The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 12

Jack had told him all about it. Jack knew all about such things. The manitoo was a forest creature that lent you wisdom; it could help you prosper. Jack had seen this white buck and said it would be bad luck to shoot it. It was a good birthday gift. Now it was watching Petr Valory. It doesn’t like the rifle. Okay. Be rid of it then.

He ran downslope until he found the biggest cedar tree he had ever seen in his life. Massive survivor of centuries, it was tent-like, with branches that covered the ground. He crawled inside. It cool, dry and fragrant. He set the rifle against the trunk. There. Good. Crawl outside again. He made a stone pyramid to mark the tree. Come back later.

He didn’t know he wouldn’t see that rifle again for twelve years.

He searched upslope, but the white deer was gone. Probably wasn’t a manitoo anyway. Still, you didn’t see a magnum buck like that every day. Just a good luck sign that today was a lucky day: Head for that dry waterfall. See what you see.

He scrambled up until he was atop the smaller crest with its big view. Little Rocky would never make it up here. No worries about that. Again he would be wrong.

To the south lay the big blue expanse of Long Lake. Jack’s cabin looked like a toy house on a peninsula of pines jutting into the lake. To the north lay a gray valley holding two blue-jewel lakes, primitive and wild. A strong, sugary wind breezed up from the valley, a sweet pine wind. It was beautiful. Go there–to the valley of the lakes. He checked his watch: 2:15. Plenty of time before sundown. That was another miscalculation.

There it was again. The manitoo deer stood beside the first small lake, lapping up water. It raised its wide antlers at him, as if to say: Well, are you coming? Then it trotted away westward.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 11

He believed it was the same falcon he and Annabel had taken food scraps to down by the river. He waved, yelling,”I will find that gold lake and I will be free as you, high flyer.”

With the rifle sights, he scanned the high cliffs of the crest. No need to go there. Gold wouldn’t be there. He didn’t know much about “goldfinding”, but he had heard gold was the heaviest substance on earth. Gold would run downhill. It would be in valleys or rivers or at the bottom of lakes–somehow. The biggest chunks would be in a river or lake.

He scanned the rifle south.

There lay the big blue lake called “Loch Loong” by its solitary dweller, Big Jack–Jack Gorgius Frazier. He had helped them build their cabin last fall. The Scotsman had found no gold. No need to go there. But Petr would share the gold lake with Jack when he found it.

He scanned the rifle north.

There rose a sharp ridge that, once crossing it, led down into the North Fork of the Feather River; the wild rich mining camp called Gold Nation where they took a wagonload of lumber each week, and then Papa hustled him away as if the place was full of disease.

The watch made a pretty, sing-songing: ching-ching! It was two o’clock. Mama’s gift was awareness of time. Why? Why was there always secret unhappiness under everything she did?

Papa’s gift-rifle was getting heavy. Papa had warned him. Top those cylinders off with grease or they will all blow off a once and remove your face. Papa had properly loaded it. It was ready to fire, a powerful tool that could shoot six times. That meaning was clear. Petr, you’re a man now. But he never wanted to kill anything. The rifle was useless to him as a stick of lead.

He ran fifty paces, walked fifty paces, hopped over countless rivulets of spring runoff. Not far away was a small paradise of blue lakes held in rocky bowls made like giant cups. Big Jack had told him all about it. Three years ago Tom Stoddard had found a lake somewhere. It was filled with gold–so they said. But five hundred determined men failed to find it.

Petr vowed: “I will find it.” Another thought hit him: Dain King was one of those determined men, you can bet on it. That’s why he explored the Feather River. That’s how he found gold on the North Fork; what he was now calling The Gold Nation. It all made sense.

The rifle was getting unbearable. Sweat dripped down his face. Getting hot. Getting thirsty. It was the first hot day of spring. He was running on naked stone, up a lower crest that led to the Sierra Crest. A hidden gold lake might lie somewhere in the bowl between the two crests. He would bet five dollars on it if he had five dollars.

It was a steep climb up the mountainside. When he heard the falcon again he looked up. He couldn’t find it, but high on top of the rising cliff was a deer, a big one.

The biggest buck he had ever seen posed silently a hundred yards away on a sharp gray ledge. It was white. Pale as cream and its antlers spread like tan flames. What would Papa say if he brought home a white deer? Petr aimed the rifle and the deer disappeared like a puff of smoke. He set the rifle aside, scanning the trees, and moments later the buck reappeared atop a dry waterfall above a small circle of boulders. It made a high whistling laugh. Petr shouted back at it.

“I won’t hurt you! You’re beautiful. You’re magic–a white deer–you’re a manitoo.”

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 10

Petr ran into forest so thick it blocked out the sun. This was Papa’s gold, big Ponderosa pines–easy to find, hard work turning it into lumber. Gold finding would be much easier.

Gunshots rattled over the ridge. Not a battle. It was Sunday afternoon hunting out on the river. Nothing to worry about. Certainly not Indians. The Maidus carried bows and spears. They might steal a rope or an axe with the innocence of a child. But they were fierce as grizzly bears if interfered with or provoked. And they weren’t the greatest danger in the Sierras.

The greatest danger was finding gold.

Papa warned him. If you find gold you better keep your rifle handy. Gold drew men like iron to a magnet. But the Valoryvale claim was a rolling wonderland of Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine that made fine yellow boards smelling sweet as powdered sugar. The other wealth of their tree kingdom was a mountain stream flashing through the Valoryvale like liquid crystal. It splashed into the Feather River a few miles below, but it contained no gold. He had looked. So no one would ever bother their valley. But he would be wrong about that.

John and Petr harvested straight yellow timber growing from the forest like beams of yellow light encased in brown husks. Magya claimed the Valorys were so poor they couldn’t afford ink for the second “e” in Petr’s name. So naturally he wanted to find gold so his family would never feel poor again. The desire pursued him sharp as a gnawing hunger. I will find the great gold of Earth and I will be rich and happy.

He knelt beside the crystal stream made delicious from melted snow. He drank. When he glanced up, a gray squirrel and a bluejay were watching him suspiciously. He whispered to them, “Where do I find gold? I have to find it. Papa won’t last another year if I don’t find gold. Mama needs a proper house with painted shutters so she doesn’t go crazy. Maybe I’ll take her to San Francisco so she can have her dream too. Annabel needs….”

Thinking of Annabel made him smile. That girl needed many things. A horse might keep her happy, might stop her following him around like a puppy. Hopefully she wasn’t following him right now.

“Annabel needs a pretty horse, please.”

He laughed and began running again, long smooth strides across the forest floor.

When he emerged from the thick forest marking the upper end of the Valoryvale, he knew he was in Gold Country. Bright sun was a blazing copper pitcher pouring heat from the sky; the Sierra Crest a rising kingdom of gray towers; black flies buzzing around his head aroused by the heat told of early spring. He cupped his hands beneath a miniature waterfall and again drank icy swallows until his throat ached. He was alive!

Might find Indians, or lost cities, or fire-belching caves! What secrets lay hidden in these mountains? Why couldn’t he hunt gold six days a week and cut lumber just for one, like Big Jack, or Dain King?

He heard a faint, skirling cry, high on the wind: “Keee-iiirrrk!” Looking up, he saw a good omen: scimitar-shaped wings carving circles on the sky. It was a falcon.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 9

2

His time had come, he even had a gold watch to prove it: he was running free in the Sierra high country where he would find gold. The long way west broke many men, and families died, but that was over. Now was the time for the Sierra dream, the most beautiful mountains on earth. From a distance they looked like silver shields shining in the sun, beneath which lay a paradise of gleaming granite dripping with gold in secret places. But where were such places? Today he would find out. Because Mama and Annabel were suffering, he had to find out.

He ran up the steep valley of the Valoryvale that led to the Sierra Crest. He was young, tall, and fit, and today what he really wanted for his birthday was not a pretty watch or rifle. What he wanted was a gloryhole full of gold.

Rifle shots snapped in the distance off the north ridge beyond which lay the big mining operation of Dain King on the north fork of the Feather River, about three miles away in the next valley. It was being called Gold Nation, where they were building a flume–a hundred yards of wooden trough that would carry the river of the North Branch out of its channel so King and his men could rob its river bed of gold like robbing a bank. But to finish the flume, King needed Valory lumber.

John and Petr were his cutters, small players, but in a drama that couldn’t be finished without them: They were supplying all the lumber for King’s flume; the big man needed the little man; and for some reason Papa didn’t like the big man.

Petr had seen King up in his wooden tower, a big brute of a man, gazing down on his kingdom, the wild, rich stretch of river, soon to be tamed by his rising flume. Some said he was a handsome devil. Some said he was wanted by the Army. One thing was certain: After they unloaded their wagonload of yellow planks beside the flume, John quickly hustled Petr away as if they were in a death camp loaded with cholera. Petr remembered now where he had seen the fancy rifle before.

It was a Colt revolver-rifle, and all of Dain King’s men had them.

Petr started running up the valley to the crest. There was more than one mystery to solve in these beautiful mountains–and Magya expected him home in three hours.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 8

Chapter One: The Gold Hunter

1

She watched him from the loft window as he was scurrying up the stone staircase that led to the waterfall. Then he crossed to the timber lot. She knew where he was heading: Big Jack’s cabin and lake, and then the Sierra ridge–the Great Beyond. Petr announced the time when he left with his new watch: one o’clock. She would wait until two. She’d planned this day very carefully.

Annabel Rochele was only eight years old but she knew two things were wrong with her family. First, Papa had promised Mama San Francisco–but instead they had settled on the eastern side of the Sierra Crest because Papa loved trees more than he loved Mama. She had been humming and singing her beautiful voice all the way to California in anticipation of San Francisco–Magya Pavlovich Valory, the Russian woman–now trapped in a stone valley they called the Valoryvale. That was part of the second wrong, her own wrong.

Annabel Rochele Valory was trapped in stone. After making big sacrifices; giving up friends in Harrisburg, making new friends on the wagon train, and losing them four months later–her only amusement now was following Petr around.

Today was his birthday and more crimes were being committed by both Mama and Papa. Mama gave Petr the gold and blue enamel pocket watch that should have been hers. Papa gave Petr a new rifle that he would like even less than the watch. She knew Petr hated guns. Mama and Papa got stupider every year. But it didn’t matter anymore. She was getting out. She had an escape plan.

If Petr found gold so would she. He talked about it in his sleep. They slept only two feet apart on straw sacks so she knew today he began his hunt for Gold Lake. And Annabel Rochele would be right there when he found it.

At one o’clock (according to his new watch) he left with his big stupid happy-dog grin on his face. At two o’clock (by her calculations) she was supposed to be brooming her room.

Wrongo. At two o’clock she would sneak out the window and jump off the roof and say goodbye to being a child.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 7

Up–pause. Up, up–pause–Up, up. Until many hops later, aloft on blue silent heaven, aloft where even the wind made no sound because there was nothing for it to sigh upon–she bobbed buoyant as a cork atop an out-of-breath windgusher. Feeling its warmbreaths fall away into the cool dregs of sky, she tipped her wings so she could spiral atop the expended wind, slowly widening her flight into descending circles. She saw how unusually high she was, because–

The curving river below was a shining line, smaller than she had ever seen it.

Far away east, she saw a band of redmen toiling on the ground, towing a string of horses. They were coming slowly toward her river. It was unusual to see them coming from the east and bringing horses, but it did not frighten her. Redmen came and went over the land disturbing nothing. More often she saw a new kind of two-legged being, men with white, hairy faces, men who disturbed everything. Worse, they carried thundersticks that blasted creatures from earth and sky. Mostly the red and whitemen hunted each other, and not falcons. But she had been alive seven seasons and the whitemen were coming with each sunrise as steadily as streams of ants.

The pigeonblood tasted good on her beak and now the hot-flying strength poured into her. This was the way of all things, to pour into one another. One day her own strength might be consumed into that of the silent nightkiller, the owl. Then the big-head-on-two-legs might one day be consumed by the howldogs. Nothing lived forever. She had seen death many times with her blueblack eyes. Yet every new day warm life floated down from the blue sky onto the great green domes of earth.

The falcon circled the twin panoramas of blue silent sky father above, and the great green mother below. Again she watched the toiling redmen.

They moved closer towards her bend in the river, but that did not disturb her. They never harmed her nest, and when her mate returned all would be well. She relaxed on the highwind feeling its exultation. Never was there any need to fly this high merely in search for food. This knowing of the blue dome–from where Yahee threw down the first birds and all other dream into the green world where they became real–this was the thrill lower creatures would never know. This was another of her secrets: the joy on the wind.

Looking up, nothing but the sun flew above her.

The windsinger shrilled her air-splitting shriek: “Keiiieeey-eeeeeeerk!”

Creatures on the ground froze, because her voice flew everywhere at once. When nothing happened–they relaxed again. And the gray falconess gazed down upon her world again.

The redmen were approaching from sun’s nest, the far mountains of the dry brown land. Now they crossed the long fingers of hills and valleys that led to her valley. Why did they come? Why did they pull a long string of horses?

She looked where the sun falls at the day’s end into pinefeathered mountains reaching all the way to the ocean. Now she knew her mate was gone far too long. It was time to search for his body.

She sailed high over the river where emerald pines leaned across silver banks giving the water its rich color. When she wished it, her magnificent eyes magnified everything to double their size.

Gray rabbits scurried and posed; a few timid deer drank deep, looked up, water dripping from black muzzles; a grizzly bear flattened on a gray slab lay sunning himself, bouncing with hiccups, looking at shadows in the water, dreaming. Perhaps they all once knew, perhaps they had forgotten. Perhaps they had lost their flying in the great becoming and unbecoming of all of all the animals. All at once the lower animals left the river in silence –and they were hurrying.

She ignored them. She studied every cliff for a shadow of the familiar browngold shape.

Again she heard the “Choof! Choof!” but this time much closer than before. Seconds later the force of shockwaves slapped her wings sending needles into her stomach, spreading into her wings, and she grew weak. Instinct drove her into a mindless attack dive.

Now! Scatter all enemies with flaming flight!

Bluejays shrieked, squirrels warbled, deer scurried, bears waddled–all hurrying away. She could see everything–everything except her browngold mate–and now she saw feathers floating down the river.

Sometimes the river carried feathers.

Hawk, owl, pigeon, jay; geese, duck, eagle, swallow. Never falcon. Any of these she could knock from the sky when the sun was high at her back and they never saw her coming from the wild eye of the sun. None matched her matchless wings. None reached her blinding speed of invisibility. Swooping across the river she saw it floating on the water below, and now the weakness that had poisoned her stomach and wings entered her womb.

Browngold feathers floated down the river–so now that life was ended.

Instinct told her to fly to the cliffs. But when she saw them coming from the mountains, the tree-smashers, the hairyfaces riding horses and carrying thundersticks in their arms, coming towards her cliffs and coming towards her eggs–hot rage filled her. She flew up and then tipped her body downward. She attacked.

She screamed from the sky, “Screeee-iirk!”

A man raised his stick, and she saw and heard–flash-cloud-choof! A spray of hornets streaked past her and she knew instantly what had happened to her mate and why he would never return again.

She veered wildly west beating fast towards the green mountain deeps as if death now pursued her darkly as a flying shadow. The joy on the wind was over.

 

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 6

 

Below her the scratchy-voiced birds swooped and pecked at shiny insects making their clicking noises. Her hunger grew and where was her mate? Again she looked downriver and did not see him. She rose from her eggs letting the beaming sun warm them. Now she must eat. Now the river was awakening with noisy hungers: darting flights of starlings; looping, stalling flights of sparrows–all too stringy to interest her. Watching them swoop and peck made hunger’s sharp gravel tumble in her stomach.

Suddenly a pigeon flashed below her.

She flamed into air without thinking, following its zigzagging flight.

The fast flyer did not escape her, as she quickly closed and at the last instant lowered her talon, striking the pigeon in the back. Her clenched golden feet held the limp prize as she flew swiftly to her nest. She landed feeling slightly confused after her mindless rush. With her beak, she plucked mouthfuls of white feathers, and when she saw blood–she ate.

Again she gazed downriver, now a sparkling curve glazed by sunshine flowing into the mountains. Her eyes were light drinking wells of blueblack, circled by gold rings, facing forward, bigger than man-eyes. Focused as one–they magnified things–one of her secrets other creatures did not know.

Scanning the first rapids below, she saw blue dragonflies hovering above the water. The sun grew higher and brighter, and still she did not see her mate returning. Cliffs warmed under yellow morning sun; geysers of wind wafted upward from the flowing band of light, the river below. She sensed the first hot day of spring rising, a gift to her wings.

She gazed upon her eggs. She turned them, making her love-sound, “Chee-yup.”

She faced the rising sun, tipped forward her broad head, and dove from her cliff, as sparrows and starlings screeched and scattered out of sight.

Invisible flames of wind pushed her kite-body into the sky, rising swiftly, letting wind do all the work, windlift so hot and powerful her wings felt twice their normal size, as if inflated with air exhaled from the motherbreaths of the many-feathered earth below. Geysers for wind-sensing wings, she danced on hot risers, following an easing path into the sky, her heartshape dancing upward in powerful hops.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 5

FALCON INTERLUDE

High on the gray cliff above the Feather River, a browngold falcon sat beside a silvergray falconess warming her eggs. Looking down, he saw three ducks skimming the river and he instantly leaped, flicking his curved wings, diving upon the blueflashed ducks. They heard hissing speed and immediately leaped across emerald water, splashing up silver footprints, honking frantically, their incurved faces hard with anger. Quickly they slid beneath a harbor of low silver rocks ledged over the water. The browngold falcon veered away at the last whisper of a wingbeat and headed downriver to find food for his mate.

On the cliff, the female arose fluffing her silver feathers, repositioning herself upon two pale eggs, as she watched her heartshaped mate disappear far down the river canyon.

Now the rising sun warmed her niche in the high cliff, and the breath of morning wind fluffed the delicate feathers on her creamy speckled breast. Later she would fly down and cool herself in the stone pool by her emerald river and preen her wing feathers drawn one silver plume at a time through her sharply hooked beak.

Hunting seldom took very long, so she began looking downriver for her browngold mate.

Beyond the hushing white rapids, beyond where green river curved silently into silver mountains, she watched and she waited. And she grew hungry.

A moment later she felt a strange booming up the river an instant before it struck her. “Choof! Choof!” Like a huge snake stomped on hard, expelling its pellet. The shock penetrated her delicate feathers sending a cold thrill up her back. The sound held the force of thunder, but there were no black-bottomed clouds, no yellow talons of light. Here was bright clear morning pleasant with warmth after long white silence of winter. Here was the Eyah, the greenbrown earth bird now warming herself below the long yellow feathers of skyfather, Yahee. But she had heard the false thunder before, and she feared it.

She swiveled her head back and forth scanning river and sky for her quick flying mate. Nothing. She tilted her head all around listening for her mate, but heard no familiar skirling cry. Her only terror was that one day she might watch those browngold wings disappear on the wind and never see them again. For some reason, she knew that day of terror had come.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 4

Those who came later were always surprised by the small size of the pioneer cabin. Men with gold fever didn’t spend much time building shelter, especially when most likely they would be moving on in a few days or weeks, wherever the next rumor of gold called them.

The Valorys hadn’t come for gold. John was a timber man. As for his cabin, the Valory cabin was bigger than most: 20×20 feet square with a loft for the children, Petr and Annabel, and a good fireplace with a stone chimney (not stick and mud) up the backside of the cabin–by Sierra standards, a palace.

The woman was Magya Pavlovich Valory, who had never been less happy in her life. Her life had been reduced to living in a wooden hut in a vile wilderness in the middle of nowhere. How had she ended up here? By age fifteen she had been a rising star in St. Petersburg, Russia. She could sing like an angel but was not an angel. John Valory, who was a handsome American sailor, who said he was the captain of a ship, had swept her off her feet–but in reality was a ship’s carpenter. True love propelled them to America to the dreary humdrum Harrisburg where the dashing husband slowly became the town drunk. Next the dreamer promised the glory of San Francisco. They would go west! She could rekindle her singing career!

Instead John Valory had marooned them in a pine forest on slanted waves of stone in a land of dirty men. Her voice remained musical, how she didn’t know. Whether she complained or said the plainest things, “Please pass potatoes and gravy to sister, please you”–it became a song.

They finished four big wedges of white cake, then came birthday presents. Annabel gave Petr a foot-long pinecone she had painted red. Saying, “This is for my favorite brother.”

John excused himself. “I am right back.” He went to his toolshed.

Magya took something from her apron, small and bright. A beautiful watch, enamel on gold, too beautiful for a man, its fancy blue case with a circular painting of a man and a woman harvesting wheat–she looking away, him leaning forward. What a precious keepsake Annabel should have. Magya pressed it almost violently into Petr’s hand.

He opened the case. The pointing hands were gold with starbursts on the end, pointing at 12:30.

She said musically, “Now you know when to come home to mama.” Beneath her music a sharp anger bright like the edge of a knife.

Petr pocketed the watch. She hugged him squashing her big bosom into him, whispering, “Don’t ever forget I was your mama.”

Annabel screamed, “It’s mine! How can you give it to him?”

Petr tried giving Annabel a brotherly hug, but she shrank away, hissing at him. She made a funny, whiny voice, “We’ll see about this, buster.”

She scrambled up the ladder, quick as a monkey, into the loft–where it grew very quiet.

John returned with a small, efficient-looking rifle, holding it out like a magic wand. Its revolving cylinder was engraved with a hunting scene of men shooting buffalo. Curiously, it had “U.S.” stamped on its stock. Where did Papa get such an amazing thing in the wilderness?

“A repeater shoots six times. You gonna be king of the mountain: shoot bear and deer.” He handed it over. Petr took it, admired it, set it down, and hugged Papa.

John warned him: “Top all the cylinders with grease–always!–or bullets go off at once.” He pushed Petr roughly away. “Go now. Be a man now. Bring home some meat.”

Petr said, “Guess I’ll go get a bear or a deer or a big chunk of gold.”

John laughed. “Your birthday–you get what you wish.”

Magya didn’t smile. In Harrisburg she was slightly plump and beautiful. The journey west had ruined her. She was gaunt-looking, and her once proud skin had yellowed from the miserable death march across the Nevada desert. Now her musical voice was sad.

“You come home by four o’clock, okay? You have the watch, okay?” She looked pained.

He told her he would be home by four o’clock–but he wouldn’t, and he wouldn’t be okay.

The Goldfinder Series: The Gold Hunter, Entry 3

Entry 3

“Past the far end of the Valoryvale, past Big Jacks’s cabin, past that ridge beyond his lake–to the west–I have a good feeling about that far west valley. I had a dream about it.”

Every gold hunter had a feeling about a far west valley. Men searched for it. Papa knew about the lost valley with its lake of gold. Everybody knew the story. He said it was a lie.

Late in 1849 a man named Tom Stoddard found a lake filled with gold but Indians chased him away. (But what would Indians really care about gold?) Spring of 1850, five hundred men went with Stoddard and couldn’t find the lake again. Dain King was one of the ‘Gold Lake men’. Was Gold Lake still out there in some hidden valley?

Half a dozen small lakes lay hidden in that high west valley. Was one of them Gold Lake? He reckoned he would find it–if it was out there.

Papa laughed. “You find it this afternoon, and we don’t have to do this anymore.”

There was a piercing steam whistle scream, “Eeee-eee! Yoo-hoo!” His eight-year-old sister, Annabel Rochele: the little Fifty-pounder, little Rocky, little Puzzle-puss, little Bee-bee, little Monkey-bump, dashing up to the pit.

“Come home now. It’s lunchtime now–then it’s you-know-what time!”

The sun rode at high noon. After his birthday party, he knew she would follow him into the high valley. What to do with a lovesick puppy? That’s why he had to find some gold today (a reasonable amount like a hat-full). Then get Annabel a good horse; then a nice house for Mama; then a sawmill for Papa. Then things would work out.

Father-son-daughter, walked hand in hand, three hundred yards back to the Valoryvale log cabin. What happened late that afternoon in the high west valley changed things forever. Gold Lake was a dream that turned into a nightmare.