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"...Choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices...Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable."
For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 7:17pm.

Chapter 28

Steve found a rock to sit on and pulled his blanket up around his shoulders. Samuel was off on his right and John was to his left. He could just make them out in the darkness. Every few minutes one of them would whisper his name with a hiss and make sure he was still there. As many wild experiences as Steve had had over the last few months, he still had a very hard time believing he was actually on guard duty for blood-thirsty Cheyenne Indians. That's not to say he wasn't a little scared. He had seen the bloodstained clothes and the skull with his own eyes and he had sensed the danger, but still--Indians? He strained his eyes and peered out into the darkness, trying to make out any movement. It reminded him of wild games of "Capture the Flag" that his scout troop used to play. He never liked to wait and guard. Much funner to be on the attack--running and taking by surprise. His mind jumped back to the present and he wondered what it would feel like to get hit by an arrow. He hoped if the attack came, he would at least be able to get a swing in with the makeshift bat he had picked up from the firewood pile.

Something moved behind him. He flung off the blanket, grabbed his bat and jumped to his feet straining to see what was there. Something or somebody was moving. He hissed at Sam, "Sam can you see anything?"

Sam hissed back. "No but I heard something!"

"Elder?" The voice was Annie's. "Elder is that you?"

Steve's body relaxed. "It's me, I'm over here." Turning towards Sam he hissed, "It's ok Sam. It's Annie."

Steve put his bat down and picked his blanket back up while Annie made her way over to him.

"What are you doing out here?" He whispered to Annie once she was close enough. "You just about got yourself clubbed to death." He held up his bat to make sure she got the full impact of what he was saying.

Annie rolled her eyes. "It's very comforting to know that I am being guarded by such a tightly wound warrior."

Steve smirked. "Did you just call me 'tightly wound?'"

"Yes, I did." Annie said, handing Steve a cup of something warm. "Like a tiger, ready to attack."

"That's me alright. A tiger ready to strike." Steve lifted the cup to his lips. It smelled like a pot roast. "What is this?"

"We boiled some of the bones of the buffalo. That is the broth. Do you like it?"

Steve blew on the liquid and slowly raised it to his lips. The warmth spread through his body and the taste wasn't bad as long as he didn't think too much about it.

"Thank you it is good."

"You are welcome." They both stood awkwardly for a few minutes. Steve took a few more sips and smiled at her. She smiled back.

"Do you want to sit down?" He asked pointing at his rock.

She sat and Steve took a seat on the ground near her. "Are you cold? Do you want this blanket?"

"No I'm fine, and I won't be here long. You keep it so that you don't get chilled. Have you seen anything yet?"

Steve suddenly remembered why he had been sitting out in the dark by himself. "Nope. Other than you, we've had very little excitement out here."

"You can say that again!" Samuel's voice hissed out the darkness.

Steve smiled and pointed in Samuel's direction. "That's Sam." Pointing the other direction he added, "And that's John."

Annie smiled back and asked. "More tightly wound tigers?" Steve nodded.

"I still can't believe I'm out here." Steve said.

"You mean in our time?" Annie asked.

"Well, that too, but no, I meant standing guard for Indians."

"You don't have Indians in your time?" Annie asked in a lower tone.

"Sure we have Indians, but they don't try to kill us any more. In my world people just don't die that much."

"People live forever?" Annie asked incredulously.

"No, not forever. People still die when they are eighty or ninety and some die from accidents or cancer or something when they are younger, but it hasn't happened in my life very often. I mean, I've been to one funeral in my life and that was my great-grandma. Since I've joined this company I've almost lost count of the number who have died. Now Indians that want to kill us all? It's blowing my mind."

"Oh, I hope it doesn’t hurt!” Annie replied with concern, and then added a little wistfully, “ A time with less death sounds wonderful."

Not wanting to give the wrong impression, Steve added, "Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of death in my time. The weapons are bigger and badder and a lot of the people are meaner, but I personally had never actually seen someone die before I came here."

"Are there workhouses?" Annie asked quickly.

"Workhouses?" Steve asked a little surprised at the quick change of topic.

"Yes, where those who can't pay their bills--or their children-- are sent to work off their debts."

Steve thought for a minute. "I don't think so. At least I've never heard of one."

"So what happens when somebody is infirm and has no money to care for their self or their family?"

Steve thought some more. He hadn't known too many people that were poor. There were a few families in the ward that didn't have much. One of the brothers was in a wheel chair. Every Christmas they received lots of turkeys and other gifts from the ward but other than that Steve had never given much thought to how they paid their bills.

"I don't know." He answered honestly. "I've heard hospitals can't turn anyone away. I know that the government has social security because they always took money out of my check. I think that is supposed to help people and I know the church has the Bishop's storehouse, but I don't know how it all works."

"But there are no work houses?" Annie asked again.

"I've never heard of one." Steve confirmed.

"The wind is blowing in my mind." Annie said.

Steve smiled, "You mean I'm blowing your mind?"

Annie just nodded and seemed to be thinking of something else.

"Annie? Annie are you ok?" Steve asked.

"Yes, yes, I am fine Elder. I was just thinking about my family."

Steve sat quietly for a moment hoping that she would continue. When she said nothing he finally prompted her, "Annie, how come you never talk about your family?"

Annie tried to change the subject. "Have you figured out why you are here yet?"

"We're not talking about me Annie. I want to hear about your family." Steve insisted.

Annie sighed and pretended to look out into the darkness though her eyes were closed. Steve waited patiently.

Annie sighed again, looked at Steve and began. "My father is--was--a seaman. I used to love the day he arrived home from a voyage. He smelled of the sea and of ropes and he was always so happy to see us. He would bring us little baubles of one kind or another, but just having him home is what made us happy. He loved being outside and would take us on long excursions into the country. Then at night we would gather around and listen to his tales of strange places. He had come to America many times. Never this far west, but he saw all the port cities and would tell us about each of them. He always had a piece of rope in his hand. He loved knots--the tricks he could do with a rope. As a young girl I wondered at times if his rope was alive." She paused for a time.

"Your father died?" Steve asked trying to keep her talking.

"In a way, yes--but no, he is still alive. He still smells of ropes but now it’s because he sits and picks at oakum all day with the rest of the inmates at the Oldchurch workhouse. Can't see or even smell the sea. Wouldn't matter if he could because he never gets to go outside."

Annie sighed again and Steve couldn't help asking, "What's oakum?"

Annie seemed far away and came back to answer Steve's question only with some struggle. "They cut junk ropes into pieces just a couple inches long then they untwist it and separate the yarns and reduce them to shreds with their hand and fingers. Sometimes they rub it against their apron. It is a tedious and irksome process. The only ones they can get to do it are those in the workhouse who have no choice. They do it twelve hours a day. "

"And what is it used for?"

"Pardon me?"

"The 'oakum'--why do they pull it apart?" Steve asked curiously.

"Oh, it's used to caulk the cracks in the ship's hull. They mix it with tar and force it into every nook and cranny. Ironic isn't it?"

"What's that?"

"My father loved the sea and ropes and now he is reduced to a dark room in Romford tearing apart ropes to keep ships afloat. Ships that he will never again have the chance to sail."

"So why can't he sail anymore?" Steve asked.

"There was an accident on the wharf. His ship had just come in. He was rushing home to see us. It left him unable to walk. My mother went to work as a charwoman. But it wasn't enough. Father was sent to the workhouse as an invalid. My older sisters had already been put out to work. My younger brother and I weren't so lucky. We spent six months in Romford until mother found me a suitable position and my younger brother went home."

"So you were with your father?"

"We were only allowed to see father once a week. A few minutes each Sunday." Annie took a deep breath. "Elder, I dare not think on nor repeat the atrocities I witnessed there.

On the second greatest day of my life I was placed with Mrs. Sophia. I was fourteen."

"Wow." Was all Steve could say.

"She was strict and I was given little time off, but she was kind and I so enjoyed caring for her young daughter and granddaughter. In fact it was while I was in her employ that I first heard of the missionaries and went to hear them preach. Their message had so much hope. It was like the sun was once again shining after years of nothing but clouds. I was so excited to share with my family what I had discovered so we could all be happy again...” Annie's voice trailed off.

Steve didn't say anything. After a few minutes Annie turned and looked at him. Steve could just make out the shine of a tear on her cheek in the moonlight. She smiled at him and said, "It hurt more to have them reject the gospel then it did to be torn from our happy home. I so wanted them to be happy again and knew—know, that this is the only way to find it."

Steve took the blanket off his left shoulder and wrapped it, along with his arm, around Annie's shoulder.

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