By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy, in Sacramento hoping to find her Uncle Angus who has been estranged from her mother, sings at a Latter-day Saint street meeting. Rowdies try to break up the meeting but it is saved by a young man who insists on fair play and the American right of free speech. It is not until she is in bed that Prudy realizes that the man who saved the meeting was Uncle Angus.
When Prudy entered the print shop Friday after school she felt that Brother Freiber was looking at her in an unusual way. She stopped in the front office to look at some theater bills advertising a presentation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that she had set up the day before. “These came out nice,” she said. “My, I’d like to see Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” she sighed. “It must be grand to see Little Eva go right up into heaven.”
“She goes on a wire. You can see the wire all the time,” Brother Freiber said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I wouldn’t see the wire, because I wouldn’t want to. I’d want it to seem real.”
“Don’t putter,” Brother Freiber said, and his words were sharp, but there was something more like excitement than anger in the tone of his voice. “There’s work to be done in the composing room.”
Prudy sighed again, thinking of the wonderful Eva, of the real bloodhounds that would chase Eliza across the ice, of – Her thoughts were with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”and the actors that would be playing it, while she put on her black sateen apron and her paper sleeve guards. When she had finished she called to Brother Freiber, still in the front office, “What do you want me to start with?”
“There’s some work ready over by the press,” he called back.
Prudy walked toward the press. Suddenly from behind the press John jumped up and grabbed her in a sudden hug. “John,” she screamed, “you fair scared me to death!” She drew away and looked at his face. “Did you find Uncle Angus?”
John put his hands behind his back and looked down at his feet. Then suddenly he laughed. “I was going to keep it a surprise, Prudy, but I can’t. I didn’t see Uncle Angus, but I know where he is.”
Suddenly Prudy’s heart was light again. Since Wednesday evening when she had lost sight of Uncle Angus in the crowd at the street meeting she had thought of him very often and been angry at herself for not recognizing him before she got home in bed. Now John knew where he lived and they could find him again. “Oh, John,” she said, “I’m so glad. You don’t know how glad I am. Your knowing where he is partly makes up for my being such a dunce.” She stamped her foot impatiently. “Well, tell me.”
“He’s here in Sacramento.”
Prudy almost danced with exasperation at John’s slowness in coming to the point. “I know that. But where?”
“You know he’s in Sacramento. How do you know?”
Prudy ran her fingers through her hair, disarranging her ringlets and making them stand out fluffily from her head. “John, we’ll go into that later. Where is he here in Sacramento?”
“I don’t know that. I just know he’s supposed to be down here somewhere.”
“Oh, John.” Prudy sat down suddenly on a bench, even forgetting to push an oily cleaning rag out of her way. “I thought you knew something that I didn’t know and I was so relieved. I’ve known since Wednesday that Uncle Angus is here in Sacramento. It was Wednesday night that I saw him.”
“What did I tell you?” John said. “I told you that I’d go wandering off on some wild goose chase and you’d be the one to find him. But if you saw him why don’t you know where he is now?”
Prudy drew her mouth into a discouraged line and shrugged her shoulders. “Because I was such a dunce I didn’t recognize him until it was too late.” Then she told John about the street meeting and of the man who had saved it from the hecklers. “And I know it as Uncle Angus,” she finished, “because he looked like the picture Mother has in her album, and he looked like Aunt Aggie, and he looked like Mother, and he talked a little bit like we do. At first the crowd at the street meeting would have laughed at him like the students did when they first heard me at school, but he let them know he meant what he said.”
“Well, it shouldn’t be too hard to find him now we know he’s here in Sacramento. I’ve another five days before I have to go back. We can do a lot in five days.” John pulled at his ear, his face thoughtful.
Prudy shook her head, a puzzled frown between her eyes. “I wasted all day yesterday wondering what to do next and I didn’t get a single idea. Well – one, but it wasn’t any good.”
John’s blue eyes brightened. “You never know whether an idea is good or not until you try it,” he said.”What’s your idea?”
“One reason I gave it up was because a girl couldn’t do it. But maybe you could.”
Brother Freiber came into the printing shop. “What are you doing with my help, John? Seems to me she ought to be at work.”
Prudy blushed hotly and looked around for the work that Brother Freiber told her was by the big press. Both Brother Freiber and John laughed. Brother Freiber said, “Oh, don’t worry, Prudy. There’s not much to be done this afternoon. John’s been here a good part of the day and we’ve been really getting things done in the way of cleaning up odds and ends.” It was always hard for Brother Freiber to be kind. Now he hesitated, embarrassed, as he said, “I know about your search for your uncle, Prudy. I wish I could do something to help you.”
Prudy smiled. “You can. I was just telling John about an idea I had the first day I was here. You remember those dodgers we printed asking for iron workers? If you’ve got the addresses, maybe John could go and talk to the men who ordered the advertisements and see if they hired Angus Wight.”
John pushed his hair from his forehead with a quick, eager gesture. “That’s a first rate idea. Maybe I could even talk to some of the men and see if they know him, even if he isn’t working with them.”
The three looked at each other for a moment, then John said, “When do I begin?”
Brother Freiber smiled at his eagerness. “Tomorrow morning, I’d think,” he said. “You’d have a hard time seeing anyone at this time of the day.
The next day armed with a list of addresses of men who employed iron workers, John set out to find where Uncle Angus was working. All day long he walked from one place to another. Some of the men had heard of Angus Wight, one had even employed him before he went up the river to Redding. But no one knew where he was now. Some had “seen him about,” but so had Prudy and she was no nearer finding him than if he hadn’t stopped at the Latter-day Saint street meeting.
At sunset John gave up. He didn’t know whether to go back to the print shop or whether to go out to Brother Freiber’s house. Sister Freiber had made him welcome the night before and had given him a bed with Elwood. It must be nearly suppertime. Yet John decided to try the print shop first. Sure enough. There was a light on in the little shop and he found Prudy dancing with eager excitement.
“John,” she cried, “What did you find?”
“Nothing. I’ve been places where they know Uncle Angus, but no one knows where to find him right now.” He lifted discouraged eyes to Prudy’s and was surprised to find hers still sparkling. “Aren’t you – don’t you care that I didn’t find him?” John questioned, his hand fumbling at his ear.
“Yes, I am sorry. But John, a wonderful thing has happened. Today some of the actors who are playing in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ came into the print shop. There was a wonderful parade today,” she interrupted herself, “with Uncle Tom and the other negroes and Little Eva – my, she was pretty –with golden curls and everything, riding in a cart – and there was a calliope and everything.”
“And everything and everything,”John interrupted teasingly. “But you were saying–”
“Yes, some of the actors came into the print shop and one of them – my, he was good looking. I think he’s going to be Mr. St. Claire, I don’t know.”
“Prudy, go on with the –”
“I am. Well, he gave me two tickets to the play tonight. John, you and I can go to see ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ A real show! With the bloodhounds baying after Eliza and –”
“And everything!” John put in, but his voice wasn’t teasing now. “Prudy, that’ll be wonderful. A real show. Why, I never thought –”
“And Brother Freiber says it will be all right for us to go. Oh, John, I’m so excited!”
“What do you have to do before you can leave here?” John asked, looking around.
“Just a little cleaning up. I’ll fly through it.”
John took off his jacket to help, but before they were through, the bell on the door of the outer office rang and Brother Freiber called, “Someone to see you, Prudy.”
Prudy took off her apron and took a glance at her hair. Before she got to the door of the front office she knew who it was. She could hear Elder Short’s hearty voice. “It’s the Elders, John. I’d like you to meet them,” she said.
The two went into the front office and the Elders were leaning against the rail as they had been the day Prudy met them. After Prudy had introduced John, Elder Allen said, “Coming straight to the point, Prudy, we’d like you to come with us again tonight. You do more good at a street meeting than both of us put together.”
Prudy answered without hesitation, “I’d love to some other time – any other time, but not tonight. Tonight John and I are going to see ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’”
Elder Allen and Elder Short exchanged glances, then Elder Short said, “We’d not have had a street meeting Wednesday night if it hadn’t been for you. And Thursday the crowd stopped because you were with us. Last night we didn’t have much of a crowd and we hoped that tonight – But never mind. If you’ve got a chance to see a play, see it. You won’t have a chance like that every night.”
“I haven’t seen a play in my whole life,” Prudy confessed. “And I especially want to see this one. The book –”
The Elders turned away and Brother Freiber said, “Where are you holding your meeting tonight? Same place?”
“It seems about the best place. Yes, the same little park.”
“Well, good luck,” Brother Freiber said.
“Next time,” Prudy promised.
“Next time,” Elder Allen repeated and the bell rang as the door closed after them.
“Did I do wrong, Brother Freiber?” Prudy asked.
“I wouldn’t say so,” Brother Freiber answered. “You two young ones will enjoy the show, I’m sure.” He reached into his pocket and picked a fifty cent piece out of a handful of small change. “You won’t have time to come home for supper. Buy you both something with this.”
Prudy gave an ecstatic little hunch to her shoulders. “Brother Freiber, you are the best man. I love store food!”
Prudy and John spent the fifty cents for a fine dinner. They ate it early, to give them plenty of time to get to the theater. There was boiled meat with dumplings, mashed potatoes, carrots, a glass of milk, and a piece of flaky apple pie with a wedge of cheese, but it might have been sawdust and water to Prudy. She was so excited about the play.
Quickly they walked toward the theater. Out in front were great bills describing the company of actors, who had played before the crowned heads of Europe. Pictures on other signs told the story of the great moments of the play. But at the door Prudy stopped. “John,” she said, “I’m not going to enjoy the show.”
“Why not?” he asked her.
“Because even when Topsy is acting her funniest I’m going to think about the Elders at the street meeting.”
John looked down at his hands, then put them behind him. “The play’s just for one night, and you can sing at the street meeting every night in the week.”
“I know that,” she answered, the light gone out of her eyes. “I keep telling myself that. But I keep remembering that song that goes, ‘Call me, call me where I can be of service, Lord –’ And when he calls me I’m going to see a play.”
“Do what you want,” John said. “I don’t care either way.”
“Honestly, don’t you?”
John shrugged his shoulders a little and looked away from Prudy’s questioning eyes. “It was you that was so happy to be going to a show.”
Prudy nodded her agreement. “I know it. But now I’m not happy. Let’s hurry, John. We can still get over to the park before the Elders start to sing.”
The Elders didn’t seem surprised to see her. They began their meeting as usual. Prudy felt the exultation she had felt as they hurried from the theater to the street corner slipping away. She was beginning to wonder if her conscience hadn’t made a mistake. She was going over the wonderful features of the play in her mind when Elder Short startled her by whispering, “Your turn now, Prudy. Someone has requested ‘I Need Thee Every Hour.’ He said his mother used to sing it to him. Do you know it?”
Prudy went over the words in her mind. “Yes, I know it.”
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee, O I need thee,
Every hour I need thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to thee!
I need thee–
Prudy’s voice faltered and then went on. Uncle Angus was standing against a nearby lamp post, a far-away look in his eyes. She knew intuitively that it had been he that had requested the song. Mother and Aunt Aggie both loved it. What if she lost him again! What if he walked away before she had finished the song! John was standing not far from Uncle Angus’s lamp post. As she sang she gazed at him to attract his attention and when he looked her way she tried to talk a desperate sign language, looking with her eyes toward Uncle Angus and motioning with her hands for John to go over. At first John seemed to think that her gestures were part of her singing, then as they grew more pronounced he wrinkled his brow, pulled at his left ear, and tried to sign back that he didn’t understand what she was talking about. She almost stamped her foot in desperation. John could be so stupid when he tried to be!
But Uncle Angus didn’t leave his place by the lamp post. Between trying to speak to John through signs, Prudy glanced at the man by the post. Yes, she was sure it was Uncle Angus. As soon as she had sung the last “I come to Thee,” she stepped off the box the Elders carried for a platform and went straight to him. Without a moment’s hesitation she whispered, “You are Mr. Angus Wight, aren’t you?”
The man looked at her curiously, but a smile seemed to grow in his eyes. “I am,” he said. “And who might you be?”
Prudy forgot that Elder Short had stepped forward and was beginning his sermon of the evening. She cried, “I knew you were! I was sure you were.”
Now Uncle Angus smiled at her excitement. “You’re stealing the crowd from the preacher,” he said quietly.
Prudy put her arm through his. “I just can’t help it, Uncle Angus. John and I have been so eager to find you!”
Uncle Angus put his hand under her chin and tipped her face so he could see her features by the light of the street lamp. “Ellen’s child,” he said softly. “Ellen’s child, as I live and breathe.”
Prudy nodded and tears of happiness came into her eyes. She was surprised to see tears sparkling behind Uncle Angus’s long black lashes, too.
At last John understood what Prudy had been trying to tell him. Quietly he worked his way through the little knot of people listening to Elder Short’s words on the power of faith to bring about all things. At Uncle Angus’s side he said simply, “I’m John. I knew you when I was a baby, but of course I’ve changed some.”
“Of course you have,” Uncle Angus agreed. He stood holding one of the children’s hands in each of his as if he would never let them go.
Prudy liked the warm pressure of his hand. It meant that their long search was over. Soon Mother would see Uncle Angus again and she’d be happy all of the time instead of just part of the time.
Elder Allen caught Prudy’s eyes and beckoned to her to come to the front of the crowd. She looked up into Uncle Angus’s face and motioned with her head that it was again her turn to sing.
“Sing ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way,’” he requested.
Then, as if Elder Short’s talk on how faith can bring about any miracle had inspired her, she began:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm …
As she sang she thought of how eager she had been to see “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that evening. And if she had –! Oh, it was wonderful the way Heavenly Father had of answering prayers when you were least expecting the answer.
After the meeting Uncle Angus walked out to Brother Freiber’s house with the children. On the way he asked about Aunt Aggie and they told him of her new home in Arizona. He asked about Mother and they told him of their home in Ogden. Prudy chattered on and John put in a word now and then to fill in a hole that Prudy’s quick mind and quicker tongue had hurdled.
“How long are you children going to be in Sacramento?” Uncle Angus asked as they stopped in front of Brother Freiber’s house. “I want to see you as often as I can.”
“How long will it take you to get ready to go to Utah?” Prudy countered.
“Me?” Uncle Angus asked, his brow drawn into a questioning frown.
“You’re coming back with us, of course,” Prudy said.
“Not so fast, not so fast,” Uncle Angus answered, and Prudy felt the pressure of his hand on her own relax. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, and I don’t want you to think that I’m not genuinely happy to have come upon you children here. But I promised my sisters that I’d never see them again and I expect to keep that promise.”
“But Uncle Angus –” Prudy began to protest.
“You wouldn’t understand,” the man said. “But my work is in Sacramento, and it is in Sacramento that I’m going to stay.”
“Oh, Uncle Angus,”Prudy wailed.
But John was more sensible. “Where may we see you tomorrow?” he asked.
“Tomorrow? Sunday? If you’ll stay home I’ll look you up here,” Uncle Angus promised. “But mind, no more talking about my going back to Utah with you. I couldn’t do that.”