A Glibertarians Exclusive: Mystical Child Part II
From the diary of Robert “Cairo Bob” Allen, 1841-1928
November 10, 1886 – Boise, Idaho Territory
Four days hard riding has brought me to Boise in Idaho Territory. There’s some fuss going on in town just now, people all upset about Chinese living in the town. Not sure why everyone is so riled up, it ain’t like they were freedmen – I can see how some folks would be unhappy about that, although I ain’t never had a problem with colored folks myself. But in Reno I had run into a man who saw the same fellow I’m looking for, and said he was headed for some place northwards of Boise. I picked up on his trail again when I heard tell of his passage from an Indian in some little place called Jordan Valley in Oregon, so figure I’m on the right track. Man sure isn’t taking any pains to keep his movements a secret or anything.
November 10, 1886
Bob rode into Boise on a cloudy, cold day, with a chill wind blowing pellets of wet snow in his face. His old gray coat was wet through. He was wearing an old pair of corduroy trousers he had happened to acquire along the way and two hickory shirts along with his mule-ear trooper boots and ancient slouch hat; all were dirty, all were soaked.
“I’d kill for clean, dry duds and a warm bed,” he muttered to himself as he walked his horse down what appeared to be the main drag. He knew the warm bed was unlikely, given his current state of poverty, but he had enough money left for a stable stall and a laundry, if such a thing were to be had; Boise looked to be a good-sized town, so the odds of getting his clothes cleaned up was reasonable, and he could always sleep in a stall with his horse.
He pulled out his wallet and went through the few remaining banknotes – no, bills, he reminded himself – green Yankee bills, he noted with a slight frown, still not happy about how the whole thing had turned out. Something better break loose pretty soon, he reminded himself, or I’m going to be broke myself.
Bob rode down the street. As he turned onto an east-west street lined with businesses, the clouds broke open, allowing a weak, watery sunshine to peek through.
The sun was low in the sky, and after four days in the wilds it was odd to ride from sun to shadow as he went in and out of the shade cast by the buildings along the south side of the street. Bob spotted a man standing on a corner and angled his horse over towards the local.
“Hey, friend,” Bob called. “Can you point me towards a place where a fella can get cleaned up?”
“Been on the trail a while?” the local asked.
“You might say that.”
The Boisean’s gaze narrowed on hearing Bob’s accent. “Reb, are you?”
“Was,” Bob agreed, trying a soft answer to turn away any possible wrath. “Wade Hampton’s cavalry. Long time ago now.”
“Yeah,” the man agreed, relaxing some. “Served in a Wisconsin volunteer infantry regiment myself. Took a bullet in the arm at Second Wilderness… Well, anyway, as you say, friend, all a long time ago now. What did you say you were looking for?”
Bob slapped the leg of his muddy trousers. “Place to get cleaned up. Bath, laundry if there is such a thing.”
The local pointed up the street. “There’s a boarding house up two blocks, in what used to be Chinatown. Figure you can get a bath there, and Mrs. Olson across the street from there took over Chang’s laundry, she can clean up your clothes right quick. That’s where I get my stuff cleaned up.”
“Yeah,” the Boisean said. “Big fuss around here lately about the Chinese. Territorial legislature passed a tax on ‘em, and the folks around here made things pretty hot for anyone and anything Chinese. Most of the Chinese have left the territory now. Lots of them just up and abandoned houses and businesses, so the local folks took over. Big fuss earlier in the year, but it’s mostly blown over now. I’m here to tell you, though, the line was drawn awfully strong between old Chinatown and the rest of the city for a while there, and that’s for sure and for certain.”
Uncertain as to how to react to that, Bob simply thanked the man and rode on.
“Sure as shooting” he said to himself a few minutes later: There, on the right-hand side of the street, was a big rambling wooden house with a sign:
MONARCH BOARDING HOUSE
There was a hitching rail at the front of the house. Bob rode over, dismounted, tied his horse off and went inside. A bell jingled as he closed the big oak door behind him and stepped into a warm entry room lighted up by a gas mantle. Right civilized place, this is, he told himself. Inside, he could see a large dining table. A lean man with the look of a drummer sat there, reading a newspaper. Somewhere a clock ticked loudly. The house smelled of fresh bread.
A large, gray-haired woman met him in the entry. “I’m Mrs. Dalby,” she said. “I run the house here.”
Bob nodded, removed his old slouch hat, and gave his name. “Looking for a place to spend a night or two,” he told her. “Get cleaned up, get some hot food, if I can, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome, of course,” the old woman said with a sniff. “Fifty cents a night. Another quarter for the hot supper. If it’s a bath you want, go across the street to Broadman’s Laundry, they can clean your clothes up and provide a hot shower-bath; it’s the latest thing. Ten cents for shirts, fifteen for trousers, nickel for each item of small clothes. Quarter for the shower bath.”
“That sounds right fine, ma’am. Is there a place I can put up my horse?”
“Stable is in back. Use of the stable is part of the rent, but I’ll need a quarter for hay and oats for your animal if you want to feed it.”
“I will, ma’am, thank you.” Bob reached into his wallet and pulled out two one-dollar Yankee greenbacks. “Let’s call it two nights for now,” he said, handing her the bills. “Much obliged.”
“I thank you,” Mrs. Dalby said. “Supper is in at six o’clock sharp, so you have a couple of hours.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Bob said. “Reckon I’ll put up my horse, then see about that laundry.”
“I’ll send my boy Andy out to get you some feed,” Mrs. Dalby said, and walked off.
Bob took his gelding to the stable, unsaddled him, put up the horse tack and brushed the animal down. A boy of about ten or so came in as Bob was checking the horse’s feet and filled the trough in the stall Bob was using with a mix of chopped hay and oats. The horse set to with a will.
With that done, Bob walked across the street to the building marked LAUNDRY AND HOT BATH.
He didn’t notice the short, portly fellow watching him from a rocking chair on the boarding house’s porch. The round man watched Bob go into the laundry, then got up and went into the boarding house.
I came to a high place of darkness and light.
The dividing line ran through the center of town.
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right,
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.