People have often called me a “49er”, though I didn’t make the journey across the country until ’52. I was young and foolish back then, but I guess we all were. I had “gold fever” as bad as the worst of them. Stars in my eyes and a spring in my step, yes sir, I was going to stake a claim and strike it rich. Ha! Even if I did make that first wave in ’49, it would have been pert-near impossible to get rich. By the time I got there, well, there were opportunities, but not in prospecting.
Of course, by the time I arrived, I was a different man with a different goal.
Early on I had joined a party of farmers who were moving west to set up some sort of religious commune. I’m not sure what they were about, because they only did their thing in privacy, but during the day they acted like everyone else. It wasn’t safe to travel alone or unarmed, so we struck a deal. I’d stay with them for safety in numbers and they would get my gun. Not that I was any type of fighter, but they were peaceful Christian folk that saw no use of weapons. I grew up on a small farm in a backwoods section of Kentuck and ate what I shot or didn’t have any meat but the occasional chicken.
The leader of this group, old Zebadiah Green, had a daughter, Rebecca, or Becky for short. She was about my age and so we often talked on that long trail. It was long, and harsh, and Zeb’s little band had no idea how to survive. Many dropped out and a few passed away. Of course, from the hints I got from Becky, ole Zeb’s religion, once in the privacy of his group, was pretty extreme, so I don’t doubt some left to escape his grasp.
There were only six of us when we hit the Sierra Nevadas. Our provisions were low. And the snows came early. It wasn’t long before we lost the Zebadiah and his wife, Mary. But the rest of us survived, Becky, myself and Mr. and Mrs. Jones.
I had started the journey treating Becky like a princess. I didn’t want to raise the ire of that religious flock. As I became more integrated, I tried treating her as a sister. We rode or walked side by side and talked every day. It was about the only thing that kept me sane. After her parents died, though our relationship was chaste, I realized I was in love. I knew she liked me as a friend, but I didn’t think my love was returned, so I lived in agony.
I remember well that special day when we reached the ocean. I remember the last night on the road.
I went out and stood looking out over the ocean. I grew up inland and had never seen such an expanse of water. It was amazing. Becky came over and stood next to me, her eyes glowing.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked.
She nodded. “It is. I wish my mom could have seen this. She would have loved it.”
“You going with the Jones and setting up a farm?”
“Maybe. I was thinking San Francisco.”
“Be careful if you go. I hear it’s a bunch of desperate men and almost no women. Bad things happen.”
“What about you? Are you going up to stake a claim?”
I looked closely at the woman at my side. She was achingly beautiful. Her upturned face looked like an angel’s. I wished I could have asked her to settle with me, but I knew it was impossible. She came from a good family, I came from a poor farm.
“No. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Perhaps I’ll try to set up a shop in the city. I don’t know.”
She smiled. “It’s my turn to say ‘be careful’. You’re not a shop keeper. Those pirates in the city will skin you alive. I think going out after gold would be much safer for you. That’s why you made this long journey, after all, isn’t it?”
Without thinking, I reach my hands out and took hers. Her hand, rough from the hard work of the journey, felt softer than the most expensive silk. It was warm and welcoming.
“Funny thing, we all had to get here and thought only of the journey, and now that we’re here….”
“Yeah.” She drew a little closer. She filled my senses.
Without thinking I put my arms around her and kissed her. Her lips were sun-blasted and chapped, but nothing ever felt so soft and luxuriant. I imagined she was kissing me back, that I could feel the passion flowing through her lips into me.
Suddenly I became aware of myself, what I was doing. I pulled back a little.
“I’m sorry, Miss Becky. I know it’s awfully presumptuous of me. What, me a simple man hired to protect you, and you the head of the party. I’m sorry.”
I noticed a tear in her eye. Did she hate me so much that my kiss made her cry?
“Simple man! That you are! Don’t you understand? Here, I’ll tell you.”
Much to my surprise, she pulled me even closer. I could feel the curves of her body against me. She was thin from the hungry journey, but she felt every bit a woman. My body reacted. She reached a hand up and pulled my head down and kissed me, this time not so gently. The fire and passion was unmistakable.
My world did a flip-flop. I was aware of every bit of the marvelous woman in front of my, in my arms. We became as one. Even through our clothes, I could feel her so female body against my very male body, every curve, every bit, rubbing against each other longing to touch.
After an eternity, we separated enough to look into each other’s eyes. I saw her then. Not Becky, the minister’s daughter, but Becky, her own person. Becky who loved me despite my faults. Becky who I loved more than anything.
“Well, I know what I want to do now.”
She laughed. “Oh really? What?”
“I want to set up a small farm. I hear there’s some fertile land out there.”
“What, and give up your chance of striking it rich, of finding gold?”
The sun setting across the ocean turned her face to flame. Her eyes glowed.
“Now it’s my turn to say ‘don’t you understand’,” I said with a kind smile. “I have struck it rich., richer than I ever imagined. What I’ve struck is more valuable than gold.” I reached down and lightly kissed her. “Oh, so, so much more valuable.”
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