By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Although Mother and Father have come to America and have started a new life without debt, Mother is not happy. She longs to find her estranged brother, Angus, who is in California. Prudy and John find Uncle Angus at a street meeting in Sacramento. For just a few minutes the children think their troubles are over, but Uncle Angus, though he is glad to see them, refuses to return with them to Ogden.
It was late when Uncle Angus left Prudy and John at the Freiber gate; but neither of the children was ready to go to bed. The evening had been too exciting, Uncle Angus’s last words too disturbing. Prudy sat with her back against one of the four-by-four posts that supported the front porch. John sat on the step, his chin on his hand, his elbows on his knees.
“I was a dunce to think that all we had to do was to find Uncle Angus and he’d go back with us,” Prudy said sorrowfully.
“Not such a dunce,” John comforted her. “I thought so, too. And I think in her heart Mother did.” He was silent for several minutes, looking at the plume-like leaves that stood out black against the moonlighted deep blue of the sky. Finally he said, “What are we going to do, Prudy? To change Uncle Angus’s mind, I mean.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would help us!” Excitement grew in Prudy’s voice.”Maybe Uncle Angus would be like Saul of Tarsus. You remember how he was traveling and God struck him blind and he was converted in a flash.” Then she said more slowly, “Of course I wouldn’t want Uncle Angus blind or anything, but –”
John chuckled.”Now you are a dunce, Prudy. I don’t think that a miracle will bring Uncle Angus into the Church. I’ve noticed that when I pray, mostly God provides a way for me to earn what I was asking for.”
“Like I prayed to find a way to come to California, but I had to write that composition.” Prudy locked her fingers under her knees. “But God did provide Sister Freiber at that Friday afternoon program.”
John sighed. “Well, we might as well go to bed.” He shook himself as if to shake off the load of worry that Uncle Angus’s words had placed on him. “I’m going to write to Father and Mother that I’m staying two more weeks. Maybe something will happen by then.” He put his hand on Prudy’s shoulder. “It’s going to come out all right.”
The very next afternoon Uncle Angus came to the Freiber home to visit the children. It was Sunday and Prudy wasn’t working at the print shop, so the three of them went for a long walk out into the country and down to the river banks. Prudy told John and Uncle Angus about the land auction, imitating the auctioneer, the bidders, and Senator Higgins. Uncle Angus laughed and praised Prudy for keeping her ears and eyes open. “My, Prudy,” he said, “you do put me in mind of your mother.” The thought sobered him and he added, “She must be very different now since she joined up with the Mormons.”
“No different,” John began eagerly. “Being a Mormon doesn’t really make you different –”
Uncle Angus held up his hand warningly. “We three are going to have a fine time together – that is, if you don’t try to teach Mormonism to me.” He smiled again and looked from one to the other. “Agreed?”
“Agreed,” they both replied hesitantly.
When the three of them returned, Sister Freiber invited Uncle Angus to stay to supper. John built up the fire in the big black range and Prudy, putting a pinafore on over her Sunday wool dress, stirred up a Yorkshire pudding just as she had seen Aunt Aggie and Mother do for every special occasion. “I wish there were time to make a plum pudding,” she told Sister Freiber. “I’d like this supper to be just what Uncle Angus used to have when he ate at my mother’s table over in England.”
“Prudy, you can set the table in the dining room, if you want to,” Sister Freiber said. Prudy gave her a quick hug. Supper in the dining room!
At the table Uncle Angus and Brother Freiber were both gay and witty. Uncle Angus told story after story about the old days in England when he and Mother and Aunt Aggie were young. Brother Freiber told about old times in Pennsylvania when he was the age of Elwood and Prudy and John. Then they both told stories that they had heard of the early days in California – of the covered wagons, the gold diggings by every stream, the nugget-burdened donkeys that staggered under immense loads of pure gold, of the rough-and-tumble men who ruled themselves before there was a government to take care of them.
After dinner was over Uncle Angus called for a song. Prudy sang and then they all sang – all but Baby Maudie, who nodded against her mother’s breast because Sister Freiber was too interested to carry her off and make her ready for bed. Uncle Angus took a harmonica out of his breast pocket and played many of the old hymns. He knew how to find the right harmonies and to work his hand over the instrument so that it sounded almost like a church organ.
Finally when even David and Allie were asleep still sitting at the table, Uncle Angus put his harmonica away and suggested, “Just one more song, Prudy. I’d sort of like your voice to go with me all through the week.”
Uncle Angus had played all of the old songs that Mother had taught her in England. What should she sing, she wondered. The words flashed into her mind suddenly and she began:
“O my Father, thou that dwellest
In that high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
“In thy holy habitation
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near thy side?”
Brother and Sister Freiber and John joined in the singing of the next verse. Even to Prudy, her own voice carrying the tune, the song seemed strangely beautiful. Sister Freiber was supplying a soft alto and Brother Freiber a muted bass. John never sang since his voice had begun to change, but now in a clear alto tenor he supplied the fourth part.
“That’s a beautiful song,” Uncle Angus said when they had finished. “Somehow I’ve missed that. The music sounds somewhat familiar, but the words –”
“It’s a Mormon hymn,” Brother Freiber explained. “The words –”
Uncle Angus held his hand up in a warning gesture just as he had in the afternoon. “Mr. and Mrs. Freiber,” he said quietly, “I’d love to visit you often while my niece and nephew are with you. But I can’t come again if I must hear about Mormon doctrines.”
Brother Freiber stood up with quiet dignity. He turned his chair so the back would be toward the table. “We won’t preach to you, Brother Wight. Someday you’ll be asking about the gospel. I went through just what you are going through now. Will you join us in our evening prayer?” Sister Freiber wakened David and Allie, and everybody knelt by a chair while Brother Freiber asked the Lord to bless his household and the strangers within his gates.
Uncle Angus didn’t come to either the printing shop or the Freiber home the next day nor the next. By Wednesday Prudy had decided that she shouldn’t have sung “O My Father” after she had promised Uncle Angus not to teach Mormonism to him. By Thursday she was sure of it, and by Friday she had decided they’d probably never see him again. But Saturday morning he called at the print shop where both John and Prudy were working and asked if they might have part of the afternoon free. He suggested that it might be fun to go target shooting.
“A girl with a gun?” Brother Freiber teased, but he knew how the children had worried at not seeing Uncle Angus, so consented to their going at three in the afternoon.
The place Uncle Angus had chosen was a point near the river. He had evidently been there before, because he went directly to a cache of squares of bright metal, each with a hole at the top which could be slipped over a nail driven in a post. “Several of us men come here often for target practice,” he told the children. He sat down with the gun on his knees and studied the surroundings. “This is a safe place to shoot – not even a stray cow to get in the way of a bullet.” He loaded the gun and handed it to John. “Blaze away and see how many times you can hit the mark before you have to reload.”
John took the gun and looked at it carefully, almost reverently. “It’s a Winchester, isn’t it?” he asked.
Uncle Angus nodded. “As pretty a gun as you’ll ever see.”
Prudy stood first on one foot, then on the other wishing that John would “blaze away” so she could have her turn. But it seemed he was never going to. Uncle Angus talked about the gun, then John talked about it, then Uncle Angus talked again. Then John sat down and began to study it part by part. “I haven’t seen one just like this before,” he said.
“Look here,” Uncle Angus said in a surprised voice. “Why didn’t you tell me you were a gun expert.”
John laughed self consciously and blushed. “I’m not an expert, but I do love guns. I don’t especially like to shoot them, but I’ve always got to know what makes them work.”
Uncle Angus’s gray eyes narrowed as he studied John. “I know how you feel. I’ve always felt that way myself. It’s because a gun is a machine – a very delicate, perfectly balanced machine – that you and I are so taken with it.”
“Get started,”Prudy begged. “Stop talking and shoot. I’ll bet that I can hit that thing five times out of four.”
Uncle Angus and John didn’t even laugh, they just went on talking. “Tell you what,” Uncle Angus said, “I’ll take you to work with me someday. I came down here to do general iron work but I was never really happy at pipe fitting and the rest. I got a chance to work with a man who is making guns in a small way. He doesn’t have a real factory like the Winchester and Colt people, but he does make special guns and rifles and pistols for special people. He’s teaching me the trade. He doesn’t encourage visitors, but I’m sure –”
John brushed his hair back from his eyes. “I’d love it. Back in Ogden I had the chance to work with John Moses Browning. He’s the –”
Suddenly Prudy came to life. She walked over to John and attempted to wrench the gun out of his hand. “If you’re going to waste this sunny afternoon, I’m not,” she declared. “Ladies first, anyway.” Then very quietly to John, “And don’t tell Uncle Angus about Brother Browning. I’ll tell you why later.”
John looked at Prudy in wonder. What was the girl up to now?