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The Luck of Roaring Camp (By Bret Harte)


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Our story today is called, "The Luck of Roaring Camp."  It was written by Bret Harte.  Here is Harry Monroe with our story.

Roaring Camp was the noisiest gold mining town in California.  More than one-hundred men from every part of the United States had come to that little camp – stopping there for a short time on their way to getting rich.

Many of these gold miners were criminals.  All of them were violent.  They filled the peaceful mountain air with shouting and gun shots.  The noise of their continual fighting finally gave the camp its strange name.

On a sunny morning in eighteen fifty, however, the men of Roaring Camp were quiet.  A crowd was gathered in front of a small wooden house by the river.  Inside that cabin was "Cherokee Sal," the only woman in camp.  She was all alone and in terrible pain.  Cherokee Sal was having a baby.

Deaths were not unusual in Roaring Camp.  But a birth was big news.

One of the men turned to another and ordered: "Go in there, Stumpy, and see what you can do."  Stumpy opened the cabin door, and disappeared inside.  The rest of the men built a campfire outside and gathered around it to wait.

Suddenly, a sharp cry broke the air…the cry of a new-born baby.  All the men jumped to their feet as Stumpy appeared at the cabin door.  Cherokee Sal was dead.  But her baby, a boy, was alive.

The men formed a long line.  One by one they entered the tiny cabin.  On the bed, under a blanket, they could see the body of the unlucky mother.  On a pine table, near that bed, was a small wooden box.  Inside lay Roaring Camps newest citizen, wrapped in a piece of bright red cloth.

Someone had put a large hat near the babys box.  And as the men slowly marched past, they dropped gifts into the hat.  A gold tobacco box.  A silver gun.  A diamond ring.  A lace handkerchief.  And about two hundred dollars in gold and silver.

Only one incident broke the flow of the men through the cabin.  As a gambler named Kentucky leaned over the box, the baby reached up and held one of the mans fingers.  Kentucky looked embarrassed.

"That funny little fellow," he said, as he gently pulled his hand out of the box.  He held up his finger and stared at it.  "He grabbed my finger," he told the men.  "That funny little fellow."

The next morning, the men of Roaring Camp buried Cherokee Sal.  Afterwards, they held a formal meeting to discuss what to do with the baby.  Everyone in the camp voted to keep the child.  But nobody could agree on the best way to take care of it.

Tom Ryder suggested bringing a woman into the camp to care for the baby.  But the men believed no good woman would accept Roaring Camp as her home.  And they decided that they didnt want any more of the other kind.

Stumpy didnt say a word during these long discussions.  But when the others finally asked his opinion, he admitted that he wanted to continue taking care of the baby himself.  He had been feeding it milk from a donkey, and he believed he could raise the baby just fine.

There was something original, independent, even heroic about Stumpys plan that pleased the men of Roaring Camp.  Stumpy was hired.

All the men gave him some gold to send for baby things from the city of Sacramento.  They wanted the best that money could buy.

By the time the baby was a month old, the men decided he needed a name.  All of them had noticed that since the babys birth, they were finding more gold than ever before.  One day Oakhurst declared that the baby had brought "The Luck" to Roaring Camp.  So "Luck" was the name they chose for him, adding before it, the first name "Tommy."

A name day was set for him.  The ceremony was held under the pine trees with Stumpy saying the simple works: "I proclaim you Thomas Luck, according to the laws of the United States and the state of California, so help me God."

Soon after the ceremony, Roaring Camp began to change.  The first improvements were made in the cabin of Tommy or "The Luck" as he was usually called.  The men painted it white, planted flowers around it and kept it clean.

Tuttles store, where the men used to meet to talk and play cards, also changed.  The owner imported a carpet and some mirrors.  The men – seeing themselves in Tuttles mirrors – began to take more care about their hair, beards and clothing.

Stumpy made a new law for the camp.  Anyone who wanted the honor of holding The Luck would have to wash daily.  Kentuck appeared at the cabin every afternoon in a clean shirt, his face still shining from the washing hed given it.

The shouting and yelling that had given the camp its name also stopped.  Tommy needed his sleep, and the men walked around speaking in whispers.  Instead of angry shouts, the music of gentle songs filled the air.  Strange new feelings of peace and happiness came into the hearts of the miners of Roaring Camp.

During those long summer days, The Luck was carried up the mountain to the place where the men were digging for gold.  He would lie on a soft blanket decorated with wild flowers the men would bring.

Nature was his nurse and playmate.  Birds flew around his blanket.  And little animals would play nearby.  Golden sunshine and soft breezes would stroke him to sleep.

During that golden summer The Luck was with them, the men of Roaring Camp all became rich.  With the gold they found in the mountains came a desire for further improvement.  The men voted to build a hotel the following spring.  They hoped some good families with children would come to live in Roaring Camp.

But some of the men were against this plan.  They hoped something would happen to prevent it.  And something did.

The following winter, the winter of eighteen fifty-one, is still remembered for the heavy snows in the mountains.  When the snow melted that spring, every stream became an angry river that raced down the mountains tearing up trees and bringing destruction.

One of those terrible streams was the North Fork River.  Late one night, it leaped over its banks and raced into the valley of Roaring Camp.

The sleeping men had no chance to escape the rushing water, the crashing trees and the darkness.  When morning came, Stumpys cabin near the river was gone.  Further down in the valley they found the body of its unlucky owner.

But the pride, the hope, the joy, The Luck of Roaring Camp had disappeared.

Suddenly, a boat appeared from around a bend in the river.  The men in it said they had picked up a man and a baby.  Did anyone know them?  Did they belong here?

Lying on the bottom of the rescue boat was Kentuck.  He was seriously injured, but still holding The Luck of Roaring Camp in his arms.  As they bent over the two, the men saw the child was pale and cold.

"Hes dead," said one of them.

Kentuck opened his eyes.  "Dead?" he whispered.  "Yes, Kentuck.  And you are dying, too."

Kentuck smiled.  "Dying!" he repeated.  "He is taking me with him.  Tell the boys Ive got The Luck with me."

And the strong man, still holding the small child, drifted away on the shadowy river that flows forever to the unknown sea.

You have just heard "The Luck of Roaring Camp," a story by Bret Harte.  It was adapted for Special English by Dona De Sanctis.  Your storyteller was Harry Monroe.


American Stories in VOA Special English
www.manythings.org/voa/stories

Source: Short Story: 'The Luck of Roaring Camp' by Bret Harte
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MP3 = http://www.voanews.com/mediaassets/specialenglish/2009_06/audio/Mp3/se-as-the-luck-of-roaring-camp-06-june-09_0.Mp3