Authors: Elle Marlow
-By Elle Marlow-
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events are the work of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is coincidental.
Copyright 2016 Yellow Rock by Elle Marlow
This story is purely a work of fiction. However, several locales and characters actually existed. And while the Native peoples mentioned are not portrayed as the heroes in this particular tale, they are a fascinating culture and also have a side to be told.
I encourage the reader to research “The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine,”
And the history of Bodie, California.
“There’s gold (and romance) in those hills.”
Atlanta, Georgia 1864
Stop your childish sniveling, Willow Blanford. That god-forsaken house was nothing more than stick and stones.”
Willow didn’t bother to cover her face when the wind blew smoke in her direction. In fact, given a choice, she would have covered her ears. She couldn’t believe her father’s calloused regard for Blanford Plantation, a plantation he’d built.
Goose pimples erupted over exposed skin as he began preaching at the top of his lungs about the folly of putting one’s faith in things not created by God. As far as she was concerned, God must have been looking the other way this morning when William Blanford had gone mad torching the curtains to burn down their home into an unrecognizable pile of ash. Goose pimples and an empty, nauseas feeling—that’s all that was left, and nobody cared.
The colonel of the ninth regiment, stood at her side perfectly at ease as his life and his legacy burned down in flames. Next to him, Memaw and John Wiles were practically stiff as boards and equally unemotional. The colonel set them free nine months prior, but just like now, they’d stayed put. Except when John Wiles rushed in a panic to find water to save the home, only to be met with the tip of the colonel’s rifle. “Put one drop on that house and you’re a dead man,” the colonel threatened. Now they just stood, all four of them, doing nothing about nothing.
Mesmerized, she’d watched the fire chew away at the home for so long, her cheeks had dried and then chapped from the heat. When a tear finally rolled down, blazing a hot stinging trail, she roughly wiped it away. The standing around while her whole life went up in smoke, built up so much frustration, she snapped her attention toward her father and then braced herself.
“If our plantation were only sticks and stones as you say, colonel, then why did you have to burn it? Who cares if thoseYankees occupy that house? It was the only thing I had left to remind me of mama.”
A resounding slap across the raw skin of her face sent a shock of pain clear to her toes. It might have hurt like hell, but she had lost any feeling inside years ago. Oh, but people praised Colonel Blanford for never having whipped his slaves in all the years he’d had them, but they held no issue on him laying an evil hand on her for what the folks called her devil’s tongue. At the taste of blood, she turned away from him.
“No Yankee will ever step foot on Blanford grounds. I’ll see it all burn to rubble first!”
A welt developed under her palm that she held against her cheek. Anger and hatred burned in her gut almost as hot as the fire. The colonel then mounted up on his horse without so much of an apology. She’d guessed he was finally leaving and she was glad of it.
“There will be a train of wagons coming to fetch you and the Wiles shortly,” he said, his voice trailing down. Willow could not bring herself to look up at him. She was afraid if she did, she’d be compelled to once again speak her mind. She winced against the scalding heat on her face. Never would she ever utter one more word to him as long as she lives. What for? The colonel had done nothing but look down on her since her mama died giving birth to her nineteen years ago and nineteen years hadn’t changed a thing to cure his hatred of her.
The colonel waited only momentarily before spinning the grey stallion into a circle before kicking it up to a gallop. The horse and his rider still clad in his confederate uniform blended with the smoke as they disappeared over the rolling hills. The chances were poor she’d ever see the man again. She should feel relief; she should feel something other than hatred. But that’s all there was, all there had been, after all, he’d taught her well.
John Wiles cleared his throat. “Now don’t you fret, Miss Willow, we’re going to travel to California where the water is just as blue and as beautiful as your eyes,” he said, hunching himself over to pat her on the shoulder. If a child needed parents to care for them, she supposed John and Memaw Wiles taking it upon themselves to step in when the colonel wasn’t looking had been a blessing. She rested her hand on top of John’s, feeling his nerves tremble inside his calloused hand. She patted his skin as a fresh wave of tears burned her eyes.
“I’ll try and think of California then. It sounds like a far, far better place to build ourselves a new home,” she acknowledged, trying to sound stronger than she felt. The urge to crumble to the ground almost buckled her at the knees, but old John’s dark-eyed gaze held her steady.
“Ain’t nobody going to hit you there either,” he said, nodding his head, a matter of fact expression shaping his face. Affection for the old man squeezed at her chest. At least she still had the Wiles, reminding her she wasn’t alone in the world.
“I can see the wagons now,” Memaw said, following up her statement with a long drawn out whistle. John looked over his shoulder, then quickly took both of Willow’s shoulders into his hands before diving his gaze straight into hers. She was met with fear, pure unrepressed fear.
“Now listen here, Miss Willow. Memaw and I don’t want to cause no trouble. Those folks ain’t gonna let colored folk travel with them despite what the colonel might have told you. I don’t want you to worry none, we will meet you in California just as soon as we are able. And that’s a promise!”
She gripped John’s wrist with both hands, squeezing as hard as she could, dumbfounded at what he’d just said. “Aren’t you coming with me? You cannot leave me! Not you too!”
John Wiles shook his head confirming her fears. “Now, stop that, Willow. Now I said we’d meet you and we will. Memaw and I have never gone back on our word to you, not ever. We’ve stayed with you as long as we’ve been able, but you’ve grown into a woman and now it’s time to get to our own kind.”
“There’s no such thing as your kind, or my kind. We’re just people. Maybe the people in those wagons are good Christians and won’t care about the color of your skin. Just ask them! You won’t know unless you ask them!”
John shook off her grip, and then hunched down to pick up their bags. “I gotta think of me and Memaw. I gotta keep us safe. Now straighten up, Willow, they’re just about here for you, sugar. Remember, you’re the daughter of a colonel, that Union Army will be here before you know it, and they’ll lock you up, so you better do the smart thing and get out while you can. Just wait for those wagons. Those folks will take good care of you. Now be a strong woman and wait right here.”
The tears fell again, and this time there was no stopping them. They’d meant to actually leave her alone, after all this time.
“You’re no better than the colonel,” she cried, watching the couple lower their heads and then turn their backs on her. How could they? How could they abandon her to perfect strangers? Fighting against her pounding heart and an uncertain future that made her knees turn to liquid, there was nothing left for her to do but cry. The Wiles continued to walk down the dirt road in the opposite direction of California.
“Memaw! John! Come back! That’s an order! Get back here right this instant!”
She fell to her knees covering the front of her dress with red Georgia clay. The fire was nearly out now. The only proof she ever had a home gone. There was nothing now. No house, no family, nothing but a thick plume of acrid smoke and a tapestry bag full of the last of her possessions.
By the time the first of the wagons made it up the hill, the life she once knew was over for good. The sound of the brakes screeching against wooden wheels snapped her into the present and forced her into a dull acceptance of this new reality.
“The Union army has been spotted not more than two miles down the road. We’ve got to hurry and get you out of here, ma’am,” the driver called out. “You just introduce yourself to the Parker family back there and take a seat. Hurry,” he told her.
Willow scrambled to her feet, tears soaking her face and spilling down toward her chest. She stepped up the rear of the wagon, and stared at the unfamiliar faces of this family who’d already looked travel weary. Willow sat between a young boy and an old woman who was quietly stitching a hem on a little girl’s dress. There must have been seven family members inside the wagon, but no one bothered to say a word to her. With a sigh, she gazed past the canvas opening. She knew she’d seen the last of the Wiles, and the last of Georgia.
Superstition Mountains, Arizona Territory
“Ah ha! Do you see that, Fatty?” Dutch held out a tin pan for his mule’s inspection. Gold flakes glittered along the bottom of the pan within drifts of black dirt. They’d been following a vein of red stained clay in the canyon wall for miles, just on a hunch that gold would be near the end of it, and here was the proof.
“Where’s there’s flakes, there’s nuggets and where there’s nuggets, there’s ore. Yes, you bug-eyed fool, that’s the stuff in which dreams are made of. Holy moly, boy we are going to be rich! Before you know it, you’ll be eating your grass out of golden buckets you, cantankerous old mule!”
Fatty yawned, skewed his long ears like a wind-up toy while Dutch danced a little jig. The celebration kicked up dust and knocked over his bottle of whiskey. Dutch didn’t care. He was about to be a wealthy man. Fatty opened his mouth and brayed.
The mule’s bellowing froze Dutch in place while the skin along his spine pricked with heightened awareness. His gaze traveled up the canyon wall a good forty feet in the air, scanning along the rocky ridge. The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up before he dove himself forward to land behind the protection of a boulder. He should have known not to make such a fuss. Worried that Fatty might get himself shot, Dutch mimicked the sound of a rattlesnake, knowing the mule would run off and put some distance between them.
Apaches. Dutch closed his eyes trying to recall just how many he spotted. Five, maybe six? Dammit, he didn’t get a good enough look. Reaching for his gun he cocked back the hammer and waited. If they moved in closer, Fatty would let him know it. The mule had a knack for sensing trouble, and if trouble came looking, that animal cried like a baby. Most of the time it was annoying as hell, but he’d make good use for Fatty’s peculiarities today.
He lifted his head just above the rock. If there were Indians still out there, he couldn’t see them. He shifted his focus to the mule who had the good sense to move himself under the shadowy protection of a mesquite. But the animal was watching something, and judging by the direction his head was turning, the Apaches hadn’t seen anything and were heading off. Dutch let out his breath and relaxed his grip on the gun.
“That was too close. I just want the gold then I’ll be off your ragged, cursed mountain,” he whispered, reaching for a smoke. It was his last cigar. Come to think of it, he needed more than just a stock pile of cigars if he was going to spend weeks extracting gold. “Wouldn’t you know it, Fatty? I finally find something worth all the sweat and blood, and now I’ll have to leave it to replenish my supplies.”
Dutch held his cigar between his teeth as he struck a match on the rock. He smiled despite it all. He had a sense about these things, and he knew by the end of the month he’d be packing his mule down with enough gold to permanently get the hell away from the Apaches and their mountain. He could almost see his dream ranch now, sprawling with cattle as far as the eye could see. All he had to do was dig it out of the ground first.