By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne are running Red Rock Indian Trading Post in the absence of their Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon. Old Toby, the Indian interpreter, helps them.
Prudy and John become uneasy when the Indians begin to act strangely. Instead of coming into the post they ride by, or stand at a distance looking at it. One Indian scout comes up to the post, measures everything with his eyes, and rides away. The children know that he will tell the other Indians that the post has been left in the care of children. They consider leaving the post, but remember that they have been left in charge. They hide all of the guns and knives and ammunition under the plank floor of the living quarters.
The next day the Indians come demanding knives, guns, powder – the things the children have hidden. When they can’t find anything they ride away, threatening to be back. The children feel safe with Toby, but when evening comes they can’t find him. Neither of them have seen him since the Indians rode away.
“Prudy, Prudy, wake up!” John’s voice was only a whisper but it was filled with terror. “Prudy, wake up!”
Prudy stretched, opened her eyes for a minute, then seeing it was still black dark, settled back to sleep.
John shook her shoulder almost roughly. “Prudy, wake up. You – you’ve got to wake up!”
Prudy wakened then, and sat up in her bed. “What is it, John? What has happened?”
“Just a minute ago I saw a light through the window. I crawled over and looked out, but I couldn’t see anything. The light had disappeared. Then, just as I was beginning to think the whole thing was a dream and that I better go back to sleep, the light came again.”
Prudy was fully awake now, shaking with fright. “Let’s look again, John. Do you dare go outside to look around?”
“Well, I – I – Let’s look out of the window first.”
The two crept hand in hand to the window.
“There it is! See? Through the bushes over there,”Prudy pointed.
“Prudy, it’s coming nearer! I wish we weren’t here alone.”
Prudy held John’s hand more tightly. “I can’t help thinking about the stories we’ve heard – you know, the ones where the Indians burn down the houses, people and all.”
John tried to laugh to make Prudy feel less afraid, but the laugh sounded more like a choke. “We’ll be all right. I wish Old Toby was here.”
“I don’t. He’s an Indian, too. Maybe he’d be as bad as the rest – or even worse. He knows we’re alone.”
“Sh! That light is getting closer and closer. Bend a little lower, Prudy, so your head won’t be above the bottom of the window.”
Prudy did as she was told. It seemed ages to both children before the light was within hailing distance of the post. Whoever was carrying it seemed to be circling back and forth as If he were looking for something; but as soon as he reached the brush-cleared ground close to the post he came directly toward the window.
Now that he had left the protection of the bushes, it was easy to see that the light bearer was an Indian. The light seemed to be a torch made with some flaming material on the end of a stick.
When the figure was about ten feet from the house he crossed through a shaft of moonlight and John and Prudy both said together, “Old Toby!” The seamed, weathered old face had a look of wariness on it the children had never seen before.
“What’s he going to do, John?” Prudy whispered.
“I don’t know. I wish I was sure that he didn’t have other Indians with him. I could handle Old Toby by myself, I think but if he had –”
“You think he sneaked away to tell the Indians about the hidden weapons?”
“That’s what I think, Prudy. Get down low so he won’t see you. He may think we’ve taken a chance and started for Tuba.”
Both children knelt on the floor under the window. In an instant the torch was pressed close to the pane and by its light they saw the old Indian peer into the room. A look of worry and concern was on his usually stolid face.
Suddenly he threw the torch to the ground, pushed up the window, and jumped inside. His landing would have been noiseless had not Prudy and John been taken so by surprise that they hadn’t moved. Now Toby’s quick action made a sudden, struggling heap of boy, girl, and Indian.
“Toby, it’s us. John and Prudy,” John cried, fearing that Toby would scalp them in the darkness.
“Safe, safe!” Toby shouted in a voice so different from his usual quiet one that Prudy wondered for a minute if the whole thing were a nightmare.
“Safe!” a voice echoed from the other side of the post. It was the voice of Uncle Simon.
The children raced into the trading room. John was struggling with the lamp when the front door was thrown open and Uncle Simon, Aunt Aggie, and Mr. Joseph Drew came in.
“How did you get home? Why haven’t you come sooner? Where did you –” John wanted to know, his voice still shaking with excitement.
Prudy was too relieved at the arrival of the older folks to even be curious. She climbed onto Aunt Aggie’s lap as if she were not a big girl of ten and held hard around Aunt Aggie’s neck with both arms. “Don’t ever leave us again,” she said over and over.
“Bless your little heart, we certainly won’t. We’d never left you under any circumstances if we’d known this thing was going to happen.”
“What thing?” John asked.
“Oh, Simon,” Aunt Aggie said wearily. “It’s too late to go into the whole thing now. Prudy is dead for sleep, poor little one. Wait until morning.”
But John stood with his feet far apart, as immovable as Red Rock. He tugged at the shock of white hair that hung over his eye. “What brought you home tonight?” he insisted.
Uncle Simon smiled. “Good Old Toby did.”
Prudy and John looked at each other, remembering that they had even accused Toby of calling the other Indians to steal from them.
“When he knew that you two were in danger, he ran all the way to Tuba. Yes, all the way, on his tired old legs. There he found us just ready to start out.”
Mr. Drew spoke now. “I was with them there. Just happened to be.”
When he said “just happened to be,” he winked at Aunt Aggie. Prudy, raising her head from her aunt’s breast, saw the wink. She sat up quickly, feeling suddenly as curious as John. “Why did you wink at Aunt Aggie, Mr. Drew?” she asked.
The three grown-ups looked at each other, then Uncle Simon said, “The Indians have been on the war path. When we got back from Salt Lake City –”
“We had to go to Salt Lake to have my leg put in a cast. It was broken,” Aunt Aggie interrupted.
“When we got back from Salt Lake City and found that the Indians were on the warpath, we were crazy with worry about you. The news of rioting Indians reached Mr. Drew in Tombstone; and though he didn’t know that you children were here alone with Toby, he started out at once. On the way he heard that we had gone to Tombstone so he went over there to see what we had done with the stock of the trading post.”
John asked, “Why are the Indians on the warpath?”
Uncle Simon’s face sobered, and so did Aunt Aggie’s. It was Aunt Aggie who spoke. “Lot Smith is dead. Killed by the Indians.”
Both Prudy and John remembered Lot Smith as the friend of the Indians, the enemy of anyone who even tried to get the best of them in a business deal. It couldn’t be that – But Uncle Simon was talking. “You know that reservoir he and his sons built to keep water for their crops? Well, the Indians insisted on watering their sheep there. No matter how often he and his sons mended the fence, the Indians cut the wires and drove in the sheep. Time and again warned them. Then finally, he decided to teach them a lesson. He shot one of the sheep.”
“Then the Indians –?”
“Yes, John. The Indians forgot his kindness of the past, his patience with them over the use of the reservoir. One of them shot him.”
Prudy put her head against Aunt Aggie’s shoulders again. “Do Indians kill people with as little reason as that?” She was thinking of how she and John had sold the Indian goods and had been able to save themselves from trouble.
“With as little reason as that,” Mr. Drew said. “Everybody was talking about the way that Lot Smith rode his horse to his home after he had been shot, dismounted, and walked into his living room and said, ‘I am a dead man.’ He must have had great courage and will power.”
Uncle Simon nodded his head. “I’ve never known a greater man.”
“What will we do to the Indians?” John asked. “I’ll bet his boys’ll go out and –”
“No, they won’t,” Uncle Simon said. “That wouldn’t do any good. It would undo all the good the Latter-day Saints have done so far. Government agents are trying to find the guilty Indians. The United States Government will bring them to trial.”
“And that’s why the Indians are on the warpath,” Aunt Aggie said, holding Prudy close to her. “They’re not going to let the troops get near those Indians that fired the shot.”
“There’ll be more trouble before this is over,” Mr. Drew said, shaking his head, a worried look between his eyes. “You mark my words. If the Indians can get the arms, we’ll have a full-fledged war over this.”
“The arms –” Prudy repeated. She jumped from Aunt Aggie’s lap and began to tug at the floor boards.
The grown-ups looked at her curiously for a minute, then Uncle Simon said gently, “Poor child. This worry has been too much for her. She –”
“She’s all right,” John said. Then he turned to Mr. Drew. “So are your firearms. When we saw the Indians acting in a strange way, Prudy and I and Toby buried all of the weapons that were in the post under this floor. We weren’t going to let the Indians get hold of those things if we could help it.”
“You did!” Mr. Drew clapped John’s back with a vigorous hand. “Do you know, I didn’t expect to find a single one of those things still here. I’ll not forget that when I make a settlement with you. You’re fine children, I’ll be blessed if you aren’t.” Then he went over to Prudy. “We don’t need those things tonight, Sissy. Fact is, you young ones have already had quite a day.”
“Indeed they have,” Aunt Aggie said. “Now that we’re here to take care of things, you children get back to bed. And don’t let me see you before ten in the morning.”
John was reluctant to go to bed. “What’s going to happen to the trading post, Mr. Drew?” he asked.
Mr. Drew answered slowly, “Well, there’s no use of keeping it open while the Indians feel the way they do. I was just ready to bring in the new season’s stock, but – I guess we’ll close it until things have settled down.”
John’s face fell. “Every time we start something that looks like it’s going to earn us some money, something happens to it,” he said disconsolately.
“It seems to me that you’re mighty anxious about money,” Mr. Drew teased.
John blushed and Prudy spoke for him. “We are, sir. You see, John and I have a special project.”
“Morning will be time enough to talk about that,” Aunt Aggie scolded. “Now to bed with you.”
“I’ll want to see you two in the morning when I make the settlement with your aunt and uncle. And I won’t want you to be half asleep, either!”
Prudy and John laughed. “You won’t find us half asleep, sir,” Prudy said.
It was almost noon of the next day when the children awakened. Mr. Joseph Drew and Uncle Simon had already gone through all of the Indian goods that John had taken in the weeks of trading. When the children went into the trading room, Mr. Drew said, “Come here. I’m paying your uncle for his work in some of these fine Indian blankets. He intends to take them into Salt Lake City and sell them.”
“When we were in Salt Lake City this last time,” Uncle Simon explained, “I took several orders for these blankets. Why, one of the fine clubs there is going to buy enough blankets to cover the walls of its dining room. They are willing to pay well for them, too.”
Mr. Drew said, “And I want you children to have some blankets, too. I want to pay you for the time you took care of the post all alone, and I want to pay you for saving my weapons.”
John pulled at the lock of hair that hung over his eyes. “You don’t need to pay us for saving the weapons,” he said. “Anybody would have done that.”
Mr. Drew shook his head. “No, most people would have been so frightened that they would have hightailed out of the post altogether and left everything to the Indians. Now choose the blankets you want.”
Aunt Aggie came in from the living quarters. “What are you going to do with your blankets?” she asked the children.
Prudy looked at John. For a moment he stood still, pulling at his hair; then he raised his chin and nodded. Prudy explained. She told about how, way back in Salt Lake City, they had heard about how Mother had been ill and Father hadn’t been able to save enough for them to come to America and of how she and John had decided to help. She told about how disappointed they were when Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon left Salt Lake City and of how she had wanted, oh, so much, to go to Tombstone and sing hymn songs for enough money to bring her parents from England.
When she got to the part of the story about finding the purse filled with gold nuggets, Mr. Drew said, “And you still returned it! If Latter-day Saints are all as honest as you folks are, it is too bad that all the people in the world aren’t Latter-day Saints!”
“And so,” John finished Prudy’s story, “Prudy and I are going to use our blankets to help Father and Mother to come to America.”
Uncle Simon wiped his nose with his big blue handkerchief. “That was a big undertaking for two young ones. If Aggie is willing, I’ll just turn our blankets over to the same cause.” He turned to Aunt Aggie, “How about it, Aggie?”
Aunt Aggie’s eyes filled with happy tears. “Why, Simon,” she said, her gentle face happier than John and Prudy had seen it since they left England. “You know they’re my folks!”
She went over and put her arms around Uncle Simon’s neck and Uncle Simon blushed and looked foolish. “Want to tell the children our secret now?” he asked.
Aunt Aggie shook her head. “Not yet, Simon. There’ll be a better time for a secret as important as that!”
“Tell us,” Prudy begged. But Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie both shook their heads.
John’s eyes found Prudy’s. What could that secret be?