What Happened to Josh Smith’s Hotel?

The next time I sat down with my host I asked him to continue the story of Smith’s Hotel. This is what he told me:

“When Josh died folks wondered what would happen to the hotel. They knew that Josh didn’t own the building, only the “inside” and the business. Nobody knew who did own the building; the tax rolls said it was a company, with the address of a law firm. While Josh was away Billy, the desk clerk, was running it, along with the local accountant, and they just kept on, waiting to see what would happen.

“Then one day an Indian showed up in town. He was a funny-looking young man, stocky, with a round face, and really thick glasses. He went to see Lawyer Macartney, and they went to see Judge Pepperleigh. Then they all talked to Billy and the accountant, and everything came out.

“Josh had had a wife, a native woman from Spanish, and they had a son, whose name was Hector, who may have been only half- but who looked whole-blood, and who was Mariposa’s newcomer. He now owned the “inside” of the hotel, and the business. And who do you think owned the outside? That was the real surprise. It had been Judge Pepperleigh, who took it before he became a judge in payment of a legal bill from the previous owner who went to jail anyway, and who gave it to Peter Pupkin and Zena as a wedding present. And Peter was in France and dead by this time, so Zena now owned it and, it turned out, a bunch of other real estate in town, because Pop Pupkin had been quietly investing on Peter and Zena’s behalf for several years.

“Now Judge Pepperleigh assumed that Zena, being a woman, would expect him to manage all this stuff, but she soon straightened him out, and Pop Pupkin backed her up, because he trusted her more than her old man, friends though they were. And these were, after all, her properties, all tidy and legal. She was a widow of substance, and she liked that idea. She also thought there was more money, and more interesting things to do, in the business than just in the building. So she sat down with Hector Smith, and they made a deal. They would put the building and the business together. He would run the bar, she would run the hotel and the restaurant, and they would split the profits. Billy stayed on, to teach them the ropes, and run the front desk. Eventually, after he married Sadie from the boarding house, they set up in a hotel of their own, but that’s another story.

“So there were Zena and Hector, in business together, and then after a while sleeping together, and then married with eventually a bunch of kids running around the hotel and helping out when they got old enough, along with Peter Junior, who was the “enchanted baby” you have read about, who didn’t stay enchanted forever but was a good kid and a fine man. He went to work for his grandfather, inherited the Pupkin empire, and did very well. He died just a little while back. Zena and Hector spruced up the hotel, brought back the café, toned up the restaurant, and turned the “Rats’ Cooler” into a games room. The tourists and the travelling people loved it.

“Josephine Smith, the mayor, who has it now, and runs it along with her daughter, is the daughter of Zena and Hector’s son, so she’s Josh’s great granddaughter, like I said, also Judge Pepperleigh’s. She’s a Smith by birth and by marriage, but her parents weren’t related. The hotel, as you know, is still called Smith’s Hotel. The name was good enough then, and it’s good enough now. It’s a fully modern place now, of course, but still has that old-fashioned feel to it. The rates are reasonable, and it’s always busy. Other hotels have come and gone and changed hands, but Smith’s Hotel carries on in the old way.”

“What about the other old Mariposans,” I asked, “the Drones, the Thorpes, the Bagshaws and the rest. Did they stay and thrive too?”

“Oh, some did, some didn’t. Like most places, the young ones move away, and new folks come in. It’s easy to say that the town has changed, but then, in a way, it hasn’t. The faces change, but the town changes the people behind them, and they all turn into Mariposans when they have been here a while. Everything on the surface has changed, but in behind, where Stephen Leacock never saw or couldn’t grasp, it’s just the same as it was in his day.”

When I heard this it didn’t take me long to decide that I would give Mariposa its due, in all its complexity, men and women too. I would tell its story the way it should have been told before. But I would do it for today’s Mariposa, and leave the old one alone. They were really the same, weren’t they? At least so I had been told, by someone who ought to know.

I would start by talking to a whole lot of people from every walk of life, and searching all the records I could find. I would build the story of Mariposa, and of Missinaba County, from the date of the 1911 election, when the old story ended. I have heard it said that that election was a changer. So it shall be for Mariposa, literarily speaking.

I’ll keep you informed as I go along.

Wish me luck!

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