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Feb 5 11 3:13 PM
"Do you think that's the way it is with our dreams
and our nightmares? That we have to keep
feeding them for them to stay alive?"
...for all else is dust and air.
Lady Elena of the Cottage
Feb 5 11 3:16 PM
Feb 5 11 3:18 PM
Feb 5 11 3:21 PM
Feb 5 11 3:22 PM
Feb 5 11 3:24 PM
Feb 5 11 3:37 PM
Feb 5 11 3:39 PM
Feb 6 11 4:09 PM
Gotta get going to go back into the office *sigh* so not enough time for a proper "review" so I'll just say this, with great pleasure and glee.....She's baaa-aaack!!!!
Feb 7 11 8:40 AM
Friday, July 7, 1871
The train for Denver did not leave until ten o’clock, but since the other guests at the Road’s End Inn had bedded down far earlier that Maximo and Joaquin, most were up and about and not particularly mindful of noise by eight o’clock. Reluctantly, Maximo gave in to wakefulness.
Joaquin was already dressed and ready for the day, sitting on the edge of the top bunk, his feet dangling and wiggling with impatience. Maximo lowered him to the ground and together they explored the inn by the light of day which timidly peered in through a few dusty windows. As Maximo had guessed, the reception desk of the night before had been converted into a dining table. What passed for breakfast was laid out along its length. A few patrons still lingered at the table, picking at the customary offerings of bread, bacon and beans. All had been cooked well beyond pleasant crispness and thickness, but the coffee was strong enough and Maximo felt slowly revived. Joaquin took little notice of the quality of the food and ate quickly. In a reversal of roles, it was he who pestered Maximo to finish so they wouldn’t miss the train. Though they had a good hour to spare, Joaquin did not settle until they were back outside.
The inn was located but a few feet from the railway tracks with no room for a proper platform. A collection of rickety benches, chairs and stools pressed against the walls of the inn and were already occupied by a dozen or so travellers. Maximo and Joaquin had no choice but to perch on their luggage. Apart from their satchels, they carried a small suitcase each as well as an unusually long case, peculiar to those who did not know it was specially designed to contain fencing weapons. At Mr. Haley's insistence, it carried more swords than those required for the exhibition. Maximo had somewhat reluctantly agreed to bring samples of the more artistic blades he had fashioned himself. Despite this additional burden, Maximo and Joaquin’s possessions paled in contrast to the voluminous trunks of some of their fellow passengers. If the train had only one carriage, there would undoubtedly be competition for space.
Shortly before ten o’clock, conversations on the make-shift platform were interrupted. The depot buildings that had earlier been just visible in the distance were now obscured by a cloud of steam. Rhythmic, breathy exhalations indicated that an engine was being fuelled and primed for the journey. The train emerged from the steam and slowly glided along the tracks. It consisted of a small engine, coal wagon, and three coaches, two of which were for passengers and the last for cargo. The passengers rose from their seats and began taking positions along the track, opinions varying as to where the entrances to the passenger coaches would most likely be when the train came to a halt. Maximo and Joaquin, having been among the last to arrive, had little choice and found themselves at the wrong end of the first coach. Again they began resigning themselves to less than ideal conditions but soon realized that passengers with large pieces of luggage were first being directed to the cargo coach. Being among the few who had packed more judiciously, Maximo and Joaquin were ushered directly into the passenger coach. To Joaquin’s delight, he was able to choose a forward facing window seat, with views to the west, avoiding the discomfort of the already scorching sun. Maximo neatly stored their luggage under their seats and in the racks above and settled in his chair to admire his surroundings. Although he had not admitted it to Joaquin, it was his first time travelling by train.
A decade earlier, when Maximo had left his home in Trujillo, Spanish railways were only just beginning to spread out within the peninsula. Even in subsequent years, when Maximo’s travels took him to the northern coast, the network had not expanded enough to be more practical than the stagecoach routes. And during his long journey from Boston to Parson’s Ridge, Maximo had simply not been able to afford train fare. He was, however, no stranger to train stations where he had often sought refuge for the night when money was even scarcer and he’d had to make the choice between food or shelter. Many a time he had looked on with weary envy at passengers boarding the coaches to begin comfortable journeys while he had to continue his own on foot or hope to hitch a ride for a little distance in the cart of a kindly farmer. All this he chose not to share with Joaquin.
With a sigh of pleasure, Maximo settled in the plush velvet seat decorated with filigreed vines and flowers, echoing the design on the ceiling panels. His hands curled around the polished walnut armrests, admiring the craftsmanship and attention to detail. He was also struck by the polished cleanliness and wondered how long it would last. The Pueblo branch of the Denver Pacific Rail Road had been in operation for but a few months and these new carriages were clearly intended as enticement to new passengers. Maximo had seen far more weathered carriages on the occasions when he’d worked for a few pennies offering his services to passengers with many trunks and parcels to load. He knew the toll that years of rough treatment by harried passengers would take on the tasteful decorations the coach designers had so thoughtfully provided.
The train was only five minutes late in departing, delayed by stragglers who appeared to be acquaintances of the conductor and were fortunate to benefit from his authority. But soon enough they were on their way, leaving behind the small town which, thanks to the railway, would likely grow rapidly in the years to come. Though the mountain range in the distance to the west would follow them all the way to Denver, the area immediately surrounding Pueblo looked surprisingly fertile, divided into plots of crops already ripening and rippling like waves in the wind. No doubt they too were contributing to the prosperity of the region. Joaquin sat with his nose pressed to the glass, but his thoughts were not about the agricultural and economic prospects of the region. His eyes vibrated rapidly in their orbits, marvelling at the train's gathering speed.
“This is much faster than Cal's coach!” Joaquin was grinning from ear to ear as the train continued to pick up speed. “I wonder how fast we're going.”
Maximo leaned over next to Joaquin for a better view.
“This is a narrow gauge railway, so it might go as fast as twenty miles an hour. The bigger trains you took from Boston were probably faster. They're wider, more stable, safer when you're going faster.”
“I think Papá told me how fast, but I think I was too little to understand what the numbers meant.”
Maximo gazed at the blurring landscape for a few moments more and then sank back into his seat, closing his eyes, content to enjoy the novel sensations of acceleration on his body.
A few minutes later, Maximo felt Joaquin shift in his seat. He opened his eyes and saw that the child had sat back, removing himself from the window, but still staring intently at the speeding landscape. Joaquin's expression, however, had mutated from gleeful delight to one of introspective seriousness. Joaquin seemed to feel Maximo's gaze upon him and
“What's wrong, little man?” Maximo's words were lighthearted, but his expression matched Joaquin's.
“I was thinking of the last time I was on a train,” Joaquin said very quietly. “It looked a lot like this one. The seats were also two by two so Mamá and Papá took turns sitting next to me.” He held Maximo's gaze for a moment longer and then looked away. There was no need for further explanation - Maximo knew all too well what was shrouding the boy's thoughts.
“Tell me what else your Papá told you.”
Joaquin turned back to Maximo and for a moment seemed to search his stepfather's face. Whatever he was looking for, he seemed to find and with no more prompting began to tell a tale already familiar to Maximo but from a very different perspective.
Antonio had clearly done everything possible to help his child accept the drastic move that closed the door on the privileged aristocratic life Joaquin had been born into. He'd painted the journey for his son as an adventure, following in the footsteps of pioneers in unfamiliar lands, akin to so many of the bedtime stories that fired Joaquin's imagination. Despite the length and arduousness of the journey across sea and continent, by the time they reached the rolling plains that would become the Ordesa Ranch, Joaquin spoke of nothing else but of the new house that would be built and of the herd of horses he would help his father manage. He had been warned that Ordesa would be quite isolated, with no nearby neighbours and no servants, apart from maybe a stablehand or two. But Antonio also reassured him that the town of Roundtree was nearby as was a mission with many children who spoke Spanish, although Antonio had no doubts that Joaquin would quickly build on the lessons of his British tutor back in Trujillo. Talk of the mission at Hermacio inevitably brought Padre Wells to mind, and Joaquin's narrative suddenly slowed as thoughts of more recent events clouded his memories.
“I think I understand now why my parents wanted to leave Trujillo.” Joaquin was staring fixedly at his feet. “I miss my father so much.”
“I know.” Maximo had listened in silence, afraid to break the flow of the story that was so naturally offered, but the expressions on Maximo's face had been voluble enough, responding to his companion's every confidence and emotion. And now, as Joaquin's words failed him, he saw in Maximo's face the echo of a shared sorrow.
Joaquin turned once more to look through the window, but his hand sought out Maximo's and nestled gratefully within the weathered calluses of the blacksmith's palm. They sat in silence, both staring out the window together, lost in thoughts that merged and then went their own ways until the breath of the engine lost its urgency and the train began to slow. They had reached Colorado Springs.
The conductor briskly made his way through the carriages announcing that the train would stop for only an hour and that passengers were strongly advised to eat lightly lest they be left behind. Maximo and Joaquin shared a smile as a number of passengers were heard to protest having to rush through their meals. Clearly, train passengers were soft compared to the seasoned veterans of three days of mudwagon travel.
Colorado Springs currently did not have much to offer, with only a few buildings outlining the main and only street. But the pervasive din of hammers and saws announced that the town was growing at a remarkable pace. Maximo and Joaquin wandered along the street, remarking that although much more modest in size, its outline was reminiscent of Parson's Ridge. They soon noticed the saloon, but any similarity with the Tumbleweed ended at the door. The rowdy sounds from within were proof enough that this saloon was not ruled by any counterpart to Hando's firm hand and occasional fist. Maximo steered Joaquin across the street and they sought shelter in Sandy's Diner, an establishment they hoped would have something in common with Smokey's Diner. Generous portions of sausages and potatoes did not disappoint and the quick service allowed Maximo and Joaquin to be back on the coach with plenty of time to spare and to watch other passengers scramble to climb back on even as the train had begun to move.
Only four hours remained before Denver would come into view. It was Maximo's turn to become silently introspective. For a while, Joaquin did not notice as the view now offered distractions other than the impressive ridges of the Rocky Mountains to the west. Many farmsteads dotted the fertile valley and the train made frequent stops at several emerging communities. Eventually, Joaquin became aware that Maximo was only absentmindedly acknowledging the entertainment outside the window and seemed more intent on grooming a stubborn patch of beard around his chin.
“What's wrong, Máximo?”
“Hmm?” Maximo blinked, as if just waking. “Wrong? Nothing. Why?”
Joaquin simply gestured towards his chin.
“Oh.” A quirked grin lightened Maximo's features. “I see you have me figured out.”
Joaquin mirrored the grin but then turned and squarely faced Maximo.
“Are you worried about the exhibition?”
Maximo studied the intense brown eyes riveted on his own and slowly nodded.
“A little. It's been a long time since I've fenced in public.”
“But since you're really good, that doesn't matter.”
Maximo smiled and shook his head, but Joaquin was relentless.
“I've seen you with Captain Aubrey and Mamá. I know you're really good and they say you're the best, and Mr. Haley said you were amazing!”
“Mr. Haley is very kind...”
“But you were the best, weren't you?” Joaquin insisted.
Joaquin's hand had closed tightly around Maximo's wrist. It began to dawn on Maximo that by gradually earning Joaquin's trust and even affection, he apparently had also been placed on a pedestal which, though perhaps modest at first, was quickly rising as they neared Denver. Maximo's stomach clenched.
“I was the best, but...”
A sigh of resignation eased from Maximo's throat and another slow breath gave him the chance to gather his thoughts.
“I was the best because I gave my opponents and the audience something they hadn't seen before, something they’d convinced themselves was not possible. I was not of the nobility but I behaved with just as much civility and grace as any of them, and I was a better fencer. Most of the other, high born young men were in a hurry to prove how strong they were. They thought they could defeat me by being fast and aggressive. But I wasn't the best because I ended my bouts quickly. I was the best because I fought carefully and well. That's what the crowd loved. But...”
“The crowds loved my bouts because I was a real challenge, I made it exciting. But even though they admired me, I know they resented me even more. I was just a blacksmith, but still I defeated my betters.” Maximo sighed and shook his head. “Joaquín, I don't want to feel that resentment again.”
“But you heard what Mr. Haley said. It's different in this country.”
“So why are you still worried? Are you afraid someone will beat you?”
Maximo managed a wry smile.
“No. I've never been afraid in battle. And you should know that fencing is not really about beating anyone. It's about how you handle your sword and yourself as a gentleman.” Maximo settled more comfortably into his seat. “When I was very young, maybe a little older than you, I sometimes had a very bad temper. One day, in Trujillo, I crossed paths with the son of a local landowner and his boy servant. The landowner's son deliberately picked a fight with me, but instead of fighting himself, he set his servant on me. He was bigger, but I was stronger. And I was angry, very angry at the boy who stood and watched. I took it out on the servant and beat him nearly senseless. My father was furious and I was severely punished. But that wasn't the worst part. I was very frightened by my temper and my strength. I knew I could have easily killed that boy and I couldn't let that happen again.”
“What did you do?” Joaquin's eyes were wide and troubled.
“Well, I was fortunate that not long after that, a fencing teacher from Paris, Maître de la Fère, was brought to teach the noble sons of the town. Since my father made some of the best swords in the land, Maître de la Fère was often in the workshop and eventually noticed me. I think my reputation preceded me, but instead of avoiding me, he seemed intrigued. Once, when my father was out of the shop, Maître de la Fère caught me playacting with one of my father's newly minted swords. Instead of telling my father, he offered to teach me. I think he saw me as a challenge. At first the lessons were informal, the odd hour here and there when he came on business to the shop. But when he realized that I was taking it very seriously, he invited me to come to his school every evening when all his other pupils had gone for the day. It is thanks to Maître de la Fère that I learned to control my temper and my strength. Do you remember what I've said you must always keep in mind when you fence?”
“'In fencing, excellence defines victory - victory is not the definition of excellence,'” Joaquin easily declaimed the familiar phrase.
“Those are Maître de la Fère's words. And most important of all, he said 'the goal of fencing is to achieve mastery of yourself, not over others.'”
Joaquin seemed to ponder the statement.
“Maybe the master wasn't just talking about your temper.”
“Mr. McGregor says that to be a master of yourself, you have to face your own fears - that's what really makes you strong.”
“It seems that you and I both have had very good teachers.” Maximo reached for Joaquin, drew him close and gently planted a kiss on his forehead. “I will try to be strong for me, and for you.”
The train slowed long before it came to a gliding stop at the Denver Railway Depot, a mere ten minutes behind schedule. The strolling pace allowed Maximo and Joaquin a preview of the city. The site had been well chosen and construction was apparent everywhere, echoing what had already been witnessed in Colorado Springs but on a much grander scale. The tracks traced a course next to the narrow Cherry Creek, crossing it near its confluence with the broader Platte River. The depot had been laid out in a broad expanse of even land bordered by the river to the northwest and the edge of a neat grid of streets to the southeast. Joaquin counted at least five sets of tracks, all in use by passenger or freight trains. His own train veered from the main track and engaged onto the one closest to the depot, drawing the attention of a substantial crowd, waiting as either passengers or for passengers.
During the final hours of the journey, feeling that the air had been cleared of Maximo's worries, Joaquin had been relentless in showing his excitement about the upcoming exhibition. He peppered Maximo with questions about what exactly happened at these bouts, where would they take place, how many opponents would Maximo have, who were they, who would be watching. Maximo found himself at a loss, not knowing any of the answers himself and having to revert to conjecture based on his experiences in Spain. Still, Joaquin's excitement was inevitably infectious, and by the time they were stepping off the train, Maximo's anxiety had taken a turn towards curious anticipation. Even so, in the back of Maximo's mind had been the vague hope that Mr. Haley would have forgotten about them by the time they reached Denver. But all along the journey, it was clear that Mr. Haley had taken great pains to ensure the comfort and efficiency of their transport. And, true to his word, Mr. Haley was waiting for them.
Jonas had placed himself prominently in view, ready to take charge of his guests. He waved cheerfully when he spotted them and hurried to help with their luggage. He was clearly pleased to hear that the journey had been without incident and not too tiring.
“Good. You look well. Do you feel in fencing form, Mr. Meridio?”
“Always.” Maximo's ready smile was sincere. He had finally resolved to enjoy the experience.
Seeing that they were lightly laden, Jonas suggested they stroll to their hotel which was only about three blocks away. Jonas was able to point to the tall, three-storey brick edifice which seemed to tower over the scattering of more modest wooden buildings that had sprung up near the railway depot. As they made their way, wending between pedestrians, delivery wagons, and carriages, the bustle rang a distant but familiar bell for Joaquin. Early childhood memories of busy Trujillo streets came back to mind, from the few occasions when he'd been allowed beyond the confines of his home. But the narrow, cobbled streets of the stone-carved medieval city gave way to broad avenues of packed earth, lined by many empty lots awaiting the construction of more stately buildings. Joaquin's gawking did not cease as they entered the lobby of the American House Hotel.
The spacious reception area was a combination of sober elegance and efficient layout. Both Maximo and Joaquin were quick to note that there were two clerks, not just one, present behind a long counter and their wakefulness surely would have shamed Walter. A young bellboy stood smartly at attention as Jonas approached the reception desk and introduced the new guests. As the formalities were being attended to, Jonas informed Maximo that only yesterday a fellow countryman had checked out of the hotel. Mr. Felipe de Ribera y Ferrero counted fencing as one of his many skills, but he had only been in Denver for a few days and had left to attend to urgent business in New York. It was a shame that they had not been able to meet. Felipe de Ribera y Ferrero. The name meant nothing to Maximo, except that its form and length labelled the stranger as a member of the higher classes. Maximo's hand stiffened as he signed the registry. He was quite glad he had missed crossing paths with this man, but simply smiled and acknowledged Mr. Haley's interest.
The young bellboy was eager to show Maximo and Joaquin to a spacious room, its two large, solid beds promising all the comforts they had sorely missed over four days of travel. Mr. Haley left them to settle in, promising to return within the hour to accompany them to the hotel dining room for supper. Once they were alone, Joaquin took it upon himself to lead Maximo around their room, exploring its amenities which, apart from the comfortable furnishings, included sweets in porcelain bowls on each of the night tables, a generous washbasin with small assortment of lotions and colognes, and several oil lamps ensuring adequate lighting well into the night, a consideration clearly intended for less weary travellers.
Mr. Haley arrived promptly to collect them just as Maximo was putting the finishing touches to Joaquin's ruffled mop, taming it into presentable shape to match the boy's fresh outfit. The hotel dining room was spacious but even so, few tables were free. This seemed to be of little concern for Mr. Haley who simply waved to one of the waiters. The young man quickly came over and immediately invited the guests to follow him. They were led to one of the better tables, somewhat separate from the others and near the large windows which looked out onto the street, busy with a steady stream of carriages. Maximo did not fail to notice that as they made their way to the table, Mr. Haley was greeted by several of the other diners, and many interested glances and polite nods were directed at Maximo as well. He was pleasantly surprised. Such civility from strangers was not particularly unusual - he himself always afforded such a courtesy to any newcomers in Parson's Ridge - but he had not expected it in a city of this size where sheer numbers necessarily allowed for some anonymity. Clearly Mr. Haley had acquired a certain reputation. This was confirmed when shortly after placing their orders, Maximo noticed a tall gentleman making his way towards their table. Mr. Haley stood and warmly shook his hand then turned to Maximo. But the newcomer needed no introductions.
“Mr. Meridio. It is a true pleasure to meet you at last.” He had taken Maximo's hand firmly in both of his. “I am George Brand, proprietor of the hotel, at your service. Mr. Haley has been kind enough to share the details of the exhibition and has told me much about you. I am not a fencer myself, but I do enjoy being a spectator and from what Mr. Haley tells, I believe we will have a demonstration of the highest order.”
Maximo opened his mouth to protest, but Mr. Brand waved objections aside.
“Not at all, sir. I am looking forward to the exhibition and am delighted to put the hotel at your service.” He waved briskly at two waiters hovering nearby. “Mr. Finn, Mr. Stewart, see to whatever these gentlemen may need.” With a stern parting glance to the waiters, very like the sort Mr. Temple regularly cast on Walter, and an ingratiating smile to his guests, Mr. Brand bade them a good evening. As Mr. Brand moved away and the waiters fussed over glasses and napkins, Maximo and Joaquin shared a look of bewilderment which Jonas was quick to catch.
“You mustn't mind Mr. Brand. His enthusiasm is genuine and you'll find it's shared by many. This exhibition is a highlight in the social calendar here. You'll have a very interesting audience of both fencing enthusiasts and those who attend more to be seen than to see.”
Jonas had dropped the remark lightheartedly, but for Maximo it once again raised the memories of Trujillo and its pretentious and judgmental spectators. A familiar, unwelcome tightness gripped his stomach. But Jonas continued to entertain his guests throughout the meal, painting a picture of Denver that quickly dissipated some of Maximo’s apprehensions while raising others. Jonas explained that Denver’s prosperity had its roots in nearby gold deposits but its current boom was due to a population thriving under the entrepreneurial spirit of a large immigrant population, the majority of which came from Germany and Ireland. They catered to the very specific needs of the prospectors. As a result, one of Denver’s distinctive features was the fact that for a population of less than 5000, there were about 35 drinking establishments. A dozen of these saloons lined Blake Street, and one of the better known saloons was housed in this very hotel. Maximo’s raised eyebrows brought a quick clarification from Mr. Haley. The American House saloon enjoyed an enviable reputation as an elegant gathering place where the elite of Denver rubbed elbows and literally ran the city. Another of Denver’s peculiarities was that it had no official city hall since a disastrous fire in 1863. A new city hall had yet to be built and the council held its meetings in whatever saloon offered to host them. It seemed no one was in too much of a hurry to work out a more permanent arrangement. However, there were detractors who deplored the loose morals of the city. Mr. Byers, the editor of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, had written frequently on the matter, pointing out that the saloon had become a place where much of the ordinary political work was carried out. He had been kidnapped and nearly hanged for voicing this opinion.
“But surely the council members would have done something...” Maximo was beginning to consider that the picture Mr. Haley was painting seemed a little farfetched.
“Of course you would expect so in other cities. But in Denver, most of the council members including the mayor, police and fire chiefs, are or have been saloon owners.” Jonas leaned in and lowered his voice. “The current mayor was recently elected under accusations of ballot stuffing. Voting was done in saloons which appear to have helped finance the mayor’s campaign.” Still keeping close to Maximo’s ear, Jonas indicated the rest of the dining room with a swirl of his dessert spoon. “You see, Mr. Meridio, high society in Denver is not defined by the same standards as in Trujillo. The people who stand out here are developers, bankers, architects and, of course, many brewers. I think you will find the Denver elite refreshingly different.”
The remnants of the meal which had consisted of oxtail soup, roast duck, antelope cutlets, and an assortment of fanciful desserts were soon cleared away. Jonas noted that Joaquin was a credit to young boys, never speaking with his mouth full and eating tidily.
“Did you enjoy your meal, young man?”
“Yes, sir,” Joaquin nodded, even as he surreptitiously glanced at the fancy dried mountain plums he had pushed aside in favour of the more familiar plum cake they had decorated. Jonas eyed Joaquin closely and then squeezed his shoulder.
“I’m sure you did. But tomorrow, with your father’s agreement, I would like to take you both somewhere else, where the food is a little more… familiar.” Jonas reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper which he unfolded and presented to Maximo.
“It’s an advertisement for Ford’s People’s Restaurant.” Jonas watched with amusement the changing expressions on Maximo and Joaquin’s faces as they scanned the notice. The restaurant offered not only the most ‘choice and delicate luxuries of Colorado’, but also provided ‘the very finest liquors and cigars’ as well as a shaving and hairdressing saloon in the basement, ‘wherein competent artists are ever pleased to wait on customers in first class style’. Maximo nodded his approval. After assurances were given that Maximo and Joaquin would be happy to have a morning to themselves, arrangements were made to meet Mr. Haley at the restaurant the following day at noon. Good evenings were exchanged and Maximo herded Joaquin towards the grand staircase that led up to their room.
As they crossed the lobby, they passed the reception desk and a corridor bearing an elegantly scripted sign indicating it led to the saloon. Maximo and Joaquin stopped to peer down the hallway, the sounds emanating from it in distinct contrast to the hushed, decorous tones of the dining room. The clerk noticed and quickly came to their side, interpreting their curiosity as apprehension.
“Our guests are in good spirits tonight. But I assure you, sir, that only the best quality of gentlemen frequent the saloon and there is nothing to worry about should the child stray from his father.” The clerk gave Maximo a knowing smile and wink. But Maximo and Joaquin shared their own complicit smile. Maximo had absolutely no worries in this regard - he knew that Joaquin would not stray from his side. And for his part, Joaquin just thought that the clerk’s concern was quite silly – after all, he had actually lived in the Tumbleweed saloon!
Maximo attended to Joaquin’s bedtime needs, insisting that an early night was necessary if he wanted to be wakeful enough the following day to enjoy all of the excitement. Joaquin did not complain, but he did remind Maximo that he too was in need of a good rest if he was to be in his best form for the exhibition. Maximo acknowledged the advice with a goodnight kiss but then settled himself in a comfortable armchair placed next to the window. He pulled the curtains slightly aside and opened the window letting in a breeze which, though not cool, had none of the sting of the day’s heat. He took in a lungful. It felt surprisingly soothing. He looked to the heavens and saw that the moon was noticeably waning, but in the cloudless sky there was enough light to give the distant Rocky Mountains a silvery outline. Even in such low light, their thrusting peaks looked remarkable. He moved closer to the window, trying to focus for a better view, but found his eyes to be uncooperative. Much to his surprise, he realized he was pleasantly tired. He had intended reading for a while, immersing himself in the escapist fantasy of Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, hoping the author’s extravagant imagination would be distracting and set his worries aside long enough for a good night’s sleep. But although the book was just within reach on his night table, Maximo felt no inclination to pick it up. He was not feeling any of the tension he had predicted. None of the apprehensions he had been forming during their journey seemed relevant any more. They had been based on expectations which Mr. Haley had somehow managed to dissipate to a considerable degree.
Maximo let his attention wander away from the book. Joaquin was already slumbering, body lightly draped in a cool linen sheet, face nestled into the generous down pillow.
“Good advice, indeed, little man,” Maximo whispered quietly as he hurried through his own bedtime routine and blew out the last of the oil lamps.
Feb 7 11 8:41 AM
RAILWAYS IN 1871
For the purposes of my story, I’ve pushed things a little in terms of the chronology. The first railway to reach Denver did so in 1870, with the first train arriving June 23 of that year. It was the first section of the Denver Pacific Railway and it linked Denver with Cheyenne. The Denver to Pueblo section of the railway was not completed until June 1872 and the first stake establishing the town of Colorado Springs was driven only on July 31, 1871 – 24 days after Maximo and Joaquin have lunch there! Regular railway service to Colorado Springs began only in January 1872. However, the very real Log Cabin Hotel was in existence at least by 1871, clearly in expectation of the traffic to come in the following years. In Denver, Maximo and Joaquin are deposited at the location of the original railway yards, not far from where the Denver Union Depot would be built in 1882. The description of the passenger coach is based on what was available to passengers passing through Colorado Springs in late 1871. The coaches could each seat 34 passengers and the train also included smoking cars.
Maître de la Fère's guidelines for Maximo are somewhat freely adapted from www.classicalfencing.com a site which describes fencing as “the martial art for incurable romantics – gracious and dignified in defeat, humble and gentle in victory.” Today, competitive fencing places the emphasis on touching the opponent and thereby scoring points. Classical fencing, which is the style of fencing practiced until the late 19th century, placed greater emphasis on the skill required to prevent being touched. It is a subtle but very significant difference.
DENVER IN 1871
I thoroughly enjoyed researching the history of Denver, trying to get an image of it in 1871. What struck me most was the rapid population explosion not long after Maximo and Joaquin’s visit. In 1870 the population was 4,759; in 1880 it was 35,629; by 1890 it was 106,713. I found plenty of references and photos of commercial establishments in the late 19th century, but I realized I couldn’t assume that an 1879 shop would necessarily have existed in 1871. My most useful source was the Rocky Mountain Directory and Colorado Gazetteer for 1871 (it’s available on Google books). Not only was I able to get the names of what stores were actually there in that year, but also the names of the proprietor (George Brand), manager (H.S. Smith) and employees of the American House Hotel, such as the clerk (Amos Lane), the boys working in the dining room (William Stewart, C.C. Finn, and A.E. Finn), and the assistant pastry cook (Joseph Howard). The American House Hotel enjoyed a prominent reputation. Its saloon was considered to be an elegant, high society place where the elite of Denver hobnobbed as of the 1860s. Such was the prestige of the hotel that in November of 1871, the Grand Duke Alexis, 4th son of the Czar of Russia, was one of its guests. Alexis was 21 at the time and President Ulysses S Grant was keen to ensure that the young man was enjoying his visit to the US. When Alexis commented that he was tired of fancy dress balls, he was sent to Colorado under the protection of the War Department to shoot buffalo. He was housed at the American House Hotel where, apart from having a ball held in his honour, he was joined by General Custer who accompanied Alexis on his buffalo hunting expeditions.
The American House Hotel was demolished in the 1930s. Today, the Wells Fargo Bank stands on the corner of 16th and Blake.
Feb 7 11 8:45 AM
Feb 7 11 9:50 AM
Lady GigglesFluffernutter to the Sun King
Feb 7 11 11:45 AM
Go the Bunnies!
It feels like someone offered me a pitcher of water after I've been parched for years!
Feb 8 11 9:29 AM
Feb 8 11 9:31 AM
Saturday, July 8, 1871
‘Excellent advice,’ Maximo smiled to himself as he revelled in the luxury of waking early, well rested, and having no need to get up quite yet. The sun had risen a good hour earlier but, as the room faced northwest, no direct sunlight streamed through the windows leaving only a pleasant suffused half-light. Joaquin still slept soundly, at last truly surrendering to the real fatigues of the journey.
Maximo allowed himself a most indecorous stretch, his limbs overlapping all corners of the bed. In Spain, his height was well above average and more than once he’d used his stature to impose where his status could not. His thoughts turned to the evening and the opponents he would be facing. Mr. Haley had done much to convince him that Denver society appreciated status gained through actions – even if of dubious virtue – and not birthright. It seemed that there would be no need to impose himself physically to gain respect before he could prove himself on the fencing piste. And there, he would have little need of his size. Agility and speed served the clever fencer best. Brute force was a last resort but, if some hot-headed opponent needed to be chastised, the resources were there. Years of blacksmithing had provided Maximo with enviable strength and stamina, his torso, back and arms joining forces to ply the most obdurate iron to his every whim. Opponents who had made the mistake of locking blades with him immediately discovered an immovable wall which would hold until their reserves and defences faltered. Today’s bouts would likely present him with a variety of temperaments, challenging his ability to read and adapt to his opponents. He was beginning to feel the thrill of a long dormant excitement. But this time, maturity and circumstances seemed to promise an experience where his own anger and resentment would have no hold. Maximo rubbed his hands in anticipation. Yes, he was going to enjoy being put to the test.
Maximo stood and continued stretching, gently at first and then more energetically, rotating shoulders, elbows and wrists, loosening the muscles, testing their elasticity. Joaquin stirred. Maximo dropped his arms. But though the boy did not wake, Maximo did not resume his calisthenics – the more Joaquin slept, the better he would face the demands of the day. Instead, Maximo moved to the window and carefully drew the curtain aside. His attention was immediately drawn to the dramatic, layered wall of mountain peaks and valleys that bordered the city, a stark contrast to the tenuous outline of the Rockies he had glimpsed the night before. His gaze followed the contours of the mountain far into the distance before retracing a path back towards the city and the streets below. His window faced the back of the hotel and from the second floor vantage, he could easily see the railway depot only three streets away. Construction sites dotted the area, but for the time being it still remained open enough to give Maximo a clear view of the city’s bustle near the station. For several minutes he distracted himself, following travellers as they emerged from trains, hailed carriages or took to the streets on foot. A group of young men caught his eye, one of them carrying a case similar to the one in which Maximo had brought his blades. This was likely no coincidence but probably one of Maximo’s opponents. Instinctively, he began to observe the young man closely, watching his demeanour, his stride, trying to read the level of confidence and agility. But the distance was too great and all he could see was that the young man clearly enjoyed the support of cheerful comrades, their lively conversation apparent by their expressive gestures, even at this distance.
Maximo rested his eyes by letting his gaze drop closer to the hotel, to the alley directly behind it. This hidden byway seemed almost as busy as the street beyond. The row of low dwellings appeared also to be shops, their rear entrances serviced by carts laden with produce of all kinds. Maximo recognized the distinctive dress of the city’s Chinese citizens. He opened the window further, leaning out for a better view of the street beyond, and caught occasional wisps of a familiar fragrance. The sweet earthy smell brought a reluctant smile. Little wonder that he had found the night air so soothing. Maximo was no stranger to opium vapours. During his precarious convalescence from the knife wound that had nearly killed him, Dr. Todd had spent many hours painstakingly distilling morphine from slices of opium. For days the clinic had been filled with the distinctive aroma as she had ensured a sufficient supply to relieve Maximo’s agony and provide the rest his body so urgently needed for recovery. He scanned the alley with renewed interest and made a note to himself to procure a tin or two to take back to Dr. Todd.
“What do you see?”
Maximo was startled to discover Joaquin by his side, rubbing a pair of barely open eyes. Maximo closed the window but drew the curtains wide open.
“I see a beautiful day, perfect for exploring the city.”
Yawning and still rubbing his eyes, Joaquin did not resist the morning ablutions and was soon made presentable for breakfast. In the dining room, they were immediately accosted by Mr. Finn and Mr. Stewart who had clearly been instructed to be on the lookout for the distinguished guest. Maximo and Joaquin were once again escorted to the favoured table by the window and treated to a plentiful and elaborate breakfast which Joaquin delighted in comparing to the one presented at the Road’s End Inn. A half hour later they were bidding good day to Mr. Brand who had sought them out and walked them to the door, taking the opportunity to express how much he was looking forward to the exhibition. Flattered but at the same time feeling somewhat ill at ease from this unaccustomed attention, Maximo felt relief when he and Joaquin joined the crowd of anonymous strollers.
Following Mr. Haley’s suggestion, they turned right, crossed 16th Street, and began a leisurely exploration of the variety of shop fronts along Blake Street. It wasn’t long before they spotted a narrow three-storey building sporting a modest sign which identified it as Ford’s People’s Restaurant. Though early in the day, there seemed to be a steady stream of male customers entering and exiting, presumably availing themselves of Mr. Ford’s barbering skills. Maximo reflexively ran his fingers along his own neatly outlined beard and felt that he could handle the razor competently enough himself. Still, he looked forward to the ‘choice’ meal touted in the advertisement. In the meantime, they needed to work up an appetite.
The day was rapidly gathering heat, and although dry and quite tolerable, storekeepers were already unrolling and spreading their awnings, and shoppers gratefully sought their shade. Maximo and Joaquin wove in and out from under the coverings, approaching stores that interested them, then crossing the street to avoid larger crowds, darting out of the way of wayward carriages.
They reached 15th Street and, again following Mr. Haley’s directions, turned left aiming for Larimer Street, two blocks further along. Joaquin’s attention was soon drawn to the protruding porch of the Palace Theatre and the sounds of music and song coming from within. Gently, Maximo steered Joaquin away. Mr. Haley had whispered a word of caution in Maximo’s ear explaining that despite its grand frontage, the Theatre was also a gambling house and had a reputation for its ‘leg art’ performed by ladies of easy virtue. Almost next door was a gentlemen’s clothing store and Maximo took an exaggerated interest in the window display, while Joaquin continued to glance over his shoulder. Looking ahead, Maximo could see that the next block offered an unusual array of store signs that straddled the sidewalk. He drew Joaquin’s attention to them and was finally able to urge the boy on without further resistance.
With so much to see, their progress was slow along the street as they window-shopped and resisted the temptation to enter any of the businesses. But when they reached the corner with Larimer, Joaquin pulled insistently on Maximo’s sleeve. The Denver Photographic Rooms had a bountiful display of souvenir photographs filling its windows.
“I think Mamá and Alma would like these. We can show them where we went.” Joaquin’s finger tapped the glass repeatedly, selecting just about every image on display. Maximo agreed, praising yet another good idea and some time later they emerged from the shop in possession of half a dozen photos of the streets of Denver and views of the Rocky Mountains.
They continued along Larimer which, being Denver’s main commercial street, was even busier than Blake. The variety of stores continued to impress the visitors, their eyes flitting from shop to shop, taking in everything ranging from hardware stores – which were subjected to Maximo’s critical eye – to plenty of beer, wine and liquor suppliers, the Mozart Hall being the most incongruously named. A little further along they came across an imposing brick building, the large lettering on its façade proclaiming it as the News Block. A sandwich board out front displayed the first page of the latest edition of the Rocky Mountain News, copies of which were available for purchase inside. They were about to move on when Joaquin tugged urgently at Maximo’s hand.
“Look, Máximo, look!”
On the other side of the sandwich board was pasted a large advertisement. It headlined the ‘Denver Turnverein, Exhibition and Charity Gala, a Grand Assault at Arms’. Maximo gave it only a glance, feeling a vague sense of self-consciousness, and began to move on only to be restrained again by Joaquin.
“But look, look! There’s more!”
Joaquin was pointing at the next lines in the advertisement which proclaimed that sword feats in foil and rapier would be presented by international fencing masters.
“That must be you – an international fencing master!” Joaquin was beaming at Maximo who remained speechless, an unwelcome warmth creeping into his cheeks. “And look, there’s going to be a dinner, and dancing, and music!”
With growing apprehension, Maximo read the rest of the notice. Indeed, the evening would also include an art exhibition and readings, all in benefit of the Denver Orphan’s Home. Mr. Haley had not been exaggerating. All of Denver society would be there.
Having remarked the advertisement once, they now saw that it was posted in other shop windows, ensuring that the event was well publicized. Joaquin gleefully skipped along, now deliberately seeking out more of the distinctive notices. Feeling a little discomfitted, Maximo was glad to surrender to temptation and sought shelter in Chain and Hardy’s Parlor Bookstore. The broad selection of books and fancy goods succeeded in distracting Joaquin, but Maximo’s thoughts were wandering too much and he did little more than skim through the offerings. Still, time passed quickly in the bookstore and soon enough Maximo was leading Joaquin out of the shop, but not before the purchase was made of a book for the long journey home.
Their walk had taken them in a broad circle and before long they were back at their hotel, pausing only briefly to wash before the noonday meal. Already familiar with the location of Ford’s Restaurant, they arrived promptly and found Mr. Haley waiting for them at the door.
As Mr. Haley had promised, the atmosphere of the restaurant was in marked contrast to that of the hotel dining room. The modest, narrow frontage belied the elaborate interior. Deeply stained wood panelling on walls and counters was brightly illuminated by a profusion of oil lamps of various decorative shapes and sizes, the wrought-iron work impressing Maximo’s discerning eye. Framed photographs and small watercolours of the local scenery festooned the walls all the way up to the ceiling. Tables were set more closely together than in the hotel, but the patrons seemed not to mind. Conversations were lively and of a decidedly less restrained tone that those Maximo and Joaquin had experienced the previous evening. They were briskly led to their table by one waiter while others bustled by, balancing precariously laden trays with remarkable agility.
Maximo settled in his chair and before turning his attention to Mr. Haley, took a closer look at his fellow diners. The crowd was quite diverse, from the modestly dressed to those better able to afford the more current fashions. He also noted with interest the diversity in shades of skin colour, another contrast with the hotel dining room. Most prominent was a tall, middle-aged black gentleman who stood near the doorway. He was nattily dressed in a dark suit, its cut matching the precision of his carefully trimmed moustache and goatee. He was conversing with a customer who had just entered.
“I see you’ve noticed Mr. Ford.” Jonas carefully eyed Maximo, gauging his reaction.
“The owner of the restaurant?” Raised eyebrows revealed Maximo’s curiosity.
“Indeed.” Encouraged by Maximo’s tone, Jonas launched into Barney Ford’s story, revealing that he had been born a slave in Virginia. He’d attained his freedom quite by chance, on the occasion of being sent by his master on a business trip to Quincy. Once there, he was informed that he was a free man since in Illinois he was standing on free soil. Of course he did not return to Virginia and instead soon made a new life for himself learning the barber’s trade in Chicago and successfully speculating in various businesses. He arrived in Denver in 1860 and set up a barbershop. When it burnt to the ground in the great fire of 1863, he rebuilt the shop and added the restaurant. His upcoming project was the construction of a grand hotel, to be located in the large vacant lot across from the American House. Mr. Ford was also considering a future in politics.
During Mr. Haley’s narrative, Maximo had cast discreet glances at Mr. Ford, and at the story’s conclusion he nodded appreciatively. He knew something of the harsh circumstances of people subjugated by the prejudices of others. During his difficult journey across the country and his years on the cattle trails, many of Maximo’s occasional companions had been black journeymen trying to forge a living and a future for themselves. They had shared stories and felt a common humanity in their struggles. And here was proof that, however slowly, the times seemed to be changing and a future was indeed possible.
Maximo had barely finished his musings when the customer who had been speaking with Mr. Ford came towards their table. Mr. Haley stood to greet him.
“Mr. Steinhauer, this is Mr. Meridio and his son, Joaquin.” As firm handshakes were exchanged, Jonas completed the introductions. “Mr. Frederick Steinhauer is the founder of the Denver Turnverein.”
“I hope you don’t mind the intrusion, Mr. Meridio. Mr. Haley kindly let me know you would be here and I wanted to make your acquaintance to welcome you personally.”
“I thank you, Mr. Steinhauer. Please join us.” Maximo pulled a chair for Mr. Steinhauer who immediately took it upon himself to recommend the best offerings from the menu. Although Maximo had realized right away that Mr. Haley’s description of the restaurant as more ‘ordinary’ was not quite apt, he was not disappointed, but for the sake of Joaquin he was relieved to see that the menu did list more conventional fare such as simple roast beef and potatoes. Even so, Mr. Steinhauer was insistent on the other delicacies on offer, particularly the seafood which was reputed for its exceptional freshness. Maximo relented and accepted the trout, but drew the line at the oysters even though they were a house specialty.
While Mr. Steinhauer expertly ate his way through a half dozen oysters, he answered Maximo’s questions regarding the Turnverein. Currently, the emphasis was placed on gymnastics and dance, but the intention was to diversify. Turner societies in other cities already had well established fencing divisions and it was Mr. Steinhauer’s intention to do the same in Denver.
He was hoping the exhibition would generate the necessary interest and he was most grateful that Mr. Meridio and several other distinguished fencers had been so kind as to come all this way to help inspire the youth of Denver. To show his gratitude, Mr. Steinhauer was adamant about settling the bill himself before leaving to attend to the remaining arrangements for the evening. Left alone with Mr. Haley, Maximo summoned the courage to address the issue that had been troubling him since he’d read the details of the exhibition.
“Mr. Haley, I must confess that I had not realized there were festivities planned for the evening. I came prepared only for the competition. I will not be able to attend the rest.”
“But why not, Mr. Meridio?” Jonas was perplexed. “The banquet is to celebrate all of the participants.”
“I am not prepared. I do not have...” Maximo’s voice trailed off as he gestured to indicate his frock coat, adequate for city strolling but not at all appropriate for a gala evening.
“Ah,” Jonas smiled and shook his head. “It’s my fault. Forgive me for not having mentioned this sooner. I should have explained that all has been arranged for you. Mr. Steinhauer asked me to take you and your son to be fitted for evening dress.”
“Me too?” Joaquin nearly jumped out of his seat.
“If your father agrees, a place will be set for you at the banquet.”
Had he been alone, Maximo would have begged off the social events. But Joaquin’s excitement gave him pause. As the parental authority, Maximo had every right to insist they would leave early. But he knew that this would not be out of concern for Joaquin’s virtue or behaviour – there was no question the event was respectable and Joaquin’s manners were certainly not a worry. It was Maximo’s own reserve that made him shrink from the excessive attention of strangers, no matter how well-intentioned. Perhaps it was time to apply his courage beyond the battlefield. He bit his tongue.
And with this seal of approval, Maximo found himself whisked away and taken back to Garson’s Clothing House – purveyors of Gentlemen’s Ready Made Clothing – whose window displays had been used to distract Joaquin a few hours earlier. Maximo’s initial discomfort eventually faded as the professional staff quickly assessed his needs, both in fit and style. A distinctive red vest was suggested as a finishing touch for a man of his physical presence, but he was not pressed when he declined. Instead, he opted for a more discreet grey silk vest, even though he considered the ornate paisley pattern an extravagance. Still, to himself, he did admit that he cut a very fine figure in the trim black tailcoat with satin lapels, pristine white wing-collared shirt contrasting with the vest, black silk puffed tie, white gloves, and top hat. If only Elena could see him... Joaquin was the model child as he set aside his short jacket and knickerbockers and was fitted into a miniature version of Maximo’s attire. It occurred to Maximo that this situation came naturally to Joaquin who, up to the age of five, had been raised in his grandfather’s palatial home where highly formal social occasions were the norm and not exceptional events. From the earliest age, Joaquin had been disciplined to behave properly and, in this circumstance, Maximo recognized the child’s superior experience and poise. The ordeal concluded with the assurance that the clothing would be delivered directly to the Turnverein in time for the gentlemen to dress for the banquet.
Mr. Haley saw them back to the hotel where Maximo was grateful to be back in the seclusion of their room to enjoy a few hours of peace and preparation. His preparations were brief. His fencing uniform was ready, carefully packaged by Elena who had warned Maximo not to unwrap it before it was needed lest it get soiled or wrinkled before the exhibition. He slipped it into his carrying case and turned his attention to his weapons. He packed his foils and rapiers, leaving behind the artisanal blades. If Mr. Haley still insisted, he would show them to anyone interested the following day. He washed himself and Joaquin, seeking refreshment from the growing heat of the day and settled on his bed, closing his eyes, willing himself to rest if only for an hour or so. He hoped Joaquin would do the same, but for a while the child flitted about the room, chattering, recalling the morning’s experiences and speculating on the evening. But eventually he too jumped onto his bed, ostensibly to read for a while. Within minutes he was asleep.
Maximo had left the window wide open and the muffled sounds of city life reached him, distracting him for a while until his mind began to settle, concentrating on the most important preparation of all: gauging his state of mind and how he could best channel it to his advantage. The last time he had prepared for a competition was over five years ago. Though victorious, at the time he had told himself it would be his last bout. The effort he had needed to restrain his aggression had alarmed him. During his years of self-imposed exile in San Sebastian, he had accepted many invitations to fence, not for the pleasure but because fighting was his only means of releasing the unhealthy combination of anger and grief that was his ever present demon. Maître de la Fère’s lessons had worn thin. A year after that last encounter, Maximo had set sail for Boston in search of Elena.
But now Maximo lay in his bed and felt what came as a surprisingly revelation. He sensed absolutely no anger, no grief, no tension, no aggression. Even the apprehension he had felt about the social obligations of the evening seemed completely meaningless at this moment. The realization was as wondrous as it was unexpected. He opened his eyes, looked to the small form on the other bed and understood. His life was as perfect as he could have ever imagined. Joaquin with him here, under these circumstances was all the proof he needed that all the wrongs Maximo had suffered – and had committed – had found a way to right themselves. And to complete his happiness, he was going to fight again and this time, for the first time in his life, it would be truly for the pleasure and for the art of fencing.
Maximo woke Joaquin just before five o’clock, in time to meet Mr. Haley and head out to the Turnverein Hall. Joaquin’s renewed excitement was now no match for Maximo’s, but Maximo’s usual calm demeanour did not betray the emotions that bubbled inside. The self-restraint that had kept years of anger in check was now being put to much more positive use. Mr. Haley, punctual as usual, met them in front of the hotel and suggested they hire a calash. But, upon learning that the hall was only some eight blocks away, Maximo declined; walking was his preferred method for limbering his muscles. Jonas gladly acquiesced and took the opportunity to show a few more of the sites Denver had to offer. They retraced some of their morning’s stroll, heading directly towards Larimer Street, but this time turning to follow it in a westerly direction. For a couple of blocks, the street was as cluttered with shops as its easterly end, but once they crossed the Cherry Creek bridge, its character changed. The street was lined with more humble residences and larger buildings appeared in more separate clusters. Jonas swept the horizon with his hand.
“John Good’s Rocky Mountain Brewery to the left, and Moritz Sigi’s Colorado Brewery to the right.” Jonas smiled wryly. “Some would argue that this is where Denver really began.”
Jonas led them to the right, towards the block of two-storey brick buildings which modest lettering claimed for the Colorado Brewery. Another sign on the door further identified it as the home of the Denver Turnverein Society. The first floor was ostensibly devoted to offices, but the organizers of the evening’s events had clearly gone to great pains to decorate the premises to befit the occasion, festooning the main staircase with draped fabrics and vases of flowers on every second step. Jonas led Maximo and Joaquin upstairs, carefully avoiding the workers rushing up and down, attending to last minute details. The second floor opened onto a generous lobby which gave access to two spacious salons. A third, grand doorway opened onto what now appeared to be a large ballroom. But between gaps in the opulent draperies that curtained the walls, Maximo was able to spot rows of ladders, neatly stacked coils of thick rope, and shelves of juggling pins which betrayed the room’s usual function as a gymnasium. Near the entrance where Maximo and Joaquin stood were long rows of tables, the place settings immaculately dressed. Beyond them, a large space had been left open but it was bounded by orderly rows of chairs which ran the length of the fencing piste at the far end of the room. Jonas did not rush Maximo, letting him silently appraise the location and the stage for his performance. Even though he was a continent and a lifetime away from his last experience of the sort, the lavish setting was familiar. Under different circumstances, such a similarity might have been unnerving for the dark memories it roused, but Maximo’s current serenity felt immutable. He nodded his approval, even after he’d noted the balcony occupied by musicians tuning their instruments and arranging their music stands, and remembered that he would likely be called upon to participate in the ball. He indulged in a small, private sigh.
None of the other participants had yet arrived when Jonas led the way into one of the salons that would function as dressing and limbering room. He left Maximo to change in private, with Joaquin as his squire. Maximo unwrapped his package and at first, to his consternation, he did not recognize his uniform. But then he noticed the folded note, tucked into the pristine white collar. From Elena. This was an early birthday gift. She had been secretly working on it, intending to present it to him the following month but had rushed to finish for this occasion. He noticed Joaquin grinning conspiratorially.
“You knew about this, didn’t you?”
“Of course! Put it on, I want to see!”
With the help of his eager assistant, Maximo slipped into the jacket. He noted with admiration and satisfaction the careful stitching that bound the sturdy layer of buckskin to the inside of the chest panel and right sleeve. Deft little fingers fastened the row of ten buttons that ran along the far left of the jacket, doubling the layer of the thick linen that rose up high to his neck. The fit was perfect, broad in the back and narrowing at the waist, allowing the free movement of his arms, but also revealing his solid build to his opponents. The black trousers fit loosely but tapered at the ankles allowing for comfort and mobility. There was also a new glove, but Elena’s note made it clear she did not expect him to use it on this occasion and she’d included his old glove as well. She knew that the sensitivity of touch he required would be best served by the well-worn glove which through thorough use had come to naturally hold the shape of Maximo’s hand. Elena had also refurbished his mask, replacing the leather bib and extending it just a little lower to increase protection to his neck. She might not be there to see him, but she had done everything possible for Maximo to feel her presence by his side. He knew her thoughts at this very moment were with him, trying to imagine where he was, trying to anticipate his state of mind, knowing how mixed his emotions would be. He read the rest of the her note, brimming with her pride, encouraging her champion. Maximo folded it and carefully tucked it into his jacket. Elena had never failed to slip him little messages before all of his bouts, usually enlisting the help of a street urchin who was unlikely to tattle to her father. The last time he had received such a note was eleven years ago, on the occasion of the ill-fated bout which had led to their separation. Maximo shook the memory away. There would be no such consequences this time.
Maximo had turned his attention to his blades, tightening them and checking their line and flexibility when Mr. Harvey returned to attend to other practical matters. He explained in detail the proceedings for the evening. Before the main event, the Grand Assault at Arms, there would be a chance for a few younger fencers to test their mettle. They would be allowed a few rounds in the rapier category and a prize would be awarded to the young man who would distinguish himself the most. The Grand Assault proper would then begin. All fencers had been assigned to two bouts each. Maximo would be presented in the foil category and would face William Staber from Chicago and Gilbert Rosière, Pepe Llulla’s pupil from New Orleans.
“ I know, Mr. Meridio, that you will not fail to please the crowd and I think it very likely that you will be asked for more. But be assured that you will not be pressured publicly to do so and it will be entirely your decision depending on how disposed you feel after your bouts. There would be no dishonour in declining.” Jonas was looking at Maximo with the slightest of smiles and a twinkle in his eye. This was the speech he always gave competitors, but he was quite sure it was entirely superfluous for Mr. Meridio.
“Should you feel up to another bout, it would be with rapiers. The fencers in that category are Mr. Peter Robin, who is a Frenchman despite the name, from Houston, and Mr. Régis Sénac, currently from New York.”
“ I look forward to meeting them.” Maximo returned a quirked smile. “In the meantime, would you favour me with a few minutes of sparring?”
Jonas did not need to be asked twice and was soon leading Maximo through careful rounds of movements, specifically warming and preparing the necessary muscles. The clash of metal drew the attention of several workmen who crowded in the doorway of the salon. They were eventually ushered back to work by a stern Mr. Steinhauer who then lingered to watch the rest of the session.
“Excellent!” He beamed before taking himself back to his own duties.
Having fulfilled his temporary role as trainer, Jonas left to seek out the other fencers who should soon be arriving. Maximo’s young squire immediately offered himself as sparring partner, doing his best to imitate Mr. Haley’s techniques.
“The young man seems very promising.”
The compliment came from a new spectator in the doorway. Maximo and Joaquin removed their masks and exchanged introductions. The stranger was William Byers, editor and reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. Mr. Byers remained only long enough to wish Maximo a good bout and to suggest that perhaps they might have time to speak at greater length later in the evening. Though Mr. Byers was entirely courteous in his manner, Maximo took note of his penetrating eyes, those of a man accustomed to taking the measure of others. With equal courtesy, Maximo returned the interest, remembering Mr. Haley’s brief biography of the outspoken journalist.
Despite the serenity of spirit that Maximo was enjoying, he felt slightly perturbed by this pointed attention which as yet seemed to have nothing to do with his skills on the piste. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself for the close scrutiny he would no doubt have to endure for the next few hours. It was not long in coming. Mr. Haley was now at the door leading the other fencers into the salon. Introductions were made and Maximo performed his own assessments, putting faces to the names that were already familiar. He was pleasantly surprised to find that in contrast to the opponents he had known in the past, these gentlemen seemed quite honest in their expressions of mutual respect and camaraderie. Of course Maximo knew this did not mean there was no sense of competitiveness or rivalry, but no one seemed intent on expressing it through overt intimidation and disdain. The only fencers who appeared to be somewhat self-possessed were in the group of youngsters whose apparent confidence did not fool Maximo – he saw more posturing than real composure. He nevertheless made a point of introducing himself to everyone and recognized the young man from the train, a Mr. Charlie Crocker. The overly firm handshake revealed much to Maximo who returned it in kind and wished the youth much success.
In the midst of his mild discomfort, of particular interest and pleasure to Maximo was meeting Señor Pepe Llulla. He had come to support his pupil, Mr. Rosière, but did not intend participating himself, having recently recovered from a prolonged illness. He appeared delighted to meet a fellow countryman, and hoped they would be seated together to further the acquaintance during the banquet. For now, however, there was little time to continue the conversation as the rest of the assembly had begun to arrive.
The competitors stepped out into the lobby where Mr. Steinhauer arranged them into a receiving line of sorts. It seemed that every single guest was intent on being personally introduced. With the assistance of Mr. Haley, Mr. Steinhauer was only too glad to oblige. Maximo summoned his courage and began the greetings.
What followed was a steady half-an-hour of presentations and brief pleasantries. It seemed to Maximo he was meeting every single resident of Denver: Wolfe Londoner, mayor of Denver; Carl Walbrach, apothecary and co-founder of the Turnverein; Moritz Sigi, owner of the Colorado brewery; Adolph Coors, brewer; George Brand, delighted to see Mr. Meridio again; William Berger, banker; Drs. Bancroft and Gehrung, both physicians and surgeons; Baron Walter von Richtofen, developer; Reverend Rankin, Presbyterian Minister; Philip Zang, brewer; David Cook, police chief and saloonkeeper; Max Kuner, owner of a pickling and cannery company... another physician, another saloon-keeper, another banker, another lieutenant colonel...
Maximo had begun to lose track of time and place when he was presented to James Duff of the Colorado Ranch Company. The distinctive Scottish burr drew Maximo’s wandering attention back into focus. Mr. Duff was still pressing Maximo’s hand and looking at him quizzically.
“Mr. Meridio, have we not met before?”
“I do not think so...” was Maximo’s truthful reply, but as Mr. Duff moved on, Maximo felt his own spark of recognition. The name was now familiar. Mr. Duff was a cattle baron, one of the more influential ranchers in the area. Maximo’s trail boss, William Munny, had frequently dealt with him as Duff regularly purchased much of the cattle Munny and his team would bring along the Goodnight-Loving trail to the railheads in Denver. Though at the end of the drive Maximo’s fellow trailhands always went into Denver to celebrate, he had shunned the city, preferring his own company in those dark days. He had camped out in solitude or occasionally accepted the hospitality of generous homesteaders. He now remembered that Mr. Duff had often come out to the trail to have a first look at the cattle before they were taken to the city’s stockyards. The two men had clearly noticed each other but had never formally met. Maximo wondered if Mr. Duff might come to the same realization and what he would think of the former trailhand. But again, Maximo was pleased to discover that while in his past life the judgment of others mattered very much, at this moment Mr. Duff’s opinion of him was of no particular concern. He continued to shake other hands.
When the last of the guests were finally ushered into the ballroom, the seasoned fencers returned to the business of preparing while the younger men were escorted to the piste to begin their bouts as a prelude to the Grand Assault. Feeling more than ready, Maximo kept his exercises to a minimum and instead watched his opponents, some clearly intent on making an early show of their speed and power. While Maximo remained quiet, it was Joaquin who easily ingratiated himself to the other fencers, surprising them with his knowledgeable appreciation and earning the invitation to actually cross swords with several who were first amused by the pint-sized fencer and then impressed with his very real abilities. The nervous anticipation of the experienced fencers mounted as the sounds from the ballroom clearly reached them, the crowd aahing with apprehension one moment and bursting into applause the next. Soon enough the final round of cheers proclaimed the end of the demonstration and the distribution of prizes. Mr. Haley appeared at the door.
“Gentlemen, please follow me.”
They filed into the ballroom to the sound of enthusiastic applause and the solid beat of a rousing marching piece played energetically by the band. One by one the fencers were introduced to the audience and then shown to their seats at one end of the piste. The first to be called were Mr. Terence Corcoran of San Antonio and Mr. John Dwyer of New York. They stepped onto the piste and ceremoniously saluted each other. The crowd hushed. The bout began. Maximo watched enthralled. Mr. Haley certainly knew how to pick his fencers. They were admirably skilled and models of the nobility of behaviour expected in such a civilized form of combat. He watched in silence, restraining his reactions, not wanting to add to the distractions from the less circumspect spectators. But when the bout was over, Maximo’s applause was as sincere as that of the appreciative audience.
Mr. William Staber from New York and Mr. Maximo Meridio from Parson’s Ridge, New Mexico, were called up next.
Maximo felt himself nearly propelled out of his seat as if his body were behaving of its own accord, fuelled by excited anticipation. He stepped onto the piste and took a deep calming breath before turning to face Mr. Steinhauer who was acting as referee. Both fencers donned their masks and saluted him before turning to face each other. With another broad and elegant sweep of his blade, Maximo saluted in unison with Mr. Staber and stepped back to his position. As they waited for the referee’s signal, behind the privacy of his mask Maximo closed his eyes and let his lips part into a broad smile, drinking in the intensity of the joy that was electrifying him.
“En garde! Ȇtes-vous prêts?” Mr. Steinhauer called out. “Allez!”
Feb 8 11 9:36 AM
(Sorry about the inconsistent fonts. They seem to have a mind of their own and totally ignore my attempts to change them.)In writing these chapters I have come across plenty of very interesting information on 19th Denver, a city that I knew nothing about. I hope I’ve managed to show some of it through Maximo and Joaquin’s eyes. As for the rest, I’ve attached the images that were of use to me and a few other comments on some of the colourful and very real characters I encountered. If any readers are from Denver, I hope that I have done the city justice and also that I may be able to visit it one day.
ORIGINS OF DENVER’S CHINATOWN
“The first Chinese to settle in Denver arrived in 1870. By October of that year, 29 men and 13 women were living in a few small houses on Wazee Street between ‘F’ (Fifteenth) and ‘G’ (Sixteenth). The following spring the colony had expanded to Blake Street. Most of the dwellings in which the Chinese lived were small framed buildings. ‘Hop Alley’ was another term for this Chinese colony. ‘Hop’ referred to the opium which was sometimes used by the Chinese, and ‘alley’ referred to the rear entrances to many of the Chinese buildings in the alley between Wazee and Blake. An important part of ‘Hop Alley’ was directly behind the prosperous American House Hotel.”
From: The Chinese on the American Frontier By Arif Dirlik and Malcolm Yeung (Google Books)
OPIUM IN THE LATE 19th CENTURY
Opium was sold in tins which held about 6.5 ounces. It came as a black gummy substance. A tin cost between $6 and $13. Although by 1871 the negative consequences of opium abuse were well known, it was still easy to purchase. By 1880 there were 17 opium dens in Denver, and it was only in 1898 that an ordinance was passed outlawing the “selling, exchanging, bartering, dispensing and giving away of morphine, opium and cocaine unless prescribed by a reputable physician.”
The process of extracting morphine from opium involves dissolving opium in hot water, adding lime to precipitate the non-morphine alkaloids and then adding ammonium chloride to precipitate the morphine from the solution. Bea would have been well-acquainted with this process.
BARNEY L. FORD – owner of Ford’s People’s Restaurant
Barney Ford was recognized nationally as a black civil rights leader, helping to establish Colorado’s first adult education classes for blacks and using his influence to delay statehood for Colorado territory until black men were assured the right to vote. In addition, he lobbied the federal government to relieve the burden of excessive income taxes and license fees on saloonkeepers, and he became the first black in the state to serve on a U. S. grand jury. His political and civil rights activism earned him the title “Black Baron.” (from: gocolorado.com)
Ford’s family protested against racial segregation in schools. Ford also made a name for himself in the city’s business and political community. Ford was among the founders, in the 1870s, of the Dime Savings Bank, along with Jerome Chaffee, William Byers, and former governor John Evans. In 1874, he won the Republican Party nomination for a seat in the Territorial House of Representatives. Although he lost by 736 votes, he was the first African American to run for elected office in Colorado. (from:denver.yourhub.com)
From his obituary: “Pioneer Colored Man Passed to His Long Rest  - Born a slave in Virginia, and visited by many reverses, he made a stepping stone of adversity, overcame disaster and to a degree attained both prominence and wealth. Ford’s freedom was obtained peculiarly. Being sent on a business trip by his master to Quincy, Ill., he was informed he was a free man by virtue of being on free soil, and he did not return to Dixie. In the early seventies he was elected to a seat in the lower house of Colorado. Himself colored, he yet spoke with a tongue free of accent or localisms. It happened that his opponent was a white man from the South, who from playing with the colored children had contracted a broad accent and considerable dialect, which he still spoke. People voted for the colored man because his speech, they said, was pure. He built the Inter Ocean Hotel in Denver [in 1873].”
THE DENVER TURNVEREIN SOCIETY
The Denver Turnverein Society was established in 1865 in order to provide the German community with athletic and social activities, political rallies, operas and concerts. It was founded by Frederick Steinhauer who was a member of the territorial legislature. Steinhauer was also president of the board of trustees of the state school of mines, and is referred to as the founder of Denver’s school system.
The German community included some of Denver’s wealthiest and most influential residents contributing to the popularity of the Turnverein Society and the construction of impressive halls. However, initially its members met in Adolph Schinner’s Bakery and saloon. By 1869 they relocated to a hall on the premises of Moritz Sigi’s Colorado Brewery, on Larimer Street corner with 10th Avenue. Sigi’s brewery became the Milwaukee Brewery under his successor, Max Melsheimer, who in 1882 added the distinctive Turnhalle Opera House to the block of buildings. In 1900, the brewery was renamed once more and became the Tivoli Brewery. Today, it is the Tivoli Student Union of the Metro State University.
Although Turnverein Societies had physical education as their primary mission, they also upheld social values that were expressed in their charters, such as the Los Angeles Turner Principles of 1871. The Turners believe in:
Moritz (Morris) Sigi, a native of Baden, Germany, arrived in Denver in 1862 from St. Joseph, Missouri. He first started a bakery on Blake street. Mr. Sigi went into the brewery business in 1864 and was the Proprietor of the Colorado Brewery. Mr. Sigi represented the First Ward at Denver City Council in 1866. On March 22, 1874, “Mr. Sigi was killed when a dog became loose and frightened one of a pair of horses attached to a barouche in which Mr. Moritz Sigi was taking his wife and friends out for a ride. At the corner of 19th and Wazee streets, the barouche was upset, and its occupants thrown violently to the ground. Mr. Sigi was taken to his home, and Drs. Justice, Diedrichs, Bancroft, and Gehrung have attended him, but in spite of this large array of medical skill he died at a quarter past nine o'clock, without pain, not having spoken a word, or recognized any one since the accident occurred.”
WILLIAM NEWTON BYERS
William Byers established the Rocky Mountain News as Denver’s first newspaper in 1859.
Byers was often critical of Denver’s public morals and did not mince words in his articles, openly criticizing gambling and drinking houses. In 1860, the city’s leading troublemakers tried to hang him. On another occasion, shots were fired at him through the floor into the second storey offices of the Rocky Mountain News. Byers simply added extra floor planking and organized more vigilante meetings.
Wolfe Londoner, Carl Walbrach, Moritz Sigi, Adolph Coors, George Brand, William Berger, Dr. F.J. Bancroft, Dr. E.C. Gehrung, Baron Walter von Richtofen, Philip Zang, David J. Cook
To the best of my knowledge, these are all names of very real people who were present in Denver in the 1870s.
*For the piece the band is playing I had in mind one of John Philip Sousa’s marches, but unfortunately his earliest compositions date from the mid 1880s. However, one of these pieces just happens to be The Gladiator march! It was so hard to resist using it outright! Still, if you’d like to have a listen, you can sample it here:
(Scroll down to #7)
Feb 8 11 9:48 AM
Feb 9 11 3:09 PM
Feb 9 11 3:10 PM
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
Volume XIII – Denver, Colorado, Sunday, July 9, 1871 - W.N. Byers Publisher
TURNVEREIN GRAND ASSAULT AT ARMS AT SIGI’S HALL
GALA NIGHT OF FENCING FEATS
Dr. Robert Jackson, Inspector-General of Army-Hospitals, strongly advocated training in swordplay. He declared that “fencing sharpens the eyesight, increases active power in general, tries the temper, and teaches decision in seizing occasions for acting offensively with effect, or defensively with coolness and resolution.” Moreover, it has also been said that fencing gives a man “confidence and promptness in danger, and enables him to protect himself in case he is ever assaulted by strong but mentally obtuse persons.” These virtues were clearly expounded by the group of talented fencers who exhibited their skills to a delighted audience at Mr. Sigi’s capacious hall last night. The attendance was larger than anticipated and indicated the degree of interest in the proceedings.
The exhibition began with a display presented by a contingent of young men recently initiated to the art of fencing. Their youth did not impede their abilities and they thoroughly engaged the attention and admiration of the gathering. Of note among them was Mr. Charles Crocker, of San Francisco, who established his superiority among his peers by means of lightning thrusts and overpowering advances. What he lacked in finesse, he compensated for in accuracy.
The Grand Assault proper began with bouts with foils followed by rapiers. Foils were represented by Wm. Staber, G. Rosiere, and M. Meridio, and rapiers by P. Robin and R. Senac. All masters made every effort to show what classic fencing should be. They did not strive exclusively for hits, but if a good opening did occur, they placed their points squarely on each other. The audience was treated to a string of fully developed attacks, marvellously accurate hits and convincing parries and ripostes.
In the rapier category, the audience was privileged to witness firsthand the legendary skills of Mr. Regis Senac who has already attained a reputation that now goes beyond his salle d’armes in New York and extends throughout this country. Mr. Senac is a slim, well-proportioned man, with narrow face, frank expression, and manners most courteous. His style has been described as “characterized by his pistol shot lunge, combining the precision of a rifle and the agility of a wild cat.” Mr. Senac and Mr. Robin provided a thoroughly entertaining encounter. Mr. Senac’s parries and counters could be described as “small as a young girl's finger ring.” However, though Mr. Robin’s movements were larger, quick and correct, it was Mr. Senac who kept the superior hand.
As there had been only two fencers for the rapier category, and at the clamouring instance of the audience, the referee, Mr. Steinhauer, presented a request to Mr. Meridio, who had distinguished himself with the foil but was also reputed to be proficient with the rapier, asking if he would consider one additional bout with Mr. Senac. Though Mr. Meridio had already waged two heated encounters in foil, he accepted.
Mr. Maximo Meridio was indeed the revelation of the evening. A Spaniard by origin, he has recently made his home in Parson’s Ridge, New Mexico. Until this exhibition, he was unknown in the circle of master fencers in this country, but we are informed that Mr. Meridio was already making a name for himself in Europe before emigrating, both as a master fencer and master swordsmith. Mr. Meridio is a strongly built, handsomely put-up man of about thirty, of a calm demeanour and measured tone in voice. Contrary to expectations, his powerful build does not interfere with the elegance or agility of his movements. Mr. Meridio’s fencing technique is remarkable, revealing that he has been a student of several styles, incorporating elements of the Italian and French methods, as well as the Spanish destreza, surprising his opponents with his repertoire of unexpected but very legitimate attacks and parries. This advantage of technique was clearly apparent as he handled the foil and was even more so with the freer rules of rapier fencing. Mr. Meridio had no hesitation in immediately calling out touché and adding a brief bow whenever his opponents managed to score a hit. In one instance, when his opponent’s foil fell to the ground, he immediately stood back, refusing to take advantage and handed the blade back to his adversary. His surprising endurance, even after two previous bouts, was remarkable. His measured vigour, assured strength, sobriety of gestures and correctness of comportment comprise the qualities that are those of the exemplary fencer and gentleman and thoroughly succeeded in charming the audience. His hits were loudly acclaimed by appreciative spectators. Although at the beginning of the Assault it was made clear that the purpose of the exhibition was to fence for style and not for points, Mr. Senac insisted that Mr. Meridio be officially recognized as the victor of their bout. This was received with enthusiastic applause in praise of the actions of both competitors.
A singular incident: The audience had already begun to disperse when Mr. Crocker who had earlier distinguished himself, approached Mr. Meridio, offered his compliments and enquired if the following day there might be time for a lesson and bout with the Master. Mr. Meridio declined with regret as he would be spending the day preparing for his return journey home. Onlookers, including the subscriber, who had paused to witness the exchange were surprised when Mr. Crocker then suggested that they might have an impromptu bout at that very moment, during the interlude while the hall was being readied for the banquet. It is to Mr. Meridio’s credit that he did not react unduly to Mr. Crocker’s impudence and that, surprisingly, he agreed to the request even though he had already fenced far beyond the regular number of bouts. The piste was once again lined with spectators who were treated to yet another display of sportsmanship, physical prowess and gentlemanly behaviour. Mr. Crocker’s fiery nature, which had served him well against his younger opponents, was here his undoing as he was overly anxious to get the better of his opponent only to have every attack parried by the Master. Mr. Crocker even attempted a ‘coup de Jarnac’ which, remarkably, was once again parried. The younger man’s surprise was not lost on Mr. Meridio who took advantage of this distraction, pushing his opponent’s blade up and aside, and then sliding a hit straight to the heart. Had there been no buttons on the rapiers, this touch would have been the last.
The subscriber also had the opportunity to observe Mr. Meridio’s young son, a lad of about ten, who is already showing considerable prowess for one so young, revealing the skills he has evidently inherited from his father.
Guests were seated for the banquet by nine o’clock and the ball formally opened at eleven o’clock. Music was furnished by the Cotillon Band which gamely played on until the dawn of the day when the dancers began to disperse in search of much needed rest after the extended round of festivities. The fencers, despite the exertions of the evening, gladly obliged their many admirers, partnering for many dances with several of the ladies present. Mr. Meridio was in particular demand as it was soon remarked that the refinement of his fencing extended also to the manner of his dance.
Of the most prominent guests attending the gala were W. Londoner, M. Sigi, W. Berger, Dr. Bancroft, Rev. Rankin, Baron Richtofen, and many others who expressed sincere pleasure in all aspects of the festivities. Mr. Steinhauer’s satisfaction was palpable as he stated that he hoped “the example of Denver may be profitably imitated by the rest of the country. There is no healthier sport than fencing.”
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