“Jonas, wake up.”
Jonas opened his eyes just enough to see who it was that was shaking him and disturbing a good night’s rest. When he realized it was his sister, he pushed her away and turned over to go back to sleep.
“You’ve got to get up, Jonas,” Janet insisted, tugging at his blanket. “It’s time to practice.”
“Practice what?” Jonas asked in a sleepy yet angry voice.
“What do you mean what? The race silly. Now get up.” With one last tug, Janet succeeded in stealing Jonas’ blanket away from him, and he quickly sat up to put an end to this.
“Let me get this straight. You want me to practice running around the fort in the middle of the night?”
“It’s not the middle of the night,” Janet defended, handing Jonas his clothes. “It’s first light, and therefore you can see just fine to run right now. Besides, this way you can practice without any of the other kids knowing about it and teasing you for it.”
Jonas was about to list the dozen or so things he saw wrong with this request, when he noticed the look on Janet’s face. The faint sunlight brightened up the room enough for Jonas to see his sister looking just like she did on the day of Pa’s accident. It was such a vivid comparison for Jonas that he quietly put on his clothes and shoes without another word and followed his sister out into the still, brisk morning.
The first rays of sun lit up half of the fort but left the other half in darkness and shadows. From every house came sounds of the day beginning and grownups getting ready for work.
“Okay, Jonas,” began Janet in her best coaching voice. “First, let’s walk the race route and see where all the ups and downs and other such obstacles are.”
“Okay,” Jonas said with a yawn–and so it started.
Janet and Jonas walked around the fort four times, counting the number of steps in each section of the board sidewalk and checking for anything that would get in Jonas’ way. During the last trip around, as they approached the walk in front of their house, their mother was waiting for them.
“And just what do you think you are doing walking around this early in the morning without telling us where you went to?” she asked as they came closer. Her arms were folded, and she was tapping her foot on the old, hollow-sounding boards. The twins knew what that meant.
“We were just getting to know the fort better,” Janet explained. “Neither of us could sleep, and we thought we’d get back before you woke up.”
“Besides we had to practice for the ra----oow!” Jonas stopped his explanation as he felt a sharp pain shoot through his foot. He looked down to see Janet’s boot firmly positioned on his toes.
Ma merely stared at Janet for a moment and then turned and walked back inside.
“What was that for?” Jonas complained, as he pushed Janet away from him and his sore toes.
“I don’t want Ma to know about the race,” Janet said. “She might tell us not to do it. She wouldn’t understand.”
“I don’t understand, and I’m the one who’s doing it!” protested Jonas. “What’s with you and this race?”
“I just don’t want our family to get pushed around here,” Janet muttered angrily. “Is that so bad?”
Both of them stared at the other with glaring, piercing looks, hoping that the other would back down. Finally, Janet’s face softened, and she quietly pointed around the fort.
“Run it once for me, Jonas?” Janet asked.
Jonas continued to glare at his sister but then moved into position at the same spot the race had begun the day before. He took a deep breath and took off.
“Run, Jonas, run!” Janet encouraged, clapping her hands and watching closely as he maneuvered his way around. He was still hesitant about the small jumps he had to make from the walk to the ground back up to the walk, but his overall time had improved. As he crossed the line, Janet met him with a big smile.
“Great job!” she said. “We’ll pick it up again tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Jonas groaned.
“We have to get ready for school right now. We’ll just keep practicing every morning like this until you’ve got it.”
With that, Janet turned and walked triumphantly back into the house while Jonas followed with a less than enthusiastic moan.
For the next two days, Jonas awoke to Janet’s insistent shaking, and every morning he ran the course four times with Janet pushing him ever faster. Ma had silently watched them march in for breakfast every morning but had never again asked them what they were up to. Her silence made the twins nervous, but neither was willing to offer an explanation. Pa was too busy starting up his shop to pay any attention to what was happening, and for that, they were both grateful.
On the third morning, Jonas awoke ready for morning practice, and, for once, he was the one who shook Janet awake. It was a Saturday morning, and, as Jonas began his first practice run, there was more activity than normal in the small fort. People were out on the sidewalk, and there were two horses hitched in front of the General Store. Jonas was half way through the first leg of the race when he ran full speed into a very large man.
“Pmmph...” Jonas fell flat on his back after his collision with the man who had stepped out of the store at exactly the wrong moment. He looked up at the towering shadow above him and saw the meanest looking person he had ever seen.
“Excuse me, sir,” Jonas mumbled, not wanting to look directly at the man’s eyes.
“That’s all right son,” said a deep but kind voice. “But get up before someone steps on ya.”
Jonas looked up in surprise. He wasn’t expecting such a friendly response from a man with that mean of a face. He got up and dusted himself off, just as Janet arrived on the scene. She looked at Jonas and then at the large man.
“My name is Jonas Johansen, and this is my sister Janet,” Jonas said pointing to his sister who looked in fear at the man dressed in buckskin standing in front of them. He had on a coon skin hat and had a dark beard that went all the way down to the thick gun belt he was wearing. His face was so dirty that it seemed to blend in with his black hair and beard. Only his brown eyes could be clearly seen from underneath the dust.
Janet stared at the two guns nestled snuggly in the gun belt and at the long rifle he held in his left hand. She thought perhaps it was time to go home.
“We best be getting home for breakfast before Pa comes looking for us,” she said, starting to back away.
“People call me Judge,” the strange man said and held out his hand to Jonas. As they shook hands, Jonas saw what seemed like a smile sneaking out from beneath his thick mustache. Janet stopped moving but stayed her distance.
“What were you in such a hurry for, son? Someone after you?”
“I’m practicing for a race against Cory Taylor,” Jonas quickly explained. “He beat me bad a few days ago, and I have until Tuesday to learn the course so I can beat him, because that’s when I’m racing him again. And since he is so good, I have to practice, so I don’t look dumb again in front of the other kids. You can’t let yourself get pushed around, ya know.”
The whole story seemed to tumble out of his mouth, and Janet could do nothing but look very displeased with her brother’s decision to tell this odd-looking man the truth.
“I see,” nodded Judge, looking around the fort, at Janet, and then back at Jonas. “That sounds like you are being very brave.”
“Yes, sir,” Jonas brightened at the compliment and nodded firmly in agreement.
“You remind me of an old friend of mine who was one of the bravest people I have ever met. His name was Smiling Jim. Do you want to hear his story?” Judge asked the twins with a twinkle in his eye.
He had sparked their curiosity now, and even Janet moved in closer to hear this unique man tell his story. Judge sat down on a nearby water barrel and rested his gun against the store wall. Then leaning toward the twins, who now stood close by, he began his tale.
“I met Smiling Jim, oh, about fifteen years ago, while I was making my way across the Rocky Mountains down near Crystal Pass. He was lying face down on the ground and bleeding from all sorts of spots all over him.”
“Bleeding?” Janet interrupted. She wasn’t sure if she was going to like this story.
“Bleeding,” the Judge repeated, nodding at Janet, and then he continued. “Well, now I thought that the poor guy was dead, but I figured I had best go check. So I turned him over and what did I find but a smiling face looking back up at me. ‘Thank you,’ he says to me and then asks if I could haul him to his camp so he could rest a spell. I agreed and threw him over my horse and took him the mile or so to his camp. Along the way, he told me what had happened.”
The Judge paused to see if the twins were still listening. Jonas’ eyes were big with interest, and Janet looked cautiously intrigued.
“According to Jim, he had been hunting when he ran into a rather big and angry Ma bear that had a problem with Jim being too near her little ones. He had shot at her but had only grazed her, making her even more unhappy with his presence. So she started swiping at him with those big paws and tore right through his clothes and skin. When he fell, she must’ve thought he was dead, because she then wandered off. A few minutes later, I found him where he fell–and that is the story.”
The Judge concluded with a slap on his knee and smiled at the memories passing in front of his eyes. The twins waited a minute and then looked at each other in confusion.
“Pardon me, sir,” Jonas hesitantly said, taking a step closer to the strange man. “But how does that make him brave? I mean, that wasn’t really a courageous story with the bear winning and everything.”
The Judge slowly turned to stare at Jonas. Jonas stepped back away from him, afraid he had angered the man.
“Didn’t you hear me boy? I said I found him face down, and when I turned him over, he had a smile on his face,” the Judge said with great emphasis. “Now if that don’t seem brave to you, you go home and think on it.”
So saying, the big man stood, grabbed his rifle and strolled over to the door of the store. “Come on, Dan” he yelled inside. “We’ve got to get going.”
A few seconds later, his friend walked outside. At the sight of him, both Jonas and Janet gasped and ran to the other side of the street. Judge noticed their reaction and only shook his head in disappointment. His friend didn’t seem to notice, as both of them led their horses to the gate before mounting and riding off.
As the twins watched them go, Bishop Stewart came out of the store and stood on the boardwalk and looked around. Janet immediately ran over to him.
“Bishop!” she screamed. “That was an Indian. Did you see him? What was he doing here? He isn’t coming back is he?”
“Now hold on a minute young’un,” the Bishop said with a chuckle. “Slow down a spell. That was a friend of ours, and no one you should be concerned about. His name is Dan Whithers. He’s one of the Pawnee gentlemen who lives down the hill from us. Didn’t you see their village on the way up here?”
“That’s what that was behind those rocks that got Pa so upset,” Jonas said, remembering back to the day they moved into the fort. “No wonder he got so tense and wouldn’t talk about it.”
“You let Indians live that close to us?” yelled Janet in disgust.
“Now hold on little lady,” the Bishop said calmly. For the first time since they met him, his voice and face had no hint of laughter.
“There are six Pawnee families that live down there, and we are all getting along just fine. They were here long before this fort was, and now they help us in our trading. In fact, that’s where Dan and Judge are going right now. They’re going to wait for a wagon train coming near here in a day or two, and aim them this way, for supplies and such. There’s nothing wrong with them being so close, I guarantee it. And you shouldn’t go judging according to skin.”
“Does my Pa know?” Jonas asked quietly.
The Bishop nodded. Janet turned and ran back to the house. Jonas watched her go and noticed tears streaming down one of her cheeks. Respectfully nodding goodbye to the Bishop, he turned and ran after her.
Pa was sitting at his bench, working on a broken gun handle when Janet ran through the door.
“Pa,” she yelled, obviously crying and shaking. “Pawnees live just down the hill from us. A whole bunch of them!”
“I know child,” he answered. His face was void of expression, and he seemed unmoved by either her announcement or her tears.
“How could you move us so close to more of them?” she asked. Jonas had just come in and stood beside her. He tried to put his arm around her to calm her down, but she moved away and went closer to Pa, waiting for a response.
“We needed a home and a living, and they had a home and a job for us here. It’s as simple as that,” he said. He had already turned his attention back to the gun he was working on and didn’t look up at his daughter again.
“What’s going on here?” asked Ma, as she walked into the room. She noticed Janet’s tears and immediately went over to her in concern.
“What’s wrong Janet?” she asked, giving her a hug and trying to dry her tears with her apron.
“We saw an Indian in the fort and found out that some of them live down the hill from us behind those rocks we saw on the way up here,” explained Jonas. Ma sighed and looked at Pa, who was still working on the gun. She gave Janet a smile and lovingly stroked her hair.
“Sweetheart, you can’t go on hating. It isn’t right, and it isn’t good for you,” she whispered tenderly. Janet stared at her father’s back for a moment and then broke from her mother’s arms. Janet ran from the room and up the stairs to her bedroom. She slammed the door and fell on her bed, face down in tears.