The smell of freshly mowed grass, pesticide and tar from the public road crew truck that faithfully repaired the pot holes from winter’s depredations, came into the house with me.
You’re here. I know I told you that I leave the place unlocked but I didn’t know that you’d just saunter in. Good enough. No, don’t apologize, I offered. Your English is pretty good. I guess good enough to land you a job with the Gazette, huh?
In every neighborhood there is the legend of a crazy person who lives in a home, likely haunted by a restless poltergeist. That’s me. I’m the guy. But I don’t live in this gothic manse by myself.
You’ll know my housekeeper when you see her. She has slight, narrow shoulders, a modest bosom and hips that some people would call, ‘child bearing’, but she had no children that I’ve heard of. Certainly there were none who accompanied her to the America from the old country. She has a sharp chin, a broad forehead and a small, mean-spirited Irish mouth. She wears her hair bobbed, the way that a chore woman normally does, except that it has the colors of the evening sky, gold, orange and red all at the same time.
Then there is Carlos, but don’t mind that he’s a Mexican. He’s not one of those types that carries a knife and is quick to use it. He doesn’t talk much, so don’t worry. He’s not always around and if he does say anything you won’t be able to hear him. He only speaks to and through me, in English.
I ordered a wife by mail from Bohemia, or someplace near Bohemia, through the service advertised in the Montgomery Ward’s catalog. To get her here, I had to pay her way over by steam ship. I think that she had higher expectations in the way of a mate than I could offer. It is 1904 and the American modern age may not have been to her taste.
Or maybe my habits put her off? I gave her a purse and sent her on her way. Maybe that’s all she wanted in the first place.
During the mine accident, the roof gave way. The prospect of death sometimes creates an interlude when time stops. I saw a portrait of what my life should be like rather than what it is. I resolved to acquire a wife, but there were no women of the marrying sort in hard rock mining camps. The women in Philadelphia of a marriageable age don’t find me appealing. Thus the resort to mail-order. It happened while I eased myself out to the morning shed to do my business and as I sat there, thumbing through the catalog, half of which remained, I found the advertisement.
I went West broke as a church mouse. Then I left the far West and moved to the Atlantic seaboard. A degree of coarseness followed with me from the mining camps. The good people of Philadelphia defer to my eccentric nature because I came east with wagons of gold, bankers, lawyers, managers a majordomo, a wine steward named France-wah, a gentleman’s gentleman named Luther, and all that the entourage meant to the burghers of The City of Brotherly Love.
If you have money, you need all of these people surrounding you – or so they told me. I even had a gunman named Mike Heidt, who planted two Italians who needed killing on my behalf. They’re all gone now that I’m settled. Just the house keeper to keep me company now. And you for the short time we have together.
Really, you want to hear more about the mine cave-in, which was called a disaster, but not by me? It was in the papers. Why don’t you just read about it there? Some dime store novelist even wrote a monograph on the subject. Ah, you’re too lazy to do that. Shoulda figured.
There’s not much else to tell but what they told. Twas east of Bridgeport on the eastern slope of Potato Peak, which makes it the western slope of Bodie Mountain in that saddle that connects them that we staked our claim. There had been some prospecting in Rough Creek, but it didn’t look promising and the panners, dredgers and sluicers didn’t stay. We bought two claims laid by the same gentleman by bartering a wagon and an old mule for them. Such was the value placed on that slope. No gold had come from it. We had different thoughts on the matter.
Carlos, the Mexican I referred to earlier wasn’t around in those days. The Potato Peak Mining Company consisted of yours truly, Frederick Haskel, a cantankerous bastard who cultivated a nasty bristle beard who continually reminded me he was my uncle and Marsh Simpson, who was not related to either of us.
I’ve forgotten my manors. Can I get you a drink? The housekeeper stocks damned near an entire liquor store?
Sweet tea? Yeah, we have some of that in the ice box. I even have an ice block. I’ll chip some of it off and put it in your drink. It is hot in here, but I can’t tolerate breeze so I lock the place down.
How’s the tea? I forgot for a moment that you’re Chinee and that your race is plum fond of tea.
Back to telling you what you came here to write about. The mine disaster. We found a small vein of quartz with gold running through it. When I say small, it was damned small, but we followed it down. We barrowed the ore down hill to the Masonic Road and loaded it on a rock wagon. From there, the trip to the stamping mill in Bodie is only three miles or maybe a scosh under. There are miners who have to take their ore a hundred miles over rough freighting roads to get it stamped, and we only had to go that short distance. Marsh took some of the profits and hired three Chinese to help with the digging. We could have afforded more than three, but Marsh is cheap and as he continually reminded me, it doubled the work force.
Why don’t we go down into the basement? I have something to show you. I can talk while I walk. We burrowed down, blasted, collected, sorted ore bearing from feldspar and blasted again. Marsh felt that shoring wasn’t as necessary as he should have and in the end it killed him, killed the Chinee and Uncle Frederick. We’d just finished a vent hole so we could breathe down there and we’d turned to the face. We were all working the face, boring to place dynamite in it and blast again when the roof came down. That’s when Carlos showed up. Twere his ideas that got me out of the glory hole so that others could go to work for me and make me richer than Croesus.
Light a candle for yourself and mind your step. These wood stairs get slippery.
So there I was, still alive. Trapped but living. And when the dust cleared, I could see with my carbide lamp that behind that roof was a vein of quartz and gold six inches wide. There was air. There was always water in the mine and I had a lot of digging ahead of me to get myself out.
No, the close quarters didn’t bother me anymore than being down here in the basement of this mansion. It feels more like a womb, same with the mine. I got used to it. And I had Carlos for company, cracking jokes and making suggestions.
You’re right there. A man has to eat.
Marsh and Uncle Frederic were entombed, but two of them Chinee weren’t and I needed the sustenance to dig my way out. I came away with two things. A love of enclosed spaces and a fond taste for raw Chinee, even though the last one had turned before I got all the way out.
Twas Carlos who picked you, not me, cause you’re fat and soft, not tough like them others.