Word Count: 1100
“Do you think them Spaniards really had as much gold as the stories are always saying?” Mitch Devlin inquired in general of the group of boys sitting around him in the schoolyard.
Swallowing the last of his sugar cookie, Little Joe Cartwright replied, “Sure they did; everyone who knows anything knows about Spanish gold.” He brushed the last crumbs of his lunch from his pants.
“What does it matter?” drawled the sour voice of Manfred Tolliver, “It’s not like there’s any of that Spanish gold buried anywhere around Virginia City.”
“There might be,” ventured Tuck Johnson, “There just might be.”
Manfred shook his head adamantly and stated with distain, “Really, Tuck, isn’t there anything you won’t believe.” His lips twisted with condensation, “No way there is any Spanish gold within hundreds of miles of here.” He finished his statement with an off-handed gesture that managed to declare his contempt for Tuck’s childish belief in buried treasure.
Little Joe saw the crest-fallen look on his friend’s face as Tuck ducked his chin and muttered, “Just said maybe.” Little Joe straightened and jutted out his own chin.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Tolliver.” The challenge was clear in Little Joe’s voice.
Snorting, Manfred spoke to Little Joe, “Would have bet you’d stick up for his foolish idea, Cartwright. Buried treasure. Buried by whom, might I ask? A rich missionary, or do you think some Spanish pirate lost his way and took up residence on the lake?” His laugh was filled with as much distain as a twelve-year-old could manage. “I repeat: There is no Spanish gold within a hundred miles of Virginia City!”
“You don’t know everything, Manfred, even if you think you do.” Chet Brown added his two cents to the conversation.
Joe’s best friend Mitch saw the gleam come into Little Joe’s eyes and smiled. He nudged Tuck, and the two boys waited expectantly for Little Joe to speak.
“If you want to bet, Tolliver, I’ve got a bet for you. I bet you that I can bring some Spanish gold to school tomorrow, and since nobody can travel a hundred miles and back overnight, that will just prove you’re full of hot air.”
“What have you got to bet, Cartwright? Even with your rich pa, everybody knows you never have any money jingling in your pockets.” Manfred finished with a sneer; his own pockets always contained more money than any of the other boys.
“Betting money is gambling, and Little Joe ain’t allowed to gamble,” Tuck interjected on his friend’s behalf.
Little Joe and Mitch both sent a glare in Tuck’s direction. “There’s more interesting things to bet than money. That’s if you’re man enough, Tolliver.”
“Man enough!” Manfred sputtered the words. “Anything you’re willing to risk is all right by me.” Then he gave an elaborate shrug of his shoulders, “Really makes no difference to me since I can’t lose.”
Silence settled around the boys. Having only just thought of betting, Little Joe had not yet proceeded to thinking of what the bet might entail.
Chet jumped into the void. “Loser has to moon Lillie May Caruthers.”
Every pair of eyes in the group grew at least an inch wider at the thought of the preacher’s daughter’s reaction to the bare backside of any boy.
“She’d tell,” gasped Tuck. Each boy’s mind then proceed to the fate that would await the miscreant.
Little Joe’s lips curled up at the corners as he observed a slight flicker in the depths of Manfred’s eyes. “I’m willing to risk it, Tolliver; are you?”
Manfred swallowed convulsively and then told himself he could not lose. “I’m willing.”
Little Joe spit in his hand and held it out. Manfred looked at the hand with a wince of disgust, but spit into his own palm. Clasping Joe’s hand for seconds only, he sealed the deal.
“Tomorrow before school then,” Little Joe said as the bell rang calling the boys back to the classroom.
“Little Joe,” Tuck’s hand caught his friend’s arm keeping him from entering the schoolhouse, “If you lose, your pa. . .”
“Don’t worry, Tuck, this bet is in the bag.” Little Joe smiled with assurance. “Just think, even Manfred’s pa won’t let mooning the preacher’s daughter go by without a licking.”
“Boys!” Miss Jones’s voice ended the conversation.
The next morning the five boys again gathered beneath the shade of the old poplar tree, but this time they stood in a ragged circle.
“Are you ready, Cartwright, to drop your drawers?” Manfred Tolliver was the first to speak.
“Are you ready to drop yours?” Little Joe asked confidently as he reached into his pocket. Holding out his hand toward the center of the circle, he opened it to reveal three gleaming coins lying on his palm. “Take a good look, Tolliver. These are gold, the words are in Spanish, and that head is the King of Spain.”
Manfred snatched a coin from Joe’s palm and clasped it tightly in his fingers. As he studied the coin, his fingers began to tremble. “Wh. . .where did you get it?”
“Precisely where doesn’t matter ‘cause I sure as blazes didn’t go a hundred miles and back.”
Three varying exclamations of agreement assailed Manfred’s ears, and the coin fell from his fingers into the dirt. He started to back away shaking his head slowly.
“You have twenty-four hours to make good on the bet, Manfred,” Little Joe intoned, “or everyone will know what a welsher you are.”
The four friends watched Manfred dart toward the schoolroom and chortled in glee. Little Joe bent to retrieve his coin from the dirt.
“Where did you get them coins, Little Joe?” Mitch asked as the laughter faded away.
“Adam just got back from buying a bull down in Mexico from Senor Valdez. I remembered he had these coins from down there sitting on his dresser. I borrowed them.” Little Joe preened under the admiring comments of the other boys until the school bell began to toll. Mitch caught his friend’s arm and delayed Joe for a moment.
“Does Adam know you borrowed them?”
Little Joe swallowed. “Not exactly, but if he don’t get home until after me that ain’t a problem.”
“And if he does?”
Little Joe shrugged, “If Manfred pays off the bet, even that will be worth it.” Mitch nodded his agreement, and then the two boys dashed to the schoolhouse door.
Little Joe decided that Spanish gold must be the luckiest kind when he got home before Adam, and Manfred proved himself a man of his word.