Chapter One: The Gold Hunter
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.