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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Dave Free on 7 December 2006 - 2:17pm.

The wagon yard was empty by the time Steve and Brother Webb returned.

“Must be lunch time.” Brother Webb remarked. “You go ahead and have your lunch. I’ll get the horses unhitched and we can unload the lumber after lunch.”

“Why don’t I help you with the horses?” Steve replied, “If I’m going to learn how to handle a team, I may as well get started now--if you don’t mind teaching me that is.”

“No, not at all.” Brother Webb replied with a smile.

When Steve finally got back to his tent, only a few of the brethren still remained. Most had finished eating and were back at work. Sister O’Malley saw him coming, “Elder if ye keep up these hours, ye’ll starve to death before this journey is over! Have ye forgotten what time we eat with the rest of yer memory?”

Steve grinned. “Have you ever considered that it might be your cooking that keeps me away mother O’Malley?” Steve thought he was quick, but before he could react she had the towel off her shoulder and whacked him up the side of the head.

“Aye, you’re a wicked one Elder! As bad as me Patrick ye are! Now get yerself washed at the spring and back ‘ere for yer food before I cook more of it for ye!” Steve laughed again and headed for the spring. When he returned, mother O’Malley had dished him what was left of the lunch and left it sitting on the log in the shade. Steve sat down and began eating.

He hadn’t taken very many bites when O’Malley’s four year old daughter came racing into camp screaming at the top of her lungs.

“Mum! Mum! Help Mum! Help!”

Steve jumped to his feet and the little girl ran around behind him just as a boy about her age came running into the camp. He had a big bullfrog in his hands and a grin from ear to ear on his face.

“Make him go away Elder! Make him go away! He’s going to touch me with it!” She had both her arms wrapped around Steve’s legs so that he could barely move.

Steve held out his arms to stop the boy. “Ok, Ok, nobody move and nobody gets hurt!”

The boy came to a sudden stop, not sure just how serious this tall stranger was. Steve pointed at him and feigned anger, “You. Sit over there!” He pointed at a log. “And you, miss Maeve,” he turned around and pulled her from his legs, “you sit here by me.” He sat her down on the log where he had been sitting.

“Now, what’s going on here?” He asked, once he was seated again. Both children began to speak at once. Steve held up his hands. “Whoa! Whoa! We need to take turns here and I think, since Freddy the Frog might be a prince in disguise, we should let him have the first turn.” The children began to giggle.

“Frogs can’t talk Elder!” Maeve said indignantly.

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong. Frogs talk alright, they just have their own language. In order to understand them, you have to know Frogspeak and I just happen to know it. Now young man,” said Steve referring to the young boy, “What is your name?”

“Arthur.”

“Right, Arthur, hold up Freddy the Frog so that I can hear him clearly.”

The little boy lifted up the frog with both hands, and held him out toward Steve. Steve pretended to carry on a conversation with the frog. “What has been going on here Freddy?” he asked. “Uh huh, I see. Yes, yes well I believe you’re right about that. No, no that just wouldn’t do. Well, I’m very sorry but these things do happen you know.”

“What did he say Elder? What did he say?” Both children asked at once.

“Well it’s not a very pretty sight I’m afraid.” Steve sighed. “Are you sure you really want to know?”

“Yes! Yes!” Both children exclaimed,

“Well ok, he said the gubug--I mean the boy, sorry that’s a frogspeak word--he said the boy holding him really liked the little girl that he was chasing. But, as these things happen, the little gubag--that’s a girl and would be you Maeve--the little girl never wanted to play with the little boy so the little boy was using him to get the girl’s attention.”

“Ewww sick!” said Arthur, I don’t like her!

“Now, now, Arthur, one thing about frogs, they never lie. Oh I almost forgot, he also said that he is indeed a prince that has been trapped in the body of a frog by a wicked witch. He said that if princess Maeve would kiss him it would release him from the spell.”

“Ewww Elder, I won’t kiss a frog.”

“No, no, I didn’t think so. Well, that leaves us with just two options. Arthur here can be the great King Arthur and protect the fair maiden Maeve from the wart-faced Freddy by putting Freddy back in his pond. Or, I can cut off Freddy’s legs and fry them up for dinner!”

“Ewww Elder!” Both children exclaimed in unison. “You can’t eat a frog!”

“Watch me!” Steve stood up and started to walk toward Arthur.

Maeve bolted around him and grabbed Arthur by the hand. “Come on! We’ve got to save Freddy from the Elder!” The two ran out of the camp screaming.

“Very clever Elder.” A voice from behind Steve took him by surprise.

“Oh, it was nothing. I have three little sisters and a brother at home. I--” Steve stopped short as he turned around and recognized the owner of the voice as the young girl from the spring.

“What is it Elder?” The girl asked, “What’s the matter.”

“Well, I just, I just didn’t know it was you. It took me by surprise. You’re not still mad at me?”

“Mad at you? Why would I be mad you? You scared me when you didn’t recognize me after you banged your head on the train, but I’ve been worried about you, not mad.”

“The train? You mean you’re the one that was sitting next to me on the train?”

A disappointed look came over the young girl’s face. “Oh Elder, you still don’t remember me?”

“Well I remember some things, like the spring. You’re not mad anymore about that?” As soon as he’d said it, Steve wished he hadn’t.

“The spring?”

“Oh it’s nothing, must have been someone different. Say, you wouldn’t believe the size of the bumps on my head. Do you want to feel them?” Steve began back pedaling for all he was worth.

“The spring! Elder was that you swimming in the spring?” She placed her hands on her hips and shouted it loud enough for half the state of Iowa to hear.

“Uh yeah. Well yeah I guess it was. I--I’m sorry. I thought you already recognized me.” Steve looked at the ground.

“Recognized you? Don’t you remember Elder? I never even looked at you!”

“No you’re right, you never did look at me--but that’s not my fault I did give you a chance.” Steve smiled trying to lighten the moment. It didn’t work.

“Oh Elder! You’re impossible!” She turned and began to stalk off.

“Wait, wait, don’t go! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to--hey wait, I don’t know your name!”

“That be Annie, Elder and ye are a fool!” Mother O’Malley had come out of the tent. “Ye don’t tell a lass ye don’t remember her name!”

“But I don’t!”

“That’s neither here nor there Elder! Ye’ve offended her good now, and a fine lass she is. Tis a pity.”

“I’ll go find her and apologize.” Steve stepped over the log and began to follow.

“Not now, Elder. There’s work to be done. Twill be plenty of time for apologies before the journey is through.”

Steve muttered something about women under his breath as he turned and headed back to the wagon yard. “I heard that Elder! I heard that! Twill be no supper for you tonight!” Mother O’Malley called after him.

After helping unload the wood that afternoon, Brother Webb assigned Steve to help the blacksmith put iron rims on the wheels. An outdoor fireplace that reminded Steve of the brick barbecue in his backyard, had been constructed in the wagon yard. Steve’s duty was to keep the coals red hot. This included adding coal as needed, stoking the fire, and running the bellows. In the mugginess of the Iowa summer, the additional heat from the blacksmith’s fire was nearly unbearable. Within five minutes, Steve had his shirt off and looked as if he had just stepped out of a shower.

At first, he found the blacksmith work very interesting. It was amazing to see the thin iron rims turn red hot in the coals. Steve would then help hold the hot rim in place over the wooden wheel and watch while the strong arms of the blacksmith banged it into place. The sizzling of the finished rimmed wheel being dunked in the trough to cool gave the completed process an air of finality.

The first two or three times it was interesting. But gradually, the heat of the fire, the physical exertion of pumping the bellows, and the constant banging of metal on metal wore Steve down. By the time the blacksmith called a drink break in the mid-afternoon he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep it up. He wished his dad could see him now. He’d always said a little physical labor would be good for him.
Steve caught a second wind after the drink break and managed to finish out the day--barely. As he was leaving, the blacksmith thanked him for his help and asked him if he’d mind helping again the next day. Steve managed a smile, “Hardest work I’ve ever done. How many carts still need rims?”

“Not sure.” The smithy replied, “Only the family carts are getting the iron rims, but there’s probably fifty or so of those yet to go. You’ve been the only lad I’ve found so far that could stick with it for an entire afternoon.”

Steve wanted to say “Now I wish I hadn’t,” but instead replied, “Sure, I’ll be back tomorrow.” He managed another weak smile and stumbled back toward the tents.

Dinner was uneventful that evening. Steve was so tired and sore he didn’t pay much attention to what was going on around him. The food at every meal was beginning to look much the same. A slab of fried meat, some fried potatoes, some coarse bread. Steve consoled himself with the fact that at least there was plenty of it. The mosquitoes were also a constant. He got good at balancing his plate on his legs, eating with his left hand and whacking mosquitoes with his right.

Steve was just rising from dinner to go fall in bed, when Patrick announced a general meeting for all of his company of one hundred. Steve grimaced but followed the others to the appointed meeting place in the clearing near the wagon yard. He found a comfortable place to lay down at the back and was just drifting off when he heard Patrick yelling at him.

“Elder! Elder! Stand up man, ye’ve just been called to be the president of a tent!”

Steve climbed groggily to his feet and never fully realized what was happening as the sustaining vote was taken. In fact, it wasn’t till the next morning at breakfast that he realized anything had happened. O’Malley sat down next to him as he was finishing off his bacon.

“Be quick with the grub lad. Ye’ve got to get over to the supply wagon before five, or yer tent will not be eatin today.”

“What?” replied Steve, completely confused and more than a little sore from the prior day’s work.

“The supply wagon man! Ye’ve got to pick up the food for yer tent or they’ll all be starvin!”

Steve looked at the stack of supplies near the cooking fire that mother O’Malley was working from and then back at O’Malley. “It looks like we have plenty of supplies.” He replied trying to remain calm.

“Have ye lost yer memory again lad? This is not yer tent. Ye were called to be the captain of another tent last night!”

“What!? Who did that?”

“Twas the Lord lad, and the people what sustained ye last night.”

Steve’s mind was beginning to clear. “You did this to me O’Malley!” He jumped to his feet. “You’re the one that called the tent presidents and you called me. I won’t do it! I can’t do it! I don’t know anyone, I’ve lost my memory, and with any luck I’ll find a way to get back home before this trip even gets started!”

“Aye Elder! Settle down man! Get a grip on yerself. Do ye think I wanted to call ye? The little spirit it whispers in me ear: ‘O’Malley,’ it says, ‘the young Elder is to be a tent president.’ But meself I says, ‘No, not the Elder, anyone but the Elder.’ But the spirit it whispers again and again, till its nearly shouting in me one good ear.” O’Malley stood and looked squarely at Steve then continued. “No Elder, I’ve not called ye. The Lord has called ye. If ye want to reject the Lord, tis your decision, but twill be a long trip without him by yerside.” O’Malley turned and walked out of the camp.

Still standing, Steve looked around at the other pioneers eating their breakfasts. They all pretended not to notice him except mother O’Malley who looked him in the eye and then shook her head sadly.

It was too much for Steve. “Ok! Ok! I’ll be the tent president!” He said with exasperation. “At least in another tent I won’t have to eat your cooking anymore!” He grinned at mother O’Malley and jumped the log before she could get him with her towel.

It didn’t take much effort to catch up with O’Malley. Steve had a feeling O’Malley was expecting him.

“So ye’ve come to yer senses have ye lad?”

“No actually, I’ve probably lost them for good. Which tent is mine and what exactly am I supposed to do?”

“Come along.” Was all O’Malley said as he led the way through the early morning darkness back toward the tent city. Steve’s new tent was not far from the one he had been sleeping in. It had a cooking fire and logs to sit on much like the other tent. In fact, with the exception of a lack of shade, the two were almost indiscernible. Several saints were sitting on the logs, though none of them were eating.

“Brothers and Sisters,” O’Malley said as they entered the circle, “this is the Elder 'at will be your president. Please look to him fer all yer needs in the way of provisions and sustenance. He it is that is responsible to see that all the work is done in an orderly fashion. He will also look out fer each and every one of ye when we begin our journey. He’s a wee bit rough around the edges, but its the Lord whats called him. Support him and sustain him and the good Lord will take care of ye all.” O’Malley then turned and left. Steve began to follow.

“Where is it that ye think yer goin’ laddie?” O’Malley stopped and asked when he realized Steve was following.

“I’m going with you. I’ve got to go get my things.” Steve replied.

“This is yer home now Elder. I’ll send Des with yer things. Go on now, take care of yer people.”

“But--” Steve tried to object but O’Malley gave him a push back toward the tent. To object any further would just cause greater embarrassment, so Steve turned and faced “his” people. All eyes were on him and there wasn’t a smile in the bunch.

“I--er--I’ve never been the president of a tent before.” Steve began, “I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do.” Still no smiles on any of the faces. “Maybe it would be best if we introduced ourselves first.” Steve was stalling now, trying to buy time to think of what to do next. His mind stretched trying to remember the countless Deacon and Teacher Quorum presidency meetings he had sat through. How he wished he had paid more attention. “My name is Steve. Please just call me Steve. If you call me brother or elder I’ll think you’re talking to my dad.” A slight grin passed briefly over a few faces. Steve pointed to a young boy of six or seven at his left, “Let’s start right here. Tell us what your name is and how old you are.”

Before the young boy could answer, a young girl stepped out of the tent flap and spoke up. “Elder, perhaps these good people would be more anxious to get acquainted if they’d had a bite to eat.” Steve looked up. It was Annie.

“Of course, go ahead and eat. I can learn your names later.” Steve replied, grateful for the help.

“We’d like to eat, Elder Steve,” another sister with a young child on her lap spoke up, “but we’ve no food.”

“Oh!” Steve smacked his forehead with the flat of his hand. “The supplies! I forgot all about them! I’m sorry, I’ll be right back!” Steve turned and ran out of the circle of logs, then stopped and returned. “Does anyone know where the supply wagon is?” he asked sheepishly. A young man, about Steve’s age though much smaller in size, stood up. “I do.”

“Come with me.” Steve ordered and together they ran off to get the supplies.

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