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:
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.”