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Light on Golden Mountain

Light on Golden Mountain

by Roseanne Jelacic


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Two fifth-graders growing up in post-Civil War California, Mandy McGandy and Jebediah Wu form an unlikely friendship that teaches them about bravery, justice, and the freedom of adventure.

Jeb's life in exotic Chinatown and Mandy's on opulent Nob Hill could not be more different. Brought together by the construction of the transcontinental railroad, they face a schoolyard bully, torrential floods, a terrifying train wreck in the Sierra Nevada, and witness the rebirth of their nation.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948556774
Publisher: Toplink Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 02/09/2018
Pages: 134
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.31(d)

About the Author

Roseanne Jelacic lives in Denver, Colorado with her adorable dachshund, Ziggy. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Light on Golden Mountain

By Roseanne Jelacic

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2014 Roseanne Joy Jelacic
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-3014-0


Tossed and yanked by the wind, Mandy's red-gold curls tangled themselves into knotted ropes that slapped hard against her freckled cheeks. Forcing them into a giant knot, she twisted and tied until they sat lopsided near the crown of her head. One particularly feisty curl pulled free and caught the corner of her open mouth.

"Pathuwee! Pa-thu-wee!" Spitting it away, she wrapped it tight around her ear.

"That's San Francisco Bay," said Mandy, turning to her little brother. Drew pointed a tiny finger at his big sister, who guided his hand until he pointed directly down at the bay. "Look, Drew. Just beyond the grassy hills in front of us. Can you see it?"

Squinting in chilly sunlight, the pair continued along the pathway that led to their house. "I can't see it," said Drew. Teary little streaks flowed from the edges of his eyes. "Too much lights! Too much dirt blowed."

"Even if you can't see it, can you say it? Say it, Drew. San-fran-cis-co-bay." Mandy gripped her brother under both of his arms and lifted him up.

"Oh, me see the boats!" Drew gasped. "The big ships!"

His eyes shut tight as his sister set him down, Drew struggled against the wind to unbutton his coat and, freeing the last button, opened it wide. Huffing and puffing, the wind shoved him backward. He stumbled, landing squarely on his backside. "It cold out here!" he said.

Mandy grabbed his suspenders. "How many times have I told you not to ride the wind?" she said, pulling him to his feet. "If Mom sees you doing that, we'll both be in big trouble."

"You teached me to ride the wind!" shouted Drew. "You do it. I see you!"

"Sh-u-u-ush!" Mandy whispered with a loud growl.

Winning the race home, Drew zipped through the front gate, zoomed to the porch and then—needing both hands and both feet to climb the steps—he slowed a little. Regaining his stride, he hopped onto the porch and ran to the big front door. "Mama, Mama!" shouted Drew, slapping the door open with the palms of his hands. Racing inside, he pushed back on the door with all his tiny might. "Me close door, Mom," said Drew, moving it just a little.

"May I help you close the door?" his mother asked. "In this wind, it might be difficult for you to close it all by yourself."

Jumping onto his rocking horse, Drew rode hard. "Sure, Mom," he said. "I ride my Dappo Grey now."

With a nod to her son, Mrs. McGandy stepped outside, gripped her woolen shawl, and pulled it snug across her shoulders. Through brownish-green eyes, she watched her firstborn mount the steps. "I hope you weren't teasing your little brother," said Mrs. McGandy. "You weren't making fun of his baby talk, were you, Mandy?"

"No, Mama! I was correcting his speech. Just the way you do. But when I correct him, he gets mad and runs off."

"Always remember, Mandy, you were almost eight when Drew was born. He is your little brother," she said, her elegant French braid unraveling in the unrelenting wind.

Turning her eyes sharply away from her mother, Mandy focused on dust devils that flared up like frayed ribbons from the driveway's rutted surface. "Oh," said Mrs. McGandy, giving her daughter a hug. "You will always be my sweet and pretty babe. I love you, your blondy-red hair, and softy-green eyes," she said, planting a kiss on the top of her daughter's head.

"Mom!" said Mandy, her cheeks flushing orangy red. "You say that every time I tie up my hair in a ponytail knot! Nobody says 'blondy' and 'softy.' You make up words."

"But don't you see, my darling girl? You are special, and because you are special, ordinary words just don't work."

Shivering under her shawl as her daughter plopped down on the porch swing, Mrs. McGandy went back into the house. Bounding off on the next downswing, Mandy sprinted to the far end of the wraparound porch. Lowering her elbows to the railing, she turned her face to the wind. "Could that be the middle of nowhere?" she said, her hair flailing like a flame. "In them faraway hills where Pops goes and stays for weeks on end?" Chin in her hands, she studied the distant mountains and then turned suddenly, staring at the window directly behind her. "Phew!" she said, seeing no one there. "I don't know what would bother Mama more—me talking to myself or talking to myself using improper English!"

Mandy's eyes moved to a stack of thin grooves cut into the porch column beside her and marking the topmost line with her finger, lined herself up beside the measuring marks. "Oh, no!" she gasped, her finger sitting even with her eyes. "I'll be tall as Papa! I've got to stop growing!" Slouching low and then lower, she tugged at the hem of her pinafore until it touched—just barely—the middle of her calves. "That's better." Still holding the hem, she hobbled back to the swing. "Well," she said, sliding aboard, "when I'm sitting down, I'm not really all that tall."


"Whoa, whoa," Mr. McGandy cooed to his horse. "We're home, Lewis John! And it's about time. Wouldn't you agree?" Lewis John replied with a snort followed by two whinnies. Head held high atop his strong and graceful neck, the horse slowed to a trot as he carried his passenger up the two-runnel track to the carriage house.

"Papa! Papa!" Mandy zipped down three flights of stairs and flew out the front door—dancing, leaping, and running as she raced to greet her father.

"My spinning girl! Have you learned to dance the jig while I've been away this time?" An infinite grin on his face, Frank McGandy dismounted. Pressing his fisted hands against the sides of his waist, he stood stiff as a Highland dancer awaiting the pipes and then bowed low to his daughter. Flaring her skirt daintily to one side, Mandy returned the bow with a curtsy.

"Most excellent pose, Miss Mandy!" said her father, wrapping his daughter in his arms. "It is so good to see you."

Mandy planted a fat kiss on her father's cheek. "I've missed you so much, Pops!" she said.

"My goodness, you've grown in the two months I've been away!"

"I am most certain that I have not grown at all," said Mandy, staring down at the brass buttons one of her boots.

"Where's the touring rig?" he asked, opening the carriage house doors.

"Mom and Emeline took it. They went calling on Mrs. Donlevy to see her new baby. Drew went along, but I begged Mom not to make me go. I just had a feeling you might come home early!" With a loud snort, Lewis John nudged Mandy. "Hello, Lewis John!" she said, her cheek pressed to the side of his neck. "I missed you too. Did you and Pops have a nice trip?"

"In her letters," said Mr. McGandy, "your mother tells me she is doing very well—that she feels stronger and stronger every day. What do you say, Mandy? Does your mother's fever ever come back?"

"Well, Papa, Emeline and I take very good care of Mama just like we promised. She takes a nap every day, and Emeline prepares all the meals. Oh, except for sometimes when Mom really, really wants to. And I play games with Drew whenever he wants, and I read to him, and—"

"Whoa up, honey. I am grateful that you and Emeline take good care of your mother and Drew, but what I'm asking is whether or not your mother's fever ever comes back."

Grasping the rein that dangled from the bit in Lewis John's mouth, Mandy gripped it tightly as she wrapped its loose ends around her hand. "Oh, Pops," she said, her gaze drifting to the horse's hooves. "It came back once—just once—two days after you left. Mom made me and Emeline promise not to tell you. It lasted three days, Papa, but she's been really good ever since." Seeing her father's shoulders droop, Mandy continued quickly. "I've been counting her smiles like you asked me to, Pops. Every day she smiles at least four times and sometimes so many times I can't keep count. And we laugh a lot!"

Mr. McGandy pulled Lewis John's saddle and slung it over a wooden railing. Grabbing a towel, he wiped sweat from the horse's back. "Well, that is good news, Mandy. A very good sign, indeed." Silent and with his back to his daughter, Frank McGandy stood for several seconds and then held out his hand to her. Crossing the front yard together, they stepped under a vine-covered trellis. He lifted a basket of freshly picked radishes, carrots, lettuce, and green beans from a wrought-iron bench and sat it on the ground. "I have been thinking how delightful it would be if your mother, you, Drew, Lewis John, and I—assuming that Lewis John will be in the mood for it—were to go into the city tomorrow," said Mr. McGandy, sitting down on the bench.

"Really?" cried Mandy, seating herself beside him.

"Really," said her father.

"Really, really?"

"Well, on second thought, perhaps we should stay home and work here in the garden. Maybe get rid of those weeds over there." Biting down hard on the knuckle of his thumb, he watched his daughter's cheeks blush from orangy to full red. "Mandy!" he said. "You should see your face. You tease so easy sometimes." As the wind parted the sheltering vines, she looked up into her father's face, and seeming to stare at a photograph, studied his brightly backlit visage. With her palm flat, she thumped the top of his thigh. "Ow!" he yelped. "That hurt!"

"Just want to make sure it's you and not some imaginary picture in my head I'm looking at. You're gone so much. Seeing you sitting here just might be a dream I'm having."

"Little brat," he said, pushing down lightly on the toe of her boot with the heel of his.

As she wriggled her boot free, Mandy's thoughts leaped back to the day her father had left. Sitting in a chair in her parents' bedroom, she had watched her mother place stockings, a razor, razor strap, soap, three towels, and three washcloths into her father's duffle. Having worked her bottom lip into a giant-sized pout, she had asked her father where he would be going this time. "To the woods, near Emigrant Gap!" he had replied, a sad look in his eyes. Apologizing, once again, for having to be away from home so much of the time, he had reminded Mandy that his work for the Central Pacific Railroad Company would continue to keep him away for the next several months.

Knowing that it was out of the question, she had asked if she could go with him. "No!" her father had said, reminding her that they had been over this a thousand times.

Ignoring her mother's scolding glance, Mandy had persisted. "I bet Emigrant Gap is in the middle of no wharrr—just where I want to go! What will you do this time, Pops?" she had continued. "Same as always? Make sure that railroad tracks, tunnels, and bridges are built just so? To spec—to strict specifications, because like everything else, train tracks and tunnels must conform to rules."

"Exactly!" her father had replied. "Just like a certain young lady I know."

Snapped abruptly back to the present as her father plopped the basket of vegetables into her lap, Mandy's hands flew to her cheeks. "Pops!" she said. "I just can't believe you're really home."


Her body jostling to the clip-clop clipping of Lewis John's hooves, Mandy sat with her parents on the front seat of the open-top touring carriage. Just behind her, strapped into the little person's riding seat his father had built, Drew sang loudly. "Oh, wish I were in the land of nod and that the time is all forgotten—"

"I wish I were in the land of cotton," said Mandy, collapsing backward onto her brother's lap. "Mr. Lincoln's favorite song, don't you know!" Drew's hands flew wildly as his big sister tickled his belly. "Pops," said Mandy, placing her mouth close to her father's ear. "When do I get to go with you to the middle of no wharrrrrr?"

Its front wheel lurching over a large rock, the carriage tilted, shoving Mandy's nose hard against the side of her father's head. Leaning away, Frank McGandy gave his daughter a jaunty stare. "Sounds rustic," he said. "Middle of nowhere, eh? Where might that be?"

"Like you promised me a hundred times!" cried Mandy, her words muffled by the hand she held to her nose. Passing Helmke's Livery, LaDow's Blacksmith Shop, and the Bank of California, the carriage came to an abrupt halt when Mrs. Donlevy crossed the street, followed closely by her son, Liam.

"Good morning, Sophie!" shouted Mrs. Donlevy. "And to you, Frank." The pendant pinned to the shawl-collar of her French-cut waistcoat glinted in the sunshine as Mrs. McGandy turned to speak to her son.

"Did you have fun playing with Liam yesterday, Drew?" she said.

"No," said Drew. He pushed his little round sailor cap up off his forehead. "This is itches on me." Pulling the cap from his head, he held it out to his mother. "Here, Mom. You have it. I sit up with you and Mandy now."

"In just a little while, Drew," she said. "I will hold your cap for you, though." With a glance back at her brother, Mandy mouthed the words big baby. Drew slapped at his sister's taunting finger until, grabbing her brother's hand, Mandy ended the duel.

"Lots of people at the butcher's today, huh, Mom?" she said.

"Oh, my, yes! I'm glad we're not going there, Mandy." With a wallop at his sister's behind, Drew conceded defeat. "Oh, look, Frank," said Mrs. McGandy. "They've almost completed Padraic's new hardware store. Three stories! Makes the old one look so dilapidated." Hand at the top of her hat, Mandy read the words engraved just below the overhung roof of the brand new store: Padraic Building 1868.

"When I was a very young man," said Frank, "I learned so much working there for Mr. Padraic's father. And those prospectors who came to buy supplies! What a bunch of characters!" He patted his daughter's knee. "This was a different town back then."

"Frank! Whoa up for a moment, can you?" Cillian Padraic called out, waving from an upstairs window of his new building. "That pair of boys' overalls you special ordered arrived," he said.

"Boys' overalls?" said Sophie.

"My clerk's on his way down with them now," Mr. Padraic continued.

Frank tipped his bowler hat. "Thank you, Cillian."

"If it's all right," said the slightly winded clerk, "I'll put the package under your little boy's chair."

"Perfect. I appreciate it, young man," said Frank, handing over several coins.

Continuing to undo each of her brother's attempts to worm his way in beside her as the carriage maneuvered the sharp turn onto Pacific Avenue, Mandy groaned. "Maa-a-h-m!" she said. "Drew unhooked his harness again."

Reaching back, Sophie pulled her son onto her lap and held him tightly. "Whatever are we doing in Chinatown?" she said to her husband. Amid the rising hubbub around them, Mandy, Drew, and Sophie watched men in thigh-length pajama-like coats and baggy blue pants press past one another in the crowded street. Down the front of the coats ran a column of clasps where buttons would be.

"Frogs holding the man's coat shut!" shouted Drew. Some braids, slung forward over shoulders, looked like decorative stitching beside the clasps. Others, reaching the backs of their owners' knees, hung straight down. A few men with braids wrapped around their heads appeared to be wearing thick, crocheted crowns. Drew giggled. "That one braid him hair like you, Mom," he said.

"Hush, Drew!" said Mandy, a blush surging up both sides of her neck. "Those long braids are called queues. You know Chinese men wear queues. Papa told us."

"Don't be upset with your brother, Mandy," said Mrs. McGandy. "These people don't speak English."

"They don't?" Mandy shot a glance at her father, then one more at her mother.

"Of course not," said her mother.

Inspecting the maze of carts and hat-wearing men through which her father guided the carriage, Mandy observed that most hats—except for those with a band of ribbon above their broad brims, or a crease in their rounded tops—resembled her father's. In contrast, snug-fitting little skullcaps, offering no shade at all to the faces of their wearers, covered a few heads here and there.

Two- and three-story wooden buildings lined the narrow street. Awnings made of canvas and slender wooden beams shaded a variety of storefronts and balconies, and in the shop just ahead, ducks, geese, racks of pork rib, and neatly trimmed loin hung from hooks on a rod running half the width of the store. Sophie pulled a lace-edged kerchief from her purse and held it tight against her nose and mouth.


Excerpted from Light on Golden Mountain by Roseanne Jelacic. Copyright © 2014 Roseanne Joy Jelacic. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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