JOHN FERRIER TALKS WITH THE PROPHET

THREE weeks had passed since Jefferson Hope and his comrades had
departed from Salt Lake City. John Ferrier’s heart was sore within him
when he thought of the young man’s return, and of the impending loss of
his adopted child. Yet her bright and happy face reconciled him to
the arrangement more than any argument could have done. He had always
determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever
induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such a marriage he
regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever
he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was
inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to
express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in
the Land of the Saints.

Yes, a dangerous matter–so dangerous that even the most saintly dared
only whisper their religious opinions with bated breath, lest something
which fell from their lips might be misconstrued, and bring down a
swift retribution upon them. The victims of persecution had now turned
persecutors on their own account, and persecutors of the most
terrible description. Not the Inquisition of Seville, nor the German
Vehm-gericht, nor the Secret Societies of Italy, were ever able to put
a more formidable machinery in motion than that which cast a cloud over
the State of Utah.

Its invisibility, and the mystery which was attached to it, made
this organization doubly terrible. It appeared to be omniscient and
omnipotent, and yet was neither seen nor heard. The man who held out
against the Church vanished away, and none knew whither he had gone or
what had befallen him. His wife and his children awaited him at home,
but no father ever returned to tell them how he had fared at the
hands of his secret judges. A rash word or a hasty act was followed
by annihilation, and yet none knew what the nature might be of this
terrible power which was suspended over them. No wonder that men
went about in fear and trembling, and that even in the heart of the
wilderness they dared not whisper the doubts which oppressed them.

At first this vague and terrible power was exercised only upon the
recalcitrants who, having embraced the Mormon faith, wished afterwards
to pervert or to abandon it. Soon, however, it took a wider range. The
supply of adult women was running short, and polygamy without a female
population on which to draw was a barren doctrine indeed. Strange
rumours began to be bandied about–rumours of murdered immigrants and
rifled camps in regions where Indians had never been seen. Fresh women
appeared in the harems of the Elders–women who pined and wept, and
bore upon their faces the traces of an unextinguishable horror. Belated
wanderers upon the mountains spoke of gangs of armed men, masked,
stealthy, and noiseless, who flitted by them in the darkness. These
tales and rumours took substance and shape, and were corroborated and
re-corroborated, until they resolved themselves into a definite name.
To this day, in the lonely ranches of the West, the name of the Danite
Band, or the Avenging Angels, is a sinister and an ill-omened one.

Fuller knowledge of the organization which produced such terrible
results served to increase rather than to lessen the horror which it
inspired in the minds of men. None knew who belonged to this ruthless
society. The names of the participators in the deeds of blood and
violence done under the name of religion were kept profoundly secret.
The very friend to whom you communicated your misgivings as to the
Prophet and his mission, might be one of those who would come forth at
night with fire and sword to exact a terrible reparation. Hence every
man feared his neighbour, and none spoke of the things which were
nearest his heart.

One fine morning, John Ferrier was about to set out to his wheatfields,
when he heard the click of the latch, and, looking through the window,
saw a stout, sandy-haired, middle-aged man coming up the pathway. His
heart leapt to his mouth, for this was none other than the great Brigham
Young himself. Full of trepidation–for he knew that such a visit boded
him little good–Ferrier ran to the door to greet the Mormon chief. The
latter, however, received his salutations coldly, and followed him with
a stern face into the sitting-room.

“Brother Ferrier,” he said, taking a seat, and eyeing the farmer keenly
from under his light-coloured eyelashes, “the true believers have been
good friends to you. We picked you up when you were starving in the
desert, we shared our food with you, led you safe to the Chosen Valley,
gave you a goodly share of land, and allowed you to wax rich under our
protection. Is not this so?”

“It is so,” answered John Ferrier.

“In return for all this we asked but one condition: that was, that you
should embrace the true faith, and conform in every way to its usages.
This you promised to do, and this, if common report says truly, you have
neglected.”

“And how have I neglected it?” asked Ferrier, throwing out his hands in
expostulation. “Have I not given to the common fund? Have I not attended
at the Temple? Have I not—-?”

“Where are your wives?” asked Young, looking round him. “Call them in,
that I may greet them.”

“It is true that I have not married,” Ferrier answered. “But women
were few, and there were many who had better claims than I. I was not a
lonely man: I had my daughter to attend to my wants.”

“It is of that daughter that I would speak to you,” said the leader
of the Mormons. “She has grown to be the flower of Utah, and has found
favour in the eyes of many who are high in the land.”

John Ferrier groaned internally.

“There are stories of her which I would fain disbelieve–stories that
she is sealed to some Gentile. This must be the gossip of idle tongues.
What is the thirteenth rule in the code of the sainted Joseph Smith?
‘Let every maiden of the true faith marry one of the elect; for if
she wed a Gentile, she commits a grievous sin.’ This being so, it is
impossible that you, who profess the holy creed, should suffer your
daughter to violate it.”




John Ferrier made no answer, but he played nervously with his
riding-whip.

“Upon this one point your whole faith shall be tested–so it has been
decided in the Sacred Council of Four. The girl is young, and we would
not have her wed grey hairs, neither would we deprive her of all
choice. We Elders have many heifers, [29] but our children must also
be provided. Stangerson has a son, and Drebber has a son, and either of
them would gladly welcome your daughter to their house. Let her choose
between them. They are young and rich, and of the true faith. What say
you to that?”

Ferrier remained silent for some little time with his brows knitted.

“You will give us time,” he said at last. “My daughter is very
young–she is scarce of an age to marry.”

“She shall have a month to choose,” said Young, rising from his seat.
“At the end of that time she shall give her answer.”

He was passing through the door, when he turned, with flushed face and
flashing eyes. “It were better for you, John Ferrier,” he thundered,
“that you and she were now lying blanched skeletons upon the Sierra
Blanco, than that you should put your weak wills against the orders of
the Holy Four!”

With a threatening gesture of his hand, he turned from the door, and
Ferrier heard his heavy step scrunching along the shingly path.

He was still sitting with his elbows upon his knees, considering how he
should broach the matter to his daughter when a soft hand was laid upon
his, and looking up, he saw her standing beside him. One glance at her
pale, frightened face showed him that she had heard what had passed.

“I could not help it,” she said, in answer to his look. “His voice rang
through the house. Oh, father, father, what shall we do?”

“Don’t you scare yourself,” he answered, drawing her to him, and passing
his broad, rough hand caressingly over her chestnut hair. “We’ll fix it
up somehow or another. You don’t find your fancy kind o’ lessening for
this chap, do you?”

A sob and a squeeze of his hand was her only answer.

“No; of course not. I shouldn’t care to hear you say you did. He’s a
likely lad, and he’s a Christian, which is more than these folk here, in
spite o’ all their praying and preaching. There’s a party starting for
Nevada to-morrow, and I’ll manage to send him a message letting him know
the hole we are in. If I know anything o’ that young man, he’ll be back
here with a speed that would whip electro-telegraphs.”

Lucy laughed through her tears at her father’s description.

“When he comes, he will advise us for the best. But it is for you that
I am frightened, dear. One hears–one hears such dreadful stories about
those who oppose the Prophet: something terrible always happens to
them.”

“But we haven’t opposed him yet,” her father answered. “It will be time
to look out for squalls when we do. We have a clear month before us; at
the end of that, I guess we had best shin out of Utah.”

“Leave Utah!”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“But the farm?”

“We will raise as much as we can in money, and let the rest go. To tell
the truth, Lucy, it isn’t the first time I have thought of doing it. I
don’t care about knuckling under to any man, as these folk do to their
darned prophet. I’m a free-born American, and it’s all new to me. Guess
I’m too old to learn. If he comes browsing about this farm, he might
chance to run up against a charge of buckshot travelling in the opposite
direction.”

“But they won’t let us leave,” his daughter objected.

“Wait till Jefferson comes, and we’ll soon manage that. In the meantime,
don’t you fret yourself, my dearie, and don’t get your eyes swelled up,
else he’ll be walking into me when he sees you. There’s nothing to be
afeared about, and there’s no danger at all.”

John Ferrier uttered these consoling remarks in a very confident tone,
but she could not help observing that he paid unusual care to the
fastening of the doors that night, and that he carefully cleaned and
loaded the rusty old shotgun which hung upon the wall of his bedroom.