THE CALABAZAS BABY.
As Calabazas blossomed, grew and spread from a solitary store and Custom House into the magnitude of an Arizona City (?), it was nothing unusual for new tents to be erected; they were brought on good substantial wagons drawn by strong and retaliating mules, the owners of which could be questioned and the very natural curiosity of Calabazas society be satisfied, or their fears calmed, yet, one morning the Calabazas sun arose and shone upon a tent not there the night before, nor did the eyes of the nervous citizens of that burg either see its arrival or erection. The tent was of the kind known as an "A" tent. It was erected at the lower end of the town, near one of the dead cottonwood trees. Sitting outside and in the rear, was a small portable sheet-iron stove, to which was attached a couple of lengths of rusty stove pipe. At daylight a stranger was seen skirmishing under the dead trees, gathering twigs and branches, which he carried to the stove, and therewith built a fire.
The man was thin, of small build, and dressed in the brown canvas clothing, much worn in the West. His hair was sandy "complected," straight and scanty. A wirey goatee and moustache of peculiar sun browned hue, stuck out from the week-old beard covering his face, and his skin was almost as dark as coffee, indicating that he was no stranger to the fervent rays of Arizona's sun. One leg was bent in at the knee, giving a perceptible halt to his walk, and his right arm was slightly bowed, as if it had been once broken. To all appearance he was well and strong, but his movements were slow and careful as of one just recovered from an illness.
While the man was building the fire, a woman came from the tent, having a piece of bacon in one hand, and a pan of flour in the other, evidently with the purpose of making the perennial flapjack that divides breakfast honors with the aboriginal brown bean of Arizona. She was not larger than an ordinary girl of thirteen or fourteen years. She was as thin as her husband; her hair, of a peculiar streaked reddish hue, was brushed back from a forehead innocent of bangs, and rolled into a boily looking lump on the back of her head. Her hands, thin almost to transparency, showed constant usage; and her eyes, so large as to be out of proportion to her thin oval face, were of that veiled, water blue, that conveys the idea of an early death for their owner. She had beautiful pearly teeth, set in a perfect mouth, around which were the lines of care and anxiety that one sees on the faces of refined women who have bravely battled with honest poverty. Her dress, of light, spotted calico, with a
Crandall being a "cocktail riser," was the first that discovered the new arrivals. He called at the tent immediately, and informed the new comers that they were on the Company's most select and valuable lot, and, as became the company's agent, he was quite indignant that they had taken possession without so much as by your leave, but he would have been as indignant if they had pitched their tent anywhere within one hundred miles of where it was, north of the boundary line. Crandall's indignation did not last long, for though a hard drinker, he had a soft heart, and the little woman soon had an arrangement made, by which they could purchase the lot on the instalment, plan and at the same time was generously given Crandall's washing to do, for which it is doubtful if she ever received a cent on any plan.
In a couple of days they were seeking work, the man for any kind of a job, and the little woman looking for washing. The poor little thing shrank from any contact with gambling, drinking, or hurdy-houses, but those whom she approached were asked to use their influence at such places to get her the washing, for which she would be so thankful, and her husband would call and deliver the clothes. In a few days the clothes-lines were filled with men's clothing and the hurdy-girl's more delicate garments. Thenceforth she appeared to have all the washing she could attend to, for the swish of the water and burr of the
The family was known by the convenient name of "Smith," and it was not Calabazas etiquette to investigate farther. He was a jack-of-all-trades, one of those handy fellows often seen in the West, where self-reliance is at a premium. He was industrious to a fault, and was ever at work, or seeking it, that is, when not recovering from an accident. During his stay of a year or more in Calabazas, Smith was seldom seen for more than a week at a time without his head in a bandage or a crutch under his arm, or an arm in splints or bandages, or he would not be visible at all for weeks, for the poor fellow had such a genius for being in the wrong place at the right time, and extraordinary faculty for caroming away from sudden death, that he soon became known as "Lucky Smith."
The monotony of Calabazas life was much varied after being blessed with Smith's residence. He had been in town but a few days when he was employed to erect a framework of scantlings for a large wall tent. It was cooling to stand around and see how energetically the man worked in the scorching heat. The job completed, in gathering up his tools he found that he had left his hammer hooked on the ridge pole of the frame work. A few minutes sufficed in which to place a ladder against the frame and regain his hammer, after which he descended hurriedly, and without using the ladder. Besides numerous abrasions and bruises, which he lightly passed over, a bone of his wrist was fractured, and, until the bone knitted, he assisted his
After recovery, Lucky obtained a job driving a grader's wagon. The grader had never employed a man that gave him such satisfaction, and Smith's wagon required fewer repairs than any; but one day he leaned over too far to see why his brakes would not hold, and fell. The willing horses started up and pulled the wagon over him, much to the damage of his hip and back. This mishap kept Lucky in bed for a week, and hobbling around for a couple of more—when again he was ready for a job.
He soon had a contract to dig a well, and worked faithfully at it for ten days. It was completed and accepted. He made his last trip to the bottom, and in coming up the rope broke. Smith, besides minor wounds that he might expect in any case, broke his leg. He made a rapid recovery from this accident and was again hunting work. He next obtained a contract from the Railroad Company to cut ties. He had worked two days diligently when, as he was chopping a few dry branches to carry home, his axe slipped, and cut his foot. He had many smaller wounds of fingers and feet, the result of jams and mashes when handling the logs; such wounds, however, were not considered by him as being of any moment.
Each of these accidents called for a subscription, for Smith was an agreeable, social, obliging, and industrious fellow, and his little wife and one undoubted, genuine lady of the camp; so of course it would not do to let them suffer while he was disabled. Notwithstanding
The Land Company, having bought the brick kilns and the chimneys of the Chinese houses that had been burned by rioters, contracted with Smith to tear them down and load them for hauling. He pulled down all the kilns and chimneys, save one, in a short time, and with but little waste. He attacked the last chimney with his usual ardour, but so unskilfully did he extract the bottom brick, that he might tumble this chimney down as he had done the others, that it fell before the allotted time, and Calabazas was called on to rescue him from the ruins. An examination showed a fractured rib, as well as several scalp wounds and body injuries. The latter would have been considered serious enough by most men, but were cheerfully passed over by Smith as nothing, when making up a list of his accidental injuries. While convalescing from the broken rib, he indulged in the luxury of a bone felon, by which he lost a joint of his fore-finger. The felon being a side issue, and not the result of accident, he did not count it as being worthy of mention.
Smith, when nearly well, concluded to chop down his tree for firewood. He brought out an axe, and had languidly struck a few blows when he was startled by hearing cries, ‘‘Here! Stop that! Stop that!’’ and saw several of the prominent citizens running towards him; they breathlessly asked him what he was doing; said Smith cheerfully, ‘‘Cutting down my tree.’’ ‘‘Well,’’ said they, ‘‘we as a committee come to tell you not to cut that tree, the public wants that tree; that tree is the closest one to the town.’’
The woodman spared the tree, not because it had shaded the committee in youth, or possibly could in old age, being dead, but because—he must. The climate was warm and exercise repulsive. The tree was quite close to the town, and the valley was destitute of telegraph poles, there might come a time of sudden emergency and excitement, when the tree would prove a valuable aid in calming men's passions by suspending the cause thereof. Smith's thoughtlessness in trying
Minus a finger joint, Smith rustled energetically and secured a job. He was employed by a hurdy-man to help move the fixtures from a tent he had purchased to a larger one that he had built; the man being a newcomer, was not posted on Smith's ways. Everything was moved with the celerity and good order that distinguished Smith. At the last the owner and himself were arranging and beautifying the bar in preparation for the opening festivities that night. When nearly finished, in an unfortunate (but to be expected) moment he came upon the hurdy-man's assistant, in keeping order, the six shooter.
‘‘All right,’’ said Smith; but it was'nt, for in placing it there he in some way caused the trigger to fondle the cap. The cap exploded, the bullet dropped out with such a business-like force, that it penetrated Smith's foot before finding a final resting place in the floor.
When the hurdy-man heard the shot, he, not being a man to take chances—and the shot might have been for him—incontinently banged Lucky Smith over the head with a bar bottle. Between the shot and the blow, Smith settled into a box of empty beer bottles with velocity and force sufficient to break many of them, and received on his nether end sundry cuts and deep incisions, which, though painful, he did not count amongst his wound assets. The hurdy-man with many anathemas, continued to hammer Smith,
There was now an impression in Calabazas that the subscriptions to keep Lucky Smith in repair were far in excess of his earnings, and if continued would bid fair to bankrupt subscribers, so a sort of coolness sprang up between himself and the citizens. There was no disputing that he was very industrious, honest, and sober; but what was the use of talking? Of a truth the town Doctor received vastly more benefit from the subscriptions than did Smith and his brave little wife; but this was never thought of by the subscribers.
As soon as Smith could limp around tolerably well, he was again looking for a job; but for him to get one of any kind had now become a matter of some doubt and difficulty. People to whom he made application considered long and seriously before giving him a job, in the face of his record. A person had to be quite sure that it was one at which he could not injure himself,
The eleventh day of Smith's employment, a few minutes after noon, he could have been seen being carried from the corral by four men, carried to the little "A" tent that was his accident ward. He had very good naturedly loaned a neighbor a hayfork just before going to dinner; returning from dinner, he climbed upon the hay pile to throw down hay for some newly arrived horses. In sliding down the stack, he brought up against the hayfork he had so kindly loaned, and which the neighbor, upon returning, had carefully leaned against the stack, prongs up, so that Smith couldn't miss finding it. Two of the sharp prongs had penetrated the poor fellow's thigh. He counted not the numberless finger cuts received while
When the storekeeper was informed of Smith's mishap, he muttered a few energetic words, went to the corral and broke the hoodood hay fork, that a mule might not be killed by it next time; and then, being a truculent man with an enlarged spleen, he called at the "A" tent and indignantly ordered Smith not to come to him for any more jobs, or there would be trouble. The little woman he would assist all in his power, anybody in Calabazas would, but as to monkeying with him again, it was not to be thought of under any circumstances.
The wounds made by the hay fork were painful, but being flesh ones only, were healed in a few weeks, and Smith was again on his everlasting hunt for a job—he was not very successful. It was explained to him that no feeling of a personal nature existed as against himself, it was entirely against his luck; which last was copiously condemned in a great variety of vigorous terms.
Smith's inherent industry would not permit him to be idle, and, when not packing water, or otherwise helping the little woman by sweating over the wringer, he could be found around town, cleaning faro chips in one tent, trimming lamps in another, sweeping out another, or in fact doing any little chore and service unasked, that he saw lying around undone. Many
As the weeks passed without accident, it was considered that Smith had finally become acclimated, and the hoodoo had left him. After seriously turning it over in his mind, Handsome George, of the Golden Fleece, took this view of the case. He was a man for whom Smith had done many duly appreciated chores, therefore he concluded to give him a trial, and engaged him to assist in re-arranging and renovating his saloon and gambling house. George intentionally omitted to arrange any specified amount to be paid, as
Smith pitched into the work with his usual vim and zeal. For five days was he diligently tangled up with bottles, paint, chairs, tables, and white-wash, being continually watched and warned by George during the time. At the end of that time his industry and good taste had converted the tent into what the hurdy-ladies called a "bower of beauty." George was so gratified with the change of appearance that Smith had wrought, that he not only handed him twenty dollars, but, in addition, insisted on his taking a couple of bottles of port wine to the little woman, whom George, humanely and tersely said, had ‘‘all the blood soaked out of her with that — water.’’ Smith was surprised and grateful; he started joyfully for home, and if he had gone right on it would have been better for him; but, unfortunately, he halted at the tent door, to take a proud, parting look at the result of his handiwork, and saw a swinging lamp a little awry. This would never do the re-opening night. It took but a moment for Smith to push a table under the lamp, pile thereon a pyramid of boxes, and crown the boxes with a chair. Another moment and he was in the chair, and had the lamp hanging properly. Another half a moment and he was on the floor, under the chair and boxes, with a broken collar bone and a large number of minor hurts and cuts, which were a mere bagatelle in calculating the general results. Lucky Smith had, with unusual
Handsome George was justly very indignant. Here was all his kindness and good feeling entirely thrown away. He —— his luck and poor judgment in ever putting Smith under pay, or, in fact, in having had him around at all. He considered that Smith had committed a gross breach of confidence, and that his incurable failing put him beyond the pale of human sympathy. Here he was with a broken collar bone, after lying low for a month to get a chance to break it in his (George's) tent, and on the opening night too. Smith was worse than the "Kid" or the "Preacher," because they had bluffed and played smooth, but he had just sneaked around playing square, so as to get a chance too hoodoo some one's place. In his opinion Calabazas was a jay town, and Smith knew it. He was always willing to do what he could for the little woman, for she was a lady; but Smith, well, Smith had better never come into the Golden Fleece again, or he would break his infernal back in two, and not wait for an accident to do it for him.
It was fully a month or more before Smith had so far recovered as to permit of his doing much, but not at all disheartened was he. Paler and thinner than ever before, the cheerful fellow looked around for such jobs as he could get, that he might be a help to his faithful little wife. No one would give him work, but many offered him money (which Smith never would take unless it had been raised by a general subscription). At last Cum Sing decided to employ him to clean table-ware and do light kitchen work, in payment
Cum Sing thought him a "welly good man, but he welly poor." Alas! Cum Sing's sympathy and good feeling was doomed to be turned to most bitter gall, for Smith, with his ever willing alacrity and good nature, volunteered to assist Hi Sing, the cook, in taking a large boiler of hot water from the stove. Of course the boiler had a weak handle, and more as a matter of course this handle was on Smith's end of the boiler, waiting, and had waited patiently, to come off as soon as Smith grasped it; and come off it did, the hot water scalding his legs frightfully. Lucky Smith was again being carried down the trail that had been worn packing him to his little tent after accidents. Cum Sing was very angry at first, but dismissed Smith and the accident by saying, ‘‘Well, me solly, —— Smith; me no hab him no more, suppose he pay me fi' dolla one day!’’ This gentle heathen, nevertheless, sent daily meals without charge to Lucky and the little woman, until he was able to be around again.
The little woman was so continuously occupied in nursing Smith after his numerous accidents, and in attending to her washing, that she had no time, even if inclined, to make acquaintances amongst the women of the camp. Any one calling at her tent received a kindly welcome. They invariably found everything in perfect order, and the little woman, notwithstanding the nature of her work, neat and cheerful. There were no sounds of bickering or joviality ever heard coming from the little tent. Her customers all had a kind and civil word for her, and she for them, for the little woman did not seem to think a kind word to the lowest was degrading to herself.
As the months passed by, the little woman was not around the wash tub so constantly, and it was noticed that she did little else than her cooking, or ironing the delicate underwear of the more aristocratic and successful hurdy girls. Presently she was even more rarely seen, except as sitting in the little "A" tent sewing. This was not commented upon, as it was known that she was in delicate health. Therefore, when Smith was seen with an anxious face hunting for the doctor one night, it was not considered as strange or unexpected. With much hunting around the various resorts, he found the doctor in one of the hurdy-houses enjoying a vigorous waltz. After a short whispered conversation, the doctor and Smith departed for the "A" tent, and next morning it was known that the little woman had presented Smith with an heir to his fortunes or misfortunes, in the shape of a fine, plump, healthy little boy. When night had come, it was also known that the industrious, faithful little woman was dead, or, as they expressed it, ‘‘the
The babe was fondled and cried over, while with unaccustomed hands they tried to prepare a soda bottle of condensed milk for his sustenance. With that blessed gentleness, and God-like sympathy that makes all women angels in times of trouble and suffering, these outcasts of society gathered around poor Smith with cheering or consoling words and offers of service. The unfortunate fellow was beyond consolation. He realized that his wife's death was a consummation of all the accidents and troubles that could ever happen to him.
Davis, the constable, made a coffin of some spare shelving from the store; he lined and covered it and its wooden handles with black dress goods from the same place. He tacked the cloth on with broad-headed brass chair tacks, and with the same tacks artistically inscribed her name and birth and death dates upon the lid. One of the hurdy-girls made a pillow from a piece of a satin dress—no doubt a relic of happier and more innocent days. A hanger-on of one of the saloons dug the grave, and of a piece of board from a packing-case the storekeeper made a headboard, into which he deeply cut and inked the little woman's name, her birth and death dates. The women watched the corpse that night, as they could manage to spare time from the hurdy-house, and the following day, followed to the grave by a majority of the people of the town, the poor little dead mother was decently buried on the opposite bluff, and the mound smoothed and patted over her remains, by rough but kindly hands.
There were no set funeral prayers; the only sermon was the subdued talk around the grave, of the honest record of the little woman while in Calabazas; of her charity, industry, cheerfulness under difficulties, and ever readiness to do little acts of kindness for all with whom she had come in contact. The hysterical sobs of the more tender-hearted women were the hymns, and they were mingled with the sincere, heartfelt prayer of everyone that ‘‘God might bless the poor little woman's soul.’’ The dead buried and out of sight, all returned to the town to, in a few hours, laugh, dance, drink, gamble, swear or fight, as if there was no such thing as death for them.
Let those living in more civilized communities, with their incorporated churches, asylums and charities, compare the charity dispensed by those soulless corporations with the charity of these God-forsaken people. True charity covers a multitude of sins, but true charity comes not from cool calculation of deliberation. True charity cannot be reduced to a business proposition, for it springs impulsively from a sympathetic, generous heart. The heart may be scaled over by a hard and wicked life, but to the one who possesses such a heart, there comes a time when, in spite of its hardened owner, it swells with
The night of the burial, Lucky Smith's sad bereavement was much talked about. Curly Pete was particularly interested, because he said his mother had died when he was a baby. About ten o'clock, George, Bob and Harry dropped into the Coliseum saloon, and had a few minutes' talk with Pete, shortly after which, during an interval between the keno games, Pete mounted the stand from which the game was called, and made a few remarks to the assembled crowd, as follows:—
Resolved—That this being the first baby born in town, and most likely would be the last, and that the mother having died, that it was in the nature of town property. Such being the case, it was unsafe to leave him with Lucky Smith.
These resolutions were passed unanimously. George Pete, and Bonnie (a very pretty and popular hurdy-girl) were appointed a committee to take charge of the baby, and the amount collected in the hats by Bob and Pete was counted and called out. It a mounted to over a hundred dollars, and many had agreed to pay something every month.
The committee called at the store and arranged for the supplies to be brought as ordered by Bonnie, and then called on Lucky Smith, and informed him of the plans as to the baby, with many encouraging slaps on the shoulder and protestations of friendship and sympathy. Smith fully appreciated their expressions of good will, and desire to do himself and the baby a service, and expressed his thanks for their unostentatious kindness in providing for the care of the baby and the burial of his wife, without expense to himself; at hearing which they told him to "close his jaw." It would have been a mortal offense for him to have even hinted at any future repayment, for they were not educated to that point of charitable economy that
The doctor was next interviewed by the committee, and by them was informed that very much feeling existed against him on account of his permitting the Calabazas baby's mother to die; that he was called in as a doctor in cases of sickness to prevent such a catastrophe, and if he could not do that, he ought to haul in his shingle and go dig clams (not stating where he would find them around Calabazas.) They reminded him of the doctor that was hanged by a committee of citizens at the town of Ratoon, at the foot of the Ratoon Mountain, in New Mexico, because he let a lady die on his hands. However, they would let by-gones be by-gones, but he would be expected to look after the baby, and should sickness or death come to that precious infant, there would be serious trouble in store for him. As these men generally carried out their threats, it may be imagined that the doctor was always on tap at the demand of the baby, and he watched that treasure with an eagle eye. Spells of wind colic in the Calabazas baby, generated spells of fear colic in the Calabazas doctor, far more serious to his peace of mind.
Bonnie, though but a hurdy-girl, was as kind and affectionate as she was pretty. She scouted the idea of payment, and said it must go in the baby's fund. A baby never received from its mother better care or more affection than she gave the town baby. She had him with her day and night, and his milk bottle was never empty. Between the doctor's strict and interested attention, and her motherly care, he thrived
The daily stage from Tucson unfailingly brought the baby some little thing in the shape of clothes, toys or ornaments. His trips around the saloons resulted in numerous gifts of money. Many were the quarters, halves and dollars slipped into his chubby pink fists,
Smith was occasionally permitted to fondle the baby, i.e., when Bonnie stood on one side and another girl on the other and one in front, ready to throttle him and grab the baby at the first signs of an accident. Of course Smith gave it a name, but he was the only one that knew what it was; every one else knew it as the "Calabazas Baby," and there was not a man or woman in the town that would not have fought to the death to have preserved that wonderful infant from harm.
Lucky Smith was as industrious as ever, and his wife's death seemed to have taken away his liability to accident. He carried on the laundry in a half-hearted way for a short time, and went to general jobbing again. Some months after his wife's death, he told Bonnie that a married sister of his, married to a contractor on the Sonora Railroad, wished him to bring the baby to her. Bonnie was panic-stricken, and hastened to consult the committee. The committee called on Smith, and he produced letters from his sister to show that he was not trying to "play them for suckers or jays." The letters were couched in most appealing and affectionate terms, for her own baby had just died. The baby being considered as public property, it was with much indignation at Smith's "gall" in claiming the baby among the men,
The bank deposit, amounting to quite a tidy sum, was put in Smith's hands to be sacredly kept, and invested to create a fund to start the baby in life, should he live, and the father was warned never to show his face in Calabazas again if anything should happen the boy. Handsome George and Bonnie accompanied them to the Line, as a committee of safety, to be sure that Smith did not break his own and the baby's neck on American soil. For several days after their return George was more nervy and hasty than usual, and for weeks poor Bonnie's eyes filled whenever the baby was mentioned. She could never tell often enough of how ‘‘the dear little fellow tried to jump out of the stage window into my arms, and clutched the collar of my basque with his rosy fingers, when I was kissing him good-bye, for he just knew no one else would ever be as good to him.’’ Bonnie looked after the little woman's grave, and a Sunday never passed that did not see it weeded, and a few wild flowers or green boughs placed upon the mound by her. They may meet again.
If Lucky Smith is still living, it is to be hoped that he was compensated for the death of his estimable little wife by better fortune, and fewer broken bones or mishaps. It is also to be hoped that the baby is alive, and will grow to be a credit to his father, and