Penny & Alba


Well … Penny was practicing the

piano and those familiar clunking

sounds were coming out of the

living room window and spilling down Oak

street. As Uncle Harold maneuvered his car

into the driveway, he hummed the tune that

Penny was playing. After all it was the same

tune that he had played when he was a little

boy. He remembered the day that the piano

movers brought the used piano on the truck

and deposited it in the living room of the

farm house that he and Mrs. McCutcheon

shared with their parents and grandparents.

And now the piano was being used by Penny

and Alba. Uncle Harold only hoped that they

liked practicing better than he did. He had

loved the recitals partly because he liked to

show off but mostly because he got to go

out afterwards and get a butterscotch

sundae. But how he dreaded the time before

the recital! He always knew he hadn’t

practiced hard enough to make his pieces

sound really good. And so every year he had

to cram three months of practicing into a

few days. Each year his teacher was amazed

at how quickly he could learn the piece

when he put his mind to it but he never

changed his practicing habits. Nor was he as talented as

Penny and Alba and he gave up the piano just when he

was starting to play pieces that sounded pretty


La, La, La he sang as he walked up the front pathway.

It brought back a lot of memories-especially the clunky

sound of the B flat note. No matter how often the piano

tuner had worked on the piano there was always that one

clunker above middle C.

“Such a shame,” he thought out loud because the piano

sounded pretty good for one that was over 100 years

old. Just as he was about to knock on the front door,

Alba saw him through the screen door and pushed it


“I’ve got the dumbest job in the world,” she said. “Do you

know what it is?”

“Shoveling sand in the desert?

Making snow at the North Pole?

Starting a fire under water?”

Well … Alba should have known better than to get Uncle

Harold’s imagination going.

“No, no, no. None of those.” She said with

exasperation. “I’ve got to vacuum the piano once Penny

is finished.”

“I could quit right now if that would help,” called Penny

from the living room.

“No such luck” replied Mrs. McCutcheon from the

office upstairs. “You’ve got ten more minutes of scales

to finish before I want to hear that vacuum cleaner.”

Every spring, the McCutcheon family went into the

dreaded “Spring Cleaning Blitz!!!” but both girls

thought their Mom had gone a little overboard this year.

“I suppose it will be very musical dust” said Uncle

Harold. “I’ve got few minutes to kill before I have to pick

up Aunt Helen. Maybe I can help.”

Both girls thought that was great. Penny finished off her

scales and they dragged the vacuum into the living room.

“How are we supposed to get inside?” said Alba. Uncle

Harold quickly suggested that he could take the piano


“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?” questioned Mrs.

McCutcheon from up the stairs. “After all, we still have a

few things that didn’t quite go together after you tried to fix


“No problem, trust me,” he shouted to the second floor


Everyone trusted Uncle Harold. Unfortunately, they

trusted him to mess things up. This was no time to stop

him however, because he was on a quest. He wanted to

see if he could fix that rattling B flat that had bothered

him for nearly thirty years . Before long, he had lifted the

piano’s top, taken off the front cover and pulled the

piano keys right out of the piano and placed them on

the couch. By the time that Mrs. McCutcheon entered

the room there was piano everywhere. She took one

look at her brother, Uncle Harold and gave a long

audible sigh.

“Too late,” she thought, “now he’s done it again.”

“Don’t worry, sis, I’ll have this back together better

than new within five minutes.”

Even Uncle Harold knew how many times he had said

that and failed to deliver. But this time he felt confident

it would not be too hard.

Alba started vacuuming with a very soft brush and

Penny wiped off all the keys with a slightly damp cloth.

Uncle Harold went straight for the guts of the piano.

He got his flashlight from the car so he could see right

down into the piano case.

“Ah, ha. Eureka!!” he shouted as he slid his arm down

into the case and felt the B flat strings.

“No wonder this piano has a crumpy sounding note.

There’s a paper wrapped around two of the three B flat


Slowly, with great care he was able to slide the paper

up the string until he could get both hands on it and

carefully pry it off.

“I bet it will sound better now. Come on, lets get this

music machine back together and I’ll teach you my

famous boogie woogie song. We’ll have this joint

jumpin’ before you can say 88 keys ten times.”

Twenty minutes passed.

Forty minutes passed.

An hour passed.

The girls had dinner.

Aunt Helen phoned to see what was keeping Uncle

Harold but he still wasn’t able to place all the keys

back into the piano and get it to play properly. Mr.

McCutcheon joined the girls after dinner in the living

room and watched Uncle Harold try to get it to work.

Penny and Alba’s dad sat in his chair and noticed the

piece of paper that Uncle Harold had taken from the

piano. He carefully unfolded it and whistled.

“Looks like you’ve found yourself a treasure,” he said

to Uncle Harold.

“Yeah, this piano is a treasure all right but right now it’ s

a real pain in the … ”

“No, I mean a real treasure. Take a look” said Mr.

McCutcheon holding out a very old looking map.

“Looks to me like this piano has been holding a secret

for years .”

On hearing the word treasure, Uncle Harold clunked his

head on the piano bench and let out a shriek from under

the piano. It echoed in the piano’s sound board but it didn’t

take him long to recover, get back on his feet and get

interested in the map.

“Here, let me see,” he said and the four of them looked

with amazement at the crumpled piece of paper that

was now spread out on the living room table. It showed

a mill, a mill pond and a fence leading down to the

pond. And it showed an arrow pointing to a spot near

the pond.

Without skipping a beat Uncle Harold said, “I bet

they’ll know where this location is at the historical

museum. I’ve got to be out of town tomorrow morning

but maybe you girls can get down there and get an

exact fix on the location.”

They all agreed that Penny and Alba could get there at

their noon lunch break at school so they were given the

task of finding out whose map it was and where the mill

was located.

“Then it’s all agreed,” said Uncle Harold. “We’ll all

meet back here at 5 PM tomorrow and follow up on the

mystery. This is great, I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

After Uncle Harold left, Penny and Alba took the map

to their room and Mr. McCutcheon went into the

adjoining kitchen to finish the dishes from supper. Two

minutes later, Mrs. McCutcheon came into the living

room on her way to help her husband. When she saw

the piano scattered all over the room she cried out

“Harold!!!!!!. Wait until I get my hands on you!”

This was neither the first nor the last time she would

utter these words.

The next day, it seemed like the clock in the girls’

school would never reach twelve o’clock. Every second

seemed like a minute. Every minute seemed like an hour.

Finally when the noon bell rang, Penny and Alba raced to

the Centreville museum and found their friend Todd

Weaver, the museum curator, lying on his back looking

into a recently donated pipe organ. Both girls laughed

because they remembered the mess that was in their

living room and the mock anger that Mrs. McCutcheon

had expressed at Uncle Harold. For two days in a row

they had found a musical instrument in a lot of pieces.

Penny giggled to Alba. “I wonder if he’ll find a treasure

map too!”

“Todd, we need your help” said Alba ignoring her sister.

“Yeah,” said Penny, “we’ve got a really cool map.”

“Hey, let’s have a look,” said Todd.

The girls were very fond of Todd because like a very

few adults in their life, he took them seriously. Often

adults would humour them but Todd was always

interested in what they had to say and was more than

interested in anything that people brought to the

museum. Todd sat down at his desk. It was the biggest

desk the girls had ever seen but it was covered with

stuff from one corner to another and piled high with lots

of papers and antiques. Sometimes you couldn’t even

see Todd when he was on the other side of it.

“Paper looks pretty old girls,” he said looking at the

water mark with magnifying glass. “I’d say this map is

well over 125 years old. Tell me where you got it.”

The girls stumbled over one another relating the story

of how the map had been discovered in the piano. Their

story captured the excitement of the adventure, a

quality they no doubt inherited from Uncle Harold.

“Well let me check some old maps. This could take a

while though so maybe you guys ought to get back to

school.” But the instant that he said it, he saw the

disappointment on the kids’ faces.

“Alright you guys, here’s the deal. You get permission

from your Mom to stay here and I’ll call the school to

let them know you’re with me.”

Within five minutes, all the permissions were gathered

and they were hunched over old maps of Centreville.

“Now I don’t believe that this map is from our town”

said Todd. “You see, Centreville wasn’t started until

after this map was drawn. Do you have any more clues

about where the piano might have come from?”

Excitedly, the girls phoned their Mom again and found

that it had originally been in a church in the

neighbouring town of Sackville.

“Now we’re making progress,” said Todd “because

there was a mill in Sackville. In fact the name of the

town came from the sacks of flour that came from the


Sure enough, once another map was hauled out, they

were able to pinpoint the spot in Sackville.

“Now we can really see if you’ve got a treasure map or

not. I’d better meet with you guys at 5 PM if you’re

planning any digging for buried treasure because this

land is owned by the historical society and you’ll need

our permission to disturb the ground beside the old mill.

We’ve been trying to rebuild the mill for years but after

the fire at the turn of the century it has remained in its

charred form. The site looks pretty unloved right now,”

continued Todd.

At five, a small army of volunteers arrived at the mill

site, curious to find out more about the rumoured

treasure map. Sergeant McGillvray had arranged for the

area to be cordoned off with yellow Police tape to keep

the crowd back and Penny and Alba felt pretty honoured

to be let through the police line by the Sergeant himself

when they arrived a few minutes later with their family.

Many of their friends looked on because when Penny and

Alba arrived back at school their teachers asked them to

tell about their adventure at the Centreville Museum.

All of the adults agreed to let Todd organize the dig

because of the historical significance of the Mill site to

the town. The girls had never seen him so enthusiastic.

He could barely contain his excitement, as it was his

dream to reconstruct the mill and create a lasting tribute

to the pioneers who had first settled the area. Todd dug

the first shovel full of earth and within half an hour, he

and several archeologists from the University had dug

down to bed rock without finding anything exciting.

They checked and rechecked the map but they couldn’t

find any sign of a treasure. Gradually people in the

crowd started to drift away in disappointment. Todd

could hardly contain his disappointment as well but he

was a careful and optimistic man. “Check and double

check” was his motto.

Penny and Alba looked again at the map as everyone

was packing up.

They thought about their conversation with Todd earlier

in the day.

Was it possible that the map described the first location

of the mill and not the present one?

“Maybe they expanded it when they rebuilt” whispered

Penny to Alba.

“Yeah maybe the X on the map isn’t here at all but

rather on the old outside wall of the first mill.” Just as

they were completing that thought, Uncle Harold and

Todd came over to them and said, “Sorry it was a wild

goose chase. It sure was exciting there for a while, though.”

Penny could have cried when she saw how disappointed

Todd was and said “Just wait a minute, we’ve got

another idea.”

“I’ve had enough wild ideas for today” said two of the

men from the university and they got into their trucks

and drove away.

It always made Alba angry when adults would ignore their

ideas just because they were kids. Todd, disappointed

as he was, listened patiently as the girls proposed their

new theory.

“I suppose you could be right,” he said “but we don’t have

a map of the first mill so we can’t support your theory.”

“Hold on,” said Mrs. McCutcheon entering the

conversation for the first time. “I’ve an idea that might


Now Mrs. McCutcheon wasn’t an archeologist but she

was fiercely loyal to her kids and if there was a way to

support them she would come up with it.

“If the first mill was smaller than the second one they

would probably keep the old foundation from the first


“I suppose you’re right” said the one professor who had

stayed behind.

“Well, when we built on at the cottage,” continued Mrs.

McCutcheon “you could always see where the old

cottage left off and the new one began because the floor

height was always a little different.”

Then Penny continued, following her mother’s logic,

“We should be able to find where the old wall of the mill

left off by checking the floor of the mill and seeing if there

are some uneven spots.”

Now the old floor was covered in weeds and dirt but the

enthusiastic people who had stayed, carefully and quickly

uncovered the floor starting from the present foundation

and worked back into the old part of the building.

Alba said to Penny. “This only works if the first mill was

smaller than the second one”.

“Yeah, I know. It seems like a possibility, but with all

these people looking on it adds a lot of pressure. What

if this is just a wild goose chase like the other men


“Well if it is,” added Todd who had overheard the two girls

talking “You can’t blame us for trying. This is a great

adventure. You don’t always have to be right to learn or

to have fun.”

“Hold on.” said Professor Blackburn, “Take a look at


He was down on his hands and knees brushing some

dirt aside and feeling the stone with his fingers. Slowly

but surely, if you looked very closely, you could see

where two different types of stone floor joined together.

“Because the first stone quarry ran out of material, I’m

guessing that this newer stone is from a second quarry

and that would be consistent with Mrs. McCutcheon’s

and the girls’ theory about an addition to the mill. What

do you think about your theory now girls? Why you’re

smarter than most of my university students. Get the

map. The adventure continues!” Professor Blackburn

stated with great enthusiasm.

“Whoopee” hooted Uncle Harold and everyone looked

at him.

“I’m excited, I can’t help it,” he murmured, slightly

embarrassed at his own outburst.

Gradually they were able to remove the rock floor a piece

at a time, carefully labeling each piece. Then with deliberate

and tiny shovelfuls they started to dig into the earth below.

Taking turns, all the workers dug a single deep hole. Lower

and lower they dropped into the ground until the sound of

steel on wood planks echoed in the night air. Excitedly

Todd and the Professor jumped into the hole and scrapped

the earth with their hands until they uncovered the top of a

large wooden box. They carefully pried open the lid and to

their amazement found a metal trunk inside. Years of

exposure to the moisture in the ground had rusted the lock

on the box so that it was easily opened. The rusty hinge

creaked as the top was opened up for the first time in a

hundred and twenty-five years.

“Oh my goodness” shouted Todd with glee. “Look at

this” as he lovingly picked up an old manuscript. All the

daily records of the mill are in this miller’s diary. This

will tell us the living history of the mill and the people

who used it.”

Hugging Penny and Alba he said “You guys are real


“Well it was Mom who thought about the foundation,”

said Penny

“And it was Uncle Harold who found the map in the

first place” said Alba.

“Alright you’re all heroes” said Todd.

“And I suspect you’re all rich” said Professor Blackburn

as he revealed the large secret compartment beneath the

diary. Within five minutes, he had carefully pulled out

bag after bag of coins that the mill master had earned

for milling the flour. “Looks to me like your miller was

a miser, Todd. There’s a fortune in gold he’s got stashed


Penny and Alba, Mr. and Mrs. McCutcheon and Uncle

Harold gathered in a tight group as Todd and Professor

Blackburn catalogued all of their findings. Sergeant

McGillvray arranged to have police protection for the site

overnight to allow for a more careful evaluation the next

day without the fear that someone would take anything

during the night.

Later that week, at a special meeting of the town

council and the historical society, no one could decide

who owned the treasure.

The owner of the mill was long dead and couldn’t

collect his money.

Penny and Alba and Uncle Harold had found the map.

The historical board controlled the land where the money

was found.

In the end it was Penny and Alba’s idea that was

unanimously approved by everyone. They agreed with

Uncle Harold that although they had lead the people to

the treasure, they had no right to collect it. But they

knew that this was enough money to restore the mill for

all the residents of Sackville and Centreville. And they

also knew how excited Todd would be if he could fulfill

his lifelong dream of bringing that part of the county’s

history to life.

So it was agreed by special declaration of the town

council, that the Sackville Mills would be reconstructed

under the direction of Todd Weaver and that Penny and

Alba and Uncle Harold would be the first citizens

allowed in at the opening ceremonies. A plaque would

be placed right beside the front door of the mill to

commemorate the generosity of Penny and Alba and

Uncle Harold.

Everyone was very happy until later that evening when

Mrs. McCutcheon walked back into her living room after

the ceremony. In all the excitement, she had forgotten about

her childhood piano.

“Harold!!! We’ve got to have a talk” she said and Uncle

Harold went running out the back door before his sister

could get any closer to him with the broom she had picked