The Eldorado of the West (Part II)Submitted by ridiculous at 2010-03-11 10:39:27 EST
Rating: 1.92 on 24 ratings (24 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
Part I: http://www.ubersite.com/m/124673
Jack opened his eyes into the haze of the little shared cabin. Tobacco was heavy in the air and the light shining through the gap where the roof met the gable posts displayed the swirling smoke. With a groan of the stiffness every prospector knows Jack swung his feet off the cot and onto the hard packed earth. The little cabin was already heating up, just some additional encouragement to get up at dawn. He leaned forward and looked on the cot above. Frank had already gone.
“Jason, git up. Glitter won’t find itself.” Jack rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“Jason?” He stood up and turned to see his other son’s cot empty too.
“He git up maybe ten minutes ago.” The man who spoke was Edward Bristol, the very same man who had filled the tiny shared cabin with smoke first thing in the morning.
Edward was a carpenter by trade, had been for nearly twenty five years. He hadn’t wanted to be a prospector but was nearly forced by circumstance. After the first influx of men with gold fever back in forty eight there had been another rush on the hills and valleys of California. The second rush was the one that made or broke most business owners in California; tradesmen. Edward Bristol belonged in the group of small businessmen that were crushed by the influx of new business and cheap foreign helpers.
Edward had been the first man that Jack had met when he came to the little group there on Feather River. He’d been friendly and offered him some beans for dinner. Later, it had been Edward that had spoken to Jack about joining the group of prospectors. He had sold Jack on community ideals like looking out for one another, sharing the wealth to make sure everyone had enough and strength in numbers. They were all pretty ideas that Jack agreed with, then. Jack knew just how hollow those words were, now. He had seen this very group chase down Ben Spurlock and shoot him in the back because they thought he was hiding something. Truth of the matter was Ben wasn’t hiding something, it was someone: A half Chinese daughter that stayed with her mother in Sacramento.
“Thanks Ed. How’s that tooth this mornin’?
“Bleed’n like a virgin whore.” Ed spat some blood on the floor to emphasize the point and took another long draw from his pipe. The puddle of blood soaking into the dirt at the foot of his bed was impressive. Chunks of phlegm and bits of Ed’s rotten teeth were intermingled in the disgusting pile.
“You aughta get round to town and see the dentist” Jack stood and reached for his shirt which he had rolled up like a pillow on the canvas cot.
“You payin’ for it?” Ed wiped some of the spittle from the graying grizzled beard on his chin.
“You know I would if’n I could, Ed.” Jack set his tired and filthy brown hat on his head and stepped out into the warm morning light.
“Sure you would.” Ed said cynically before he coughed and spat again.
Jack walked through the camp unfurling the rolled shirt and shaking it hard in the morning air. One thing Jack appreciated about California, probably the only thing, was the morning air. It had rained last night and the smell of pine needles and that indescribable freshness of a new day overwhelmed his senses. The smile that crept onto his face was the smile of a man with a secret, a life changing secret.
The camp was arrayed in a semicircle around the clearing. Six weather beaten cabins like the one Jack, Ed and his boys lived in. Each cabin had six bunks and there was always one or two open. Especially in Jack’s Cabin, Edward’s habits were not generally appreciated and he snored like a lumber mill. Jack and the boys didn’t mind too much and Jack had made it clear that they weren’t to talk too much or offend anyone in the camp so his sons had accepted their cabin mate without a word of protest.
Jack approached the north bank of the river and saw Jason, his youngest, down at the waters edge washing up. Jason was talking with Margaret Mayfair; she was Bruce and Kathy Mayfair’s only daughter and Jason’s age. They were new in the camp but seemed like good people and Jack and Bruce had come to an understanding regarding the children early on, having bumped into Bruce in town Jack invited him for a Scot’s ale in the saloon. Soon they had decided that unless things started getting too serious between the kids, they would leave them to decide what they did.
Rather than disturb them, Jack went to the waters edge a bit upriver and, squatting down, began to splash the glacial water on his face and chest. He glanced down river again and could see Jason and Margaret, squatted side by side and grinning at each other. Jack made a note to himself that it was about time to have another conversation with Bruce. Jack’s skin prickled as an icy realization washed over him. He looked back to the kids and was about to call out to the boy when she shoved him hard. He landed on his butt and she stood up and stormed off proclaiming:
“Jason Williams, you might think you have to make up stories for me to like you but I won’t tolerate a liar!”
“But it’s the truth!” Jason pleaded to her back as he stood up wiping the dust off his behind. Jack stood up and started a furious march towards his son.
“Jason! Get your good fer nuthin’ ass over here!” When Jason met his fathers eyes and saw the look on his face he paled.
“What in the hell did you just say t’ her?” Jack already knew the answer.
“Uh.. well nuthin’, sir.”
“You even think ‘bout lyin boy and I will tan your hide like you never imagined!” Jack was shaking with rage. “You told her, ‘bout yesterday, din’t you?”
“Yes, sir.” Jason’s eyes were on Jack’s feet. He didn’t see the fist coming.
Jason hit the bank of the river, tumbled over it and into the water. When his head came out of the water Jack’s voice was tightly wound fury.
“God dam’ it all to hell. I told ya to keep it secret. What’s in your head telling that little loud mouth split tail?”
“I didn’t think it’d do no harm. You know we’s friendly and all. I told her it’s secret!” He attempted to explain. “It won’t do no harm pa!”
“Boy, you’re lucky she thinks yer full o’ more shit than a Christmas goose. Git up and git ready ta work. And damn it all, if she opens her mouth before we can get out o’ this camp I’m gonna beat tha life right out o’ yer sorry bones! You better pray Frank finds us an assay today so we can git tha hell out of here!”