Authors: Marian Wells
The Wedding Dress
Â© 1982 by Marian Wells
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopying, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
The trunk in the cover illustration courtesy of The Country Collection Antiques, Shakopee, Minnesota.
Cover by Dan Thornberg
History could be compared to a handful of multicolored beads. At first glance they appear to have been strung together at random, without design. Bit by bit as time passes, through the process of stringing, a pattern emerges. It helps occasionally to take a backward step; this changes the perspective, reveals the pattern.
The history of the Latter-day Saints Church began with its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. Mormon historians tell us that at fourteen years of age, in the year 1820, Joseph had his first vision. In September 1827 he received the promised Golden Plates and began his translation of them, which resulted in the Book of Mormon. This was only the beginning of his writingsâall claimed to be given by the inspiration of God. The church was formally organized on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York.
From the beginning, the church was marked by persecution, unrest, and upheaval. This new gospel presented some beliefs so divergent from the Christianity revealed in the Bible and practiced down through the ages that fierce opposition was inevitable. To survive, it was necessary for the church to move away.
From New York to Ohio they migrated as a body; missionaries were being sent even farther. As early as July 1831 these early emissaries were in Missouri. When Joseph Smith received the revelation that named Missouri as the new Zion, Independence in Jackson County, Missouri, was chosen to be the site of the temple.
Back in Kirtland, Ohio, in June of 1833, preparations were begun to build a temple there. This was still the church headquarters. Joseph Smith and a large group of his followers were living in the area.
Life wasn't easy in Missouri; the heat of opposition was growing, no doubt fueled by the church members' declaration that Independence was to be their Zion, and with God's help they would “possess the land.” At this time, Independence was a frontier town, peopled with typical frontiersmenâcrude, rough, and protective of their solitude.
Until after the dedication of the Kirtland, Ohio, temple in 1836, there was constant moving back and forth between Ohio and Missouri, as Joseph Smith and church members were called upon to support the harassed Saints in Missouri.
In 1838, Joseph Smith moved from Kirtland, Ohio. Financial problems helped make the move advisable and the new church headquarters was established in Far West, Missouri. In addition, the church itself was in a turmoil at this time as members struggled with the communal pattern of living handed down from the Lord to Joseph Smith, as he believed.
By August 1838, the hostilities, which would finally lead to their exodus from Missouri, had broken out between the Missourians and the Mormons. During their time in Missouri, the group had been forced to move from Jackson County, to Clay County, and then in 1836, to Caldwell County.
Their treatment was unjust and brutal. Often driven from their homes, they were left destitute and shivering in the cold without food or shelter. It was during this time that the Haun's Mill tragedy took place.
Eventually the Mormons migrated back to the eastern shore of the Mississippi River. Here, in 1839, Joseph Smith bought two large farms and the Mormons began to move in. The small town of Commerce was renamed Nauvoo, and the straggle of huts became the largest city in the state of Illinois before the Mormons moved on west.
The Wedding Dress
begins in the years just before Joseph Smith's death and the migration to the Great Basin in Utah led by his successor, Brigham Young.
Rebecca Wolstone pushed the small trunk toward the open window of the loft and dropped to her knees in front of it. While her heavy taffy-colored braids coiled across the surface and her fingers stroked the dusty leather, she looked out the window. She had to peer through the branches of the apple tree to see down the hill. In the distance there was the shining strip that was the Mississippi River. Trees and buildings hid the curving bank. “Nauâvoo.” Rebecca practiced saying the name as Cynthia would, but her voice lacked the contempt Cynthia's carried. Her eyes were searching out the white spot on the hill.
In the dark clamor of the town the building rose silent and pure, capturing her imagination, forcing the words: “I'd fancy me a spot, more quiet and holy than any place on earth.” She blinked and tried to focus her sunstruck eyes on the little trunk. “Do you suppose, Ma and Pa, that if you'd a-lived long enough to see that place, it would have changed everything?”
Now tears swelled her eyelids and constricted her throat. She was thirteen. Today was her birthday, this April 15, 1844. Three birthdays ago there had been the three of themâher mother, father and Rebecca. Now there was only Rebecca and the little old trunk.
And the Smyths. She reminded herself as she heard the commotion in the yard below. For just a moment she wanted to hug her loneliness closer, but there was that shrill, demanding whistle. She leaned out the window. Joshua and Jamie Smyth were waving. “Becka, happy birthday!” A flower-laden branch sailed through the window.
Joshua, seventeen, was grinning up at her. “I'd throw you an apple, but since it's only apple blossom time, have a posy instead.” His eyes were intently studying her face, and she wondered if the tears showed. Joshua was prone to discover her tears before anyone else, and they made him uncomfortable.
Another face danced into view. It was Prudence Smyth. “Looking at your ma's wedding dress, huh? We remembered it's your birthday, and Pa has a penny for you. That's so you won't be sad because your ma and pa are dead.”
“Rebecca!” The voice seemed to float up the ladder that joined the loft with the kitchen below. “Hurry and do your looking; it's near suppertime.”
“Yes 'um,” Rebecca settled back on the floor, surprised to discover that her mood of sadness had disappeared. It was the first time in the three years since her parents had died that she was able to lift the lid of the trunk without tears ruining it all. She braced against the window frame and peered inside.
The trunk held only two items, the dress and a little black book. She rubbed her dusty fingers against her faded calico before she peeled back the cocoon of cotton that shielded the silk dress. She touched the lace and the pink velvet rosebuds centered with seed pearls; then she bent to sniff greedily of the musty fragrance.
She tried again to pull the memories of those people back into her life. Each year it was becoming harder to recall their faces, and each year it seemed more important to hold them close. Not that she wasn't grateful for the Smyths' taking her in, treating her like kin; it was just this need to draw the reins up tight, to pull all of her past about her.
One thing she did know. The wedding dress worn by her mother was hers. It would be her wedding dress too. Even today her mother's final words burned through her. Her lips had been blue with the life seeping out of her when she whispered, “Rebecca, take care, guard the trunk. There's in it your only hope.”
“Becky!” Rebecca slammed the lid of the trunk and flung her long yellow braids over her shoulders as she ran to the edge of the loft.
Swinging down the ladder, she took the water bucket from the bench and slipped outside. As she approached the well, she saw Mr. Smyth and Lank Olson leaning on the fence.
It was Tyler Smyth's granddaddy who had settled this land. Now the apple trees were gnarled and the barn sagging, but the view below was as fresh as a new penny. The river gleamed; the houses on the bank rose sturdy and dark among the fringe of young trees. The shacks and clutter of the old town of Commerce (now called Nauvoo) were being eaten by the rows of neat brick and new log houses, but the houses were also eating farmland, the forest, and even beginning on the hill on which the Smyths' house stood.
Turning to the men, she saw the bitter set of their faces as they talked. She couldn't help noting the rusting plow, the tumble of firewood, and the broken gate to the corral. The chickens were loose again. It was a dismal picture.
She raised the dripping bucket and rested it on the logs encircling the well. Her eyes found the shiny white building rising on a hill in the center of Nauvoo.
“They say they have a temple in Ohio.” Tyler was speaking; “Why don't they go back there? They're worse'n grasshoppers takin' over the whole place.”
“They say,” replied Lank, shifting the straw in his mouth, “that round part's going to be covered with gold. Let's not run them out until they get that on.”
Tyler chuckled. “Depends on whether we're still eatin' when they're done.”
“They sayâ” Lank glanced at Becky and lowered his voice.
Mr. Smyth turned to Becky. “Better hurry the water in.”
Becky crossed the porch and entered the kitchen. Before she could close the door, ten-year-old Matthew charged into the house. His tousled brown hair was on end and his eyes blazed with excitement. “Pa's coming. Let's eat; we're going to Nauvoo!”
Mr. Smyth entered the house, “Don't go gettin' them excited; this is just for the menfolk.” Before Prue could protest, the door swung open again. Seven-year-old Jamie slipped through and Joshua followed. Ten years' difference separated Joshua and Jamie, but their sameness was apparent. Their hair resembled halos of corn silk and their eyes were blue. More than once Rebecca had seen Jamie throw back his shoulders and pattern his gait to match Joshua's.
Now Joshua's eyes were troubled. He accepted the bowl of rabbit stew and sat across the table from his father. “Couldn't pull a fish out of the crick. Even Tike couldn't, and he's apt to find fish in a mud puddle.”
“Till 'thirty-nine they'd jump into your lap,” grumbled Mr. Smyth. He glanced at Rebecca, and she ducked her head.
“It's the Mormons, isn't it?” Prue peered over Joshua's arm as he reached for the cornbread. Everyone knew she was repeating a well-worn phrase when she said, “Before they came there was enough for everybody.”
Matthew lifted his head. “I heard tell that there's almost twenty thousand of them now. Today I watched a paddle-wheeler dump them out like grain.”