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The Calabash Stew

From: Arizona Nights

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

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 had 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

"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

"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

Next: The Honk-honk Breed

Previous: The Chewed Sugar Cane

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