Mary E. Bamford
The "filaree," or pinclover; had borne its seeds with curious long
ends--those seeds that California children call "clocks"--and among
THE filaree there stood, on slender, bare stems, small flowers of the
lily family which are known as "bluebells." A boy was walking through
the filaria. He was carrying a hatchet and an ax, and he looked tired,
though it was early in the day.
"I guess Cousin Harriet doesn't know how hard working on the alkali
patch is," he murmured softly. "She isn't like mother:"
The boy's head dropped, and a sob escaped him.
"I wish mother hadn't died;" he said chokingly. "Most every boy has
He tried to stop crying, but it was hard, for he was overworked,
and he was only twelve years old.
Six months before this, his mother had died. Several weeks alter
her death, Claude's father had been called East on business; and had
left the boy and his younger sisters Rose and Daisy on a ranch owned
by Cousin Harriet, several miles from the children's former home. It
had been very hard for the children to part from their father so soon
after their mother's death, but he told them that while the business
that called him East would take a number of months, yet there was some
prospect that their mother's own sister, Aunt Jennie, with her husband
and little boy, would come with Claude's father on his return. Then
they could all live together at the dear home place. So the stay at
Cousin Harriet's would not probably be perpetual.
Cousin Harriet was a widow. She looked after her ranch with great
diligence. She had several hired men and women, and the ranch was a
very busy place. Cousin Harriet was not much used to children, having
none of her own, but she tried to do her duty by the three left in her
charge. Rose and Daisy did not find the household tasks that were
assigned them very difficult. Cousin Harriet secretly did not like
boys, however. She tried to treat Claude justly, but the boy sadly
missed the mother-love to which he had been accustomed all his life.
He was expected to help the hired men on the ranch, and they made him
work rather hard, especially since they had been fixing the "alkali
The alkali patch was in the southwest corner of Cousin Harriet's
ranch. On several acres, nothing would grow, on account of the alkali
in the soil. The alkali stood on the ground in white patches here and
there, and Claude hated the sight of it. Cousin Harriet, however, was
very enthusiastic about trying to reclaim this "alkali sink," so that
it might bear crops.
Alkali extended over the fields of adjoining neighbors, and Cousin
Harriet thought that if only her hired men could conquer her alkali
patch, then the discouraged neighbors might think it possible to do
something with such parts of their land, also. So, one of the first
things that was done with Cousin Harriet's "alkali sink" was to make
some redwood drains, shaped like the letter V, and place these about
three feet below the surface. A "sump," or drainage pit, was dug,
too, into which the drains might discharge the alkali water. The
hired men expected Claude to help dig the "sump," and it proved quite
hard work. So did the pounding of the "hard pan" on the alkali tract,
itself. The tough, hard clods of earth were so difficult to pulverize
that they had to be pounded with crowbars and axes.
"I used to think that helping pick lemons, at home, was work,"
Claude thought to-day, as he went toward the part of the ranch where
he was expected to work, "but I didn't know about alkali patches,
then. And--I had mother."
The tears would come into his eyes.
The hired men were scattered over the extensive alkali tract, and
were pounding the clods. Claude chose to work near a man called Neil.
The boy liked Neil better than the other men, because he did not speak
Claude sorrowfully lipunded the alkali clods. How tiresome the work
was, and how uncomfortably warm the sun! The boy worked dejectedly.
After a while, pausing to take breath, he looked up and found Neil
"We are tired," said Neil, with a friendly smile.
"Don't you hate this work?" exclaimed Claude vehemently. "I
wouldn't touch it, if Cousin Harriet didn't make me."
The hired man looked kindly at the small, tired boy.
"It is not most pleasant," he returned, "but what I think of makes
me glad while I work."
"What do you think of?" asked Claude, giving an alkali clod a push.
"I was thinking," answered Neil gently, "how once I had a hard
heart--very hard. It was like these clods, where nothing good can
grow. People who looked at me could see that my heart was hard. Men
would have said, 'Neil's heart can never be different' But Jesus took
away my hard heart and gave me a new one. That is what makes me glad
all the time, though I work on these hard alkali clods. Some day this
patch we work on will be different. There will be beautiful, green,
growing crops on it. But that is not so great a change as it is to
change a hard heart and get a new heart from our Savior."
Claude did not say anything. He bent over the hard clods and worked
silently, but he was not thinking of his work. He was remembering his
mother's voice as it had sounded nights when she had knelt beside his
bed and prayed that her boy might become a Christian. There had been
one night that Claude would always remember, when his mother had come
for the last time to his bedside, and prayed feebly for her boy. The
next week she had died.
Claude looked up at Neil, now. The man evidently found the work
hard, but his face showed that he had spoken truly when he said that
he was glad, even though he did work on the hard, alkali clods.
"I wish I were like Neil," thought Claude.
The wish grew. It changed into an earnest prayer, not that he might
be like Neil, but a prayer for the same blessing that Neil had--a new
heart. No earnest prayer for that gift is ever met by a refusal. Neil
watched Claude anxiously, as they worked day by day.
"We can't change ourselves, any more than this alkali plot can
change itself," said Neil, "but we can yield ourselves and our life
to the blessed Jesus and love him, for he is love."
One day, Claude said softly, "I've done it, Neil. I've given myself
The face of the hired man glowed with added happiness through the
toiling days that followed. When the alkali clods were broken and
plowed, gypsum was scattered on the land and harrowed in. Then water
was turned on and allowed to stand several inches deep over the
alkali plot. The water stood for several weeks. Gradually it soaked
through the soil and passed out into the drainage pit. After several
soakings, alternating with breaking of clods and treatment with
gypsum, the former alkali patch was given some seed. How the men
watched the land day after day, and how the first green sprouts of
corn were hailed! The alkali patch was changed. Cousin Harriet was
"There's so much land saved," she said. "It's a great change."
Neil listened to the words as in a parable. He was thinking of a
greater change. He was rejoicing over the boy of the household.
Months had gone by. One day there was a joyful outcry at the farm-
house. The little girls rushed out to meet their father. With him was
their mother's sister, Aunt Jennie, with her husband and little boy.
Claude was on the ranch at work, and did not hear the joyful outcry
He was not aware of the new-comers, till his father and the two
little girls rushed where Claude was working, and the boy's father
caught him in a close embrace.
"Come and see Aunt Jennie," his father said to Claude.
"She-she looks like, mamma," whispered Rose tremulously, and Claude
came somewhat bashfully into the house.
There he saw a woman whose face did indeed look, like his mother's,
and he felt mother-arms put around him. He heard a voice like his
mother's say, "Is this my boy?" He felt a warm teardrop on his cheek,
and he knew that Aunt Jennie understood and cared for boys, and that
he would be indeed "her boy."
That afternoon they all drove away from the ranch, leaving Cousin
Harriet smitten with a sudden sense of loneliness, for she had even.
grown attached to Claude as well as to his sisters. The boy looked
back at the ranch. It was rapidly being left behind, but he could
still see the green patch of corn that covered the place where the
alkali used to be. Rut the boy was, not thinking of the alkali patch
alone. A look of reverent thankfulness came into his face. "Mother
will be glad I ever met Neil," he thought.
TWO small brown hands were held outstretched in the air. Cautiously
they moved forward, lower and lower. Then they darted and grasped
with speed what seemed to be some sand. Something in the sand
objected, but the boy held on and gathered sand and all into his tin.
He looked with much satisfaction at his presumably indignant prisoner,
a spiny gray "horned toad" that had been peaceably sunning himself,
nearly buried in sand, on the hill.
The owner of the two nimble hands, Arturo, smiled.
"Get four bit, maybe!" he anticipated.
"Get four bit for tia Marta!"
In California "four bits" means a half dollar. Occasionally
somebody on the overland train that stopped at the station in town
would be attracted toward a spiny "horned toad" as a curiosity, and
would buy one. Arturo meant to try to sell this specimen in that way.
If he got the money, he would give it to tia Marta.
Tia Mama was Arturo's aunt. "Tia" means "aunt" in Spanish.
Presumably for the reason that nephews are sometimes troublesome to
their aunts, there is a Spanish proverb that warns a nephew against
making his aunt too frequent visits:
En casa de tia, Mas no cads dia:' ("In the house of thy aunt, But
not every day.") Notwithstanding this adage, however, the boy Arturo
lived with his Aunt Marta. This was not always pleasant, for neither
Arturo nor tia Marta was perfect. Yet they really thought a good deal
of each other. The third member of the household was Tia Marta's
husband, do (uncle) Diego, but he was very old and lame, and could not
work. Tia Marta earned the living, and Arturo usually thought of
himself as dwelling with tia Marta rather than do Diego. Arturo never
quarreled with his uncle.
When the overland train stopped at the station for water, and
Arturo rushed breathlessly to sell his horned toad, the eager boy
found no passenger who was desirous of being a customer save an old
gentleman who doubtfully offered twenty-five cents for the creature.
'Arturo stuck bravely to his intended price of "four bits," but the
train creaked for starting, and, alarmed, the boy hastily handed over
the toad, took the quarter of a dollar, and rushed off the train.
The old gentleman shouted from the platform for instructions as to
feeding his pet, 'axed Arturo shouted back advice in broken English
to let it catch "muchos, muchos" (many) flies, and have "mucho,
mucho" air. The toad was in a pasta-board box at present. Arturo was
anxious that it should be well treated, for the boy felt it would not
be fair to make the creature a prisoner, and then sell it to somebody
who would starve it.
The old gentleman seemed satisfied with the shouted directions. But
when the train had puffed away, Arturo sat down and wrathfully looked
at his quarter of a dollar.
"He had altos pesos!" Arturo muttered; "ought give four bit."
According to Arturo's belief, every American had in his possession
"altos pesos," which is Spanish for "high" or "enormous" "dollars,"
or, as Americans say, "a pile of money." Therefore Arturo felt sure
that the old gentleman ought to have given half a dollar for the
Arturo was now not at all inclined to give tia Marta the
twenty-five cents. He wanted the money himself. Tia Marta was going to
wash for somebody to-day, and would get her pay.
What should he buy? Twenty-five cents must not be spent lightly. It
was not so often that a horned toad was found or sold.
Arturo did not muse long alone. Another boy had heard Arturo's
shouted advice to the old gentleman, and had told two or three
comrades. They came about Arturo to proffer advice. "Bollos," or
cakes, were joyfully suggested, but Arturo refused.
An older Spanish boy, Manuel, joined the company. He was a lazy
fellow, whom a good many of the younger boys admired because he could
play a guitar and because he wore cheap jewelry that seemed gorgeous
to inexperienced eyes.
Manuel approved of Arturo's rejection of the cake proposition. What
good was cake? It would be soon eaten and gone!
Manuel, who was ever bent on securing any money that he could
obtain without work, proposed to Arturo that he should buy a certain
watch- chain owned by himself. Manuel, who knew that the showy thing
was worthless, tried to picture how a fine-looking boy like Arturo
would appear with so gorgeous an ornament. The younger boys listened
enviously, and Arturo's Spanish love of display began to glow. Yet he
was cautious enough to put off Manuel till the next day. Arturo went
away, leaving the younger boys gazing enviously after him. His pride
As Arturo came into the little yard that was about his humble home,
he heard tia Marta singing. Arturo always dreaded to hear her sing,
because then he was sure that some calamity had occurred. Tia Marta
fully believed in the Spanish saying, "He who sings frightens away
It was as Arturo thought. Tia Marta had failed to get the day's
washing she had expected to have. This seemed very unfortunate, for
there was but little in the house to eat. Beans, one of the main
staples of food among the Mexicans, were almost gone from the
household supplies, and there was no money to buy more. Tia Marta had
cooked the last of the beans for supper. The uncle and aunt gave fully
half the beans to Arturo, and, being hungry, he ate them. Tia Marta
ate little, and urged the rest of the beans on tio Diego.
After supper, the aunt repeated with devout cheerfulness those
Spanish sayings, "God sends the sore, and knows the medicine," and
"God sends the cold according to our rags." She believed that God
Arturo thought of the twenty-five cents in his pocket. He looked at
old tio Diego. Arturo wondered if his uncle were really hungry.
Beans! Twenty-five cents would buy beans enough for a number of days.
But it would be such a downfall to buy only beans with that
twenty-five cents! Tia Marta would probably find some washing soon,
and would buy beans herself. Arturo had had enough supper to-night.
Next day Arturo bought the watch-chain. The little boys at school
were overawed by his showy ornament, but the teacher thought
laughingly, "How these Spanish do like to dress up!"
At night, when Arturo went home with his watch-chain hidden in his
pocket, tia Marta was singing again. There was only a little bread
and some dried figs for supper, and Arturo's healthy boyish appetite
already began to make him sorry for his bargain.
The next day tia Marta sang, and there were only dried figs to eat
all day. The next day there were figs for breakfast and figs at noon.
Even dried figs were almost gone.
At night, however, tia Marta said joyfully, "I got wash to-morrow!"
Arturo felt relieved.
The next morning there were only two or three figs apiece. When
Arturo came home at noon, he found frightened tio Diego crying feebly
and leaning over tia Marta, who had sunk in the door-way. Scantily fed
tia Marta's strength had given out in the midst of the washing. She
said she was only dizzy, but Arturo was frightened by her looks.
Suddenly it came to him that he loved her.
Arturo ran out of the house. He ran to a little grocery, and begged
the grocer to take the watch-chain for some beans. The grocer only
laughed, telling the boy the chain was worthless. But Arturo was
desperate. He knew better than to go to Manuel. Manuel would have
spent the twenty-five cents long ago, and Arturo pleaded with the
grocer. The grocer's wife was in and out, looking after her romping
children. She held the worthless, gaudy chain before her black-eyed
baby, who clutched it and laughed. The mother laughed, too. Her
husband laughed. The baby kept the chain, and crowed.
The grocer's wife filled a big paper bag with beans, and gave it,
with a loaf of bread, to Arturo. The boy clasped the packages, and
At home he found tia Marta sitting still with shut eyes.
"Eat!" cried Arturo, thrusting the loaf into her hands.
Tio Diego laughed with joy and put the beans to cooking. Arturo
stayed home from school that afternoon, and helped wash. To-morrow
the pay would come. Tio Diego tried lamely to help Arturo wash.
Tia Marta was feeling better, and had just declared her intention
of washing, when Arturo suddenly forsook the tub and dropped beside
"Me malo, malo!" (bad) he sobbed.
He cried bitterly, and told tia Marta about the watch-chain.
Old tia Marta looked pityingly at her shamefaced nephew.
"Poor child!" she said, "thou art young."
But when next day the school teacher asked Arturo the reason of his
absence from school the previous afternoon, and he had confessed the
whole story, the teacher said, "Arturo, it is more beautiful to have
a heart of love toward others than it is to wear a watch-chain even
of real gold. Will you remember that?"
Arturo promised, and the teacher said to herself:
"I will see that tia Marta does not come to such straits again."