“Boys! Come in! I’ve something to show you!” Mr. McMahon said as he walked up to the front steps of the apartment house on Lawrence Street.
Tommy, 14, and his new little brother, Jake, who they had decided was 10, stood up from where they had been crouching at the gutter, and Jake held up a horseshoe. “Look what I found!” he said, as he worked to pull out the last nail.
“Good man, Jake!” Mr. McMahon said. “We’ll hang it over the door. Should have had one when we moved in.”
The boys followed him through the tall doors and up the oak stairs to their second floor apartment.
Though they’d already lived there for a year, it still was a pleasure to walk into the bright, roomy apartment, with its tall windows looking out on the streets of Denver.
After nearly two years in a small, dark tenement apartment in New York City, Tommy was pleased to be back to the kind of life his family had enjoyed in Brooklyn, while Jake, the homeless boy who had become Tommy’s best friend, could only remember hard times and poverty and happily handed the horseshoe to his new father.
“We’ll clean and polish it up after supper and hang it properly,” Mr. McMahon said, and waved the shoe aloft as his wife came from the kitchen.
“Jake’s found us a bit of luck!” he said, then put the horseshoe and his dinner pail on the table and stooped to pick up three-year old Bridey as she ran to his arms. “And here’s all the luck I need!” he smiled, nestling her close and tickling her cheek with his mustache until she laughed.
“What did you want to show us?” Tommy asked.
Mr. McMahon opened the top lid of his dinner pail and drew out two rough, gray rocks nearly the size of his fist. He handed one to Tommy and one to Jake. “What do you think those are, lads?” he asked.
The boys turned the rocks over, looking at them.
“Rocks?” Jake guessed.
“That’s silver, the way it comes out of the ground,” Mr. McMahon said. “See the white bits in among the dark? That’s the silver! A fellow brought those down from Leadville today, where they mine the stuff.”
“Did he pay for his lumber with it?” Jake asked, and Mr. McMahon laughed.
“Ah, Jakey, you’d need a wagonload of those rocks just to buy a hammer!” he said. “There’s a lot yet to be done to that before it’s money.”
He sat down at the table, shifted Bridey to his lap and reached to take Tommy’s chunk of silver ore back.
“But this is good ore. Near as good as a nugget,” he said, turning it over in his hand. “Twenty years ago, when silver was king out here, finding a piece of ore like this would have sent a crowd up the road at a run. The price of silver isn’t nearly that high any more, but I’ll tell you, boys, you wouldn’t mind owning the land this came from. You’d be wealthy enough, I promise.”
Tommy smiled, but, out of the corner of his eye, he saw that his mother was becoming very quiet.
“You’re not thinking of it, Thomas,” she asked her husband.
“Do you remember a fellow named Shannon that I timbered with in Wisconsin six years ago?” he asked her. “I might have mentioned him in my letters home then. He’s a foreman at one of the mines up there and he came into town to pick up some pumps they ordered. Well, didn’t we have a grand reunion! He gave me these and asked if I wanted to come help him get some more!”
“That’s where they had the trouble,” Mrs. McMahon said. “Thomas, workers were shot to death!”
“Rosie, I told him no,” Mr. McMahon said calmly. “He said the strikes were over and all was peaceful and I told him that I still didn’t want to work in the dark all day with half a mountain over my head. So that’s that. Not to worry.” Then he winked at the boys and added. “Of course, they do pay well.”
“Oh, go on with you!” she said, and went back into the kitchen while he laughed.
Jake looked at the piece of ore in his hand. “If it were twenty years ago, during the boom? We could go find our own silver mine and get rich!” he said.
But his father shook his head. “You need more than a horseshoe for luck, even during a boom,” he said.
“You know, lads, I’ve kicked around this country now for some 15 years, working cattle, cutting timber, laying track, and I’ve learned this: You can’t get rich quick. It doesn’t happen, even in a boom.”
He handed Tommy back the piece of ore. “The fellows who get rich in a boom aren’t the ones who find the gold and silver. The ones who get rich are the dull old shopkeepers who provide the tools and the food and the clothing to all those exciting adventurers who find the gold and silver. Get rich quick, you’ll get poor quicker. And then there you are on the street with nothing, while the people who just went to work every day have still got enough and maybe a bit more, besides.
“It’s a fool who thinks he can get rich without working,” Mr. McMahon warned. “And, boys, gold and silver may be rare, but fools are easy to find.”
Text c. 2010, Mike Peterson - Illustrations c. 2010, Christopher Baldwin