By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne are helping their aunt and uncle to run an Indian trading post at Red Rock, not far from Tuba, Arizona. Their aunt is injured and their uncle takes her to Tuba for treatment.
Weeks pass and the grown-ups don’t return. The children know that the injury must have been grave enough to take them to Salt Lake City, Utah. They run the post alone with the help of Old Toby, the Indian interpreter. The stock of food in the post gives out and John can’t replenish it because he has no wagon. At Old Toby’s suggestion they trade two Indian bridles and some other goods that have been left in the post by the Indians and not redeemed at the specified time, for some meat and corn.
Then one day the Indians who left the bridles come into the post and want to redeem them. John and Prudy don’t know what to do.
For a moment, John’s words, “Oh, Prudy, what shall we do,” seemed to hang in the air. There seemed to be no answer for them.
Then Prudy said, “John, have Toby keep the Indians occupied. There is only one person we can ask for advice and I’m going into the bedroom now and ask Him.”
“You do that, Prudy,”John said. Already the fear had left his voice. “We’ve asked Him before, and He’s never disappointed us.”
Prudy slipped quietly out of the trading room. In the bare little bedroom she knelt beside her home-made bed. “Heavenly Father,”she prayed, “we did what we thought we should do and now we’re in terrible trouble. We don’t know what to do next. Please tell us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.”
For a few minutes she stayed beside the bed, almost expecting a voice to give her instructions, but nothing happened. She repeated the prayer again, just as she had said it the first time. Still there seemed to be no answer.
After a few minutes she got up and went into the trading room. She felt discouraged that an answer had not come to her prayers, but still she wasn’t afraid as she had been at first. There was a sort of peaceful feeling down in her heart. She watched the Indians that filled the room. How they were enjoying bargaining! Some of them, after they had redeemed their goods, started trading to each other, all for the joy of making the trade.
Suddenly the answer to her prayer came into her mind. The Indians loved to trade. Why not find the people who had bought the bridles and the other Indian goods and let the owners trade and get them back?
She hurried to John’s side. “I have it,” she said. “Don’t worry any more.” Then she went to Toby. “Listen,” she said. “Tell the brave you know where his bridle is. Tell him to wait until this afternoon. Do you understand?”
Prudy went on. “We sold some of the Indian goods for food. You remember? Well, I want you to ride out and find the Indians that bought those bridles and other things and invite them to bring them back. Tell them there is a good trade to be made.”
Toby nodded. The creases on his old face didn’t change, but a light came into his eyes. “They trade!” he said happily.
For a few minutes Toby talked with first one group of Indians then another. Then he rode away. In an hour or two the neighboring Indians began to ride in. Prudy watched them closely. The first few that came brought only blankets, meat, and corn. Then came a man on a dappled pony. Prudy could have screamed with joy when she saw that the bridle on the horse was one of those that she and John had sold for food.
Prudy watched the braves in the trading room as the horseman approached. Maybe the idea hadn’t been so good after all. Perhaps the man who had left the bridle with them would fall upon the horse and take it off by force. She almost held her breath, waiting for the brave to recognize his bridle.
At last he did. He slapped one great hand on his thigh and hurried out of the post. The man on the dappled pony dismounted and the two Indians stood under the porch shade, talking. The rider called the pony to him and took off the bridle. He stroked it with one hand as if he were giving it great value. The original owner stroked it, too. The other Indians seemed to sense something unusual in the trade. They gathered close, making a ring about the two men.
Prudy resolutely elbowed her way into the ring. Toby was there, too, which gave her encouragement. After along time the original owner walked away with the bridle; the other Indian had a pair of moccasins and a braided whip which he began at once to trade to another man for another bridle.
At sunset the trading was still going on. The Indians made camp, preparing to trade again in the morning. It was like a fever, everybody trading with everybody else. There was scarcely a piece of goods that hadn’t changed hands two or three times.
“Why, they are having the time of their lives,” John said. “This must be the way that Indians have their fairs.”
Prudy’s eyes clouded. “Do you suppose that all of the things we sold have reached their owners?”
John laughed. “Well, I’d bet that their owners have had a dozen chances to buy them if they want them. Why, do you know, that fellow that was so set on getting his own bridle traded it off to someone else and now the Indian with the dappled pony’s got the bridle back again.”
“No!” Prudy said, laughing, too.
“Well, I just saw it on the horse. That’s all I know.” Then his face sobered suddenly. “Prudy, what made you think of–”
“I didn’t think of it. The idea just came into my head suddenly. It was Heavenly Father that –”
“Do you know, Prudy, the only thing that saved us is that we hadn’t traded any of the things for a bit more than they were really worth. If we’d sold the bridle for both the meat and the blanket, the man who had it would have expected that much in return. Indians are honest in their trading. I believe it was our honesty that saved us.”
Prudy considered for a minute. “Well, you might be right. But I’ll always think of how the idea came into my head just like it had been spoken by someone else. Father in Heaven protected us from trouble. I feel that.”
John still insisted, “But if we had not been honest, Heavenly Father couldn’t have helped us, and so –”
Toby’s voice broke into their argument. “Come. Eat.” Prudy and John followed the Indian into the living quarters. The old man had prepared them a kettle of savory stew.
After supper was over, Prudy lay down on Aunt Aggie’s bed. “I think I’ve never been so tired in my life,” she said. “If I had to take another step tonight I’d –”
Suddenly Toby stepped quietly into the room. He motioned to Prudy. With a groan she got up and went to where he stood by the blanket that shielded the doorway of the trading room. “Little one.” He made a gesture to show a very short child. “Sick.”
Prudy sighed. “Toby, I don’t know what to do for sick Indians.” She turned to John. “When, oh, when is Aunt Aggie coming back? She has all these Indians expecting help from her, and now she isn’t here.”
“Don’t you think you could do something?” John asked.
Toby spoke again. “Sick.” He gave a poor imitation of a cough. “Very sick. Little one.”
“Betty try, Prudy,” John insisted. “I’ll go with you.”
“All right. Come on, then.”
John spoke to Toby. “Show us where the sick child is, then you stay with the post.”
Toby led them to the front door of the trading room, then he pointed out to where a man stood alone, a dark shadow against the sky. For a moment the beauty of the night caught at Prudy’s breath. The sky was absolutely cloudless and the stars were like brilliant lamps. Just over the eastern mesa a great moon, almost as yellow as the sun, was showing a full round face. But the thing that gave the scene its eerie, mystic quality was the quiet camp of sleeping Indians. Never before had so large a group made camp around the post; but there wasn’t a whisper, not even a sign of movement. Prudy’s eyes returned to the brave who made the silent silhouette. Taking John by the hand she ran toward him.
The man spoke no word of greeting; instead he turned toward Red Rock and the two children followed him. As they neared the Rock Prudy heard the hoarse coughing of a little child. “Why, it’s croup,” she said. “I’d know that cough anywhere. It sounds much worse than it really is.”
“Do you know what to do for it?” John asked admiringly.
“Aunt Ella’s babies were croupy. Don’t you remember? But we’ll have to take the baby back to the trading post. I hope we can make them understand that. Aunt Aggie has some medicine there.”
Another hoarse cough from the child, and the man hurried his steps to a trot and the children fell into a run. When they reached the Indian’s camp they saw a squaw bending over a baby. When the woman looked up, Prudy was startled by the youthfulness of the face. This was the first young woman she had seen among the Indians, and this one looked scarcely older than John. Every time the child coughed, the girl mother fell to rocking and moaning.
“Let me take the baby,” Prudy said, forgetting that the Indians didn’t understand her language. But the girl did understand the outstretched arms. She put the child into them. Suddenly the child was taken with a violent fit of coughing. Its eyes seemed to start from its head and its little face went a frightening blue black. Without a moment’s hesitation Prudy put her finger far down the child’s throat. The child vomited, bringing up the mass of phlegm which its cough hadn’t been able to dislodge. It sighed contentedly and closed its eyes. Prudy held it close against her.
“Tell them we must take it back to the post,” Prudy said to John and she turned and started back, the child clutched tightly in her arms.
She did not know how John explained, but the Indian and his girl wife followed back to the post.
“Get the kettle boiling so she can breathe steam,” Prudy ordered John. Then she made the child comfortable in the center of Aunt Aggie’s white bed. She motioned to the mother to lie down beside the child, but instead the girl lay on the floor. Both the child and the mother fell asleep at once. The brave went into the trading room and sat down by Toby, his back against the wall. In a few minutes, he, too, was asleep.
For most of the night Prudy and John took turns staying awake so that the kettle might be kept boiling and the child taken care of if she had another bad coughing spell; but already she seemed almost well.
In the morning the mother nursed the child, wrapped it in its blanket, then began to lash it onto its carrying board. Prudy stood by, watching the little thing stretch and yawn. “Baby well,” she said.
The mother raised grateful brown eyes to her face. Then she took from somewhere in the fold of her dress a skin-wrapped package. From the package she took the most exquisite moccasins Prudy had ever seen. They were made of white leather, fine grained as Aunt Aggie’s one pair of kid gloves. There was scarcely an inch of their surface that was not covered with brilliant bead work.
Prudy took the moccasins and studied them with admiring eyes. When she tried to pass them back, the woman shook her head. She pointed to the baby, coughed several times, then pointed to Prudy.
“But they are too lovely,” Prudy demurred.
Toby and the baby’s father came in. “Toby, tell this woman that I appreciate the offer, but I can’t take such a valuable gift.”
Toby shook his head.”You take. Better you take.”
When the man and his wife and child had gone back to their camp, Prudy sat studying the beautiful slippers. She tried one on her bare sunburned foot, but it was too large. John came in, then, and saw her working her heel up and down in the moccasin.
“Where did you get them?” he asked.
Prudy looked up, all smiles. “The baby’s mother.”
“Whew!” John whistled. “Bet they are worth ten dollars. Bet you can sell them for that.”
The smile left Prudy’s face. “I’m not going to sell them, and I think you’re mean to put a money value on a gift. Why, it isn’t – it isn’t even polite.”
John looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry, Prudy. I guess it’s been so long since we put anything with our treasure that I can’t help thinking of money.”
Prudy spoke slowly. “Perhaps some day I’ll turn this gift into gold. I’ll ask Aunt Aggie what they’re really worth –”
John sat on the bed beside her. “Prudy, I’m beginning to wonder if Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie are ever coming back. I’m beginning to wonder if something happened to them between here and Tuba.”
“No, John. Don’t even think of such things. I’m sure they are all right. Only – ”
“Only I can’t imagine what’s ever taking them so long!” But in her heart Prudy wasn’t sure that they were all right. Like John she was beginning to wonder.