosa gravely.
The Zanjero's wife, whose name in plain English was Mrs. Craig, led
the two children into her husband's presence. Rosa, very pale with
the thought of being in the presence of so great a man, told her
story in trembling tones, and held out the key.
The Zanjero took it, and looked at it curiously.
"Will you forgive?" asked Rosa timorously. "The poor, sick woman
asks you to forgive. She says it was the mescal that made her husband
"I presume so," returned the man grimly. "They're all thieves."
But the Zanjero's wife was wiser than her husband. She dropped into
a chair and put an arm around Rosa.
"You have not told all the story yet, or else I do not understand,"
she said gently. "What makes this woman so much your friend that she
comes and tells your grandmother about the key?"
So the whole story came out at last--about the long, sad winter at
the panaderia; the grandmother's attempts at sewing; her failing
eyes; the lack of customers, yet the daily giving of bread to the
poor neighbor and her three children; the trust that the Lord knew
about the panaderia and its occupants.
The Zanjero's wife understood it all now. She looked up at her
husband. There were tears in her eyes as she said:
"While you are forgiving that man, you'd better think how much
forgiveness I need for having stopped taking bread of the panaderia
in the heart of winter, when they needed the money so badly! To think
of their struggling along, and yet giving bread every day to a woman
and three babies! If the panadeiia folks had not done this, you'd
never have found out about this plan to rob the zanja! That woman
would simply have kept the story and the key to herself, and those
dishonest men would have found somebody else to open the gates at
night for them. It was only because she thought that you were a noted
customer of the panaderia that she sent you word of this plan to steal
The great Zanjero turned and looked at Rosa.
"Tell that sick woman," he said gravely, "that I forgive her
husband for opening the gate, though I don't know how much water he
helped steal that night. Tell her, though, that he must never do such
a thing again. I am coming to see him myself, and I shall tell him he
is forgiven. But he must stop drinking mescal."
"And tell your grandmother," broke in the Zanjero's wife, "that I
want three loaves of bread to-morrow morning, and I want bread every
day. Here's the money for the three loaves. And I'm going to get you
a lot of regular customers! I have friends enough. They'll take bread
of you, if I ask them. You poor children! Why didn't you come and tell
me about things, long ago?"
So it was that the mercy which the old grandmother showed to the
sick neighbor and her children returned in blessing on the panaderia.
For the Zanjero's wife rested not till she had fulfilled her promise.
Customers became many and well-paying, and the old grandmother, happy
in the prosperity, said to Rosa and to Joseph:
"See you, my children? Did I not tell you that the Lord knew about
the panaderia? It is he who sends all this good to us who deserve it