Juan and Maria were orphans. When Juan was about eight years old and Maria was about four their father died. The mother went into the hemp fields to earn a living for her family by stripping the fibre from the hemp, which is very hard work, so hard that she died worn out in a month or two afterward.
Juan and Maria were then taken into the family of an uncle, their mother's brother, and little Juan began to work for his little sister's and his own living, by transplanting the tender shoots of the banana. Maria often accompanied him, as the children were much attached to each other. One day when they were out in the field Maria saw a beautiful bird which seemed very tame and tried to catch it, but the bird ran into the woods, and although she could come very close to it she could not catch it. On and on she went until she was almost ready to drop, her tiny feet leaving no trace, but still she followed the bird. Just at night she saw an old man with a very kind face, who came toward her, and putting the bird under one arm and taking Maria on his shoulder, he set off toward his house, which did not seem to be very far off. Arriving there he said to his wife, "See, wife, what good fortune I have had today." Seeing the child, his wife threw up her hands in thanksgiving and cried, "Thanks be to God, we have a child at last in our old age."
Poor Juan, torn with fear, hunted the woods for days, but could not find his little sister. Convinced at last that his search was hopeless, he went home and worked hard and in a few years became a rich man. Then he began to consider where he could find a suitable wife. It was told him that there was an old couple beyond three ranges of mountains who had a beautiful daughter, and to her he determined to go.
Maria had likewise grown up, and now she was the most beautiful damsel in many days' journey. When Juan set out on his search, it was to the house of Maria's foster parents that he was bound.
Arriving there, he called to those within, "Honorable people," and the old man said, "Come in;" but Juan remained without until the third invitation. Passing within, he likewise would not sit down till he had been asked three times.
Seating himself on a bench, he told the old man that he had come to marry his daughter, and the old man told him he might if he could show that he had enough money. As Juan was rich, this did not take long to do, and after a few days Juan and Maria were married, not knowing their relationship. They lived happily together, and a daughter was born to them. This child, like her mother, was very beautiful.
One day, as the little girl was playing by the river, a crab came to the edge of the water and said,--
"Beautiful art thou,
More beautiful than any other,
But thou art the child
Of sister and brother."
Horrified, the child ran to her mother, and then the parents began to talk over the events of their childhood and found that they were indeed sister and brother.
They went to Maria's foster father to ask what they must do, and he told them they must live apart; and then they went to the archbishop, who told them that they might live lawfully together, as the sacrament of marriage was above all, but, after much thought, they decided that they must live apart, and Maria went back to her foster father.
Thus by a sinless crime were their lives saddened forever.