A Little Child Shall Lead Them

     He was the meanest man in town – probably the whole county! He was rich and owned half of the businesses in the small northwestern town of Suttonville, Idaho. Of course, it was named after him, Samuel G. Sutton. The “G” stood for Grady; it was his grandmother’s maiden name. Most folks said it stood for “Greedy.” Some said “Grouchy.”

“Old Sam” was what the few who tried to consider themselves his friends called him. He said he had no friends – he just tolerated a few a little more than others. He had become Old Sam when his son was born – Sam, Jr. Junior had been killed almost seven years ago in a freak accident at the family silver mine, just after his twenty-first birthday. His mother went into a deep depression from which she never recovered and eventually had to live in a convalescent home under heavy medication. She died a couple of years ago and Old Sam really started to get old for real.

He lived alone in a large house at the north end of town. It sat on a tract of land that stretched practically halfway around the town and backed up toward the hills almost farther than the eye can see on a clear day. He had founded the town when he was a young man and had discovered silver in the hills nearby and after staking claim to that piece of ground, he gradually extended his property to its current vastness. The mine had played out a long time ago, but not until after it had yielded enough money to keep Sam Sutton wealthy for more than one lifetime.

He found Jean Borden from St. Louis in a mail-order-bride magazine and met and married her in Denver before bringing her to the town he was building in Idaho. When news got out about Sam’s silver strike, prospectors poured into the area to try their luck, too. A few found a little, but not much. Others came to make a living off the silver-seekers. Over time, with no more silver to be mined, even the merchants and saloon owners needed financial help. Sam opened up his own bank and soon nearly everyone in town owed him money.

He owned the only grocery store in town and one of the two cafes. On the other, he held the mortgage! There was the Sutton Inn for those needing a room for the night or for more permanent lodging. Most of the other businesses either paid his bank on their mortgage or paid Sam rent for the buildings he owned.

He had given a doctor his own place in town to entice him to set up a practice in Suttonville and later regretted it but couldn’t do anything about it. The local blacksmith owned his own place, too, which branched into a train depot later on. Only two trains a week stopped in Suttonville, though.

Sam had built a church at the opposite end of town from his place because Jean had wanted one. After Sam, Jr. died, Sam, Sr. quit going and quit supporting it financially. The parson had to move on and now a circuit-riding preacher came through on the Friday train and left on the Tuesday train, every other week. A few townsfolk kept the building clean and in good repair. The meager offering paid for the parson’s tickets and a room at the Sutton Inn during his stay. Parishioners took turns feeding him.

Now that he was “Old Sam”, he had everything and nothing. A big house with servants, land and livestock, fancy clothes, one of those new-fangled horseless carriages, more money than he could spend, and even his own town! But… no wife, no son, no friends, and no need for work – so no real purpose in life. When he showed himself in town, everyone spoke to him – but out of duty at best, fear at the worst. Most of what he had to say to others was about money they owed, foreclosures, and the like. He felt two things. He could buy anything he wanted, and he didn’t need anybody!

**********

Jessica Hawkes worked at the inn. She cleaned the rooms and did the laundry. Sometimes she took in other people’s laundry, too. She was twenty-six years old with a six-year-old daughter. She had never married, and no one knew who little Annie Hawkes’ father was.

Jessica’s parents had come to Suttonville in search of silver. Her mother died – some say she worked herself to death – when Jessica was only twelve. She had to cook and clean and sew for her and her baby brother and their pa. The boy died of scarlet fever when he was only two. Her pa couldn’t take any more and killed himself when Jessica was sixteen.

She had no family and nowhere else to go, so she took a job at one of the saloons just to make ends meet. She was pretty and had a nice figure and she drew quite a bit of unwanted attention from the men. The owner took a fancy to her and protected her but didn’t pay her much. Some think he had his own designs on her, but his marriage got in the way! She kept the place clean and did a little singing for tips. Her boss kept the men away from her.

No one in town ever saw her with anyone, so when she became ‘with child’ they were all shocked. She never told anyone who the father was. When it became a little too obvious that she was expecting, the saloon keeper let her go from her job. She kept her room at a boarding house and paid for that and food and eventually the baby by cleaning and sewing. A little later on, she got a job at the inn.

Annie was a pretty little girl. Jessica was a blue-eyed blonde, but Annie’s hair was black, and her big eyes were brown. Her smile lit up a room and now that she had started school, it was obvious she was as smart as a whip. Jessica had known it all along, but then she was prejudiced. Annie’s schooling proved it to be so.

Maybe part of the reason Annie leaned so much and so well was that she was very inquisitive. If she wasn’t asking questions, it was because she was exploring on her own. She helped around the inn with little chores. There’s no telling how many times Jessica found her exploring someone’s room! Annie often got so focused on her exploring that she wandered away from her mama and sooner or later was “bothering” someone in town.

Most of the townsfolk liked Annie, but just didn’t seem to know exactly how to treat her. All the other kids had mas and pas – Annie didn’t. For some reason that mattered. They would return her to the inn and make a comment or two to Jessica about keeping her “in her place.” Jessica wasn’t sure if that simply meant by her side or in society. She always figured it kind of meant both.

On one of her excursions, Annie noticed the shiny, strange wagon that Mr. Sutton rode around in, just sitting empty in front of the bank. She just had to check it out. She couldn’t understand how it moved. All the other wagons had horses pulling them! And this one was so different. The wheels were softer than those on the other wagons. The seats looked softer, too, so she climbed up inside the carriage to find out.

Sure enough – the seat was soft and comfy. There were knobs and buttons and levers to explore, too! And that one big lever with a knob on the end – what was that for? It had a shiny metal thing on it with a big black ball at the end of it. Annie wondered what that could be. She felt the ball and it was soft and squeezable. So naturally, she squeezed it.

She jumped at the sound it made! The she laughed and squeezed it again. Then she heard a gruff voice say, “Here now! What are you doing there?!” It was Mr. Sutton. He came out of the bank after the first honk of the horn and strode quickly up to his automobile. That’s what those wagons were called.

Annie looked up at the big man. She had seen him a few times before, but never up close. She had heard others say he was mean, but he didn’t look so mean to her. She spoke up, “Just looking at your wagon.”

He told her it was not a toy and she didn’t belong there. She had heard that many times before! And she didn’t think he said it any meaner thanh everyone else did. Old Sam reached down and picked Annie up. He hauled her up out of his automobile and set her down in the street. The blanket that Sam used for warmth as he drove caught on her foot and fell to the ground. He told her to get on home, picked up the blanket, and tossed it onto the back floorboard.

Annie walked slowly away as Old Sam returned to this office in the bank to finish up the brief task he had started earlier. Annie turned to look back. Seeing Mr. Sutton enter the bank, she returned to the “wagon.” She wanted to explore some more only this time she wouldn’t squeeze the horn!

She knew she shouldn’t be there, but this wagon was just too interesting. She got behind the steering lever and pretended to drive. The she heard voices! She looked toward the bank and the door was starting to open. He was coming back! What could she do?!

Old Sam was talking to someone in the bank as he backed through the door. He hadn’t seen Annie yet. She was panicking and looking frantically for someplace to hide. She saw the blanket in the back floorboard and got an idea. She climbed over the seat and quickly crawled onto the floor, pulling the blanket over her.

Old Sam walked to the street side of the automobile and climbed in. Reaching under the seat, Sam pushed the button that sparked the gasoline engine with a small explosion that started it running. He released the handbrake and pushed the accelerator pedal. The automobile motored down the street, guided proficiently by its proud owner. He was completely unaware of the stowaway!

Annie wasn’t quite sure what was happening. She was afraid to call out, so she just waited under the blanket. It took a little while, but the automobile finally came to a stop. She dared not move yet. She felt the “wagon” rock a little as Old Sam got out. She waited and listened. She didn’t hear anything, but she waited a little longer before peeking out.
Then slowly, carefully, Annie lifted the blanket edge to peek. She couldn’t tell where they were, but there were no stores or houses around. She couldn’t know it, but Sam had driven out to the old mine. She could see him walking around the hillside. His back was to the automobile, so she took off the blanket and climbed out to the ground. Keeping the “wagon” between herself and Mr. Sutton, she ran to some bushes and hid.

Mr. Sutton walked around. Annie watched from her hiding place. He would walk a little, stop, rub his head, and massage his neck. Then he’d walk some more and do it all again. Then he did something different. Annie didn’t understand it, but it reminded her of church.

Mr. Sutton looked up at the sky and raised his hands. Then he dropped to his knees and covered his face with his hands. Annie figured he was praying. In a couple of minutes, he wiped his eyes with his hands and got up. He returned to his automobile, started it up again, and drove away. He had no idea that anyone else was around, much less a little six-year old girl.

After he was out of sight, Annie walked out of her hiding place and moved to where Old Sam had left the area. She looked out and down the hill. She couldn’t see anything but trees and bushes and more hills and land. The dirt road that Mr. Sutton had driven down must lead back to town, but she couldn’t see it from there. Behind her was the boarded-up entrance to the abandoned mine and that she could see!

She quickly lost interest in the road home and walked to the mine entrance to peek inside. She blocked the sunlight by cupping her hands to her face. Her big eyes adjusted to the darkness, but she couldn’t see much. She would just have to get in there in order to see what it was like.

Annie pulled at one of the boards. It gave a little. She moved her hands a little farther out toward the end of the board. Gripping hard, she pulled with all the power the six-year old could muster. A groan, a creak, and at last a loud crack! The board gave way and Annie tumbled backwards to the ground. She got up, dusted herself off, and crawled through the newly formed entrance to Sutton’s Silver Streak Mine!

**********

Jessica Hawkes was busy cleaning the inn. Looking out an upstairs window, she had seen Annie saunter across the street toward Sutton’s Mercantile. Lem Daniels always tolerated Annie for awhile as long as he didn’t have too many customers. He usually gave her a piece of stick candy after Jessica had said it was okay. Eventually, he would shoo Annie toward the inn. Jessica had smiled and gone about her business.

She gathered the sheets, pillowcases, and towels from three rooms, remade the beds and replaced the towels with fresh ones she had laundered earlier. She dusted and swept the rooms. The inn had an indoor pump in the kitchen from which she refilled the pitchers in each room. By then it dawned on her that Lem had tolerated Annie longer than usual. She had not heard her return to the inn. Stepping out onto the front porch, Jessica scanned the street in both directions looking for Annie before crossing the street to the store. Since she didn’t see her daughter anywhere, she hustled over to relieve Lem of his burden.

Lem was surprised to see Jessica without Annie and said so. When she asked about her coming into the store earlier, Lem told her he hadn’t seen Annie all day! Jessica explained why she had thought Annie had stopped by and they both went outside to search for her. Lem went one way and Jessica went the other. They scoured both sides of the street in both directions and in a matter of minutes several others had joined the search.

Annie had not been in any of the places of business! The saloon keeper assured Jessica that Annie had not been in his establishment – ever! But one of his customers exiting the saloon only just then realized they were all looking for a little girl. He said he had seen one sitting in Old Sam’s automobile as he had entered the saloon earlier that day. He went on to describe the girl but added that Sam had caught her and took her out of the vehicle.

Jessica started running toward Sam Sutton’s house at the edge of town after asking the others to please keep looking. Maybe Mr. Sutton would know something about where Annie had gone. Lem closed up his store and ran after Annie. He was faster than her and caught up with her as she knocked on the Sutton door.

A maid answered the door and asked what they wanted. Jessica started to explain but was so rattled and winded from the run that she wasn’t making much sense, so Lem took over. He explained that Jessica’s little girl was missing and that the last time anyone had seen her, Sam Sutton was helping her out of his automobile in front of the bank. They were hoping he might have noticed where she went next.

The maid showed them to the parlor and went to get Mr. Sutton from his study. He came quickly once the maid had explained the situation. Sam knew Jessica from years ago and of course he had seen her many times since around town and at the inn. At one time, Sam, Jr. had shown interest in Jessica, but Old Sam had squelched that. She just wasn’t right for the son of the richest man in the territory. But he had always treated her with civility anyway.

He greeted Lem and expressed sorrow about Jessica’s plight. He asked how he might be of service to them. Jessica had regained her composure and explained that someone had seen Annie in his automobile and wondered if he happened to see which way she went after she got out. Sam said he had told her to go back to the inn and that she headed that way, though rather slowly. He had returned to the bank for just a few minutes.

Jessica explained that Annie had not returned the inn after all and asked if he had seen her or anyone else for that matter when he came back out of the bank. He said that he hadn’t. He simply got in his automobile and headed home. Jessica thanked him and as she headed for the door she began to sob and stumbled a little. Lem caught her by the arm and steadied her. “We’ll find her, Jessica. Don’t worry,” he assured her.

Jessica replied, “She is just so inquisitive. She explores things and places and just won’t stop until she’s satisfied with learning all she can. She could have gone to explore anywhere!”

Old Sam chimed in, “That’s why she was in my automobile – exploring it. I became aware of that when she honked the horn. I told her not to play with it. She didn’t seem scared at all.”

Jessica thought for a moment. “Any chance she returned to the automobile after you went back into the bank?”

Old Sam said, “Well, I guess so, but I came back out in just a few minutes and drove off. As I said, I didn’t see her around. Why?”

Jessica replied, “Well, she can be a little sneaky. I was just thinking perhaps she had gotten back in your automobile and was hiding there when you drove off.”

Old Sam said he didn’t see how that could be possible. “The vehicle is pretty open, and you can see both seats easily. She certainly wasn’t in either seat.”

Lem joined in the conversation. “Is there any place at all a little girl could be in the carriage and not be seen? Could she hide under the seat or something?”

“No way,” answered Sam. “There was nothing in that vehicle but me and my old driving blanket.”

“Driving blanket?” asked Jessica.

“Yes,” said Sam. “I get a little chilly when driving sometimes, so I keep a blanket in there to throw over my lap.”

Lem asked, “And you did that today?”

“Why, no, now that you mention it,” added Sam. “I remember now that it fell to the ground when I got the little girl out of the automobile. I picked it up and tossed it onto the floor in the back. When I got in later, I didn’t bother getting it.”

Jessica’s eyes brightened. “Could Annie have been hiding under the blanket?”

“Why would she do that?” asked Sam.

“Maybe she had gotten back in to explore some more and when you came out, she hid under the blanket because she knew she wasn’t supposed to be there!”

Old Sam thought it through. “You know,” he said, “I was talking to my bank manager at the door for a moment before I got in my vehicle. My back would have been turned to her if she was there. She would have had time to crawl under the blanket. Would she do that?”

Jessica replied with a knowing smile, “Oh, yes. She certainly would.”

Lem chimed in, “Then she would have ridden here to the house with you. But wouldn’t she just walk back into town after she got out of the carriage?”

Jessica started to respond to that, but Sam interrupted. “Oh no!” he exclaimed.

Jessica asked, “What?!”

Sam explained his concern. “I just remembered – I didn’t come straight home. I drove out to my old mine and walked around out there for a while!”

Lem asked, “You don’t think she slipped out of the carriage out there do you?”

Sam replied, “It is certainly possible. There was plenty of opportunity to do just that and to hide until I left.”

Jessica almost cried out, “The mine!”

Sam said, “Oh, don’t worry – it’s been boarded up for years. But she could be lost out there if she wandered off.”

Jessica was scared but holding it together. She was sure they were on the right track. “Lem,” she asked, “would you go back to town and see if you can get some help? I’m heading for the mine.”

Old Sam spoke up. “It’s too far. I’ll drive you.”

They quickly parted ways and set to the tasks at hand. Lem ran back to town and gathered a search party. Two wagon loads of people and a few more on horseback soon headed for the Sutton Silver Streak Mine. Old Sam got his hat, informed the maid, and took Jessica to the barn that housed his automobile.

When they got to the vehicle, Sam remarked that the blanket looked a little different than before, as if it had been repositioned. “It was Annie – I know it,” responded Jessica.

As they drove to the mine, Old Sam tried to reassure Jessica that they would find Annie and she would be alright. “Probably be just sitting there crying, waiting for help to come along,” he added.

“You don’t know Annie,” Jessica said. “She’s fearless. Terribly inquisitive. Always has to learn something, explore new places, try new things. She could be anywhere – but she won’t be just sitting there crying. It’s the mine that scares me.”

Sam tried again to calm her spirit. “It’s been boarded up and there’s no other way in. I saw it earlier and it’s still boarded up.” He paused for a moment, then added, “No, she couldn’t have gone into the mine. We’ll find her outside somewhere.”

“We have to, Mr. Sutton. She’s all I have in the world!”

“It’s none of my business, but what about the girl’s father?” asked Old Sam.

“He’s dead,” Jessica said and added nothing more.

“I’m sorry,” Old Sam said and drove on in silence. In a few minutes, they arrived at the mine’s entrance. “Oh my!” exclaimed Sam.

Jessica could see that a board had been torn loose and was lying on the ground. “She’s in there!”

**********

When Annie crawled in between the boards and entered the mine she was excited. She had never been in a mine before. It was dark, but she wasn’t afraid. The angle of the sun illuminated the entrance a little and her big brown eyes soon adjusted to the poorly lit tunnel.

As she slowly walked farther into the tunnel it got darker. She tripped over something and falling forward she banged her head a little before falling down. She peered in the darkness and felt around. She could see that she had tripped over some railroad tracks like those at the train station in town. Old Sam had removed the last several feet of track from the entrance just to discourage sightseers. Annie hit her head on an old ore tram still standing empty on the tracks.

She was a brave girl. She didn’t cry. She just rubbed her head and struggled back up on her feet. Most children her age would have gone back to the exit and headed for the comfort of their ma or pa, but not Annie. She was there to explore this mine. She only wished she could see better.

She went around the tram and followed the tracks deeper into the tunnel. In a little while she could see that there were two other tunnels going off from the main one in both directions. She chose the right tunnel, but it turned out to be the wrong tunnel!

In about fifty feet, she ran into a broken-down wooden barricade. She had no idea what it was for and she couldn’t see very well anyway, so she felt her way around it and continued slowly on. In about ten steps, she fell right into a hole! The barricade was a warning that the floor of the shaft had collapsed! Annie fell right into a dark hole about twelve feet down!

It was probably a blessing that she actually was knocked unconscious for a while. With no way to climb out and no one around to help her, she likely would have been frightened. As it was, she just laid there peacefully and sill for a while.

**********

Jessica jumped out of the automobile and ran to the mine entrance. She called into the tunnel for Annie and listened for a response. She did not get an answer. Annie’s little entryway was too small for an adult, so Jessica began to tug at another board. Old Sam caught up to her and gently pulled her aside. “Let me,” he said.  Sam jerked the board loose and tossed it to one side. Then he pulled at another and soon had it loose, too. He kicked at a lower board and knocked it free and cleared the entrance for anyone to go through. Jessica started to enter, but Sam stopped her.

“Wait, Jessica! You can’t see in there. I know my way around. It’s been a long time, but I can still remember. I’ll look. You stay here at the entrance and call out to her.”

Jessica followed Old Sam into the mine anyway until they got to the ore tram. Sam told her to stay there and keep calling Annie’s name. “Help will be here soon, and they’ll need to find you right here. There is more than one way she could go down here, and you might send someone back for lanterns and rope.”

“Rope?” asked Jessica. “Why rope?”

“There are pits in here, Jessica, where the tunnel floor has collapsed. I’m afraid she could have fallen into one,” replied Sam. He figured she might as well face the possibilities.

Jessica gasped. “Oh, please find her. Why couldn’t she be more like other kids? Most kids would have turned back when they saw how dark it is.”

Trying to comfort her, Sam replied, “Not all though. My Sam wouldn’t have. He got lost more than once in here. Broke his collar bone swinging from the barn loft. Nearly broke his leg trying to ride a horse that hadn’t been broken to ride yet.”

Jessica said, “He was headstrong, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was,” replied Sam. “He was a good boy though. And he was becoming a good man.”

“I know,” said Jessica. “He was.”

“Well, if your daughter is anything like my son was, she’ll be alright. You’ll see.”

“Mr. Sutton,” Jessica said softly. “Annie is like Sam. More than you know.”

“Well, of course, I don’t know her,” replied Old Sam.

“Ann is her middle name,” Jessica added. “Her real name is Samantha Ann. She’s named after her father.”

“What are you saying?” asked Sam.

“I’m saying she is named after your son – Annie’s father.”

“It can’t be,” said Sam in disbelief. “Sam might have gone against my wishes to be with you, but in the end he would have done right by you.”

“He didn’t know about the baby. He wanted us to get married, but I said no – not as long as his family was against it. We argued, but I wouldn’t give in. Then he was killed, and it didn’t matter anymore,” explained Jessica.

“My granddaughter,” sighed Old Sam. “I have a granddaughter!”

“Yes, you do,” Jessica said. “And right now, she’s lost in your old mine.”

“Jessica! Sam! You in there?!” called a couple of voices at the entrance. Two riders on horseback had beat the wagons to the mine and saw the entrance torn apart.

“Yes!” they both shouted back. “We think Annie’s in here somewhere!” added Jessica.

“One of you go back to town. Get Lem on the way and go get some lanterns!” yelled Sam. “And hurry!”

One of the riders took off and led the other horse for Lem. The wagons were approaching the mine. Lem got on the rider-less horse and the two headed off to town. The wagons arrived and unloaded. The first responder explained the situation as they had found it.
A few men got some rope and entered the tunnel, quickly catching up to Jessica and Sam. The others decided that since they weren’t sure Annie was in the mine, they should split up and scour the hillside just in case she had wandered away. All of their own tracks had obliterated any sign of Annie’s little feet near the mine, but a couple of the men were pretty good trackers and said if she was out there, they’d soon know it.

Sam explained the layout of the tunnels to the men. Until they got lanterns, he suggested they tie themselves together with the ropes and move forward slowly in a line. They should feel the ground with a foot before stepping forward, once they split off from the main tunnel up ahead. Jessica was to keep calling out so Annie could hear a familiar voice and not become frightened. If anyone heard anything, they would call back to Jessica. When they got farther into the tunnel, Sam quietly said if they found anything bad had happened to the girl – they should not call out but tell him first. He would explain to Jessica.

They proceeded on into the mine and split into three small teams when the two shafts split off from the main one. It was slow going and they couldn’t see much. They could hear Jessica calling, so Annie should have been able to as well, but so far there was no response.

On the outside, Lem and the other man were still riding back to the mine with lanterns and more rope. The others were searching the hillside and calling for Annie, but of course, to no avail for the poor little girl was lying unconscious at the bottom of a pit in the mine.

On the inside of the mine, the three teams proceeded very slowly, inching their ways forward. Sam’s team had gone to the right and soon stumbled upon the barricade. Sam remembered that the floor had collapsed just here shortly before they abandoned the mine.

The men carefully, meticulously moved the barricade to one side of the tunnel. “We’d better crawl from here,” Sam cautioned as he knelt down. More than one of the men marveled that Old Sam Sutton, the richest, meanest, grouchiest man in the territory was on his knees, crawling in the dirt, in the dark, looking for a little lost girl he barely knew! No one but Jessica and Sam knew he was looking for his granddaughter. Sam had suddenly found a new reason for living and a renewed spirit that drove him to find this little lost girl – Sam’s little girl.

He felt the edge of the pit and stopped. He told the others and they gradually inched forward and spread out along the edge of the hole. They discovered that there were only inches along the tunnel walls on either side of the pit. Sam recalled that it had not been quite that big before, so it had likely continued to cave in over the past few years. They had to be careful, but obviously, either Annie had fallen into the pit or she was somewhere else, because she could not have gone around the hole.

Sam called out to her, but there was no answer. He tried again. Still nothing. One of the men said, “She must not be down there. That’s good.”

Another responded, “Maybe. What if she fell in there and, well, she can’t call out?”

Sam said, “She could have gotten knocked out down there.”

One of the others, not knowing Sam’s new feelings toward the girl, offered, “She might not be alive, fellas.”

Sam quickly barked back, “She has to be! If only they’d get here with those lanterns.” He called out into the hole again, but still there was no response.

Jessica was still calling from her place in the tunnel. The other teams were still searching but finding nothing. The team from the main shaft had reached the end and was starting back. They could move faster because of the tracks. There was another shaft leading off from the tracks in a line parallel to the one Sam’s team was in. They turned off and headed into that shaft. They would have to inch down this path.

Finally, Lem and the first responder arrived with the lanterns. They rushed into the mine as the searchers were beginning to return from a quick search of the hills around the mine. The trackers said there was no sign that anyone had been anywhere around. Annie had to be in the mine somewhere.

Lem and Will Yates lit the lanterns and quickly found Jessica. She explained where the searchers were – up ahead and then split into three directions. No sound or signs from Annie yet. They left her a lantern and moved on. With light, Lem and Will were able to move much more quickly than the others and were at the junction of the shafts in just a minute. They called out and heard back from two of the teams. The third was now in the parallel shaft and farther away. Will took two lanterns toward them, heading down the main tunnel along the tracks.

Lem heard the other team off to his left and called out to his right that he’d be back in a minute. Sam responded, “No! Get us a light first! There’s a hole in the tunnel floor here. If she’s not in this hole, she’s not in this tunnel at all!”

Lem set two lanterns down in the junction and took one to Sam’s team. He found them in no time and Sam grabbed the lantern. He held it out over the pit as they all stretched to see in. It took a second or two to focus and they all called out, “There! She’s down there!”

Lem called back through the mine to Jessica before Sam could stop him. “She’s here!”

Sam said, “Wait!”, but it was too late. Jessica had heard Lem. The others had, too. And all were heading for the junction to get to the shaft where Sam’s team had found her.

Lem asked, “What’s the matter?”

Sam said, “I wanted to know what shape the girl is in before Jessica knew.”

One of the other men added, “In case it’s bad news.”

Lem apologized explaining he hadn’t thought about that. Jessica was scrambling their way, calling out for Annie. Sam rose to meet her, handing the lantern to one of the others. Jessica cried out, “Where is she?! Where’s my baby?!”

Sam caught her by the arms, stopping her, and said, “She fell into a pit. We don’t know yet how she is. She hasn’t spoken.”

Jessica covered her mouth with one hand. She was crying and trembling. “Is she….” – she couldn’t say it.

Sam quickly moved her thoughts away from that. “She may have hit her head and got knocked out. It’s maybe ten or twelve feet down. We’ll know more in a minute.”

Lem stepped over by Jessica and Sam handed her off to him. He took charge and gave the plan. “The rest of you lower me down by rope into the pit. I’ll see how she is and if it’s safe to raise her up.”

Phil Lawton interrupted. “Let me go – I’m quite a bit lighter and your strength will come  in handier up here.”

Another said, “He’s right. And let’s send down an extra rope in case we can’t pull them both up with one rope.”

Sam relented, admitting that was probably best. Then he added, “You be careful.”

They tied a rope around Phil, and he draped a second rope around his shoulder. The other teams had joined them in the tunnel by then and there was plenty of light. One of the other men had returned to the mine entrance with the news and to get a blanket and a canteen. By the time he returned to the pit, Phil was at the bottom with Annie.

They dropped a lantern to him, and he lit up the bottom of the pit. She was out cold, but Phil could see she was alive. He called out that news to the others. He gently checked her over and said it did not look like anything was broken and there was no sign of bleeding. It all sounded good and was bringing some relief to Jessica, but Annie was still out and looked so helpless lying there at the bottom of the pit.

They dropped a canteen down to Phil. He took off his neckerchief and wet it. He gently dabbed the cool, wet cloth on Annie’s face and wiped away some of the dirt. She moaned a little. He wet the cloth some more and gently squeezed it at her lips. The cool water wet her dry lips and she stirred a little and moaned again. He called up to the others, “I think she’s coming around!”

Jessica’s heart skipped a beat. She had hardly breathed herself, but she did now. Annie’s eyes were still closed. Phil raised her head a little and cradled her in his arms while he patted her forehead with the cloth and spoke to her. “Annie, can you wake up? Your mama’s here, Annie.” Phil spoke tenderly and quietly so he wouldn’t frighten the little girl. “My name’s Phil, Annie. Can you open your eyes for me?”

She blinked a little. Phil left the cloth on her forehead and picked up the lantern. He held the light up over her and she blinked again, then opened her eyes to a squint. She moaned again, then spoke, “Who are you? What happened?” She didn’t seem afraid at all, just inquisitive!

Jessica heard Annie’s voice and called down to her. “Annie! Are you alright?!”

Annie yelled back up toward her mama’s voice. “I think so. What happened?”

“You must have fallen into a deep hole while exploring the mine!” Jessica answered. “Do you remember how you got here?”

Annie thought a moment then answered, “Yes. I hid in Mr. Sutton’s funny wagon under a blanket and when he stopped at the mine, I got out.”

Jessica continued for her, “and then you came into the mine.”

“Yes, Mama. I’m sorry. It was dark and I didn’t see the hole.”

“Phil will help you get ready for the others to pull you up. Can you stand up?” Jessica asked.

“I think so. I’m okay,” Annie responded. She started to get up and Phil took her hand to help and to steady her. She was indeed alright.

Phil asked her, “Do you think you could ride on me piggy-back and hold on tight?”

“Yes, I think so,” Annie said.

Phil got up on his haunches and Annie crawled onto his back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and Phil stood up. He tossed up the canteen and then the lantern and said, “We’re ready!” Then to Annie he said, “Hang on, Annie!”

As the men up above pulled the rope taut, Phil grabbed a hold of the rope and lifted first one foot, then the other and pressed against the wall of the pit. They pulled up and he walked up the wall, holding on to the rope. Annie held on to Phil.

They made it easily to the top of the pit and Jessica reached out to take Annie in her arms. “Samantha Ann, you scared me to death!” she scolded as she squeezed her little girl tightly.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Annie replied. “Am I in trouble?”

“Why do you ask?” asked Jessica.

“Because you called me Samantha Ann,” replied Annie.

The men all laughed, and that made Jessica laugh, and Annie followed suit. Soon the whole mine resounded with laughter. The echoes carried back to the entrance. “Listen,” someone shouted. “They’re laughing!”

Soon the entire rescue party was laughing! The group in the tunnel began to make its way back to the entrance. Old Sam stepped up to Jessica. “Can I carry her?” he asked.

Jessica turned her head to face Annie and asked, “Would that be okay, Annie?”

“He’s not mad at me?” Annie asked.

Old Sam heard her and took hold of Jessica’s arm to stop her. He looked at Annie and said, “No, I’m not mad. Can I carry you from here and give your mama a rest?”

Annie reached out to Old Sam and he took her in his arms and held her tight. She hugged the man that was her grandpa, even though she didn’t know it yet. The happy group quickly made it to the tunnel’s entrance and emerged to a cheering crowd. Sam wouldn’t let her go. He looked at Jessica and whispered, “Can we tell her?”

Jessica responded, “I don’t know. What’s going to happen if we do?”

Sam set Annie down to her feet. He said, “I need to talk to your mama a minute. Can you go sit in my funny wagon awhile?”

Annie replied, “You mean it?! It’s okay?”

Sam laughed a little and said, “It sure is.”

Annie ran to the automobile and climbed in.  Yelling back to Old Sam, Annie asked, “Can I honk the horn!?”

Sam laughed out loud. “Yes – but only a couple of times!” he said.  Annie responded with two honks! Sam and Jessica and everyone else for that matter laughed at Annie’s fun.

Then Sam Sutton turned to Jessica Hawkes and got serious. “Jessica, can you ever forgive a grumpy old self-centered man? I haven’t the right to ask, but I’m truly sorry.”

Jessica responded, “It’s okay, Mr. Sutton. I understand. But what about Annie? What good would it do to tell her who you are?”

Sam took Jessica’s hand. “I’ve been wrong and lonely for too long. I want you and Annie to come live with me. Be my daughter and my granddaughter.”

Jessica couldn’t believe her ears! “You mean that?” she asked. “Do you have any idea what kind of changes that will make?”

Sam responded, “Probably not, but I don’t care. Yes, I’m serious. Annie has already come into my life and changed me. I want to get to know her. She’s part of me. I want to help you raise her. Let me help you.”

Jessica reached out to Sam and he took her in his arms and held her. The rescue crowd couldn’t help but notice and were completely puzzled. Old Sam had come out of that mine holding little Annie. He let her sit in his prize automobile and even laughed when she honked the horn! And now he was hugging Jessica! What, they wondered, was going on?!

Jessica called Annie back from the automobile. “Annie,” she said when the child had joined them, “I have something very special to tell you.”  She proceeded to tell Annie about her father. Annie knew a few things – the kind of man he was, and that he died before she was born but had loved her mama very much. She didn’t know who he was. Jessica told her and introduced her to her Grandpa Sam. She explained that he never knew until today.

Annie looked at Old Sam. “Are you really my grandpa?” she asked.

“I really am, Annie. I really am.”

Annie hugged Grandpa Sam with all her might! Tears trickled down his face as he held her tightly. The curious crowd of rescuers had respectfully kept their distance, so they were as much in the dark about the situation as Annie had been in that silver mine!

Old Sam interrupted his hugging of Annie and stood up to address the crowd. “Folks! I want to say something to you! I want to thank you all for what you did today. You didn’t know it, but you rescued my granddaughter!”

At first you could have heard a pin drop. Then came a little murmur and questioning looks as each tried to confirm with the others that they had heard Sam correctly. “That’s right,” added Sam. “though I didn’t know it, Jessica and my son, Sam had hoped to be married. Annie is their child. Sam was killed before he found that out. I’m glad I lived long enough to learn the truth. And I want you all to know that from now on things are going to be different in Suttonville.”

And things did change – for the town and for the Sutton family. Rents and mortgages were lowered – wages were raised. Everyone’s standard of living went up! Soon a full-time parson for the church was called whose wife became the full-time schoolteacher. Some of the Sutton property was subdivided to encourage more people to come and farm or raise livestock. The town grew and prospered.

As for Old Sam’s place – it rang with laughter and love. It went from being just a house to being a real home.  Annie kept Grandpa Sam from being the grouchiest, meanest man around! Jessica, Annie, and Sam all had a family now. Eventually, Jessica found love again and the Sutton family grew. Annie continued her inquisitive ways, but that was how she learned. And Sam proved he wasn’t too old to learn new tricks either! That day that Annie led the town into that old abandoned mine, she led them to be a whole new town!

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