From the Children’s Friend, 1943-44–
By Helen Hinckley Jones
“John,” Prudy said, looking at her brother through gray eyes narrowed against the sun, “do you know what I think?”
John lifted a sunburned hand to brush back the shock of white hair that always hung over his left eye. “Of course I don’t. I don’t believe you think!”
Prudy shook her head until the mass of golden brown ringlets danced. “I’m not fooling, John. I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon. I believe Aunt Aggie has a secret.
“With Uncle Simon?”
“With Uncle Simon. The other day they were talking together and when I went in they stopped. They both looked sad and serious.”
“It isn’t a secret really, Prudy,” John said, pulling at his ear as he always did when he was bothered or worried. “It isn’t a secret because I know it, too.”
“Well, why haven’t you told me?”
“Aunt Aggie said it would make you feel bad, or homesick, or something.”
“I’m no baby, I’m ten years old. And I’m not homesick – well, anyway, not very.”
“Father and Mother aren’t going to come to Salt Lake City – not for a very long time. That’s the secret.”
Prudy forgot that she was ten. All of a sudden she felt little and miserable and like she wanted to cry. It had been more than six months since she and John had come from England with their Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie to make their home with them in Salt Lake. It had been almost seven months since Prudy and John had seen their parents; ships and trains did not travel so rapidly in 1891 as they do now.
“Why aren’t they coming?” Prudy cried, thinking about how long the months had seemed. “When they kissed us good-by way back in Plymouth, England, Mother said, “Be a good girl and do everything that Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon say. We’ll be in Salt Lake ourselves within a year.”
John handed her his handkerchief. “Blow your nose and you’ll feel better,” he suggested. After a few minutes he went on. “They’re not coming because they haven’t the money. They sent us on with Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon because both Father and Mother were going to work so they could earn enough to come themselves, but Mother’s been sick, – that’s what the letter to Aunt Aggie said, – so she hasn’t been able to work at all. It has taken all Father could earn to pay the doctor and to hire a lady to look after Mother.”
Prudy looked down at her hands folded tightly together over her knees. “I can’t believe it. When Mother took the money for our passage out of the green tea pot, there was a lot left in it. A lot of money.”
John pulled at his ear. “I guess that went, too. Doctors cost money. Medicine does, too.”
For a long time the two sat very still looking down over Salt Lake City to where the lake was flaming with the fires of sunset. Finally John said, “Isn’t Salt Lake pretty?”
Prudy didn’t lift her eyes. “No. Nothing is pretty if Father and Mother aren’t going to come soon like they promised.” She hugged her knees more tightly. “John, I don’t think I can stand it.”
John tried to laugh, but his laugh sounded more like a snort, and his blue eyes were worried and unhappy. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I know what I’m going to do,” Prudy said suddenly, jumping up and almost dancing with the new idea.
“Oh, John, why didn’t you tell me the secret sooner? Why, the answer is easy. You and I can earn the money and send it back to them.”
John still pulled at his ear and didn’t look the least bit happy. ”I’ve already thought of that, Prudy, but I could make such a very little, and –”
Prudy took his hand and pulled him to his feet.”You should be able to earn a great deal, John. Why, you’re almost as large as Uncle Simon and you’re just as strong. It doesn’t matter that you’re just twelve, if you are –”
John didn’t let her finish. “I’m not afraid to work, Prudy, you know that; but it would take so long. You don’t realize how much money it takes to come all the way from England to Salt Lake City.”
“Yes, I do, and what of it?” Prudy stamped her foot in her impatience. “What if it does take a long time? We can at least get started, can’t we?”
“I guess we can,” he agreed slowly. “What are we going to do?”
For a moment Prudy watched her hands fold and unfold, then she raised her grey eyes to John’s blue ones. “I dare you,” she said. “I dare you to find a better job than I can before tomorrow.”
“This time tomorrow, huh?” John held out his hand and the two shook hands gravely.
Prudy was sorry that it was evening. It was hard to wait until morning now that she knew the secret and had decided to do something about it. Before she went to bed she borrowed Aunt Aggie’s pen and a piece of paper. She wrote the name of every woman she knew who had small children and no older child to leave them with. “Ladies have to go to town sometimes,” she told herself. “I’ll go to see everybody on this list and –”
She fell to thinking of what she would say to each of the women. Before she fell asleep she had figured out how much she might earn if she could tend children morning, afternoon and evening.
The next morning, as soon as she had helped Aunt Aggie with the work, she set out, her note clutched tightly in her pinafore pocket. During the night she had thought of other names, and she had decided that she might even hire herself out to wash or iron or clean if there weren’t enough babies to mind. As she skipped along the street, her black, brass-toed shoes making fast music on the hard sidewalk, she counted the money she was going to earn. In her mind she even bought the tickets for her parents to come to America.
All day she scarcely thought of John. That was why she was surprised when John dropped his spoon at supper and said he didn’t think he wanted much more bread and milk anyway. From under her dark lashes she studied his face. It was easy to see that he was as excited as she was. It was plain to see that he thought he had more than taken her dare.
From John’s face Prudy’s eyes traveled around the table. There was a strange gleam in Uncle Simon’s eyes. Suddenly Prudy remembered how Uncle Simon had looked when he came to her father’s house in Plymouth and told them all that he was going to America. He looked like that now – as if some strange new plan of adventure were turning around in his mind. Aunt Aggie was quieter than usual, but her kind brown eyes showed something of the same gleam.
“Have Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie got a new secret, or have they guessed ours?” Prudy asked herself. Then John looked at her and winked and she forgot all about the strange look in the eyes of Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie. “Scuse me?” she asked hurriedly and followed her brother to the front step.
“Same time as yesterday,” John said, pointing out to the brilliant lake.
Prudy was too excited to look at the sunset. “John, see this list of people,” she said, unfolding the almost worn out piece of paper. “Every one of those women wants me to come sometime during the week and mind her children or iron or help with the washing or something.”
John took the list and counted the names, then took out a list of his own. “Everybody on this list wants me to come sometime during the week. I have some stables to clean, some gardens to water, some horses to curry, and Sister Simpson’s patent leather surrey to polish.”
“How much will it cost for Father and Mother to come to America, John?”
“It’ll take a lot of money, Prudy. I’ll find out tomorrow. But it doesn’t matter how much. You were right yesterday when you said we could at least get started.” Suddenly his blue eyes burned bright. “And it won’t take us forever, either, Prudy. Here in Salt Lake –”
“Sh-sh,”Prudy said, her finger to her lips. “Here comes Uncle Simon. Let’s keep this a secret for now.”
“I’ve got big news for you, Chickies,” Uncle Simon said. “We’re leaving Salt Lake before it gets too cold to travel.”
Prudy folded her list of names tightly in her hand. “Leaving Salt Lake!” she echoed.
Uncle Simon didn’t notice how unhappy her voice was. He didn’t seem to see John frown and begin to pull his left ear. His eyes were gleaming with excitement. “Yes, my brother Marcus is down in Tuba – that’s in Arizona – and he wants me to come down. He says there’s a fine settlement of Latter-day Saints there, with Brother Lot Smith at its head. Aunt Aggie and I decided last night that we’d go. We’re pioneers, both of us. We like lots of room! We came to America to get away from cities. We aren’t happy when we can holler at our neighbors across a town lot, and we hate to walk on sidewalks.”
Neither Prudy nor John said anything. They just waited for Uncle Simon to quit speaking and go into the house. After he had gone in and they could hear his voice talking to Aunt Aggie in the kitchen, John said, “Do you want to go to Arizona, Prudy?”
Prudy smoothed the list of names out over her knee and looked at it lovingly. “No, I don’t. I want to stay right herein Salt Lake City until we earn enough money to send for Father and Mother.”
“I don’t want to go, either,” John said. “But if Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie go we’ll have to.”
Suddenly Prudy’s eyes danced. “I know, John. We won’t go.”
John let go of his long-suffering ear. “What’ll we do? How will we keep from going?”
“We’ll just get lost and not find ourselves until it’s too late for Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie to travel with the rest. Didn’t you hear Uncle Simon say we must travel while the weather’s good?”
John looked at his sister and shook his head. “Honest, for a girl with your name you do think of the wildest things!”
“Yes. Prudence means to choose with wisdom.”
“This is wise, John. honest it is. And I know some fine places where we could get lost. We could take our lunch with us – enough to last a week or two. It would be easy.”
John’s sunburned fingers went to his ear again. “It isn’t right. Mother told us to –”
“To do what Aunt Aggie said. Aunt Aggie hasn’t said we shouldn’t lose ourselves.” Suddenly Prudy slumped down on the steps and the tears came to her eyes. She held out her hand for John’s handkerchief. “I’d carry a hankie myself if I had a pocket,” she said, trying to laugh away her tears. But the tears came. “Oh, John, let’s lose ourselves. Let’s not go to Arizona just when we have such a beautiful plan in Salt Lake.”
John moved uncomfortably. “Well, Prudy,” he said slowly, “let’s think about it and sleep on it.” After a few minute she put an arm around his sister’s shoulder. “Heavenly Father knows how much we want to earn money to help Father and Mother to come to America. Maybe we both better ask Him about losing ourselves. What do you think?”
“Yes. Heavenly Father knows. I’ve told Him a million times,” Prudy said. She blew her nose and passed the handkerchief back to John. But she could feel more tears coming, so she didn’t raise her head. “Oh, I hope Heavenly Father says, ‘Go ahead. Lose yourself!’” she said.