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BREAD CAST UPON THE WATERS CHAPTER I.
 Although the villages of the sierras of Andalusia, owing to their elevation, enjoy in summer a milder temperature than those of the plains, during the middle hours of the day the sun reflected from the rocks that abound in this mountainous region, produces a dry and ardent heat, which is more transitory, indeed, but also more irritating than that of the plains. The chief sufferers from its ardors are the wandering reapers, who, after finishing the labors of the harvest in their own province, go in search of work to the provinces where the harvest has not yet been gathered in. The greater number of the reapers of the province of Granada go to the sierra of Ronda, where they are welcomed, and where their toilsome labors are well rewarded, so that they are able to lay by some money, unless indeed sickness, that scourge of the poor, prostrates them and consumes their earnings or terminates their existence.
 
In a more pious age a small hospital for poor strangers was established in Bornos, which is one of the villages that, like a fringe, border the slope of the sierra; an hospital which remained closed in winter, but which in summer received many of the poor reapers who were prostrated by the intense heat, and who had no home or family in the village.
 
On a hot summer day, early in the thirties, a woman with a kind and gentle countenance was seated at the door of her cottage, in the village above mentioned, engaged in chopping the tomatoes and peppers and crumbling the bread for the wholesome, nutritious, and savory gazpacho which was to serve for the family supper; her two children, a boy of seven and a girl of five, were playing not far from her in the street.
 
As Bornos is almost entirely surrounded by orchards and orange groves, planted on the slopes of the tableland on which the village is seated, and which at this hour are irrigated by the clear and abundant waters of its springs, every breeze brought with it the perfume of the leaves and the melodious strains of the birds singing their evening hymn to the sun, filling the air with coolness, as if kind Mother Nature made of her trees a fan to cool the brow of her favorite child, man. The front of the house was already steeped in shadow, while the sun still gilded the irregular crests of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley that, like patient camels, supported the load of vines, olive groves, and cornfields confided to them by man.
 
The mother, occupied with her task, had not observed that a poorly clad little boy had joined her children and that they were talking together.
 
"Who are you?" said the Bornos boy to the stranger; "I have never seen you before. What is your name?"
 
"Michael; and yours?"
 
"Gaspar."
 
"And my name is Catherine," said the little girl, who desired also to make the strange boy's acquaintance.
 
"I know the story of St. Catherine," said the latter.
 
"Oh, do you? Tell it to us."
 
The boy recited the following verses:
 
    "To-morrow will be St. Catherine's day,
    When to heaven she will ascend and St. Peter will say,
    'What woman is that who asks to be let in?'
    'I am Catherine,' she will answer, 'and I want to come in.'
    'Enter, little dove, in your dove-cote, then.'"
 
"What a lovely story!" exclaimed the girl. "Don't you know another?"
 
"Look, Catherine," cried her brother, who was eating roasted beans; "there is a little dead snail in this bean, a roasted snail."
 
"Will you give me some beans?" begged the strange child.
 
"Yes, here are some. Are you very, very fond of roasted beans?"
 
"Yes, very; but I asked you for them because I am very hungry."
 
"Why, have you had no dinner?"
 
"No."
 
"Nor any breakfast, either?"
 
"No."
 
"Mother, mother," cried both the children together, running to their mother; "this poor little boy hasn't had any dinner or any breakfast, and he is very hungry; give us some bread for him."
 
"He has had no dinner, you say?" said the good woman, giving the child a piece of bread with that compassionate tenderness which seems innate in women toward children; "have you no parents, then, my child?"
 
"Yes, but they have no bread to give me."
 
"Poor little boy! And where are your parents?"
 
"Over there," answered the boy, pointing in the direction of a lane that ran between garden walls, at right angles with the street.
 
The good woman, followed by the children, went to the lane.
 
On the dry grass, with his face turned to the wall, lay a man, miserably clad and apparently lifeless; a handkerchief was tied round his head; near him lay a sickle that had fallen from his nerveless grasp; seated on the ground beside him was a woman, who, with her thin cheek resting on her emaciated hand, was gazing fixedly at him through the tears that rolled down her sad face, as on a rainy day the water trickles down the walls of a deserted ruin. The last rays of the setting sun, lingering in the lane, illumined the melancholy group with a light tender and sorrowful as a farewell glance.
 
Approaching the stranger, the good woman, whose name was Maria, said to her:
 
"Senora, what is the matter with your husband?"
 
"He has a fever that is killing him," answered the stranger, bursting into sobs.
 
"Holy Mary!" cried the mother of the children compassionately. "And why don't you let people know about it and ask them to help you? Are we living in a heathen land, then?"
 
"I don't know any one in the place."
 
"No matter; for a neighborly act, acquaintance isn't necessary. What! Is this poor man to be left alone to die, as if he were among the Moors? Not if I can prevent it."
 
At this moment a man with a strong, calm, and kind face approached the group.
 
"Father, father," cried the children, "this man is dying, and this little boy, who is his son, says he has no bread to give him."
 
"John Joseph," added the mother of the children, "this poor man is lying shelterless here; this is pitiful. If you are willing, let us carry him into the house and send for the doctor."
 
"Willing? Of course I am willing," answered her husband. "I have never yet refused my help to any one in need of it, God be praised! There has always been a corner in my kitchen for the poor, and especially for those who are looking for a shelter for the night, who are on a journey, or who are sick; and such food as I had, I have always shared with them! Don't you know that, wife?"
 
"Come, then," said the latter; "let us lift him up, John Joseph; I 'll take hold of him by one arm and his wife can take him by the other."
 
They did as she said. One of the children took the sickle, another the hat, the third a small shabby bundle of clothes, and all went toward the house.
 
A sheepskin and a pair of sheets were spread over one of the thick reed mattings which serve the laborers in the farms and vineyards as beds, and the sick man, who remained sunk in a profound stupor, was placed on it, while Gasparito, who was told to fly, ran for the doctor. When the latter came, he pronounced the patient to be dangerously ill, and prescribed various medicines, which were administered to him with that zeal and intelligence in caring for the sick that is one of the many prerogatives of the sex called the fair, but which might with much more propriety be called the pious sex.
 
After the medicines had been administered and he had been bled freely, the patient seemed somewhat better, and sank into what seemed a natural and beneficent sleep; and then, and not until then, did the family think of their supper, the refreshing and nutritious gaspacho, and the fruits, so abundant in the country, and of which the people, frugal, refined, and elegant, even in their material appetites, are so fond.


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