By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne have come to America with their Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie. More than anything in the world they want to earn enough money to help their parents come from England soon.
In Arizona there is little opportunity, but slowly the children accumulated a “treasure.” In a “counting house” made of two hollow Indian rocks they have kept every coin they could obtain. In it there is a gold piece, given to Prudy when her faith and her singing helped Mrs. Gilbert Treuman to continue her journey into Arizona; there are the silver pieces that John earned when he was helping Uncle Simon freight from Tuba to Flagstaff. There might have been a whole purse full of gold nuggets, because Prudy found the purse on the road one morning. Although they would have liked to believe “finders keepers” they returned the purse and the owner sets them up in business at the Red Rock Indian Trading Post.
At Red Rock Aunt Aggie is injured and the children are left with Old Toby to run the business. For an unknown reason the Indians go on the warpath. They come to the post for weapons but the children have hidden them. Old Toby goes to Tuba for help and returns with Aunt Aggie, Uncle Simon and the owner of the post, Mr. Drew.
Mr. Drew closes the post until the Indian trouble is over and pays Uncle Simon, Aunt Aggie, and the children in beautiful rugs. The children tell of their secret treasure and their uncle and aunt turn their rugs over to the same cause.
It was night when Prudy, John, Uncle Simon, and Aunt Aggie reached Tuba after closing the Indian Trading Post at Red Rock. Prudy and John were wild to get out to the counting house to count their treasure once again, but Aunt Aggie insisted that it was too late for them to be “mooning around.”
The sun had just rolled over the red mesa to the east when Prudy awakened John. “John, let’s go out to the counting house.”
John sat up with a start. “I dreamed that somebody found the counting house while we were gone and took the treasure.”
Prudy’s gray eyes opened wide. “I dreamed that, too.”
John looked worried. “I wonder if –”
“What’s the use of wondering when we can go out and see? I’ll get dressed and meet you at the back door in two minutes.”
They tiptoed across the back porch where Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon were sleeping and slipped through the creaking netting door.
Prudy stopped to look at the new house next to Uncle Marcus’s. It was almost finished now. It seemed a long time since she and John had helped to make the sun-dried brick for its walls. Uncle Simon had stopped work in it to go freighting, then he had stopped again to go to the Indian trading post. A few more days would put on the roof and then there would be nothing left to do but take off the boards that covered the places where doors and windows should be and put some real ones in place.
John went ahead, but in a second he came running back and seized Prudy’s hand. “Come! Come see what’s happened!”
Prudy ran with him down the path and around the corner of the wood shed. What she saw made her stop dead still. The corral had been moved and in its place there was a hollowed-out reservoir for the watering of the stock. “Prudy, our counting house was there.”
“Do you think the water hole covers the place where we had –?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not. It might be just on the edge or something.”
John raced toward the place where the counting house had been and Prudy panted behind him.
John fell upon his knees near the edge of the reservoir and began to run his hands through the sand.”Prudy, we were stupid. It was silly not to tell Uncle Marcus and Aunt Ella about our counting house. We should have told them before we left.”
“I guess we were,” Prudy admitted sadly. “But it’s such fun to have a secret!”
“We’ll probably pay dearly for this one. Prudy, I just can’t find the little tunnel at all. Without the corral to go by I don’t know how – Oh, here it is. I feel a rock!”
John made the sand fly, but the rock he drew out wasn’t part of the counting house at all.
Prudy stood twisting her hands in her apron. “I wouldn’t be surprised if our money’s at the bottom of this reservoir.”
John lifted a determined chin. Prudy saw that his eyes were filled with tears. “I’ll find it if I have to drain the whole water hole. We’ve got to have the treasure to send for Father and Mother. We’ve got to!”
“Let’s see if we can remember right where the corral was.” Prudy spoke slowly, thoughtfully. “That’s the only way we’ll ever find it.”
John wiped his sleeve across his eyes. “That’s a good idea.” He stopped his frantic searching, stood up and took his bearings from the house, from the woodshed, and from the path that led through the back garden. He paced back and forth, measuring each step. Finally he said slowly. “Should be about here.” Again he went down on his knees.
His flying hands reminded Prudy of a prairie dog’s feet when it is at work on a hole. He lifted a shining face. “I believe I’ve found the little tunnel!” He worked more carefully and the pile of sand grew more slowly, but it was only a few seconds before he shouted, “Eureka!” With hands that trembled from excitement he drew out the two Indian rocks. Prudy’s brown curls touched John’s straight white hair as they bent to count the treasure.
At least a hundred times they had bent over their counting house in just this way. But always before they had known exactly how much money they would have and the counting had been just for fun. Today there was an extra coin! It was a gold piece. Just as large and shining and bright as the one that Mr. Treuman had given Prudy that night on Lee’s Backbone.
The children could scarcely believe their eyes, and Prudy bit the coin to see if it was really real. In the bottom of the hollowed out place in the Indian rock John found a note. It said:
“John and Prudence don’t believe that finders are keepers. That’s one reason why the finders of this treasure haven’t been keepers. – Aunt Ella and Uncle Marcus.”
Prudy thought of how hard it was to earn a gold coin in Tuba. “Why, Aunt Ella and Uncle Marcus must have left that gold coin for us. It’s – it’s wonderful of them.”
John nodded gravely. “It certainly is. They have so many places to put their money and money is so hard to get. But what do you suppose they meant by that note?”
For a moment Prudy was puzzled, then her face lighted up. “Aunt Ella and Uncle Marcus were thinking of the time we returned Mr. Drew’s bag of gold nuggets. They must have known how very much we wanted to keep it.”
“And when Uncle Marcus was moving the corral fence he must have dug this up and guessed that it was ours.”
“John, let’s count it again.”
Together they counted the money, though they knew just how much there was. “Prudy, there’ll be enough. Maybe there’ll be enough without selling those beautiful Indian moccasins. You can keep them for your very own.”
Prudy shook her head. “I’m planning to give them to Mother. John, how long will it take Father and Mother to get here from England?”
“Let’s think. How long did it take us? Well, first we have to go to Salt Lake City and sell the blankets. Since Uncle Simon already has orders for them, that wouldn’t take more than – we’ll say three weeks. Then the money has to go to England. That would be about another three weeks. I guess it will take a while for the folks to get ready because the money will certainly be a surprise. That might take another three weeks. It will take another three to get to Salt Lake City, and –”
John had been counting on his fingers and Prudy, quicker at arithmetic, added the numbers in her head. “Twelve weeks, John. At least twelve weeks and that’ll be almost three months. Oh, that’s too long!”
John looked unhappy, too. “Having the money for them seemed to bring them so very near. Maybe it won’t take three months. Maybe –”
“Maybe!” Prudy said, but the smile was gone from her face. All at once she was unbearably homesick for her mother and father whom she hadn’t seen for such a long time.
When Prudy and John returned from the counting house, the grown-ups were already bustling around. Aunt Ella was fixing breakfast, Aunt Aggie was washing clothes, Uncle Marcus and Uncle Simon were packing the big wagon.
“We’re not wasting any time,” Uncle Simon called to John. “Come make yourself useful.”
Aunt Ella called Prudy. “The twins aren’t awake yet. When they awaken, you get them ready for their breakfast, will you?”
Seeing everyone so busy preparing for the trip to Salt Lake City lightened Prudy’s heart a little; but even the next day when she and John sat on the load in the back of the wagon she was still glum. Three months seemed so very far away!
Uncle Simon clucked to the horses and slapped the reins across their backs. Aunt Ella called,”Good-by. We’ll try to get your house already for you folks before you get back.”
Aunt Aggie called, “You’ve done too much for us already, Ella. But it surely will be grand to have a home of my own again. Especially since –”
The horses trotted away and the wagon began to swing slowly from side to side. The long, long journey back to Salt Lake had begun. Unaccountably Prudy’s heart grew suddenly light. “My heart feels happy. I wonder why,” she said to John.
John shook his head, but Aunt Aggie called over the back of the spring seat. “Did you hear what Aunt Ella said? We are to move into our own home when we return to Tuba.”
“Is that the secret you and Uncle Simon have been enjoying so much?” John asked.
Uncle Simon teased, “Well, it’s one of them.”
“Maybe that’s why I feel happy inside of me, as if something nice was going to happen very soon.
Uncle Simon chuckled. “Happiness is in the air,” he said. “Maybe you better tell them now, Ag.”
Aunt Aggie turned clear around on the spring seat until her gentle eyes were on Prudy’s expectant face. “Here’s the big secret,” she said softly. “Your father and mother are already in Salt Lake City. We are going there to meet them now.”
Prudy was speechless for a minute, then she repeated with her voice choked and uncertain from the great lump in her throat, “In Salt Lake now!” She turned to John. “Then we don’t have to wait three months to see them!” Suddenly she threw her arms around his neck and gave him a great hug that almost upset him. “John,” she chattered, “I’m going to give Mother those Indian moccasins, those beautiful Indian moccasins –”
He disengaged himself. With a slow hand he pulled at the lobe of his ear. “Then they didn’t need our help after all. We’ve saved all of our treasure for – for nothing.”
“No, indeed,” Uncle Simon said. “You haven’t saved it for nothing. I was able to borrow money to send to your parents so they could come over sooner. I thought when I borrowed it that they would have to spend the first year they were here saving money to pay it back. Maybe it would have taken much more than a year. Now that you and Prudy have earned the money to help them, they can pay back the loan at once. They can start their life in America free of all debts.”
“America,” John said. “America has a beautiful sound, hasn’t it?”
Uncle Simon’s voice sounded a little rough. “To everybody in Europe America means the land of opportunity; but to Latter-day Saints it is even more. We know that it is a land of promise, never more to be ‘thrown down nor given to another people.’”
Prudy and John nodded as if they understood all Uncle Simon was thinking, but their eyes were on the yellow sands, the abrupt mesas rising from the desert floor. Prudy said, “Do you think Father and Mother will want to stay in Salt Lake City, or–”
“I hope not,”John declared. “I love Arizona.”
Prudy remembered how both she and John had hated Arizona only a year before. She was surprised when she found herself echoing John: “I love Arizona.”