Arizona Nights by Stewart Edward White
Chapter Fifteen. The Calabash Stew
I had agreed with Denton to stick to the beach, but Schwartz could not last much longer, and I had not the slightest idea how far it might prove to be to Mollyhay. So I turned up the trail.
We climbed a mountain ten thousand feet high. I mean that; and I know, for I've climbed them that high, and I know just how it feels, and how many times you have to rest, and how long it takes, and how much it knocks out of you. Those are the things that count in measuring height, and so I tell you we climbed that far. Actually I suppose the hill was a couple of hundred feet, if not less. But on account of the grey mist I mentioned, I could not see the top, and the illusion was complete.
We reached the summit late in the afternoon, for the sun was square in our eyes. But instead of blinding me, it seemed to clear my sight, so that I saw below me a little mud hut with smoke rising behind it, and a small patch of cultivated ground.
I'll pass over how I felt about it: they haven't made the words--
Well, we stumbled down the trail and into the hut. At first I thought it was empty, but after a minute I saw a very old man crouched in a corner. As I looked at him he raised his bleared eyes to me, his head swinging slowly from side to side as though with a kind of palsy. He could not see me, that was evident, nor hear me, but some instinct not yet decayed turned him toward a new presence in the room. In my wild desire for water I found room to think that here was a man even worse off than myself.
A vessel of water was in the corner. I drank it. It was more than I could hold, but I drank even after I was filled, and the waste ran from the corners of my mouth. I had forgotten Schwartz. The excess made me a little sick, but I held down what I had swallowed, and I really believe it soaked into my system as it does into the desert earth after a drought.
In a moment or so I took the vessel and filled it and gave it to Schwartz. Then it seemed to me that my responsibility had ended. A sudden great dreamy lassitude came over me. I knew I needed food, but I had no wish for it, and no ambition to search it out. The man in the corner mumbled at me with his toothless gums. I remember wondering if we were all to starve there peacefully together--Schwartz and his remaining gold coins, the man far gone in years, and myself. I did not greatly care.
After a while the light was blotted out. There followed a slight pause. Then I knew that someone had flown to my side, and was kneeling beside me and saying liquid, pitying things in Mexican. I swallowed something hot and strong. In a moment I came back from wherever I was drifting, to look up at a Mexican girl about twenty years old.
She was no great matter in looks, but she seemed like an angel to me then. And she had sense. No questions, no nothing. Just business. The only thing she asked of me was if I understood Spanish.
Then she told me that her brother would be back soon, that they were very poor, that she was sorry she had no meat to offer me, that they were very poor, that all they had was calabash--a sort of squash. All this time she was bustling things together. Next thing I know I had a big bowl of calabash stew between my knees.
Now, strangely enough, I had no great interest in that calabash stew. I tasted it, sat and thought a while, and tasted it again. By and by I had emptied the bowl. It was getting dark. I was very sleepy. A man came in, but I was too drowsy to pay any attention to him. I heard the sound of voices. Then I was picked up bodily and carried to an out-building and laid on a pile of skins. I felt the weight of a blanket thrown over me--
I awoke in the night. Mind you, I had practically had no rest at all for a matter of more than two weeks, yet I woke in a few hours. And, remember, even in eating the calabash stew I had felt no hunger in spite of my long fast. But now I found myself ravenous. You boys do not know what hunger is. It hurts. And all the rest of that night I lay awake chewing on the rawhide of a pack-saddle that hung near me.
Next morning the young Mexican and his sister came to us early, bringing more calabash stew. I fell on it like a wild animal, and just wallowed in it, so eager was I to eat. They stood and watched me--and I suppose Schwartz, too, though I had now lost interest in anyone but myself--glancing at each other in pity from time to time.
When I had finished the man told me that they had decided to kill a beef so we could have meat. They were very poor, but God had brought us to them--
I appreciated this afterward. At the time I merely caught at the word "meat." It seemed to me I could have eaten the animal entire, hide, hoofs, and tallow. As a matter of fact, it was mighty lucky they didn't have any meat. If they had, we'd probably have killed ourselves with it. I suppose the calabash was about the best thing for us under the circumstances.
The Mexican went out to hunt up his horse. I called the girl back.
"How far is it to Mollyhay?" I asked her.
"A league," said she.
So we bad been near our journey's end after all, and Denton was probably all right.
The Mexican went away horseback. The girl fed us calabash. We waited.
About one o'clock a group of horsemen rode over the hill. When they came near enough I recognised Denton at their head. That man was of tempered steel--
They had followed back along the beach, caught our trail where we had turned off, and so discovered us. Denton had fortunately found kind and intelligent people.
We said good-bye to the Mexican girl. I made Schwartz give her one of his gold pieces.
But Denton could not wait for us to say "hullo" even, he was so anxious to get back to town, so we mounted the horses he had brought us, and rode off, very wobbly.
We lived three weeks in Mollyhay. It took us that long to get fed up. The lady I stayed with made a dish of kid meat and stuffed olives--
Why, an hour after filling myself up to the muzzle I'd be hungry again, and scouting round to houses looking for more to eat!
We talked things over a good deal, after we had gained a little strength. I wanted to take a little flyer at Guaymas to see if I could run across this Handy Solomon person, but Denton pointed out that Anderson would be expecting just that, and would take mighty good care to be scarce. His idea was that we'd do better to get hold of a boat and some water casks, and lug off the treasure we had stumbled over. Denton told us that the idea of going back and scooping all that dinero up with a shovel had kept him going, just as the idea of getting even with Anderson had kept me going. Schwartz said that after he'd carried that heavy gold over the first day, he made up his mind he'd get the spending of it or bust. That's why he hated so to throw it away.
There were lots of fishing boats in the harbour, and we hired one, and a man to run it for next to nothing a week. We laid a course north, and in six days anchored in our bay.
I tell you it looked queer. There were the charred sticks of the fire, and the coffeepot lying on its side. We took off our hats at poor Billy's grave a minute, and then climbed over the cholla-covered hill carrying our picks and shovels, and the canvas sacks to take the treasure away in.
There was no trouble in reaching the sandy flat. But when we got there we found it torn up from one end to the other. A few scattered timbers and three empty chests with the covers pried off alone remained. Handy Solomon had been there before us.
We went back to our boat sick at heart. Nobody said a word. We went aboard and made our Greaser boatman head for Yuma. It took us a week to get there. We were all of us glum, but Denton was the worst of the lot. Even after we'd got back to town and fallen into our old ways of life, he couldn't seem to get over it. He seemed plumb possessed of gloom, and moped around like a chicken with the pip. This surprised me, for I didn't think the loss of money would hit him so hard. It didn't hit any of us very hard in those days.
One evening I took him aside and fed him a drink, and expostulated with him.
"Oh, hell, Rogers," he burst out, "I don't care about the loot. But, suffering cats, think how that fellow sized us up for a lot of pattern-made fools; and how right he was about, it. Why all he did was to sail out of sight around the next corner. He knew we'd start across country; and we did. All we had to do was to lay low, and save our legs. He was bound to come back. And we might have nailed him when he landed."
"That's about all there was to it," concluded Colorado Rogers, after a pause, "--except that I've been looking for him ever since, and when I heard you singing that song I naturally thought I'd landed."
"And you never saw him again?" asked Windy Bill.
"Well," chuckled Rogers, "I did about ten year later. It was in Tucson. I was in the back of a store, when the door in front opened and this man came in. He stopped at the little cigar-case by the door. In about one jump I was on his neck. I jerked him over backwards before he knew what had struck him, threw him on his face, got my hands in his back-hair, and began to jump his features against the floor. Then all at once I noted that this man had two arms; so of course he was the wrong fellow. "Oh, excuse me," said I, and ran out the back door."