This was a disconcerting surprise. All I had expected was permission to stop, and a direction as to how to find the bunk house. Then a more or less dull evening, and a return the following day to collect on my “dare.” I stepped into the dimness of the hallway; and immediately after into a room beyond.
Again I must remind you that this was the Arizona of the ’nineties. All the ranch houses with which I was acquainted, and I knew about all of them, were very crudely done. They comprised generally a half dozen rooms with adobe walls and rough board floors, with only such furnishings as deal tables, benches, homemade chairs, perhaps a battered old washstand or so, and bunks filled with straw. We had no such things as tablecloths and sheets, of course. Everything was on a like scale of simple utility.
All right, get that in your mind. The interior into which I now stepped, with my clanking spurs, my rattling chaps, the dust of my sweat-stained garments, was a low-ceilinged, dim abode with faint, musty aromas. Carpets covered the floors; an old-fashioned hat rack flanked the door on one side, a tall clock on the other. I saw in passing framed steel engravings. The room beyond contained easy chairs, a sofa upholstered with hair cloth, an upright piano, a marble fireplace with a mantel, in a corner a triangular what-not filled with objects. It, too, was dim and curtained and faintly aromatic as had been the house of an old maiden aunt of my childhood, who used to give me cookies on the Sabbath. I felt now too large, and too noisy, and altogether mis-dressed and blundering and dirty. The little old man moved without a sound, and the grandfather’s clock outside ticked deliberately in a hollow silence.
I sat down, rather gingerly, in the chair he indicated for me.
“I shall be very glad to offer you hospitality for the night,” he said, as though there had been no interim. “I feel honoured at the opportunity.”
I murmured my thanks, and a suggestion that I should look after my horse.
“Your horse, sir, has been attended to, and your cantinas[B] are undoubtedly by now in your room, where, I am sure, you are anxious to repair.”
He gave no signal, nor uttered any command, but at his last words a grave, elderly Mexican appeared noiselessly at my elbow. As a matter of fact, he came through an unnoticed door at the back, but he might as well have materialized from the thin air for the start that he gave me. Hooper instantly arose.
“I trust, sir, you will find all to your liking. If anything is lacking, I trust you will at once indicate the fact. We shall dine in a half hour——”
He seized a small implement consisting of a bit of wire screen attached to the end of a short stick, darted across the room with the most extraordinary agility, thwacked a lone house fly, and returned.
“—and you will undoubtedly be ready for it,” he finished his speech, calmly, as though he had not moved from his tracks.