By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne, living with their uncle and aunt in Tuba, Arizona, have a little counting house made of two hollow Indian rocks hidden in a tiny cave at the corner of the corral. In it they have a gold coin that was given to Prudy when her singing restored the faith of Mrs. Treuman. John gets a job freighting with Uncle Simon from Tuba to Flagstaff and the money in the counting house grows more rapidly. When the treasure is large enough it is to be used to help the children’s father and mother to come from England to America. Just when it seems that the treasure will grow larger each week, Uncle Simon and John are very sick on the road. They are cured by faith, but Aunt Aggie refuses to let Uncle Simon and John continue with the freighting.
Prudy wasn’t surprised to find John near the west side of the sapling corral. She had known that at this time of the evening he would be waiting for her at their “Counting House,” so that they might count the “treasure” together. No matter how homesick Prudy and John got in the day time as they went about their work, no matter how much they longed for Father and Mother at night when they lay quietly upon their fresh-smelling straw ticks, they never felt unhappy the sunset hour that they counted their treasure together. The silver money, growing slowly, but growing every week since John had been freighting with Uncle Simon, seemed to bring Mother and Father nearer.
“John,” Prudy called in a soft, half voice. “I came as soon as the dishes were done. Have you been waiting long?”
John didn’t answer.
Prudy wondered if he were asleep. He couldn’t be, though, she thought, because he was sitting up, his face to the west. No, he wasn’t asleep. His shoulders were shaking. He was crying. That was it, he was crying!
For a moments he thought of going back to the house because she knew how boys hate to have anybody see them cry; then she remembered that John had no one else but her to talk to. “What is it, John?” she asked softly, touching him on the shoulder.
He dug his fist into his eyes before he turned to her.
“We’re not going to have any more money. Not ever, Prudy,” he said.
Prudy shook her brown curls and tried to laugh, but the laugh wouldn’t come. John looked too miserable, and it hurt her to see his round blue eyes red and swollen. “Of course we’re going to have more money, John,” she tried to comfort him. “Why won’t we? I never dreamed we’d get so much money as we have since you’ve been doing a man’s work with Uncle Simon freighting over to Flagstaff.”
“We’re not going to freight any more. That’s why.”
Prudy was too surprised to speak for a minute, then she stupidly repeated what John had said– “aren’t going to freight any more.”
John’s impatient hand pulled at the unruly shock of his white hair. “Aunt Aggie’s put her foot down on it. She says Uncle Simon and I would have died if it hadn’t been for the grace of God, and to keep on freighting would be ‘tempting Providence.’” He kicked at the hard, baked sand with a bare heel. “So – we aren’t going to freight any more.”
“How do you know –? Well, I don’t believe it. Uncle Simon promised Aunt Aggie he’d buy her some store furniture for the house when he’d freighted for six months, and–”
“But Aunt Aggie doesn’t want the store furniture. When Aunt Aggie says no more freighting, she means no – more – freighting.”
Prudy sighed. “To look at Aunt Aggie you’d never think that she always meant what she said, now would you!”
John laughed at the doleful look on Prudy’s face, then he sobered suddenly. “I guess we’ll have to try to send Father and Mother the money we have now – and then sit back and wait.”
“I’m not going to sit back and wait. Something will come up. I know it will.”
And the very next day, something did come up!
It was just afternoon when Aunt Aggie said, “Prudence, your Uncle Simon forgot to buy flour last week, and we’re clean out of bread. If you’ll go into town and bring back a sack, you can ride Rex.” Then, when Prudy hesitated, “You do that, Prudence, and I’ll make you some soda biscuits for supper.”
So Prudy rode into Tuba on the back of Rex. “You aren’t much of a king, Rex,” she said to the middle-aged draft animal as she jounced along his back. “That’s what your name means, you know – King. Now, if you were a real king and I was your loyal subject I’d say, ‘Grant me one boon, O King. Let John go back to freighting or give me a bag of money,’ and you’d do it. You’d say, ‘Most loyal subject, I grant thee thy boon. Here –’”
Prudy stopped suddenly in the imaginary conversation. Rex’s shuffling feet had kicked up a black object from the dusty road. There it was, lying toward the side of the road and looking like a piece of an old boot or – or could it be a leather bag? It might be a long leather bag!
Hurriedly she slid from Rex’s back. It was a leather bag, a long thin one. She opened the strings carefully and put her hand in. It was filled with something hard and irregular in size. She squinted her eye into the top of the bag and she knew what it was. It was a purse filled with gold nuggets! She had said something would come up, and it had. She had asked Rex for the “granting of one boon” and he had kicked up a bag filled with gold.
Carefully Prudy put the leather bag into the saddle bag that hung over Rex’s back and adjusted the saddle bag so it would still balance across the horse’s broad back. Then she climbed on again and was almost home before she remembered that she had forgotten the flour, and wheeled to return to town.
She waited impatiently for Brother Dalton, the storekeeper, to put the flour on Rex’s back behind the saddle and tie it securely. She led Rex to the fence and climbed on as a girl should, and sat holding the reins while Brother Dalton asked after Uncle Simon and John and told all manner of stories of people who had sickened and died on the road to Flagstaff. Finally, between stories, she dug her feet into Rex’s fat sides and forced him to a lumbering gallop.
“There’s enough gold there to send for Father and Mother,” she kept thinking. “But I can’t tell Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon about it. They’d hunt for the owner and I don’t want them to do that. Finders keepers.” The two thoughts fitted into the swaying of the horse. First she was happy and excited; then she was worried about what to do with the gold – how to get it out of the saddle bag without anyone seeing it – what to do with the nuggets in order to get money for Father and Mother to come to America.
“I’m going to be happy about it,” she told herself, and put the worry resolutely out of her mind.
When she drove into Uncle Simon’s yard no one was about. Uncle Simon and John must be up to the Smith place where all of the men in the settlement were helping to dig out a natural reservoir to hold water for the stock to drink. Perhaps Aunt Aggie was taking a nap. Prudy rode Rex into the corral. Standing on the fence, she lifted out the heavy bag. Why, there was more gold in it than she had seen in her whole life put together. Carefully she carried it over to the side of the corral fence where John had dug out the little cave that sheltered the treasure. There was barely room for the sack beside the coins she and John had been saving ever since they came to Tuba.
She sighed with relief as she turned from the corral. No one had seen her. The gold had to be a secret from Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon, and already she had made up a speech about how she found the money to tell John when they met at the counting house.
When John and Uncle Simon came home from the Smith place, they grubbed until supper time in the newly planted garden. Prudy was glad. She kept looking in Aunt Aggie’s looking-glass to see if her face was telling the secret, but Aunt Aggie didn’t seem to notice it as she hurried about the kitchen making the promised biscuits.
Prudy got more excited every minute. She was so anxious for the counting hour that she hardly tasted the biscuits. She hurried through the dishes so fast that Aunt Aggie held her breath for the four willow plates that had come with them all the way from England.
Prudy was first at the “Counting House.” She had been there several minutes when John came, an unhappy look on his face, his hair hanging in an untidy shock over his left eye.
He stopped abruptly at the excitement on Prudy’s face. “What is it?” he wanted to know “Tonight at supper you looked as lit up as a parlor lamp – all light inside, somehow.”
“John, the most wonderful thing happened to me today,” she started to say, speaking the pieces she had so carefully memorized for the occasion. Then she forgot the speech. “John, look what I found!”
She reached into the counting house and brought out the long, thin leather bag. She pulled the top open and poured the contents into the lap of her blue denim work dress.
John’s eyes nearly popped out, and he grabbed his ear as a drowning person does a life line. “Gold!” was all he could say.
“Say it’ll be all right for us to keep it, John. I was riding along the road on old Rex and he kicked it up. It looked like it was put there just on purpose for Rex to kick up for me. Say it’ll be all right.”
“I don’t know,” John said slowly. “I’d have to think about it.”
Prudy’s gray eyes were eager as they searched his face. “I have thought about it, John. Ever since I found the purse I’ve been thinking about it. Finders keepers. That’s right, isn’t it?”
“What will Uncle Simon say? Did you tell Aunt Aggie?”
Prudy shook her head. “They’d be old fashioned about it, John. This is what I thought. I thought we could take the gold and go someplace else where people didn’t know Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon, and we could get enough money for it to send for–”
“I guess we could,” John agreed.
He lay on his back and crossed one brown leg over the other knee. He watched his toes bend and unbend instead of looking into Prudy’s eyes. “Seems funny,” he said at last. “Seems funny that I’m not a bit glad about your finding the gold. All along I’ve been thinking that when we finally got enough money to bring the folks to America that I’d be so happy that I’d nearly burst inside, and now I’m not happy a bit. Maybe it’s because we didn’t earn the money.”
Prudy nodded her head and closed her eyes tight against the sudden tears. “I’m not happy about it either – not happy the way you mean. But you do think we should keep it, don’t you, John? You do think that –”
John still watched his toes. “Well, I guess we can’t give it back if we don’t know who lost it.”
Slowly Prudy’s hand went to the neck of her dress. She drew out a handkerchief, but she didn’t wipe her eyes. Instead she unfolded the white square carefully. “I found this in the bag of gold,” she said, and handed John a tiny card.
John read the flourishing black penmanship. “Mr. Joseph Drew,” it said. And down in the corner, “Tombstone, Arizona Territory.”