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.”