Veins of Gold
Desperate to save her siblings from poverty, a young woman discovers magic fueled by gold . . . and a love for the man who wields it.
Abandoned by their father for the gold rush, Gentry and her siblings labor to survive alone in the inhospitable west. When bizarre natural disasters begin wreaking havoc on the land, Gentry discovers a world of magic. Desperate for help, she accepts aid from a mysterious stranger.
Winn not only sees the magic, but controls its hunger by feeding it gold—the very thing Gentry’s father left to acquire. But the earth’s unrest only grows worse, and Gentry’s fear leads her to a terrible choice: marry a wealthy man she does not love, or trust in Winn’s unpredictable power to save her family.
Release date: April 3, 2021
Print pages: 245
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Veins of Gold
Charlie N Holmberg
To the ears of Gentry’s father, gold cried louder than his children did.
“You jest.” Gentry wrung the index finger of her left hand in the fist of her right. Her pa had spoken a great deal of the mining in California as of late, but he’d never speculated about hunting for gold himself. Never out loud. Now that he’d said it, she couldn’t stop hearing it.
“There ain’t time for jesting.” Butch Abrams set a heavy hand on his eldest daughter’s shoulder. “We’re out here, settled in the middle of nowhere . . . there’s more to life than deserts and Mormons.”
Gentry shook off her pa’s touch. “But we haven’t yet been here two years! We just finished planting, and what about your job at the mill?” Don’t cry, she chided herself, swallowing against the hard, sore orb in her throat. Not in front of Pearl. Not in front of Pearl.
Pearl, the youngest at twelve, stood from the wicker chair before the woodstove, worrying her lip. Her hair, the same blonde Ma’s had been, wisped from its braid and curled about her face. Rooster, Gentry’s brother, leaned against the wall by the door, his arms folded, his eyes cast to the floor. He was almost as tall as Pa, but he wasn’t a man, not yet. Not yet.
Her father sighed. “I’m leaving in the morning.”
“So soon?” Pearl croaked.
“You can’t leave in the morning.” Gentry’s windpipe constricted against her will, squeezing the words into a whine. She swallowed again and let go of her mangled finger. “You can’t leave. What are we supposed to do in the meantime? The trip is so long . . .” How long? How far was it to San Francisco? Her family had put down roots right in the middle of Utah Territory, or Deseret, as the Mormons called it. At least two weeks’ travel by horse, surely. Two weeks before their father could even hope to find work.
“What if they don’t hire you?” Gentry tried. “You’d be gone more than a month, and we—”
“Already been hired.” Her father spoke too quickly. His temper flared in the vein pulsing down the center of his forehead. “Got the letter yesterday.”
“And you didn’t tell us?”
“Now listen, young lady.” Shadows bloomed over his face. He lifted a thick finger toward Gentry’s nose. “I don’t report to you. You ain’t my supervisor, my father, or my wife.”
No, his wife—their mother—died the day after they finished the house, and the babe who’d killed her lived a day’s ride away.
Gentry pressed her lips together.
Her father straightened and dropped the accusing finger. “You’re twenty now; you can keep an eye on things.” He hesitated. “I’ll send wages as soon as I can. All will be well. And Rooster still has work.”
“It’s only part-time.” Rooster’s voice sounded low and too old for a seventeen-year-old boy. It prickled the skin on Gentry’s back.
“It’ll work out. I’ve done the numbers,” their father assured them. He turned to Pearl and smiled, but Gentry thought the expression too tight. That vein still pulsed down his forehead. “It’ll be all right, hear? And you can take my bed; I won’t be needing it. And you’ll all help each other and keep things afloat.” He turned back to Gentry. “I’ll write. And I’ll send wages. You work on finding a nice, wealthy man to marry.”
He meant it as a joke, but Gentry didn’t laugh. She bit her tongue to keep from scowling. “I don’t want you sending wages. I don’t want your space. I want you to stay.”
“Nope.” He shook his head, his eyes nearly closed. A gesture that said I’ve made up my mind, and your silly talk won’t change it. “I’ve got to report soon or they’ll give the position to someone else.”
Rooster asked, “Which company is it?”
Butch Abrams eyed his son. “Boston. Best one.”
Gentry took a deep breath. Don’t cry. Not in front of Pearl. “Pa—”
“Gentry, so help me, I’ll switch you like you was a little girl, hear?”
Gentry pinched her mouth shut. Shaking his head once more, her father passed between her and Pearl into the second room of the house—it had only two—where the beds lay. He shut the door behind him. Time to think, he’d tell them, were he in a less foul mood. Time to pack.
Time to leave.
* * *
He didn’t say goodbye.
Gentry hadn’t slept well. Not because she shared a bed with both her siblings. Not because Pearl, wedged in the middle, kept rolling over and swatting Gentry with a limp arm. Her mind ran circles around itself, like it always did when fueled with anxiety. As though if she thought the same thoughts enough times, they’d flit away and leave her be.
She watched her father rise without lighting a candle, watched the shadows of his clothes as he dressed, listened to him spit and scratch his beard. She watched him pick up his suitcase and step out of the room, his footsteps quieter than she’d ever heard them. She listened as he reached the front door, opened it, and closed it. Then Gentry rose, her chestnut braid falling over her shoulder, and followed his path. She opened the door, stood in its doorway, and watched as her pa mounted Rose, one of their two mares, and rode south, away from the rising sun. Away from them.
She didn’t think he’d do it. That he’d actually do it. A small piece of her chest tore out and followed him, leaving a hollow ache in her heart. When her pa didn’t look back, the ache filled with bitterness that he had taken the piece with him at all. Gentry pressed a thumb to the spot on her chest, holding her breath against the familiarity of it—so similar to when Ma died.
She stood there in her nightgown until her father became a blurred dot against the mountains. Until they swallowed him and the rising sun changed the peaks from blue to brown, pouring its too-hot light over the little town of Dry Creek. The nearest neighbor’s cocks crowed—the Abrams didn’t own any chickens, not anymore—and Gentry finally stepped inside, slamming the door behind her.
Rooster was pulling on his work shirt as she came—one of the sleeves needed to be patched, but if he was going to Hoss’s farm now, there wouldn’t be time to mend it until this evening.
Rooster said nothing, but after he clipped on his suspenders and stomped his feet into his boots, Pearl rolled over in bed and asked, “Is Pa gone?”
“Yes.” Gentry said. Quick and simple, avoiding her gaze. She slipped into the bedroom and dressed, nearly pulling a stitch as she yanked on her worn, brown-striped petticoat. Her scalp ached once she finished brushing her hair and pinning it into a too-tight bun. In the kitchen, she stoked the coals in the tiny woodstove hard enough to puff clouds of ash into the air. She pulled a cast-iron skillet from the cupboards and slammed it on the stove. Gripping the handle for a long moment, Gentry sucked in a deep breath.
She knew they were watching her. Her siblings. Who else was there to look up to? Who knew how long their father would be away? Gentry pried her fingers off the skillet’s handle one by one, each joint resisting.
This will be good, she told herself. Pa will find success out there and send wages home. We’ll be comfortable. Maybe even move out there, if work goes well. Wouldn’t that be something, to live by the ocean again?
Gentry allowed herself a few more deep breaths before fetching a bowl and the dwindling bag of flour. She’d filled in her ma’s shoes just fine, hadn’t she? She’d fill their pa’s for a little while too.
Rooster passed behind her on his way to the door.
“You’re not staying for breakfast?” Gentry asked.
“I want to get there early.”
He felt it too, then. Get to the farm early—try to earn a little extra. Gentry couldn’t fault him that. She crossed the tiny kitchen and tore off the heel of the last loaf of bread she’d made. She tossed it to Rooster, who said a quick thanks and stepped out the door.
Gentry stirred flapjack batter and made a few cakes for herself and Pearl. She set Pearl’s on a plate on the kitchen table, which crowded too close to the washbasin and drawers, then ate hers plain as she mixed the start of bread dough and left it on the table to rise.
Pearl came out of the bedroom, her hair, too, pulled into a bun. She looked younger today, like she was eight instead of twelve. She always looked young in Gentry’s eyes, though. Like they refused to acknowledge her baby sister was growing up.
Hands on hips, Gentry examined their small home, noting what needed to be cleaned and what needed to be mended. She peered out the far window to the garden they’d planted. She prayed for rain. This place was so . . . dry.
The Abrams had meant to settle in California, but her ma discovered she was pregnant just after they left, and the babe ailed her so that they stopped the journey seven hundred miles early. At least one of them would make it now. Pa hadn’t even suggested moving the family as a whole—there just wasn’t the money for such a trip, not yet. After being forced to settle in the middle of Utah Territory, Pa had compensated by squandering what money they had left on bricks and glass for their tiny house. They’d never recovered from the self-inflicted destitution.
Walls of brick instead of wood, and Gentry felt no safer within them.
The only thing to do was carry on as though their father hadn’t left, as well as they could. Mending, then laundry, then crops, then back to the bread. Not so difficult, she thought.
Glancing at the pile of mending, however, she noted a pair of her father’s slacks that he’d left behind. They had a hole in the right pocket. Then finances, she thought with a frown. She had to figure out what they had and what they could stretch until Pa sent his first wages. If he made good time, maybe they’d hear from him next month.
The sun was already too hot by the time Gentry hung the laundry to dry. A bonnet kept it off her hair and face as she walked the rows of the garden. They weren’t farmers, not in trade, but her pa had purchased a decent-sized plot for food. They’d added variety to the planting this year, hoping to get a better harvest than last. Turnips, potatoes, carrots. Heartier crops, ones that withstood the climate and filled a belly faster. Gentry pulled a few weeds as she patrolled the rows.
The plot didn’t go all the way to the thin fence that surrounded it—there was half a row’s worth of space on the west side. Extra potatoes—those grew quickly enough—or maybe a berry bush . . . no, potatoes were a safer bet, and Gentry needed to feel safe.
Gentry went to the stable where Bounder, the other mare, still rested. She set Pearl to tending her while she moved their gardening supplies, minus the plow, to Rose’s empty stall. She took the hoe, sweat dripping down the curve of her spine, and worked breaking up the sun-hardened soil along the fence.
Dust from the labor floated through the air, soiling the hem of her dress and sticking to the sweat along her hairline. She ached for Virginia, for its sea-scented air and green summers, for air that didn’t dry out her sinuses and make her skin thirst. But the work gave her focus and eased the tension in her gut, and the dry heat was more tolerable than Virginia’s bogging humidity.
She’d worked the hoe halfway up the line before a shadow blocked the sun from her work and a familiar voice called, “Ho, Gentry!”
Straightening, Gentry rubbed her sleeve over her brow and peered at Hoss Howland, their neighbor to the north. He was a farmer. Hoss had hired Rooster as a farmhand during harvest last year and offered him a job at the start of spring. Hoss was a thick man, stout, yet still an inch or so taller than her father. A wide-brimmed hat shaded his head, and a neatly trimmed beard of chestnut shaded his face. His trousers and shirt had soft earth stains marking them, and what skin they showed was heavily tanned from years of outdoor labor. If Gentry was not mistaken, Hoss had turned forty-one at the end of winter.
“Morning, Hoss.” Gentry shaded her eyes from the sun.
“Afternoon,” he corrected her with a grin. “I hear your father’s set out for California.”
Gentry’s smile faded, but she forced her mouth to hold some semblance of it. “That he did, first thing this morning.”
“How long’s his contract?”
Gentry shook her head and leaned on the hoe. “I’m not sure. Not too long.” She hoped.
Hoss nodded, looking up the line of earth Gentry still had to break. “You should have a man helping you with this.”
“No, no, never mind it,” he said, though he didn’t give Gentry much time to wonder at his words. “About Rooster, though.”
Gentry’s shoulders inched downward. “He isn’t causing trouble, is he?”
Hoss laughed—it was a hearty sound that built her smile back up. Gentry appreciated the cheer. Pa didn’t laugh anymore, except when he managed to get his hands on some liquor. “That boy couldn’t cause trouble if he wanted to. Don’t you worry. I’m actually thinking to give him more hours on the farm, but I don’t want to take him away if you need him here.”
Gentry’s eyes widened. She would never say no to more work and more money for the family. “Not at all. Keep him as long as you like.”
She hesitated, studying Hoss. She knew him fairly well after living down the road from him for nearly two years. She narrowed her eyes. “Hoss Howland.”
He raised an eyebrow.
Gentry lifted the hoe and replanted it firmly by her feet. “If you think we’re in need of charity—”
Hoss held up both hands in protest. “Not at all. I admit, I’ve been . . . thinking about it since Rooster told me this morning. But I have been thinking of getting more workers as the beans are coming in. Honest.” His voice grew heavier. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Gentry.”
Gentry glanced away at those words. No, not at the words, but the way Hoss’s gaze softened when he said them. Maybe, were he not twice her age, Gentry might have had the courage to meet those eyes.
She looked out over the crops. So much work to do. “Thank you. Rooster will take the work.”
“Already has,” Hoss said. “But I wanted to check with you as well.”
“As you rightly should. Now get on. There’s only so much daylight left.”
“Days’ll only be getting longer.” Hoss nodded and smacked his palm on the fence twice before pulling away. “Good day, Miss Abrams.”
“To you too.”
Later, while supper cooked in the oven and Pearl set the table, Gentry sat on a wicker chair with her father’s old ledger. The covers were bent on both sides, and the graphite had been smeared, but most of his numbers were legible. If there was one thing Gentry thanked her father for, it was keeping a good record of their finances. She only wished he’d gone over them with her before leaving.
The number of minuses in the far column made her stomach clench.
She started a new page, counting what was in the savings box—what her father hadn’t taken for his trip—and estimated Rooster’s new wages against their land debts and needs. She added the numbers three times. It wouldn’t be enough to sustain them, but it would get them through this first month just fine, if they were careful. See them to the first wages from her father. Gentry wasn’t sure how much a gold miner made, but if so many were crossing the country to try their hands at it, there had to be a few pretty pennies in the work, especially if her father found a new vein.
Still, those numbers gnawed at Gentry. She added them a fourth time.
“How’s it looking?” Rooster asked as he came through the front door, toweling off his wet hair. He’d taken a bath out in the stables after work. Hoss’s farm often left him filthy.
“We’ll be all right for a month,” she said, “if Pa’s wages come in. I don’t know how long it’ll take before he sends money to us. Did he tell you?” She bit her lip, hopeful.
Rooster’s mouth tilted into a half frown. “He didn’t give me any more details than he did you or Pearl.”
Pearl nodded as she set a water cup between her and Gentry’s plates.
Gentry took a deep breath.
“I’d think . . .” Rooster set a hand on the edge of the table and leaned on it, throwing the towel over his shoulder. “I’d think six weeks, maybe. Eight if they make him pay for his own lodging.”
Gentry’s stomach clenched tighter. The smell of supper almost became nauseating. “They’d hire men from clear out here and make them pay their own board?”
Rooster shrugged. “Everyone’s going out to California. Not like the companies are desperate for workers. Companies save every cent they can. It’s about profit, Gen.”
Gentry scanned the numbers and tapped her pencil against her lips. “We won’t have much to harvest that early.”
Pearl said, “Maybe we can ask Hannah.”
Gentry shut the ledger. “We’re not going to ask Hannah.”
Hannah Hinkle, that was. One of the Mormons up north in American Fork. The one who had found Gentry sobbing on the side of the road as she struggled to find a family for the half brother her father didn’t want. Though she was barely older than Gentry, she had adopted little Caleb and had kept in touch with the family ever since.
Gentry knew that if she asked Hannah for assistance, Hannah would do everything she could to help. Too much, even. But no. They hadn’t come to that. Yet.
“They’ll take the china,” Rooster said.
Gentry turned toward him.
“The Mormons, I mean,” he explained. “Some of the other hands were talking about it. They’re taking ceramics and gold and the like for that big temple they’re building in Salt Lake City. We could probably sell to them.”
“Ma’s china.” Gentry’s stomach loosened a little.
“What? No!” Pearl objected. “That was Ma’s. And Grandma’s. We can’t get rid of it.”
“We don’t use it, Pearl.” Gentry hated the way her voice begged.
“We do at Christmas,” she protested.
“We don’t need it,” Rooster said.
“It’s good china too,” Gentry added, more to her brother than her sister. “It’s gold-rimmed.” Leaf-thin, but that had to be worth something. “Hannah would know where to take it.”
Pearl’s eyebrows nearly crossed, she scrunched them so tightly. “Why don’t you sell them your necklace too, if we need so much money?”
Gentry’s fingers immediately went to the empty locket around her neck, its heart-shaped pendant and fine chain. She didn’t know how many carats the thing was, but it didn’t matter. Her ma had given this to her as she lay on the birthing bed, bleeding out her life. Gentry didn’t care if it were made of diamonds, they couldn’t be desperate enough to sell it, even to the highest bidders.
No, not that. She pulled her hand away. Not yet.
Gentry sighed. “You can come with me, Pearl. We can head up tomorrow, even. Look around town. Visit Caleb.”
Frowning, Pearl nodded and went to pull the cast iron cooking pot out of the coals. Cornbread and gravy from yesterday’s chicken tonight. Tomorrow, Gentry would boil the carcass and scrape every last fiber of meat from its bones. It should make enough soup for three.
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