THE CALABAZAS WIDOW.
As the months rolled by, and the railroad hands spent their monthly earnings in the city, it prospered and grew, and the cactus plants and boulders were cleared from the street. A graveyard was laid out, and the older saloon-keepers that had waxed in riches by means of their bars and gambling tables, imported lumber, and built substantial wooden walls six feet high around their tent sides, these answering the double purpose of checking vagrant bullets, and preventing the sudden, violent summer storms from tearing up the tent sides.
In spite of the fact that Calabazas was so rapidly assuming metropolitan proportions, nowhere in that town could the weary pilgrim find a bed upon which to rest his tired bones. He was assured of drink in a variety. He would be dexterously and expeditiously fleeced at any manner of game. He could eliminate from his soul all hope of salvation, by reason of the intensity of his objurgations against Calabazan heat, insects, and customs. He might be slaughtered with
Blessings ever come when unexpected. At noon one day the stage landed a strange lady in our midst. She was a lady about thirty years old, good looking, black haired, not at all proud or too fat, and with a quick eye and an independent demeanor. She trippingly alighted from the stage, a small hand satchel and a poodle dog, her sole baggage, was handed out, and she entered the Palace Hotel. As soon as she entered, she apparently owned that hostelry, and demanded to be shown into a private room. Cum Sing escorted her to that exclusive apartment, in which she made herself at home by depositing her dog on one chair and her satchel on another. She then ordered him to preserve that room for her sole use during her stay; wished to know at what hour supper would be ready, and desired him to bring her a looking glass instantly. Cum Sing retired panic stricken,
After several ineffectual attempts to pin the piece of mirror to the canvas sides of the room, the lady, muttering something very like an oath, propped it on the table against the partition. She took off her hat and veil, and removed her overdress of linen; then with a wriggle she lowered her shoulders and projected her bustle until her face was reflected from the glass. She took her handkerchief from the reticule that hung at her waist, wiped the poodle's eyes and nose, spat on the handkerchief, and with great care and deliberation wiped her own face, paying particular attention to the depressions around her ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. She spat again on the handkerchief and washed her hands. Another trip to the reticule brought out a piece of buckskin and a small package of "Beauty's Bloom," with which she vigorously rubbed her cheeks, nose, chin, and ears, and wriggled herself variously until all parts of her face and neck had been viewed in the glass.
The result of her labors appeared to be satisfactory, for she kissed her dog cheerfully. She then opened the hand satchel and took therefrom a red ostrich feather wrapped in tissue paper; this she arranged on her hat so as to droop gracefully down her neck. She next unbuttoned the bosom of her dress, and from that safe depository extracted six jewelled rings, a locket and neck-chain, a gold watch and chatelain, a brooch, and a pair of gold chain bracelets. On the two first
With her handkerchief, assisted by her ever useful spittle, she wiped the dust from her shoes and obtained quite a polish, afterwards holding her dress tight against her shins to get a full view of her feet. She next put her foot on a chair, raised her clothing to her knees, pulled down her stocking and brought from the leg thereof a wad of greenbacks, from which she selected one or two notes, and replaced the wad in her stocking, refastened the garter, put her foot to the floor, and adjusted her clothing by a vigorous and eccentric shake, with side squeezes and pats on the bustle to insure symmetry in the rear. She unfastened some lumps of hair that were on her forehead, and with a few dexterous movements of her fingers was in possession of a most artistic and fashionable bang; one that met her arched eyebrows and gave a delightfully coquettish glamour to her roguish black eyes. A few hair pins were jabbed in at odd places, and she placed her hat on, twisting the brim, and shifting the feather until the effect pleased her. Her toilet completed, the lady pulled a tan colored kid glove partially on one hand, seated herself in a chair, took the dog in her lap, leaned languidly back, crossed her
When Cum Sing entered, confused at the change in the appearance of his guest, he looked around in a wondering, dazed away, to see from whence she obtained the articles to so entirely metamorphose herself in so short a time. Seeing no trunks or hat boxes, he was in a reverie as to whether or not she was gifted with occult powers that she might possibly use to his disadvantage, when she aroused him by saying,
‘‘John,’’ continued the lady, ‘‘I leave my satchel and dog here; his name is 'Beauty.' I don't want you feed him, it make him sick. Don't let him out or he be lost, he all we have to remember our mother by, and if he lost, I have four brothers who will walk five hundred miles to kill you if he is lost here.’’
‘‘John, anybody here sell lots, you sabee lots? I like buy lots.’’ (Americans in talking with the Chinese affect this broken style, from a superstitious idea that they are speaking their language to a certain extent.)
‘‘No hab got office, maybe so you fine him in s'loon; maybe so him play'g poker; maybe so him in huldy-house; 1 him name Mis' Clandal, ebbybody know Mis' Clandal, him welly good man; him agent for Company; him sell lots.’’
The woman's eyes snapped as she approached Cum Sing more closely, and her shapely hand was doubled as if to give him a blow, but when within striking distance, she changed her mind. She probably saw, from his vacant stare, that her name was unpronouncable by him, for she turned, and walked rapidly out and towards the store. Cum Sing gazed at his lady guest until she disappeared, and then adjourned to the kitchen where Hi Sing and Lo Sing were preparing the evening meals. He dropped on the bottom of a bucket as if exhausted, and, talking as much to himself as to the others, said:
"All lite, me sabee, she lady, she no want nutting, she hab got ebbyting, her name Miss Sallis Bellee, her got fo' bludders, she get off stage, she got olee hat, olee shoe, olee d'less, her face all duttee, her hands all duttee, no hab got hair, no hab got t'lunk, no hab got walise, no hab got tow'l, no hab got soap, no hab got shoe blacking, no hab nutting. All lite. She go p'livate loom, one hap hour she callee me, she hab got new d'less, hab got new shoe, hab got new hat, hab got bracelet, hab got lings on hands, hab got big chain on neck, hab got watch lite here (striking his breast), her face all wash, her hands all wash, her face all white, her lings all lite, Je Cli! wha' maller Miss Sallis Bellee, me no sabee Miss Sallis Bellee, me tink she clazy.
The lady, meanwhile, had reached the store, after creating an unusual amount of interest and conjecture on the street as to who she was, where from, and her business in Calabazas. She was not recognized as the lady delivered from the stage; she, fairy like, had sprung from the earth. If Queen Victoria, in her royal regalia, had entered that store, there would not have been more confusion than there was before this lady possessed of a consummate knowledge of men, and the value of first impressions. She very sweetly apologised to the store-keeper for disturbing him, and asked if he could inform her of the whereabouts of a "Mr. Clandall," the land agent. The storekeeper did not know just where Crandall was at that moment, but would inquire. A dozen loungers volunteered to hunt him up; one man evidently badly struck and anxious to please, said, ‘‘H—l! ma'am, wait for a minnit and I'll dig up that bloat for you in no time.’’ The lady thanked him, gracefully seated herself upon a sugar barrel on which a paper had been gallantly spread, and patiently awaited the return of her courier.
If Crandall was frightened, it was with a fear not at all censurable under the circumstances; for when a strange lady sends after a man in a frontier town, it is a serious matter—for the man. Men and women drift into these places from everywhere or anywhere, and seldom meet acquaintances. No one knows the former complications of their lives, therefore, when they are inquired after by a stranger, the inclination to skip away unseen is overpowering; an inquiring lady is assumed to be a nemesis, and necessarily one to be carefully reconoitered before meeting. Consequently it was somewhat difficult for a strange lady to interview a gentleman in Calabazas, until after her motives were known. This lady had given no inkling of hers, hence Crandall's disinclination to meet her too abruptly.
Drinkwater, as soon as he was informed that there was a lady at the store who wished to see Crandall, and that she had given neither her name nor business, saddled his horse and started on a full gallop to the Line to intercept a band of smugglers. To confuse and throw the smugglers off their guard, he told the
No sooner was Crandall introduced to the lady, however, than he was put at ease, for she wished to know if he had any eligible lots for sale. In a moment he was as lively as a chipmunk, and an unceasing flow of words, spoken in laudation of Calabazas, deluged that lady. He concluded by asking her to view the property, assuring her that he would, "being as it was herself," give her a special bargain. He was so relieved to find that the lady desired to see him on no personal matter that he would have presented her with a lot if she had requested it. The lady said that she ‘‘was agreeable, but,’’ looking around her, she ‘‘wished it to be understood by all that she was a perfect lady, able to pay her way, and didn't want nothing from nobody;’’ to which statement her listeners assented, after taking a mental inventory of her jewelry and wearing apparel.
The lady left the store with Crandall, sweeping the floor with her dress, as it swayed from side to side with a grace and dignity not before seen in Calabazas. Crandall was enthusiastically attentive and voluble. It was the proudest moment he had known since the "Kid" incident, and he did not fail to escort the lady to see every lot within the city limits. The lady was hard to please. One lot was too close to a saloon "for
Many hours were consumed in convincing the lady that the "Golden Fleece," the gambling house aforesaid, was as quiet as a church. Handsome George, the proprietor, was widely known as a man of hasty revolver action and great nerve. The handles of his old pistols had been notched until disfigured, and he had just invested in a new pair, which he would begin notching the first difficulty that occurred in his house. Curly Pete, of the Coliseum, and Bottle Bob—so named from his predeliction for smashing beer bottles over the heads of fractious customers—of the Pantheon, and Casino Harry, of the Big Casino hurdy-house; these with Handsome George constituted the upper stratum of Calabazas society; and they assured the lady that she would find George a quiet neighbor, and one that "no durned jay could get the drop on." Upon the personal guarantee of George, who was a handsome man of perfect manners, that no noise from his place should disturb her, she finally concluded to but this lot. Her decision reached, she was not long in beating Crandall down from six hundred to one hundred dollars for that valuable corner, and instructed him to fill up the deed.
Crandall now felt justified in expending some money in entertaining his customer. He accordingly asked the lady if she would not refresh herself; the lady graciously said, ‘‘as it was a warm day,’’ that she would take beer. He secured a bottle of iced beer and two glasses from the Golden Fleece, and they adjourned to the rear room of the store to prepare the deed. They drank mutual healths, and by the time the lady had emptied the bottle, he had filled up the deed, which she examined closely, and by her questions and the corrections insisted upon, showed that she was perfectly able to take care of herself in business transactions.
The deed corrected to her satisfaction, she requested Crandall to step out for a moment, which that suspicious party did, carrying the deed with him. In a short time he was recalled, and the lady, unrolling the wad of currency that had just been taken from her stocking, handed him his money, received the deed, and, bidding him good night, returned to the hotel. The sight of so much money made the room whirl before Crandall's eyes, and from that moment he was her devoted slave.
During her absence, Cum Sing had kept strict watch and ward over the "p'livate loom;" and frequent applications of his eyes to the slit in the partition, convinced him that no mysterious changes were taking place in that respectable apartment. Beauty being a dog of education and advanced age, had slept the whole afternoon, therefore Cum Sing was in a composed and friendly state of mind. The majority of his boarders had eaten their supper, leaving him leisure to attend
She turned, cast a scornful glance at a few men who were giggling at Cum Sing's mispronunciation of her name, and sailed majestically to the private room, which was soon brilliantly illuminated with a hand lamp. The privacy of this room was entirely a matter of imagination or faith, for everything said in one room could be heard in the other, and after lamp-light a person would have been as private on the public street. The lady however appeared to be satisfied with its privacy. She removed her gloves and hat, fondled Beauty for a moment, and, turning to Cum Sing, who was patiently awaiting her supper order, the following conversation took place:
And so he did. In a little while he brought the hungry woman a dish of bacon slices fried to a crisp in batter, with watercresses on the side; a dish of rice cooked as only the Chinese can cook it; a few slices of buttered toast, a can of sardines, obtained from some saloon, and a fresh and refreshing pot of tea; not forgetting a side dish of that standard delicacy, brown beans with a piece of fat pork nestling in the center of the dish.
When Cum Sing set the fare before Mrs. Salsberry, a look of surprise and pleasure appeared on her face, for she had resigned herself to expect crackers and stale tea. With the quickness of his race, her host noticed the pleased look, and having no one else to attend to, exerted himself to both the entertaining and the supplying of her wants. As she ate, Cum Sing kept up a running fire of suggestions as ‘‘You like soldines? him welly good, I buy um for you; him welly nice tea; you d'link p'lenty, putty soon you no more ti'ed’’"
These advances and suggestions being graciously received, Cum Sing became more familiar, as is customary with his race, and asked his guest a great many questions; for be it understood that the heathen Chinese has as much inquisitiveness as the American, if he is encouraged in the least. So, between his pushing the dishes closer to her hands, and his suggestions, he made a great many inquiries. ‘‘If she was mallied?’’ ‘‘Was she going to lib in Calabas?’’ ‘‘How she like Calabas?’’ ‘‘How she like Mis' Clandal?’’
The lady's appetite was soon appeased, and she sipped her tea leisurely after doing full justice to Cum Sing's really excellent meal; but she had entirely neglected the beans; not to eat beans was a sure sign—in Calabazas—of failing health; this neglect of the succulent beans did not escape the eagle eye of Cum Sing, and he pushed them before her saying:
The lady still refusing to partake of the beans in spite of Cum Sing's strong encomiums, and having finished her cup of tea, he began to clear the table. When he had the dishes piled and prepared to remove them, the lady said:
‘‘John, you have bed,’’ of course referring to a bedroom for herself, or to some sleeping place, but the question aroused all of Cum Sing's former belief in her being "clazy," for he eyed her suspiciously and answered:
It would not have at all surprised Cum Sing if at this moment Mrs. Salsberry had ordered him out, and in five minutes had recalled him to see a full set of furniture; but she answered ‘‘No,’’ and followed by asking:
Cum Sing meantime scoured the town, going to one place to borrow a cot for "welly lich lady;" to another to borrow some blankets for a "welly high-toned lady;" and a mattress was borrowed from the store for a "welly sick lady." Cum Sing brought them to the private room with great satisfaction. He placed the cot in the room, extemporised a pillow by filling a barley sack with hay, evolved a pair of sheets from some spare cotton cloth, and altogether made quite an enticing bed for a tired person.
The lady appreciated his efforts, and "Johned" him, and praised his supper and bed to his heart's content. No people are more susceptible to flattery than the Chinese, and no people take offence more quickly at an imposition; though they are generally too polite and tactful to let their anger show itself very plainly. A person used to dealing with them, can always tell when they are displeased by a sickly smile, peculiar to that people, and with which they hide any excess of feeling that they may not consider it polite or advisable to show. In consequence of the lady's flattery, Cum Sing began to have a much better opinion of her than he had formed from first impressions.
As there was no light in the large room, and there was a light in the private room, fine silhouettes of the "sick lady" and her movements were depicted upon the cotton walls of said room. Of this the lady was no doubt unaware, or was too much occupied with other thoughts to notice, for she prepared herself for her night's rest with the same carelessness that one would if surrounded by walls of triple steel. No sooner had Cum Sing, in mistaken kindness for the lady, warned them to be quiet, and left the dining room, than these "welly good men," who had been silently cursing the parties in the private room for not putting out the light and going about their business; with a unanimity of action really marvelous, stealthily unrolled themselves from their blankets, supported their bodies on their elbows, and glued their several eyes upon the walls of that private room. What did they see upon those walls?
First—the outlines of a shapely woman, whose hands were hovering here and there around her neck and waist; suddenly ragged outlines broke the symmetry of her bosom and waist, something was torn away, and the shadow hands carried a shapeless bundle to the back of a shadow chair.
A sudden confusion of gymnastically mixed up shadows, and the fallen garment is placed upon a chair. The rounded arms of the distracting silhouette are lifted high above her head; like a flash they disappear leaving two knobs at the shoulders where they formerly hung. As quickly do they reappear, tearing something from the waist. A shapeless shadow now replaces the symmetry of the upper form. In the shadow's hands something is held at arms' length, it looks like a large, clumsy hour glass; this the hands roll up and deposit on the table.
The shadow now sits down. Those delightful feet are pushed under the chair until the toe tips only touch the floor; the body is doubled over the table as of one suffering from cramps, and the ever busy hands are seen dabbing at something on the table, and are then carefully and caressingly passed over the shadow's face. Another dab on the table, and each arm is as tenderly passed over; the fingers work a few minutes around the forehead, and a few shadowy warts take the place of the expansive and expressive bangs that had added beauty to the pictures—but the lovely extremities are still in sight. Again the arms go high above the head and disappear as before; they reappear holding a long, fluffy something that is slowly drawn through the one closed hand by the other several times, and then laid upon the table. A similarly fluffy something that hangs behind the head suddenly appears as a lump on the back of the shadow's head; a few pats and jabs from the shadow's hands, and the lump is left to its own devices.
The shadow arises; its shapeliness and graces are now confined to the ravishing shadow ankles, and calves; one of the feet is raised and placed upon a chair; the "welly good men" forget to breathe, and are dangerously near suffocation. A few movements of the busy fingers, and a shadowy shoe is held in hand, examined, and laid on the floor. The other foot is raised to the chair; the hearts and lungs of the "welly good men" are swelled to bursting with suppressed excitement and want of breath. The stillness is appalling; a feather dropped in the room would reverberate like a peal of thunder. The shadow fingers are again busied, a shoe removed, held, examined, laid beside the first, and the foot is lowered to the floor. The "welly good men" persistently refuse to breathe, Great Heavens! the muscles of their chests might creak! they will not even wink, for fear that the clashing eyebrows may disturb their charmer. The shadow now lifts a something from the cot, and holds it to her face, rubs it, holds it at arms length, holds it to her face again, and lays it on the pillow at the head of the cot; it arises, stretches, turns around once or twice,
The shadow's hands now opened a shadow on the table, took therefrom a very small and compact shadow, which the hands held in front of her, and with a shake, from that bundle fell a long ruffled shadow that reached to the floor, the hands gathered this in folds, and again were held high above the head holding the folded ruffles; a few movements of the arms above, followed by an anxiously watched twitching at the waist by the fingers, and as a flash, ruffles were seen to fall from above, and the feet were again embanked within a wrinkled shadow of something that had at the same time fallen from the waist. The fascinating ankles had magically vanished. The shadow was now the resemblance of an uninteresting truncated sugar loaf, ruffled at top and bottom, and surmounted by a warty potato. The potato held itself over the lamp and darkness became visible in the private room; the "welly good men," sphinx-like, sat and gazed rigidly in the direction of the lady's room until her healthy snore broke the spell, and aroused them to the fact that all was over, and then—with a regretful and exhaustive sigh—they each lay down with a whispered ‘‘Well, I'm—blest!’’
The following morning, after the sleepers had gone from the dining-room, and the apartment was being prepared for the morning meals, Mrs. Salsberry arose and arrayed herself in traveling garb. Her sound
Of course the departure of such a perfect, well dressed and self-contained lady, left a physical void in Calabazas, but this was amply repaid by her visit having given the citizens something to surmise and talk about, and a wearisome mental void had been thus filled.
It is said that if you boil and filter water, and leave the uncorked bottle containing it exposed to the air for a few days, that the water will be crowded with living things. In a like manner in the dry, dessicated atmosphere of Calabazas, a stranger's advent was followed quickly by a vague knowledge of the stranger, with name, history, object in coming, and business intentions. The rumers seemed to spring from the air, and each one retailing the stories claimed to have heard them from some one else. Therefore the lady was not well on her way to Tucson before it was reported that she was a widow. That she had come from some town in New Mexico to Tucson; that she had received five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty thousand dollars life insurance by her husband's death; that she intended erecting a commodious lodging house in Calabazas, and eventually to permit her body
Crandall added to all he heard. According to his account she was a walking sub-treasury; the wad of green-backs, from which she had paid for the lot, convinced him that all of her angularities were rounded out with a padding of currency. Her fine figure was solely due to cunningly distributed wads of legal-tender notes; and, moreover, she was a perfect lady, for she had put on no style, and had taken beer in preference to water; which fact alone would have established her standing as a lady in Crandall's mind. Mrs. Salsberry had staid but one afternoon and night, and her conversation had been solely upon business. Then where did these rumors originate? from the vernacular of Calabazas, echo answers, quien sabe? The fertility of the Calabazan mind compensated for the aridity of the soil.
A week passed. Mrs. Salsberry had been talked over and almost forgotten by all but the "welly good men" and Crandall, when a freight wagon drew up to her lot and unloaded thereon a quantity of furniture, lumber, and several bundles of canvas. The next morning's stage brought the lady and Beauty. In an hour after her arrival she had contracted with
The next day the carpenters were busily engaged in putting up the frame-work and laying the floor for a large wall tent. Mrs. Salsberry showed her self-reliance and knowledge of what she wanted, by unflinchingly standing around in the sun giving the workmen directions. It was evident that she was no pilgrim or tenderfoot, which fact the carpenters soon found out and ceased the wearisome flow of suggestions that pass from mechanic to employer. The framework completed, its sides were boarded up, and it was covered with canvas. A glass door and two windows were framed into the front. On either side of the door was a room, carpeted, and containing a set of painted furniture. One room being a bridal chamber, as it were, and the other for visiting capitalists, etc., whose great wealth would enable them to pay the widow's price for such a sybaritic apartment.
Around the interior walls were small, cloth partitioned, windowless rooms, furnished with soul destroying mattresses and pillows, for those who wished to be profane, at a moderate cost. In the tent's center
None but the two front rooms were provided with toilet appliances; the other lodgers were entitled to the free and untrammelled use of the tin basins on the bench at the rear of the tent. A piece of indurated, metamorphosed, raspy and latherless soap laid at each basin for those who wished to rub the dirt into their skins, and two morose towels, non-absorbent, and with an elasticity and polish equalling Russia iron, were provided to distribute the water evenly over the face. A bone comb and a brush, the bristles of which wilted upon the slightest provocation, were securely held in place by dog chains, beside each towel. An "olla" supplied drinking water—when not empty,—and a barrel more or less—generally less—full of water stood near for washing purposes. A saloon hanger-on (named Jack, of course), was engaged as chambermaid and general utility man, in consideration of the use of a corral bunk and an occasional twenty-five cents. On the front of this addition to Calabazan palaces, was the legend, Grand Central Hotel.
The rooms of the Grand Central were soon taken. The welly good men hastened to engage rooms; Bottle Bob had one that he might keep an eye on George and Pete; the store-keeper rented one "to encourage the lady;" Drinky improvised a private inebriate asylum from one; and Crandall had one, for, by all means, he must keep in touch with the lady of multitudinous wads.
It was soon found that the perfect lady could take perfect care of herself, no assistance was required from the nervy, hasty-tempered George or Pete, for she was equally nervy and hasty. Grumblers were unceremoniously ejected; for, as she remarked in chaste and ungrammatical terms, ‘‘I haven't any use for a —— growl. Calabazas aint Paradise, and I don't keep a milk and honey boarding house, with a gold harp for each boarder, and I aint going to give no silk sheets twice a week to nobody.’’ Which remarks were never considered as having any bearing on the points in dispute, except as to the first few words. If a drunken railroad laborer was noisy, and failed to heed her warning to be quiet, the perfect lady soon had him by the collar dragging him to the door, to his great astonishment and sobering, meanwhile reiterating that she was ‘‘a lady, and didn't care nothing for nobody.’’ Should he be belligerent, and refuse to be ejected, those soft, delicate, flexible hands, with a quickness that defied the eye, extracted a revolver from some portion of her apparel, and that weapon would emphasize her demand that he make himself scarce ‘‘quicker an a wink, for I am a lady, and won't be imposed on’’—and she wouldn't be. It may be set down as an absolute certainty that she never returned the ejected a cent, even if his sojourn had been for five minutes only, and she demanded payments strictly in advance.
After Drinky and Crandall had viewed several forcible ejectments, they seriously considered giving up any marital attempts upon the wad, and signified that for economical reasons solely, they might in the not remote
The widow, as a means to an end, was inclined to be social. The hurdy-girls were very well, "but a perfect lady," etc. Lucky Smith's wife could spare no time from his accidental bedside, so, perforce, the widow invited the gentlemen leaders of Calabazas society to spend occasional evenings in her private tent. Now the education of the higher classes of Calabazas having been neglected, a social evening was devoted to drinking cocktails ordered from George's, Pete's, or Bob's, in proper sequence and without favoritism, in discussing the merits or early death of some nervy man of hasty temper and slow action; or in a game of cards, short cards with stakes; it would be a fatal hoodoo for a sport to play cards for mere pastime. The widow took her drinks in a perfunctory manner, unstuck-up, so to say. She never talked of the nervy men, for she "never was in a town like Calabazas before." Cards—well, she would play; but, oh! dear! now really! she just knew she would mix everything."
George, Pete and Bob never faltered in their attendance. The widow exhibited such a flattering preference for their company, that they soon had the field to themselves. Their devotion was not absolutely free from monetary considerations, for each had privately made Crandall repeat many times his account of the numberless wads of greenbacks she had exposed to his gaze; besides, they could not be deceived in the value of her personal adornments and Calabazas investments. Nor could it be denied that the widow was plump, handsome, stylish, and currently reported to have a well turned ankle and calf,—something not to be despised as matrimonial assets. The widow, when questioned about her affairs, indirectly of course, smiled innocently and kept her own council; but
Occasionally some middle aged capitalist traveling through Calabazas, would be taken suddenly ill—after catching sight of the widow—and pass the next few afternoons, very much to her financial profit, in her private tent, convalescing and relieving his pain by games of cards or bottles of champagne, accompanied with much hilarity and many humorous and fetching jokes, all with intent to "mash" the widow. But the correct widow would, at an early evening hour, herd the invalid into the larger tent, there to plan his amatory campaign for the next day, while she, with Beauty, retired to sleep the sleep of the virtuous and the wide awake. Such events seriously annoyed the three admirers, and they would survey the gray haired capitalist with a griping scorn, or make caustic remarks about the widow "playing his old jags for a sucker" or that they "could hear his brains rattle when he walked."
It gave the widow the most exquisite pleasure to flirt with "sporty" commercial travelers, if (?) they were at all fresh. One of this gentry—fancy goods line—was returning from a trip through Mexico. He was absolutely gorged with obtrusive self conceit, and with an abiding faith that his conversational powers and elegance of person were irresistable to the gentler sex. With this particular gentleman, the widow had what is popularly termed a "picnic." She was an impressive lady, who, as I have said, estimated herself at her full value, and perfectly understood human nature. She never failed to enter the Palace Hotel
He lounged around the town for an hour, and then started for his real objective point—The Grand Central Hotel. As he strolled along he took his dicer hat off and brushed it with his sleeve. Moistening his finger with spittle, he arranged a cute little bang. He ran a comb through his moustache and twisted the ends to a fascinating curve, polished the glass amethyst ring that almost hid one finger, rubbed up the cluster of Alaska diamonds that ornamented his shirt front, fillipped the specks from his vest and coat lappels, flirted the dust from his shoes, discovered a black silk handkerchief in an obscure pocket and put it in the side pocket of his cutaway coat, permitting the corner to project, showing a complicated monogram of red silk, ran the soiled handkerchief over the massive, rolled gold locket and chain that hung across his
While the widow smoothed the bed and raised the curtain, our friend removed his coat, revealing his gorgeously flowered silk suspenders, and engaged himself in a conversation (tastefully decorated with the most killing smirks and glances) on the weather, the heat, and the tremendous business he had done on his trip, of how he had "played" two fellow drummers by stealing their advance cards, and calling on their customers; of how glad he was to be away from the fashionable whirl of San Francisco, where he is in constant demand on account of his many accomplishments; of how he is going into business when his brother collects some fire insurance; of the brilliant offers he had refused from rivals of the firm he condescended to travel for; of what a time he had to get away from a certain star actress. ‘‘How do you exist in Calabazas? Are there any theaters or balls? any clubs, etc.? No?’’
Mrs. Salsberry listened and dusted the chairs while the Drummer talked. How well, how very well that lady knew him, though a stranger. With a timely smile to show her perfect teeth, a position in just the right light, a graceful posture to smooth a pillow, and she had the fellow hooked ready to land. She knew it, but in his inordinate vanity, he imagined the hook to be in her mouth. He examined the soap—Castile—didn't she have Belle-fleur? Had she no Turkish towels? Were the sheets perfectly clean? He must
He examined the bed, punched the mattress, looked under the pillows, and examined the wash stand and bureau drawers for possible letters or forgotten valuables left by former occupants of the room. He drew two pictures of flash actresses from his gripsack, with dedications written by himself to himself—and leaned them against the mirror. An imitation Russia leather travelling case, displaying a bewildering array of toilet samples with imitation ivory handles, was placed on the bureau. With a self-satisfied air he then hung his hat on the back of his head, put on his coat, and strolled around, looking into the rooms under a pretence of looking for the landlady, but really, to possibly catch a female occupant unawares. He finally wandered through the back door and saw the beautiful widow sitting in her private tent, sewing. He advanced, leaned against her door jamb, twisted his irresistible moustache, and remarked:
Out came an imitation tortoise-shell cigar case, from which he took a cigar—Havana, a Drummer smokes no other. A rolled gold matchbox, elaborately stamped, and studded with Alaska diamonds, was next produced, a wax taper was extracted and his cigar was lighted, and while, with fascinating recitals, in which he was the hero, and playful badinage, he amused the widow, the fumes of his cigar spread like a poisonous pall over the city of Calabazas. The smoke of this choice cigar was smelt in Nogales ten miles distant by Pete-the-rancher—but the wind favored him.
By supper time he had fully informed the widow of all the reckless expenditures, dissipations, and amatory conquests that had "blazeed" him, but had written no letters. She had met his advances with composure, and graciously accepted his invitation to dine, for she "felt as if she had known him for years." After drinking a bottle of champagne as an appetizer, they adjourned to the private room of the Palace for dinner, where, during the meal he was so fastidious, and buldozed Cum Sing so very much to that gentleman's disgust and displeasure, as to again create a suspicion in his mind that after all "Miss Sallis Bellee clazy, maybe so she going get mallied."
After dinner the widow invited the Drummer to spend the evening at her tent. The astute lady also privately sent Jack to tell Drinky ‘‘to come and see my canary bird.’’ With many misgivings he put in his appearance, and was impressively introduced as "the United States Officer in charge of the Calabazas Custom House." The two were as brothers immediately.
Jack brought the cards, and many tricks were performed with commendable skill—these fellows handle cards well in this way, but are too greedy to be successful gamblers. Having shown the tricks, the Drummer suggested a game of cards—they always will. Nothing but poker would do, there were too many or not enough persons for other games. The widow was willing, but didn't understand poker, and didn't care to play for stakes. Drinky was willing, but his funds were at the Custom House (?), and he couldn't play for stakes, so they concluded to play for beans. It was absolutely necessary that the Drummer should sit next to the widow to instruct her. Thirty minutes passed, enlivened only by a champagne cocktail—at the Drummer's expense—and the game languished, for the Drummer had won all of the beans. He now proposed small stakes, a nominal
Poker chips were sent for, and the new game was soon in full blast, with the usual poker accompaniments of cigars, cocktails, anecdote and reminiscence—all furnished by the Drummer. The widow won many pots, Drinky won many pots, and the Drummer won but few pots. No great sum was involved, but the Drummer devoted more time to his cards and less to anecdote and flattery; the small stakes rendered the game uninteresting to the loser. The Drummer proposed a higher ante and limit—they always will when losing. The widow modestly pulled out a well-filled purse, sufficient to cause his eyes to bulge with intense longing. Drinky borrowed more money from him, and the game started anew and in deadly silence. Cocktails became fewer. The widow filled bob-tailed flushes, fours, fulls and straight flushes in a miraculous manner, which if continued would leave her admirer nothing on the earth of the earth, but what was under his finger nails—a quantity truly, but not quite a farm.
The numerous cocktails, added to the Mescal taken before being invited to the widow's, together with his knowledge of the hopelessness of contending with that ravishing lady, when she played them from close to
As the Drummer's rare winnings from Drinky were overwhelmed by his losses to the fair widow, all ideas of love and mashing vanished from his bosom; by some secret sympathy, as his dollars disappeared from his pocket the perspiration appeared on his forehead. The faster the dollars the more profuse the sweat, until he bade fair to vanish in a mist when his last dollar should have been staked and lost. He tore up the cards and ordered a new pack. The widow generously ordered, as winner, and in commemoration of her luck, fresh cocktails. The Drummer related no more reminiscences; to the contrary, he did not wish to listen to any; poker should be played quietly—the loser hates any talk or disturbance. He began speaking abruptly to Drinky, and to tell him the value of cards and the art of betting, or to call on him shortly to bet his hand or lay it down. He had quit posting the widow, her luck was too phenomenal. He suspiciously rubbed the cards to detect punctures or thumb nail marks, and glowed
The widow sent for more cocktails, and the Drummer for new cards, and then proposed "jackpots," the last refuge and hope a Drummer has in a poker game. As a winner the lady was agreeable; as a borrower Drinky was indifferent, and the jack-pot loomed up in noble proportions. The limit was enlarged, but the size of the ante was kept inviolate, the Drummer was permitted to loosen his collar and necktie, and unbutton his vest, also to put on his hat and pull it down over his eyes. He changed chairs with Drinky, and intensified this exorcism of the hoodoo by walking around the chair three times before seating himself and continuing the game. Drinky had exhausted his credit with the Drummer, and borrowed from the "Kitty." A few more jack-pots—of which he felt sure of winning—was sufficient to exhaust the Drummer's cash, and he borrowed from the widow until he could send to Tucson for "coin"—they never say money.
The game slackened. Drinky had borrowed the whole "Kitty." The widow steadily refused to see a raise, and the Drummer could only with the ante—value ten cents. Unremitting play with unvarying winnings for his allotted span of life would not "even" him up at such a rate, and the game died of exhaustion. Another series of cocktails—the widow's treat—was sent for, and Jack detailed the glorious campaign to George. While waiting, the poker party discussed the game, the widow's luck, Drinky's lack of judgment,
Drinky made a most particular and exact appointment with the Drummer to meet him at nine o'clock breakfast—to the minute—when he would return loans, shook that gentleman's hand with such a preternatural fervor that his arm was almost dislocated, and then retired to his bunk, and was asleep in five minutes. The Drummer, after first writing to his employers that, ‘‘Having found a fine physician in Calabazas, he was convalescent, and would be on his travels the following morning,’’ removed his coat, lit a fresh cigar, and took out a business card. He sat upon the edge of the bed—a defeated poker player always sits there to figure up his losses—and made memoranda on the back of the card as follows:—
|Item||Drinkwater, cash||$50, secured by note.|
|"||Cocktails & Cigars,||5.00|
|(for loaned money and bets)|
He rubbed his head and eyes, admired his nose and moustache in the glass, squeezed the blackheads from his chin, put out the light, and for hours laid wondering if he really was a jay, or had been played for a sucker. Of how he was going to get away from Calabazas. Of why he had stopped there at all. Until presently his mind was calmed by a hope of soon meeting a sucker to fleece—a hope that springs eternal in the Hebraic Drummer's breast, and serves to soothe him after poker losses. A knowledge that Drinkwater was indebted to him for one hundred dollars, which was as good as cash in hand (?), also tended to calm his mind; and he fell into as sweet a sleep as his aromatic breath would permit.
With the morning's dawn, Drinky was up. No dressing was required, for he never undressed. A sprinkle of water from the basin, spread over his face by the polished roller towel, a rake off with the bone comb, and his morning toilet was complete. Although
Having refreshed themselves, Drinky told Crandall the details of last night's poker game, as they walked to the Custom House. Reaching there, the former lost no time in going to the corral and saddling his horse; he then mounted, and requested Crandall to send him word by the down stage to Pete's-the-rancher when the Drummer departed. ‘‘Just tell the driver to say, Crandall wants you, and I will know it's all right.’’ Crandall exhibited no surprise at the request, for these friendly offices they often did for each other in times of stress, hence no tedious explanation was needed. To others, Drinky said that he was on his way to the Line to intercept smugglers, who were expected to cross, and couldn't say when he would return.
Two hours before the stage was due, the Drummer arose, dressed, packed away his pictures of languishing actresses, and prepared his baggage for leaving; he did not pay any morning respects to his hostess, but rather avoided her charming and expensive presence; an absinthe cocktail steadied his nerves, and prepared him for breakfast.
At nine o'clock he seated himself in the Palace Hotel, after first gathering up all the late papers, one of which he laid on the table to read, and the others he sat on in case he should want them. He was somewhat surprised not to see Drinky at the appointed hour—though his failure to be present would have surprised no one else in Calabazas. Calabazas would have been surprised yet had he been there. He read until his breakfast was brought, and then folded the paper and sat upon it until he had eaten.
Breakfast was finished leisurely, and no Drinky. The stage would soon be due and no time was to be lost. Drinky, no doubt, being overwhelmed with government duties, had forgotten the engagement and trivial debt. Calling at the Custom House, the Drummer found Crandall its only occupant, and he, in answer to the Drummer's inquiries, informed him that Drinky had gone to the Line that morning to intercept smugglers.
The Drummer began perspiring. God of Abraham and Moses! had he been muleted by a gentile? had the Amalekite possessed himself of Israel's shoes? The stage came in and he helplessly saw it go out. He damned Drinkwater anatomically and specifically. He cursed the widow and the Calabazans root and branch, progenitors and descendants, their asses, their maid servants and their man servants. The down stage carried no message to Drinky from Crandall.
The Drummer started on a weary round to get Drinky's note discounted. All assured him that Drinky was "all right," and would pay the note on his return, but this was in accordance with the Calabazan esprit de corps. He could not raise the ridiculous amount of ten dollars upon the note, not five, not
The widow's having guile, energy, and "luck," diurnal additions were consequently made to the wad. George, Bob and Pete continued to patronize her, and furnished their company and liquid refreshments free. She treated the three gentlemen with equal urbanity, accepted their various gifts with equal disingenuousness; and pocketed their poker losses with equal exclamations over her good luck. She often dined with one or the other of them, and though each of the three men chivalrously gave the other every opportunity, it was noticed that they were not on such familiar terms as before. Of course they visited each other's saloons, and George'd, Pete'd and Bob'd each other, but still there was a something. Each would tell his intimate friends that the widow was "playing" the others sure, or that if George, or Pete, or Bob were "trying to play the widow they would get left."
The widow had lived in Calabazas about six months, and herself, her admirers, her eccentricities and her business had ceased to excite gossip or remark, when Calabazan curiosity was again aroused by a newly covered, brightly painted, light wagon, drawn by a stylish horse, being halted at the Grand Central. The driver was a middle aged man, having iron-gray hair, bushy, overhanging eyebrows, a close, firmly set mouth, and a generally austere countenance. From his appearance he was judged to be a cattle buyer, and when the widow came to the door, she greeted the newcomer as if having met him before. After speaking a few words to her, he unloaded a quantity of baggage, sent the horse and wagon to the Custom House corral, and domiciled himself in the bridal chamber.
Mr. Mitchell—the newcomer—it developed, intended remaining with us. He did not appear to know any one but the widow, and made no effort to make acquaintances. He spent a short time daily in close converse with her, but as her tent door remained open, gossip was stilled, and they were considered by Calabazans as only keeping up an old acquaintanceship during his stay. Mr. Mitchell's conversation being limited to his wants, and his looks repelling the slightest approach to familiarity, his provoking reticence concerning his past, present, or future, caused a deep and burdensome vexation to society. But as he put on no airs, patronized the bars impartially, and gambled a little, he was well spoken of, and went his way unquestioned—which he would have done anyway.
George, Pete and Bob at first thought that the widow might have formerly had some complications with the gentleman, which so depressed their spirits that they swallowed numberless cocktails, and were absent minded and of hastier action than usual, until the observant widow relieved their anxiety by introducing them to Mr. Mitchell, and explained that she had met him in Tucson while visiting that city, and that, having come to Calabazas, he could do no less than patronize her hotel. As she neither walked, dined, nor played cards with her lodger, the three swains brightened up, and things went on as before.
Two weeks after Mr. Mitchell's arrival, the town was again all excitement; the Grand Central was being decorated profusely with Chinese lanterns. Baskets of champagne, and cigars galore were left at the widow's by the Tucson stage, and invitations were issued to the elite of Calabazas society to attend a "surprise party" at her tent. Tables were to be provided for whist, and no gambling was to be permitted except fifty cents a corner at the whist table. The town was agonizingly agog over this unusual break of the widow's, and she was to set it far more agog shortly.
The whist party came off in great style, and it was long after midnight before it broke up, excepting that Bottle Bob withdrew at about one o'clock A. M., and had been seen riding rapidly toward Tucson. Just two hours afterward the covered wagon, apparently loaded, and the stylish horse driven by the widow, could have been seen going leisurely toward Tucson. An hour and thirty minutes later Curly Pete might
Where were the widow, and George, and Pete, and Bob? Well, about the time that Curley Pete was fairly started for Tucson, the widow was at the Nogales Custom House at the Line, just precisely ten miles in an opposite direction. What was her business there? The estimable, handsome, and talented woman was overlooking the examination of her trunks and wagon by the Mexican revenue officers, prefatory to their appraisement and the collection of revenue thereon, before permitting her to continue on her way to the capital—Hermosilla—or whatever the self-contained and energetic lady intended going, in the State of Sonora, Mexico.
At twelve M., the same day, the lady was thirty miles in Sonora, on the Magdalena road, cheerfully hugging Beauty, and clucking her horse to a faster gait. At the same hour Bottle Bob had just changed for a fresh horse at a wayside cattle ranch, on the Tucson road. Curly Pete was riding a sleepy horse, his coat was off
Bob, Pete, and George visited each other's places daily, said "luck," and drank cocktails, soft toddies and straights without number, avoiding all allusion as to how they found things in Tucson during their recent hasty trip, or of the business that look them there.
Six days after the departure of the widow, a cityfied looking gentleman with a sharp face descended from the coach; the way in which he felt his hip pocket to be sure that his pistol was there; the manner in which he turned his coat lappel to see if the gilt star had been lost, nervously concealing the star as soon as the bystanders had obtained a full view of it,—his tip-toe
There was no longer room for doubt; this man was certainly a detective. For whom was he searching? Of course a detective would not tell (?), but in a few days he departed, and then all Calabazas knew what none of them had known before. The officer was after the widow. And the widow, what had she done? Well, it's hard on the widow, but must be told. She had married four men within three years without any preliminary divorce or funeral to either marriage, the husbands all having some means. After spending their money on her, the widow never failed to need exercise, and never returned to her husband from her walk.
Her last husband had disposed of a ranch and cattle near Ellensburg, Washington Territory, and afterward lodged in the same house with and thenmarried her. They went to Seattle where he lavished money on jewels to decorate her person and embellish her charms. The salt sea air created a desire in her breast to roam
As to George, Pete, and Bob, I will freely confess that if I were within reach of those high minded gentlemen, I should think a long time before writing what follows, but feeling safe from their hasty action or nervous temperament, and being determined to give a true history, I will say that the three had a great many reunions among themselves, in which silent hand grips, "here's luck," and "to you," was heard or seen only. Calabazas intuition was seldom wrong, and Calabazas intuited about them that the widow was engaged to be married to the three men when she left. She would marry as soon as the
The vanity of each man was flattered by thinking that the others were being played for fools by himself and the much desired widow. Each had advanced money to the extent of five hundred dollars towards the purchase of a bridal outfit, and to pay a fair share of the divorce expenses—in the nature of a bonus to the fair widow's attorneys to hurry up things. The surprise party was an amusing scheme of the widow and each of her fiances to play the others for "flats." To each of the three that fatal night was the last the widow would spend in Calabazas as a widow. With each she planned to drive next day to Tucson, and there meet him for the wedding. She suggested the midnight start to Bob; the morning start to Pete; and the stage ride to George. She told Jack that she was going to Tucson, and, after he had affectionately watched her fade from his sight in that direction, had turned, driven over a mesa down into a valley, struck the stage road and had gone south to the boundary line.
Not one word, good or bad, or at all, did George, or Pete, or Bob, ever say of the lady, and it was generally understood to be a dangerous and unfriendly topic to broach in their company. It was an unwritten law of Calabazas that they were not to be questioned about how things were in Tucson. If an enquirer was anxious to know, he could do as they did, go and see for himself. When George was praised, and called lucky, or bright, or sharp, or nervy, he would depreciatingly and modestly swallow the accompanying treat and say with much profanity that he was a "jay," a "sucker," a "flat," and many other dismal, disgraceful, and impossible things of himself.
Pete would do and say the same. Bob would do and say the same. Should a stranger or visitor remark that Calabazas was a wide-awake town of go-ahead people, they would chorus that ‘‘Calabazas was such a jay town, or nest of suckers, that any — — fool could come along with a stick of soft solder and knock its brains out. Look at the 'Kid!' Look at the Preacher! Look at —a—a—. Take something with me.’’ Visiting widows, looking for business openings, were received suspiciously and with malevolence, neither advice was given, nor courtesy shown them.
Drinkwater and Crandall were conceded to be brighter than they had been taken for, and a grateful cocktail, or straight, was at their service in the morning, at one of the three saloons—to be patronized in rotation.—Jack was as faithful to Mitchell as he had been to the widow, whom he ever championed in his feeble way, and for which the much prized drinks
I hope I may meet again the charming widow and shake her by the hand. She had my admiration and good will. The citizens of Calabazas had more nearly a proper estimate of their mental caliber after the widow had finished with them, than they ever before had.
1. Hurdy House.