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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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Most Recent Chapters
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 58 -- On Wings of Angels
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 10 April 2009 - 12:14am. |

Nothing To Lose
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

It was an eerie sight—a town totally abandoned, as if only minutes before. Food still sat on tables, as if the family had only left the room for a moment to see something of passing interest and would momentarily return. Books lay on desktops, opened as if having been read seconds before Willard Smythe stepped into the rooms. Window shades and draperies swayed softly in the slight breeze that seeped through the opened doors and the smell of baked goods wafted in minute hints upon the air currents that journeyed therein. It was so disturbing that Willard awoke with a start.

“Are you feeling well?” The soft lilt of his wife's voice broke the stillness.

“What? Oh, yes, I am well enough, Emeline. I had an unusual dream, that is all.”

“You sat up with such energy that I felt something must be wrong. Are you certain you are well?”

“Yes, yes. Go back to sleep, dear. I intend to do the same.”

Willard reflected the next day on the strange dream he'd had the night before and wondered why such an unusual thing should occur. He couldn't recall having anything for dinner that would have caused such a thing; no sweets or spicy concoctions such as would disturb a man's sleep so. There was a vividness to the dream that was absent in any others that he had ever had. He could hear the sounds, smell the fragrances and odors, feel the breeze on his skin. Everything was tangible and detailed, as if he had been there himself in the flesh.

That afternoon, he spoke with his brother regarding such things. His brother was very open-minded and put great stock in dreams and their meanings. Willard had never been certain that anyone could interpret them accurately, but after the last night's visions, he wasn't so convinced that there was nothing to the practice to be taken seriously.

“Thomas, the things was so real and lifelike that I could not tell the difference between it and reality once I woke up. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. What do you make of it?”

“You know that I have a fascination for such things, Willard, but I know you are a prankster when it suits you to make light of me. Are you now pulling my leg for some past offense I may have caused?” He smiled, but there was the hint of disbelief on his face.

“No, Thomas. I am as serious as the cold winds of winter. I want to know what you make of it. Tell me true.”

“Well, alright. If the dream was as life-like as you claim it to have been, I would not hesitate to say there was real meaning hidden behind it. I would say it was a vision of warning, perhaps. Did you recognize the town you saw?”

“No, I cannot say that I did. It was somewhat more clean and well cared for than I would have expected, as if the inhabitants were possessed of more pride than the people of many towns we have seen. And the architecture had a few differences that I did not recognize, although they were not greatly pronounced. It was only as if the builders were craftsmen of the highest caliber and made some creative alterations as they saw fit.”

“Willard, have you made mention of this to anyone else?”

“Not yet. Not even to Emeline. I frightened her when I woke with such a start. I thought it best to determine the meaning, were it possible, before I should discuss it with her further.”

“That would seem wise.” Thomas nodded in detachment for a moment and then suggested, “I would think it wise also to make it a matter of prayer, Brother.”

“Then you think this may be from God?”

“It would not surprise me. Anything so vivid as you have related would bear the mark of more than a common nightly imagination of the mind. I would pray about it. I will join you in this, if you wish, for I find it a matter of great interest.”

“Yes, please. I welcome your participation. Besides, it always seemed my own prayers made it no further than the ceiling, while yours ascended to the realms on high.” He laughed as he said it and Thomas joined him.

“Have you gotten any insight into the matter we spoke of, Willard?”

“Not as yet, my Brother, but I feel that soon the answer may come. And you?”

“It would appear we are both of the same opinion. I, too, feel the answer is imminent, but as yet have no greater insight. I intend to make it not only a matter of continued prayer, but accompany it with fasting, as well.”

“What a marvelous idea, Thomas. I wonder that I hadn't thought of it myself. By the by, I shall be going to the Illinois, on the Mississippi banks, to gather the dry goods for the new general store in the village. I hear rumor there is a city there that has sprung up almost overnight and nearly puts Chicago to shame.”

“Willard, I find that difficult to believe. When will you be leaving?”

“Come Monday morning, if the horses and wagon are available, as promised. I expect they shall be. I want to attend to my church meetings Sunday before I go. Are you freed up sufficiently to make the journey with me?”

“I believe so. I have all the crops in for the season and the canning is being done even now. Margaret won't miss me, should I be gone awhile. She says I come home tired, cranky and out of sorts. I have to say she may well be right. Ha-ha! I could use some rest.”

“Then it's settled. You shall go with me to this Nauvoo. With winter over, the passage should be easy.”

“I shall be ready and waiting, with bells on.”

The shadows were beginning to lengthen considerably when Thomas suddenly asked, “Do you hear that, Willard?”

“The singing? Yes. Where is it coming from?”

“In the wood; over there, I believe.” He pointed a finger past Willard's nose.

“Stop the horses. I want to hear this.”

The two listened for a few minutes and then Thomas remarked, “Have you ever heard such a voice? It's almost angelic.”

“Yes, and the song is stunning. I am not familiar with this one, are you?”

“No. I am impressed enough, however, to want to know what it is and to know if this man is a professional who might come to our own village in the near future.”

Thomas hopped off the rig and began to walk toward the source of the singing.

“Brother! Take care not to startle the man. He may be armed, you know.”

Thomas waved off the suggestion and proceeded on his way. When a few hundred feet or so into the wood, he came across an active fire pit and the man who was caroling them.

“Kind Sir, forgive my intrusion, but my brother and I were passing in our wagon and heard you singing so wonderfully that we could not continue without commending you. Such a voice you have.”

“My, my. I thank you for your compliments. I do love to sing and am blessed to have some degree of talent in that area, so I make use of it at every opportunity.”

“I would say that you more than just 'some degree of talent', Sir. You have been blessed immensely in that area.”

“You are too kind. But, where are my manners? Would you and your brother be so kind as to join me for some supper? The fare is not extravagant, but it is sufficient to sustain a man and a much greater blessing than going hungry.”

“Now it is you who is too kind. We would be honored.”

The horses put away for the night and the wagon secured, Thomas and Willard joined in a prayer of thanksgiving for the food they were to partake of. It was simple fare, but the taste was as if the best meal they had ever eaten.

“Might I ask your name, Sir? I am Willard and my brother is Thomas. Smythe is the surname.”

“Pleased to meet the both of you. I am called Timothy.”

“Well, Timothy, either you are the finest cook this side of the Mississippi or I was far more hungry than I expected.”

His laugh was as musical as his singing had been. “I thank you. Perhaps I should introduce you to my grocer. I take no credit for the meal other than the to have asked a blessing upon it. Anything beyond that was in the hands of God, I assure you.”

“You are so modest. I admire that in a man. And you give credit where due.”

“Well, Willard, I have found that to take the credit that is due God is to take leave of one's sense and ultimately tends toward losing any talents one might possess personally.”

“Very astute, Timothy. How true...how true.”

Thomas broke in now. “Might I ask the name of the song you were singing earlier? Neither my brother nor I are familiar with it.”

“Indeed? It is entitled A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. I find it at once beautiful and sad, so I cannot constrain myself from singing it, but must feel to cry at times when I do. Such a predicament to find ones self in.”

“Might I ask that you honor us with a performance of it? We would be most grateful.”

“You flatter me. The honor would be mine, I assure you. I am grateful for the company of such men as yourselves on a night such as this.”

“A night such a this?” Willard and Thomas both looked toward the sky, as if in anticipation of inclement weather. “We have seen no indication of poor weather tonight.”

“It is not the weather to which I refer, gentlemen. But that is not something of which I wish to speak at this time. You shall know the reason soon enough.”

The reference was intriguing, but the brothers consigned themselves to waiting patiently to know the meaning. As Timothy stood on the opposite side of the fire and began to sing, all other thought fled before the voice that touched their ears.

Such strains as they had heard before were now multiplied many times over in the presence of this master singer. Verse after verse touched their hearts and when finally the last notes died off, the brothers sat in speechless admiration and wonder. The power that reached into their hearts was unlike anything they had ever experienced before. It was as if the very gates of heaven had opened and the song of angels had poured out to entreat them to enter. The sadness that Timothy had referred to was indeed apparent, but the message of the song grabbed a man by the heart strings and did not soon let go.

“It's about the Savior!”

“Yes, Willard. But it may easily be applied to any truly good man. I know of one to whom it could easily apply.” Timothy stared off into the wood as if he were viewing some distant scene that only he could perceive.

“Might I ask his name?” Thomas could not constrain himself, although he felt somewhat as if he were intruding into some private thoughts better left to the owner alone.

Timothy recovered quickly and rejoined them around the small fire. “Yes, his name was Joseph. A better man never existed. And yet his most bitter enemies could find no good in him.”

“So, he has died, I take it.”

“Murdered, along with his brother. The two were as close as brothers could be in life and neither were they separated in death.”

Willard and Thomas both reflected upon what that loss must have felt like to those who loved them. Knowing how they themselves loved one another, it was not difficult to imagine the tragedy of losing two in the same instant. It was obvious that Timothy highly respected the two men, if not in possession of a deep love for them.

“They were your friends?”
“Thomas, they were the friends of any man, woman or child who would have them as such. No better men ever existed, outside the Lord Jesus Christ himself.”

There seemed no more to say on the subject. It appeared too painful for Timothy and it was too sad a subject for the brothers to dwell upon. Each secretly wished he had known these two men of whom Timothy spoke so highly. What extraordinary friends they might have been.

Timothy humbly excused himself for his temperament and announced that perhaps it were time to retire for the evening. The brothers were now surprised to note how late it had become without them discovering it earlier, so attentive had they been to their host. It was indeed time to sleep for the next day's journey.

When Thomas and Willard awoke, they found that Timothy had somehow slipped out of camp without being discovered. Each thought it unfortunate they had missed an opportunity to properly thank their host for the hospitality, entertainment and good company of the previous evening.

With the wagon and horses ready again for the journey, the brothers proceeded on their way. At one time or another, each found himself humming the song he had heard the night before.

“Well, Thomas, if I am not mistaken, we should very soon be coming into Nauvoo. I shall be glad to reach it, I must say. Sleeping on the ground or in a wagon each night has not been such a treat.”

“Willard, you are getting soft.”

“Perhaps, but I'm not inclined to change my opinion on that judgment alone.”

Thomas laughed out loud and encouraged the horses to greater speed.

Before them lay the city of Nauvoo, but it seemed strangely quiet.

“Do you suppose they are having some festival at the other end of town?”

“Perhaps, but wouldn't we hear something even then?”

“Yes, Thomas, I would think so. Let's go on.”

Past row upon row of homes they traveled and saw no one. Now and then a dog or cat would appear to bark at them or to scurry away into the well manicured bushes and flower gardens.

“Thomas, stop the wagon!” Before the rig had come to a complete stop, Willard was on the ground and in a dead run to the nearest home, fairly jumping the fence on his way. At the door, he knocked briefly, then tried the knob. The door swung open easily and he entered.

“Willard! Have you lost your senses? Come out before you get shot as an intruder!” Thomas had to hitch the horses to the fence before he could retrieve his brother and he did so in haste, hoping to find him alive and unharmed when he did.

Entering the yard and peering into the doorway, Thomas called quietly to Willard, hoping that the occupants would not hear him and become agitated. “Willard!” he called in a stage whisper.

“It's alright, brother. We are alone here. Come in. I have something to show you.”

Thomas soon found Willard and again attempted to recall to him to his manners, but to no avail.

“Brother, this is the home I saw in my dream.” He stated this quietly and almost in a daze.

“Are you certain?”

“Absolutely certain. Every detail is identical. In my dream I knew that the other homes were also empty. Do you see how some smaller things have been removed, but the larger things, such as tables, sofas and china cabinets are where they belong? It indicates to me that they left hurriedly and took only that which would fit easily into a wagon or cart.”

“Willard, I think you are right. But, why would they leave so quickly and leave everything behind like this?”

“I think they may have been forced out or expected to be soon.”

“Perhaps a plague of some kind?” Thomas now looked as if a light had come on and he began to fear for their own safety.

“No, not a sickness of any kind. They left in anticipation of some enemy, some bitter persecution, Thomas. I feel it in my bones to be so. We must go further into the town.”

They walked through several streets and each home was as the one before—empty, but as if it had been just vacated. Then they heard a sound as if someone were moving some heavy load into a wagon. A man's voice shouted in the distance and the two brothers hurried to find the source.

As they rounded a corner, they saw a man just turning from his wagon to go back into his home. When he saw them coming toward him, he reached into his wagon for his rifle and looked as if he were ready to use it at the slightest provocation.

Willard and Thomas both raised their arms above their heads and shouted in near unison for the man to cease. They now walked more slowly than before, being careful not to antagonize or alarm by any sudden movement.

“Sir, we are not from this city, but have come to receive goods on order for our own town. We mean no harm to you. Can you tell us where everyone has gone? We have found no one else but yourself since we arrived in Nauvoo.” By now they were within a few yards of the man and they stopped out of reach to show they were no threat.

The man's eyes roamed over them and back and forth between them rapidly in an effort to determine whether they might be concealing weapons. Finally he relaxed and lowered his rifle.

“My apologies, gentlemen. You would understand and excuse my behavior, had you been exposed to the treatment we have experienced here in Nauvoo and elsewhere.”

“What has happened here? Where has everyone gone?”

“The faithful have gone across the river. Those easily persuaded from the faith have gone elsewhere, attempting to disappear into the balance of society. Some are hiding in town still and some will come back for their belongings, but have left for the time being, until they are certain conditions have become safer.”

“Of what faith do you speak?”

“We are Latter-Day Saints. Perhaps you have heard us called Mormons.”

“Yes,” said Thomas. “I have heard that label, but I know little of your people or your faith.”

“Were you familiar with us, you would know that we are a peace-loving people. We mean no man any harm and we seek to befriend all who will accept it. Yet our enemies multiply and seek our destruction. They have recently killed our prophet and his brother.”

Both brothers took particular note of this announcement. It was Thomas who asked, “Was his name Joseph, by any chance?”

“Yes. Joseph Smith. And his brother was Hyrum. They were imprisoned on trumped up charges and then murdered in cold blood, with no chance to defend themselves or to be tried fairly.”

Willard and Thomas turned to stare at one another in a dumb stupor. No words would suffice, but they knew, without speaking, what thoughts they shared at the moment.

“I consider myself fortunate to have gotten my family out ahead of any real danger, save for the winter storms. They are now well on their way to the Rockies. The great river froze over completely to allow the Saints passage. It was the hand of God in that act, for never has it happened before in all the history known of this region. Perhaps it never will again. We should expect more trouble, if we are discovered to have returned. They have burned the Temple, you know, so far as they were able. Some among us have denounced the faith to appease the mobs, but it has done them little good, for all the hatred they are shown. Only those who have declared they will be sworn enemies of the Church are spared, but they shall suffer the pangs of Hell for their efforts. If I had nothing more in this world than my faith and religion, I would consider myself well blessed and that I had nothing else of real value to lose. All else would I leave behind gladly, if need be. I have only come back for the foodstuffs that I know will be needed as we cross the plains. My larder was well concealed, that the mobs did not discover it. And now, gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I must get to my work and remove myself from Nauvoo. My family is in need and I must go to meet them if we are to cross the Rockies before the weather prevents such things.”

Willard and Thomas excused themselves politely and turned to where the man had indicated the Temple might be. As they drew closer, they were awed by the remains of what must have once been a most magnificent structure, clearly visible from the boats that passed on the river. The size of the structure was impressive and the care with which the building had been erected was apparent in every detail. This was no ordinary building project that the people of Nauvoo had taken upon themselves. It was a labor of deep love and dedication. It was without doubt a House of God.

The brothers stood silently for a long time before they could tear themselves away from the Temple and then the city of Nauvoo. A strange sadness accompanied the beauty they beheld. It was much like the song that Timothy had sung to them—both beautiful and hauntingly sad in the same instant.

As they climbed again into their wagon to return home empty-handed, Willard spied a small bundle beneath the seat of the rig. Opening it gently, he found it contained a freshly printed book, apparently never yet read. The title upon it was The Book of Mormon. Where had it come from? They decided that perhaps Timothy had placed it within the wagon before he had departed.

“Willard, I think we have found the meaning of your dream,” Thomas said in quiet reflection.

“Yes. They left behind all worldly things and took with them only those things which mattered most—their families, their faith, their God and their love for one another. Outside of those things, they had nothing of real value to lose.” After a moment, Thomas asked, “Willard, would you mind reading that book aloud as we return home? I want to know what's in it and if I haven't missed my guess, I think you do, too.”

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