Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A HEART OF GOLD


Continuing my series on How Women Won the West, this is the tale of a prostitute with a heart of gold who is good to Tressie at a time when the young girl is sorely in need of friends. This story tells how Rose came to be in Virginia City, Montana.

A Heart of Gold

Rose pulled the sheet over her sweaty body and watched Carson pull up his pants. Without sparing her another look, he lay a few coins on the dressing table, grumbled something she didn’t catch and left the room. After cleaning herself up, she opened a drawer, unlocked a small box and deposited the coins there. She ran her fingers over the stash of gold and silver pieces. All earned the hard way. One day she would be done with this for good.
That night in Joe’s saloon where she worked her trade, a man rushed in shouting, “Gold, they’ve struck it rich.”
He continued to shout for a while, till Joe got him to calm down and take a couple of drinks.
“Settle down, man,” Joe said. “Where is this gold?”
“Alder Gulch, up by Virginia City. Picking up nuggets the size of their fist.”
The news spread through the room, putting an end to the poker games and stopping men and women who shuffled around on the dance floor.
“I’m telling you,” he continued. “Anyone with a shovel and some jerky oughta git on up there and stake a claim.”
Early the next morning, with dawn just silvering the sky, Rose crawled into bed, her last customer clomping down the stairs. She dreamed of getting out of this place, leaving Deadwood far behind. But how? What to do first?
That evening, she sat at the bar nursing a glass of bourbon when Weldon, a cowboy who’d been a regular with her for a few years, slid up close.
“How about one for the road, Rosie?”
She turned, looked him up and down. “You going somewhere?”
“Yep. Up to Virginia City to stake me a claim. I’m fed up with this place.”
“Could you do me a favor, then?” She wasn’t even sure where the decision came from, but there it was, plain as could be. “See if there’s any place in that town where I could set me up a Hurdy Gurdy house. It oughta do real good in a new town with gold nearby.”
He ran a finger between her breasts that poured from the neckline of her dress. “Let’s go upstairs and talk about this favor.”
When he left much later it was with instructions on what she needed and how much she could pay. “If there’s a bank, the money can be wired to the owner if you find what I’m looking for.”
“Some right smart fella might build you what you want if they ain’t a place available.”
And so a Hurdy Gurdy House she’d christened The Golden Sun came into being along the raw, rutty streets of the growing gold strike town in Virginia City, Montana.
By mid-summer Rose and Maggie, one of the girls from Joe’s, had packed up and boarded the stage coach.
The curtains, though closed, failed to keep out dust roiling up from the horses hooves. Skin covered in a thin coating, perspiration tracking through the grit, Rose held a dainty hanky over her mouth and nose, but that didn’t help much. The merciless trip from Deadwood to Virginia City dragged on and on. Never ending torture. Tasteless food served at endless stops, nowhere to wash up. If they slept it was on the stage. A couple of overnight layovers offered little better fare. All she could do was imagine her destination to help time pass.
True to his word, Weldon had arranged for the building of a rough hewn structure, rooms upstairs and cribs out back. A place of her own at last. A hurdy gurdy house in a town growing because of gold fever should do very well, and she would be its madame. No more following slovenly men to a crib and performing whatever ill-named task they had in mind. She’d need more women, and had left word with Joe she’d be hiring should anyone in Deadwood with enough looks to please a man be interested.
“How much longer do you think?” Maggie asked from behind her own hanky.
“I have no idea, child. But just keep a good thought. We’ll have a bath and a change of clothes and some decent food soon.”
Maggie nodded her pretty head, a few locks of loose dark hair bouncing around her exhausted features.
Beside Maggie sat a tall, thin Englishman who’d introduced himself as Jarrad Lincolnshire. “It shan’t be much longer now,” he said. “Do you have a friend in Virginia City?”
“No,” Rose said, lowering her eyes, loath to tell this handsome gentleman that she was a lady of the night. A soiled dove, some men called her kind. But that wouldn’t be her title anymore, would it?
He lowered his head in her direction. “If you need anything, please let me know. I’m just outside town at the mine. Send someone, those miners are pretty rough. Wouldn’t want a lady like you on site.”
A flush spread across her chest. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d blushed. But being treated so fine brought out the shyness of her forgotten youth.
He touched her arm. “I mean that, Miss Langue.” His dark gaze roamed slowly across her body. “Anything I can do.”
The stage lurched. Her thigh jostled against his and she shivered with desire.
You’d think I’d have had enough of men’s lust to do me a lifetime. But this one, he’s different. He’s a gentleman.
She smiled and made no attempt to move away from the contact. Neither did he. Perhaps once she was settled, she could make one exception at The Golden Sun and invite him into her room for special treatment. That would mean revealing how she’d made her way in the west since her sixteenth year.  Daddy ran off with a customer of his mercantile and Mama took to her bed and the store soon went under leaving Rose on her own. She’d had little choice.
No time to be thinking about that long ago past she’d worked so hard to overcome. She was a business woman now, an owner and proprietor.
She turned to Jarrad. “Where have you come from? You don’t sound like an American.”
“I’m over here from London. A businessman, but bored with the dullness of buying and selling antiques. I learned of this new way of mining gold, using water to wash the soil away into troughs where the gold can then be plucked out by the buckets.”
“Oh my, it sounds exciting,” she said and batted her lashes at him.
Stop that, Rose. You should be ashamed, flirting as if you were a cheap calico queen.
Well, she wasn’t that...not anymore. But she’d have to work hard to get away from such a reputation, even when she ran the house. She could only hope Jarrad Lincolnshire wouldn’t give a hoot what she did for a living. Because, on his arm she would be respected, looked up to. And she was determined to be his woman.

When Tressie finds herself alone in Virginia City with a baby to raise, Rose befriends her and becomes a secondary character in the Montana Trilogy books.






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