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Estrella







Part of: THE RAWHIDE
From: Arizona Nights

The honeymoon developed and the necessary adjustments took place. The
latter Senor Johnson had not foreseen; and yet, when the necessity for
them arose, he acknowledged them right and proper.

"Course she don't want to ride over to Circle I with us," he informed
his confidant, Jed Parker. "It's a long ride, and she ain't used to
riding yet. Trouble is I've been thinking of doing things with her
just as if she was a man. Women are different. They likes different
things."

This second idea gradually overlaid the first in Senor Johnson's mind.
Estrella showed little aptitude or interest in the rougher side of
life. Her husband's statement as to her being still unused to riding
was distinctly a euphemism. Estrella never arrived at the point of
feeling safe on a horse. In time she gave up trying, and the sorrel
drifted back to cow-punching. The range work she never understood.

As a spectacle it imposed itself on her interest for a week; but since
she could discover no real and vital concern in the welfare of cows,
soon the mere outward show became an old story. Estrella's sleek
nature avoided instinctively all that interfered with bodily
well-being. When she was cool and well-fed and not thirsty, and
surrounded by a proper degree of feminine daintiness, then she was
ready to amuse herself. But she could not understand the desirability
of those pleasures for which a certain price in discomfort must be
paid. As for firearms, she confessed herself frankly afraid of them.
That was the point at which her intimacy with them stopped.

The natural level to which these waters fell is easily seen. Quite
simply, the Senor found that a wife does not enter fully into her
husband's workaday life. The dreams he had dreamed did not come true.

This was at first a disappointment to him, of course, but the
disappointment did not last. Senor Johnson was a man of sense, and he
easily modified his first scheme of married life.

"She'd get sick of it, and I'd get sick of it," he formulated his new
philosophy. "Now I got something to come back to, somebody to look
forward to. And it's a WOMAN; it ain't one of these darn gangle-leg
cowgirls. The great thing is to feel you BELONG to someone; and that
someone nice and cool and fresh and purty is waitin' for you when you
come in tired. It beats that other little old idee of mine slick as a
gun barrel."

So, during this, the busy season of the range riding, immediately
before the great fall round-ups, Senor Johnson rode abroad all day, and
returned to his own hearth as many evenings of the week as he could.
Estrella always saw him coming and stood in the doorway to greet him.
He kicked off his spurs, washed and dusted himself, and spent the
evening with his wife. He liked the sound of exactly that phrase, and
was fond of repeating it to himself in a variety of connections.

"When I get in I'll spend the evening with my wife." "If I don't ride
over to Circle I, I'll spend the evening with my wife," and so on. He
had a good deal to tell her of the day's discoveries, the state of the
range, and the condition of the cattle. To all of this she listened at
least with patience. Senor Johnson, like most men who have long
delayed marriage, was self-centred without knowing it. His interest in
his mate had to do with her personality rather than with her doings.

"What you do with yourself all day to-day?" he occasionally inquired.

"Oh, there's lots to do," she would answer, a trifle listlessly; and
this reply always seemed quite to satisfy his interest in the subject.

Senor Johnson, with a curiously instant transformation often to be
observed among the adventurous, settled luxuriously into the state of
being a married man. Its smallest details gave him distinct and
separate sensations of pleasure.

"I plumb likes it all," he said. "I likes havin' interest in some fool
geranium plant, and I likes worryin' about the screen doors and all the
rest of the plumb foolishness. It does me good. It feels like
stretchin' your legs in front of a good warm fire."

The centre, the compelling influence of this new state of affairs, was
undoubtedly Estrella, and yet it is equally to be doubted whether she
stood for more than the suggestion. Senor Johnson conducted his entire
life with reference to his wife. His waking hours were concerned only
with the thought of her, his every act revolved in its orbit controlled
by her influence. Nevertheless she, as an individual human being, had
little to do with it. Senor Johnson referred his life to a state of
affairs he had himself invented and which he called the married state,
and to a woman whose attitude he had himself determined upon and whom
he designated as his wife. The actual state of affairs--whatever it
might be--he did not see; and the actual woman supplied merely the
material medium necessary to the reality of his idea. Whether
Estrella's eyes were interested or bored, bright or dull, alert or
abstracted, contented or afraid, Senor Johnson could not have told you.
He might have replied promptly enough--that they were happy and loving.
That is the way Senor Johnson conceived a wife's eyes.

The routine of life, then, soon settled. After breakfast the Senor
insisted that his wife accompany him on a short tour of inspection. "A
little pasear," he called it, "just to get set for the day." Then his
horse was brought, and he rode away on whatever business called him.
Like a true son of the alkali, he took no lunch with him, nor expected
his horse to feed until his return. This was an hour before sunset.
The evening passed as has been described. It was all very simple.

When the business hung close to the ranch house--as in the bronco
busting, the rebranding of bought cattle, and the like--he was able to
share his wife's day. Estrella conducted herself dreamily, with a slow
smile for him when his actual presence insisted on her attention. She
seemed much given to staring out over the desert. Senor Johnson,
appreciatively, thought he could understand this. Again, she gave much
leisure to rocking back and forth on the low, wide veranda, her hands
idle, her eyes vacant, her lips dumb. Susie O'Toole had early proved
incompatible and had gone.

"A nice, contented, home sort of a woman," said Senor Johnson.

One thing alone besides the deserts on which she never seemed tired of
looking, fascinated her. Whenever a beef was killed for the uses of
the ranch, she commanded strips of the green skin. Then, like a child,
she bound them and sewed them and nailed them to substances
particularly susceptible to their constricting power. She choked the
necks of green gourds, she indented the tender bark of cottonwood
shoots, she expended an apparently exhaustless ingenuity on the
fabrication of mechanical devices whose principle answered to the
pulling of the drying rawhide. And always along the adobe fence could
be seen a long row of potatoes bound in skin, some of them fresh and
smooth and round; some sweating in the agony of squeezing; some
wrinkled and dry and little, the last drops of life tortured out of
them. Senor Johnson laughed good-humouredly at these toys, puzzled to
explain their fascination for his wife.

"They're sure an amusing enough contraption honey," said he, "but what
makes you stand out there in the hot sun staring at them that way?
It's cooler on the porch."

"I don't know," said Estrella, helplessly, turning her slow, vacant
gaze on him. Suddenly she shivered in a strong physical revulsion. "I
don't know!" she cried with passion.

After they had been married about a month Senor Johnson found it
necessary to drive into Willets.

"How would you like to go, too, and buy some duds?" he asked Estrella.

"Oh!" she cried strangely. "When?"

"Day after tomorrow."

The trip decided, her entire attitude changed. The vacancy of her gaze
lifted; her movements quickened; she left off staring at the desert,
and her rawhide toys were neglected. Before starting, Senor Johnson
gave her a check book. He explained that there were no banks in
Willets, but that Goodrich, the storekeeper, would honour her signature.

"Buy what you want to, honey," said he. "Tear her wide open. I'm good
for it."

"How much can I draw?" she asked, smiling.

"As much as you want to," he replied with emphasis.

"Take care"--she poised before him with the check book extended--"I may
draw--I might draw fifty thousand dollars."

"Not out of Goodrich," he grinned; "you'd bust the game. But hold him
up for the limit, anyway."

He chuckled aloud, pleased at the rare, bird-like coquetry of the
woman. They drove to Willets. It took them two days to go and two
days to return. Estrella went through the town in a cyclone burst of
enthusiasm, saw everything, bought everything, exhausted everything in
two hours. Willets was not a large place. On her return to the ranch
she sat down at once in the rocking-chair on the veranda. Her hands
fell into her lap. She stared out over the desert.

Senor Johnson stole up behind her, clumsy as a playful bear. His eyes
followed the direction of hers to where a cloud shadow lay across the
slope, heavy, palpable, untransparent, like a blotch of ink.

"Pretty, isn't it, honey?" said he. "Glad to get back?"

She smiled at him her vacant, slow smile.

"Here's my check book," she said; "put it away for me. I'm through
with it."

"I'll put it in my desk," said he. "It's in the left-hand cubbyhole,"
he called from inside.

"Very well," she replied.

He stood in the doorway, looking fondly at her unconscious shoulders
and the pose of her blonde head thrown back against the high
rocking-chair.

"That's the sort of a woman, after all," said Senor Johnson. "No blame
fuss about her."





Next: The Round-up

Previous: The Wagon Tire



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