You probably remember that last month in my post, I compared Regency England with the American Old West. At the time, I told you that my book wasn’t quite ready to put out into the world. In the intervening weeks, it became ready, and Darcy’s Bodie Mine is alive and well and up for sale. <3
Darcy’s Bodie Mine is set in Bodie, California, in 1878. Bodie is a ghost town now, left in a state of arrested decay, but it was a thriving gold mining town in 1878. The town had something like thirty gold mines and a population of 10,000. It had everything a regular town had—churches, stores, a blacksmith and livery, homes, hotels, boarding houses, and lots of saloons. 🙂 As many authors do, and as I do with my Regency stories, I had to take artistic license with some things. I couldn’t find a record of every detail of life in Bodie, and the date every structure was built, and so sometimes, I had to make it up.
Bodie is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and is accessible by car. Not all of the town’s buildings still exist. It suffered two fires that destroyed most of it, one in the 1890’s and one in 1932. People lived in the town until the 1940’s or 50’s, I think. It was turned over to the state in the ‘60’s and became a state park. The remaining buildings have been largely left as-is, though in some cases, new roofs have been added. When a building begins to lean, they simply prop the walls up with lumber.
I’ve never been to Bodie. What I’ve learned has been via the internet and from my friend Gail, whose vacation there with her family in 2015 led directly to this book. I was fascinated by the town’s story. Of course, I’ve always loved the Old West, so when Gail and a couple author friends and I were looking at her pictures of the town and the plot bunny was born, and they encouraged me to write it, I could not resist. I greatly enjoyed writing this story, and adding a twist or two that connect it to my very first book.
I mentioned a giveaway in my post title. I’ve added details for that at the bottom of my post, below the excerpt. Also at the bottom are links to information and a video about Bodie, in case you’d like to learn more.
This excerpt is from Chapter 2. I chose it so we could see what happens when mine owner Will Darcy meets saloon singer Lizzy Bennet for the first time.
Will had been in Bodie a week when he met the mine’s manager at a saloon for a working supper. The saloon was close to the mine, making it a convenient place for workers to eat before heading home. As Will had given his new housekeeper and her caretaker husband, Jeremiah and Maggie Reynolds, a few days off to visit their daughter and her newborn child, he had no meal waiting at home and eating at the saloon was the easiest solution.
Will had never been one to carouse all night, drinking and fornicating with loose women, so he did not frequent the saloons, as a rule. When he was asked by Mrs. Reynolds if he had met the new singer at this particular saloon, he had replied in the negative.
The Reynolds’ were an older couple, down to earth and steady. Jeremiah had worked in the mill until recently, when an injury forced him out. With no income, they were looking to move to the coast to live with one of their children but needed to earn some money to make the trip. When word reached them that the new mine owner was looking to hire someone to look after his house, they went together to speak to him, and came out pleased to have been hired.
“Mr. Darcy, have you seen that pretty new singer at the saloon?”
“No, I can’t say that I have, Mrs. Reynolds.”
“So nice, that one. If I didn’t already know better, I’d never guess where she worked!”
Despite himself, Will was intrigued. In his limited experience, women who worked in those places were scantily clad and brightly made up, even when in public. Just last week he had seen one at the general store. It was obvious what she was; he could see her rouged cheeks from three buildings away. “Why do you say that?”
“Why, she was dressed just as modestly as I was! All prim and proper, and not a trace of face paint on. Matter of fact, that dress she was wearing was mighty fine. Not calico or nothing like that. Fancy, it was.”
“Hmmm,” was all he would say. He could not help but think that the elderly lady was rather blunt the way she talked about the whole thing. Back east—heck, even in Sacramento’s upper crust—a topic like prostitutes would never have been addressed in mixed company. If there was one thing that could be said about the west, it was that the people were not shy about addressing any topic.
The boys at the mill had been talking about this woman all week. Sassy, was how they described her. Will’s more cynical side translated that as ‘loose.’
Now, Will was about to see her for himself, and hear her perform. A loud cheer, accompanied by whistles and hoots, announced the entrance of the woman. Looking up from the beer he had just sipped, he was surprised to see that his housekeeper was correct: this young lady was not dressed like any saloon singer he had ever seen before. He had to admit that Mrs. Reynolds was correct about the woman’s clothing; the singer was dressed like a fine lady. What really caught his attention, though, was her voice.
The moment she opened her mouth, a pure and clear voice full of emotion filled the room. She sang an opera, instead of the usual bawdy tune so frequently heard, accompanying herself on the tinny piano as though it were a fancy grand piano back East. So beautiful was her voice that even the rowdy, half-drunk miners were entranced, stopping with their drinks partway to their mouths in some cases. She followed with two additional songs that Will recognized as love songs from a production he had seen in San Francisco a few years ago, and finished with some rowdier numbers that were more familiar to the miners.
When the singer finished her last song, she rose gracefully from her seat in front of the piano and curtseyed to the crowd. She moved to the side of the sage and stepped down to mingle with the men and women in the saloon. Though she was pawed and propositioned by several men, she turned each away with a smile and a few words.
Will had listened to Higgins’ commentary about the singer from the moment she stepped onto the stage, as he identified her—Elizabeth Bennet was her name—and listed every detail that he knew, and Will suspected, many he made up as he went. Now, as the lady was approaching, the mine’s manager distracted him again.
“You ought to introduce yourself to her. She wants nothing to do with a working man like me, but you’re high-falutin’ enough that she’ll be putty in your hands.” Higgins eyed him up and down. “Besides, you need a good woman at your side, what with inheriting your father’s businesses and all. She’s pretty enough to take easily to your bed, and got enough wits about her to play hostess to anyone you do business with.”
Will glanced over his shoulder at Miss Bennet, Higgins’ words ringing in his ears. When he saw that he had caught her eye, he turned back. “She’s pretty, but not good-looking enough to tempt me. I’ve no doubt she sells herself to every man that asks; I’m not wasting my time with a saloon girl.”
Higgins rolled his eyes. “For a smart man, you’re not very wise.” He turned and walked away, leaving Will to wonder what he meant.
Elizabeth Bennet, Lizzy to her family, was as angry as she had ever been in her life. Still, she smiled gracefully at those around her as she worked her way through the room.
While she was singing, Lizzy had noticed the tall, handsome gentleman at a table at the back of the room. Judging by his clothing, he was not a miner, though the red-headed man beside him obviously was. Lizzy was interested in the tall man and thought she might seek an introduction after her set. As usual, when she took a break from singing, she mingled in the crowd, working her way to the back where he was.
Lizzy was no more than six feet away when the gentleman she was seeking caught her eye. She wondered why he turned away again, but his words, which she clearly heard, told her everything she needed to know about the man.
Given how much she despised singing in this saloon, to hear someone disparage her as the tall man had sent Lizzy’s ire spiraling. Well, she thought, handsome is as handsome does. I guess I don’t want to know him, either. Though her words to herself were full of angry bravado, the idea that this, the most handsome man she had ever seen, thought her displeasing cut deep. Still, she refused to show anyone that her feelings were hurt. She moved in another direction, going through the motions before getting back on the stage and singing another set.
At the end of the night, Lizzy walked home, to a boardinghouse on Green Street. As she approached the wood-clad house in the dim light of early morning, she reminisced about the beautiful neighborhood she had grown up in, with its large, brick and stone homes. The boardinghouse was small but tidy, and, comparatively plain.
Climbing up the steps, Lizzy wearily opened the door. Inside, in the dining room, were two other girls who lived in the house. One was another saloon girl; the other worked at the biggest hotel in town, Bodie House, doing housekeeping and cooking. Like Lizzy, the pair were on their own, separated from their families by miles and attitude.
Charlotte Lucas worked at the Bonanza Saloon, on the other side of town from where Lizzy worked. A few years older than Lizzy, Charlotte had a no-nonsense attitude that served her well in her job. Her family—parents and four siblings—had been killed in an attack by Indians five years earlier, at the family’s farm north of Texas. Charlotte had not been home at the time of the attack. She had traveled to a friend’s house a week earlier for a visit. She arrived home to find the local sheriff waiting for her, to tell her the bad news. Ever since, Charlotte had traveled from saloon to saloon, making her way further west.
Carrie Hardin had moved to Bodie with her parents when the mines first opened in 1859. Her father had been injured in an accident, and after that, opened a general store. He had sold out after a year. He did not have a head for business and was deep in debt. He wanted to move the family to a bigger town, but Carrie had refused to go. She was in love with a miner, who had promised to marry her. He was Irish, and her father didn’t like him, but Carrie didn’t care. She slipped away in the night, and her parents and siblings had left her behind. She did not know where they were, and though she missed them, she loved Bodie, and she loved her miner.
“Hello, Lizzy. How was your shift?” Charlotte was filling her plate with her breakfast, but, as usual, was the first to ask her friend about her night.
“It went pretty well. I enjoyed the first set of songs, but you know how a saloon gets the longer the night goes on. By midnight, all anyone wanted to hear was the bawdy ones.”
Charlotte laughed. “Too true! Did you meet any interesting men?”
“No. There was a gentleman in the back of the room early in the shift, and I was looking for an introduction, but in the end, I was glad I didn’t get one.”
“Why? Did he have a lady with him?” Carrie could not imagine any other reason for Lizzy to change her mind about meeting a man.
“No, not that I saw. However, he was not a nice man at all. He assumed I was a prostitute and said so to someone standing beside him. He said I was not good enough for him.” Lizzy huffed, still angry about his presumption. “Well, anyone who makes an assumption like that is not someone I wish to know anyway.”
Eyes large, Charlotte asked, “What did you say to him? Did you do anything about it?”
“I said nothing. I walked the other direction and gave him no acknowledgment. He’s not worth my time.”
“Did you find out who he was?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“What did he look like?”
“He was tall and handsome. He wore a suit, so I know he was not a miner. He had a gunbelt, but it was nothing fancy. He didn’t have the look of a gunslinger anyway, and he never went near the gambling tables all night. Come to think of it,” Lizzy tilted her head, tapping her finger on her chin and looking off into space as she thought, “I don’t think he even stayed at the saloon after he said that. I think he left. I don’t remember seeing him the rest of the night.”
“Maybe he went upstairs with one of the girls?” Charlotte asked.
“No, the girls on duty were serving drinks while I sang. I like to keep my mind off what I’m doing by watching them work; none of them disappeared.”
“Well, then, he’s tall and handsome, wears a suit and a gun but is not a gambler or gunslinger.” Carrie summed up Lizzy’s description. “Do you think he was the new owner of one of the mines?”
“Hmmm, maybe,” Charlotte speculated.
“That just makes what he said worse,” Lizzy declared, “if that’s who he was. Though, I suspect he’s rich enough to be that arrogant. I have certainly met enough wealthy men back home to know how they think. I don’t like that I have to work, and in a saloon, of all places. It pinches my pride. But I do, and I have done well for myself. I’m independent; I don’t need him or anyone else.”
“The very rich probably feel free to give offense wherever they go,” Charlotte pointed out. “I have certainly seen enough men who were only well-off that were arrogant; I should imagine that is magnified the more money one has.” Turning to Carrie, she asked, “Do you know his name?”
Carrie thought for a minute. “It begins with D, I think … Darcy, that’s it! His last name is Darcy. I don’t know his first name.”
“Darcy,” Lizzy said thoughtfully. “That name sounds familiar to me. Perhaps from Papa. He talked to me many times about who was whom in the business world.” She paused. “He also frequently spoke about our ancestors; that might be the reason.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why, I guess, but I’m certain I’ve heard the name before.”
“At least you know his name,” Charlotte said. “Will you say anything to him in the future?”
“About his insult? No. Let him think what he will. Soon, I will be running my own business and will be respectable again. I don’t need him and his arrogant assumptions.”
With that, the girls finished their meals. Lizzy and Charlotte retired to their rooms, exhausted from their long nights, and Carrie headed off to the hotel for her shift.
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