Sorry — it’s been another of the kind of work day where I just couldn’t get far enough to post this on time —
Because of the Word
By Hazel M. Thomson
Synopsis: Ruth Ann Barker, who lives in the early 1830s 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 lawyer and suitor of Claire’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 she goes again to Boston for the holidays, and then to visit her Aunt Marintha in Palmyra, New York, where she hears about Joseph Smithy and The Book of Mormon. On her return she promises to marry Vic who has defended some land suits against Quinton.
Ruth Ann gave very little thought to the book and Vic’s preoccupation with it. In her plans for the wedding the days slipped by and she was happy in the knowledge of Vic’s love. As for the book itself, she had seen him almost as involved in other reading material at one time or another. She found it reassuring to tell herself that his intense interest in this would soon be replaced by something different.
The spring days passed and early in June the marriage took place. For the summer months, at last, they moved into the two rooms of Vic’s cabin. With the thought constantly in the back of her mind that someday they would have the house that she only dreamed about now, Ruth was blissfully happy.
The only shadow that was cast during these first weeks was caused by the box that arrived from Boston, bearing Quinton’s wedding gift. The note accompanying it was also a little disquieting.
“Claire tells me that you have moved out to Hall’s cabin. When you get tired looking at those four walls, give a thought to me and to Boston. For the time being, I am still waiting. Beauty such as yours was never meant to be shown off doing chores on a frontier farm.
Ruth tore the wrappings from the box and opened it. She drew a sharp breath. Inside was the most beautiful set of china she had ever seen. Vic looked at it for a long moment.
“Isn’t this beautiful, Vic? How nice of Quinton to send it.”
“Almost too beautiful, Ruth Ann,” answered Vic quietly.
“Why. Vic, don’t you like the dishes?”
“Of course I do, honey. The only thing, they may seem just a little out of place in our cabin.”
“We won’t always have a cabin, Vic. One day we will have the loveliest big house.”
“It will take time and lots of hard work, Ruth Ann,” he said, taking her in his arms. “I wish I could offer you all that you deserve.”
“About Quinton? Claire is laying her plans again. She will make him a much better wife than I. After all, I am just a farmer’s daughter, not Boston society,” Ruth Ann said.
The second shadow to fall across Ruth’s horizon was cast by two men she had never seen. Vic told her about them as soon as he met the missionaries.
“They are holding meetings in the village, Ruth, explaining their gospel and the Book of Mormon. I must go and hear them. I have so many questions to ask them. Would you go with me, Ruth?”
“Oh, Vic, I have too many things to do to fix up the cabin. this rug won’t braid itself, and I want to finish that quilt as soon as I can. I’d rather stay here.”
“I wish you would go, Ruth Ann. It means so much to me. I just can’t help being interested in their message.”
“Of course you can’t, Vic,” she laughed. “You’re interested in anyone who has anything to say. But please don’t insist that I go to hear them.”
“I’ve never left you here alone at night. Come with me as far as your place. You can stay with Mrs. Walker, then, until I get back.”
“I can’t take my work over there,” answered Ruth. “Go along to your meeting,” she said, kissing him. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
She kept her voice light-hearted and gay, but knew from the look in his eyes that she had disappointed him.
Knowing that work was her best solution when she was troubled, Ruth began at once on the supper dishes. She filled the kettle over the fireplace with water, admiring the work Vic had done in building it. He had gathered the fireplace stones form his land, choosing them carefully. He had cut each one neatly in half, and placing one half on a side of the fireplace, he had put the other piece in a corresponding place on the other side. It was a real work of art when it was completed. Vic had a way with him in working with wood or stone.
“It’s a gift, Vic. A real talent,” Ruth had told him. “When you build our house it will have the most beautiful finishing work of any place around.”
“I know it is a gift,” Vic had answered modestly, “and you know, Ruth, if I had my choice of all the talents in the world, this is the one I would choose. I have no desire to be a great musician, painter, or anything of the like, but to make things of wood – that’s the thing he did when he was here.”
“He?” asked Ruth, puzzled.
“Jesus. I’ve always wondered what his masterpiece was, what was the most beautiful thing he ever made. I know just how the wood felt, smooth and good to his touch. Of course,” Vic added, “his real masterpiece was his life and the pattern he set for the rest of us to follow.”
Ruth Ann had known when she married Vic of his deep faith in God and of late she had sensed a change in him. It seemed to be a more personal kind of faith, as of now. Sometimes when he spoke or Jesus, it seemed that he was talking about a personal friend. She knew his attitude was in some way connected with his daily reading of the Book of Mormon, and it gave her a vague sense of uneasiness.
It was late when Vic returned to the cabin. Ruth knew it was well past midnight. To avoid any discussion or argument, she pretended to be asleep.
When the blow fell, Ruth felt as if she had been expecting it, without actually knowing what it was to be. Vic had gone into the village three nights in a row. Through the intervening days, Ruth had forced herself to be civil, but she had made no attempt to break through the barrier they both felt growing between them.
Then, on the fourth morning, he put down his fork at the breakfast table and looked at her.
“Ruth, I must tell you something. I’m going to be baptized and join the Mormons. They have the true gospel of Christ, with authority to teach and baptize, just as he did.”
The words fell on Ruth’s ears. She wasn’t sure yet just what they meant.
“Well,” she said, “I guess you may as well join them. You’re spending most of your time with them anyway.”
“You must understand, Ruth. It doesn’t mean just becoming a member. It means moving to Kirtland, Ohio, and joining with the other Mormons there.”
Ruth was stunned. “You can’t mean it, Vic. Leave your land? Go farther west? Leave here when you’re getting started so well? You’ve done so well in this little time. Next year we can build another room and …”
Ruth stopped. Looking across the table at Vic, she saw the muscles move along the line of his jaw. Vic was deadly serious. Ruth arose and left the cabin, walking out to the edge of the clearing where she sat down on a fallen log.
Strange, she thought, that I am defending this place when at one time I so dreaded the thoughts of living here. Vic’s words came back to her as she had heard them on the first night they had stood here together after their marriage.
“Virgin land, it is, Ruth,” he had said. “It is mine and I must clear it myself. With God as my partner, I will grow the finest crops in the country.”
Ruth remembered again how proud she had been of his determination and strength. She disliked feeling that she had held him back, yet she knew that, without her, he would have pushed on to the edge of civilization. A new realization of his great love for her had been almost overwhelming.
Only now did it occur to Ruth what it must mean to Vic to go. This land had seemed almost a part of him. Surely the force that drew him away from it was strong.
She didn’t know where Kirtland was, but it wounded as if it were a long way. There would be the task of trying to move her things by wagon, taking care of them through rain and mud, dirt and heat. Vic would have to find a buyer. Mrs. Walker had spoken only last week of wanting to buy Ruth’s house and of a brother who wanted a farm.
She looked up as Vic sat beside her.
“I’m sorry, Ruth. I appreciate what I’m asking you to do, but I cannot live and do otherwise. This means more to me than my life. You don’t want to hear it from me, but if you would only listen to the missionaries, Ruth, I’m sure they could make you understand how I feel.”
“I’ve seen it before, Vic, when a new idea almost took possession of you. It seems that this one has. How do you know you won’t be over it by next week?”
“My whole life won’t be long enough to help others to see and understand the truth as I do. I have to go. Will you come with me, Ruth?”
“Yes, Vic,”answered Ruth. “Didn’t I marry you for better or worse? I’m not at all sure which this is going to be, but I am not backing down on my bargain.”
Ruth had seen Vic many times intent on his own purposes, but she had never seen him make plans with such urgency. She was glad that he delayed leaving until he had disposed of their property, yet a little dismayed that he would go without receiving payment. Although he had an agreement with Mrs. Walker to collect the payments and send them on to him, Ruth felt it a little impractical to leave without getting the money.
“I’m not really worried about getting paid for my place,” Ruth told him. “Mrs. Walker and her brother both will pay as they can. But you sold to a total stranger. How you can leave your land in his hands with that small down payment, is more than I can see. What if he never pays the rest?”
“I have confidence in him, Ruth, and yet, somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter really whether he does or not. The important thing for me right now is to get to Kirtland and to get there as fast as I can.”
“It isn’t like you, Vic, to do impulsive things.”
“I confess, Ruth, I don’t understand it myself. There is a force that seems to be driving me, as if I were needed there. I know that sounds foolish, but I confess I am almost powerless to fight against it, and the strange thing is, I have no desire to do so.”
Vic busied himself in seeing that the wagon, harnesses, and horses were ready and Ruth started the packing. She was taking her bedstead, though there was not room for much of their furniture. She had Vic help her wrap the few pieces in quilts and pieces of wagon covers to get the furniture there in as good condition as possible. The biggest problem was the set of china Quinton had sent for her wedding present.
“What can I wrap these in, Vic?” she asked. “I don’t mind so much about my other dishes. But these, they’re all I have to …”
Vic looked at her strangely. “All you have to remind you of the life you could have had. Ruth, I’ve been such a disappointment to you. Don’t think I am unaware of it. Do you think about Goston a lot?”
“Of course not,” Ruth replied quickly, turning away. “It is just that these are expensive dishes and I don’t want to break them in moving. Sometime I will have a house to match their beauty.”
“I could take your old wooden trunk and fill it a layer at a time with oats, a lawyer of oats and a layer of dishes. I believe we can get the whole set to Kirtland that way, that is, if we can find enough pasturage at night for the horses and do not have to feed them the oats.”
It amazed Ruth that her heart was so heavy in leaving the little cabin and her own farm that had often been a burden to her. As the miles fell away behind their wagon, her characteristically good nature rose, and she entered into the spirit of the trip, determined to enjoy it. Contrary to her fears, the weather was beautiful and the moon almost full for the first few nights out. As they sat around their campfire, listening to the sounds of the night and the contented munching of the horses, the strain between them vanished, and Ruth felt closer to Vic than she had for a number of days.
Vic tried, as he had many times, to tell her more about the beliefs of the Mormons but, as always, Ruth found herself changing the subject. One evening she had inadvertently brought up the subject herself, when she mentioned her stay with her aunt in Palmyra.
“Palmyra?” cried Vic, completely startled. “I knew you had visited an aunt, but you never mentioned Palmyra. You actually stayed there all that time?” Vic turned to her and grasped her arms firmly. “Ruth, did you see the hill?”
“Vic, you’re hurting me,” said Ruth, loosening herself from his grip.
“Did you see it, Ruth? You’ve actually been there where the Prophet found the golden plates? Tell me!”
“Cumorah? Yes, Aunt Marintha and I went out there several times. You know, people still come and try to find gold on it. The one side is quite broken up with digging.” Ruth laughed. “We didn’t bother to take our shovels along.”
“Did you go to the grove, Ruth?”
“The grove. The place where the Father and the Son actually appeared to the boy, Joseph. Ruth, you must tell me. Did you stand on that ground, too? And if you did I fail to see how you can remain uninterested in the gospel message.”
Ruth looked at the face she knew and loved so well, his eyes bright with concern. At times Vic almost frightened her by his intensity.
“No,” answered Ruth. “Aunt Marintha didn’t bother to take me there. She took a kind of joking interest in the story of finding the gold plates, but she said she didn’t hold with stories about angels and visions and the like.” She watched Vic’s strong, handsome face so earnest in the firelight. “You say you can’t understand how I can remain uninterested. Well, what I fail to see is how you can get so fired up over an Indian tale.”
“Ruth, this book is much more than an Indian legend could be. It tells of Jesus in his resurrected, glorified body, appearing to the people right here on the American Continent. I treasure this truth above all the riches of the world. Why, I would not trade the knowledge I have found for the most beautiful farm in the country.”
“Nor for me,” said Ruth.
Vic moved close and took Ruth in his arms. “I could never give it up now. At last I have found men who truly have authority to minister in holy things. My hope is not to ever trade you for it, Ruth, but to share it with you.”
(To Be Continued)