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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Dave Free on 7 December 2006 - 9:33am.

“Ohhhhh!” Steve groaned as he bent over to wash his face in the spring. The quick motion reminded him instantly how much his head still hurt.

“Still a wee bit sore, eh elder?” O’Malley had his shirt off and was splashing water on his chest and under his arms.

Steve gingerly splashed some water on his face. “Ah, that feels great!” He splashed his face several more times. The cool water was welcome relief from the stifling heat. “Think anyone would mind if I went for a swim?” He turned and asked O’Malley who was now buttoning up a clean shirt.

“A swim, is it? If ye’re sure your fit for it, Elder. I’m not a swimmer meself and if ye got in a bad way I’d not be able to help.”

“I’ll be fine.” Steve already had his boots and his shirt off and was working on his pants. As soon as thy hit the ground he was in the water. It felt wonderful. For the first time since the skiing accident he began to feel normal again. The cool water was invigorating, but even more than that, Steve loved the physical exercise. He had experienced so many strange things in the last few hours, but swimming and exercise were things he knew and loved. He swam the length of the spring and back three times before he stopped for a rest.

“I can see ye’ll na be needin' me to fish ye out Elder! A fine swimmer ye are.” O’Malley called. He had finished dressing and had his travel clothes under his arm. “I’ll be on me way now. Mum will be looking for me sure. Yer bag of clothes is there, under the tree.” O’Malley pointed to the base of a large oak growing near the edge of the water. “Don’t be long now, dinner does na last with this crowd.” With a wave, he turned and followed the path through the thick foliage back to city of tents.

Steve watched O’Malley go and then dove back into his laps with a vengeance. The thought occurred to him that maybe if he swam hard enough and long enough he’d wake up at home again. He’d been skiing and ended up here, maybe swimming was the door back. At any rate, swimming was something he felt comfortable doing so he swam and swam and swam and swam. At fifteen he lost count of the laps, but swam a few more just for good measure and then, when his lungs felt like they were going to burst, he quit and rolled over onto his back. Still in Iowa. The few wispy clouds in the sky had a pinkish hue from the sun that was now setting, but other than that it looked just like it had before he started. He let himself float for a few minutes, and then decided he had better get dressed before it got any darker. Diving to the bottom he pulled himself toward the shore and didn’t surface again until he had reached it.

“EEEEK!” The voice was so loud and shrill, Steve jumped backwards, lost his footing in the mud on the bottom of the spring, and fell completely into the water. Flailing his arms and scrambling with his legs, he finally managed to regain his balance and stand up.

On the shore stood a young girl with a large pot in her hand. For some reason she was looking off to the right of Steve but even without seeing her whole face, he could tell that he had given her quite a scare. For a moment he just stood there, not sure what he should do. Then a rather large mosquito on his hind side reminded him that he wasn’t dressed for a casual conversation with a member of the opposite sex. He took a few steps backward and bent his knees so that the water covered him up to his neck.

“I, er, I, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you.” He said from the relative safety of deeper water.

“I must say, I didn’t expect to find a naked man in the drinking water!” She said curtly still looking away from Steve.

“Oh sorry, O’Malley--Brother O’Malley said it would be ok if I took a swim. I didn’t know this was drinking water.” Steve turned and looked where the young girl was looking. “What are you looking at over there anyway?” He asked.

“I’m not looking at anything! I’m trying to protect my eyes and my mind from you and your nudity!”

Steve might have blushed but he was too amused. “Well you can quit worrying, I’m covered now so hurry and get your water so I can get out. The mosquitoes are eating me alive.”

Now it was the girl’s turn to be amused. “Maybe leaving you to the mosquitoes for the night would teach you not to bath in the drinking water. Maybe I’ll just stay right where I am.” She sat down on the shore but continued to look off to the right.

“Fine with me.” Steve replied, “I’m coming out either way.” He stood up and began walking toward the shore. Hearing the splash, she turned quickly and looked at him long enough to see he was really coming. Convinced, she jumped to her feet and ran for the trail, screaming all the way.

“Hey, you forgot your drinking water!” Steve called after her and then chuckled as he climbed up onto the shore.

The sun had now set and the light remaining was fading fast. Digging through the canvas bag that O’Malley had assured him was his, Steve found a pair of brown trousers and a tan shirt. The shirt was in the same pattern as the white one he had taken off but not nearly as frilly or baggy. Steve was glad for the long sleeves of the shirt, the mosquitoes were as big as horse flies. The pants were a little stranger. Rather than one zipper or set of buttons in the center, they had two sets of buttons on the front but spread to the two sides. They also had suspenders instead of a belt. Steve quickly pulled them on and, not finding another pair of boots in the bag, put the old pair back on. He ran his fingers through his hair a few times in a vain attempt to straighten it then gathered up the bag and headed for camp.

When Steve reached the tent where the O’Malley family was living, only sister O’Malley was still there. She was bent over a large cast iron kettle, scraping it out with wooden spoon. Her towel hung down from her shoulder. She looked up as Steve drew near. “Aye Elder it’s you! I was beginnin’ to think maybe you’d drowned and I could eat your food! “

Steve laughed. “Sorry, I tried.”

She looked up to see if he was serious. Steve smiled again and said, “I didn’t really.”

She smiled back at him. “Good. What’s left of the food is there by the fire, then ye ought to get down to the wagon yard. The captain said he wanted all the brethren at the meetin’.” She returned to her scraping.

Steve bent over the pot by the fire and scraped what was left of the thick soup with dumplings into a tin dish. The long day and swim had taken their toll on him and he was famished. The last thing he could remember eating was the blueberry muffins this morning with his family.

“Is this dish microwave safe?” He turned and asked Sister O’Malley and then laughed at his own joke. She looked up at him with almost a sad look on her face and shook her head a few times as she mumbled to herself, “So much of life yet ahead him. What a shame. What a shame.” Standing up she walked over and touched Steve on the shoulder. “I’ve not seen a wave since we left the ship Elder, and I’d not care to see another for some time.” Steve looked up into her sad eyes and immediately felt bad for teasing her.

“No not a wave--a microwave. It’s a kind of oven, that warms up food really fast and doesn’t use heat.” Sister O’Malley’s face seemed to look even sadder. Steve gave up. “You’re right, I ‘d just as soon never see another wave myself.”

The soup tasted good. It was a little bland and mushy from being over cooked, but it hit the spot just right. Within three minutes, the tin dish was empty and Steve was on his way to the company meeting. It wasn’t hard to find. Nearly all five hundred members of the Martin company had gathered in a large clearing on the outskirts of the tent city and were now singing “Come, Come Ye Saints.”

Steve looked for O’Malley briefly but had a hard time making out faces in the dark so he gave up and settled down on a rock at the back of the gathering. The singing concluded as he sat down and, taking a clue from those sitting around him, he bowed his head for the prayer. The prayer was hardly audible and Steve began to wonder if he should try to find a seat a little closer to the front. He needn’t have worried. As soon as the prayer was over a man rose to his feet next to the large bonfire and spoke with a loud booming voice. Steve recognized him as Captain Martin, the man he had mistaken for Brigham Young.

“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “welcome to Iowa and our final stop before crossing the plains to Zion. This is the Lord’s work brothers and sisters and He is with us, just as President Young promised He would be. Today we received news from the first two companies of handcart saints that left this very spot just a few short weeks ago. Their progress on the trail is wonderful. Let me read a few short lines from this correspondence. This is from a newspaper called the Council Bluffs Bugle.”

The captain moved a little closer to the fire to get better light on the paper from which he was about to read and then read the following:

We visited Florence, Nebraska Territory and there found encamped about 500 of the ‘faithful,’ all in good health and spirits...we learned that the train had been but three weeks in coming from Iowa City, and that all were healthy, cheerful and contented.

Having seen several handcart trains pass through this city and cross the ferries at Elkhorn and Loup Fork, we could not help but remark the enthusiasm which animated all classes and ages.

It may seem to some that these people endure great hardships in traveling hundreds of miles on foot, drawing carts behind them. This is a mistake, for many informed me that after the first three days travel, it requires little effort for two or three men or women to draw the light handcart with its moderate load of cooking utensils and baggage.

It is, also, a fact, that they can travel farther in a day and with less fatigue than the ox teams.

This is enthusiasm--this is heroism indeed. Though we cannot coincide with them in their belief, it is impossible to restrain our admiration of their self-sacrificing devotion to the principles of their faith.

The encampment cheered as the captain finished reading. When they had quieted, he spoke again. “Brothers and sisters, if we are faithful in remembering the covenants we have made and in obeying counsel, we have no need to hope for any less than those good saints that have proceeded us. But the Lord will not carry us unless we do our part--and we must begin now!” The captain said it with such force that Steve had to look up to see if he was really mad. Whether he was mad or not, Steve couldn’t tell, but he was surely serious about what he was saying.

“The Lord’s house is a house of order, and His camp must be as well. The following brethren have been called to serve as captains of one hundred” Captain Martin listed off five names, the final one being Patrick O’Malley. He then called for a sustaining vote which passed without any objection. Steve sat and listened attentively wondering what would happen next. It was vaguely like a sacrament meeting but a lot more exciting. Following the sustaining of the five new captains, Captain Martin proceeded.

“Each of you captains, go to your tents tonight and pray. In the morning, under inspiration from the Almighty, call a president for each of the five tents for which you have responsibility. The tent presidents will then be responsible for the twenty people in their respective tents.

“Now, turning to another matter, as most of you now know, our handcarts are not complete. There is much work yet to be done on them. I expect every able-bodied brother that has any experience at all working with wood--no, I don’t care if you have never worked with wood. I expect every able bodied brother to be at the wagon yard every day, all day, until all of our carts are complete. Brother Webb is in charge of handcart construction. Take your orders from him as if he were me. The sisters still have a few tents to complete and covers for the family carts that need to be made. They are already better organized in their efforts than we brethren so we’ll leave them to carry on.

“Finally, I remind each of you, with all the vigor that my soul can muster, that every day we are here working on carts, winter comes closer. The Lord will protect us, but we must do our part! I have called Brother John Watkins to serve as our company bugler. The bugle will sound each morning at four thirty. Please retire to your tents in an early and orderly fashion that we might all get the rest we will need to carry on this great work. Brothers and sisters remember that it is the Lord that has delivered us from the Gentile chains and taskmasters. Let us be grateful and diligent to the end! “

The captain then bore a fervent personal testimony. Steve missed most of what he said. He was still thinking about waking up at four-thirty. “No wonder, these handcart pioneers had so many problems,” he thought to himself. “They never got any sleep.”

His attention returned to the captain as he finished his testimony. “Before Brother Woodcock offers a prayer and we retire,” he was saying, “I have one more matter of business. It has been brought to my attention that someone has been swimming in the drinking spring south of camp.” A murmur rose from the gathered pioneers, but the captain charged on in his loudest tone. “We have no time for swimming! Please tend to your duties! I cannot say that enough!” He then sat down and an older gentleman stood up and offered a prayer, thanking his Heavenly Father for the opportunity to be going to Zion.

Steve’s embarrassment at having been the swimmer in the drinking water turned his face bright red. Despite the fact that it was dark and everyone had their head bowed and their eyes closed, he felt like every eye in the state of Iowa was on him at that moment. For once, a prayer ended sooner than Steve wished it would and the saints began milling past him as they made their way back to their tents. Rather than join the crowd, he bent over and pretended to be tying the laces on his boots hoping they would all pass without taking notice of him. His plan worked and within a few minutes he was sitting alone on his rock in the clearing.

The sky was clear and the moon shone brightly though it was only three-quarters full. At that moment Steve felt smaller and less significant than he had ever felt in his life. Every thing that had been familiar to him was now gone. It was just him. Him and this huge outdoors and these pioneers from the past. What if he died? Would anyone miss him? Maybe he already was dead and so were the rest of these people. Would he ever see his parents and family again? The pit in the bottom of his stomach grew till he felt like it would overwhelm him. Finally in desperation he fell onto his knees and prayed, “Heavenly Father, where am I? Please let me see my family again, please!” He knelt silently for several moments until he could no longer stand the mosquitoes and then stood and walked toward his tent.

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