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.