Because of the Word
By Hazel M. Thomson
Synopsis: Ruth Ann Barker, who lives, in the early 1830s, with her widowed father, a farmer in the Naumkeg Valley of New England, dislikes farm life and cannot decide to marry Victor Hall, a neighboring farmer. While Ruth Ann is in Boston visiting her cousin Claire Mayhew, she meets Quinton Palmer, a suitor of Clare’s who declares that he has fallen in love with Ruth at their first meeting. The night Ruth Ann returns home, her father is thrown from a horse and killed. Victor helps her look after the farm, and a few days before Christmas, Quinton arrives for a visit and Ruth goes back with Quinton to Claire’s home in Boston for the holidays.
During the remainder of her visit in Boston, Ruth managed to spend very little time alone with Quinton. Knowing he was puzzled and angered at her actions, yet she contrived to give him no opportunity for repeating his proposal. She knew she must leave Boston soon, and yet she hesitated to return to Naumkeg. She felt if she were to make a fair decision it must be in the presence of neither Quinton nor Vic.
And then Ruth remembered Aunt Marintha’s invitation on the day of the funeral. Ruth had never been to New York State, and, suddenly, the idea appealed to her. She wrote to Mrs. Walker, telling her she was welcome to stay on at the little house whenever it was convenient for her to do so between different places of employment. Mrs. Walker was always in demand, if anyone in the village was taken sick.
Ruth wrote a note also to Vic. She refrained from sending her aunt’s address since she had already refused to confide her plans to Quinton. She told Vic only that she would not return until early spring and asked him to continue taking care of her cows and other animals, promising to make a settlement for his labor when she arrived.
She did not feel that she was imposing on Vic. He could not clear more of his land in the winter, and he had no animals of his own yet to care for except his team of horses which she knew he would run in with hers. He had only his cabin on his place, and she knew he had enjoyed working around the barns and sheds with her father.
Her funds were at a low ebb, but she hesitated mentioning this to Vic. She found she had barely enough to pay for her passage to her aunt’s home. She bade Quinton and Claire goodbye shortly after the new year and was on her way, by coach, when the snow was not too deep, and by sled if it was.
Palmyra was a sleepy little farming village, after Boston, but there was nothing sleepy about Aunt Marintha. Her talkativeness was a sharp contrast to her sister who had been Ruth’s mother. Perhaps it was because her aunt had been a widow for a number of years and living alone made her eager for companionship. At any rate, by the second or third day Ruth felt she knew everyone Aunt Marintha did and something of the history of the whole community. The Smith family, Aunt Marintha dwelt on at some length.
“Joseph Smith? Guess you folks down in Naumkeg haven’t heard of him yet. You will. Poor, the Smiths are. Seems to me if he really had got his hands on some gold plates he could have put them to more practical use than claiming to write a book from them.”
“He wrote a book from gold plates?” asked Ruth, more interested than usual in Aunt Marintha’s detailed narratives.
“He claimed to. Of course not many ever got to see the plates, not even Joseph’s wife, Emma, so the story goes. Here, you dry and I’ll wash this time,” said Aunt Marintha, handing the dish towel to Ruth.
“What lovely china you have,” said Ruth, shining the plate and placing it carefully in the cupboard. “I want nice dishes like this when I get married.”
“When you get married? Is it going to be soon?”
Ruth blushed. “No! That is – I don’t know. I didn’t mean that. I just mean it’s so nice to have a beautiful table setting for every meal.”
“Just as well find yourself a man with some means, Ruth. I used to feel sorry for your mother, out there practically on the frontier, though goodness knows she never felt sorry for herself, not as long as your Pa was somewhere around. But I say there’s no use living like pioneers in this day and age. Why, right in Manchester there’re a library, a woolen mill, a flour mill, a papermill, and a blast furnace, all within a few miles of us. And in Canandaigua, just twelve miles south, they even have paved sidewalks, where your dress doesn’t drag in the dust or mud. I must take you down there and show you sometime while you are here. There’s not really much to see here in Palmyra.”
One thing about her, thought Ruth, she can wash dishes just as fast as she can talk.
But Aunt Marintha’s story wasn’t finished. She continued as she took another towel and helped Ruth dry the silverware. “Plenty of strangers have flocked in here, just to try to dig up that hill where the gold plates were found.”
“Why would they want to?” asked Ruth.
“Why? because young Joseph claimed to have gotten the plates out of the side of the hill. That’s why. Of course nobody else ever found any gold there, and it’s sort of strange when you think of it, that the Smith family would be the one to find gold plates. Why, I remember when they first came here, Vermont I think it was they came from, and they had very little to bring with them. They did happen to get here in a most unlikely time. Just after the survey for the Erie Canal, and Palmyra was right on the survey route. Land went sky high. There were no squatter rights in and around here then. Mr. Smith had to have the cash to pay the installments on his land.
“Lucy, the wife of the father of Joseph Smith and mother of the young one, opened a shop for a time, helping out. Sold boiled eggs, gingerbread, cakes, root beer; sold anything that she could to get a little money and help out a little.
“I remember that time well. It’s really what put Sam and me on easy pickings. Without that canal going through, we never would have gotten that kind of money for all that land Sam owned. Though Sam didn’t live to enjoy it, rest his soul, it’s come in mighty handy to me.”
The dishes done, Ruth and Aunt Marintha went into the parlor and picked up the quilting blocks both were working on.
“What a beautiful quilt this will make,” said Ruth, admiring the floral design in the center, as she held her piece up.
“Wears well, too,” said Aunt Marintha, threading her needle. “Now, as I was saying, there was mostly trouble, seemed like, in store for the Smiths. They lost one son, Alvin, and a fine young man he was, too. Used to help me some after Sam went.
“I do remember one bit of luck for them. It was the sugaring off time, and they tapped their maples just like the rest of us did. Together, they boiled down seven thousand pounds in one season of maple sugar makin’! I remember in particular because it won them the fifty-dollar bounty for top production in the county. The Smiths took a lot from people hereabouts, and I was glad to see them get an advantage for once.”
“Took a lot? I don’t understand.”
“It was that young Joseph telling the ministers that their churches were wrong. Have to give him credit for daring, though I never took much stock in all his talking about visions and angels and such, or the book, either, for that matter.”
“Where is young Joseph now?” Ruth asked, looking up from her sewing. “Does he still live here? And the book, you haven’t even told me the name of it.”
“No, there are none of them here now, moved out a few years ago, the Smiths and all the believers. Young Joseph did have a way with convincing people to believe what he said. That’s why I wouldn’t have been surprised if you had heard of him. Determined he is, to gain supporters. It was Indiana, or Ohio, or someplace out West there where they moved to. As for the book, I never did get around to reading it. I knew Joseph since he was a boy. Didn’t hardly think he was educated enough to write a book. I’ve seen the book a time or two, though. It’s called The Book of Mormon.”
The Book of Mormon! Ruth’s thoughts reverted with a thud to Vic and the present she still hadn’t given him. A wave of loneliness and longing to see him swept over her, and for a time she felt an intense homesickness. That night she fastened the tiny gold chain about her wrist and slept with the blue pendant in her hand.
The days and weeks passed and Ruth became impatient to return home. When a break in the weather came in the middle of March, she told Aunt Marintha that she must be on the farm to see about getting the spring work done. Arrangements were made for Ruth to return to Naumkeg with a neighbor and his wife who were driving to Boston on business.
Ruth had not actually told Aunt Marintha about Quinton and Vic. She felt that she knew without asking which would be Aunt Marintha’s choice, and there was an urge to make the decision herself without any pressure or influence. On the assumption that her beautiful niece would not be single much longer, Aunt Marintha had insisted on providing many beautiful articles for Ruth’s trousseau. The two had spent long hours with embroidery and knitting needles, and crochet hooks, and Ruth’s protests at her Aunt’s generosity were overwhelmed in Aunt Marintha’s satisfaction in doing so.
Spring had arrived all along the way, and the wheels cut deep into the muddy road, but the trip home was made without accident. When the carriage drew up before her gate, Ruth had never seen her place look so well cared for. The house had even been newly painted. Mrs. Walker was on the steps as Ruth came up the walk.
“How nice everything looks,” exclaimed Ruth. “You’ve certainly been busy.”
“Not me,” said Mrs. Walker. “It’s that Vic. He has spent every last minute he could spare over here. That is, up until the last week. He got the Johnson boy to do the chores until he gets back.”
“Back?” Disappointment surged over her. She hadn’t realized how much she had counted on Vic being here to welcome here. “Where has he gone?” she asked.
“He’s gone to Boston. Seems that some lawyer there found out that the books where his deed was recorded, as well as a lot of the other deeds to land near his, are missing. Guess they have been for a good many years, maybe since the days of the Revolution, but this lawyer planned to put the land up for public auction and make himself a pile of money. This place is mixed up in it right along with the others down the river. Vic has been working night and day to get all the copies of old deeds, have new surveys made, and all the evidence he could find.”
“But that’s dishonest,” cried Ruth. “I hope Vic has all the information he needs and gets there in time!”
“Vic will do it, if it can be done. Here, let’s bring those boxes in that you left out by the gate, with your trunk.”
Inside, Mrs. Walker had kept the little house spotlessly clean. Again Ruth remarked how nice the house looked.
“Haven’t had much else to do,” said Mrs. Walker. “Folks in the village have stayed pretty well this winter. I haven’t had much work. It was good to have a place to stay the rest of the time. Oh, there’s a letter came a few days ago. Tempted, I was, to open it up and see if it needed answering, when I noticed the handwriting that just couldn’t be a woman’s, the return address that proved it, and the Boston postmark. all in all, I’ve been a bit impatient for you to return. No need to tell you where my sympathies lie.”
Mrs. Walker took the letter form the mantle and handed it to Ruth. It was dated at Boston two weeks before, and in Quinton’s bold handwriting. Ruth read:
“I cannot wait longer without writing you. I trust that you will not think me unduly impatient. After all, I have given you the two months you asked in which to make your decision.
“My house (I should like to say our house) is almost finished. As I told you, it will be the finest in Boston. My greatest desire is to show it to you as the future mistress of it.
“My work in the court keeps me very busy and away a great deal of the time. However, things are easing up right at this time. Upon receipt of your letter, should it be the words I am hoping for, I shall come for you on the 30th, next. Claire sends her invitation to stay with her until after the wedding.
“I will be watching the mails, with highest hopes.
“All my love,
Ruth finished the letter then handed it to Mrs. Walker.
“Read it,” she said. “It is just what you thought it was. Don’t be surprised, though, if you find that my sympathies lie right where yours do.” She smiled at Mrs. Walker and went to change her dress.
When the next day and the next passed and still Vic didn’t put in an appearance, Ruth saddled her horse and rode out to his place. She knew it was deserted as she rode up to his cabin. She tied her horse at the hitching post and went in. Of course it would be unlocked. Vic would feel that if anyone wanted to go in they needed something and the cabin had better be unlocked so they could get it.
Inside, it took only one quick glance to see that Vic had taken better care of her house than he had of his own. She had nearly finished straightening the room before she noticed the book. Mrs. Walker had given it to him, after all. It showed signs of much use, with many passages underlined. Curious, she opened the cover and read “To Vic from Ruth Ann. Christmas, 1834.” It was printed, with an intent, Ruth knew, to cover the real identity of the writer. Ruth closed the book and left the cabin. She was just about to mount her horse when she noticed someone riding toward her across Vic’s field at a fast gallop. She knew both from the horse and the easy way he rode that it was Vic.
“Ruth Ann,” he cried, pulling the horse to a stop, and jumping to the ground. “What a nice surprise! How have you been? Did you enjoy your vacation?”
“Yes,” said Ruth Ann, “and I’ve been fine. But tell me about the deeds. Mrs. Walker told me all about it, and the work you have done for my place as well as the rest of the people along the river. Did you get to Boston in time to get them recorded?”
“Just,” said Vic,”another day and the auction would have been over. That’s what I’ve been doing now, riding around spreading the good news, even before I came to welcome you home. I was headed that way now.”
“Well, then, welcome me in a proper manner,” said Ruth Ann smiling, lifting her face for his kiss.
Vic kissed her lightly and then caught her to him.
“Ruth Ann! Ruth Ann!” he said. “I was afraid I’d lost you. I’ve been the most miserable person in the world these last months.”
Yet not too miserable to forget himself in helping others, thought Ruth.
“I came home expecting you to be here to welcome me,” she spoke quietly, “only to find you too busy to come. But it proved something for me, Vic.” She took Quinton’s letter from the pocket of her riding skirt. “I have worried about how to answer this, but after today I have no doubt. Would you answer it for me, Vic?”
Vic took the letter and read it through, then handed it back to her. “I think you had better do that,” he said. “Personally, I’ve said enough to Palmer. You see, he was the lawyer I had to see in Boston.”
Ruth looked at him sharply. “I wasn’t going to tell you if you had made your decision in favor of him. But enough about Palmer. I have real news. Mrs. Walker gave me The Book of Mormon you had for me for Christmas. I’ve read it and reread it. I can never thank you enough for it, but I shall spend my life trying. The book is true, Ruth, every word. You must read it.”
Ruth saw the look of earnestness on his face and heard the serious tone in his voice, as she answered, laughing, “You read your books, Vic. I have a wedding to prepare for.”
(To Be Continued)