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BEHOLD THE SHINING MOUNTAINS

CHAPTER 2

 By The Grace of God and a Mountain Man......................................... May 1831

Narcissa Prentiss's heart savored each New York spring as more glorious than the last. But at 22, her head asked her the frightening question, "Narcissa, will you ever marry?"

She selected a serene place on Franklin Academy's grounds to meditate -- to assess herself through the noon repast under the bower of flowering vines beside the lilly pond. Narcissa leaned forward on the creaking bench to study her reflection in the greenish pond's gently undulating surface.

Her auburn-blond hair framed her alabaster face like gentle fire. The tiny row of freckles across the bridge of her nose didn't show in the water, but her wide blue eyes did. "Are my features too large? Is my look too direct?"

Tall as most men, Narcissa was 5'7" and weighed a buxom 136 pounds. Her neck was chastely hidden by her full dress's high collar. As a proper lady, she never showed her ankles except when she lifted the hem of her dress to rush to a lecture.

Henry Spalding peered down the path toward the frog pond. That full bodied Narcissa Prentiss sat brooding there. Though she laughed far too much for piety's sake, she dominated his thoughts, occasionally making him blush. At 27, Henry knew he ought to be more worldly. But prurient thoughts should not sully the mind of a man who'd some day be called Reverend. Like a mindless leaf whirling down a vortex, he was drawn to this tempting vixen.

Before Narcissa could ferret the flaws that forestalled her wedding, a head bloomed beside hers in the reflection -- that vexing disciple of Socrates, Henry Spalding! Henry's forehead bulged. His blazing brown eyes crackled. His expression was sterner than ever.

Henry asked in his clarion voice. "Have you become your namesake?"

"What's that mean, Henry?" Narcissa asked eyeing his skinny form in the lilly pond and angering again at his snide attack on Abolitionism outside chapel this morning.

"Where's your ancient Greek! Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool, and was transformed into a flower."

"How addlebrained! Do you see me a flower?"

"No, but you are fragrant as Lavender."

"Henry Spalding, how can you say Slavery is a natural institution of mankind?"

"Slavery's existed since man began. It's found in Babylon's Code of Hammurabi from 1800 B.C. Ancient Egypt lived by slave labor."

"That was before slavery was made wrong by the Bible, Henry!"

"The Bible even lists rules how Hebrews shall treat their slaves," Henry argued.

"Here read Exodus Chapter 21, verses 2 through 6!"

Narcissa read the verses. He was right. "Henry, your Bible's as hard as your heart! My Bible's joyous as spring. This is Isaiah 55:12.

"For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands!"

"What's that got to do with slavery, Narcissa?"

She wanted to explain, but his tirade would not be interrupted.

He railed, "Article 1, Section 9 of the U. States Constitution ratified in 1788 provides for continuation of slavery!"

"Whites have trapped enough Negroes in Africa!"

"Your history's deficient as your Greek, Narcissa! Africans had other Negro slaves from the dawn of time -- mostly their war prisoners. When the New World slave trade started in the 16th century, it was Africans who sold their kin to the Arabs, Portuguese, French, English and Dutch!"

"You are a slaver, Henry Spalding!"

"I am a Colonizationist. I believe the Negro should be hauled back to Africa and given freedom in his own colony. He'll never be free here!"

"That's hidebound thinking, Henry! Have you read William Lloyd Garrison's new weekly, The Liberator? He brands the American Colonization Society as the handmaid of Slavery."

"Garrison's a radical without the faintest hope of helping those he seeks most to serve."

"John Greenleaf Whittier calls Garrison a champion of those who groan beneath oppression's iron hand. I myself say, one who has no noble dream has nothing!"

"Oh, you do, do you? Pray tell what noble dream you have for yourself, Narcissa?"

Narcissa clasped her hands to hide their trembling. She bit her lip to keep from revealing her thoughts to this man who never forgot anything, but she just boiled over. "I will be the Lord's minister to heathens beyond the Shining Mountains."

Henry laughed, "Narcissa, if you minister to anyone, it'll be in your father's grand home in Prattsburg, New York! You will never go west of this town. Where'd you get such a fool notion?"

Her lip trembled. Too angry to heed her inner cautions she replied, "When I was 16, I had a vision. The Lord God told me I would save heathen souls beyond the Shining Mountains."

"And did the Lord God tell you how a white woman would get to a foreign land where no white woman has ever set foot?"

Narcissa shook her head, tears streaking her white cheeks. "Not then, but He has since shown me the man who can deliver me there!"

"Your delusions will be the death of you! For all your misguided sass, you are a noble and comely woman." He laid his hand softly on hers. "Narcissa, you could do worse than a man like myself. I'd free you from your suicidal cause. You could be my wife, and we'd save the hordes of sinners abounding here in New York!"

Narcissa was shocked at a proposal invading this nasty clash. Henry Spalding wanted her for his wife, but her revulsion for this self-righteous, shambling man was too strong. "Thank you for your generous proposal, but we could never be man and wife, Henry -- never."

"I suppose that's because I was born on the wrong side of the blanket and cast out by a drunkard -- while you are the daughter of Judge Stephen Prentiss, a founder of this very academy!" Henry shouted.

"Henry, control yourself. Your humble beginnings have nothing to do with my feelings. This Judge Stephen Prentiss you envy so, is a carpenter who supports nine children and once served ever so briefly in a minor judicial job. Judge Prentiss is a founder of Franklin Academy -- who contributed $50! My answer is based on the chasms between our hearts and souls."

Henry gripped her hand. "Don't turn your back on me! I'm a worthy man."

"Henry, you're crushing my fingers! We cannot be! We just cannot!"

"You are like your namesake. You're a vain woman in love with yourself! You've spurned me wretchedly. I shall hate you till you die!"

"How can you propose to me in one breath and despise me to death the next?"

"And just who is this fool who'll lead you to your death across the Rocky Mountains?"

"I've never met him. But his name is William Sublette."

"You've what?"

"God lead me to read of his daring exploits in the Boston paper. Last year he proved wagons can cross the Great American Desert. One day, I will ask him, and he will guide me over the Shining Mountains to save heathen souls floundering in darkness."

"You know nothing of this William Sublette. If he's one of those savage Mountain Men, he'll only despoil you in the wilderness!"

"Leave me now, Henry Spalding!"

"You'll regret this eternally, you harlot!"

Narcissa sensed someone passing on the pathway, but could not identify the person. "Oh, Merciful God, I pray they did not hear you! My reputation will be ruined by your cruel lie."

Narcissa sobbed as her only marriage proposal, now her mortal enemy, shambled away down the pathway. She looked skyward through the flowered trellis. A spring rain pelted her face. God was cooling her molten anger, but not her dream. She placed her hands together in prayer, "By the Grace of God and a Mountain Man I shall save heathen souls beyond the Shining Mountains."

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