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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 6:54pm.

Chapter 14

In the dusk, Steve made his way through the tents and then out into the grassy area which separated the tents from the woods. He spent a few minutes looking for and picking some wildflowers, then entered the darkness beneath the foliage of the trees. He paused for a few moments to let his eyes adjust to the darkness, but still had to go slowly as he picked his way between trees and over deadfalls. A few minutes later he entered the trees he came out into the little clearing where Maeve had been buried. The stars were now out in all their glory and a half moon provided enough light for Steve to find the mound of dirt and the little wooden cross which marked it.

He knelt and laid his flowers on the mound. After a few seconds he took a deep breath and began to pray outloud.

“Dear Heavenly Father. I need thy help again. I don’t know why I’m here and I miss my family. Please bless them. Please bless little Maeve. Keep her happy. Please bless her family that they can be happy without her.” Steve took another deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Father please help me to get home! I miss my family so much. I don’t know if I can go on with these pioneers. Please bless them Father. Please don’t let these good people die. Please Father help me get home.” Steve paused for a moment and then closed his prayer.

Slowly he opened his eyes. Still dark. Still a mound of dirt marking a small grave. But the emptiness he’d felt just moments ago was leaving.

“T’was a nice prayer Elder.”

Steve jumped to his feet and looked quickly toward the sound of the voice. He recognized it almost immediately as O’Malley’s but the initial shock of hearing a voice out of the dark had caught him completely by surprise.

“How long have you been here?” Steve asked as O’Malley came closer to the grave. Steve continued to try to shake off the jitters.

“Long enough me lad. Long enough.”

“Listen, O’Malley, I’m sorry about the other day. I really am.”

“I know ye are lad. We’ve all been hurtin' we ‘ave. An me little Queen, why she’s safe with the angels. She’d be wantin' us to be ‘appy, I’m thinking.” He paused and looked at Steve. “Tis 'appy we’ll be Elder, tis ‘appy we’ll be.”

He extended his hand to Steve who took it in a firm shake, followed by a heartfelt embrace. Steve was the first to speak as they stepped back. “How’s mother O’Malley?”

“Not well Elder, not well at all. Oh, she cares for the lads and I, but me senses tell me she’s dying inside.” O’Malley slowly settled down on a rock with a sigh. “Two and three times a day she comes here to be with her Maeve. Every step toward Zion will be one step further from her little one.”

Steve nodded, “But she must know this isn’t Maeve. Maeve is in paradise!”

“I know Elder and me good wife knows. But tis a difficult thing for a mother to leave the remains of her little one in a strange land.”

“Does she not want to go west now?” Steve asked.

“A strong woman is the mother of me children. She’s a hurtin', but she’ll go. She’ll go. And yerself, Elder? To Zion you’ll be travelin’ wit the rest of us?”

Steve thought for several moments before answering. The crickets and the bullfrogs filled the night air with a cacophony of sound. “I don’t know what I’m doing O’Malley. That’s why I came out here to pray. Whether you or Annie or any one else believes me, I came from the future and somehow I’ve got to figure out how to get back there.”

Steve couldn’t see O’Malley’s expression in the darkness and so continued, “I’ve thought about going back into town and getting on the train for Boston. Maybe if I bang my head good on that train, I’ll wake up in 2006. But every time I get serious about trying it, I can’t bring myself to leave my--the people in my tent, or you, or any of these crazy pioneers. The only time I don’t feel like I’m about to be swallowed by loneliness is when I’m praying or working so hard I can’t think.”

“Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” O’Malley replied simply.

“What?” Steve asked, not sure if he heard what he thought he heard.

“Luke 9 lad. Ye’ve lost yer life in the service of us ‘crazy’ pioneers.”

“Well you’re right about one thing, I’ve lost my life.”

O’Malley sighed thoughtfully. “Are ye really from the future, Elder?”

“It’s one of the few things I am sure of.” Steve replied.

“And the handcart pioneers, a lot of them die in the future?” O’Malley asked.

“I’m afraid so. Every Pioneer Day I can remember, I’ve been told stories about the handcart pioneers--how much they suffer and how many die.”

“Our company, Elder?”

“Don’t know. Until I got here, I didn’t know there was any more than one company of handcarts. But I don’t think it looks good.”

“Why?”

“It’s pretty late to start this trek. I don’t remember all the details, but I know it usually takes pioneers the whole summer to cross the plains. What day is it today?”

“The twenty -seventh of July.”

“Right, the summer is more than half over. Besides that, you know as well as I do that the carts are made of green wood. As the wood dries it shrinks and warps and those carts are going to fall apart.”

“Aye, but a cart falling apart doesn’t kill people, Elder!”

“No, but the cold does and the longer it takes us to stop and repair carts, the bigger the chance that we’re going to get caught in the snow.”

“Ummm." O’Malley seemed to be grasping Steve’s point. “Might be that what’s brought you to us.”

“Uh?”

“To help us survive Elder. Maybe yer here to help us survive.”

“I haven’t done too well so far have I?” Steve said quietly looking over at the little grave.

“Aye Elder, surely ye don’t blame yerself fer that now do ye?

“I could have helped you set your tent up so it wouldn’t blow down or insisted you get her to a doctor, or something!”

“Tis true, ye could have tried, but I’m sure I’d not 'ave been a listenin'.”

“Will you listen to me now?”

“How’s that?”

“Will you listen to me when I tell you to keep your family here? You can get a job in town, wait for next spring and then come to Utah. I guarantee you there will still be plenty of land left! Mother O’Malley will be here with Maeve a little longer, and with an early spring start the journey will be a breeze.”

“ And yerself Elder? Ye’d be stayin' with us?”

Steve caught himself and let out a sigh. “I can’t. It’s like I said before, I can’t leave my people. But I don’t have a wife and children O’Malley! Think of them!”

“Tis the very reason we’ll be walking with the rest of the company first thing in the morning Elder. Just like yer feeling that ye must go, I’ve the same feeling. If I pay it no mind, then what ‘ave I got to offer me family? I’ve certainly no worldly possessions to give ‘em and if I ignore the promptings I feel, there’ll be no eternal rewards either. No Elder, I’ll be planting me crops in Utah next spring. Mark me words, Elder, mark me words.”

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