Suzanna and the Banker

Suzanna Smith had come west from Flint, Michigan at the age of seventeen with her husband, William, a man several years her elder. It was, like so many others, a marriage of convenience. Convenient for William, who had put off marrying, if for no other reason than none of his previous proposals was accepted, and he could hope to do no better than Suzanna’s extremely attractive face and ample breasts. The fact that Suzanna also possessed an acute mind was lost on William.

The marriage was convenient for Suzanna in that it was a means of escape from a stepfather who had assumed, when he married the girl’s widowed mother several months earlier, that he was entitled to a double dose of connubial bliss. Suzanna fought off his advances as best she could but was unable to win support from her mother, a woman desperate to make her marriage work, given that her new husband was a man of some means and with an undeserved reputation of respectability. William, who had been employed as a bookkeeper for several years before their marriage, was astute enough to recognize that he was getting nowhere in his career, having been assistant bookkeeper in a bank since completing his course at the local commercial college.

William’s uncle Hubert, who had ventured west, settling in Mariposa County shortly after the beginning of the gold rush, wrote letters describing the wonders of California and encouraging one and all back home to follow in his footsteps. William and Suzanna followed his advice. When the couple arrived in Mariposa, they found that uncle Hubert had run afoul of a jealous husband and was thought to be buried somewhere on the outskirts of town. William was hired as a bookkeeper at the local bank.

Suzanna also considered seeking regular employment but found that she could easily earn a few dollars here and there while William was at work at the bank. She exercised great care and selectivity to avoid contacting an embarrassing disease or having her husband learn of her activities. Her clientele, although limited, ran the gamut from a well-heeled merchant to the local school teacher.

William surely would have risen through the ranks at the bank, except that toward the end of his first year he had been discovered making adjustments in several accounts, enabling him to increase his weekly remuneration substantially. In consequence, William was sent to prison.

Suzanna, not particularly upset by the turn of events, moved fifty miles north to Sonora in neighboring Tuolumne County, having managed to retain not a small portion of William’s ill- gotten gains as well as her own extramarital earnings.

After six months as a resident of that community, where she was able to augment her nest egg through entertaining, individually, several of the leading male citizens, she met an itinerate gambler, Monte Edwards. The two moved on to the bustling town of Columbia. Suzanna obtained employment in a saloon where in the evenings Monte took to playing a ‘friendly’ game of cards with the locals. Their exodus from Columbia came about a month later, rapidly on the heels of an accusation by some of Monte’s fellow card players that Edwards was somehow cheating. They had not, however, gleaned that Suzanna, as she floated by the game table, was feeding information to Monte relative to the cards held by his opponents.

And so it was that Suzanna Smith arrived in Angels Camp in Calaveras County on the arm of Monte Edwards. Constable Jack Curtis spotted Edwards in Tryon’s saloon on the evening of his arrival. The gambler had just settled-in at a table with four other men including the blacksmith, Jim Pickens.

A year earlier, shortly after assuming his duties as constable for the township, Curtis had been summoned to Copperopolis by his deputy to deal with a dispute between conflicting mining claims. It so happened during that visit to Copperopolis, Constable Curtis had encountered Monte Edwards when the man had been accused of cheating and was in immanent danger of being soundly thrashed by his accusers. Edwards had been suspected of cheating the previous night when playing with the same group of men. Now those men were sure they were right. Although Curtis had no sympathy for the gambler, he did have the responsibility of keeping the peace. He managed to extricate Edwards from the clutches of his accusers with the understanding that the gambler return his ill-gotten gains to his tablemates and leave the township immediately.

Now in Angels Camp, Curtis approached Edwards as he was beginning to deal the cards. “Whoa there, my friend. Remember me? We had an agreement over in Copperopolis about a year ago that you would stay clear of this township.”

“Evening Constable. That was simply a misunderstanding. Besides, I haven’t been back in Copperopolis since then.”

“I said I didn’t want you in this township and that means all the towns.”

The barrel-chested blacksmith stood up and, pointing down at Edwards said, “You mean this guy’s a crook.”

“Unless he’s reformed. I’m afraid so.”

“I can assure you, Constable, I most certainly am,” was the gambler’s self-righteous reply.

“You mean you’re certainly crook, or you certainly are reformed?” Curtis asked sardonically.

“I resent that, Constable.”

Curtis was certain the man was bluffing. He had, however, committed no crime, or at least none that the constable knew of. Cheating at cards, a practice that Curtis was certain the man had planned to continue despite his claims of repentance, was not a crime. Still, it was wrong and would inevitably have untoward consequences, ending possibly in a barroom brawl or perhaps the demise of said cheater. In any event, the peace would be disturbed and it was the constable’s responsibility to minimize such occurrences.

Curtis said, “Be that as it may, It’s going to be better for all concerned if you board the next stagecoach and head out of this township. Doesn’t matter to me what direction.”

Monte Edwards was no fool. He knew there was no point in staying in Angels. Even if he had not been asked to leave, in a small town everyone would soon learn of his reputation now that the son-of-a-bitch constable had spotted him.

He went to the hotel room to collect Suzanna who had chosen to remain in their room that evening. After only a few months knowing her, she was beginning to wear thin, but she had proven in Columbia that they made a good team. And, in bed she was efficient if not very imaginative. As he mounted the stairs to their room, he met Suzanna on her way down. “Where are you going,” he asked.

It was still early in the evening and Suzanna had decided to wander over to Tryon’s saloon, where she had been told they were looking for a new saloon girl. It was not something she would choose to do for an extended period of time, but it would give her the opportunity to meet people and size up the possibilities.

“Out...just out,” she told him.”

“You can’t go running around after dark by yourself. Besides, we’re leaving this place for Stockton first thing in the morning, and the stage leaves early.”

“What? We just got here. What’s the matter?”

Edwards was loath to tell Suzanna that he was persona non grata and had been warned off by the constable. He said, “One horse town. No future here.”

“Thought you said you were sure we could do real well here if we stayed a month or so.”

“Changed my mind. Come on back to the room.”

“No! You can leave. I’m staying here for a while. I can get a job at one of the saloons. Too bad you won’t be here for me to help you cheat the poor bastards. We were good together for a short time in Columbia until they caught on to you. Not that I saw much of the take.”

“Bitch!” he yelled.

Suzanna saw him pull a hand back toward his shoulder. She stepped away to avoid the anticipated blow. He swung at the air, and as she turned and hurried down the stairs, she could hear him cursing.

Suzanna had by this time acquired a good sized nest egg, the knowledge of which she managed to keep from Edwards. Not realizing this, he assumed she depended on him for survival and would return before the evening was over. After all, she had to have a place to sleep. By morning she would surely come around. Suzanna did not return. She found a place to sleep and picked up a couple of pinches of gold dust in the bargain.

Suzanna was forced to decide the best way to put her feminine qualities to use to assure a comfortable life for herself in her recently adopted town. She had, since the death of her husband, managed steadily to increase her capital through careful, if not always generally acceptable, manipulations. Her wardrobe, although not consisting of the latest Paris fashions, was more than adequate to have her favorably noticed by even the most discerning men in the towns of the California foothills. She was determined to use her skills with men to advance herself. She was equally determined not to be beholden to any man.

What was needed, she concluded, was a partnership, somewhat like the one she had had with Monte Edwards. But her new partner had to be someone with whom she would be on an equal footing, someone of standing in the community, and someone who had much to lose should things go wrong.

Her first consideration was to find a respectable place to stay while she brought her still vague plan to fruition. On the morning that Monte Edwards left Angels Camp, Suzanna, seeing that the desk clerk at the hotel was not the man who had signed them in the night before, approached him to inquire about boarding houses in town, explaining that she was alone and felt that staying in a hotel for an extended period would not only be expensive but would not give her the sense of permanence she wished to enjoy. “Several people in town take in boarders,” he told her. “You might try the Franks. Never seen the inside of their place, but I hear it’s pretty nice. Don’t know if they’ve got any room or not.”

“How do I get there from here?”

“Her place is on Raspberry Lane, right up the street here.”

Mrs. Frank did, in fact, have an available room. It was large and bright and would, Suzanna felt, do fine until she made more permanent arrangements, whatever they would turn out to be.

Two days later Suzanna, was comfortably situated in her new lodgings. Her savings, in the form of small bags of gold dust and nuggets, were sequestered among clothing in a carpetbag stowed under the bed in her room.

During her stay in Mariposa County, offering sexual favors to the purportedly reputable members of the community, she had learned quickly, if she had not realized it before, that respectability and money went hand in hand. During her first night at the boarding house she lay awake contemplating where or what exactly was the nexus of money and respectability? In the morning, dressed in a gown she felt was appropriate for a respectable lady, she set out for the local bank.

Two years before Suzanna Smith’s arrival Mr. & Mrs. Jonathan Seagram came to Angels Camp where Mr. Seagram assumed the presidency of the local bank. They had come from San Francisco where Seagram had been part of the banking establishment for over twenty years and had gone as far as he was going to go. When presented with the opportunity to be the president of a bank, rural and small as it was, he seized it without hesitation. Mary, his wife, was not happy with the her husband’s appointment. Angel’s camp society and cultural amenities could never measure up to those of San Francisco where Mary, a small town girl from rural Pennsylvania, strove to be accepted by the elite of California’s largest city.

Once she resigned herself to living in the foothill community, she found herself atop the social ladder such as it was. She was now in a position to set the tone of the community, a position she could only dream about achieving in San Francisco. Her children raised and sent East to complete their education, she enthusiastically embraced the role of social and cultural arbiter.

Jonathan Seagram approached his position as bank president with dignity and decorum. He worked hard to cement relations with the area’s largest mining interests. He courted the management of the nearby foundry that manufactured the heavy equipment required to excavate the quartz bearing ore which was by the 1870s by far the most profitable, albeit expensive, method of extracting the riches of the mother lode.

When Suzanna Smith strode into the bank that morning, she politely, but firmly, asked to speak with the ‘man in charge.’ Unused to a woman entering the bank unescorted to say nothing of one making demands to see the president, the clerk with whom she spoke became mildly flustered. After some hesitation he said, “What, madam, is your business with Mr. Seagram? He’s a very busy man. I’m sure I can answer any questions you might have.”

Suzanna bowed her head deferentially, then looked up with a timid smile, saying, “Oh, sir, I’m sure you can, but I have a reasonably large amount of gold I might wish to entrust to your bank for safekeeping and would most appreciate you letting me talk with Mr. Seagram.”

“I see,” said the clerk, a victim of Suzanna’s carefully cultivated ability to charm when necessary. “Please wait here, I’ll see what I can do.”

Within two minutes, she was seated in Seagram’s office.

“Now,” the bank president said, taking full measure of Suzanna with eyes that told her she could easily bring this gentleman to accept whatever proposition she had in mind, “Mr. Langlois has told me, you wish to deposit some gold ore with us. I should properly introduce myself, My name is Jonathan Seagram, and you are?”

“Suzanna Smith.”

“Mrs...It is Mrs?”

“Yes. I’m a widow.”

“May I ask the source of the gold?” Suzanna straightened in her chair and tightened her lips in a gesture she hoped would indicate she was surprised, if not insulted, that he would ask such a question.

“I didn’t mean to imply any wrong doing on your part.”

“I hope not,” Suzanna answered haughtily, “I’m not used to my honesty being questioned.”

“No of course, nor should you. I ask merely to get an idea of how we should approach the best way to handle it. We can either buy it from you and deposit the proceeds in an account for you, or we can place the gold in our vault until you are ready to use some or all of it. Had you purchased the gold because you are averse to cash, you would most probably wish to keep it as it is.”

Suzanna was impressed with the banker’s nimbleness. She knew he wanted to know just how an attractive youngish woman without a man in tow had come into what he assumed was a significant amount of gold. She decided to tell him, or at least offer an answer to his question, hopefully one that would be sufficiently intriguing to keep his interest, and one that would stray only partially from the truth.

“When my late husband died some time ago he left me quite well off. I’m afraid some of his wealth might have come from financial dealings that were a bit questionable, although I have no proof of that. I remained in Sacramento, where we lived, for a number of months after his death before deciding to find someplace that I could call home permanently. I spent a few days in several towns, and none of them felt quite right. As soon as I arrived here, I knew Angels Camp was the place for me.”

Whether the banker bought Suzanna’s story or not, he could see that the woman was smart and probably had few scruples, which was exactly what she had hoped to convey. It was chancy but, cynic that she was, experience had taught her that many of the most ostensibly respectable folks in the wilds of California were the least ethical.

“So, what would be your choice, sell the gold or keep it? Either way we will be happy to have you as a customer of the bank.”

“Both, I believe. Perhaps I could turn some of it into cash which I would hope to deposit into an account in my name and trust the remaining gold with you for safe keeping.”

“Fine, I’ll have Mr. Langlois set things up for you.”

“One other thing. I’m also looking for a business opportunity. There are only a few businesses a woman can pursue. I’m not particularly interested in running a boarding house or operating a café. I’d like to do something that is both lucrative and needed.” At this point Suzanna decided, as her former business partner might have said, to put her cards on the table with the option of folding her hand if it turned out to be a misdeal. “Are there places here in Angels Camp where gentlemen can safely and privately enjoy feminine companionship?”

Seagram wasn’t particularly surprised at Suzanna’s question. He had assumed from their conversation that she was not a avid moralist. She seemed to be asking if there was room for another brothel in town and perhaps even suggesting that a partnership between the two of them might be a possibility. It could, he thought, be a profitable venture. The woman clearly had more class, if that was the word, than the only madam presently operating in Angels. There were, of course, any number of ad hoc arrangements occurring daily. If she could recruit a handful of relatively attractive young women, she might be able to do very well. Any involvement on his part would have to be strictly off the record. He would have to be the most silent of silent partners. If his wife discovered he was involved in such a business there would be hell to pay. Still, it could provide a source of income on the side that Mary Seagram would not approve of but also would not have to know about.

“Perhaps,” he said, “something along that line might be worth thinking about.”

Five years later during which time Suzanna considerably increased her bankroll as well as that of Seagram, she told the banker she wished to end their partnership and move to San Francisco. She imagined a well-heeled attractive woman, still in her early thirties, could find happiness beyond her earlier dreams in the City by the Bay.

As their partnership drew to an end, Suzanna explained to Seagram that she had an overwhelming need before leaving to atone, for having kept their arrangement secret from Mrs. Seagram. She must, she said, confess to the banker’s wife the facts of their business arrangement. Seagram was able to persuade her that such a confession was unnecessary. So it was that Suzanna Smith left for San Francisco with an even larger nest egg than she could lay claim to only a week before.

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