As Jonas and Janet continued to huddle in the trunk, a strange noise came from the center of the room. It was quiet at first but continued to get louder.
“What is that?” Jonas whispered in a panic as they strained to hear the sound more clearly. Janet looked at Jonas and hesitated for only a moment before opening the trunk lid and peering out into the room.
“It’s coming from the bed,” she informed Jonas. Soon the sound started again, and this time, it was loud enough for the twins to know what it was.
“Someone’s crying,” Janet decided. They slipped out of the trunk and crawled over to the bed. They were careful to stay out of the sight of the windows in case some of the posse were still looking around.
As they lifted the quilt and peered underneath their parents’ bed, a frightened face looked back at them.
“Cory?” Jonas asked in amazement. Cory was curled up against the wall underneath the bed and was shaking and crying.
“Are they gone?” he asked, his tears stopping as he looked at the twins. He quickly wiped his face dry and tried to look tough again.
“Yes,” answered Janet. “How did you get in here?”
“When the screams started, I ran for the nearest door to where I was, and that happened to be your back door,” he explained. “I figured I’d be safe in here.”
The twins just looked at each other. Janet didn’t like the idea of having Cory around. But at least she got to see him cry, and that made her feelings of revenge settle some in her stomach.
“What do you think they are going to do with our folks and everyone else?” Cory asked as he crawled out from under the bed. The three of them crouched in the corner of the room and looked towards the windows.
“The posse is convinced we are hiding some stupid Indian,” Janet whispered bitterly. “If we don’t do something, they’ll start hurting people.”
“Do something? What on earth do you think we can do?” asked Cory in astonishment.
“I don’t know, but we had better think of something–and quick. I refuse to let this happen all over again,” Janet said.
“Should I have any idea what you’re talking about?” Cory asked, worried now that Janet was going to do something that would get them all in trouble.
“She’s talking about what happened a few months ago back on the ranch where we used to live,” Jonas quietly explained. Janet turned away from the two boys and looked out the window, trying to figure out a way to save the fort.
Cory looked at Jonas for a further explanation. Jonas shifted his feet nervously as he began the story he had never fully said out loud.
“You see, our ranch was right in the way of this Pawnee uprising that the posse is talking about. We lived on the border of some land that the Pawnees claimed as their home. When they started to fight the military men that were stationed there, we got involved in the whole thing, even though none of us knew what it was really all about at the time,” Jonas said in a stumbling whisper. He looked at his sister’s back, took a deep breath, and started again.
“One day, me and Janet, our little brother John, and my Pa were coming home from town when a group of Pawnee warriors rode up on horses and started yelling at us. They said we couldn’t pass on that road, because it was their land. Then they began edging the horses to get them to back up.
“My Pa tried to talk to them to explain we were just headed home and that we didn’t mean any trouble, but they were all angry and wouldn’t listen. So Pa tried to turn the wagon around like they asked. But then we heard this horrible scream of some sort, and guns started going off in every direction,” Jonas paused again.
The part of the story he dreaded most was coming up, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to tell it to Cory, especially after his loss of the race. Janet seemed to sense Jonas’ feelings, because she turned around and quietly continued the story for him.
“You see, a military patrol was heading up the hill towards us, and we were caught in between them and the Pawnees. Pa tried to hurry the wagon to the nearest trees for some cover and to get out of the way of the fight, but in all the confusion and noise, the horses took off out of control, and the wagon went tumbling down the rocky hill. Jonas and I were thrown out at the top and were all right, but Pa and John got carried all the way down to the bottom. Pa was hurt bad, and John–well, he was hurt real bad,” she said, flinching at the memory.
“The problem was that the Pawnees had chased off the military patrol and were now the only ones around that could have helped us. I sent Jonas up to see if he could get someone to help us or go find a doctor or something while I ran down the hill to see if I could help Pa and John. I could hear Pa moaning and knew he needed help quick, and John–well, he wasn’t moving at all,” Janet continued. She took a quick glance at Jonas who was sitting with his head hung low.
“Well? Did the Pawnees help you?” asked Cory, greatly intrigued by the twins’ story.
“I never asked them,” Jonas whispered bitterly. “I was too scared to even try–so I just ran away.” With the admission of guilt that hung so heavy on his heart, Jonas’ face became lined with silent tears.
“Janet stayed with Pa and John and just waited and waited, thinking I had gone to find help,” he continued through the tears, “but instead, I was hiding in this small cave I knew was in the area. It was awhile before I came out and ran for home to get some help. Pa might have died because of me–and John did die.”
“But John’s death wasn’t your fault, Jonas. There was nothing anyone could have done to help him, even if a doctor had been right there, and you know that,” Janet quietly assured him.
“I know,” Jonas whispered, nodding slightly.
“As for Pa,” Janet said, putting her arm around her brother trying to comfort him. “He hurt his back pretty bad, but at least he’s alive. I mean, he lost the ability to farm and ranch, and we lost our house and all, but we got this new house and everything. It wasn’t your fault that the wagon tumbled–it was those Pawnees. And now we are all in danger again because of them.” Janet’s last words were full of bitterness.
“What should we do?” asked Jonas, drying his tears. “There’s no one around for miles.”
“Oh yes there is!” Janet announced, as an idea came to her. “Remember Judge? Didn’t the Bishop say he was going out to meet some wagon party coming by? We could get to him and let him know what is happening. Maybe he could get some help or find that Indian or something.” Janet’s face lit up with hope and excitement as the solution came to her.
“Aren’t you forgetting that we are stuck inside the fort and that there are armed men looking for us?” Cory asked. Jonas crawled over to the window and looked out over the bottom ledge into the courtyard.
“They have left the gate doors open,” he reported. “But there are two men with guns on either side of it. They must be waiting for that runaway Indian to come in or something.”
“That’s great! Then there should be no problem,” Janet said, already envisioning the escape.
“Are you crazy?” asked Cory in shock. “Do you want to get killed or something? They’ll shoot us if we try to run out.”
“But I have a plan,” said Janet, motioning Jonas to come back to the corner to hear her idea. “Two of us will distract the guards and get them to chase us, so the third one can sneak out the gate and down the trail to find the Judge. The rocks and brush can be used as cover until they are out of sight of the guards. Then they gotta run like crazy to get help.”
Both boys just stared at her for a moment and then looked at each other.
“And which one of us do you aim to send down the mountain and off into the desert?” asked Cory, still not believing that Janet was serious.
“You are the fastest runner, Cory, and you know the area better than either of us,” she answered. Cory just began to laugh.
“No way,” he said, shaking his head and scooting away from the twins.
“I’ll go,” Jonas said confidently. Janet looked at him in shock. She wasn’t intending to put her brother at risk. The idea of having Cory risk his life seemed much more acceptable.
“Are you sure?” she hesitantly asked.
“Yes, Janet,” he said firmly. “This is my chance to not run away from the danger.”
Janet thought about it for a moment and then nodded her approval.
“You two are crazy,” Cory exclaimed. “And I’ll have nothing to do with any of it!”
“You’ve got to help us. If I’m the only one distracting the guards, only one will run after me,” said Janet. “Please Cory, this is very important, and it could help your family, too.”
Jonas stood up and walked to the doorway of the bedroom.
“I’m not chicken, Cory, are you?” Jonas said.
So saying, he left the room and quietly went downstairs. Janet hurried after him, and after a moment of inner debate, Cory followed. The twins were standing by their back door, and both smiled as Cory joined them.
“All right. Here’s the plan,” whispered Janet. “All of us will go down to the back yard of the last house in this row. Then we will walk through the house, and Cory and I will run out into the courtyard. Cory, you run around until one of the guards chases you. Then I’ll run out and distract the other guard by doing the same thing. When they are both busy chasing us, Jonas, you run out the gate as fast as you can.”
The boys both nodded in understanding, and soon the three of them were running across the backyards of all the homes on that side of the fort. When they reached the end, they opened the door to the house and snuck into the front room. Cory took a deep breath, said a quick goodbye and took off outside. He ran directly across the courtyard towards the General Store.
The guard closest to the store started yelling at him to stop. When Cory kept running, the guard swore at him and started after him. The other guard at the gate began laughing at the scene but was soon confronted by Janet.
“Hey!” she yelled at him from the boardwalk. “You lazy, good-for-nothing crazy man! Leave my family alone!” With that, she stuck her tongue out at him and took off running down the boardwalk toward the school house. The guard growled in response to her insults and took off running to get her.
Jonas watched the whole scene, and when he was sure the coast was clear, he bolted for the open gate, running as fast as he could. Luckily, the drop down the hill from the gate was steep enough that he was soon safely out of sight of the fort and on his way to find the Judge.