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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Dave Free on 21 December 2006 - 4:41pm.

The next morning, Steve tried to lose himself in his work and forget about Maeve, the O’Malley family, and Annie. Along about mid-morning, Captain Martin stopped by the foundry where Steve was working.

“Elder, could I talk to you for a minute?” The captain had to yell to be heard over the clanking of the blacksmith. Grateful for the break, Steve left his place at the bellows, wiped the sweat from his brow and followed the captain to the shade of a nearby tree.

“Elder I wanted to personally thank you for your help during the storm. Your wise preparations probably saved several lives.”

Steve shrugged it off. “Not that big a deal. I just set up the tent the way I was taught.”

“Yes, well, I am grateful to you. I have asked all the tent captains to secure their tents in the same way.”

“Well let me know if anyone needs help.” Steve wiped the sweat from his brow and turned to return to the foundry.

“Wait Elder, there is one other thing.”

“Yes?” Steve returned his attention to the Captain who hesitated for a few moments.

“I’ve decided to put all the single women in a tent of their own rather than dispersing them among the families--better privacy, much more appropriate. You have single women in your tent don’t you?”

“Yeah I sure do. Three of them: Lydia, Elizabeth and Annie.”

“Fine. Please make them aware of the change and let them know that their new tent has been set up over by the corrals. They should sleep there tonight.”

Steve nodded knowingly. “Okay, I’ll do it. Anything else?”

The captain hesitated again before replying. “Yes, just one other thing. Do you still think many of these good saints are going to die?”

Now it was Steve’s turn to hesitate. He looked at the captain’s face to try to determine how serious the request was. The eyes were sincere.

Steve shrugged, “I’m not sure what I think anymore. I know, that a lot of handcart pioneers died, or will die--I don’t know which. I hope it’s not these saints, I really do. One thing I do know is that for some reason I’m supposed to be here. The only time I feel at all peaceful is when I think that thought. Maybe it’s to help a few less die.”

The captain put his hand on Steve’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I’m happy to hear that you are with us. Your help has proved invaluable already. The Lord willing, we’ll all make it together.” He gave Steve a firm pat on the back as he continued, “Well, carry on! Don’t forget to let the single sisters know about the new tent.” With that, he turned and walked away.

By the time the Captain left morning break was called and Steve headed for the sewing area where the single sisters were usually busy sewing tents and covers for the family carts. With a little searching he found Lydia, Elizabeth and Annie working on a tent under the shade of a tree. Sarah Ann, the twenty year old sister of Samuel, was also working with them. She and Annie had become quite good friends since the trip began.

“Excuse me sisters.” Steve addressed himself to Lydia the oldest of the three single sisters. He hadn’t talked to Annie since their argument in the woods the day before. He had thought about trying a few times but she had never given him the opportunity and had clearly been avoiding him. In fact, Steve was pretty sure he knew where the Captain got the idea to put all the single sisters in a tent or their own.

“Yes?” Lydia, Elizabeth and the other sisters looked up at him and smiled. Annie continued to work as if she hadn’t heard.

“Uh, the Captain just informed me that he wants all the single sisters to move into a tent of their own. He wants to make sure you have your privacy.” Steve emphasized the word privacy and said it while looking at Annie. She glanced up at him quickly and then looked away.

“When will this happen Elder?” Lydia spoke up and cut into Annie and Steve’s silent jousting match.

“What? Oh, today. If you can get your things packed up during the morning break, Samuel and I will carry them over to the new tents at lunch.”

“Can they choose to stay in our tent if they want Elder?” Asked Sarah Ann.

“I don’t think so. The captain sounded pretty adamant that all single sisters were to be in a separate tent. It shouldn’t be too bad, in fact I have a feeling some sisters are probably very excited about it.” He emphasized the word “some” and again stared at Annie. She continued to work, but Steve could see the red rising in her cheeks.

“Ok Elder, you’ve been a wonderful tent captain and we’ll hate to leave, but we’ll be doing as Captain Martin asks. Come along sisters.” Lydia stood up and turned to go to the tent. Annie followed with the rest of the sisters without so much as a word or a glance in Steve’s direction.

The next two weeks passed in a blur. On July 15th, the Tuesday after the big storm, five hundred of the saints that had sailed on the Thornton started for Zion in a company led by Captain Willie. With more than one hundred and twenty carts they made quite a procession and quite an impression on the saints left in camp. Spirits were lifted and the urgency of the preparations yet to be made increased.

As noted, Steve threw himself into his work attempting to forget about his problems. With Annie no longer in his tent, he would have had to go out of his way to see her and he had no intention of doing that. Most evenings after the others were settling down for the night, he would sneak away to the river for a late night swim. By the time he hit the sack, he was so physically exhausted his mind had no time to think before it drifted off to dreams about the reality he used to know.

For the most part, the O’Malley’s had also become strangers. From time to time Steve saw O’Malley in the wagon yards, but other than a nod of the head they had not spoken to each other since Steve’s outburst. Des and Noel, the O’Malley boys, were slightly more quiet than they had been before. They did participate in the baseball game that Steve organized until the Captain called the game in the third inning (something about it not being an appropriate activity for a Sunday afternoon), but other than that Steve hadn’t talked with them. Mother O’Malley was perhaps the most distant. Steve had seen her coming back to camp from the direction of Maeve’s grave early on several mornings, but it had always been from a distance. He hurt for her, and the entire family, but didn’t know how to help. In the past he’d offended too many times with his words so he thought it best not to even talk until he knew exactly what to say.

The work in the wagon yards proceeded slowly but surely. Each day a few more carts were finished and added to the growing cart “parking lot.” Only the larger “family” carts came through the foundry where the blacksmith and Steve worked. Steve worked mostly on the thin iron rims that were mounted on the wooden wheels, while the blacksmith made the iron axles and oversaw the mounting of the axles and wheels on the carts. In addition to the iron rims and axles, the family carts were also mounted with a wagon box three or four feet long and about eight inches high. The smaller carts had no wagon box, no iron rims, and no iron axle. Everything was made of wood except the cloth ticking which was spread over the cross pieces to support the pioneer’s possessions.

Finally, on Sunday morning the twenty-seventh of July, twenty days after arriving in the sweltering Iowa heat, Captain Martin announced that enough carts had been completed for the entire company. The pioneers received the news with a resounding cheer. The captain proceeded to inform them that the company would start the trek first thing the next morning. Among many other things he mentioned that the company would split into two separate parties for the first leg of the trek. One company would be led by himself and the other by a brother Haven. He then listed the tent captains that would belong to each of the two parties. Steve noted that his tent was to proceed with Captain Martin. He also noted with some surprise that the single sisters’ tent was in the Martin company with his tent but O’Malley, and the rest of his company of one hundred, were part of the Haven party.

The captain assigned each of the tents a specific time to show up at the wagon yard that afternoon to take ownership of their carts. He reminded the pioneers of the seventeen pound limit on personal items and indicated that he and a few of the brethren would be around to each of the tents that evening to do a “weigh in.” After a few parting words of preaching and encouraging, the Captain excused the saints to prepare for the journey.

The mood in the camp following the Captain’s announcement was electric. To finally be starting the great journey they had set out on more than two months earlier, was almost too much excitement. Despite his continued uncertainty about the trip, Steve too was excited to be moving on. There were a few bad memories tied up in this place and he was tired of thinking about then and worrying about how many would die before the trek was finished. It was time to actually deal with it rather than just worry about it.

Steve’s tent had been assigned one of the earliest times at the wagon yard. Following the Sunday services, he went straight back to his tent without changing. Then, together with John, Aaron, and Elizabeth (the leaders of each of the families in his tent) he headed to the wagon yard. The captain himself was handling the assignment of the carts. Steve and his crew only had to wait a few minutes before the captain finished with the tent before them and turned his attention to them.

“Ah Elder Steve! Glad to see you! Isn’t it great we’re on our way?”

Steve had to agree that yes it was pretty great.

“Well let’s see which carts we’ve got assigned to your tent.” The captain referred to a ledger book he had been holding under his arm. “Here we are. Let’s see, one of the family carts for Elizabeth and her family and smaller carts each for John and Aaron and their families.” The captain motioned to a few brethren that were assisting him and the carts were brought forward.

“Before we take ownership, mind if we look under the hood, kick a few tires, and take ‘em out for a test drive?” Steve asked as he began to walk around the carts. The captain looked at him confused. Steve didn’t leave him time to linger in the confusion long but quickly added to it.

“No? Well then I suppose you’re going to tell me a little old lady drove them to church on Sunday, right? Now, how many horsepower we talking here? Hmmm, better make that human power--kinda like Fred Flintstone--well never mind, we’ll take ‘em. You offer any kind of financing?” Steve completed his inspection and returned to the captain and the others.

The captain was truly perplexed but the folks from Steve’s tent just shrugged their shoulders. They were used to these incomprehensible babblings.

“So where do we sign?” Steve asked innocently, jolting the captain from his perplexity.

“Sign? Oh no need to sign Elder. I’ve got you checked off in the book.”

“Great, then we’ll be on our way! Saddle up!” Steve took hold of the front cross piece of the family cart and was about to help Elizabeth pull it back to the tent when the Captain interrupted him.

“Steve--I mean Elder, there is something else I’d like to talk to you about.”

“Oh sure. Carry on folks, I’ll catch up to you in a minute.” Steve walked back over to the captain.

“Elder, I’d like to ask your help with the single sisters.”

Steve gulped, “Uh, exactly what kind of help did you have in mind?”

“Well, they’ll need help with their carts and setting up their tent in the evenings. I plan to ask some of the young men in the company to help as well, but I’d like you to be in charge of the effort.”

“What about my tent?” Steve asked weakly.

“I’d like you to continue on as captain there, but there are only three carts and each of the families seem pretty independent. I know Elizabeth doesn’t have a husband, but her oldest son--I forget his name--”

“Samuel.” Steve interjected.

“Right. Samuel, is a strapping young man who can carry that load. If the responsibilities get to be too much for you, we can ask either John or Aaron to take over your other duties but I would like your help with the sisters.”

Steve thought for a moment before answering. “Sure. Whatever you want me to do. Just one question: do they know you’re asking me to do this?”

“Well no. I told them I’d arrange for someone to help them but at the time I didn’t know it would be you. Why?”

“Oh, no reason. It’s just that some--or at least one--of them my not be too keen on the idea.”

“Keen?”

“Uh, sorry. One of them won’t like me helping them.”

The captain smiled a knowing smile. “Don’t worry about that Elder. There will be plenty of more important things to worry about before this trip is over. Now--” The captain referred to his ledger book again, “ I’m scheduled to do the weigh-in at the single sisters’ tent this evening directly following yours. Why don’t you accompany me at that time and we’ll let them know?”

“Yeah, ok.” Steve nodded his approval and the captain turned to assign carts to the next group of pioneers.

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