Arizona Nights



Although the paper was a year old, Senor Johnson in due time received an answer from Kansas. A correspondence ensued. Senor Johnson enshrined above the big fireplace the photograph of a woman. Before this he used to stand for hours at a time slowly constructing in his mind what he had hitherto lacked—an ideal of woman and of home. This ideal he used sometimes to express to himself and to the ironical Jed.

"It must sure be nice to have a little woman waitin' for you when you come in off'n the desert."

Or: "Now, a woman would have them windows just blooming with flowers and white curtains and such truck."

Or: "I bet that Sang would get a wiggle on him with his little old cleaning duds if he had a woman ahold of his jerk line."

Slowly he reconstructed his life, the life of the ranch, in terms of this hypothesised feminine influence. Then matters came to an understanding, Senor Johnson had sent his own portrait. Estrella Sands wrote back that she adored big black beards, but she was afraid of him, he had such a fascinating bad eye: no woman could resist him. Senor Johnson at once took things for granted, sent on to Kansas a preposterous sum of "expense" money and a railroad ticket, and raided Goodrich's store at Willets, a hundred miles away, for all manner of gaudy carpets, silverware, fancy lamps, works of art, pianos, linen, and gimcracks for the adornment of the ranch house. Furthermore, he offered wages more than equal to a hundred miles of desert to a young Irish girl, named Susie O'Toole, to come out as housekeeper, decorator, boss of Sang and another Chinaman, and companion to Mrs. Johnson when she should arrive.

Furthermore, he laid off from the range work Brent Palmer, the most skilful man with horses, and set him to "gentling" a beautiful little sorrel. A sidesaddle had arrived from El Paso. It was "centre fire," which is to say it had but the single horsehair cinch, broad, tasselled, very genteel in its suggestion of pleasure use only. Brent could be seen at all times of day, cantering here and there on the sorrel, a blanket tied around his waist to simulate the long riding skirt. He carried also a sulky and evil gleam in his eye, warning against undue levity.

Jed Parker watched these various proceedings sardonically.

Once, the baby light of innocence blue in his eye, he inquired if he would be required to dress for dinner.

"If so," he went on, "I'll have my man brush up my low-necked clothes."

But Senor Johnson refused to be baited.

"Go on, Jed," said he; "you know you ain't got clothes enough to dust a fiddle."

The Senor was happy these days. He showed it by an unwonted joviality of spirit, by a slight but evident unbending of his Spanish dignity. No longer did the splendour of the desert fill him with a vague yearning and uneasiness. He looked upon it confidently, noting its various phases with care, rejoicing in each new development of colour and light, of form and illusion, storing them away in his memory so that their recurrence should find him prepared to recognise and explain them. For soon he would have someone by his side with whom to appreciate them. In that sharing he could see the reason for them, the reason for their strange bitter-sweet effects on the human soul.

One evening he leaned on the corral fence, looking toward the Dragoons. The sun had set behind them. Gigantic they loomed against the western light. From their summits, like an aureola, radiated the splendour of the dust-moted air, this evening a deep umber. A faint reflection of it fell across the desert, glorifying the reaches of its nothingness.

"I'll take her out on an evening like this," quoth Senor Johnson to himself, "and I'll make her keep her eyes on the ground till we get right up by Running Bear Knob, and then I'll let her look up all to once. And she'll surely enjoy this life. I bet she never saw a steer roped in her life. She can ride with me every day out over the range and I'll show her the busting and the branding and that band of antelope over by the Tall Windmill. I'll teach her to shoot, too. And we can make little pack trips off in the hills when she gets too hot—up there by Deerskin Meadows 'mongst the high peaks."

He mused, turning over in his mind a new picture of his own life, aims, and pursuits as modified by the sympathetic and understanding companionship of a woman. He pictured himself as he must seem to her in his different pursuits. The picturesqueness pleased him. The simple, direct vanity of the man—the wholesome vanity of a straightforward nature—awakened to preen its feathers before the idea of the mate.

The shadows fell. Over the Chiricahuas flared the evening star. The plain, self-luminous with the weird lucence of the arid lands, showed ghostly. Jed Parker, coming out from the lamp-lit adobe, leaned his elbows on the rail in silent company with his chief. He, too, looked abroad. His mind's eye saw what his body's eye had always told him were the insistent notes—the alkali, the cactus, the sage, the mesquite, the lava, the choking dust, the blinding beat, the burning thirst. He sighed in the dim half recollection of past days.

"I wonder if she'll like the country?" he hazarded.

But Senor Johnson turned on him his steady eyes, filled with the great glory of the desert.

"Like the country!" he marvelled slowly. "Of course! Why shouldn't she?"

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