Fool’s Gold


Near the stream, a tree was in full bloom, its flowers white and innocent against the deep blue of the sky. Lying on the grass beneath this tree was the object which had caught her attention.

Emily Stocksdale, Staff Writer

The town rose dully before them, with little fanfare from anyone in the wagon.  They were tired, far too tired to cheer or work up a smile.  Reaching the town was just another milestone, scratched away from their to-do lists and left to collect dust.

Jess shifted the baby in her arms and leaned as far out the canvas walls as she could.  The town was about as tired as she was, and it might have been mistaken for abandoned.  Its rows of cobwebs and broken boards seemed to attest to this fact, but a quick look to the left revealed several people milling about.  She relaxed back into her seat and waited for the erratic rocking of the wagon to subside.

They were on their way to California, as they had been for the last four months.  When they left, her family had been excited and happy, eager to start a new life in the great Land of Opportunities.  Now, covered in dust and restless from travel, she began to wonder whether anything really lay beyond the alternating lush hills and dreary flatlands.

When the wagon rattled to a stop, Jess stood and climbed out, careful not to jostle the baby from his sleep.  She glanced at all that sprawled around her: the dilapidated buildings, the snorting horses, the suspicious townspeople.  It seemed… ordinary.  Boring, just like every town she had seen so far and every town she expected to see before reaching California.

Her mother stepped out behind her and patted her on the shoulder.  “I’ve got to ‘ead to the store, Jess,” her mother spoke, a slight hint of the old Irish accent slipping into place.

Jess only nodded and wandered to the front of the wagon.  Her father, a gruff old man with a soft spot for horses and his family, glanced up from where he was tying the reigns to a hitching post and gave her a tight-lipped smile.  She responded in kind and left to take a look around the town.

There was nothing much of note, which she ascertained after about five minutes of searching.  The wagon would not leave its spot in front of the town store for another few hours, and she had already run out of things to do.  With this mournful thought, she began to turn back towards the wagon when she was distracted by something out of the corner of her eye.

Through the space between two buildings, she could just barely make out a small object, glimmering in the sun.  The baby was still asleep in her arms, but she hesitated only a moment before approaching the object.  He would not wake up in the amount of time it would take to satisfy her curiosity.

She approached the area cautiously.  It was just past the town’s border.  A small stream ran several feet away, dividing the decaying buildings from a wide expanse of field.  Near the stream, a tree was in full bloom, its flowers white and innocent against the deep blue of the sky.  Lying on the grass beneath this tree was the object which had caught her attention.

At first glance, it did not seem to be anything of great importance.  It was a small box, rectangular in shape, and made from a metal of some sort.  In the heat of the sun, the silvery color had been almost blackened in places, and it burned her hand when she tried to pick it up.  She set her brother down beneath the tree and grabbed the box with the hem of her shirt, eager to see what was held within.

She opened the box and gasped.

Inside was a small rock–maybe three inches in diameter—which had a shiny yellow hue.  She felt her heart flutter.  It was gold! It must have been! She plucked her brother back up and rushed into town.

By the time she reached them, her mother had returned from the store, and half of their wagon was stuffed with fresh bags of sugar, coffee, and bacon.  Jess rushed to her mother in excitement.

“I found it! I found it!”

“Found what?” her mother inquired tiredly.

“Gold! Oh, we don’t even need to go to California now! We’re rich! We’re rich!”  Her wide grin and frantic exclamations only served to confuse her mother more.

“Now what are you going on about, Jess?”

Jess laughed and shoved the silver box under her mother’s nose.  This time, her jostling did wake her brother, and he started wailing like one of the coyotes they had encountered on the trail.

“Oh, hush up, silly boy! We’re rich! You don’t even need to nap anymore,” Jess chuckled.  Her mother shot her a warning look which she ignored in stride.

Her father approached.  “What is all this racket you’re stirring up, Jess?”

“Oh, papa! I’ve found gold! Isn’t it so exciting?”

“Gold?” her father exclaimed, just as bewildered as his wife.  “What’s that, now? Did you say gold?”

Jess was beginning to get annoyed, but she tried not to let it dampen her mood.  Was it so hard to understand?  “Yes, papa! Here!” and she shoved the metal box into his face.

Her father took the gleaming case with barely a grunt, which proved how surprised he truly was.  After a close inspection of the box, he opened it, almost gingerly for a man his size, and gaped at the object lying inside.

“You may be the greatest thing that has ever happened to this family, sweet girl,” her father whooped.  “If this really is gold… But then, we can just as easily get it checked, can’t we?”

Her father glanced around at the other two, waiting their input.  Should they risk trying to exchange the gold without an appraisal of its true worth? Were they willing to spend the money to have it checked over?

“Perhaps we should have it appraised, dear,” his wife whispered, almost afraid to say anything.  He barely acknowledged the statement, except to nod absent-mindedly in her direction.

Finally, seeming to make up his mind, Jess’s father turned back to the women.  “Tomorrow,” he stated firmly, “we’ll have it looked at.”

The matter was settled.  Dark stole in swiftly, and soon the family was fast asleep in a rented hotel room.

When they awoke the next morning, there was glass on the floor.  The room was in total shambles, the state of it surprising the whole family.  Someone had broken in, and they had slept through the whole thing.

“The baby?” Mrs. Walsh queried.

“Still sleeping soundly in his crib,” answered her husband.

“And the gold?”


With that, they returned to the wagon and set off on the trail once more, all the while mourning the loss of such a precious find.  Someone must have overheard them talking in town, Jess suggested, and Mr. Walsh nodded.  They all slipped into sultry silence, and as the horses dragged their hooves through the dust, each person allowed morbid dreams of riches and joy to float through their heads, if only for the moment.  Such a sweet thing hope had been.

Just a few miles away, a young lad rode his horse hard out of town.  He was headed to Texas, perhaps to buy a bit of land and start a ranch.  As he rode, a metal box slapped rhythmically against his side.  Within the metal box, a whole seven ounces of pyrite resided comfortably.