23. BACK TO ARIZONA
In San Francisco I learned that I could now go as far as Los Angeles by rail, thence by steamer to San Diego, and so on by stage to Fort Yuma, where my husband was to meet me with an ambulance and a wagon.
I was enchanted with the idea of avoiding the long sea-trip down the Pacific coast, but sent my boxes down by the Steamer “Montana,” sister ship of the old “Newbern,” and after a few days' rest in San Francisco, set forth by rail for Los Angeles. At San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles, we embarked for San Diego. It was a heavenly night. I sat on deck enjoying the calm sea, and listening to the romantic story of Lieutenant Philip Reade, then stationed at San Diego. He was telling the story himself, and I had never read or heard of anything so mysterious or so tragic.
Then, too, aside from the story, Mr. Reade was a very good-looking and chivalrous young army officer. He was returning to his station in San Diego, and we had this pleasant opportunity to renew what had been a very slight acquaintance.
The calm waters of the Pacific, with their long and gentle swell, the pale light of the full moon, our steamer gliding so quietly along, the soft air of the California coast, the absence of noisy travellers, these made a fit setting for the story of his early love and marriage, and the tragic mystery which surrounded the death of his young bride.
I believe Mr. Reade wears now a silver eagle on his shoulder, and well earned it is, too. I wonder if he has forgotten how he helped to bind up my little boy's finger which had been broken in an accident on the train from San Francisco to Los Angeles? or how he procured a surgeon for me on our arrival there, and got a comfortable room for us at the hotel? of how he took us to drive (with an older lady for a chaperon), or how he kindly cared for us until we were safely on the boat that evening? If I had ever thought chivalry dead, I learned then that I had been mistaken.
The driver waited for no ceremonies, muttered something about being late, cracked his whip, and away we went. I tried to stow myself and my little boy and my belongings away comfortably, but the road was rough, and the coach swayed, and I gave it up. There were passengers on top the coach, and passengers inside the coach. One woman who was totally deaf, and some miners and blacksmiths, and a few other men, the flotsam and jetsam of the Western countries, who come from no one knoweth whence, and who go, no one knoweth whither, who have no trade or profession and are sometimes even without a name.
They seemed to want to be kind to me. Harry got very stage-sick and gave us much trouble, and they all helped me to hold him. Night came. I do not remember that we made any stops at all; if we did, I have forgotten them. The night on that stage-coach can be better imagined than described. I do not know of any adjectives that I could apply to it.
The road was narrow and appeared to be cut out of solid rock, which seemed to be as smooth as soapstone; the four horses were put to their speed, and down and around and away we went. I drew in my breath as I looked out and over into the abyss on my left. Death and destruction seemed to be the end awaiting us all. Everybody was limp, when we reached the bottom—that is, I was limp, and I suppose the others were. The stage-driver knew I was frightened, because I sat still and looked white and he came and lifted me out. He lived in a small cabin at the bottom of the mountain; I talked with him some. ‘‘“The fact is,”’’ he said, ‘‘“we are an hour late this morning; we always make it a point to ‘do it’ before dawn, so the passengers can't see anything; they are almost sure to get stampeded, if we come down by daylight.”’’
I mentioned this road afterwards in San Francisco, and learned that it was a famous road, cut out of the side of a solid mountain of rock; long talked of, long desired, and finally built, at great expense, by the state and the county together; that they always had the same man to drive over it, and that they never did it by daylight. I did not inquire if there had ever
After a little rest and a breakfast at a sort of roadhouse, a relay of horses was taken, and we travelled one more day over a flat country, to the end of the stage-route. Jack was to meet me. Already from the stage I had espied the post ambulance and two blue uniforms. Out jumped Major Ernest and Jack. I remember thinking how straight and how well they looked. I had forgotten really how army men did look, I had been so long away.
And now we were to go to Fort Yuma and stay with the Wells' until my boxes, which had been sent around by water on the steamer “Montana,” should arrive. I had only the usual thirty pounds' allowance of luggage with me on the stage, and it was made up entirely of my boy's clothing, and an evening dress I had worn on the last night of my stay in San Francisco.
Fort Yuma was delightful at this season (December), and after four or five days spent most enjoyably, we crossed over one morning on the old rope ferryboat to Yuma City, to inquire at the big country store there of news from the Gulf. There was no bridge then over the Colorado.
I turned toward the counter, and bought some sewing materials, realizing that outside of my toilet articles and my party dress all my personal belongings were swept away. I was in a country where there were no dressmakers, and no shops; I was, for the time being, a pauper, as far as clothing was concerned.
When I got back to Mrs. Wells I broke down entirely; she put her arms around me and said: ‘‘“I've heard all about it; I know just how you must feel; now come in my room, and we'll see what can be done.”’’
She laid out enough clothing to last me until I could get some things from the East, and gave me a grey and white percale dress with a basque, and a border, and although it was all very much too large for me, it sufficed to relieve my immediate distress.
Letters were dispatched to the East, in various directions, for every sort and description of clothing, but it was at least two months before any of it appeared, and I felt like an object of charity for a long time. Then, too, I had anticipated the fitting up of our quarters with all the pretty crÉtonnes and other things I had brought from home. And now the contents of those boxes were no more! The memory of the visit was all that was left to me. It was very hard to bear.
Preparations for our journey to Camp MacDowell were at last completed. The route to our new post lay along the valley of the Gila River, following it up from its mouth, where it empties into the Colorado, eastwards towards the southern middle portion of Arizona.