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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Dave Free on 21 December 2006 - 4:36pm.

Monday morning dawned clear and bright. The harshness of the cleansing storm left the greens of the countryside varied and bright. The sky was a brilliant blue with only a few jet-white puffy clouds as reminders of the ominous black fury that had filled the skies the previous night.

While the camp began to pick up the pieces and get on with the work of preparing for their trek, a small group gathered in a little grove of trees not far from the activity. A prayer was given, the grave dedicated, and a small pine box made from wood that might have carried pioneer possessions to Zion was slowly lowered into its resting place.

It was all Steve could do to help with the process of shoveling the dirt back into the grave. With every scoop his mind was filled with images of Maeve and his little sister Jessica. The giggles, the screaming, the hugs and especially the sweet little smiles. Maeve had looked up and given her mom and dad a smile he would never forget just before she slipped off.

“How could all that be gone?” he asked himself the same question over and over. “It was just a fever for crying out loud! How could someone die from a fever? He and his brother and sisters had had tons of fevers. Take a few aspirin, maybe some antibiotics and you could be well the next day. But not in this world. It wasn’t right, none of this was right. He shouldn’t be here, none of these people should be here, and Maeve shouldn’t have died!” The thoughts tumbled over and over in his mind.

The grave was filled with silence. O’Malley pushed a crude marker into the ground at the head of the mound and whispered softly, “Sleep well me little queen, sleep well.” Then he turned to his sons and said, “Come along lads, work to be done.”

“Work!?” Steve turned towards O’Malley with a look of exasperation and began to blurt out his feelings. “Work? Now? How can you think about working now? How can you even think about continuing on with this journey? What can be worth losing your daughter? Who’s it going to be next? Have you thought of that? One of your sons maybe? Or your wife?” O’Malley listened quietly without emotion. Sister O’Malley who had been wiping away her tears all morning now sobbed openly. Steve instantly felt miserable for his outburst and wished he could have the words back.

“O’Malley, I’m--” O’Malley cut him off with a brief and curt response.

“Elder, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Me little queen is now with the Lord and I’ll be obeying His commands to go to Zion so that I can be with her again some day.” Steve tried to apologize again, but O’Malley held up his hand and cut him off.

“ I’ll be thanking ye not to say another word to me and me family about this journey.” He turned, took his wife by the arm and headed back to camp. His two sons slowly followed.

Steve turned the opposite direction and walked into the woods fully intending never to return to the handcart camp. He didn’t know where he would go, but feeling the way he did now it didn’t really matter. He was ready to just curl up and die. The pit in his stomach was huge. He missed his family, he missed Maeve and now he had deeply offended his only real friends in this strange world. The weight of it all was unbearable. He tripped over a fallen log and lay where he fell, sobbing into the ground. He wasn’t sure how long he had been there when a female voice startled him.

“They call it the American fever. Maeve is the third child to die of it in our company.”

Steve rolled over quickly and tried to wipe the tears from his cheeks but only managed to smear them into mud. The voice belonged to Annie. She was sitting on the log which Steve had tripped over. From the way she was sitting it appeared that she had been there for some time.

“Well go ahead and say it!” Steve said as he stood up brushing the leaves from the front of his shirt and pants.

“Say what?” Annie replied innocently.

“Tell me what a jerk I am.”

“A jerk? I’m sure I didn’t see you jerk on anything Elder, but I do think you are selfish and inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Here use this on your face.” She produced a hanky from the sleeve of her dress and handed it to Steve. Steve took the hanky and wiped his face with it as he took a seat on a rock.

“Thanks.” He handed the hanky back to Annie. “Inconsiderate and selfish is pretty much the definition of a jerk and you’re right--I never should have said what I did, but it hurts so much.”

“Ah, and the O’Malleys Elder? Were they not hurting at all?”

“No that’s not it. I know they are hurting. But it’s not just Maeve dying that bothers me, it’s my family too.”

“Your family?”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. Just like I’ll never see Maeve again, I’ll never see them again.” The pit in Steve’s stomach suddenly opened up again and he took a deep breath and looked up at the blue sky through the leaves to keep from crying.

“I know the feeling Elder, but you’ll see Maeve again.” Annie replied quietly.

“Well thanks for trying to comfort me, but I don’t think you have any idea what I’m feeling.” Steve replied, disgusted with himself for getting so emotional. “What can be so important to give up your family? I’ve lost my family through no choice of my own and I have no idea how to get them back. I don’t know if they are alive or dead. Heck, I don’t even know if I’m alive or dead. How can you possibly know how I feel?”

Annie thought for a minute. “What was that word you used again Elder, ‘jerk?” Steve began to reply but Annie kept talking. “I’m still not sure what happened to you on that train, but it is obvious that something did. Since you didn’t remember my name, I’m assuming you don’t remember anything else about me?” Steve nodded and she proceeded.

“I first heard the gospel preached about a year ago. I knew it was true as soon as I heard it and was baptized soon after. My baptism was on a Friday and I was scheduled to be confirmed a member of the church on Sunday. My parents heard of my baptism on Saturday and were not at all pleased. They told me some of the vilest stories about the Mormons. They said if I joined the Mormons I would be ruined for life. That night I prayed with all my heart to know the truth. I prayed, ‘Dear Lord, do not let me do wrong. Let me know tonight, Dear Father, let me know tonight.’ I immediately was comforted by a wonderful dream. A book was opened to me and the leaves were turned in rapid succession until the page with my record was found. On the page was my name without a mar or blemish against it. A loud clear voice spoke to me saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’ When I woke the next morning, I laughed for joy to think that I had been heard and answered. I told my folks that it had been made known to me that Mormonism was right, and I would follow it. My parents disowned me that day and I have not seen them since, nor do I think I ever will again. Elder, you asked what could be worth losing your family--the truth. The truth is worth losing your family.”

Steve closed his eyes and took another deep breath. The pit in his stomach had been replaced by a warm and peaceful feeling. He looked down at the ground and spoke slowly. “I’m sorry. I had no idea. When it hurts so bad you just don’t think about anyone else’s problems--at least I don’t.” He paused for a minute before looking over at Annie. “Selfish and inconsiderate right?” Annie smiled back at him.

“Oh don’t be too hard on yourself Elder, you’re not all yank!”

“Jerk. Not all jerk.” Steve corrected her, “and thanks for the compliment--I think.”

“You’re welcome.” Annie replied with another smile, oblivious to the intended sarcasm. “If you were all jerk you wouldn’t take such good care of those you are responsible for in the tent and you wouldn’t be hurting so much right now.”

“Well thanks again. Thanks for the compliment and thanks for following me out here. I probably would have just laid there until I died.”

“Oh Elder don’t say that! I don’t think you would have. I think after some time you would have started wondering how baby Steve was doing, and who was getting the food from the supply wagon, and--”

“Baby Steve?” Steve interrupted. “Did they really name him Steve?”

Annie nodded and replied with an impish grin. “We tried to convince Margaret that the poor little thing would be teased his entire life with such an odd name, but she insisted Steve was the name for her boy.”

Steve chuckled, “They named him after me! I can’t believe it. They actually named their baby after me!” For a few moments the weight of Maeve’s death, O’Malley’s feelings, and his own loneliness were lifted from Steve’s shoulders and he smiled both within himself and at Annie. She smiled right back and for the first time Steve noticed the depth and brightness of her blue eyes. Eyes that were usually set like stone in determination, were now bright and crystal clear in the light that filtered through the leaves. Steve stared a moment too long before awkwardly forcing himself to look away and think again about his problems.

“What am I going to do?” He asked outloud. “What am I going to do?”

“Well you could lay here and die.” Annie replied matter of factly. Steve glanced at Annie. This time there was a twinkle in her eye.

“No, I’m too big a wimp to do that. I’m starving already.”

“Is a wimp the same as a jerk Elder?”

“No a wimp is--well it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to lay here and die, but I don’t know what to do about O’Malley. I’m afraid he’s never going to forgive me. I don’t know what to do about this trip. Should I stay here or should I go on to Utah? Somehow I ended up on that train next to you. I’ve been thinking maybe I need to go back to that train to get back to my family. I just don’t know.”

They both sat in silence for a few moments. Annie was the first to speak again.

“O’Malley is a good man Elder. He’ll forgive you, but he’s Irish--it may take some time. As for the train, I watched you climb on it with the rest of us in Boston. You carried my bags. If you go back to the train, it will only take you back to Boston.”

“You may be right about ending up in Boston, but that wasn’t me that carried your bags. I wasn’t on that train until just outside Iowa City.”

“Elder, I know you hit your head pretty hard and that’s done something to your memory. But please believe me when I tell you that you were on the train sitting right next to me from Boston to Iowa.”

“Nope. Wasn’t me. You still don’t get it do you? Someone was sitting next to you on that train but it wasn’t me. I was skiing in Utah that morning and the next thing I knew I was sitting next to you on a train arriving in Iowa City.” Annie was now struggling to maintain her composure. She phrased her next question very slowly.

“If that wasn’t you sitting next to me, who was it and where did he go? Did he go out the window? Did you come in the window? Because I’m sure I didn’t see you step over me and I know I was sitting there the whole time, or was that not me either Elder?” By the time she finished her questions Annie, had given up on composure and was clearly exasperated.

“I don’t know. But I can prove to you it wasn’t me. I’m from the future. A few days ago I was in 2006. Go ahead, ask me any question about the future.”

Annie hesitated, still exasperated at what she saw as pure foolishness and stubbornness on the part of Steve, but her curiosity got the better of her. “OK, when does the Lord come the second time?”

“I don’t know that!”

“Just as I thought Elder. Why don’t you stop this foolishness. It’s not proper I tell you, it’s not and I’ll not be a part of it any longer.” She turned to leave, but Steve grabbed her by the arm.

“No, c’mon ask me something I can answer. The second coming hasn’t happened by the year 2006. Some thought it was going to be the year 2000, but it wasn't. Now ask me something else. Something about Utah or the church or something like that.” Annie was still not convinced and continued to walk away. Steve wasn’t going to give up.

“Here’s something, how about this: Utah becomes a state in the year 1896, we celebrated its centennial in 1996. How could I know that unless I was from the future?” Annie kept walking and Steve continued to shout facts from the future at her.

“Almost everyone has a computer in their home! We drive cars with more than one hundred horsepower! We get over a hundred channels on our TV! The Olympics were in Utah in 2002! The church has more than twelve million members! There are sixty thousand missionaries in the field! Look, do you think I like not knowing how I got on that train? Do you think I like being stuck in Iowa in the middle of the dark ages with a bunch of--a bunch of wanna-be pioneers that don’t know the first thing about camping or about the trip they’re about to make?” Steve quit shouting, and turned and sat back down mumbling to himself, “Half of ‘em are going to die, just like Maeve.”

He chuckled a feeling less chuckle and was crushed by an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Involuntarily, he slipped to his knees and sobbed a heartfelt prayer. When he arose there were no bright lights, in fact the sun had set and only the stars were visible up through the trees, but Steve had no doubts as to what he should do. He turned and walked back towards camp.

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