By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne are traveling to Arizona with their uncle and aunt. The ferry over the Colorado River is out of order, which makes it necessary for the Latter-day Saints and a party of miners, prospectors and businessmen who are traveling with them to take the Upper Ferry and travel a very dangerous road.
Mrs. Gilbert Treuman, wife of a man who has already offered Prudy a chance to earn a large sum of money by singing in a Tombstone hotel, grows hysterical. The whole train of carriages and wagons is brought to a stop. Prudy’s singing quiets Mrs. Treuman, and upheld by the child’s faith, the woman is able to walk over the dangerous road.
Mr. Treuman gives Prudy a gold coin to be a “nest egg” for the treasure she and John hope to earn. Their great desire is to earn money enough to help their father and mother to come to America from England.
It was dark when the travelers drew near to Tuba. The only evidence that there was a town at all were the squares of yellow lamplight marking the windows of a few of the houses. Uncle Simon stopped at one of the first houses and asked direction to the home of his brother, Marcus.
“Just across the way,” the man at the lighted door said, and in a moment Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon were being kissed and embraced by Uncle Simon’s brother, Marcus, and his wife, Ella.
“And these are my sister’s children, John and Prudence Wayne,” Aunt Aggie said.
“Pleased to know you. You young ones forget I’m no blood relative of yours and call me Aunt Ella and call him Uncle Marcus. I wish the twins weren’t in bed. Paul and Patrick. You’ll love them, Prudence. Just thirteen months old to this very day.”
“I’ve never been around a baby, Aunt Ella,” Prudy said, her eyes dancing, “but I’ll love them and you can show me how to do for them.”
Aunt Ella put her arm around Prudy. “My, it will seem nice to have a little help with them. Patrick’s been walking for a couple of months and Paul found his legs about a week ago. Into everything.” She turned to Uncle Simon, her whole face smiling. “But don’t let me get started on the babies. I know you folks are hungry. Let me fix you a bite.”
“We ate at about six and were going to make camp and come on in in the morning,” Uncle Simon explained. “but when I got this close I just couldn’t rest. The other wagons are camped down the way about five miles.”
Prudy watched Aunt Ella fix supper while John went with Uncle Simon and Uncle Marcus to take some of the things out of the wagon and to take care of the horses.
The room was cheerful and the fire, flaming in the stone fireplace, was not unwelcome although the day had been a hot one. The bacon sizzled and sputtered in the pan with a tantalizing fragrance and Aunt Ella sliced yellow corn mush into the savory grease; yet Prudy felt unaccountably homesick. She was eager for morning to come so that she and John could see the new world they had come to live in.
As soon as the men folk had come in, Aunt Ella heaped plates with the savory food, and she and Uncle Marcus hurried about making beds for the others while they ate. Real beds under a roof would be a treat after the weeks of traveling.
When they all knelt for family prayer, Uncle Marcus asked Heavenly Father, “Please, God, grant to each one kneeling in this circle the righteous desires of his heart.” Prudy wanted to reach out and touch John. It seemed that Uncle Marcus knew by some sixth sense the prayer that was in their hearts. Surely Heavenly Father would hear the request and help them to earn enough to send for Father and Mother.
But next morning Prudy and John weren’t so sure that the prayer could be answered. As soon as it was light, they tiptoed together down the steps from the loft, through the sitting room where Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie were sleeping, and out to the front of the house. Without a word they walked together to the front sidewalk, then stood looking around them.
On every side of the tiny town of scattered little cottages the sand stretched away, flat as a saucer, to red bluffs that rose abruptly. Everything was covered with dust, and there was almost no hint of green to rest the eyes.
“Well,” Prudy said, turning to John. “Well!”
“Prudy, how does this make you feel?”
“I don’t know. Lost, sort of, I guess.”
“There’s too much space, or too much air, or something.” John stretched his arms as far as he could each to the sides. “I don’t like it.”
“I don’t like it either. Oh, John, I wish we hadn’t come!”
Then Aunt Ella came out of the house shaking a duster in the still air. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she said.
“Beautiful?” The children both echoed her words. “We don’t like it,” John said, speaking for both.
“You’ll love it when you get accustomed to it,” Aunt Ella predicted. “I felt the same way when we came, but I’d hate to go back to Salt Lake now.” She lifted her thin face toward the morning sun. “A person can breathe here,” she said. “Oh, we’ve had hard times, but–”
“That’s just what I wanted to ask you about,” John said. “Do you think there’s any work that I could get to do? I’m just twelve, but I can do a man’s work.”
Aunt Ella shook her head. “What crops there were are in now, and I don’t suppose there’ll be anything much until spring. Of course there’ll be plenty to do getting a house up for you folks.”
“I wanted to work, too,” Prudy said with a hopeless tone in her voice.
Aunt Ella laughed. “Now that’s a horse of a different color,” she said. “Only yesterday one of the sisters was asking where she could get a likely girl, willing to mind children and help out with odd jobs.”
“I’d love to do it,” Prudy cried. “When do I start?”
Aunt Ella laughed again, her high, good-natured laugh. “Not so fast. I guess your Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon would have something to say about that.”
When Aunt Aggie heard that another sister from England, Sister Thornstone, had broken her ankle and couldn’t get about to mind her children, she decided to let Prudy try the new job.
For several days Prudy went each morning to Sister Thornstone’s house and came home in the evening. The work was not hard, but it was tiresome. Sister Thornstone had four little children, the oldest less than six. “My, they’re ugly,” Prudy thought when she first saw them. They were as thin as their mother was fat, and even the baby had a liberal sprinkling of brown freckles on his nose. “The children look like they were all cut from a very ugly piece of speckled calico,” Prudy told John after the first day’s work.
They were easy to do for because they weren’t accustomed to much attention, but Milly, Percy, and Annie had to be watched every minute or they got into high-pitched quarrels with each other. Besides keeping an eye on them, Prudy was expected to fetch and carry for Sister Thornstone. Since Sister Thornstone was very fat, she would have had some trouble getting about anyway. Now, with one foot out of use, she stood with one knee on a chair and prepared the meals and supervised Prudy’s efforts at washing and ironing.
It was always fun to go back to Aunt Ella’s house in the evening. Uncle Marcus was helping Uncle Simon to build a house of sun-dried brick right next door, and John taught Prudy how to shape the clay into bricks and set them aside to dry in the sun. She and John talked together of their secret and tried to guess how much Sister Thornstone would pay Prudy for her work.
Then the nights spent at Aunt Ella’s stopped suddenly. Little Annie took to coughing and coughed until she nearly choked. Sister Thornstone sent Prudy running for Aunt Aggie, and when Aunt Aggie came back she said, “Whooping cough. I’d know that cough anywhere. Poor little thing, I’ll fix up some herbs for her if Simon can get into my herb chest. We haven’t unpacked, you know. I’ll be sorry to take Prudy back with me, but she hasn’t had the cough, and I–”
“Don’t take her,” Sister Thornstone begged. “I was up against it before, and now –” Sister Thornstone’s heavy shoulders shook and she began to cry. “Now I don’t know what I’d do.”
“I’m sorry, Sister Thornstone,” Aunt Aggie said firmly, “but this child’s been left in my care and–”
“I’d like to stay,” Prudy said, thinking not so much of how much Sister Thornstone counted on her, but of how she and John had counted on the money. “I’d have to get whooping cough sometime anyway, and–”
Sister Thornstone’s florid face folded into a smile. “Prudy’s right,” she said. “Besides, you can’t take her back to Ella’s and run the risk of her carrying the cough to the little ones there. You know you can’t.”
“I – I –” Aunt Aggie stammered for a minute. “Maybe you’re right. I guess that’s so. I’ll leave her then. But the minute she shows signs of getting the cough let me know and I’ll come in and tend to her. I’m not going to have her sick when I’m not at hand to tend to her.”
The days went by, but Prudy didn’t get the cough. All of Sister Thornstone’s children were whooping and finally Sister Thornstone herself began to cough. She coughed and coughed until the perspiration ran down her face and formed in beads on her neck. Every time she did anything that tired her she went into a fit of coughing. Each day Prudy did more of the work and Sister Thornstone less; yet the woman’s cough seemed to grow worse each day.
“I tell you what, Prudy,” Sister Thornstone said one afternoon after a particularly violent spell. “Honey’s good for a cough. I wish I had some.”
“Perhaps Aunt Ella might have some.”
Sister Thornstone shook her head. “There isn’t any in Tuba except what’s in my hives.”
Prudy remembered the bee boxes that she had seen at the far end of the field. She hadn’t known that they were Sister Thornstone’s. She wouldn’t even have known that bees lived in them if Uncle Simon hadn’t told her about them.
Sister Thornstone looked in Prudy’s eyes. “You can get some honey for me if you want to.”
Prudy looked down at her hands. “I had a bee bite once. When we were in Salt Lake City, John and I were –”
“Nonsense. More than likely you wouldn’t even see a bee. If you do, I can fix you up so that they can’t get to you.”
“I don’t want to,” Prudy said slowly. “I’m afraid.”
Sister Thornstone’s voice grew suddenly angry. “I’m paying you to work here. I expect you to do what I say.”
Prudy was ashamed of the tears in her eyes. “What do I do so they won’t sting me?” she asked.
“That’s the girl.” Sister Thornstone’s voice was kind again. “It’s as easy as falling off a log.” She went to a corner of the room where a curtain covered the family’s clothing, hung on hooks and nails. When she came back she had an odd assortment of clothes. “First tie this sunbonnet under your chin, and put these gloves on your hands. Then I’ll drape this mosquito netting over your face to protect it from the bees. Now take this clean water bucket and the poker and you’re ready to go.”
Prudy stood quietly while Sister Thornstone fixed her up and put the poker and bucket into her hands. “But I don’t know what to do,” she said.
“That’s easy. You go down to where the boxes are and tap on the top of one of them three times with the poker. That drives the bees down. Then you lift the lid, take out two or three of the honey combs and drop them in the bucket, then you put the lid back on and you’re done. If one or two bees do come out, you’re covered all over so they can’t hurt you.”
Prudy started slowly toward the end of the field where the bees were. “How can they tell if I tap three times or four?” she wondered out loud. Then she began to wonder why Sister Thornstone hadn’t called to Uncle Marcus or Uncle Simon or some of the other men passing on the road. She remembered Sister Thornstone’s words, “I’m paying you to work here,” and the thought that robbing the bees would somehow bring Father and other to America a little sooner gave her courage. All at once she started to run toward the end of the field, anxious to get the frightening errand over with.
She stopped at the first hive, tapped three times with the poker, and tried to lift the lid. The lid stuck tight. She pulled and tugged, but still the lid stuck; so she went on to the next hive. She tapped three times on it. Just as she was going to try to lift the lid she heard an angry buzzing sound behind her. The bees in the first hive, disturbed by the knocking and her attempts to pull up the lid, came out of the hive in a buzzing black swarm. For a moment she watched them, too frightened to move; then the swarm settled on the netting that hung from her bonnet. Without thinking she raised her gloved hand to move them from the netting so she could see what she was doing. awkwardly she brushed at the netting, dislodged it from the bonnet, and it fell to the ground. A thick coating of bees still clung to the net, but a great many more settled down on her face and neck.
She dropped the poker and bucket and ran. Back to the house she raced calling,”Open the door, open the door!”
Sister Thornstone’s head appeared at the window. “Run home, Prudy,” she shouted. “I don’t want all those bees in here. You –” But her words were covered with a fit of coughing.
Prudy ran down the walk, down the road, and finally up the path to Aunt Ella’s back door. Two blocks had never seemed so long. “Let me in, let me in,” she sobbed.
Aunt Aggie came running to the door. She grabbed a shirt she was just about ready to hang on the clothesline and began to beat the bees from Prudy’s face and body. “Ella,” she called. “Ella, come here quick. The child’s killed, that is what she is!”
Aunt Ella came hurrying. “Get her in the house, Aggie. I’ll mix up some mud to poultice her. You put her on the table in the kitchen and we’ll try to get those stings out of her.”
Aunt Aggie, her face already peppered with rising welts from bee stings, carried Prudy into the kitchen. “You poor little soul,” she said.”You poor little soul.”
Aunt Ella came hurrying with a pan full of mud. “Just put this on thick all over her. How did it happen, child? Whatever gave those bees a mind to attack you like that?”
“I was just – just –” Then she broke down crying. The sympathy of her two aunts brought a shower of tears.
Uncle Simon came in just then. He understood at a glance what had happened. “Those bees down on the cross lots?” he asked. “What made you molest them?”
“Sister Thornstone sent me after some honey for her cough,” Prudy said.
Aunt Ella frowned. “It would pay Sister Thornstone to leave those bees alone,” she said. “They belong to the community, not to her.”
Aunt Ella went on. “The bees are just getting a start. We’ll have to feed them this year in order to keep them alive. There wasn’t so much food for them last season, you know.”
The bites felt a little better now that they were coated with mud, but Prudy still couldn’t open her swollen eyes, and her lips were thick and painful. “When can I go back to work?”she asked.
Tears were in Aunt Aggie’s voice. “You aren’t ever going back there. Why, she’s a wicked woman, that’s what –”
“She didn’t know they’d bite me. She fixed me up so that – Besides, I want to go back. I want to earn –”
“Well, we won’t worry about that, Prudy, until you’re well again. This many bee stings is bound to poison you. You won’t feel too well for some time,” Uncle Simon said.
And Uncle Simon was right. Prudy was ill for more than a week.
One morning a strange girl, tall, with hair the color of molasses, knocked on Aunt Ella’s back door. “I’m Bessie Streeper,” she explained. “I’m Sister Thornstone’s niece and I’ve come from Snowflake to take care of her and mind the children.”
“My aunt’s been worrying about not paying you. So she sent me over.” Prudy’s heart skipped. At last there would be something to add to the treasure.
Bessie took a package from under her arm and handed it to Prudy. “People down this way pay in goods,” she said.
Prudy opened the package. In it was five yards of ugly brown calico. Tears filled her eyes. “I don’t want this,” she cried. “It’s ugly. And besides, I want money.”
Aunt Aggie had come into the room. She said, “Tell your aunt, thank you kindly. Prudy is a little disappointed.”
After Bessie had gone, Aunt Aggie said, “We’ll just have to make the best of things, Prudy. That’s all we can do.”
Aunt Aggie went away and in a few minutes John came in. He acted as if he hadn’t noticed that Prudy was crying. “Come out to the corral with me. I’ve something to show you.”