The Hidden Gold

Published in 2012; author Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Sergio Giovine


This book starts out reminding me of a BSC book: Marie-Grace and her father are taking a steamboat ride up the Mississippi, and she's roped in to watching a little girl named Annabelle before they even leave the dock. Baby-sitting on vacation! But Annabelle's mother only asks for a bit of help now and then. Just before the ship departs, a girl Marie-Grace's age named Wilhelmina comes aboard at the last moment. Her father died just a few days ago, leaving her orphaned. Wilhelmina had come down with another passenger on main-deck passage, sleeping out on the deck instead of in rooms, for cheaper fare. The captain is reluctant to have her do so alone, so Marie-Grace offers the extra bed in her stateroom (she and her father each have their own, I guess) until the boat reaches Wilhelmina's grandmother's house in Missouri. Wilhelmina accepts, but reluctantly because she's not allowed to keep both her trunks in the room; one will have to be stored with the rest of the cargo. She's oddly protective of her trunks and almost rude, but Marie-Grace reminds herself that the eleven-year-old just lost her father, and no doubt has a lot of emotions whirling inside her. 

At dinner, Wilhelmina eats as if she hasn't seen food in days, then promptly disappears back to the stateroom. A jeweler who had been at the same hotel fills Marie-Grace and the other diners in on her story: her father had just struck gold in California but he died before he was able to tell Wilhelmina where he'd stashed it. No wonder she's protective of the trunks. Later that evening, Wilhelmina confides to Marie-Grace that her family is destitute and without the gold her father found, her younger brothers will have to go live with cousins in Kansas--family, but far away. Her father left to find his fortune two years prior, and Wilhelmina and her brothers moved in with their grandmother after their mother died. On his way home, her father fell ill and died before reuniting with his family. Knowing he might die before Wilhelmina reached him in New Orleans, he left a clue for her regarding where he hid the gold. The girls steal out to the deck to find Wilhelmina's other trunk, which holds the tattered book of nursery rhymes her father used to read her--she put it in his luggage when he left for California so he could read them and think of her. Sometimes he'd send letter with riddles about the rhymes, so she reasons his clue must be in there.

The next day there's a flurry of activity when someone spots a wrecked float and three injured men--they were hit by another steamboat. Dr. Gardner, who I think is getting a deal on the fare to act as ship doctor or is being paid back for helping the pilot during the yellow fever epidemic, immediately tends to them. While that's going on, Marie-Grace spots Annabelle down on the deck, which has no railings to keep the little girl from falling into the river. She rushes down and gets her back to safety with the help of another passenger. A short time later, Annabelle brings the nursery rhyme book to Marie-Grace and Wilhelmina--she'd found it in the hall outside their rooms and brought it to her mother so she could read some to her. When her mother realized Wilhelmina's name was in it, she had Annabelle return it. At Annabelle's urging and with Wilhelmina's permission, Marie-Grace reads some of the book to Annabelle. She notices some faint writing in the margins which Wilhelmina missed the first time through. She takes in sewing to make money, and her eyes are too strained from all the close work to have noticed. They're clues, but Wilhelmina can't decipher what they mean.

Marie-Grace can't stop thinking about the writing. While she's entertaining Annabelle, something the little girl says makes all the pieces click into place. The cooking spider that Wilhelmina's father has in his trunk is the key. Marie-Grace isn't sure how, but she knows it's important. She and Wilhelmina head for the luggage area, and see another passenger trying to break into the trunk! They're able to alert the captain and stop him. It turns out he'd lost some money gambling and overheard about the hidden gold (title drop!) and was trying to steal it. Wilhelmina fetches the cooking spider but its importance isn't immediately clear...until she inspects it closely and chips some black paint off. It's solid gold, and so are some other "iron" cooking instruments! She and her brothers can stay together now.

Looking Back

In the 1850s, steamboat travel was both luxurious and dangerous. Many steamboats were as fancy as five-star hotels, but the fires that produced the steam necessary to power them could get out of control and overtake a ship. The Mississippi River was also very crowded in some areas, and smaller crafts risked getting run over by large boats. Shallow waters also hide rocks and fallen trees. Today there are safer modes of transportation and better signals to avoid collisions.


This book is dedicated to "my niece, Nicole."

So, cargo...why do ships carry cargo and trucks carry shipments?

What weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold? Feathers. A pound of gold is fourteen ounces instead of the standard sixteen. 

Between interruptions, Marie-Grace gradually writes a letter to Cécile throughout the book.

Annabelle's father is never mentioned.

Every time Marie-Grace mentions her late baby brother, she references him by name (Daniel). I know a handful of women who have lost children, and when they do want to talk it's important to them to use their children's names, to formally recognize their too-short lives.

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