“Guess what I have,” she said, breathless.
“Hannah! Look what you made me do!” Jake scowled at her and started erasing the pencil line that marred his math homework.
“Sorry, but listen to this,” she said, bouncing a couple of times.
“Quit shaking the bed!”
Hannah huffed but sat still while Jake finished his erasing.
“What?” he finally said, snapping shut his math book.
Hannah leaned forward. “I overheard Mama and Daddy talking—”
“You shouldn’t be listening to other people’s conversations,” Jake said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Hannah pursed her lips. “I wasn’t trying to listen. I was just washing dishes and they were talking in the living room. I couldn’t help overhearing.”
Jake lifted one eyebrow.
“Do you want to hear or not?”
“You’re the one who came busting in my room wanting to tell me something.”
“Oh, all right, I’ll tell you.” She blew out a breath. “Remember that load of boxes Uncle Benjamin brought Mama last week? You know, of Gram’s things?” Mama and Uncle Benjamin’s grandmother had died a few months earlier.
“There’s a treasure hidden in it!”
“Hannah, you’ve been reading too many stories.” Jake rolled his eyes.
“I’m not making this up,” she said, glaring at him. “Mama told Daddy she was sorting Gram’s cedar chest today and found the key to her greatest treasure.”
“This one.” She held out her hand, and a small brass key gleamed dully in the lamplight.
“Where’d you get that?” Jake’s eyes widened. “Did you steal it?”
“No! Mama left it on the end table.” Hannah’s neck heated as she looked down at the key in her sweaty palm. “I just picked it up.”
Jake shook his head.
“I’ll put it back after I find the treasure.”
“Gram didn’t have any treasure,” he said. “She was as poor as we are.”
“That’s what we thought,” Hannah said, “but maybe she just didn’t live like she was rich.”
“Yeah, well, I just don’t think she’d hide her money in some box without telling somebody.”
“Maybe she wanted us to find it after she died.”
“You’d think she’d have just given it to us if she wanted us to have it,” Jake said.
“But that’s boring,” Hannah said. “She probably wanted someone to find the key and then go treasure hunting.”
“I don’t know.” Jake leaned back against the headboard. “Where exactly do you think this stash is?”
She shrugged. “Don’t know, but I’ll figure it out. Want to help?’
“Can’t,” Jake said. “Have to help Dad tomorrow and then I’ve got all this homework to do.” He tapped the cover of his book. “Besides, you really shouldn’t have taken that key without asking Mama’s permission.”
Hannah bit her lip. “I’ll tell after I find the treasure. She’ll be so happy about the extra money she won’t mind about the key then.”
And where should she begin her search? Maybe she’d start by asking a few questions.
Hannah dressed quickly and slipped down to the kitchen where Mama was preparing breakfast.
“Mama,” Hannah said, trying not to finger the key in her pocket, “where’s all that stuff Uncle Benjamin brought you last week?”
“Gram’s cedar chest is in my room, but we stored everything else in the cellar until I can get time to look through it.” Mama flipped a pancake then set aside the spatula and turned to look at Hannah. “Why do you ask?”
The cellar! Hannah shrugged, holding in a grin. “Just wondered.”
Mama opened her mouth like she was about to say more, but the bacon started smoking so she turned back to the stove instead.
Hannah was too excited to eat much. Mama and the little ones were headed to Aunt Rebecca’s for the morning, and Dad and Jake had to patch the barn roof. That meant Hannah could search for the treasure as soon as everyone left.
An hour later, Hannah hesitated at the top of the cellar stairs, flashlight in hand. Mama usually sent Jake down there because Hannah hated the cellar. But you have to go, she thought, for the treasure. Straightening her spine, she started down. Her footfalls rasped on the bare wood steps, echoing through the dank darkness below. Hannah shivered and clicked on her flashlight then shone the light around, hoping the skittering sound she heard was just her thumping heart.
“You have to be brave,” she told herself then flinched at the sound of her own voice.
When Hannah reached the concrete floor, she peered around the room and wished her flashlight’s beam was stronger. What if the batteries died and she got stuck down there forever? Hannah shook her head and took a deep breath. The stale, cold air coated her nose and throat. She moved toward a stack of boxes, hoping they were labeled.
Baby clothes was scrawled across one box top. Probably not Gram’s. Hannah moved around the stack, farther from the stairs. Just before she reached another pile of cartons, something soft and sticky coated her face. She screamed and danced around, swiping at her head. Hannah’s flashlight dropped to the floor, and she stomped down on it. It rolled and she flailed wildly, grabbing at the cartons to steady herself. Hannah managed to stay on her feet, but just as she stooped to pick up the flickering flashlight, the pile began to totter.
“Oh, no,” Hannah said then covered her head with her arms as the boxes tumbled down around her.
Sudden silence made her peek from her sheltering arms. The flashlight spun in dizzying circles at her feet, highlighting the mess she’d made. Clothes and quilts and keepsakes lay scattered around the floor. Hannah sighed and squatted to start picking up, but the flashlight stopped spinning and the beam shone on a cardboard box. Gram’s Things.
Mouth hanging open, Hannah reached into the carton. “Ouch!” She jerked her hand back and sucked on her pricked finger. More careful this time, she picked up the light and searched the interior. Hannah moved aside a wool blanket and some fragments of a shattered vase then spied a wooden box. The wood looked old and was carved with flowers and letters. She moved the beam closer. “My Treasure,” it read. And below that was Gram’s name.
The treasure box!
Hannah bounced in excitement then calmed enough to lift the box for a better look. Beneath Gram’s name were some words: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” On the front was a brass lock with a tiny keyhole. She fumbled for the key in her pocket and stuck it into the lock. It fit. Pulse racing, Hannah turned the key and opened the lid. What would she find?
Just an old book. Tears filled her eyes. What kind of treasure was that?
Whirling around, Hannah saw Mama standing at the foot of the steps. Hannah’s eyes darted from her mother’s face to the jumble on the floor. Uh, oh. Why was Mama home so early? Now she was in for it.
“What happened?” Mama gestured toward the chaos.
“Um.” Hannah cast around in her mind for a good excuse. Nothing. She didn’t even have a treasure to offer.
“Did you get hurt?” Mama asked, and the gentle words made Hannah gulp back sudden tears.
She dropped the book on the floor then ran to her mama. “I’m sorry,” Hannah said, throwing her arms around Mama’s neck. “I didn’t mean to make such a mess.”
“What are you doing down here?” Mama’s hand made soothing circles on Hannah’s back.
“Treasure hunting? In the cellar?” Mama pulled back and studied her face. “Why?”
“I heard you telling Daddy you’d found the key to Gram’s treasure.” Hannah turned to pull the key from the lock and held it out. “I took it so I could find the money.”
“Hannah,” Mama said, her eyes sad, “do you love money so much you would take what doesn’t belong to you?”
Sniffling, Hannah shook her head. “It wasn’t just for me. I was going to share with you and Daddy, so our family could get the stuff we need.”
“I see.” Mama gave her a small smile.
“But Gram lied, Mama.” Hannah released a sob. “She didn’t leave a treasure at all. Just a worthless old book.”
“Show me,” Mama said.
Hannah picked up the book and handed it to Mama, who studied the cover, then smiled.
“Hannah,” she said gently, “you did find Gram’s greatest treasure, and it’s far from worthless.”
Hannah blinked. “What do you mean?”
“It’s her Bible, and the wealth of wisdom Gram gained from it far exceeds anything money can buy.” Mama’s eyes filled with tears, but her smile remained. “I appreciate that you wanted to help your family, though you know taking the key was wrong, but Hannah, this Book holds more value than the most precious gold or jewels in the world.”
“How?” Hannah sniffled.
“Gram believed like the Psalmist, “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.”
Hannah’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t understand.”