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The Squash of the Esvidos by Mary E. Bamford

 

Black dog slipped through a swinging gate and Miss Elizabeth followed him into an olive, orchard of small dimensions. The family to whom the black dog belonged was there. The father, Bernardo Esvido, stood on a step-ladder, picking black olives into a bucket half filled with water, the bucket being fastened to Mr. Esvido's waist so that he might use both hands, while the water in the bucket prevented the ripe olives from being bruised. He who picks ripe olives into a hard bucket knows not his business.

Beneath another olive tree sat the mother, the daughter, and the son, washing olives in a water-trough. The small black dog raised his voice, and did his best to inform the Esvidos that a stranger eyed their olive-washing.

"You read Portuguese?" asked Miss Elizabeth, smiling on the busy group. Miss Elizabeth was not a book-agent, but, moved by the religious destitution of the Portuguese, she had devised the plan of buying at some city book-store Bibles or Testaments in Portuguese, and then going into the surrounding country and hunting for Portuguese who could read. To such, on account of their poverty, Miss Elizabeth often sold for ten cents a Bible she had bought for forty or sixty cents. She would gladly have given the Bibles free, but from observation she had become persuaded that those Portuguese who paid a few cents for a Bile were much more likely to read it than were those to whom one was given for nothing.

At Miss Elizabeth's question the united Esvido family looked at the mother. She was the one reader of the group. Many Portuguese do not read, either in English or in their own language. If a Portuguese woman reads Portuguese, her neighbors perhaps know of her accomplishment. Mr. Esvido was proud that his wife knew how to read Portuguese even if he was ignorant. None of the family could read English.

"You like buy Biblia Sagrada?" (Holy Bible) questioned Miss Elizabeth. "It is all Portuguese."

The red book was passed to the mother, who shook olive-leaves and dust from her hands, and took up the Bible. She had dimly known that there was such a book. She remembered hearing of the Biblia Sagrada years ago, when she was a girl in Lisbon, long before she came to California; but none of her acquaintances had such a book, and she had never before to-day seen a Portuguese Bible.

But at last the book was handed back to Miss Elizabeth.

"No money," carelessly explained Mr. Esvido.

The oil-maker who bought the crops of the local olive-growers had not yet paid for the olives. Even ten cents was not in Mr. Esvido's pocket, just now.

Miss Elizabeth looked around. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Esvido seemed very anxious about the Bible, but Miss Elizabeth felt anxious for them. A woman who could read Portuguese ought to have a Bible, and she ought to pay something for it in order to interest her in it thoroughly. Miss Elizabeth's eyes spied a yellow squash. She did not want it, but it would be payment.

"You give me squash, I give you Biblia Sagrada," she proposed.

"How you take it?" asked Mr. Esvido, smiling.

Miss Elizabeth opened her hands with a gesture that showed she meant to carry the squash, hidden as much as possible under her short cape.

"We make trade," agreed Mr. Esvido; and Miss Elizabeth, leaving the Bible, bore the big squash away.

But Miss Elizabeth's yellow burden became very heavy before she had gone far on the long country road. She found at last a wandering piece of newspaper, which she wrapped over as much of the vegetable as possible. The rest her cape covered, and then she marched on toward the far wires of the electric car-line that had brought her into the country. So vanished the squash of the Esvidos from their eyes.

Meantime the Portuguese mother read aloud from the Bible. The daughter, Delpha, listened, while gently rubbing the black olives in the water-trough. She knew of Christ, yet the words of the Biblia Sagrada were unknown.

After this, Mrs. Esvido read the book much in the evenings. Delpha and Mr. Esvido listened, the father listening more because just now he had not his pipe for company. The American who bought the olives declared that no one who picked olives for him must smoke during olive harvest! All his workmen, even when off duty, must refrain from smoking, for the tobacco odor clung to clothing. The olives would absorb tobacco smoke. The oil would be spoiled. Mr. Esvido grumbled much, but obeyed. There was a warning in the fate of the neighbor, Antone Ramos, who in last year's olive season had thought one evening to smoke a pipeful of tobacco secretly, and lo! the American, ever watchful, came to Antone Ramos' house that very night, and the tobacco smoke was perceptible! Antone Ramos was discharged!

Therefore, during this year's olive harvest, Mr. Esvido, with a cautious respect for the American's preternaturally, acute perception concerning tobacco, refrained from smoking, and found solace in listening with Delpha to Mrs. Esvido's evening readings from the Biblia Sagrada. It seemed marvelous to Mr. Esvido that his wife could read. The marvel of it had never lessened for him, and one night he said proudly, "We make good bargain when we give squash for Biblia Sagrada! Biblia Sagrada ver' good book."

One day Mrs. Esvido read something that startled Delpha. Site could hardly believe it possible that her mother hid read aright.

The words in the Portuguese language were these: "Amai a vossos inimigos, fazei bem aos que vos tem odio." (Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you.)

Alas! Delpha knew whom that meant.

There had long been a deep-seated quarrel between her and Sara Frates. Thinking of this bitter animosity, Delpha felt keenly the command, "Fazei bem aos que vos tem odio."

Olive harvest went on. The Esvido olives were gathered. Then Delpha and Sara and others went to work in the American's costly olive-oil mill, scalding the mill-stones and the crushing troughs daily, sweeping the scraps of olive skins from the floors, and scalding the floors to keep every odor away from the precious olive oil. Before beginning this season, the walls of the building had been given a coat of whitewash, and now a wood fire must not be lit anywhere near the premises, for the precious olive oil might take a smoky taste.

It was therefore with great wrath that Delpha, who was careful to obey rules, found one day, in a crushing trough under her supervision, some scattered little pieces of iron. Now iron must never be allowed to come in contact with olive juice. The tannic acid in the olive juice acts very rapidly on the iron, producing a kind of ink, that turns the oil black and almost ruins it. The American's crushing troughs and weights were of granite. Delpha was sure Sara had scattered the pieces of iron in the crushing trough on purpose to bring Delpha into trouble.

"I do something to her!" resolved Delpha fiercely. "I pay her for this!"

Then she remembered, "Fazei bem aos que vos tem odio." (Do good to them that hate you.) To Sara's amazement, Delpha did not retaliate. Sara could not understand why.

Toward the end of the olive season, the American went away for a day. During the noon rest, Delpha, sitting in a side door, thought she caught the odor of smoke. No wood fire was allowed around the oil-mill! Delpha went out to investigate.

She saw a film of smoke rising from a gulch. Delpha discovered that some of the young mill-workers' friends had caught some fish in the bay sparkling in the distance, and had brought them this way going home. The American being absent, the young mill-workers and their friends had made a fire in the gulch, and were merrily broiling fish. Sara was there, disobeying rules with the others.

Delpha ran back to the oil-mill. She hoped the fire's smoke would not injure the oil. She was troubled as she dropped in the door. But she could do nothing.

By and by she heard screams. She sprang up. Sara came running around the mill. Her dress was on fire!

"Delpha! Delpha!" she screamed, "Delpha, help me!" She seemed crazed with fright.

"Fazei--bem--aos--que--vos--tem--odio!"

Did a voice say it to Delpha? She snatched a great canvas bag used for olive-picking, and a shawl. She ran to Sara. She breathlessly tore at the blazing garments, rolling Sara in the shawl and canvas bag. Blackened, sobbing, Sara lay at length safe on the ground. Delpha ran for water and olive oil.

As Delpha gently spread some olive oil on the burns, Sara flung her arms about Delpha's neck.

"Amiga!" (friend) she sobbed, and the enmity between the girls was over.

Miles away, Miss Elizabeth one day said to herself, "I don't believe we can ever use that squash I brought home from those Portuguese! But anyhow the squash made that Portuguese woman feel that she paid for the Bible! I hope she reads it, poor soul!"

But Miss Elizabeth did not know the whole story of the squash of the Esvidos, or of the message that the Biblia had brought to Delpha's heart.