Hello, dear Reader!
I invite you to become acquainted with the events that took place a century and a half ago. It can be useful to cast an outside look at people of the past and their actions to avoid repeating many mistakes in the present.
The beginning of July 1878 it was very hot in Texas. For the third weekend, even a slight hint of rain clouds did not appear in the sky, and the temperature did not drop below eighty-six degrees. Residents of Fort Worth greeted the monthly fair enthusiastically, hoping to distract from the monotonous workdays.
Only a year ago, all southern states joined the United States after the bloody Civil War, which changed the foundations and views of American society. A Republican president, Rutherford Hayes, lead the country. Many considered his presidential campaign as the dirtiest in U.S. history. Despite that, the economy entered its upcycle, and the general standard of living rose, although not as fast as people wanted.
Undeterred by the scorching heat, the square was crowded by noon. People seemed to feel it was their duty to visit the fair. The goods on display were astonishingly diverse. Along with clothes, footwear, various household sundries, food, and sweets, the visiting dealers sold furniture, carpets, and even jewelry while the prices were relatively affordable.
For example, one could purchase a pound of flour or fresh beef for five cents, a pound of pork, cheese, or white sugar for fifteen cents, and a pound of coffee for a quarter. A whole dollar could get you as far as a pair of Levi Strauss jeans or sturdy shoes.
Going for a stroll with her eight-year-old daughter Lucy, the widow Dorothy Wilson also looked at the market jumble. From the top of her six feet and one-inch height, she could look down on many around her.
She served as a telegraph operator in the Western Union Telegraph Company and specialized in money transfers. The woman looked rather pretty in her thirties, and she was turning heads while walking. At the same time, her face didn’t show emotions and seemed as if carved in stone.
After the death of her husband in an accident at the beginning of the year during the construction of the City Hall, the previously cheerful Dorothy never smiled. On the other hand, Lucy was bouncing along, smiling, and eating a large cookie.
“Ladies and gentlemen! Step right up here! In a few minutes, a raffle will begin! Each of you can earn five, twenty, or even a hundred dollars!” a resounding voice announced.
Dorothy led Lucy towards the tempting call, which repeated the announcement several times. Other townspeople became interested in the proposal as well. The barker turned out to be a man with a thick beard, dressed in a high-quality dark suit with a vest, a tie, and a light-colored shirt. A gray hat with a wide brim flaunted on its head. He stood next to the open suitcase that three high posts supported. The man was as tall as Dorothy.
“Mom, mom, that man looks like Santa Claus, only his beard is black,” Lucy stood agape.
“Hush, he’s not Santa at all. The man may be offended, “Dorothy lectured her daughter.
Indeed, looking closely, the man appeared twenty years old, if not less. Clearly, the beard was adding to his age.
Gradually gawks gathered around the improvised stand.
“My name is Jeff. Let’s start our draw. Look, I have one hundred twenty-five dollars in my hands in three bills: five, twenty, and one hundred, and there are twenty pieces of soap in the suitcase. Now I will wrap three pieces of soap in banknotes before your eyes. Then I’m going to wrap it and the other pieces of soap with paper, and mix it up”.
The man neatly wrapped the soap in a five-dollar bill, and then in paper. He did the same with the twenty and the hundred dollars bills. Then he wrapped the remaining pieces of soap in paper. Lucy tried to count them but went astray, distracted by the locomotive whistle.
“All right, people, let’s mix it up and start the drawing,” Jeff said.
As he stirred the soap, he shouted:
“Now, gentlemen, try your luck! The first bar of soap is only a dollar. Then we’ll hold an auction. You can win a hundred dollars! That’s a lot of money! Don’t be shy; your luck is in your hands.”
He raised the bundle above his head.
“Come on! Who’ll be the first to try their luck?”
“Let me try it,” said the guy in the plain suit of coarse cloth, walked up to Jeff, and passed him a dollar.
Having received the desired package, the guy immediately tore off the paper and gasped with regret:
A hum of disappointment went through the crowd.
“Gentlemen, don’t despair; this is only the beginning. There are still nineteen pieces in my suitcase, with one hundred and twenty-five dollars hiding among them!”
Jeff picked up the next bar of soap.
“So, the first chance was for a dollar, and now the auction. The starting price is one dollar. So who’ll bid more?”
“A dollar and ten cents,” someone said from the crowd.
“A dollar fifteen cents…”
“A dollar twenty…”
“A dollar and a half!”
“If there are no more offers, the second soap goes to the man in the cylinder!” shouted the host of the raffle auction.
There was no money in it either. The third, fourth, and fifth attempts were also unsuccessful. Dorothy entered the auction for the sixth piece:
However, some cowboy outbid her. He picked up the soap and exclaimed seconds later, waving a five-dollar piece of paper:
“Yay! I’m in luck!”
Lucy hugged her mother, realizing they had lost. Nevertheless, Dorothy remained outwardly calm; it was still impossible to see any emotion on her face. The victorious cowboy continued to rejoice, chuckling and waving the five-dollar bill in front of the crowd.
“Gentlemen, we have fourteen pieces of soap left, with one hundred and twenty dollars hiding amongst them. Starting price of the next lot… three dollars!”
The auction continued.
Now the soap was going for no less than six dollars
Dorothy again joined the auction of the eleventh piece:
“Seven and a half dollars.”
“Eight,” the elegant gentleman in the blue suit interrupted the bidding.
“Eight and a half!” roared Dorothy.
“Nine!” he replied immediately.
Dorothy was silent.
Having picked up and unpacked the soap, the Blue Suit joyfully exclaimed:
“Let’s congratulate Mister. Before your eyes, he won twenty dollars!” summed up Jeff.
Lucy whimpered. Dorothy hugged the child and reassured her:
“Don’t cry; it’s just a game.”
The bidding resumed.
“There are nine pieces of soap left with a hundred dollars hidden in there. Well, gentlemen, go for it! The starting price of the next bid is ten dollars!”
The crowd cheered. The soap went for an average of twenty dollars. Disappointed losers, the bulk of well-to-do farmers, tried to leave the fair as quickly as possible.
For the eighteenth piece, Dorothy again entered the auction, and once again, she competed against the Blue Suit. There were no more willing bidders, although an impressive crowd had gathered around them.
“Twenty-seven dollars,” Dorothy uttered.
“Twenty-seven and a quarter,” the opponent retorted.
“Thirty!” said Dorothy, clenching Lucy’s palm.
“Thirty dollars one. Thirty dollars – two. Thirty dollars – three! The soap goes to pretty missis in the front row!”
Dorothy slowly approached the counter, carefully unpacking the soap. Her eyes sparkled, a smile appeared on her face, and she took out a bill and began waving it over her head with the words:
“One hundred dollars! The entire hundred dollars!”
“Congratulations to the winner! She took a risk and won!” Jeff exclaimed.
Lucy ran up to her mom and hugged her. Dorothy took her daughter in her arms and kissed her. The people around began to applaud in approval. Even after many, many years, no other event gave Lucy as much joy as those moments of winning the soap auction in Fort Worth.
Gradually, the crowd thinned out, and the people dispersed. Jeff gathered his rack and, picking up his suitcase, said goodbye:
“Congratulations! God willing, we’ll meet again. Good luck!”
That day at the fair, Mom bought Lucy new shoes, a dress, and a sweater. They also bought groceries, but in addition, they brought home a large cake, four pounds of candy, and lollipops. Then, in the evening, at a celebratory dinner, they laughed a lot. Dorothy even said, “Lucy, maybe our lives will change for the better. Let’s hope so.”
Overwhelmed with feelings, it took Lucy a long time to fall asleep. The girl imagined a big new house, a beautiful dress, and a pony.
At night, there was a knock on the door. Lucy heard her mother go to the door and quietly looked out of her room. A man entered the house. Even in the faint light of the candle, Lucy recognized the man with the beard who conducted the ruffle earlier today. Her heart twanged as fear gripped her, but she held on to hear the entire brief conversation.
“Awesome job, Dorothy! Considering it was your first time, you did great. Well done!”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith. Here’s your eighty. Is that right?”
“Indeed, as agreed, the twenty bucks is yours. You’ve earned it!” Jeff put the money in his pocket. “I’ll be at the train station in a week at noon sharp and be waiting for you there.”
“You can count on me, Sir. I’ll be there. Great game today, by the way!”
“Game?” reiterated Jeff narrowing his eyes, “I tell you what, lady… I’m no player or gambler. A gambler risks his money; I don’t. And, by the way… Here, take another ten dollars. It’s a bonus. You are raising a child alone. My heart goes to you. However, leave your daughter at home next time. She doesn’t need to know about this. Jack will give you another thirty for the next auction at the train station.”
“Thank you kindly, Sir, God bless!”
Seeing her mom cry after Mt. Smith’s departure, Lucy couldn’t hold herself, left her room, and ran to Dorothy, hugged her and they cried together.
At the time, the girl didn’t understand that the cowboy who won five dollars and the gentleman in the blue suit, who got twenty, were also the gang members. The crooks bought the cheapest soap for only a dollar and earned one hundred and sixty-nine times more at the fair.
A year later, the Wilsons moved to Denver, where Dorothy got a job as an accountant at the Tivoli Club. As it turned out, Mr. Smith also moved to this town on the banks of the South Platte River. Lucy soon found out that the full name of the mister was Jefferson Randolph Smith, as well as his nickname — “Soapy.” He became a well-known and respected citizen. Lucy saw him many times since and knew that her mom continued working for him. However, the girl no longer went to the auction raffles.