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Gold Rush


Heather O`Roarke
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Sacramento Valley (California), late April, 1849, early evening

 

Spring had come to the valley, down the river delta. Ice in the mountain had thawed, swelling the rivers, and bringing with it new rocks and shiny things. Word had spread throughout the America's of the fields of gold in California, just newly required by the United States as a territory, but here were the pioneers that had taken up that challenge to fail, and fail again at finding that elusive wealth. The dominating colour, next to the fresh green of new leaves, was that of yellow mud, covering everything from wagons to the canvas of the tents.

 

In the middle of the miner's camp, for lack of a saloon, stood a large tent that proudly proclaimed itself La Catina, serving chili and other local grub, while in the evening some entertainment and liberal amounts of whiskey were served. Inside, commanding the kitchen and ruling with an impressive wooden spoon over a group of rugged laborers that made do as serving wenches, was something rarer than gold in California.. a woman. Her goldenred locks were mostly bound up in a prim bun, though often, in the heat of the moment, curls tended to escape and frame her pinked face. The young woman wore practical muslin dress in some drab colour with a large white kirtle to protect it from the worst of the dirt, giving her an almost matronly appearance even though she was still in her twenties. Her name, together with her sparkling green eyes, easily pronounced her Irish heritage, and with it her famed temper. Heather O'Roarke.

 

The working day was nearly done and the men started to line up to the large iron kettle containing this day's meal, the cook herself presiding over the handing out of the meals, a dollar each, delivered with a slab into the iron bowl that each costumer brought himself, mumbling a greeting to the tired matron who attempted a smile nonetheless. "There ya go Roger, just as you like it with plenty of peppers."

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People called him The Frenchman. Ironic, because he was not the least bit French. His last name simply sounded French and most folk were too damned stupid to know the difference.

 

He was in his late thirties or forties; it was hard to tell as circumstances of going west oft made twenty-year olds look of that age. He sauntered into the cantina with a gun at his hip and a rifle on a strap slung over his back.

 

He had on a brown vest which could have once been tan and a dark shirt. A bit of cloth was inside the collar of his shirt to keep the dust out, almost like a cravat, and he had worn tall boots.

 

Rumor was that his father was a cattle baron from the Utah Territory, and rumor was that he was a crack shot, used to the rough world of the West from growing up around such people (and Indians).

 

He took a look around at the occupants, trying to see how many new faces had stupidly come West. Even if they struck gold, most of them were too straight up and innocent to get out with it considering the company mining towns drew.

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A familiar face wandered into the tent. Ruggedly handsome in her estimation, though she would never admit to it. Heather looked up and cat called "Have ye come for my chili con carne again, St. Leger, or will ya chicken out?"

 

There was a little devil inside the redhead that liked to rub gentlemen the wrong way when they entered her exclusive territory. As she was used to saying If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen. It was as if her accent grew a little thicker as she considered it.

 

More donations were given into iron bowls, before her wooden spoon reached out at the speed of light, wrapping on some knuckles. "No grabbing of food that ain't paid for Roger, ye know my rules. Ye don't want to be banned from La Cantine entirely. Not with ye unable to cook for yerself. Ye be starving to death and it be yer own fault at that." The miner growled something unappreciative as he crawled away.

 

Heather shrugged and gave her attention to the next costumer. Few men would dare to attack her. After having fled her intended (some whispered she had killed him in a fit of jealousy), the young woman had been able to survive for more than a year now here at the utter border of the Frontier amidst the most rough of men. She knew how to handle a knife as well as a spoon, and rumour had it that a pistol graced her well endowed thigh.

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He gave her a cheeky smile under a bit of salt and pepper stubble.

 

"Now you know I can cook for myself, unlike poor Roger here," he replied. His eyes looked at her quite darkly and intently, though not in the creepy, predatory way of most men here. Her knife and gun could not stop their thoughts and they wore it on their face.

 

He only ever came in to drink whiskey and be alluring by his mere presence. Only an idiot would not realize how desirable he was in this sea of filth, even if it was truly a variety of filth. All of them were desperate and many of them were broke, fueled by alcohol or greed. Those that were not of that ilk were too innocent or ignorant to appeal.

 

Yes, he knew he was a gem.

 

He sat down and watched her, and the room, as she wielded her spoon.

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Her heart skipped a little bit as Robert stared at her intently like that. For a moment she was entranced before she pulled away her face and served another costumer with another quip, her wit being the main weapon to keep all those the hungry men, in more than one way, at bay.

 

Soon enough though she handed over the spoon to one of her male "serving wenches", picked up a bottle of whiskey, pulled of her white kirtle, and wandered with swaying hips to where the Englishman was sitting, an enigma of his own in this environment. They were both immigrants from the old country and despite words they had often, it created a bond. "You are just chicken St. Leger," the redhead teased lightly as she poured him a measure, then herself and sat down, leaving the bottle between them.

 

"Any luck today?" Heather inquired airily that one topic every gold digger spoke of, bringing the shot glass to her lips.

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"I'm lucky everyday," the gentleman replied, with a sly grin.

 

His salt and pepper stubble was complimented by a mischievous grin and a wide-brimmed hat.

 

"But I have yet to tap the main channel of gold," he added, a knowing sort of look of flirtation. He had been awkward as a young man, but a few prostitutes and encouragement from his father had cured him of that. He was now worldly and confident, a man who could take care of himself.

 

He downed the whiskey easily and then poured himself another, also pouring her one. He was long passed trying to get her drunk to sleep with him. He realized it would require more finesse.

 

"And you?"

 

As another customer made a move while she was distracted, he bellowed, "You lot all know my feelings on taking advantage of the lady in my presence, unless you wish to chew on some lead, I'd suggest you put it back." Unlike many of these loafs, he had money and he had connections. He was no desperate man but one who was un-intimadated by the task of controlling other men.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The redhead smiled at Roberts flirting, and his wry remark "Yes, well that goes for the lot of them. I have not yet heard from anybody being that lucky, not since old man Nate two years back." Or clearly they would not be here, but cashing their winings.

 

"Business is slow," Heather admitted, running a hand that once was porcelaine white but now regretably taned with many light freckles through her goldenred curls that had escaped her stern hairdo. "Perhaps I sould rethink my decision on providing extra's on the side, get a couple of girls over." Ending up as a madam was not what she had thought her life would be like when she came to the West. Then, neither was being the owner of La Cantina. Life had a way of serving her lemons and she liked to serve lemonade.

 

Heather gave Robert a grateful glance as he inteferred with yet another theft. It was good to have some protection as a woman alone in these parts. She almost shyly took another sip of her whiskey, the liquid burning in her throat before warming her belly.

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"A smart man does not advertise what he's found or not found."

 

He took off his hat and smoothed back short, greying hair. He would not be here if there were not a reason. Although selling off plots for miners or businesses was quite lucrative as was selling supplies, and the Frenchman had his hand in that. If there were not gold to be had, he would be back at home with the beef. Cattle was its own special brand of gold, but this was daring and different.

 

"Well, if you are going to, you had best plan to go all out. Or a joint venture since it surely won't be cheap."

 

The statement hanged in the air as he raised his glass to his lips once more.

 

"Men in the middle of nowhere will always pay for whores, but a brothel requires security and capital for finery. A bath house might be an improvement as well." Many of these men could use to rent a cheap tub. The Frenchman had his own such amenities and his own thugs.

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The redhead snorted at the observation "Many of them are not smart and cannot help spending the money or brag over a whiskey. Not all are though cookies like you Robert."

 

Heather arched an eyebrow at the offer, while her stomach twitched a little at the sight of the rugged handsomeness of the man in front of her. Carefully she took a sip, trying not to show too great an eagerness. Bluffing was an important skill. "I am interested in your ideas," she admitted despite this "I am well aware of the fact bringing more girls into this could spell trouble, but you too see the potential for money, no?"

 

Yes, the potential was there, but Heather did not possess the funds necessary to make this a success. "Will you make me an offer," she teased, well aware of the double etendre.

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"Pfft, of course. Like I said, where there's men..." His hazel eyes cast around. This crew of ne'er-do-wells, young idealists, and cowboys was clearly not the sort to have qualms about whores.

 

His smile widened, briefly, over his cup, but then he looked at her quite deeply and penetratingly, "I have made you many offers, miss." He blinked slowly and deliberately. For a tough man with stubble, he had long eyelashes and large eyes.

 

"That would be a hefty investment and require some buildin', I reckon." He leaned his elbows on the table. "But my weakness is business ventures." The Frenchman was addicted to making money, and it was better to make it by smart investing and some strong-arming than it was to make it gambling, though he made some that way too.

 

"Places like this, a business like that, maybe a hotel, a man would have to be willin' to kill to protect that. Guess it's a gamble whether this place has good gold or not, whether it's dried up, or whether we're just about to find a good vein. Gotta be gold to keep that sort of business runnin' and keep people here."

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Heather's yellow green eyes sparkled with mirth as he protested how often he had made her an offer. It was good to feel their attraction was mutual. Oh yes, she had held him at a distance, for Robert was far too dangerous to her heart and she did not think he was offering her any more than just a pleasant time in bed. Besides, the other tent camp citizes would not respect her if she openly kept a lover. Deep down that was still important. Despite her saucy reputation, the redhead was not as experienced and confident with men as some believed, having had some bad experiences in the past. Keeping men at a distance was saver.

 

"Do you think that is likely?" Heather inquired of the gold vein, almost wistfully, in a low voice as she did not wish to be overheard "Think of the possibilities, such a hotel would be the first wooden building, but it wouldn't be the last. Ere the year is out there would be a main street replacing this tent camp, perhaps even a sherrif. You would look very good with a metal star on your chest." Things happened fast in the West, resilient people working hard and with a can-do attitude that conquered sometimes impossible odds. The lack of any real government influence leaving unprecedented freedoms to organize themselves.

 

She killed her dreamy look with another sip of burning whiskey. Her nose wrinkled "No point in daydreaming, ain't got the money, even if you supply the muscle we'd need for such an endeavour. The financial risk.." She tried to put her feet back on the ground. This was a rough life and it was dangerous to dream.

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