21. WINTER IN EHRENBERG
WE ASKED my sister, Mrs. Penniman, to come out and spend the winter with us, and to bring her son, who was in most delicate health. It was said that the climate of Ehrenberg would have a magical effect upon all diseases of the lungs or throat. So, to save her boy, my sister made the long and arduous trip out from New England, arriving in Ehrenberg in October.
What a joy to see her, and to initiate her into the ways of our life in Arizona! Everything was new, everything was a wonder to her and to my nephew. At first, he seemed to gain perceptibly, and we had great hopes of his recovery.
But no sooner had we gotten one part of our life comfortably arranged, before another part seemed to fall out of adjustment. Accidents and climatic conditions kept my mind in a perpetual state of unrest.
Our dining-room door opened through two small rooms into the kitchen, and one day, as I sat at the table, waiting for Jack to come in to supper, I heard a strange sort of crashing noise. Looking towards the kitchen, through the vista of open doorways, I
I flew to the door, and saw that the pump had collapsed and gone down into the deep sulphur well. In a second, Jack's head and hands appeared at the edge; he seemed to be caught in the dÉbris of rotten timber. Before I could get to him, he had scrambled half way out. ‘‘“Don't come near this place,”’’ he cried, ‘‘“it's all caving in!”’’
My confidence in Ehrenberg, however, as a salubrious dwelling-place, was being gradually and literally undermined. I began to be distrustful of the very ground beneath my feet. Ellen felt the same way, evidently, although we did not talk much about it. She probably longed also for some of her own kind; and when, one morning, we went into the dining-room for breakfast, Ellen stood, hat on, bag in hand, at the
Fisher bethought himself, and we went out together in the village. Not a woman to be found who would come to cook for us! There was only one thing to do. The Quartermaster was allowed a soldier, to assist in the Government work. I asked him if he understood cooking; he said he had never done any, but he would try, if I would show him how.
This proved a hopeless task, and I finally gave it up. Jack dispatched an Indian runner to Fort Yuma, ninety miles or more down river, begging Captain Ernest to send us a soldier-cook on the next boat.
This was a long time to wait; the inconveniences were intolerable: there were our four selves, Patrocina and Jesusíta, the soldier-clerk and the Indian, to be provided for: Patrocina prepared carni seca with peppers, a little boy came around with cuajada, a delicious sweet curd cheese, and I tried my hand at bread, following out Ellen's instructions.
“Look at them, as you pass along the street! At nearly any hour in the day you can see them, sitting under their ramáda, their backs propped against the wall of their casa, calmly smoking cigarettes and gazing at nothing, with a look of ineffable contentment upon their features! They surely have solved the problem of life!”
The weather was now fairly comfortable, and in the evenings we sat under the ramáda, in front of the house, and watched the beautiful pink glow which spread over the entire heavens and illuminated the distant mountains of Lower California. I have never seen anything like that wonderful color, which spread itself over sky, river, and desert. For an hour, one could have believed oneself in a magician's realm.
At about this time, the sad-eyed Patrocina found it expedient to withdraw into the green valleys of Lower California, to recuperate for a few months. With the impish Jesusíta in her arms, she bade me a mournful good-bye. Worthless as she was from the standpoint of civilized morals, I was attached to her and felt sorry to part with her.
After a few weeks, Fisher observed that the whole village was eating Ferris ham, an unusual delicacy in Ehrenberg, and that the Goldwaters' had sold none. So he suggested that our commissary storehouse be looked to; and it was found that a dozen hams or so had been withdrawn from their canvas covers, the covers stuffed with straw, and hung back in place. Verily the Chihuahuan was adding to her pin-money in a most unworthy fashion, and she had to go. After that, I was left without a nurse. My little son was now about nine months old.
Milk began to be more plentiful at this season, and, with my sister's advice and help, I decided to make the one great change in a baby's life—i.e., to take him from his mother. Modern methods were unknown then, and we had neither of us any experience in these matters and there was no doctor in the place.
The result was, that both the baby and myself were painfully and desperately ill and not knowing which way to turn for aid, when, by a lucky turn of Fortune's wheel, our good, dear Doctor Henry Lippincott came through Ehrenberg on his way out to the States. Once more he took care of us, and it is to him that I believe I owe my life.
Captain Ernest sent us a cook from Yuma, and soon some officers came for the duck-shooting. There were thousands of ducks around the various lagoons in the neighborhood, and the sport was rare. We had all the ducks we could eat.
Then came an earthquake, which tore and rent the baked earth apart. The ground shivered, the windows rattled, the birds fell close to the ground and could not fly, the stove-pipes fell to the floor, the thick walls cracked, and finally, the earth rocked to and fro like some huge thing trying to get its balance.
It was in the afternoon. My sister and I were sitting with our needle-work in the living-room. Little Harry was on the floor, occupied with some toys. I was paralyzed with fear; my sister did not move. We sat gazing at each other, scarce daring to breathe, expecting every instant the heavy walls to crumble about our heads. The earth rocked and rocked, and rocked again, then swayed and swayed and finally was still. My sister caught Harry in her arms, and then Jack and Willie came breathlessly in. ‘‘“Did you feel it?”’’ said Jack.
Sarah was silent, and I looked so reproachfully at Jack, that he dropped his light tone, and said: ‘‘“It was pretty awful. We were in the Goldwaters' store, when suddenly it grew dark and the lamps above our heads began to rattle and swing, and we all rushed out into the middle of the street and stood,
‘‘“I do not believe it,”’’ said I; “ we shall have more”; and, in fact, we did have two light shocks in the night, but no more followed, and the next morning, we recovered, in a measure, from our fright and went out to see the great fissures in that treacherous crust of earth upon which Ehrenberg was built.
From my window, one evening at sundown, I saw a weird procession moving slowly along towards the outskirts of the village. It must be a funeral, thought I, and it flashed across my mind that I had never seen the burying-ground.
A man with a rude cross led the procession. Then came some Mexicans with violins and guitars. After the musicians, came the body of the deceased, wrapped in a white cloth, borne on a bier by friends, and followed by the little band of weeping women, with black ribosos folded about their heads. They did not use coffins at Ehrenberg, because they had none, I suppose.
There was no enclosure, but the bare, sloping, sandy place was sprinkled with graves, marked by heaps of stones, and in some instances by rude crosses of wood, some of which had been wrenched from their upright position by the fierce sand-storms. There was not a blade of grass, a tree, or a flower. I walked about among these graves, and close beside some of them I saw deep holes and whitened bones. I was quite ignorant or unthinking, and asked what the holes were.
My heart sickened as I thought of these horrors, and I wondered if Ehrenberg held anything in store for me worse than what I had already seen. We turned away from this unhallowed grave-yard and walked to our quarters. I had never known much about “nerves,” but I began to see spectres in the night, and those ghastly graves with their coyote-holes were ever before me. The place was but a stone's throw from us, and the uneasy spirits from these desecrated graves began to haunt me. I could not sit alone on the low porch at night, for they peered through the lattice, and mocked at me, and beckoned. Some had no heads, some no arms, but they pointed of nodded towards the grewsome burying-ground: “You'll be with us soon, you'll be with us soon.”