No. 176

The word hung in the crisp mountain air. “Say it again,” I told my companion.
“It’s gold,” said Margaret with hushed reverence.
She stood up from the bank of the stream, carefully keeping her balance despite having both hands firmly attached to the pan.
“This has to confirm it,” she said.
I felt the rush of discovery as a tightness at the base of my neck.
We’d been following the tiny deposits further and further up the river to find the main seam. The last several surveys had turned up nothing, indicating that we’d might have already passed it, but the evidence now showed that we were still on the right track.
That was a good thing. Otherwise we’d have come to one of the most remote and dangerous parts of the country for no good reason.
And, if my calculations were correct, we were working towards a lode with more of the precious metal than we could imagine.  
“Let me see,” I managed to gasp.
Maggie slowly handed over the evidence. Already, she was loath to give the gold away. It was a common reaction to the treasure.
I examined the tiny nuggets. She was right, of course. It really is hard to mistake gold for anything else. She understood that my silence confirmed the find.
“How much further?” she asked.
I set the pan on the ground. I could see that her eyes never left it. Then I slipped off my pack and dug out the battered notebook that had started the whole expedition.  I read from the tiny, shaky script on the tattered pages.
“Fourteen days’ travel from Crow’s Head to the fork of the river. Follow north another three days. The cache is marked with a—.”
“That’s it,” I said.
“He said there was an entire hill of solid gold,” Margaret insisted. “There’s got to be more to the directions.”
“He was also the town drunk, and a wildly speculative prospector,” I reminded her. “It’s possible that someone got to him before he could finish the instructions. Remember where we found the journal.”
She nodded.
“We’re close, Mags. We’re very close.”