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.