The Gold Hunter is the first novel in the Goldfinder Series by Philip Atlas Clausen that tells the story of a bunch of Gold explorers. Set up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the forests and valleys during the California Gold Rush the story comes alive in the lively description of the nature by the author. The atrocities done by the white people on the native Red Indians during the European Settlement is shown in proper light. The underlying message of the story is the fact that the greed of humankind is the evil which is the cause of most of the crimes. The protagonists of the story are strong but it is not overcrowded with many characters making the story easy to follow. The ending of the book keeps the reader waiting for a ‘poetic justice’. It has a flavor of thriller in the envelope of adventure. This book has been one of my best reads so far.
Pros: I enjoyed the book! Beautiful writing, gorgeous images of colorful scenery. I really enjoyed the novel. I got emotionally invested in the entire family. I really was rooting for a full happy ending for everyone. But sadly, it all went downhill when Annabel went missing. The plot twist caught me off guard, King being Petr’s dad!?!? I hope we get to know more of his birth mom in the next installment.
I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy element in this book. I wasn’t expecting any fantasy/mystical things when I first saw the title and book cover but I’m glad the author managed to write that in .
I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next book as I would love to continue to follow Petr’s journey and see him and Annabel reunited again. Cons: none.
The novel in its entirety is akin to the process of gold hunting itself. Filled with hope and uncertainty, you plunge straight into the darkness of a gold mine–digging, scraping and smashing until the bits of treasure start to gleam amidst the murky shadows. It’s a story within a story–an adventure within an adventure. There was a little philosophical and existential cynicism injected here and there which I really enjoyed and added an introspective dimension to the story. What stood out for me is Annabel’s story. I think it would’ve made for an inspiring children’s tale of self-discovery and growth on its own. Her bravery to venture into the unknown coupled with her unwavering tenacity to survive was emotionally stirring for an eight-year-old.
I’d love to see this adapted into a film someday. The setting, the premise, the character development–everything was beautifully narrated and conceptualized. If you want to get a compelling insight into the realities of the California Gold Rush, this is your pick.
I wasn’t planning on searching for gold: I was searching for the location of the Lost Gold Lake in the Lakes Basin Area of Northern California. The legend is, in 1849 a pioneer became lost while hunting deer for his wagon train and instead found a remote lake lined with gold, or so he said. But he was never able to find it again–and so the legend of Gold Lake was born. My one-man raft and pair of paddles would float me down the Feather River into remote areas my research said might contain the mythical lake. I wouldn’t chance losing my camping gear in the water, so I drove up a high and narrow, winding logging road to drop off and hide my gear where I planned to stop floating and start searching for the lake on foot. I kept only the clothes on my back, boots, a water bottle and a ‘Hawaii 5-0’ ball cap my boys had given me. After an hour of mountain driving, I left my car and hiked up the river to find a place to plant my gear. I got very lucky. By a beautiful spot in the river was a camping trailer and two men cooking their supper. They had a small pontoon boat anchored in the river tied by gold-colored ropes. Other gold ropes marked off what appeared to be a 50-foot section of river. I had no idea what this meant. Later I learned this was their mining ‘claim’. They greeted me and told me if I planned on hiking off into the wilderness, “Better lose that police hat.” They explained that there might be hidden marijuana growers more likely than any hidden lakes of gold and they wouldn’t like visitors in police hats. I removed my hat and a few minutes later hid my gear and returned to my hour-away upriver campsite, eager for an early start the next morning. The next day would begin my life as a gold hunter. (To be continued).
Sabbah thought, Stay my friend, sah, sah, sah. I will do a beautiful thing for you. My heart is true, and I will hurt you only a little. From the elkskin he drew his bow and quiver. My friend, better you to come with us, enter our bellies, become one of the People–than wander off into the mountains where you will be killed by wolves, eaten by skunks, and become one of them. I will make you Numah!
He pictured a beautiful robe for Nojomud, moccasins for his little feet, sinews becoming strings for a fine bow, antler tools to chip arrow points. He pushed the strung end of the bow into the ground just below his crotch, and pulled the other end slowly into himself compressing his arm. The greasewood eased towards him and he slipped the string onto its notched end. Good and tight, the wildcat’s gut making the singing voice of my bow. From the wildcat quiver he drew a single rosewood shaft. Careful not to touch the point, he gripped the feathered end and drew the silent bow into a smile. He whispered, “Hear me now: You will be Numah, you will be strong, you will not be sorry.”
Wing-like ears rotated towards him. The buck snorted and bolted away.
Gone like smoke in a breeze! Sabbah sat blinking. Nojomud lay sound asleep. He reached over and combed the boy’s hair, his black forelocks rough as a pony’s tail. The boy turned but did not awaken. Sabbah would have much time later to think about this last touch.
He ran to the horses calling to the spotted one that made Sabbah more than a man. “Talldog, hssst.” It came instantly and he released its hobbles and instantly they followed the clicking music of the running deer.
Long moments later they chased following the deer down the Long Green Valley through mist and wet grass but could not close ground. The scent and clicking grew fainter. No choice but to follow: God has taken the shape of a white buck deer! Then show the sleepyheads in camp the biggest deer they’d ever seen. Nojomud would whoop, seeing the war bonnet of antlers, and of course, gazing at his father with pride. The picture was spoiled by an unsettling thought: Sabbah has only one arrow! His quiver of arrows lay inside his elk robe, now over a mile away.
Talldog was a good horse. They caught an occasional glimpse of a ghost flickering through the mist. It was dangerous to run at night. Talldog might step into a hole; spirit creatures roamed. Yet darkness couldn’t last because already the great light of Apu had begun its first kindling and would soon flame upon the horizon.
Hunting time is dream time. He could not tell how long he followed the deer. He guessed if he yelled aloud, no one in camp would hear him, guessing he was three times beyond his yelling voice being heard. A bad thought came: My big friend you are leading me astray. But then he saw it again. Exploding from the grass it splashed into the river, crossed, and disappeared again. Sabbah forgot to breathe. What was that thing? God come to life on the ground? Where was it?
Moments later it re-erupted on the opposite bank and shook itself off. Above the buck, tall dark cliffs rose to the dusky sky where stars twinkled and faded. Sabbah hobbled Talldog, whispering, “There may yet be work for you.” He stalked towards the river but before he reached the edge of the water he saw movement along the cliff. Did it fly up there?
The white buck looked as if it was standing on the sky. Lifting its head, its pink tongue flickering like flame, as if to say, Now you see why I am so big? Sabbah would never forget this moment. The deer climbing so fast as if lifted by wings, fading stars behind him, how could Sabbah know this was the last sweet moment of his life?
He called softly, “My friend, you are too beautiful to kill. Perhaps the Good Spirit wishes for you another son.” He smiled, wondering if he too might someday have another son.
The he heard the sound that ended all good dreams forever.
The sound did not repeat itself and Sabbah relaxed, stretching lazily, inhaling the good strong smell of his elkskin robe, heavy with dew, warm and good like a woman’s scent. He smiled. Dawn would bring a new day to show his son Nojomud the joys of the hunt. The boy was a small version of his father, homely, dark-skinned as smoke. The whites called Sabbah ‘Smoke Sam’ because he was dusky, bowlegged, thin-chested and dog-faced. Sabbah works harder to run, to hunt, to get a wife! Ten years ago Sabbah found a Mahdoo woman who married him, and gave him a son. Nojomud was different only in one way: he was always smiling. Father and son were unlike their athletic kinsmen, the Numah, who the whites called Paiutes.
Today Sabbah would show his son that he could do something big: bring the power of rifles to their tribe. Coming down the long valley his little band had seen two new cabins full of whitemen. Those bad people chopped down trees like crazy beavers. You could not share the hunting ground with them. They needed to be rubbed out. Where was the man Munson who promised guns? No matter. This bend in the river before the high cliffs was the meeting place. Sabbah would trade with the white savages and when the time was right–use the rifles on them.
He remembered seeing the owl-faces for the first time. Nine summers ago when Chief Truckee was still alive. The owl-faces came staggering across the dust, men half-dead from ignorance of how to live in the desert. The People fed them and guided them West through the mountains. When the owl-faces left with round bellies they thanked the People and gave nothing in return. Sabbah remembered what he said at that time: So this is our pale brother we waited so long to see!
Next came the gold-crazy dogs–men who were digging up the mountains for their yellow god-in-the-ground. More came every day now, beggars who traveled in rolling huts bumping along with their empty-faced women inside. Ugly beings! Pouring into the Silver Mountains like streams of hungry ants. His wife’s people, the Mahdoos, would be stuck with these thankless creatures. Sabbah knew what to do. Get guns. Kill the invaders. That was why he was here.
He heard the snuffling sound again. He sat up slowly as moonrise. Ten paces away stood the biggest buck deer he had ever seen. Stone still. Beautiful white face with tree-like antlers; powerful white body rising like mist from the dark grass. Black eyes staring at him.
Two miles below the Valoryvale twelve men were bedded down on a ridge above the Feather River and they were supposed to doze right off and get up at 5 A.M. and kill Indians.
Curl Watne tipped his flask taking a fiery nip of whiskey and King would have shot him if he saw that. No drinking before a fight, he insisted.
Watne wished to hell he was back in Iowa. Wished he was hitching the team to a plow, getting fields ready for corn. Instead he was on a rocky ridge overlooking a river, waiting to kill, all for a sack of gold. King promised a thousand dollars for a year’s work.
God damn the gold. Get it. Get back to your wife.
He hadn’t signed up for killing–just tending mules and helping build the big flume; nothing about killing Indians for their horses. There was a lot he wouldn’t be able to tell Martha.
Sabbah slept dreaming he was awake and seeing everything from a cloud. The thin-lipped moon kissed the crest of the big silver mountain beyond their camp. Not a puff of wind disturbed this peaceful night. The stars made countless tiny campfires overhead. The small band of Indians slept in Long Green Valley beneath the mountains by the whispering river, six Pah Utes lying in a circle of grass, his cousins, and his son. Thirty ponies stood a short distance off, their legs hobbled with rawhide, unaware they were being watched. Together they had traveled over the big desert to the big cold river at the base of the silver mountains. The People journeyed here each summer to hunt deer. Sabbah was dreaming of the good hunt that brought them here and the fat deer they would bring home to wives waiting by the pale blue lake three long days away in the east. And he was dreaming of rifles that shout six times. The white man said he would trade thirty rifles for thirty horses.
Something inhaled sharply and his dream spirit quickened. That part of him knew–Something is watching you! Awaken, don’t move! Let the illusion of sleep continue.
Above the river the falcon slept on her eggs until a stone rattled down the cliff sounding just like a snake. Small pebbles hit her chest startling her into a short, wobbly flight and what she saw next was worse than an invasion of snakes.
The horse gods were riding along the high rim of the canyon, making a shower of stones.
When she returned to her eggs they were all smashed. She circled the nest screaming wildly. She clenched cold gravel in her talons and let it go. She could not bring her eggs back to life. Now she would never show the young flyers the joy on the wind.
She jumped skyward and when she did she remembered her lost mate. Her sickness returned as if the smashed eggs were inside her stomach.
Halfway home Annabel fully recovered, trotting behind him like a talking puppy. The sun-painted mountains grew cherry red. His vision was now razor sharp, all colors rich and dark, all pines emerald spears, all mountains hammered walls of molten iron.
“God in heaven,” he spoke warily. “My eyes are light-drinking wells.” He was roaring with wildcat energy. The world sparkled in kaleidoscopic rainbows of green, yellow and red, the sky a rich vault of cobalt blue. Never had he felt such vitality. Yet he felt anxious as if he was too late for something. He slowed down to let Annabel catch up. She was puffing.
“What did you say? Ain’t you gonna tell me what happened down there?”
Petr shrugged. “It was like a dream. I only remember snatches.”
“Tell me snatches then.”
“I dove underwater and found a tunnel. I swam until I reached a chamber filled with stale air. It was filled with gold light coming from below. That didn’t seem possible. So I went down another tunnel for a look. I found a room full of bright light. It was hot. That’s all I remember. That’s probably where I found the gold moon. But I don’t remember. I passed out for a while. I dreamed I was in a land of pyramids and pharaohs and I was looking for gold.”
She said, “Was there a beautiful girl?”
He didn’t answer. That was enough for now. They could hear the whispery welcome of Valoryvale waterfall that fell twenty feet to the valley floor. Just one more step and–
Then he heard something very bad. “Wuh-wuh-wuh,” like a big dog. He knew what it was.
A rolling mound of flesh was heading towards them and he reached back and gripped Annabel’s head. “Stay put like a rock.” She crouched behind him. She looked more like a noodle than a rock. Jack had been right to scare them with stories. Kids alone in the woods without a weapon had no–
He remembered the Indian knife and pulled it out.
The grizzly sniffed the air, gazing at them. His head was big as a bushel-basket, his body a dark sack of hunger. When it reared up Annabel screamed. Six feet of raging hunger stood on its hind legs. A greasy patch of blood smeared one shoulder–a wounded grizzly–very bad news. He remembered the gunshots earlier today. The bear made a low rumbling grumble. Then it charged.
Petr screamed: “AWAY! AWAY from my sister!” Amazing thunder in his voice, the warrior screaming in his head: Attack!
Suddenly he ran at the bear, the knife cocked at his hip, ready to strike, ready to meet the bear, and it kept coming. A little girl-scream sounded a thousand miles away. And then the bear filled his eyes.
It halted abruptly–and swung a hooked paw. Petr ducked and amber eyes blazed hatred at him. It bellowed and Petr smelled rotten fruit and death. Its gaping blue yap filled with yellow teeth. Petr struck the knife into the huge mouth.
With all his might he drove into the slimy hole, down the slimy throat, plunging until his arm was engulfed in a meat grinder. The bear gagged humid breaths and vomited purple geysers spraying Petr’s should and neck. He was clamped up to his shoulder in an iron jaw. Below his embedded fist a powerful savage heart pounded like a buried drum–
Nothing existed in the world but him and the heart of the bear.
The bear toppled sideways and Petr felt his shoulder pop. The grizz made a curious whining cry, turning its mouth gingerly aside. Its legs coiled like springs and Petr knew his stomach was about to be churned out like spaghetti from a bowl.
Thick claws raked him but clicked against metal as something round pounded his gut. And for some reason he knew what to do next. He forced the knife into a grisly circling stroke. Hot greasy fluids boiled over his hand and the big beating heart popped like a balloon. The grizzly stiffened. Blood poured from its mouth.
From somewhere a keening wail had been going on forever. “Eeeeeeeiiiiiii!” A little girl pulling on him, screaming and kicking and beating.
Blood rivered over him in big red gushes–but the girl was there to help free him. She didn’t stop screaming as she pulled his arm from the gushing throat and his arm floated out like a newborn baby. Red teeth-marks sliced from his bicep to his wrist. He did not want to believe that arm was part of him–or his hand–a dead-looking blob that no longer held a knife. Well, it was a good place to leave the knife. He crawled away.
Collapsing on his back, wiping sticky goo from his face, he was coated in purple puke. No girl should see such a sight. Poor Annabel, where was she? Was she all right?
He didn’t have strength to stand so he twisted around. Annabel was standing over the dead bear with her fists clenched and her voice even higher than usual. “Bad old bear! Why did you do that? Bad old bear!”
He gasped, “Annabel…it’s…not much…farther. Get help…get Papa.”
She crouched beside him, hands on knees, staring at him, her dress a bloody rag, her voice awestruck. “That was amazing. Where did you learn that–that was real Injun fighting. You jumped, you swung, you rolled, you–”
“Rocky! Get Papa and don’t tell Mama.”
She nodded and ran away. She was a girl, but she was reliable. He had one last thought: That was one hell of a birthday. Then everything went black.
(After the slaving author has taken a short Christmas Holiday)
Her eyes widened and her mouth fell. “You found…Gold Lake?”
He nodded wearily. “That’s part of our deal. You keep the watch. You keep your lip buttoned about all of this.” He waved his hand around. “Agreed?”
Annabel nodded. She wanted to agree. She asked suddenly, “I gotta know: How could you stay underwater an hour? How did you do that?”
He shook his head. “There’s a cave that goes under, a long ways under. There’s lots of gold. For some reason I can’t remember what happened. It’s blanked out–actually–blazed out. It’s called The Luminah. Don’t ask me what that means. I can’t remember. Don’t tell anyone.”
She was thinking: Looks like Petr, sounds like Petr, acts like Petr–but what about the glasses? “Don’ cha want your specks?” she asked innocently.
He picked them from the sand, blew on them, and pocketed them. “I don’t seem to…to need them anymore. Pretty funny, huh?”
Yeah, that was real funny, a great answer. Proof Number One. She sought more of the same damaging proof. “Where ‘ja get the funny old knife? It looks like black glass.”
He sat like Papa after a long hard day. “It’s none of your beeswax business, little Bee-bee. You already know way too much.” He rubbed his arms as if he were real flesh and blood.
She thought: That’s right, I do know too much–as much as you–if you really were Petr. The haunt didn’t look like a creature from Jack’s tales, just a tired, wet man. Could it be Petr? She reviewed her strange dream. Water Pony took her into a hole in the lake, a cave into the mountain. Was it a real place? The real Petr…could he have…just possibly-maybe might have…if it were real…swum into? Could he have breathed–inside what he calls The Luminah? Could he….
Keeping low, she approached him as if he was a hot furnace, slowly, carefully–while he was absorbed tying his boots. Would a haunt even know how to tie laces? She stared into his big whiskey eyes. He had a new sparkle in his right eye. She inched closer. He stared without needing to blink. There was a sparkling speck and it was a real humdinger.
A tiny gold star. Right there in his right eye. Wow.
This was new. The old Petr Valory had no such speck. Not to mention it. Not on your life. It might set him off. But she grew crazy bold. She touched his cheek. He was on fire! Did dead men have hot skin? She withdrew quickly. She said in a small wary voice, “Why’s there no second ‘e’ in your first name? Why’s it spelt funny?”
He tied his boots. “Because Mama said it would save ten dollars worth of ink, over my lifetime, not having to write another ‘e’. It’s her idea of economy.”
And that was true. But there was a bigger, more important burning question in the world. She blurted, “Who’s your favorite sister? What’s your nicked-name for her?”
He laughed, turning to her tenderly, “Oh Annabel. Oh Little Fifty-pounder. Our Little Puzzle-puss. We have dozens of names for you.” He tousled her hair–and she let him.
“But you’re my little Rocky. You’re my favorite sis. The one I love the best.”
Annabel threw her arms around his neck, gasping, “Oh! Petr, I thought you was dead! Oh Petr, oh God, oh Petr! I thought…I thought…” Tears spilled down her face.
Petr swung her around in a circle until her feet flew outward, until she giggled, until she said, “Oh, is it really you?”
“Rocky, don’t you worry. I’m more alive than you’ll ever guess. And don’t ever doubt I love you the best.” She clung to him looking up at him. He shook his head. “You’re due a good spoon-beating from Mama for ruining your dress, but first things first.”
He glanced left and right. “Let’s get down this mountain before grizzly’s suppertime.” Petr turned modestly away tucking the gold moon under his shirt, halfway down into his pants, cinching his belt. He grimaced and smiled. “Finding gold is hard, painful work. But the Valorys are rich now. You’ll wear a silk dress and be riding a fine big horse very soon.”
He hoisted Annabel onto his shoulders. “Okay, whirly-girl: You keep the pocket watch and we keep our big secret. Now let’s get home.”
The watch chinged six o’clock in Annabel’s pocket. She said, “I found a good path from home. Can we take it? I’m a good pathfinder.”
Petr laughed. “You are–unfortunately. Point the way, Rocky Pathfinder.”
She gripped his ears and prodded him with her toes for speed. “Giddy-up, horsy! Then he carried her down the mountain towards the Valoryvale.
But their day was not done yet.
Someone–something–was dripping over her. Cold fingers brush her shoulder. Gently as a feather, gently as he–
She twitched, she couldn’t help it, but kept her eyes closed as a husky voice breathed on her. “Why…child…why…An-uh-bell?”
That wasn’t–couldn’t be Petr. That was a wicked creature’s voice trying to remember a forgotten tongue. Forget that wonderful stupid fairytale Water Pony dream. Petr is dead. Cold logic told you that. He is underwater dead. Five minutes underwater, maybe more. You don’t walk away from that. So who was this cold drippy thing hulking over her, some creepy Indian?
Annabel made razorblade eyes and saw wet blue pantaloons and legs long enough to be Petr’s strong legs. And strong arms, a carved face, dark amber eyes and hair the color of whiskey in sunlight, as Papa liked to say. But that skin was lobster red. Petr got sunburned underwater? His face was wrong, too. It had meteor streaks like something exploded in his face.
The Thing said, “Why did you…follow me…Annabel?” She winced as it stroked her hair, brushing it from her face just as Petr would have done. Thankfully, Big Jack had told her all about such vile creatures. This was something called a haunt, a walking dead thing.
She scuttled back, kicking off the boots and bringing up her fists. “Keep away from me, you creepy haunt.” Tears burned down her cheeks, and couldn’t be helped. “You’re not Petr. I had a brother once, but I don’t anymore. He drowned in yonder lake.”
The Thing seemed calm and patient, just as Petr would have been.
Smiling tiredly, sitting on a rock, it pulled on the boots, then the red shirt. It didn’t put on the spectacles which was the tip-off. Petr always wore his specks everywhere he went. The haunt’s amber eyes blazed unnaturally bright and lively. Feverbright. Now it searched the shoreline and found a black knife she hadn’t noticed before. He stuck it in his belt. But then he seemed agitated.
“Annabel–the watch, did you take it? Tell me…what time is it?”
Annabel backed away and clamped her breast pocket. “You can’t have it. It’s all I have left. It was his–now it’s mine–till the day I die.” Wishing she hadn’t added that last part.
The Thing smiled slyly. “Just tell me the time. We won’t mention this to Papa or Mama–about the watch, or the lake.” Smiling sadly, he said, “All right, little monkey-bump?”
Without agreeing to anything, Annabel read the time: “Five thirty-six.”
That jolted him, head snapping back, he swallowed hard, “God, an hour–under there.”
There was something beside him she had been too terrified to notice before, something so amazing it couldn’t be real; something impossible from the dream, shiny and wet.
A gold moon the size of a pie. Real solid gold.