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BEHOLD THE SHINING MOUNTAINS

CHAPTER 48

 IN HEATHEN LANDS TO DWELL? ........................................FEBRUARY 1836

Roads fell into the blizzard's screaming maw before Marcus's horse staggered into Rushville. Marcus sheltered with relatives in his old village. The gale imprisoned him there until slain by the sun on the February 14th Sabbath. Marcus prayed for forgiveness for traveling on the Lord's day then galloped through snow mounded in smooth drifts. He spied a sleigh ahead. The finger of Providence had settled on the Spaldings! Marcus yelled, "We want you for Oregon!"

The new Dearborn wagon on runners halted, and sure enough bearded Henry Spalding huddled under blankets with his pale wife Eliza.

"I'm Doctor Marcus Whitman."

Henry growled, "I told you in my letter we'd go to Oregon, but Eliza's failing health won't let her labor across the continent. We're going to the Osages in Missouri."

Marcus eyed the white sky where the sun was a blurry smear and prayed for help. Henry flicked the horse with the reins and the sleigh hissed away. Oddly, it occurred to Marcus the Spaldings had no sleigh bells, as his horse skirted a drift to catch them. "Reverend Spalding, shouldn't the Lord's wishes guide your decision?"

"Indubitably, but how has He shown us what His wishes be?" Henry inquired as Marcus rode beside the Dearborn.

"The Lord inspired the Nez Percé to send four Chiefs -- like the Wise Men -- to St. Louis. They begged in the streets for God's ministers to go to Oregon. General Clark promised ministers would follow if they'd return home. Three died along the way, but the Chief who reached Oregon promised his people God's men would come. Methodists came, but faithlessly aborted their mission to sell land. I brought two Nez Percé boys back with me. They burn for God's merciful word. Will you shun Nez Percé beseeching God's guidance to go where dissolute Osages scorn God's word?"

Eliza screeched weakly, "We'll stop at Howard to pray for guidance." Henry nodded, realizing his bitterness against Narcissa Prentiss was vehement as the day she'd spat on his soul at Franklin Academy.

The Spaldings rented a room at Howard's inn. The three of them knelt together and prayed for God's benevolent intervention. Henry asked Marcus to absent himself, then asked Eliza, "Has God come to you?"

Frail Eliza gazed up at Henry. Prayer had brought the wild spirit to Henry's lustrous brown eyes she'd seen in the eyes of Calvin and Farel in the old engravings. She rose and said, "God's command says Go ye into all the world with no excuse for poor health. I take the command as it stands. Let us go to Oregon." Their embrace was delicate but meaningfully deep.

Henry opened the door and summoned, "Marcus!"

Marcus read the yes in Henry's eyes and said, "Please join me under God's roof."

Henry trudged into the crystalline snow. Marcus rested his hand on Henry's shoulder. "Let us pray." They knelt together in the melting snow. Marcus recollected the horror in Narcissa's face when stolid Judge Prentiss demanded that Henry Spalding personally apologize for demeaning her judgment before the Judge would consent to Narcissa's marriage or her mission to Oregon. Narcissa'd confided to Marcus, "Our mission is doomed before it's begun. Bull-headed Henry Spalding will never apologize."

Marcus asked, "Do you pray now, Brother Spalding that our Oregon trip will be blessed?"

"I do, Brother Whitman."

"Wilt thou Reverend Spalding do all in thy power to bring this trip to Oregon about, no matter the personal cost to yourself?"

Eyes closed, Henry whispered, "Yea I will, for I go for the Glory of God and not to shrink from harm."

"Then please deliver your apology to Judge Prentiss for questioning Narcissa's judgment, so we can begin our blessed journey."

"Please what???"

"It's only two words, Henry. Believe me you will endure more severe hardships before we reach Oregon. Amen."

* * *

To Narcissa's astonishment, Judge Prentiss asked her to leave their home so he could confer with Henry Spalding. Eliza didn't come, but Narcissa watched Henry shamble into her house. She prayed Henry'd have the good sense to forego all mention of his "harlot" insult. She awaited Henry's exit to make her own amends with him. But an hour languished, then died. Narcissa slipped away from her vantage point with a new sense of joy. She prayed her lightheartedness was untinged by surfeited revenge -- but admitted this prayer was frivolous.

* * *

February 18th found Narcissa pacing the vestry of the Angelica Presbyterian Church. Narcissa's mother Clarissa and sisters, all in black, primped as Narcissa walked the floor in her black bombazine dress. Marcus was out scouring the countryside for laborers to accompany them on their Oregon mission. She made fists and fumed.

If Marcus Whitman didn't arrive soon, she was not going through with this sham of a wedding to appease a gaggle of Bostonian geese who wouldn't dream of dirtying their feathers -- no matter how noble the cause.

The church clamored with arriving guests. Reverend Leverett Hull opened the door to the vestry and adjusted his tiny glasses. "Sister Prentiss are you sure you told Brother Whitman the time for these ceremonies?"

"I did, but Marcus knows Judge Prentiss is to be ordained as an Elder with Brothers Schoonover and Patrick before our wedding. He's scouring for craftsmen for our Oregon mission and may miss the ordinations. Begin when you wish."

As the other Prentiss women trooped out behind Reverend Hull, Narcissa fervently wished she was as comfortable with her explanation as Reverend Hull was. She clenched her fists, "Dear God, will this farce end before it begins?" She tip-toed to the back of the church and watched Judge Prentiss ordained as an Elder, perspiring more than he ever did hammering a house.

She felt a breeze at her side. Marcus Whitman, his hair plastered with goose grease, stood stiffly beside her in a borrowed black suit that would have fit a smaller man. The Indian Richard, garbed in hand-me-downs, gawked with the only smile she'd ever seen on his face. She rushed in tears into the vestry.

When the wedding began, Narcissa didn't listen to their lying vows exchanged before God. What seemed pure in the planning had soured to vile vinegar. Marcus wished Narcissa's sweet sister Jane stood by his side -- and she might have but for rejecting the missionary calling. Their counterfeit kiss sealed their blasphemous bargain.

Disillusioned at how empty their first kiss had been, Marcus Whitman retreated to the rear of the church to join Richard for want of room in the Prentiss pew. He watched Narcissa, finding it impossible to accept her as "Mrs. Whitman."

Reverend Hull's sermon was of joy, but Narcissa felt only shame. Her only true act of the evening was about to begin. Reverend Hull announced, "As the closing event of this glorious night, the bride will lead us in singing Missionary Farewell."

Narcissa faced the smiling congregation and waited for Judge Prentiss to sound his pitch-pipe for the choir. At that plaintive note, all began to sing from their hymnals:

"Yes, my native land, I love thee,All thy scenes I love them well;

Friends, connexions, happy country; Can I bid you all farewell?

Can I leave you,Can I leave you Far in heathen lands to dwell?

Can I leave you, can I leave you, Far in heathen lands to dwell?

Home! thy joys are passing lovely, Joys no stranger heart can tell!

Happy home! 'tis sure I love thee! Can I, can I say farewell?

Can I leave thee,can I leave thee,Far in heathen lands to dwell?

Can I leave thee,can I leave thee,Far in heathen lands to dwell?

Scenes of sacred peace and pleasure, Holy days and Sabbath-bell,

Richest, brightest, sweetest treasure! Can I say a last farewell?

Can I leave you -- Far in heathen lands to dwell?

Can I leave you -- Far in heathen lands to dwell?"

Jane Prentiss clutched the ribbon-tied lock of Narcissa's precious hair. Jane knew in her heart she'd never see Narcissa again. One by one the members of the choir and congregation found their throats too full of sorrow to sing, tears streaking their cheeks. But a few quavering voices joined Narcissa's powerful soprano in the fourth stanza:

"Yes! I hasten from you gladly, From the scenes I loved so well!

Far away, ye billows bear me; Lovely native land, farewell!

Pleased I leave thee -- Far in heathen lands to dwell!

Pleased I leave thee -- Far in heathen lands to dwell!"

Sobs racked every pew. Even Judge Prentiss and Reverend Leverett Hull wept openly as Narcissa's sweet soprano rose alone like the bell of God, chiming the fifth verse:

"In the deserts let me labour, On the mountains let me tell

How He died -- the blessed Saviour -- To redeem a world from hell!

Let me hasten, Far in heathen lands to dwell.

Let me hasten, Far in heathen lands to dwell."

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