Upon the shooting death of her young husband by her brother Seb, Sary is forced into her brother's charge... neither is pleased with this arrangement, but it's the 1880's; women have no say. He's an impotent, sadistic dreamer with ideas of striking gold, using his sister as his mule. Sary finds herself in a surreal nightmare... living under a tarp, panning for gold, and looked on lustfully by the debauched in the vicious Big Bear California gold-mining town. Her rape, the accidental killing of her attackers, the death of her brother in an abandoned mine shaft, the discovery of a gold vein as big as Texas, plus, surviving the hard scrabble land as winter comes and goes, Sary becomes a thing of legend and witchery as she is hunted as fair game. Sary plots her revenge against the outpost and her tormentors in slap-down not seen since High Noon, with the unexpected help from the one unlikely young man, Sary's come to love.
Sary's Gold is generously illustrated with archival photos. Also, available as a Feature script.
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Big Bear, California. It was spring in that rough mountain mining outpost when the crude stage, little more than a buckboard with canvas flaps, rattled into a clutter of stables, mercantiles and saloons.
One saloon, Delacorte's, seemed rather grand.
As Seb and Sary — her dusty black mourning gown and black straw bonnet could never hide her stellar face and figure — stepped stiffly down, layabouts kept them in their sites, while proprietors, like predators, and at least one pair of hardened female eyes belonging to Handi McAdams, followed them from the dens of their establishments. Sary slowly surveyed the bleak mountain mining town.
* * *
From the halt, Seb, shivering in the thin mountain air, belligerently assessed the raw straggle of Big Bear, too. He gripped Sary's arm and, loud enough for all to hear, ordered her, "A room! One night, now, mind!" Striding to Delacorte's saloon, he spun when halfway there. "And don't let 'em gyp ya none!" he bellowed. Seb checked for onlookers. "Got business! 'Portant business."
Sary gazed after him, stoic, cheeks flaming as she watched Seb halt by the swing doors.
Seb sneered at a yellow poster depicting a flamboyant but handsome man in tights and the proclamation:
"Sleight of Hand! Jugglers. Fire Eaters!
Feats of Strength!
Rousing Recreations of William Shakespeare's Hamlet!
Starring Headliners of All Europe!
Seen by Royalty!"
Blotches of yellow poster seemed to be everywhere. Seb eyed them and spat on the grimy plank walkway. "Painted-up Molly!"
At the halt, Sary turned wearily from Seb — never mind what he's doing; it won't be to our good — to a tatty gaggle of baggage, and once again helplessly assessed the drear strip of Big Bear.
The stage-halt proprietor, a fat man in a greasy apron and thick ginger sideburns, hawked her. "Can't hardly doss 'em here, uh, lady!"
She turned, raising her face, and shyly held out her hand. "It's Sarabande, Sarabande Swinford, but —"
"Don't make no matter if'n you're Queen Victoria —"
He stopped, awkward. The face before him was blooming, fresh, young, her translucent green eyes cutting through the dust, even after the ravages of the trek up-mountain, and especially so for Big Bear, where womenfolk coarsened up quickly in the thin, sere air.
"Yes, of course." Sary carefully counted coin from a thin purse.
Enigmatically shaking his head, he watched Sary drag their odd jumble of baggage across the dust to McAdams Hostelry, cheek by jowl with Delacorte's Saloon. Behind her, the layabouts mugged, nudging each other as their attention trailed her.
* * *
Seb thrust through swing gates, posed, and sauntered big to the long, polished slab of plank where Ratchet, a rangy hatchet-faced man of forty — a chilling presence — lounged, elbows on the bar. He turned, lazily sized up Seb, and included everyone when he snorted, "You just keep pouring in like rain, locusts, and bad liquor" — he nudged Seb — "don't you, you ignorant plowboys?"
Seb pinked up. "Bad corn's got more kick — but prob'ly the likes of you wouldn't know." He rapped the bar. "Barkeep!" The barkeep shot a knowing glance at Ratchet.
Across the room, Julian Delacorte, an elegant but dissipated ruin of a man, presided over a gaming table with two buffalo-shouldered men — Orvis O'Malley and Aaron Doheny, chinless, with a beak of a nose anchoring thick glasses through which he worried his cards — and a fourth, a mountain of a man, who was more tolerated than a part of the group, for Ev'ret played his own game, arranging a messy pile of chips in pretty colors and patterns.
Julian Delacorte, coughing subterranean mines of phlegm — Seb neither knew nor cared whether from consumption or syphilis — spared Seb a look, instantly forgetting him as Ratchet slugged back Seb's drink, flipped the shot glass over his shoulder, and grinned.
"I mean to say ... you keep the stagecoach company in bizness. They just keep findin' the same blame nugget over and over in you." Ratchet leaned and thunked Seb's arm as Seb lifted his new pour, sloshing out the precious whiskey.
Seb beeted up again, white-knuckling his shot glass.
Ratchet jabbed a thumb at the meek man. "Aary there, he runs the mercantile. That's where gold's at. We just seed that same old nugget so some sod-bustin', mule-humpin', inbred country manure picker can stumble on it all over again." Ratchet had pulled the room in with him and shoved Seb again.
The room waited for Seb's reaction and then eyed him dismissively.
Seb, flaming by then, hunched over his fresh pour. Even the few soiled doves trailing down so early in the day, the doxies — looking no better than they should, still, reasonably clean — openly grinned past yawns.
"Like, maybe, someone like you." Ratchet smirked at the room and kept on, straight-fingering Seb's shoulder.
Seb slammed the glass down. His hand shook. He half-raised it gripped tight like a rock, ready to throw at his tormenter. "You telling me I can't cut tobacca? I earned these!" With flaming eyes, Seb showed how huge his stringy muscles were.
Ratchet's snigger sounded like rats crawling a drain.
"How? Being your own mule? Field hand?"
"If gold's in this heap of manure you call a town, 'at's as good as mine!" Seb yelled, flashing a thin roll tied with dirty string. "Whiskey! Whiskey for every man-jack 'cept him and that tarted-up dandy over yonder who don't seem to have no manners to welcome a stranger!"
Julian Delacorte cut Seb a glance.
Giving the great man one more look, Seb faltered, slapped a third of his wad on the bar, tossed back a fresh pour the bartender had provided, and strutted out, a man on a mission.
* * *
Sary, puffing, yanked the last bundles beneath the McAdam's Hostelry sign and into the lobby. Blinking in the cool dimness, she approached a desk, leaning the better to see the lurid yellow poster on the wall nearby, a twin to the one Seb had been so intrigued by. She blushed. It depicted a raffishly handsome man, if a bit flamboyant. Rather embarrassing tights clothed the lower half of his shapely body, illustrating he was very much a male. She peeked again, with a shy secret grin, and didn't see Hannah McAdams watching from a half-open door beyond the desk until the ravaged woman imperiously cupped her hand. "Come!"
Sary tore her eyes away from the poster.
Trying for elegance, Handi missed, by the depth of her cleavage and the amount of her makeup. Age-ripened to rot, Handi owned a vein of common lead running through her matronly silver exterior, or so Sary might have guessed.
"Beg pardon? I am looking for rooms. Isn't this —" Sary sized Handi up. "Perhaps I'm in the wrong place. This ... is much ... too grand!" she finished awkwardly.
"Got the only place. Come!" Handi jerked her head to the room behind her, opening the door enticingly. Her lips were a glittering red invitation, and so Sary entered a room of European grandeur, missing nothing. Her gaze discreetly flicked over gaudy paintings: "Pompeii," "The Rape of Europa," "A Venetian Bridge," and one, where a lady casting smoldering glances was apparently clad only in wet gauze.
Sary looked away. Certainly it wasn't biblical, or even Æsop's Fables.
Through other doors, she saw glimpses of a rather mannish office and an over-lavish boudoir, yet she could not leave the exotic paintings, glittering with oily richness, jewel color, and promises of unknowable worlds.
Sary stroked one. "Are these ... real? I mean, the places? Not fanciful like ... like fairy tales?"
Sary turned in time to see Handi watching her, peeling Sary's clothes off with her eyes, before she indicated the room. "Want 'em to be?" she barked in a rather coarse voice. "Sit! Last long enough, might discover this is Big Bear's rarest privilege. Sit! Call me Handi. Hannah McAdams," she ordered in the brusque way that was apparently her manner.
Sary looked anxiously to the lobby. Seb would be waiting. She murmured vaguely, "Sarabande. Folks call me —"
Handi waved her off. "Call yourself anything you like. In a few months you won't be the same anyways." Enthroning herself, she poured something amber and painfully propped a puffy ankle on a tufted stool while stuffing a long, slim pipe.
"Only whiskey cuts the dust in your veins or your —" Handi poked Sary through her black dress, at the V of her thighs, with the stem of her pipe. She raised the decanter. "Want a tot?"
Sary jumped back at the poke of Handi's pipe. The woman laughed harshly and drank deep. "Suit yourself. Spell since I've had a lady here."
Sary's look swept the room. "You're here."
"Hunh! No lady! Ladies have blue milk running through their veins and vinegar in their ..." She started to poke Sary again, snorted a laugh, poured herself another drink, and rang a small ornate bell. A slattern, an oddly wanton-looking old woman appeared, in a low, loose-necked dress despite her age, glumly toting in tea and cakes and another of the long slim ivory pipes. Handi winced at her appearance. "Belle? You wash your funsies and your fancies today?" Belle snorted. Slamming the tray down, the woman threw Sary a knowing leer and shuffled out.
Sary looked in puzzlement after the elderly servant in the alarmingly low bodice from which her withered dugs threatened to spill out; however, Sary inhaled the tea like life-giving nectar, watching over her cup in alarm as Handi vigorously clawed an ankle.
Still clawing, Handi made a face. "Gift from a French gentleman. Won't kill me. Till I want it to," she amended and licked the knife. Slicing fruitcake, she placed it with her bare fingers on Sary's plate. When Sary demurred, Handi shrugged and ate it herself.
Sary half rose. She looked with some panic to the door. "My brother," she stammered. "We — we need a room."
Handi stared into the distance and puffed her pipe with a bemused look Sary couldn't interpret.
"Brother? Could be." She hitched a shoulder, amused by something. "Once the door's closed?" Handi guffawed.
Sary frowned, puzzled. The woman made little sense, but Handi changed the subject in the maddening way she had. "Own this place. Mine! Only way to own anything, if you're of a female persuasion." She continued clawing her leg while scrutinizing Sary, narrowing her eyes.
"Look like a schoolmarm. Could be the best doxie I got. Teachers make tolerable whores," she reflected. "Always wash up after. Talk nice, too."
Sary stared. Is she —? No, surely not. She's so — elegant.
Handi continued, oblivious. "Miners, bless 'em, prefer girls like their sweethearts back home. Get to thinkin' love is listening to bedsprings, though!" She chuckled again.
Oh! She is!
Sary jumped up when Handi gestured something, surely obscene, and nudged her back into her seat with a cane Sary hadn't before seen. Slick, black, like a snake, with a gold knob on the end. Sary stared at the cane, seeing it for what it really depicted, as Handi bored on.
"More gold in mining back pockets, ehhh? While men are otherwise ... occupied?" The heavily made-up woman sucked her pipe and coughed. When she was through, she demanded, "Well? What say?" Slitted puffy eyes almost concealed Handi's rapaciousness.
Sary, seeing the black glitter, felt a chill and stiffly gathered her skirts. "My brother and I ... have other plans."
"Wager you do!" Handi barked a laugh. "Wait! That's right. Keep your skirts yanked tight and safe-keep those valuables. Might change your mind."
Bewildered, Sary watched Handi hobble to an ornate dresser to withdraw and lovingly heft a petite pistol, all ivory and silver, and a small sack.
"This little darling's already shot its quota. Might be a few killings left in it." She aimed it at an ornate cloisonné vase. "Pulls a tad right. Want to blow a hole through some scoundrel's cranium, aim for the left ear. Go on!" She thrust it at her. "You'll need it. Take it. Called a Derringer."
Sary shied away. "I don't mind if it's called Gabriel's trumpet on a plate. A killing's already killed me. I don't intend —" Sary stood.
"Huh!" Handi snorted. "Here trouble stalks like sickened bobcats. Won't need to scout it out for it to find you. Take it," she cajoled, "for me." She thrust the pistol at her again.
Sary gingerly reached for the toy-like gun. Didn't seem so bad in her hand, more like comforting, the way it fit, the warm ivory matching the smooth curve of her palm as if made for it. Pretty. Gleaming, engraved silver and old ivory. Like an objet d'art."Might take a dollar for it." Handi grunted.
Sary blushed. "I'm — grateful. I can't remunerate you now," and handed it back. Handi fussed with the tray. "Take it, 'fore I lament it. Secure it in your knickers," she barked.
Sary hesitated, then slowly raised her dusty travel-stained skirts, half-turning away. Oh, why hadn't she better petticoats and underthings? Handi eyed her with clinical interest as Sary revealed shapely darned black-stockinged legs, tucking the silvery weight in a petticoat pocket, where it banged, bothersome and alien, on her thigh.
Handi grimaced. "Black scarcely favors you. Get shed of it. Makes you all peaky, like clabbered milk."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you for your — concern." Sary bobbed a conflicted curtsey, taking one last look at the room and the tea and cakes.
* * *
Across the street, Seb, to the registrar's open amusement, studied a plat map tacked to log walls. Behind Seb, a balance scale winked a dull gleam and a champion nugget sat in solitary splendor under glass. Map trays and other paraphernalia proclaimed the room to be the Deed and Assay Office.Men still garbed in heavy flannel shirts, thick canvas Levis, and well-worn boots lounged around a crude stove stuck in the fireplace even though it was spring. Others pored over plats. They all were winking behind Seb's back, sharing the diversion the greenhorn provided.
The first niggling glimmer that this enterprise mightn't be as easy as plucking nuggets from the ground slick as eggs from a mad hen flitted uneasily across Seb's brainpan as he scrutinized the staked-out map full of squiggly lines and color. He started when the registrar finger-tapped the map.
"Sure it's this piece right here? Old Elijah — that be Elijah Lucky K. Baldwin — well, he kinda still owns it — still. Though some do say our esteemed Mr. Delacorte — that be Julian Delacorte — stakes some claim. Then, Julian Delacorte stakes most all of Big Bear. Including the bears."
An old jest. There was general agreement.
He tittered. "Wouldn't take kindly to it being sold twice" — the registrar winked at the men —"I should opine."
"See here!" Seb felt his cheek flame. "Fella told me it were just laying to waste — for the taking. You bait-and-switchin' me here?" He squinched his eyes and reared back.
"Heaven forefend!" the registrar said. "Wouldn't try that on a shrewd Jasper like you — tell that right off!"
Seb smirked. "More like it —"
"That what you heard must be so!" The registrar stabbed the plat map. "I hereby give you ... let's say ..." The registrar pinched his lip. "Claim to the 'Lucky Strike Mine'— provisional, mind you, till we do proper provenances."
"Yeah. What you just said — the provnunces. You do that." Seb tucked his hands under his armpits and rocked back on his heels, self-satisfied.
With a wink over Seb's shoulder, the registrar added, "And I'll toss in this bitty section of creek rights. Might do, to get your feet wet some first."
Seb signed the paper put before him and snatched up the deed. "And I'll jus' be taking this along — case you be thinkin' on changing it some."
* * *
Safe on the plank walkway, Seb rubbed his hands, chuckling, surveying the raw panners, ranchers, and trappers, all stalking by with some mysterious manly purpose, all in muddy, cracked, flaking gear and of brownish-gray appearance — flannel faded to dun, Levis bleached and dirtied the same, boots scuffed to rawhide — but to Seb, they might as well have been gold-plated. Seb yearned mightily to join their ranks of hardened masculinity.
He ignored the few women scoured plain and reddened by heat, dust, and chilblains, but then he was jostled aside by a flamboyant and chattering tribe distinct in all their peacock colors, fuss, and feathers. He glared, disgusted, after the rowdy noisy bunch. Greasy clownish faces — too orange to be what nature give 'em, too red in the cheeks and mouth — and is those velvet britches? "Tchaaa!" Seb spat. Moreover, their females were either booming or trilling. One swatted him with her fan, winking broadly, and the men had a trace of what Seb was dimly aware of ... the Oscar Wilde.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sary's Gold"
Copyright © 2015 Sharon Shipley.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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