A timeless adventure story suitable for all ages, this story shows the value of moderation and points to some risks associated with those willing to pursue their dreams at all costs.
Set in the Cariboo gold rush of the 1860s, this novella follows two brothers seeking their fortune so they can begin living as men blessed with riches.
Will the brothers discover Jim Richmond’s buried treasure and emerge from the gold rush rich as princes? Will the innocent Thomas be pulled along from brotherly love as Paul takes ever more questionable risks to realize his dream? Will Paul realize his dream or go mad in its pursuit? Will Jim’s fiancée and her dream become gold rush casualties at Paul’s ruthless hand?
What does it take?
Is it really true, as the French author Balzac is supposed to have taught, as Mario Puzo began The Godfather, and as Paul Anderson believes here that “Behind every great fortune there is a crime” either never found out or forgotten? If this real world teaching requires equal doses of qualification, then this novella contains a good antidote.
Among the conflicting personal dreams here, there is an ever deepening conflict between different visions of what makes one rich and about “…what it takes” to become rich. Underneath, it is these conflicts that might kill Thomas, or let him emerge from Devil’s Canyon both rich and happy.
1. From dust to dust
“Hurry! Come on! Let’s get him in the ground,” Paul Anderson directed his brother as he pulled on one leg of the corpse.
Thomas Anderson dropped his shovel. He reached for the other leg. Before he could touch it, nausea overcame him. He turned away to vomit. Paul looked around to see if the noise had attracted attention.
“Damn, Tom,” he said in a loud whisper. “Pull yourself together! We’ve got to get him covered.”
“I’ve never seen a dead body before,” Thomas said, still choking. “Let alone touched one.”
The brothers dragged the corpse uphill from the bush between the graveyard and Barkerville’s main street. They dropped it in a hastily dug shallow hole on the same grave site as a recent burial. A makeshift cross marked this as the grave of a miner, one who had died only a few days before. Paul grabbed a shovel, his brother a gold pan, and they scooped dirt over the corpse.
The late evening sounds of the 1860s gold rush flowed toward the graveyard from along the main street: a piano at the Theatre Royal, loud voices from the saloons, a barking dog, and a Chinese lute at the Tong Hall on the path to Richfield.
A horse drawn cart passed below the graveyard. It was so close they could hear the harness creak, the horse snort, the driver spit and water sloshing in a barrel on the cart. Across the street, the proprietor at the Deep Sleep Hotel hung out a lantern. A line of shadows danced in the graveyard between the wooden crosses. The brothers paused briefly so the sound of their work would remain unheard.
“Why’d you kill him?” Thomas whispered.
“Didn’t,” Paul replied. “He fell…hit his head…a complete accident.”
“You picked a hell of a place to bury him,” Thomas said.
“Graveyard’s ideal. Who’ll look for a corpse in a grave? This one’s already got a cross and a name. He can assume another man’s death.” Paul chuckled. “We can assume his life, his dream.”
“Why are we doing this at all?” Thomas asked. “Why aren’t we notifying the constable?”
“We’ve hit the mother lode brother! We’ve won the lottery! The gods of all fortune have said…‘Be rich!’ We can be loaded with gold and gone before anyone knows any different.”
“What? How?” Thomas said. He stopped to look at his brother. A brief flash of lightning over the nearby mountain briefly lit the ground. A small peal of thunder followed. The brothers ducked as if it had been a gunshot. A light rain was turning dirt to mud.
“To have the pleasure and power that goes hand in hand with money! Only a fool refuses to grab hold and run with that. If we stop, we’ll have to answer a cartload of miserable questions. It would slow us down…might let someone beat us to the gold.”
“What do you mean?” asked Thomas.
“See this map? It’s got his claim and a circle. It almost certainly marks the spot where he’s buried all his gold! All the treasure he’s found since joining the gold rush! Think! All we have to do is take it, keep going to Likely, Hope and home! We’ll be on a boat to San Francisco in two weeks. Two charming devils loaded with gold!”
“How do you know there’s gold on his claim? There are lots of maps to nothing and nowhere in this country.”
“Did you see the look on his face at Jake’s tonight? It was the look of someone imagining himself facing a rich, carefree future. That future is ours now brother! He was content, happy, a person living his dream. He didn’t drink to get drunk, celebrate or ease any pain. No sir! And he paid from a fat poke!” Paul paused. Thomas looked unconvinced.
“Oh yeah, he’s been sitting on it, hasn’t brought it in yet,” Paul continued. “This was a man secure, confident of his situation. It was the look of a rich man! That can be us now brother!” They began throwing the last of the mud onto the grave.
“How’d you know he had a map?”
“Saw it in his chest pocket when he reached for his poke.”
“So you rushed after him, and left me to pay. How’d you get the map?”
“I asked him what creek he was on. He said he was ‘past the demons.’ Whatever that means. To let him know I was no fool, and wouldn’t be put off by this riddle, I reached for his map.” Paul paused, looked around, and then continued.
“Well, he stepped back, then lost his footing, fell, and hit his head. Walking down the street one minute, dead the next. As Christ is my witness, I swear it was a complete accident. His map fell right at my feet! If that wasn’t lady luck shaking me by the hand, then no being on earth has ever had a sign from the gods.”
Finally, the grave looked completely covered, concealing its double purpose from casual eyes.
“Come on brother, let’s be rich,” Paul said. Thomas hesitated.
“Are you with me?” Paul held out his hand. After another moment’s hesitation, Thomas accepted the hand, and they shook.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Paul said, gathering up packs and tools.
“Wait,” Thomas said. “We should say something. You know…respect for the dead.”
“Forget it. Makes no difference to him. If he has family, they expect him to die alone in the bush, or in some lost mine. He was probably dead to them already.”
“You know who he was then?”
“No. Name on the map is Jim Richmond.”
With his mud-covered hand, Thomas made a small circle on the grave, like the one on the map, and said, “Under this sign lies Jim Richmond. From ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
The brothers grabbed their packs and tools, Anxious to be away as quickly as possible, they did not notice leaving a gold pan behind.