The great white stallion, Relámpago, rested in the shade of a gnarled oak, his ears and tail twitching in hopes of discouraging the flies and insects that made their home on the Great Plains of South Dakota.
In the distance, a herd of Lakota ponies grazed on the lush spring grass. Relámpago was well-known among the tribes. Most had stories and legends of the mysterious white stallion who had long wandered the shadowy path between the past and the present. The Apache called him a spirit horse; the Cheyenne and the Lakota called him a ghost horse because of his pale color. But Relámpago was both, and neither.
The stallion lifted his head when he heard the whisper of distant voices rising on the wind.
It was time to go.
Ellie Hathaway forced a smile as she made her way between tables. She hated working at the Bella Union Saloon, hated the cheap costume the owner, Tom Miller, insisted the girls had to wear. It was embarrassing, the way the men ogled her legs and made rude jokes. When she had first arrived in Deadwood, working in the Bella Union had been the only job she could get. Now, having been a saloon girl, no one else would hire her for a decent job – not that there were many decent places to work in Deadwood - nor did anyone in town believe that all she did was serve drinks.
Sometimes Ellie thought she should have opened a brothel. Dora DuFran and Mollie Johnson, two of Deadwood’s most successful madams, seemed quite prosperous. But as tempting as it seemed, Ellie knew she would never be comfortable promoting such a life style, just as she knew she’d never be able to face the decent people in town if that was how she earned her living, though decent folk were few and far between.
Deadwood, so named for all the dead trees in the gulch, was a rough and ready town, filled with prostitutes and gamblers and thousands of miners who had been drawn there by the lure of gold and the promise of instant wealth.
Not that Ellie could blame them. It was the reason she, herself, had come here from Bismarck as a mail-order bride. Unfortunately, the man she was to have married was killed in a bar fight the day before she arrived. She’d had a lot of other offers, but none of them had included marriage.
Ellie blew out a sigh as the last of the customers headed for the swinging doors. She had hoped this job would be temporary, that she could save enough money to go back east to Miss Hudson’s Academy for Young Women. She had hopes that, with an education and a bit of refinement, she might meet a tall, dark, handsome man who would forgive her for her past. But she had been here almost a year and she wasn’t any closer to saving a stake, or getting out of this horrid town.
It didn’t stop her from dreaming, though.