By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John have come to California hoping to find Mother’s brother Angus and persuade him to return to Ogden with them. While Prudy stays in Sacramento, John journeys up the Sacramento River on a cattle boat searching for Uncle Angus. The search leads him to Redding, California, where he finds that Uncle Angus has quit his job there and is now working in Sacramento.
Monday morning when Prudy came into the kitchen to set the breakfast table, Brother Freiber was stirring the morning mush as he always did and Sister Freiber was nursing Maudie. They had been talking earnestly before Prudy came in, but stopped suddenly as soon as they heard her. As Prudy went back and forth from the cupboard to the kitchen she felt their eyes on her and her heart sank. She knew they had been talking about her. More than likely plans were already complete for her to go back to Ogden. And she had felt so sure that Brother Freiber would want her to stay after what he had said at the land auction.
Sister Freiber called Elwood and Allie and seated them at the table. She combed Allie’s hair while the little girl ate her breakfast. Brother Freiber asked a blessing and then looked up, his eyes on Prudy’s face.”Spell rhinoceros, Prudence,” he said with a half smile and a glance at his wife.
Prudy looked from her mush.”R-hi-, rhi, n-o-c, noc, e-r-o-s, eros,”she spelled.
“Good.” Brother Freiber nodded with satisfaction and glanced at his wife again. “Now spell hippopotamus.”
A puzzled frown made wrinkles between Prudy’s eyes, but she spelled. “H-i-p, hip, p-o, po, p-o-t, pot,a-m-u-s, mus.”Then she laughed.”What are you doing, Brother Freiber? Going into the circus business?”
Brother Freiber put down his spoon and leaned his elbows on the table. There was a half smile on his square, ruddy face, but his blue eyes were serious. “It’s like this, Prudy. I’ve got more work than I can do at the shop. I need a likely young person to help out. I thought of finding a young man and training him, but the other day at the picnic the thought came to me that you might do. No, I’m not going into the circus business, but you can go into the printing business if you want to.”
Brother Freiber’s words lifted such a load of worry from Prudy’s mind that she felt actually light enough to float right off her chair. Brother Freiber wouldn’t send her home. She’d be in Sacramento when John came back. But a sudden thought sobered her. “I’d love it. I surely would. But – school.”
Brother Freiber picked up his spoon and settled back into his chair. “We’ve thought about school. Sister Freiber told me that she had promised your folks you’d be in school. You can come down to the print shop right after school, and then there’ll be Saturdays, and once in a while if we’re rushed there’ll be evening work to do, too.”
Sister Freiber spoke in her tired voice. “It’ll be hard, Prudy, going to school and working too, and goodness knows what I’ll do without you.”
“I’ll love it, I know,” Prudy declared. Her next words brought a pleased blush to Brother Freiber’s face. “And Brother Freiber, I feel like giving you a kiss and a squeeze!”
Quickly Brother Freiber changed the subject. “Bertha, we’ll see that you make out all right. Elwood, here, is old enough to help around the house.”
“Girl’s work,” Elwood pouted. “Why can’t I work in the print shop?”
“Spell giraffe,” his father asked with a half smile.
“J-u-r, jur,” Elwood began.
Brother Freiber shook his head. “A type setter has to know how to spell,” he said. Then kindly, “There’s plenty of time for you, Elwood. You mustn’t be in a hurry.”
That afternoon Brother Freiber visited school and arranged for Prudy to leave early each day, promising that he would see that she learned as much in the print shop as she could in the two hours of schools he would miss.
From the first day Prudy loved the print shop. She loved the bang and clatter of the big press, the oily smell of printer’s ink. She loved to watch Brother Freiber’s hand place the paper just before the machine’s jaws closed and withdraw it when the jaws opened, placing another piece before the jaws closed again. The slightest break in the timing and the hand would be crushed like a nut under a heel.
Brother Freiber showed her the boxes of type, each letter a separate piece of lead. They had to be picked up and set in the form with little blank pieces of lead between every word so that the words wouldn’t all be run together. Oh, it was interesting work! Prudy’s quick hands could soon set the type almost as rapidly as Brother Freiber’s square fingers. The first work she set had only one mistake, a “j” placed upside down. Brother Freiber praised her for learning so quickly.
Prudy was so interested that she even forgot to think very often of John’s return, and wondered only infrequently how he was getting along up the river in his search for Uncle Angus. She even forgot Uncle Angus for an hour at a time. The work was the most absorbing she had ever done. Always she had to rely on her own knowledge of spelling, and sometimes she had to put the periods, question marks, and commas in where they belonged.
The second evening as she skipped beside Brother Freiber on their way home from the shop, Brother Freiber said, “So you like it?”
“I love it,” Prudy declared. “You know, when I’m working I feel like singing. There’s something about the clap-clap of the press that sounds like a – a band or something.”
“Sing, then,” Brother Freiber advised her.
So the next day she did. As she set type she sang as loudly as she wanted to, sure that her singing wouldn’t bother anyone since it wouldn’t be heard above the booming of the press. Suddenly she realized that the press had stopped and that her voice alone was filling the shop. To add to her embarrassment, when she looked out front she saw Brother Freiber leaning against the railing that separated the shop from the little outer office, talking to two men. These men looked very different from most of the people who came into the shop to order work from Brother Freiber. They both were dressed in simple black suits, and even their neatly turned mustaches could not cover the fact that they were very young, twenty-one or two at the most – and probably only eighteen or nineteen.
When her voice stopped in the middle of a word the young men and Brother Freiber laughed and Brother Freiber called, “Come here, Prudy. Here’s somebody that wants to meet you.”
Prudy wiped her hands on the stained towel that hung near the washroom door. She took off the paper protectors she had rolled over the sleeves of her school dress, and the black sateen apron that had protected her dress from the ink. Even then she wasn’t really composed as she went forward, angry at herself for blushing redder than even John would have done.
“Prudy,” Brother Freiber said, “this is Elder Short and this is Elder Allen. They are traveling missionaries and they’ve come out to civilize Sacramento.”
The two young men laughed and Elder Allen said, “Sacramento won’t need much civilizing if there are many more young ladies like this one.” He turned to Brother Freiber. “We are staying at the home of Brother Aaron Garlick. He told us that you and your wife are Mormons, and of course, coming into a new district we want to –”
“Of course, of course,” Brother Freiber agreed. “I’m glad you came in. We’ll do all we can to help you.”
“Ask the young lady to sing again for us,” Elder Short suggested.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” Prudy said, blushing again. “But if you really want me to, I will.”
“We really want you to,” the Elders agreed. “Sing anything you wish.”
“My mother taught me lots of songs when we were living in England,” Prudy said. “Nearly everybody likes this one.” Then she sang,
“Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me!”
When she had finished she made a little courtesy and turned to go back to her work. Elders Allen and Short talked together for a minute, then they called her back. “We are going to hold street meetings every night,” Elder Allen told her. “We wondered if you would like to come with us and sing a few songs.” Elder Short added, “We are both willing singers, but singing takes more than willingness.” They smiled and they looked younger than ever behind their newly-grown mustaches.
“I’d be glad to,” Prudy agreed.” I certainly would.” Suddenly the world of adventure seemed to be opening for her. Perhaps something would really happen now.
“I’ll bring her down,” Brother Freiber promised.
It was almost dark when Prudy and Brother Freiber reached the little park where they had agreed to meet the Elders. The streetlights burned white and cast a ring of light on the ground. Suddenly the fronds of the palm trees stood out like black cardboard against a backdrop of deep blue, and the moon rode into the sky. Prudy tingled with excitement. She watched the people hurrying down the street toward the railroad station and the big bridge and wondered if her singing or the Elders talking would delay them in their intent to reach their destination in the quickest possible time.
“Glad you came,” Elder Allen greeted them, his white teeth shining behind his quick smile. “How do you feel?”
“I’m shivering,” Prudy admitted. “I’m so excited.”
Elder Short laughed. “I’m shivering, too.”
Brother Freiber asked the question that had been in Prudy’s mind. “Will people really stop to listen?”
“Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t,” Elder Allen said. “But our instructions are to hold street meetings, and nearly always the Lord blesses us with at least one or two attentive listeners.”
Elder Short opened his satchel and took out his hymn book. “I hope we don’t have any hecklers tonight.”
“Hecklers?” Prudy asked.
Elder Allen explained. “Sometimes some rowdy boys or men will stop just to make trouble for us. They’ll ask questions just to mix us up until finally a contrary spirit sweeps the crowd and ruins the meeting.”
“Jesus had hecklers,” Brother Freiber said quietly. “Blessed are ye when men persecute you and revile you for my name’s sake– ”
Prudy was surprised to see this new side of Brother Freiber. She began to understand why he had joined the Church in Pennsylvania, and left all of his brothers and sisters behind him.
Elder Short opened his hymn book. The two Elders sang
“O ye mountains high where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free…”
Elder Short sang a little off key and missed the tune here and there, but there was plenty of volume in his baritone. A few people looked around curiously as they passed, but no one stopped. Elder Short prayed, but still no one stopped to listen.
Elder Allen whispered to Prudy. “They’ll stop and listen to you. I know they will.” She stepped forward to sing. The song that the Elders had sung was a strange one to these people. Certainly they’d rather hear a familiar one. Her voice was clear and sweet, but it had a strength and richness that it hadn’t had the last time that she sang for an audience.
“O Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide!”
Two or three people stopped to listen, nostalgic memory written on their faces.
“I need thy presence every passing hour …”
Others stopped, and suddenly there was a crowd ringing the little meeting. Prudy finished the song and stepped back but someone in the crowd called, “Sing again. Let’s hear more of the little lady.”
“They’re ready to listen now,” Elder Short whispered. “Give them something that is truly Latter-day Saint.”
“Come, come ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear,
But with joy wend your way;
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day …”
As she sang Prudy thought of the months that had passed since she had learned the song in England, of the trip to America by boat and railroad, of the long year of waiting until Father and Mother came over to join her and John. She thought of Uncle Angus promising his sisters that he’d leave home if they joined the Church and of them joining anyway because they knew that it was right. Her thoughts made the song ring with sincerity, and the crowd moved closer.
When she had finished, Elder Allen stepped up beside her and began to speak. He spoke quietly and as if he truly believed each word he spoke. Prudy remembered the oily orator at the land auction and thought of how he had swayed the crowd with his rich voice and his honeyed, insincere words. But Elder Allen wasn’t reaching the crowd. Some of them were already moving away. He was talking about faith and works – mostly about works. He told of the happiness that may come to all of us as a result of righteous doing. “Man is that he might have joy,” he said, “and joy is a by-product of the good life.”
It was a new idea, a new kind of religion that the young men were introducing to the folks on the busy Sacramento street corner. “You mean it’s good to be happy?” a raucous voice questioned from the crowd.
Prudy strained her eyes through the gray darkness. The man with the voice seemed familiar. Yes, he was! He was one of the rude young men who had hustled her out of the crowd the day of the land auction.
“Jesus thought so,” Elder Allen answered. “He found his joy in making the lame to walk, the blind to see.”
The fellow shouted, “Christ was a man of sorrows, overburdened with grief.”
Elder Allen went on with his talk but the man would not be quiet. He shouted: “You’re wrong, sonny. All wrong.”
Elder Allen said, “I’ll be glad to talk with you after the meeting. Now I have a message to deliver and I’d like a chance to deliver it.” Then he went on to say that a man could be judged by the work he did and that even his position in the next world depended upon the work he did in this life.
“You’re wrong, buddy, all wrong!” It was the land auction man again and he was pressing to the front of the crowd. Someone else cried, “Faith alone can save. I’m saved by grace.”
“Faith without works is dead,” Elder Allen quoted. The crowd began to murmur and argue. Elder Allen stood, his Bible in his hand, his mouth open but no one heard what he was saying.
Prudy shivered. It seemed she could feel the fellow’s rough fingers on her shoulders. Why, he’d break up the meeting if something didn’t happen. She wondered desperately if there were anything that she could do. Elder Allen did have a message and he was speaking it from his heart, but the crowd was acting like the land-auction crowd had done after it had discovered that folks were being cheated. Prudy prayed silently that someone, something would save the meeting.
And suddenly her prayer was answered. A young man spoke in a voice that commanded attention. “I’m not a preacher,” he said, “and I don’t profess to know how mankind may be saved, but I do know that in America there is freedom of speech, and if these young men want to talk they’ve got a perfect right to.”
“Yes?” drawled the raucous voice of the land-auction man.
“Yes,” the young man said. “And what’s more, I’m ready to enforce the constitution of the United States with my own right arm!”
A murmur went over the crowd. There’ll be a fight, Prudy thought desperately, but the land-auction man didn’t reply.
The young man moved closer into the circle and Prudy saw him outlined against the shadow. He was taller than any man in the group and his shoulders were broad and powerful. But his face was what interested Prudy. Somewhere she had seen that face before.
“Thank you, brother,” Elder Allen said and went on with his speech. He finished quickly but the spirit of his speech had left him. The crowd began to drift away. Nobody would keep the Elders from holding a meeting, but what use was the meeting if no one stayed to hear them?
Almost like in a dream Prudy stepped forward. Her mind was blank. She didn’t know what she was going to sing until she opened her mouth and the words came of themselves.
“Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?
Now is the time to show;
We ask it fearlessly,
Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?”
As she sang, the crowd gathered close again. Prudy had the strange feeling that a spirit stronger than her own was speaking through her song. The Elders took a package of tracts from Elder Short’s satchel and began to pass them to those of the crowd who seemed to want them. The song went on,
“We wage no common war,
Cope with no common foe;
The enemy’s awake:
Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?”
Prudy’s eyes sought for the man who had saved the meeting for the Elders. Strange how familiar his face was. Had she seen him on the train? Had he been at the land auction? Had he come into the print shop to leave an order or call for one? It was unlikely that she had seen him at any of these places. He was a man not easily forgotten, with his broad shoulders, his striking face. She caught a glimpse of him still standing near the edge of the crowd and made a quick decision to find him and thank him for the help he had given them, just as soon as the meeting was over.
Now the Elders were inviting the people to attend their Sunday meetings at the home of Brother Garlick on Second Street. The meeting was almost over. But the man was nowhere to be seen. Prudy stared through the gloom that closed in around the circle of light made by the street lamp. There he was, his broad back disappearing down the darkness of a side street.
It wasn’t until Prudy got into bed at Sister Freiber’s that she knew where she had seen the stranger before. It was not on the train, at the land auction, or in the print shop. It was in Mother’s red plush album. The face was familiar because it looked like Aunt Aggie’s, like Mother’s, like Prudy’s own. The stranger on the edge of the crowd who had insisted on fair play was Uncle Angus! She had seen him and let him go by. Where, oh, where would she ever find him again?