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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 7:03pm.

Chapter 20

When the company pulled out that afternoon, Steve was with it but Arthur and his father were not. Steve had caught up with the other searchers quickly that morning and together they had combed an ever widening circle around the hill. They yelled, they hollered, they looked in every ravine, under every bush and behind every tree but there was no sign that a six year old boy had ever been there. At noon the captain sent the word for all searchers to return to camp. Steve and Arthur’s father resisted but the captain prevailed and promised that once in camp they would decide who should stay and search while the others went on.

The spirits of the pioneers were subdued as the searchers returned to camp. The tents were all down and the carts ready to go, but most had hoped that Arthur would be found that morning or that the captain would change his mind and the company would stay and continue to search. To hear the bugle calling them to pull out caused an almost perceptible collective groan from the entire company. Most members of the company knew Arthur and several families had children of similar age. To contemplate leaving their own out there alone was almost too much to bear. And yet, they all knew that the lives of the entire company might hang in the balance if they did not press on.

Arthur’s parents seemed to take it better than Steve. While Steve loudly protested to the captain, they quietly conferred as a family. After a few moments Arthur’s father came forward to where Steve was confronting the captain. Steve stopped complaining long enough for Arthur’s father to speak.

“The missus and I have decided that I will stay behind and search for our Arthur.” He said. Steve noticed as he was talking that he seemed much older than he had just a few days before.

“I’ll stay and search with you.” Steve offered immediately.

Arthur’s father smiled at Steve but shook his head. “I am thankful for your offer Elder, but there is no sense in risking any more lives. The company needs you. I will stay and search by myself and will catch up once I have found Arthur.”

“But--” Steve began to protest but the captain cut him off.

“This good brother is right Elder. The Lord will go with him to help him find his son. We need you here with your people.”

Steve shook his head and sighed. He wanted to tell the captain that his people would be just fine and that someone should go with Arthur’s father, but the sincerity of the father’s request restrained him and he held his tongue.

The pioneers with their carts were beginning to make their way on to the trail. Arthur’s mom came forward to where Steve, the captain and her husband were talking. She took the bright red shawl she was wearing off her shoulders and proceeded to pin it to the thin shoulders of her husband. She spoke as she did so.

“When you find our little boy, if he is dead, bury him in this shawl. If he lives, you wave this shawl as you return to camp.” The poor father nodded his weary head, hugged his wife and started walking back up the trail in search of his son.

Steve stood motionless, completely oblivious to the carts passing him.

“Elder, will you please help his good wife and family get their cart on the trail?” The captain asked, pulling Steve from his thoughts. Steve nodded and turned to help Arthur’s mom. She and her other children were already on their way to their cart. Steve had to jog to catch up with them.

Besides Martha, Arthur’s older sister, there was an older brother of about twelve named Max, and a little baby girl named Ada. Arthur’s mom was very cordial and politely thanked Steve for his willingness to help, but it was clear to Steve that she was very independent and had no doubt that she and her family could take care of themselves. Once the cart was out of the camp and on the main trail, she again thanked Steve for his help and strongly suggested that he go check on those that he was responsible for. He reluctantly agreed and promised to check back on them from time to time.

Steve didn’t realize how very tired he was until he fell in next to Lydia and began to help push the single sisters’ cart. Every step was a struggle. A few times he actually fell asleep and was jolted awake as he fell to his knees. He was very grateful late that afternoon when the carts began pulling off the trail.

There had been no singing on the trail that afternoon and there was little laughter or playing that evening. Conversations were, for the most part, held in hushed tones. Everyone was thinking about little Arthur and his poor family. His mother set up vigilance on a little hill to the east of camp and never took her eyes off the trail they had just traveled.

As much as Steve wanted to help, there wasn’t much he could do. By the time the tents were set up, even his hunger pains were overwhelmed by exhaustion and when he collapsed on his sleeping blanket he was instantly asleep.

The new day brought renewed energy to Steve, but no Arthur to the camp. As Steve emerged from the tent to the stillness of the early morning, he was surprised to see the silhouette of Arthur’s mom against the growing light of the eastern sky. Either she hadn’t slept at all or she had risen very early. Steve guessed it was the prior.

Whether it was to ensure the pioneers’ safety or to keep their minds off little Arthur, the captain seemed intent to cover as many miles as possible over the next few days. They covered over twenty miles in their first full day back on the trail, seventeen the next. The western border of Iowa and the great muddy Missouri were now within a week’s travel. If not for the absence of Arthur the company would have been jubilant at the thought of reaching the last major milestone before crossing the plains. As it was, they plodded on, barely noticing the gradual change of scenery as the flat and dusty heart lands of Iowa began to give way to rolling hills.

Steve knew the chances for Arthur’s survival grew dimmer and dimmer with each passing day. A boy of six with little or no experience in the wilds could not survive long. His concern for Arthur’s mother also grew with the passing days. At the conclusion of each day, while the others set up camp, she would take up her vigil watching the trail to the east. Steve was certain that he she hadn’t slept since Arthur’s disappearance and yet each day she, with the help of her children, pulled their cart along with the rest of the company. All offers of assistance from Steve or anyone else were politely refused.

On the evening of the third day, Steve sought out the captain who was sitting near his tent finishing his dinner. The captain seemed pleased to see Steve, though Steve noted he seemed to have aged over the past three days as well.

“Elder, pull up a seat here. What can I do for you?”

“Sir,” Steve began as he sat on a nearby log, “As much as I want Arthur to be alright, I think we need to prepare for the worst. He’s been out there more than three days. He’s only six, and even if he could find something to eat and drink,” Steve hesitated, “there’s the wolves.”

The captain nodded gravely, “I share your concerns Elder. I wish there was something I could do other than pray.” He hesitated for a moment and then continued. “I haven’t told this to anyone. I expect you to keep it confidential.”

Steve nodded, unsure what the captain was going to tell him or why.

“I received word in the last town that saints from one of the earlier companies had Indian problems near the Missouri.”

“Indian problems?” Steve wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. Just how far back in time was he?

“It seems a few of the saints couldn’t keep up with the company and decided to accept the offer to travel with a Gentile wagon going the same direction. No one heard from them for days until their last camp was found. They were all killed by Indians.”

“Where was this?”

“They weren’t very specific. They just said near the Missouri. Not sure if they referred to the Iowa or the Nebraska side.”

“So even if Arthur could survive in the wilderness...” Steve left his question hanging and the captain nodded again.

“What about his dad? Did you tell Arthur’s dad?”

“I didn’t hear about it until after he left us.” The captain replied somberly.

Steve sighed. The little hope he had held on to was nearly gone. Not only was there little chance that Arthur would return, but he began to have serious doubts that his father would make it back. After thinking it through he spoke again.

“Well, you’re going to have to tell his mom sooner or later. And it better be sooner. The schedule she’s keeping--she’s going to kill herself. She never sleeps, she hardly eats, and she pulls the cart almost by herself. She might as well know that it’s as good as over so she can go on with her life.”

The captain nodded again and spoke without looking up. “Thought of that. If we haven’t any word by tomorrow, I plan to speak with her.”

Steve suddenly felt very sorry for the captain. He stood and without saying anything put his hand on the captain’s shoulder and then walked back towards his tent.

“She can’t keep this up much longer.” Steve said to Annie as he took a seat on a log next to her. The tents were up again for the fourth time since Arthur was last with the company. Dinner was finished and a few minutes of sunlight were left before the sun disappeared to the west. From the log Annie and Steve could see Arthur’s mom keeping watch.

“The strength of a mother is great.” Annie replied. She hesitated for a few moments and then added. “But I must agree. This can’t go on much longer.”

They sat in silence for several moments, each considering the possibilities but unwilling to give words to the unpleasant thoughts. Unconsciously their eyes searched the trail as far east as they could see, hoping to see movement, to see a boy and a man approaching. As Steve became aware that he was searching, his thoughts wandered back to his prior life. He remembered sitting on a hill covered with sagebrush and pockets of quaking aspen with his father and brother, Brian. Their searching for movement had been much less consequential, but at the time he could remember straining just as hard to see the movement of a deer on an opposite hill. Brian saw it first, he always seemed to be able to pick out a deer where Steve could only see sagebrush and rock.

“We need Brian.” He said matter of factly to Annie.

“Pardon me?” Annie replied without taking her eyes off the distant hill.

“My younger brother Brian. He could spot a deer a mile a way. We need him here now to help us watch.”

“I didn’t realize you had a brother Elder. You never mentioned him before.”

“Yeah, probably because until a few days ago you didn’t believe a word I said.”

Annie ignored the jibe, but didn’t take her eyes off the hill as she asked. “Just one brother?”

Steve nodded, “Just one brother, but three little sisters.”

“You must miss them.”

“It only hurts when I think about ‘em.” Steve said half joking. He wasn’t anxious to let his emotions surface right now, but it did feel good to finally share some of his “secrets” with someone else so he continued. “My youngest sister is--or was, six. Her name is Jessica. Maeve reminded me a lot of her.”

“You were close?”

“We used to play this game she called the sock game.” Steve said with a chuckle. “When I’d come home from the gym after a workout I’d chase her around the house trying to rub her face in my smelly socks.”

“Um sounds pleasant--and she enjoyed this ‘game?’”

Steve was now in another world and came back with some difficulty to answer Annie’s question. “Yeah, no matter how often we did it. She would giggle and scream as if it was the first time. Heck, if I didn’t quit she’d laugh till she wet her pants. Mom didn’t like that much.”

“No I shouldn’t wonder. And your mother? You were close to her?”

Steve felt some pain at the thought of the pain he had caused his mom when he last saw her. “I wish I had been closer.” He managed to say after some hesitation. Annie raised one of her eyebrows and Steve quickly added. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. She was a great mom--is, is a great mom. It was me. I didn’t do exactly what she expected me to do.”

“And what exactly did she expect you to do that you did not?”

“Oh, I, well I--” Steve hesitated for some reason suddenly embarrassed to tell Annie about his mission decision.

“Elder!” Annie blurted out.

“Okay! Okay! I didn’t--”

Annie cut him off. “No Elder not that. Look! Look!” Annie had now jumped to her feet and was pointing to the trail.

“What--?” Steve turned and looked. The sun had nearly set in the west and only the crest of the far away hill to the east was above the shadows of dusk. Steve could clearly see a bright red dot in the last of the sunlight. “It’s him, he’s coming!” Steve shouted to no one in particular as he jumped to his feet.

“Not him, Elder. Them! They’re coming! Remember the red shawl? He still has the red shawl!” Try as he might Steve could only make out one figure coming down the hill, but Annie was right, whoever was coming definitely had something bright and red.

Steve’s attention now turned to Arthur’s mother. She had risen from her seat and was standing, watching the approaching traveler. For several minutes time seemed to stand still. Word spread quickly through the camp that a traveler cloaked in bright red was approaching, but no one ran down the trail to meet him. Everyone, including the children, stood and watched and hoped.

As the traveler descended from the crest of the hill into the evening shadows, Steve could still only make out one person. Without the sunlight, what had looked like bright red faded to a reddish brown. Maybe they hadn’t really seen what they thought they had. Maybe they had wanted it so bad, they had made it bright red in their own minds.

“I don’t know Annie, maybe it’s not them.” Steve ventured cautiously. Annie didn’t say anything. The traveler now appeared to be a few hundred yards beyond Arthur’s mom and at that point stopped moving and appeared to bend over for a moment. He then stood erect and began waving the red shawl in the air. A little boy, who had been riding on the traveler’s back, ran towards the little hill and his waiting mother.

An audible and collective sigh of relief could be heard followed by a chorus of joyous shouts from the camp, but it was too much for the weary mother. She collapsed in an exhausted, but happy heap before her son ever reached her.

Steve, Annie and several others from the camp ran to her assistance. Her husband and Arthur got to her first and when the others arrived they found her cradled in her husband’s arms looking up happily into the sunburned and dirty face of her six year old son.

For the first time in several nights the pioneers sang and danced around their campfires that night. They listened intently to the story of Arthur’s rescue. They heard of the wandering, searching and praying of the faithful father. They heard of the kind woodsman and his wife who had found the wandering six year old, ill from exposure and fright. And they acknowledged the hand of God in the the mail and trading station which directed the father to the woodsman. That night the prayers of the pioneers were full of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Two days later, they loaded their carts on a little steamer and were ferried across the muddy Missouri to Florence Nebraska, the last outpost before proceeding across the plains.



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