Set in the 1850s, this novel is about a trio of young men who travel across America, seduced by that word: gold.
Edward Daingerfield, his cousin, Richard, and their friend, Lewis, are not the only ones heading west. In St. Joseph, Missouri, they buy provisions, and have to wait their turn crossing the Mississippi River. Eventually, they join a wagon train. Trying to make the crossing on your own is, on many levels, a really bad idea. After many trials and tribulations, including a couple of deaths from cholera, and passing the skeletons of wagons and animals that didn't make it, the train reaches California.
The trio find a spot to start their gold prospecting, and immediately get to it. They do find some gold, enough to buy supplies, but their luck is generally bad. After several months, Edward takes a part-time job at the local post office, in order to provide a more steady income. He becomes an early mailman, delivering mail by stagecoach to the nearby towns and villages. Edward gets involved in writing for a couple of local newspapers. After a couple of years, Richard and Lewis head back home to Indiana, having actually made some money. Edward decides to stay in California.
Edward can't get Mrs. Gould out of her mind. She is an older woman who came west as part of the same wagon train, and whose (second) husband was one of the cholera casualties. She now runs a rooming house in Sacramento, which Edward visits every week for a home-cooked meal. Also coming west is Ellen, Mrs. Gould's 10-year-old daughter. During the trip west, she boldly announces that, one day, she and Edward will be married. Does it happen?
This story is full of excellent writing. Edward Daingerfield is an actual ancestor of the author, so the research is meticulous. It's interesting from beginning to end, and is very much worth the reader's time.