By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne have come to Arizona with their uncle and aunt. They have a great desire to earn enough money to help their father and mother to come from England to America. In Tuba there seems to be no jobs at all for John, but Prudy gets work helping Mrs. Thornstone, who has a broken ankle. The work is hard for Prudy and it is made harder when the whole family gets the whooping cough. But the thought of helping her parents upholds her even when Mrs. Thornstone sends her out to rob the bees. She is stung so badly that she cannot go back to work. When she receives her pay in calico and not money she is very discouraged, but John has a plan to make money for their secret project.
Prudy wiped her eyes and followed John out.
By the corner of the corral John had dug sort of a little cave and in it he had pushed far back two Indian grinding rocks, placed with their hollow sides together.
He reached in and pulled out the rocks. “Look at these stones, Prudy. The Indians used to put corn in the hollowed-out place and rub it with another rock to make cornmeal. See what a nice little covered box the two of them make. I call it our ‘counting house’.” He lifted the top stone and Prudy saw the gold piece that Mr. Treuman had given her up on Lee’s Backbone.
Prudy started to cry again. “I’d counted so much on putting some more money with that gold piece,” she sobbed. “But I haven’t got a job anymore, and Sister Thornstone paid me in ugly old calico!”
“Never you mind, Prudy. This box is going to be full of money!”
Prudy was not comforted. “When?”
“You wait and see. Uncle Simon and I have a wonderful new plan, only we can’t tell anybody yet. But I’m promising you –”
It was almost two weeks before John was able to tell Prudy about the wonderful secret. During those two weeks Prudy had come to think that John had made the promise only to cheer her, that there really wasn’t any wonderful plan.
But one evening, just before sunset, a strange wagon pulled up before Aunt Ella’s house. Its body was longer than any wagon that Prudy has seen, its wheels were higher, and it was pulled by six horses rather than by the two she was accustomed to.
Prudy was stringing beads on the front steps when the driver drew the horses to a sudden halt and cried, “Say, sis, is this where Simon Taylor is putting up?”
She got up so suddenly that the beads went flying, and hurried down the walk. “Yes,” she said. “He’s my uncle.”
The man climbed down from the wagon and stretched his arms high over his head; then he stretched his left leg, then his right. “Gets mighty tiresome riding along like this. I’ll be glad for Simon to take over.”
At first Prudy couldn’t understand at all what the stranger was talking about; then she remembered John and Uncle Simon’s secret. “My uncle isn’t here just now,” she said as politely as she could, “but my brother is and I think he knows all about it.”
Then she went racing to call John, her brown curls flying behind her, her feet scarcely touching the ground. “John, John,” she called.
John’s head appeared at the window of the barn, he saw the wagon at the gate, and he was out in a flash, running ahead of Prudy. “Are you Mr. Clippinger?” he called.
“Yes,” the man answered.”Your uncle is expecting me.”
“I was expecting you, too,” John explained. “You see, Uncle Simon and I are going into this business together.”
The man smiled at John’s grown-up words, but Prudy danced up and down with impatience. “John, John, what are you talking about?”
John gestured toward her. “Don’t mind her, Mr. Clippinger,” he said. “She and my Aunt Aggie don’t know anything about our plan to carry the freight from here to Flagstaff.”
Mr. Clippinger explained, “Well, you see, sister, it’s mighty hard to get goods into Flagstaff, and there are people there that’s willing to pay well for yard goods and patent medicines – oh, things like that – that they can’t raise themselves. One of the merchants over there has fitted up this wagon and wanted to hire me to freight from over Utah way back to Flagstaff. Well, the trip was too long and tiresome, so I wrote to your Uncle Simon on the suggestion of a Mormon Elder who knew him in England. I’ll bring the goods this far and he can carry them on and bring the wagon back here where I can pick it up. It’s a good plan for all concerned.”
“I see,” Prudy said, nodding her head wisely and trying to follow all that the man had said. At least she understood that Uncle Simon and John were going to take the freight from Tuba to Flagstaff and that there was money in it for both of them. “Why haven’t you told Aunt Aggie?” she asked John.
John answered, “Well , we weren’t right sure we’d get the job, and we didn’t want to disappoint you and Aunt Aggie. Uncle Simon says that if all goes well he’s going to buy some store furniture for Aunt Aggie sometime this winter. And if all goes well I’m going to–”
Prudy’s eyes were shining. “Oh, John, things just must go well!”
The first morning that Uncle Simon and John drove out of Tuba with the great freight wagon, all of the neighbors were out to see them leave. The six horses, with coats gleaming from John’s curry comb, pawed and champed in their hurry to be off. The only part of the equipage that didn’t look exciting and romantic were the grayish water bags hanging from the arms of the wagon cover.
When the trip was over and the six horses again drew up in Uncle Simon’s lot, the animals looked tired and dusty, the wagon was coated with dirt, and the romantic look was gone entirely. But Uncle Simon had his pay in his pocket and from the pay he gave John a two dollar gold piece for his very own.
After supper Prudy and John went out to the counting house. John removed the rock from the head of his little channel, reached far in and brought out his stone box. “Here’s the counting house, Prudy. Want to open it?”
Prudy lifted the top stone. There was the shining gold piece that Mr. Gilbert Treuman had given her that evening on Lee’s Backbone. Almost reverently John put the tiny gold piece in beside it. “We’ll make it yet, Prudy. Shake!”
Prudy took John’s hand and shook it vigorously. “And sometime I’ll help, too,” she promised.
Soon the freighting trips became a matter of course; but there was always the special ritual when John put his part of the pay in with the rest of their buried treasure. Always he’d make the same promise, “We’ll make it yet, Prudy. Shake!” And always she’d take his hand and make her promise. “And sometime I’ll help, too.”
Uncle Simon and John had been freighting for several months when one afternoon, driving along a particularly hot, desolate stretch of the yellow desert, Uncle Simon said, “Take the lines, John. I don’t feel so well.”
John took the lines, thrilled to drive the span of six. It had been his part of the freighting trips to help with loading and unloading, and to care for the horses. Never before had Uncle Simon allowed him to drive. Just as he was considering himself a mighty lucky boy, Uncle Simon said, “John, if you think you can manage the horses, I’ll get in the back and lie down. The whole earth is whirling round my head. I feel terrible!”
“I know I can manage,” John declared. “I know the road, too. You go back and take a sleep.”
“Well, stop the horses while I climb back over. I’m too dizzy to do it with the wagon moving.”
John pulled the horses to a stop. For the first time he looked at Uncle Simon and the sight frightened all thoughts of pleasure at handling the horses out of his head. Uncle Simon’s face was flushed a deep purple red, and his eyes were glittering like glass.”You look sick, Uncle Simon. Tell me if I can do anything.”
Uncle Simon climbed into the back and John tried to make him comfortable on a bed of quilts spread over the uneven surface of the packing boxes. “Call me if you want anything,” he said.
“Water. Get me a drink, John,” Uncle Simon said.
Almost before John had lowered the water bag from his uncle’s lips the man was asleep.
Back on the wagon seat alone, John tried to recapture some of the thrill of handling the horses all alone, but he couldn’t get his mind off his uncle, tossing on the uncomfortable, makeshift bed. Often he heard Uncle Simon talking and thought he was speaking to him but when he turned around the glittering eyes were closed with purple lids, and the dry lips were moving in senseless mutterings.
Then, “Water,” Uncle Simon called, and John got the water again and held it to his lips. “This surely took me suddenly,” Uncle Simon said, then lapsed back into the senseless mutterings.
“I wish I knew what to do,” John thought. “I wonder if I should go back.” But even as the thought was in his mind he knew it wouldn’t be the best thing to do. They were much nearer Flagstaff than Tuba, and there were people there who would know what to do for Uncle Simon.
That night John made his uncle as comfortable as he could while he took the quilts to make a bed under the wagon. He almost carried him to the new bed and put him in it. The man’s body was so hot that it felt like a stove, even through his clothing. “Water,” he said, and John looked at the partly empty bag and was thankful that the next morning would bring them to a spring to refill it.
It was a lonely job caring for the his horses and staking them for the night, checking on the load and making it secure, and preparing a simple supper over a campfire. When the supper was ready, John took a plate to Uncle Simon’s bed, but the man just waved it away. “Water,” he said.
This time John poured a drink into a mug. He didn’t dare trust the water bag in Uncle Simon’s feverish hands.
“I’ll never go to sleep,” John thought, listening to the subdued movements of the horses and to Uncle Simon’s mutterings. “I’ll just lie here and think of all the stories of Indian depredations I’ve heard, or of the outlaws that might come by and sack the wagon.”
In spite of his worry he did fall asleep. The moon was high in the sky and it was past midnight when he awakened, unaccountably thirsty. “Why, I’ve just worried about the shortage of water until I want a drink myself,” he told himself. “There’ll be a drink for both of us in the morning, and we should be to the spring by ten.”
But no matter how he argued he was still thirsty. He turned over, determined to go back to sleep, and the rough quilt felt cool against his cheek.
This time it was harder to go to sleep, and when at last he dozed he dreamed of water, always in the distance. He was glad when morning came. He cared for the horses and checked the load before he went to awaken Uncle Simon. Uncle Simon’s body was hotter than ever and his dry lips had cracked in great uneven crevices. But his eyes didn’t glitter as much as they had the night before. “I’m sick, boy. Real sick. Better not go on today. Better just let me rest here.”
John thought of the almost empty water bag, of the spring almost four hours away. “Can’t you make it, Uncle Simon? Seems like we ought to try.”
“I’m too sick, John. We ought to –”
John didn’t want to worry his uncle, but he was forced to say, “Maybe we better go as far as the water spring, Uncle. Our water bag is nearly empty.”
Uncle Simon groaned and fell to muttering feverishly. John helped him into the back of the wagon and made him as comfortable as possible with the quilts and blankets.
After he had hitched the horses to the wagon, climbed to the high seat and urged them into a trot, he noticed that his head was aching. It was a pain that began in the temples and seemed to encircle his head. His head seemed very heavy, too, and when he steadied it against the wagon bow to rest his neck, the wagon bow felt like a cool caress. The urge to drink became stronger and stronger, and when Uncle Simon called for water, John took a long drink, too. “It won’t matter if we empty the bag now,” he thought. “We’ll be to the spring in a few hours and then –” So he took another deep drink, leaving only enough for Uncle Simon to have one more draught.
Back in the wagon seat, he was amazed to see twelve horses in front of him instead of six, and each of the horses seemed to have a furry, blurry outline instead of a clear-cut edge as they should have. They seemed to move, too, in an up and down manner instead of trotting straight forward. For a second he wondered what was the matter with the horses. And then he knew!
He gave the horses their heads while he decided what was best to do. Whatever illness had overtaken Uncle Simon the night before had caught up with him now. Perhaps he had better let the horses find their way to the spring, and make camp there until – But no, that wouldn’t do. He was feeling worse every minute, and he began to feel that if he didn’t let his heavy eyes close that he just could not live long enough to get to the spring.
What could they do? Uncle Simon was sicker than he was, so he couldn’t ask his advice. Was there any chance that anyone would be along to help them? John wiped his hand across his hot forehead. In all the time they had freighted they had only once seen other travelers.
Suddenly, he knew what to do. It was as if a voice had spoken to him. “Heavenly Father is near. He is on any road, no matter how lonely, if people’s faith is right.” The thing to do, of course, was to pray.
He wound the lines around the whip stock and gave the lead horse its head, then he climbed back beside Uncle Simon.
“Uncle Simon,” he said, trying to draw the man out of his feverish doze. “I’m sick. I have a fever just like you have.”
“Water, boy,” Uncle Simon said, not comprehending what John was saying.
“Listen, Uncle Simon, you had the last of the water this morning, and we’re a long ways from the spring, still. Listen! I’m sick. I want you to pray with me.”
Uncle Simon opened his eyes. They weren’t glittering now, just glazed like an old china plate. “What?”
“Uncle Simon, let’s pray. Let’s ask Heavenly Father to send someone along this road to take care of us. Let’s ask Him to make us well.”
Uncle Simon’s eyes cleared. He climbed from the back of the wagon. John climbed into the front, too, and they both kneeled on the seat, steadying themselves with their folded arms on its back. Uncle Simon prayed and his voice was clear and steady.
“Heavenly Father, the boy and I are alone out here on this desert road and we’re sick – both of us. We can’t take care of ourselves. We have faith that You will take care of us. In the name of Jesus, Your Son, Amen.”
The glaze didn’t come back into Uncle Simon’s eyes after he had finished talking with Heavenly Father. He turned to John. “If we had just one horse or even a team we could count on the animals taking us to the spring, but a span always gets into trouble that way. It wouldn’t do. It would be best for you to unhitch them and hobble them. Then we’ll make a bed under the wagon – it will be cooler that way – and wait for God to answer our prayers.”
John didn’t question his uncle’s advice. He did exactly as he was told and a new peace entered his mind. He didn’t worry about the empty water bag, about the lonely road, about his own fever or Uncle Simon’s. Somehow they would be taken care of and he knew it.
Together they lay down in the shade of the wagon. Uncle Simon dropped to sleep almost at once and it wasn’t long before John, too, slept.
They didn’t notice the passing of time at all. It was sunset when a wagon rattled down the road and drew up beside the freight wagon. The first thing that John knew, the driver of the wagon was leaning over them. “What’s the matter here?” he asked.
John opened his eyes. “Are you angels?” he asked.
“No,” the man laughed, “not angels, just strangers. Something has been urging us on all day. Jake, my partner, and I are headed up Flagstaff way and we had planned to take our time; but we’ve traveled since eight o’clock this morning so fast you’d think that we were in a race with a pot of gold for the winner.”
Uncle Simon opened his eyes. He had heard, too. “We’re right glad to see you, friends,” he said. “The boy and I are both down with some sort of fever and we’d like awfully well to get on to Flagstaff where our friends will take care of us.”
“Here, Jake,” the man called to his companion in the wagon, “these men are sick. Help me fix them up in their wagon and I’ll drive it into Flagstaff for them. Better bring a water bag. Theirs seems to be empty.”
The man called Jake came running across the road. He held the water bag to John’s lips and John looked up into the burned, whiskered face of the stranger. “I’ve never seen anybody more beautiful in all my life,” John said quietly.
Jake laughed, his face flushing with embarrassment. “I never was long on looks,” he said. “You’re feverish, boy.”
John put his hand to his head. His head still felt hot and dry, but he knew that he wasn’t as sick as he had been that morning. He remembered how he and Uncle Simon had prayed for someone to help them, and thought how God had whispered to the strangers to hurry all day in order to reach them before they wakened from their sleep.
“I’m Jim Parson,” the first stranger said, “and my partner here is my cousin, Jake Parson. Now you just leave everything to us.”
Together the men lifted Uncle Simon and John into the wagon and made them comfortable. Then Jim and Jake watered Uncle Simon’s horses from the Parsons’ water barrel, harnessed them, and Jim drove on toward Flagstaff, Jake following in the Parson wagon.
Several times during the night John wakened to listen to the wheels still rolling toward the mountain town. The next day they reached Flagstaff and the merchant who owned the freighted goods took them to his home and kept them there for almost a week.
When at last the wagon drew up in front of Uncle Marcus’ door on the return trip, John and Uncle Simon were well again, but they were both changed in appearance. They were thin and pale and already the shock of blond hair that always hung over John’s eye was beginning to grow thin. His hair was dropping out by handfuls from the fever. But he was happy to have another gold piece to put with the others, in the counting house.
He and Prudy went down to the counting house as soon as John had helped Uncle Simon to unload. After they had put the stones back in place, he went up to the house ahead of Prudy. As he stopped to wipe his feet at the back door, he saw Uncle Simon giving Aunt Aggie his pay for safekeeping. Aunt Aggie was saying, “I’m going to really put this away. It’s probably the last hard money we’ll see in a long time.”
“Nonsense,” Uncle Simon answered. “The boy and I are just as good as new and we’ll go right on with the freighting.”
Aunt Aggie shook her head. “No, you won’t Simon. It’d be testing Providence.”
John didn’t stop to wonder what “testing Providence” meant. Without opening the netting door he turned away. No more freighting! Why, that would mean no more treasure; and just ten minutes ago he had promised Prudy in their counting house ritual, “We’ll make it yet, Prudy. Shake!”