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Hawke: The King Hill War
Mason Hawke did not think of himself as a piano player, but preferred to use the term pianist. That was because he was classically trained on the instrument, and at one time had a distinct honor bestowed upon him by the Queen of England. This honor was reported in the London Daily Times:
From time to time, Citizens of countries which do not recognise the Queen as head of state may have honours conferred upon them. In every case these awards are "honorary" in nature, and confer no actual peerage within British society. However, those who, by ser-vice, deed, or accomplishment are granted such honours, are entitled to place initials behind their name, if not call themselves "Sir."
In its benevolence, the United Kingdom does not prevent foreigners from holding such titles. The government of the United States, however, being much more provincial, and irrationally frightened of what it does not understand, has laws restricting its citizens from accepting such honours.
The fact that they cannot accept the award does not preclude Her Royal Highness from recognizing the achievement of deserving individuals, and Mason Hawke, an American pianist, is just such a person. Recently knighted by Queen Victoria, Mr. Hawke is considered by many to be one of the top two or three pianists in the world.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hawke's European concert tour was interrupted when he returned to the United States to accept a commission in a regiment of the Confederate army. His departure will deprive many Europeans of the opportunity to hear this wonderful musician. However, Mr. Hawke isnothing if not a man of honour, and all men of good conscience will understand and respect his obligation to that honour.
Many men survived the war only to return home and struggle with grievous personal wounds. Though the wounds Hawke suffered to the psyche and the soul were not immediately visible, they were no less debilitating because they rendered him incapable of ever returning to the concert stage.
As a result of those wounds, Hawke was now a restless wanderer through the West, looking just beyond the horizon to the next town, and the next saloon where he could earn a few dollars playing piano.
The picture most often conjured in -people's minds when they think of a saloon piano player is someone emaciated, bald, bespectacled, and with a half-chewed cigar stuck in his mouth. Hawke was the total antithesis. He was nearly six feet tall, clean-shaven, with a square jaw and penetrating blue eyes.
On this particular early spring day, Hawke was playing piano at the Saratoga Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas. As always, while he was working he dressed well, and today he wore a white ruffled shirt that was tucked down into fawn-colored trousers. A dark green jacket and gold cravat completed his ensemble.
As he finished the last few bars of "Buffalo Gals," several of the cowboys and all of the girls in the Saratoga Saloon in Dodge City gave a loud cheer.
"Whooeee! I tell you true, there ain't nobody in the world who can play a piano like Hawke," one of the cowboys said.
One of the girls approached the piano and smiled sweetly at him. "Mr. Hawke, would you play one of them songs?"
"What song would that be, Connie?" Hawke asked, though he knew what she wanted.
"You know, one of them real pretty songs you sometimes play. One of them highfalutin' songs," Connie said.
Like most of the other girls in the saloon, Connie was a soiled dove, a twenty-two-year-old who, suddenly finding herself on her own, had turned to the oldest profession to make a living.
Hawke smiled. "You mean something like this?" He began playing Fantasie in C Minor by Mozart. The golden tones of the music silenced everyone as they listened with rapt attention. It was for that very reason, however, that Hawke played classical music sparingly, for it did have the effect of bringing to a halt all business in the saloon, which was counterproductive to his continued employment. However most of the various owners of the many saloons in which he had played over the last sixteen years were tolerant, because they knew that his musical skills did bring in customers.
Connie Flagg was from the Ozarks of Missouri, and before coming here had never heard any music other than the Jew's harp, banjo, guitar, and jug-playing she had grown up with. She had never even seen a piano before, but became an instant fan of classical music the first time she heard Hawke play.
Hawke was three-quarters through the piece when the kitchen door opened and the cook, Elsie Maynard, stumbled into the room. Blood ran from her misshapen nose, and her left eye was black and swollen shut. There were bruises on her face and neck. Hawke saw her before anyone else and stopped playing, the last notes of the piece still resonating as he got up from the bench and started toward her.
"Elsie!" he said.
Connie, also seeing the cook, called out in shock, "Elsie, my God! What happened to you?"
"He didn't mean it," Elsie said. "I know he didn't mean it."
"Who didn't mean it?"
Connie grabbed a towel from one of the bar hooks, then hurried to Elsie's side. She began wiping the blood from her face as Elsie winced in pain.
"It was Angus, wasn't it?" Connie asked.
"Who is Angus?" Hawke asked.
"Angus is my husband," Elsie replied, her words accompanied by a whistling sound from her broken nose.
"He ain't your husband," Connie said. "Not for real, that is. You ain't never had no words spoke for you. You ain't even jumped over a broom together."
"He's all I got for a husband," Elsie said. "Look at me. I ain't pretty like you 'n' the other girls. I got to take what I can get."
"Not nobody like him you ain't got to," Connie said.Hawke: The King Hill War. Copyright © by Robert Vaughan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.