This is meant to be a piece of historical fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of history and the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely historic and a work of fiction to guide the reader through history in an engaging way.
The following may contain mild language and references to historical traumatic events. Reader discretion is advised.
The rain splattered down from the heavens, slowly but surely it wiped away the dust and the grime from the recent drought. It was an infinite orchestra of drops that fell and made the music only nature could fathom. To me, it was a joyous noise and it filled me with jubilant youth. I sat on my front porch listening to the rain and puffing on my pipe soaking it all in. How many more times will I get to do this?
I’m getting too old and I have experienced so many changes in my lifetime, from elaborately painted horse-drawn carriages, to magnificent electric trolleys, and now the candy red Styleline Chevys. The world is always growing, industrializing, and becoming more superior than it ever has. New words have been born such as technology, fuel, and civil rights, these are things I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Presently, here in this moment, I am puffing on my pipe as an old man on Juliana Street living amongst the rich and the sophisticated, oh how far I have come from street rat to a rich man. Had it not been for that fateful day, with that fateful conversation, I would have been nothing more than a beggar on the street or worse dead. I have changed much over the years, but my simplicity in ways has stayed with me, I still prefer my pipe instead of cigars, my old wooden rocking chair I built myself, and finding happiness by just sitting here in the rain.
Watching and listening.
Which reminds me, I haven’t even touched my book since I came out here. I don’t know if I will ever finish it, I guess Hemingway will have to wait. I did get to read his book A Farewell to Arms, it was perhaps one of the more realistic books I have read. It is one of those books that resonates with me, it being about the war and all, the Italian Front was some nasty stuff. I never served on that front, but nonetheless, war is war.
The screen door pushed open and maxwell came out onto the porch. He came and sat at my feet.
“Maxwell, how are you today boy, come here let’s get you some belly rubs” I reached down and began to pet him.
Following in suit was Rose, Robert, and lastly Lilly, they all came in their time and we all simply existed with one another. It was Rose who had broken the silence on the porch.
“Casiuss, would you tell us what happened that night after you spoke to Mr. Chancellor, I know some of the next morning, but I will let you tell it you’re such a good storyteller,” she said slightly blushing thinking about it.
I walked out of the room where the tailor worked his craft on my new vest. I meandered down the halls of the hotel just taking it all in and seeing the sights therein. I had the cigar that Mr. Chancellor had given me and patted my vest just to make sure that it was still there. Meandering through the halls I stumbled upon a barbershop inside the hotel and the barber was sitting in his chair reading the paper.
I stepped up inside the archway and the barber cleared his throat and without looking up from the newspaper said, “Mr. Monroe how can I assist you today”
“How do you know my name, sir” I said slightly confused.
“It is our job to know everyone who comes to the hotel – no matter their business, it is the game of luxury,” he said in a very high-class voice. “This is what you will have to learn, Mr. Monroe, you have natural abilities, you just have to refine them to work here. Mr. Chancellor has very rarely hired anyone personally.”
“I understand, so how much for a shave and a trim?” I asked.
“For workers, I will do their first cut for free, the shave though will cost you a cup of coffee,” he said chuckling through the last bit.
“Sold!” I said, chuckling a little myself.
The barber got out of his chair, folded up his paper, and went over and picked up his scissors. As he did so I got in the chair. This was the first time I had ever gotten a trim or a shave I didn’t do myself. I was having a lot of firsts today; I wondered as I sat there what other firsts I may have this evening on Mr. Chancellor’s dime. I respected the man so I wasn’t going to spend too much of his money, maybe I would go drinking at one of my local places and just bill it to the hotel. That wouldn’t cost so much money, maybe I’ll go see Ms. Campbell, oh who knows maybe I will just stroll on this side of town and see what all the hubbub is all about.
“Mr. Monroe, I have completed your shave. You do think quite hard, don’t you? I was telling you about the different hairstyles I can give you.” He said shaking his head and looking over his work one more time.
“I think I would like to get the Feather Edge No. 7; I heard one of my friends talking about it back when I worked near the docks, saying it was one of the cuts that the high society was getting,” I said.
“That is one of the many haircuts that are popular right now. I would highly recommend it, especially since you are leaving your past behind and want to fit in here,” he said, beginning to cut my hair with his scissors. Before he was finished, he put some Dapper Dan Grease on it to hold it in place.
“Well good sir that will be all, now for that cup of coffee,” he said replacing his scissors and wiping the hair down to the floor. He began sweeping and said, “We can head up the street when I’m finished here, we will go to a saloon up Market Street ‘a way.”
A little while later, we left the Blennerhassett Hotel. I placed my hat on my head. It was too hot so I rolled up my sleeves as we proceeded up Market Street.
“Do you ever wear a jacket Mr. Monroe?” the barber asked.
“No, I never really saw use for it, except in the winter. I did have a slightly heavier coat, but I pawned it last winter for some food,” I said without thinking about it.
“I’m so sorry to hear that Mr. Monroe. I didn’t realize you were that poor. We’ll take a right up here,” he said sounding disheartened.
“No, it’s okay, I don’t have use for either one now. Come winter I will hope to have saved enough working for the hotel that I can save up for a reasonable wool overcoat,” I said without skipping a beat. I was just so excited about everything that had happened today.
At the end of the street, we crossed it and found ourselves outside a saloon called Scherf and Hodgkiss Saloon. We entered through two beautiful glass doors with the two names scrawled on either side. As we entered, the room was filled with smoke and the smell of liquor, the saloon dimly lit with gas lighting. The bar was a dark walnut and simple in design the tables were vacant for the most part except for a few poker tables that had several people at them, and the games seemed to be running smoothly. Except for one, I noticed that a man in a checkered vest was doing almost too good, but I ignored it and moved on it was probably nothing.We walked over and sat at a vacant table near the windows, the sun was setting behind the buildings, and it all seemed so surreal that I was drinking in such a place.
A gentleman approached the table and said “What can I get for you Mr. Berdane?”
“I would like an Irish coffee, please,” the barber said. “My friend here will have the same.” The gentleman walked away to put in our orders.
“I’ve never been here before; it seems like a nice place,” I said.
“It is, but I wouldn’t recommend gambling here, the house wins too much for my liking.”
“I would say that it is intentional,” I said in a hushed tone. “I used to work some joints down on first street, and we rigged them alright.”
“That knowledge right there is something that I believe Mr. Chancellor would want to know,” he said leaning back in his chair.
It was about that time that the waiter returned with our drinks. “Will there be anything else for you gentlemen?”
“That will be all thank you,” Mr. Berdane sai.
I blew on my coffee and took and sip before replacing it on the table. We spoke at length on many things, mainly local politics, the trolley strike, and the hotel came up a few times. After an hour and a few more coffees for the both of us, I readjusted in my chair and asked another question that had been nagging me for some time.
“Where are you from, Mr. Berdane?” I asked, sipping on my coffee.
“Where am I from? Well, I am from Maryland, my father moved us here before the war and we were going to head further west when my father got a job laying railroad ties across Western Virginia and so he put the family up over in Washington Bottom, and then I decided to move to Parkersburg when I got a little older.” Mr. Berdane paused and then lit a cigar he pulled from inside his suit jacket.
“I mean where was your family from before they settled here in America?” I asked inquisitively.
He continued to draw from his cigar and let the smoke billow out slowly from the left side of his mouth. He proceeded to drink his coffee and say nothing, clearing his throat, he smoked some more dwelling on my question.
“Mr. Monroe, where a person is from should not matter to you, we are all one country now. North, South, British, Colonial, Mexican, American it does not matter. That is a simple-minded way to look at the world, people are people you should evaluate them based on their movements, the way their eyes move, and the way they say words, not where they are from. I, for one, see that you can do such a thing but your prejudices get in the way. I watched you read the room when you came in.” He paused and drew on his cigar once again. “Just like I saw you notice the man in the checkered vest was cheating, you chose to do nothing about it, but you still noticed.”
He went silent and lifted his drink to his lips and finished it off. “Well, Mr. Monroe, that is enough for me today, I am headed home I will see you tomorrow at the hotel.” With that, he put on his hat and left me there alone with the bill in a dark room”
That’s not how I thought that was going to go. I ordered another shot of whiskey, neat, and I moved to the other end of the bar, it was closer to the poker game with the man in the checkered vest. I decided for the time being it was better if I just watched the table before I decided to do anything. I really just wanted to make sure that I saw what I thought I saw when I walked in. I could’ve been wrong – and so could have Mr. Berdane.
As I studied the poker table, I noticed that they were playing five card draw. It was a simple game where the dealer deals five cards to everyone including himself. The goal was to make the best hand possible by sending cards back, and receiving new cards, then betting was done after every step, and then one final bet was made and the cards were shown to all at the table. The dealer worked for the house in this joint and you could tell that he and the man in the checkered vest were winning most of the pot. I kept watching, I watched for over an hour before I finally saw how the man in the checkered vest was winning. The term for how it was happening is called colluding and he was colluding with the dealer.
The house was colluding with another player and taking in both pots. It was simple but very hard to prove, but then the dealer slipped; I noticed him deal from the bottom to the man in the checkered vest.
It was after seeing all of this, and several drinks later that I decided to join the game and stop this from happening. Not my greatest moment – but then again – I was getting tipsy. I went over to the table and sat down. Lighting my premium cigar from Chancellor, I began to work my magic to stop the cheating from happening, especially at this esteemed high-end establishment.
“Bets a dollar to get in,” the dealer said
The game was on. I played in a calculated manner. I was never a great player but I could hold my own for a little while. I had to make it look like I suspected a cheat while I was playing, not beforehand, or I couldn’t do anything about it. Several hands went by and so did the hours. It was almost morning, and all those who remained were me, the man in the checkered vest, the dealer, and another man who seemed like he had nowhere else to be – probably a man who didn’t want to go home and deal with his wife, but who knows? The only reason I thought about it was due to his fiddling with the worn-out faded ring every time he had a bad hand. Could be a widower, but I didn’t care nonetheless. It was now or never.
It was about that time that the dealer did it once again, and almost too obviously. He dealt to the man in the checkered vest from the bottom of the deck. Slowly as the dealer was finishing his deal, I dropped my hand beneath the table where I slipped on my brass knuckles from my pocket. Without skipping a beat, I jumped from my chair flying across that table at the dealer, grappling him to the floor and knocking him out with one swift punch to his face.
Spinning around quickly I announced, “He’s cheating, and I’ve had enough, I’m collecting my money and leaving, this house prefers dealing from the bottom of the deck, but before I go, you. sir with the checkered vest, what is your name?”
With a big gulp, he replied, “Archie.”
“You colluded with him and it is illegal, especially in a high society joint like this. If you want to collude, do it in the slums, not here!” I yelled at him
I walked over to him and punched him in the gut, and he whined with a breathless groan as he fell to the floor. As I turned for the door the bartender came from behind the bar and a man had appeared in the room from the back. I hadn’t seen him come in. They rushed at me and I knew I wasn’t going to be fast enough. I tried to smash the bartender but only clipped his cheek. He hit me full force and I staggered back and landed against the other guy’s big chest. The other guy grabbed pinned me against him so that I faced the bartender.
“You roughed up my joint now, I’m going to take a chunk out of you,” the bartender growled.
I squirmed in the big guys hold, but it did no good, and the bartender came in swinging at me. He hit me with a left and then a right and I raised my head each time chuckling at him, it didn’t hurt too bad. Then the note with Mr. Chancellor’s seal fell from my pocket.
“Look boss!” the big man loosened his grip a little and the bartender knelt down to pick up the note.
“Let him go,” the bartender said his face turning a pale white, and the big man released me and I took a step back. The bartender thrust my papers at me.
“Get out!” he said. “Stay up there with him and just keep this between us!” he bellowed.
As I turned to walk out the door the bartender kicked me on the rump and I stumbled out onto the street to see the dawn of a new day appear hazy in the August sky. It was already hot, I thought, as I spit blood from my mouth, and I turned around, I ran right into Ms. Campbell.
“Well, Mr. Monroe, it seems as if we always happen to meet when you’re not doing well. It’s been one day out of The Infirmary and you’ve already been in a fight. Let me look at you. She put her hand to my face and I blushed. I backed away with embarrassment.
“Mr. Monroe where are you headed?” she asked me.
“Well, Ms. Cambell I am headed to my first day of work for the Hotel Blennerhassett,” I said smiling.
“That’s where I am headed to see my father. He is usually there before six in the morning and I like to walk from our house on Juliana Street down to the hotel for my morning walk to watch the sunrise and take him the lunch that Mother made for him.” She grabbed my arm as she spoke “Mr. Monroe, would you mind escorting me, who knows what kind of ruffians are out here? Seems like you would know what to do, or maybe you are one of those ruffians,” she giggled.
She really was free-spirited.
We walked and talked the whole way there about what I had been doing the night before. To break our conversation was the hotel rising up before us. I stopped abruptly across the street. I looked down into Ms. Cambell’s eyes and she looked into mine. Slowly our lips met and briefly they touched. She was the first to jerk away. She was blushing when we crossed the street into our new lives.
“Gross Grandpa, I don’t need to know you kiss Grandma!” Robert said, making a disgruntled face as he got up and walked away into the house mumbling about girls and something about them getting him sick.
“Alright, I think it’s time for you to practice, Lilly. Your recital is coming up at the Smoot Theatre,” I said.
“Okay, I hope it’s good. I’m worried it’s not going to be,” Lilly stated while heading inside.
“It will be,” I called in after her.
There was a pause before Rose looked up at me. She kissed me and said “I love you Cas!”
About the author:
My name is Logan M. Saho I am the Concierge at The Blennerhassett Hotel. I have been in the tourism industry since my thirteenth year of life, I started out as a tour guide at the Beauchamp-Newman Museum in Elizabeth WV. I also since that time have become an early American period reenactor (1730s-1890s.) Beyond that I have a dual-degree in History and Political Science with a minor in communications concentrating on theatre. After my college years I worked as a living historian at Blennerhassett Island Historical State park for 2 years which geared my path to be working where I am today.