It is 1849, and Sarah Ann Thirkell is home from boarding school when she spies her father talking with two strangers near the bogs of Yorkshire, England. After her father invites the strangers to dinner, they tell of a prophet who will come to save the world, just as Jesus once did. As Sarah quietly listens, she has no idea that the two missionaries have just changed not only her life, but also the lives of everyone in her family. It is not long before the Thirkells are recruited to become Mormons bound for a new life in America.
Assigned to sail with a Mormon leader, the Thirkells carefully listen as he promises a life of harmony and brotherhood if they serve their leader well. Sarah's mother, Mary, is already wary of the voyage, but when she hears a rumor that the men are expected to take plural wives once they arrive in America, she panics and forces her husband to promise he will never bring another woman into their home. And with that, their heartbreaking, frustrating journey to America begins.
Based on a true story, But One Husband shares a fascinating glimpse into the Mormon way of life as a family makes their way to Utah by wagon train and suddenly fi nds themselves in the middle of the opposite of two missionaries' promises.
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But One HusbandThe Truth about Mormon History by a Woman Who Lived It
By Luella Pool Saxby
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Luella Pool Saxby
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe sun was low in the western sky, its orange shafts poking inquisitively through the tree trunks to reflect off the deep-casemented windows of the gloomy old lodge. The lodge stood silent and deserted within the loop of driveway that turned in at the hedge-end and wound in a wide curve past the great front door.
Across the carriage road at the turn-in, a heavy door opened in the stonewall of the gamekeeper's cottage and 13-year-old Sarah Ann Thirkell stepped from beneath the thatched roof eaves. She stood for a moment on the worn doorstep drinking in the orange hues of the dying day then tripped lightly past the rose garden, being careful to tread on the stepping stones that wound their way across a small sea of velvet green moss.
At the low stone fence where a pole gate barred the entrance, Sarah Ann hesitated a moment before mounting the topmost bar to gaze beyond her elongated shadow to the treeless, brush-covered Yorkshire moor that undulated off into the distance. The moor was crisscrossed with dark wooded ravines that made this the choice game-preserve in all of Yorkshire. Beyond the moor, far to the east, the sun's failing light glinted off a patch of sea fast being shrouded in feathery gray fog.
It was pleasant to be home from boarding school, Sarah Ann thought, jumping to the ground and starting off across the heathland. An epidemic had closed the school in early September, and she savored the pleasure of being free of books and tests. Here was where she belonged, feeling the spongy turf yield under her feet, her eyes drinking in the rolling mounds and wooded vales that stretched off in all directions.
Yet the most pleasant sensation of all was to feel the damp salty breath of the sea as soothing against her smooth skin as a butterfly's kiss. Soon the offshore winds would blow the fog across the land, shrouding houses and trees in a gray cotton world as soft as a tender lullaby.
As she crossed the clearing before the gate and entered the well-worn path leading through the heather, she sensed again that there was something within the fog that cleansed souls and soothed troubled hearts. She couldn't remember when first she had felt it, but even before she had gone away to boarding school she had known that there was a healing power within the swirling mist.
At boarding school in York, the fog hadn't been the same at all. Thereitwasthick,soot-filledandlifeless,itsdeadweightpressingagainst the somber school buildings with such relentless determination that the usually high-spirited girls of Miss Hintz's Young Ladies Academy felt sour and depressed. Even the spidery Miss Hintz herself was hard pressed to maintain her forced "headmistress" smile.
The heather soon gave way to a thicket, and Sarah Ann took a side path that turned sharply right down a steep bank. At the foot of the bank, the path crossed a sled road that ran along the bottom of a ravine, its parallel ruts descending into the bordering woods.
Beyond the sled road, the path skirted the opposite rim of the ravine for a way then wandered out over the moor again. Skirting heavy brush and ponds, the track led across the sloping ground that looked so deceitfully level from a distance.
Rounding a bend that gave sight of the peat-bog, the gay young girl took on a more sedate stride, for Old Thomas and his grandson, James, might be expected to be working at the bog, and she wanted to make a dignified appearance.
Ever since Sarah Ann had gone away to school, it had been impressed upon the girl that it was no longer fitting that she should kick about and show her limbs, as in the joyous days when she and James had joined the other children of the estate in wild games of "hide and seek" and "storm the battlements." As eldest daughter of the head gamekeeper, she had an obligation to set the pattern of decorum for the children of the estate's lesser retainers. Besides, it was high time she began seeing less of those young persons below her proper station.
There was a moment's disappointment when she realized there was no one cutting the large rectangles of wet peat. On most days, she could expect to find Old Thomas and James beating the surplus water out of the dug peat and making careful drying piles. Part of the peat cutter's craft was to place each brick precisely in the pile so that the circulating air would dry the bricks. If the cutter piled the peat wrong, it might burn in a flash or not burn at all.
Reaching over, she pulled a twig from the tawny dry surface of the cut and watched the crumbling yellow flakes trickle down to form a miniature haystack against the wet black clay at the bottom of the pit.
Suddenly aware of the gathering darkness, she looked back to where the sun was sinking behind the distant mountains. She watched until only a thin crescent of orange remained then skipped on past the wild mint bed to stand staring in childish wonder at the fog hurrying down the hammerhead-shaped peninsula that separated North and South Bay.
"'Tis almost to the 12th Century castle's ruins," she said aloud, watching as the gossamer wave of gray engulfed the tip of the peninsula, obliterating the dark ribbon of sea beyond.
"I'll bet the fog knows where the old Roman Signal Tower was located," she added, remembering her father's tale of the tower built around 370 AD to aid in the defense of Britain against the Saxon raiders, and now lost under the detritus of the ages.
Almost motionless, the thin child stood until the gathering Dampness rolled toward her and settled down over her straight shoulders. Then, lifting a slender hand to brush back an escaping spiral of damp nut-brown hair, she turned back up the slope and retraced her steps.
As she climbed the incline above the wood-road and reached the oak thicket again, she suddenly heard voices coming from the gloom of the gathering dusk. They were strange voicesexcited voicesvoices that rose and fell, one taking over as fast as the other dropped into silence.
A moment later she heard the cushioned thud of heavy boots coming toward her, and the voices grew louder. As she watched, three men emerged from the shadows of the over-hanging bows and gained the more level road directly below where she stood.
Peering down from her vantage point, she realized that the figure in the center was her father, for no one on the estate, nor in the entire Yorkshire area for that matter, was as tall as "Tall John" Pinnock Thirkell.
But who were the strangers to whom he gave such apt attention, turning first to the chubby short one on his right then to the raw-boned one on his left, all the while bending his head forward from his hunched shoulders that he might not miss a single word the men uttered.
He must, indeed, be lost in thought, she reasoned, for he strode on up the road and disappeared around the brow of the knoll, taking the long way home instead of the quicker cut-off she had chosen.
She hadn't seen her father so thoughtful since the year she had been ten, and a dark bearded stranger had arrived with a petition called the "National Peoples Charter." Night after night for the following week, he came home from the monstrous torchlight gatherings at Scarborough, so immersed in the pitiful plight of oppressed workmen that he did not heed the coaxing of his small daughters' requests to read them bedtime stories. It was an unhappy memory, and she hoped nothing like that would happen again.
Three deer were nibbling the shrubbery near the path as she crossed to the stonewall encircling the house. She stopped for a moment to drink in the peaceful scene, and soon heard the sleepy bird noises that told her where partridges and pheasants were congregating for the night.
As she neared her family's cottage, she could see candles burning beyond the small-paned windows. As Sarah Ann pushed open the door, her sister Caroline was hopping about the room on one foot, while her other sister Jemima sat in a rocking chair before the fire clutching a one-armed doll to her flat bosom.
The sight of Sarah Ann in the doorway brought a whoop of delight from three-year-old Mary Agnes, blond, and darling of them all. The child sprang from her seat upon the step beside the hearth and bounded across the room, waving the shawl over which she had been laboring.
"I'm stitching a house on the front of my shawl, Sarah Ann, a big house," she piped, clasping her adored big sister about the knees as Sarah Ann closed the door and hung her cloak on one of the wooden pegs on the back.
"And very nice it is, Chickie, very nice indeed," Sarah Ann said, glancing briefly at the thread house before stooping to kiss the bright lips. Very gently she unwound Mary Agnes' soft arm from around her knees and turned to her mother, who was carrying an armful of wood to the hearth.
"Father is coming up the wood-road with two strangers," Sarah Ann said.
Her mother hesitated only a moment then said, "Two more for dinner then."
Sarah Ann nodded then, anticipating her mother's direction, reached to the tier of shelves for extra plates and cups. She gave a perfunctory rub to the already bright silver then pushed two massive chairs across the stone floor to the table to accommodate their guests.
By the time her father reached the house and ushered his companions into the warm mellow light, all was in readiness. Dumplings had been dropped into the savory venison stew that bubbled in the black kettle hanging on the crane over the flames. Thick slices were cut from a loaf of fresh whole-grain bread that had been wrapped in many thicknesses of cloth since morning that it might cool ever so slowly and retain the tender crust and rich moist texture for which Mary's bread was noted.
Deep dishes, filled with fruit preserves from the large crock that stood on the highest shelf where tiny hands could not explore its sticky depths, were set at each end of the long table. Mary had even found time to wash the children's faces and slick back their hair, and replace her worn apron with a more delicate one she only wore when they had guests.
No flowers adorned the table with its blue-patterned dishes, but the flickering light of fire and candles played over burnished copper pots and brightly-worn pans hanging about the room on their wooded pegs, and glowed upon the brass patens and porringers along the wide mantle.
The cool bright polish of silver knives and forks, carefully laid out to mark the seating, picked up the orange light and distributed it impartially about the table, and the rounded bowls of spoons protruding from their glass holders were spaced evenly down its long center length.
Warmed, as always, by Mary's welcoming smile, Tall John stooped to brush his lips lightly against the crown of her head, then gravely introduced the two men to his family to Caroline, Jemima, Mary Agnes and Sarah Ann. His fondness for his oldest daughter was evident in his face and his voice as he introduced her to their guests.
Even at birth, Tall John could detect his daughter's resemblance to Mary, and was glad. As the girl grew, her smooth brow broadened, her clear skin took on a rosy hue and her brown hair filled with shimmering highlights. Her deep-set eyes lost their babyish haze and took on a velvet-brown color that reflected both mischief and deep-seated wisdom.
The two visitors were as physically unalike as two men could be. Elder Thomas Pugh was chunky and sandy-haired, with blue eyes that squinted in the unaccustomed light and stubby fingers that fumbled with the wide brim of his worn black hat. His companion was Elder George Kendall, a tall, thin man with a serious mien.
Standing there rather awkwardly just inside the door, the two men seemed boyishly unsure of themselves, and Mary hastened to put them at ease by inviting them to supper. Before they sat down, she poured water from the wooden pail that stood on the bench that they might remove the grime their clean grey jackets could not entirely cover.
When the guests finished washing, the men carefully turned down and re-buttoned their shirt cuffs, combed their hair in the square mirror on the wall by the south window then re-donned their coats. Everyone now freshly scrubbed; the family and guests moved in a body to their places at the table.
All but the two Elders seated themselves and bowed in preparation for the customary blessing of food. To the wonder of the girlswho peeked through half closed eyesthe two young men quietly turned their chairs to face the room, knelt before them and buried their faces in their hands upon the seats.
A half-audible gasp of astonishment escaped simultaneously from Jemima and Caroline; for neither had ever known anyone to kneel but for evening prayer or in Church. Their wide-eyed stares were quickly subdued by a sharp jab of Mary's elbows.
As Tall John's words of sincere gratitude filled the room, the raftered ceiling echoed to the full resonance of his words, for in addition to his great height, John Thirkell's voice also served to set him aside from the general run of his fellow men.
His voice was deep and melodious, and came to the listener's ear as though it had rumbled up through his entire long torso. His words had the ring of pure truth, and his glossy auburn beard, rugged features, serious blue eyes and towering height gave him an aura of authority. As head gamekeeper, John Thirkell was used to directing men, and leadership came naturally to him.
An awkward pause hung in the air as the blessing ended and the Elders rose and seated themselves. Mary and Sarah Ann bustled about bringing heaping bowls of steaming stew and fluffy dumplings to the table. As was customary, those seated at the table turned their plates from the facedown position and passed them up the table to where Tall John began ladling as soon as the hot food was set before him.
Mary, seated as usual between Jemima and Caroline, fretted uncomfortably as stew dripped off the heavy shell-shaped ladle and slid in messy globules down the outside of the big tureen. Hands, the size of her husband's, were not made for serving food.
Glancing across the table to make sure that Sarah Ann had cut the venison for Mary Agnes, Mary directed a few remarks toward their guests, and conversation began to flow to and fro across the table.
The Elders proved to be gay and interesting as they recounted their travels. They told of a dance at a Ward House in a distant town, and a songfest at a village on the coast. They often broke into hearty laughter, especially when recounting humorous happenings at recent river baptisms.
Not until the last bite of Yorkshire pudding was eaten and Sarah Ann and Jemima were washing up the dishes did the festive mood abate and voices of the men drop to the deep earnestness that characterized the conversation of the well-read.
The dishes were dried and each shining pan was hung on its proper peg. The long table was wiped dry and spotless, and then the dishpan was carried into the darkness and its soapy water distributed over the rose garden. All the while, the men talked on, their heads bent close together and their voices alternately rising and falling.
Scraps of conversation reached Sarah Ann as she seated herself beside a drowsy Mary Agnes on the step below the hearth. As the peat fire glowed behind her, she watched Jemima and Caroline playing with their dolls as the voices of the men droned on. How strange grown-ups are, she thought. Always talking and talking and never doing anything interestinglike playing.
The younger children around the fire, drugged by sleepiness, had grown quiet, and Mary Agnes' bright head sagged to her thin lap. Sarah Ann was considering carrying her baby sister to bed when she suddenly became aware of a feeling of both excitement and apprehension emanating from the men talking at the table.
Shifting her beloved blond sister into her arms and looking over the dark heads of the two little ones below her, she listened wide-eyed to the voices of the men, which had now grown loud enough for her to hear fragments of their conversation.
"A true Propheta latter-day Prophetgolden plates hidden in the hillsrevelation straight from Godkilled, just as Jesus was killedthe new heaven-ordained Leaderbrotherhood in Ziondwelling place of the chosen people."
She noticed that, while her mother was nodding in agreement at the words of the men, her forehead was wrinkled in perplexity. Meanwhile her father sat with his chair pushed back and his long legs stretched out before him, gazing into the recesses of the raftered ceiling. His right hand stroked his curly beard as if he were trying to visualize something he had never seen.
Sarah Ann grew uncomfortable at eavesdropping and rose with Mary Agnes in her arms. With a candle in one hand and her baby sister in the other, she began herding Jemima and Caroline toward the bedroom the girls all shared. Jemima whined a bit at being shepherded off to bed, for she was nine now and resented such big sister bossiness.
Excerpted from But One Husband by Luella Pool Saxby Copyright © 2013 by Luella Pool Saxby. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Never have I read a more detailed story about the lives of our forefathers and their struggles and tragedies to come to America from England in the 1800s. You feel like you are with them on their incredible journey to a better life.