A boy is accosted and threatened by a man who claims the the boy's family owes him gold and the man is willing to extract what he believes is owed to him by any means necessary. The story opens with a young boy, Sig, silently staring at the corpse of his father, Einar. Sig is alone in his family's cabin as he waits for his stepmother and his sister Anna who have gone into to town to find people to help them with Einar's body. As he sits there, he ruminates on what his father was like. He thinks about how his father taught him the value of owning a gun although it is not a toy. He also would give Sig advice such as never cross a frozen lake after seeing a hooded crow, although as Sig thinks about it, he realizes this is a piece of advice that Einar's father had broken. He thinks back to how he had found his dad frozen on the ice, a scattering of papers and a bible near the body. There was a hole in the ice as well. Sig assumed his father had fallen in, and then tried to burn his bible and papers for warmth. Thinking back on this, Sig fights back tears when he hears a knock on the door. At the door is a mysterious looking man with no thumb; his name is Wolff. Wolff asks him Sig is the son of Einar then he proceeds to hang around the cabin even though Sig swears his sister and stepmother will be home soon. He doesn't like the look of the man who, he notices, carries a revolver on his belt. Wolff figures out that Einar is dead and is disappointed as he claims he had business with him, but now as he is dead, his business is with Einar's heir, Sig. Sig is extremely nervous at this point. His sister and stepmom still haven't returned from town and Wolff is hanging out in the family's cabin like he owns the place. It is then that he reveals the business he now has with Sig. Where is the gold that Einar stole from Wolff ten years ago? Shocked and in denial, Sig protests that his father never stole any gold. His father worked in a debt collecting office but he'd never stolen any gold. Just then, Anna returns to the cabin and sees the state of the situation. She calmly asks Sig if he is alright, then turns to the stranger sitting at the table to ask who he is. When he tells her his name, she becomes visibly shaken. As it happens, Anna knows full well who the stranger is. Sig asks where their stepmother is and Anna tells him that their stepmother abandoned Anna and her brother. Wolff gets a kick out of this. Then Wolff explains that his father had been stealing gold from his job at the debt collector's office and that Wolff had been his partner. However, Einar had cut Wolff out of the gold and hid it and Wolf wants what he believes is rightfully his. Still, both Anna and Sig deny knowing where the gold is hidden so Wolff threatens to kill one of the siblings to make the other one talk. He chooses to kill Sig. With some quick thinking, Sig claims he's solved the mystery and asks Wolff to follow him out to the ice. He explains that there were papers scattered around Einar's body when Sig found him. The papers are still out on the ice and if they look through them there might be a clue as to where the gold is hidden. The next morning, Wolff ties Anna up inside the cabin and forces Sig at gunpoint to lead the way to where the papers are. The two retrieve the papers and return to the cabin to find Anna has cut through her ties. A second later she appears. She had been looking for the family's gun but failed to find it. Wolff hits her and then pistol whips Sig for lying about the papers revealing the location of the gold. Sometime later, Sig wakes up and sees Wolff attempting to rape Anna. He grabs for his family's gun and then tells Anna to run into town to get help. He'll take care of Wolff himself. Anna runs out the cabin and isn't far when she hears a gunshot. It turns out the Sig only shoots at Wolff to scare him so Wolff grabs his own gun and shoots are Sig but due to the effects the extreme cold had on the gun it malfunctions, explodes and obliterates Wolff's hand. Wolff chases after the kids but is intercepted by the kid's stepmother who had actually gone into town to get help and several townspeople. Wolff is thrown into jail and dies several years later. Later on, as Sig is going through his father's things he finds a map stuck between the pages of his dad's bible. The map leads the family to where Einar had stashed the gold because Wolff's story was actually true. For awhile, the family is hesitant and torn about using the gold for themselves. They try to live by the tenements of the Bible but they are also very poor and often cold. Finally they decide it is okay for them to use the gold, which they invest in a mining company which makes them quite rich. Many years later, the family is able to live comfortably and happily. There is something that always bothered Anna however. She is curious as to why Sig didn't kill Wolff when he had the chance. Sig admits it is because he wanted to make his mom and his dad proud of him by not killing another human being no matter how terrible that human being was. Sig decides to write down his experience and the story is meant to be the book the reader has just finished.
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Best part of story, including ending:
I liked that this story dealt with the issue of the right to bear arms and the moral consequences of such a topic. Sig's moral dilemma over whether or not to use the family gun although it could protect his family from a dangerous man is topic that remains relevant now as it was in 1900.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Sig decides he won't shoot Wolff after all. I thought that was a brave decision made in the face of dangerous situation. Sig was literally staring down the barrel of a gun. I did not like the visual I got from imagining Wolff's hand being blown to bits though.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked Sig's bravery. Anyone can pick up a gun and shoot it, but it takes courage to refrain from killing someone who attempted to kill you first. Sig did what he had to do in order to save his sister's life and he was such a young boy, too.