18. EHRENBERG ON THE COLORADO
UNDER THE burning mid-day sun of Arizona, on May 16th, our six good mules, with the long whip cracking about their ears, and the ambulance rattling merrily along, brought us into the village of Ehrenberg. There was one street, so called, which ran along on the river bank, and then a few cross streets straggling back into the desert, with here and there a low adobe casa. The Government house stood not far from the river, and as we drove up to the entrance the same blank white walls stared at me. It did not look so much like a prison, after all, I thought. Captain Bernard, the man whom I had pitied, stood at the doorway, to greet us, and after we were inside the house he had some biscuits and wine brought; and then the change of stations was talked of, and he said to me, ‘‘“Now, please make yourself at home. The house is yours; my things are virtually packed up, and I leave in a day or two. There is a soldier here who can stay with you; he has been able to attend to my simple wants. I eat only twice a day; and there is Charley, my Indian, who fetches the water from the river and does the chores. I dine generally at sundown.”’’
Inside the house there were bare white walls, ceilings covered with manta, and sagging, as they always do; small windows set in deep embrasures, and adobe floors. Small and inconvenient rooms, opening one into another around two sides of the square. A sort of low veranda protected by lattice screens, made from a species of slim cactus, called ocotÉa, woven together, and bound with raw-hide, ran around a part of the house.
Our dinner was enlivened by some good Cocomonga wine. I tried to ascertain something about the source of provisions, but evidently the soldier had done the foraging, and Captain Bernard admitted that it was difficult, adding always that he did not require much, ‘‘“it was so warm,”’’ et cætera, et cætera. The next morning I took the reins, nominally, but told the soldier to go ahead and do just as he had always done.
I selected a small room for the baby's bath, the all important function of the day. The Indian, a fine-looking Cocopah, of about twenty-four, brought me a large tub (the same sort of a half of a vinegar
I was in despair; things began to look hopeless again to me. I thought ‘‘“surely these Mexicans must know how to manage with these floors.”’’ Fisher, the steamboat agent, came in, and I asked him if he could not find me a nurse. He said he would try, and went out to see what could be done.
He finally brought in a rather forlorn looking Mexican woman leading a little child (whose father was not known), and she said she would come to us for quinze pesos a month. I consulted with Fisher, and he said she was a pretty good sort, and that we could not afford to be too particular down in that country. And so she came; and although she was indolent, and forever smoking cigarettes, she did care for the baby, and fanned him when he slept, and proved a blessing to me.
I went to Fisher for everything—a large, well-built American, and a kind good man. Mrs. Fisher could not endure the life at Ehrenberg, so she lived in San Francisco, he told me. There were several other white men in the place, and two large stores where everything was kept that people in such countries buy. These merchants made enormous profits, and their families lived in luxury in San Francisco.
The duties of the army officer stationed here consisted principally in receiving and shipping the enormous quantity of Government freight which was landed by the river steamers. It was shipped by wagon trains across the Territory, and at all times the work carried large responsibilities with it.
The station at Ehrenberg was what we call, in the army, “detached service.” I realized that we had left the army for the time being; that we had cut loose from a garrison; that we were in a place where good food could not be procured, and where there were practically no servants to be had. That there was not a woman to speak to, or to go to for advice or help, and, worst of all, that there was no doctor in the place. Besides all this, my clothes were all ruined by lying wet for a fortnight in the boxes, and I had practically nothing to wear. I did not then know what useless things clothes were in Ehrenberg.
So one day we heard the whistle of the “Gila” going up; and when she came down river, I was all ready to go on board, with Patrocina and Jesusita, * and my own child, who was yet but five months old. I bade farewell to the man on detached service, and we headed down river. We seemed to go down very rapidly, although the trip lasted several days. Patrocina took to her bed with neuralgia (or nostalgia);
Finally the doctor said that if I did not throw Jesusta overboard, he would; why didn't I “wring the neck of its worthless Mexican of a mother?” and so on, until I really grew very nervous and unhappy, thinking what I should do after we got on board the ocean steamer. I, a victim of seasickness, with this unlucky woman and her child on my hands, in addition to my own! No; I made up my mind to go back to Ehrenberg, but I said nothing.
I did not dare to let Doctor Clark know of my decision, for I knew he would try to dissuade me; but when we reached the mouth of the river, and they began to transfer the passengers to the ocean steamer which lay in the offing, I quietly sat down upon my trunk and told them I was going back to Ehrenberg. Captain Mellon grinned; the others were speechless; they tried persuasion, but saw it was useless; and then they said good-bye to me, and our stern-wheeler headed about and started for up river.
*. Diminutive of Jesus, a very common name amongst the Mexicans. Pronounced Hay-soo-sÉ-ta.