Tucson might not be so bad, Kitty Harold thought to herself as she descended the staircase of the Crystal Palace Hotel. She’d seen a lot between here and El Paso, a lot of richness squandered amid a lot of squalor, and vice versa; and seen dumps that could barely be called habitable for humans much less the creatures that existed in the arid lands of New Mexico and Arizona. She’d been aiming for Flagstaff, but after the altercation with a bounty hunter in Gallup, she’d fled on a stagecoach that would take her as far away from trouble as she could get…and so far, it was Tucson. It was fairly civilized – she’d heard one or two men boast of its upcoming growth and technological improvement, but all that really mattered to Kitty was whether or not she could find the man that would get her to San Francisco. That was where the real money was to be made…and even better if there was someone she could have some fun with.
Dressed in her finery, which she’d always been able to keep up to fashion and accessorize with new baubles here and there along the way, Kitty entered the upscale bar and looked around. There were a couple of faro tables in the back, a billiards table to her left, and a pianist plunking away at some tune she’d heard in over a dozen saloons thus far. She pulled out some money she’d stashed for occasions like this and slid it to the barkeep.
“Whiskey,” she told him and gave him an extra wink. She especially wanted the barkeep on her side tonight. “Can you help a lady out and tell her what she can expect in a place like this? Anything interesting going on?”
“Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone
All her lovely companions are faded and gone
No flower of her kindred, no rosebud is nigh
To reflect back her blushes and give sigh for sigh*
The moon hung high over the town of Tucson as it sprawled out beneath her open window, the linen and lace curtains dancing in the gentle Western breeze. Above her, a vast sea of starts twinkled in the black velvet sky. It was all so beautiful…so very beautiful. The night was one of the most beautiful she could recall, really… and here, from her second floor window in the Grand Hotel, Sarah Prescott could see it all. The night, and it’s beauty..the land beyond the town a vast, dark expanse in the distance, the horizon that seemed to never end… and the good people of town, a veritable parade of humanity, men and women of all walks of life, passing by below.
She most certainly, most assuredly, wasn’t in Philadelphia any more.
A soft smile played upon the young woman’s lips, as she drew the soft bristles of the brush through her long golden hair, her soft soprano voice sweet, and angelic as she entertained herself by singing the tune she’d come to love so dearly, the song her own Mother, may God rest her soul, had sung to her so many times as a child, not even caring or thinking of who might hear her.
“I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one, to pine on the stem
Since the lovely are sleeping, go sleep thou with them
Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves o’er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden lie scentless and dead”*
They’d arrived only a few hours earlier, upon the evening coach, in what she could only assume was quite the spectacle for the good citizens of Tucson . “One only has one chance to make a first impression”, her Father often said..and as the representative of the railroad in charge of acquisitioning land for the new routes to be opened in the West, Mr. James Edward Prescott definitely wanted to present the best image. Dressed in his finest suit of an European cut, his daughter at his side, quite the beauty, indeed, her blonde hair swept up in an elegant style of the day, clad in a travelling gown of a deep rich blue, just the color of her eyes, and of a Parisian cut, from one of the finest shops Philadelphia had to offer, delicate lace gloves, a bonnet to match, and her ever-present parasol in hand – for it wouldn’t do after all, for a lady to be exposed to the sun- an air of wealth and power, would indeed have seemed to hang heavy about the man. Indeed, James Prescott was a man who knew what he wanted.. and was determined to get it, whatever it might take to do so…and in this case, what he wanted…was land for the railroad to build upon, to open up a route through this territory. He’d been quite successful so far, leaving a trail of upended ranches in his wake, as “civilization” and “growth” came to the West, and he had every confidence that Tucson would be no different.
At first, he hadn’t allowed Sarah to travel with him, leaving her there, in Philadelphia, with her Aunt, Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, who had seen the girl well-educated, at the finest finishing schools and properly groomed to take a place in the city’s society, with the intent that she should be married to a man of some standing, a lawyer perhaps, since she was of good breeding, and old money, through her Mother’s family… but that had changed, rather abruptly, when Elizabeth fell prey to the consumption and passed away. What had at first seemed a burden, in his daughter’s presence, soon blossomed into a blessing, as James had discovered that the company of a charming young lady could sometimes sway a man’s thoughts. Sarah had been quite beneficial indeed, in convincing one or two ranchers to sign their land away to the railroad, even if the girl herself had no clue she’d done so. Oh, when there was a match to be made, no doubt, he’d send his daughter home to Philadelphia to wed, far away from this savage land, but for now…she was of tremendous use to him, and it -did- give him a chance to travel, with her, to spend some time with her. She was -so- like her Mother, and he adored her. Her usefulness was just the icing on a lovely cake.
The Grand Hotel. The young boy who had agreed to see her trunks from the station… all 7 of them (a lady must be well-prepared for -any- circumstance after all ) .. plus a trunk and a valise or two that belonged to the elder Prescott.. had recommended it to her Father, as well as the boarding house. Her Father had insisted that they stay there, since a boarding house seemed rather…well…beneath… a lady and gentleman of standing. Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley had been ever so kind in greeting them, and seeing them provided with… adequate…rooms. There were no rooms to be found in the West that matched the luxury of the hotels to be found in Philadelphia, or Boston, or New York, of course, but these simple people, they did try…and Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley did seem to try to provide as many amenities as they could.
Her Father had settled into his rooms, then gone downstairs to visit with Mr. Kingsley. Her Father always insisted upon travelling with a fine selection of cigars and a high quality brandy to share with his hosts , and those he was “woo-ing” for the railroad. It was an essential he said. Sarah, however, had made her excuses, instead , indulging in the bath that Mrs. Kingsley had offered to have drawn for her to clean away the dust of the road… casting away her dress of the day, for a simple white linen dressing gown, her hair left unbound and free…
and for the quiet reflections of a beautiful Western night…
…and a song that reminded her of home..and family
.. and the hope that perhaps here, here in Tucson.. in this brave new world,so far away from the city that she knew and loved..she might discover something even grander than she’d imagined. Adventure.. love.. happiness.. could it await her there? In the world beyond her window? Among the people that passed in the streets below?
Perhaps in time.
In the moment, however..the pretty little bird in the gilded cage , would sing..
“So soon may I follow when friendships decay
And from love’s shining circle the gems drop away
When true hearts lie withered and fond ones are flown
Oh who would inhabit this bleak world alone?
This bleak world alone” *
* To hear Sarah’s song, “The Last Rose of Summer”, please visit: http://youtu.be/r3xy8jr_030
Lewis smiled when he finally caught sight of her. The sweetness of his smile made her smile back. She didn’t mean to. Why encourage something that couldn’t be? Peaches walked over his way. Lewis moved down to make room for her, almost knocking over the man next to him.
“Good afternoon, Miss Peaches.”
“Howdy, Lewis. What brings you here this time of day?”
“Oh, I needed to visit the general store and thought I’d stop in for a drink.” Peaches snorted, looking at his glass.
“A drink you ain’t drinking.” Lewis’ eyes were like blue sapphires beneath a running stream.
“Oh, all right. I came to see you.” He looked down at the glass in front of his strong hands. “Guess I’m not much of a liar.”
“I wouldn’t call it lying so much.” Lewis laughed.
“You look lovely today.”
“You say that every day,” she reminded him.
“Well, it’s true. White becomes you.”
“You say that about whatever color I’m wearing every day, too.”
“I can’t help what I see. Well, I guess I’ll be heading out.” Peaches hated seeing the sadness in his eyes.
“Lewis, why don’t you find yourself a nice girl, huh?”
Peaches laughed. “No, you haven’t. There are a lot of girls who’d like a nice farmer who’d treat them right.” Lewis smiled and rolled his eyes.
“Miss Peaches, there are a lot of girls and they might be looking for a farmer. Not sure about that. But they’re looking for one of those young, handsome fellas. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not real young, and I’m not any kind of handsome.” He laughed. “Besides, I already know what I want.” Peaches shrugged. If he wanted to waste his time, she couldn’t stop him. Lewis waved to Seth and walked out of the saloon. Sure was a waste, she thought.