Chapter 4: Danger Inside the Walls

    The predetermined day of the race was sunny, but a cold wind had started to blow the night before, making the dusty courtyard seem alive with dust devils and swirling blasts of air that chilled you.  Autumn often sneaks up quickly in the desert, and the fort was getting its first taste of the changing seasons.
    

“Great,” complained Jonas, as they walked out the door to go to school.  “The big day finally comes, and I’ve got to run with specks of dirt getting in my eyes.”

    “You complain too much,” grumbled Janet.  Although mostly back to her old self, she had remained somewhat quiet and sullen since finding out about the Pawnees.

    “At least I think I’m ready,” boasted Jonas with a smile.  “This morning I ran so fast around the fort I plum forgot that I ever had any problems with it.”

    “I think you’re ready, too, Jonas.  You’re going to win for sure,” Janet agreed.

    ✽

    Time seemed to move slowly throughout the morning classes as everyone waited for recess.  Cory periodically looked at Jonas and chuckled loudly, and Kevin and Alice kept patting him on the back as reassurance of his rightful position as class running champion.
    

After a week in school, Janet and Jonas had gotten to know their classmates rather well.  Jonas usually preferred to play with the younger children, and Janet had determined that none of them were worth her time.  She looked around at the others in their grade group.  The only friendly one in their grade seemed to be Billy Anton.  He shared the rickety table with the twins and never gave them any problems.  Jonas had found out that he lived with his grandparents, but no one seemed to know where his parents were.

    Kevin was the biggest of the group but didn’t make too much trouble since he was also the son of their teacher, Sister Keller.  Alice did whatever made Cory happy, and Cory–well, Janet figured that after today that smirk would be wiped off his face.  With that thought in mind, Janet was surprised to hear Sister Keller announce recess.

    The whole school seemed to remember today was the day of the big re-match.  All the children ran immediately to the official starting line and waited for the two contestants to take their places.  Sister Keller peered out the window at the commotion but seeing nothing amiss, went back to her papers.

    “Still want to do this, Left Feet?” Cory sneered.  He had labeled Jonas with that nickname after the last race.

    “I’m ready.  Just take your place,” answered Jonas.  He took a deep breath and calmly tried to picture the course in his head.  He knew all the early mornings and hard work were about to pay off.  He looked at Janet, who was standing by with a proud smile.  Then he heard Alice shout “Go!”

    The two boys took off with equal strength and pace.  Cory seemed confused, as they passed the second section of boardwalk, when he found that Jonas was right next to him.  They ran neck and neck until they reached the front gate.  Jonas jumped over the stone he had found to always be right in the pathway and burst ahead of Cory.  Cory growled in response and sped up.

    Meanwhile, the screams and cheers of the children back at the schoolyard were even louder than they were last week.  This time, however, Janet stood with her arms folded, feeling a bit of sweet revenge filling her.  She watched as her brother took the lead and felt vindicated.  But then her heart seemed to drop to her stomach as the boys reached the last section of boardwalk.

    “Oh, no!” Jonas said in terror as his shoe began to slip off his foot.  The consequence was fast and fatal.  His ankle twisted slightly as the shoe went back on, and down Jonas went.  As he laid in the dirt with dust settling all over his body, he heard the screams of congratulations being showered on Cory just a few feet away.

    Jonas angrily hit at his shoe and then tied his laces tighter.  Soon a shadow covered the ground, and he looked up into his sister’s face.  She was standing with her hands on her hips and her foot was tapping on the ground.  Jonas didn’t like  the look of that.

    Janet was just about to tell her brother how much of an idiot he was for not tying his laces correctly, when screams of terror rose above the walls of the fort.  The sounds of galloping horses and angry shouts also filled the air as the twins ran to the safety of their house.  Pa had already came outside with his rifle in his hand.

    “You two get inside with your Ma and don’t come out till I tell you,” he muttered, putting on his hat and walking to the center of the fort.  Several other men had already gathered there with guns in hand, and the rest of them were coming quickly.  Several of the women also were stationed at their front doors with rifles, waiting to see if there was any real danger.  Living in the wild west of America had made them all aware of possible threats of danger.  Everyone seemed to know what to do.

    “Close the gate!” one man shouted as he ran out of his house.  His was the only house that had a window high enough to look out of the fort, and obviously he had seen something he didn’t like.

    “But the village!” Bishop Stewart argued, afraid that the Pawnees would be cut off from the safety of the fort if the gate was closed too soon.

    “It’s too late now--shut the gate!” yelled the man again.

    Several men had already ran to both of the giant gate doors and were in the process of closing them when a thunder of horses burst through the opening, knocking a couple of the men to the ground.  Four riders, shooting their guns into the air, led the way into the fort.  Behind them came several Indian families, running to keep out of the way of the dozen or so men on horses  pursuing them.  

    Dust clouds covered most of the scene.  Soon the men of the town faced twelve men on horseback, who had their guns drawn and pointed right at the backs of the rounded-up Indians.

    “Go to our bedroom,” Ma said quickly.  The twins had been watching the scene from the front window, but now, as Ma picked up one of Pa’s other guns, they hurried up to their parents’ room and shut the door.  They could still see what was happening from the bedroom window upstairs, but they felt a little safer in their new location.

    “It’s happening all over again,” whispered Janet bitterly as tears began to roll down her cheeks.  Jonas merely bit his bottom lip to stop the flood of emotions he, too, was feeling.  The bad memories of what had happened back on the ranch seemed to be repeating themselves right before their eyes, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

    Down in the courtyard, the men of the fort lined up opposite to the line of horses and also held their guns at ready.  Bishop Stewart stepped forward.

    “I’m the leader of this town.  Who are you, and what business brings you here?” he said.

    “Well, sir, my name is Ben Gressing, and  I’m the leader of these here men.  We’re a deputized posse from Cheyenne, sent here to help with the Pawnee uprising,” one of the men gruffly answered.

    “A Pawnee fugitive has escaped the military patrol, and we aim to bring him back.  We found these other savages resting comfortably down the hill here and figured you had some answering to do.”

    With that, he motioned to the group of Pawnees standing in front of the horses.  The women were holding the children close to them, while the few men were standing in proud defiance in the face of the rifles pointed directly at them.  None of them said a word or tried to escape.

    “This village was legally guaranteed immunity by the U.S. government by treaty, and these people are under our protection,” Bishop Stewart responded.  Although his voice was calm, his gaze never flinched, as he stared down the leader of the posse.

    “That may be true, but that ain’t changing the fact here that you all are obviously savage lovers, and therefore I gotta ask you about this runaway that was seen heading your way,” said the gruff horseman.  “His name is David Star Eagle, and he was the leader of the group of Pawnees that attacked the military fort last month.”

    “I don’t know of this man ever being in this fort,” responded the Bishop.  Several of the other men added their assurances that they had never heard of this man. 

    “Well, now,” said Gressing, as he leaned down against his saddle and looked intently at the Bishop.  “We have already checked the little village of these savages and couldn’t find him. This fort may be where he is hiding.  So here’s what we are going to do.  We’re going to search this place completely until I’m satisfied that he’s not here, and then we’ll just wait here for a spell to make sure you all are telling us the truth.”

    “You have no right to do that,” said Brother Keller, angrily lifting his gun and pointing it at the horsemen.  The Bishop immediately pushed the gun back down and put his hand on Brother Keller’s shoulder.

    “We have no desire for blood to be shed today,” he said both to Brother Keller and to the posse.  “We will cooperate with you, but I assure you that you will find nothing.  Only know this, we will not tolerate your abusing us or our families or these Pawnee friends of ours.”

    At this threat, several of the posse men laughed, mocking the Bishop.  Then Gressing motioned for all the men to move toward the schoolhouse.

    “You all need to put your weapons down and call out your families to join you at the schoolhouse.  I don’t want any frisky female shooting me in the back cause she’s afraid for her husband,” Gressing declared.

    All of the men looked at each other.  The demand to have all of their families rounded up was a great concern to them.

    “And what if we don’t?” asked Pa, angry at the situation and the arrogance of the posse.

    “Then we’ll start shooting these savages you call friends, one by one,” answered Gressing, shoving the butt of his rifle into the back of one of the Pawnee women close to his horse.  The Bishop looked around at the other men and then put his rifle on the ground.

    “The Lord forgive you,” he said, as he slowly moved to the schoolhouse.  One by one, the other men followed his example until it came down to Brother Keller and Pa.  Both stood gripping their weapons and staring angrily at the posse.  Seeing their hesitance, the Bishop went back to them and put a hand on each of their shoulders.

    “President Young sent us here to be ambassadors not only for the Church in this harsh land but also of the Savior.  We can’t fulfill that obligation with guns and anger,” he calmly whispered to them.

    “And so we just allow our families to be threatened and hurt?” asked Brother Keller, frustrated with the Bishop’s decision.

    “Right now there seems to be no actual threat to any of us.  But if the time comes that we must defend ourselves, then I will be the first to stand with you against them.  But I want to do nothing to make that happen, do you?” the Bishop responded tenderly, staring at both men with pleading eyes. 

     Brother Keller hesitated and then reluctantly placed his rifle on the ground next to the others.  Pa stood firm and stiff, and the Bishop couldn’t tell if he was glaring at the posse or the Pawnees.

    “Jacob,” the Bishop whispered.  “There’s already been enough pain in your family.  Please don’t add to it.”

    Pa stood silent for another moment and then dropped his rifle.  Without a word or change of expression he turned and marched with the other men into the schoolhouse.  

    A few of the posse men had already gone into the homes looking for the women and children of the fort.  When Ma saw their house was next, she ran to the foot of the stairs and yelled up for the twins to hide.  She then bravely walked out of the door and joined her husband in the school.

    Jonas immediately ran to Ma’s large trunk where she kept her clothes and opened it.  He threw some of the clothes on the bed and climbed into the trunk.  Janet watched him for a moment and then quickly joined him.  Although the trunk was large, it was a tight fit as they closed the lid and huddled together in silence.

    Soon they heard heavy footsteps.  A member of the posse checked Jonas’ room, then Janet’s room, and then the footsteps approached their parents’ room, where the twins were hiding.  

    The man passed by the trunk and stopped for a moment. Jonas thought he was going to open the lid.  The twins looked at each other in the musky darkness and held their breath.  After some intense moments, the footsteps moved away and out of the room.  Another few minutes passed, and they could hear him go down the stairs.

    “That was close” whispered Jonas.  “We should stay in here for a little while longer, just to make sure.”

    “I agree,” said Janet.  She knew Jonas was right, but not being able to see what was going on outside was making her nervous.

    “Why don’t we say a prayer that everyone will be all right,” suggested Jonas, noticing how hard Janet was squeezing his hand.

    “You know, sometimes, Jonas, you are really smarter than you look,” Janet joked, feeling a little bit relieved already.

     They both bowed their heads and quietly pleaded for the safety of their family.  Outside, they could hear the shouts and screams of  the other children and women being rounded up by the angry posse.