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.
Out target shooting with Uncle Angus, Prudy has an idea. “And don’t tell Uncle Angus about Brother Browning,” she whispered to John. “I’ll tell you why later.”
“Careful she doesn’t kick you,” Uncle Angus said, coming over to Prudy and showing her how to hold the gun against her shoulder. Prudy put her finger on the trigger and pressed it. The bullet not only didn’t strike the target, it even missed the post and hit a tree six or seven feet away from it.
John laughed as he took the gun and put it against his own shoulder. With his first try he hit the target, but in a few minute she put the gun down and started to talk mechanics again.
Two hours later, when Uncle Angus left them at the printing shop he said, “The Freibers have invited me for supper tomorrow night. I’ll try to find out before then whether or not this Mr. Messner I’m working with will let you visit his shop.”
“I hope he will. Thanks for the nice afternoon, Uncle Angus,” Prudy said, and John turned a curious frown on her.
“Yes, thanks for the afternoon,” he repeated like a parrot.
As soon as Uncle Angus was out of hearing, John turned to Prudy. “Now why are you so anxious for me to visit Mr. Messner’s shop, and why didn’t you let me tell Uncle Angus about John Browning?”
Prudy put both of her hands on John’s arms and gave an ecstatic squeeze. “I believe we’re going to get Uncle Angus back to Ogden yet!”
“But I don’t understand.”
“You will,” Prudy answered wisely. She pulled John inside the shop, half pushed him down upon a bench and sat beside him. For a few minutes his blond head was close to her brown one as she outlined her plan. Every few seconds he nodded his understanding and approval. When she had finished he said, “I hope I can visit Mr. Messner’s shop Monday.”
“I can scarcely wait,” Prudy agreed.
It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that Uncle Angus met John at Kay Street and took him to the shop of Mr. Messner. For a long time John stood before the gun rack in the front of the shop and studied the firearms there. If he hadn’t seen Mr. Browning’s models it would have been a wonderful sight. As it was, there was something to learn from the study of each one. Uncle Angus went at once to his lathe, put on his work apron, rolled up his sleeves and went to work, his mouth screwed into a knot of concentration, his hands as careful and skillful as if he were handling precious stones. It seemed to John, watching him, that they were loving hands. Uncle Angus meant what he said when he declared that he loved the delicate precision of fine machinery. After a time John went over and stood beside Uncle Angus. “Do I bother you?” he asked.
“Not at all,” Uncle Angus assured him. “Ask me anything you want to know.”
Mr. Messner listened to John’s questions whenever a voice could be heard over the whir of the lathes. Finally he came over to where John stood. “Young man,” he said, “you seem to know a lot about guns and what makes them click.”
“I do know something,” John admitted, blushing. “One winter my sister and I helped to run an Indian trading post in Arizona. The Indians, of course, were more interested in guns than anything else, so we had some in stock. When I wasn’t busy working or learning to figure, I used to take the guns apart and put them together again, just for the fun of it.”
“But you know something about the construction of the parts, too, I notice,” Mr. Messner said.
“Something,” John replied, blushing again. “But not very much. I’d know a great deal more now, but my parents insisted that I go to school and so I’ve had just a few afternoons to give to learning guns.”
“Is your father a gunsmith?”
John shook his head. “No, sir.” He thought of Prudy’s plan. Prudy had said it wouldn’t do for them to tell Uncle Angus what a greater armorer Mr. Browning was because he’d think it was the unconsidered opinion of two enthusiastic children from a small town, proud of its gunsmith. She had said that if someone like Mr. Messner would praise John M. Browning that Uncle Angus would be really impressed. He looked at Mr. Messner and said slowly, “My teacher has been John Moses Browning, the greatest gun designer in all the world.”
Uncle Angus went on working at his lathe. The name meant nothing to him, but Mr. Messner took John by the shoulder and shook him a little, almost roughly. “You mean you’ve actually seen the great John Browning at work! Why, boy, I’d give my eye teeth – I’d give all my teeth, both uppers and lowers – to have that chance.” Uncle Angus stopped his work and looked enquiringly at Mr. Messner. Mr. Messner said, “The boy is right, Wight. There’s not another gunman like Browning. Never has been and never will be.”
“Never heard the name,” Uncle Angus said, trying to remember.
“That’s because he’s sold his patents to Winchester and his great guns have come out under the Winchester name.”
Uncle Angus whistled and an eager light came into his eyes that reminded John of Prudy’s when an idea was hatching. “That would be something,” Uncle Angus said, “working with a man like that.”
“It might be arranged,” John said quietly. “Of course I couldn’t promise, but Mr. Browning is a friend of mine, and –”
Uncle Angus jumped up from his bench and spun around twice on his heel in a flood of spirits that was very much like Mother and Aunt Aggie and Prudy. “It’s Ogden for me,” he cried. “What do you say, Messner?”
“Why don’t you go, Wight?” Mr. Messner said, a new weariness coming into his voice. “You’re foot free and can go when and where you wish. I can’t. I have my holdings here.” Then suddenly he said more brightly, “But wait! You go, Wight, and if he’ll take you on as an observer to apprentice or anything, let me know and I’ll arrange to spend a month or so with you if it costs me my fortune!”Then he said slowly, “John Browning, the inventor of the Winchester repeating rifle, father of all repeating rifles!”
When Uncle Angus and John left the shop a little afternoon, Prudy was waiting at the door. “I ran all the way from school,” she said, out of breath. “Imagine me sitting there finding out how much lumber Mr. A will need for his barn and Mr. B for his shed, while you –”
John spoke in a voice which he tried to make casual. “Prudy, Uncle Angus has decided to go to Ogden as soon as possible.”
“It worked,” Prudy shouted, throwing her arms around John’s neck and dancing him around.
“What worked?” Uncle Angus said suspiciously.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Prudy answered enigmatically. “Faith or prayer or knowing the right people or something.”
The three were walking down the sidewalk together but Uncle Angus stopped short. “I don’t know what you children have up your sleeve,” he said, “but whatever it is, forge tit.” His voice was gentle as he said, “Don’t think that my going to Ogden means that I’m going to be reunited with your mother. I’m not. If she wants me for a brother again she can give up Mormonism. She knows that. Don’t write her that I’m coming, and don’t get up any false hopes.”