A Night for Courage

Darkness covered the city of Nauvoo, but there was a restlessness in the air. Here and there, windows were bright with lamp light. Chickens were stirring. Somewhere a dog howled.

Eleven-year-old Mary Ann raised up on her elbow in bed when she heard a horse gallop up to the door of their house.

“Sister Pratt!” called a voice. “Joseph and Hyrum are dead! Murdered by a mob at the Carthage jail!”

Mary Ann gasped. Barely breathing, she strained to listen as her mother went to the door and talked to the messenger in low, anxious tones. Suddenly she felt alone and frightened.

As her feet touched the wooden floor, she heard the door close and lock behind the messenger. All at once she was in her mother’s arms and both of them began to cry.

Mary Ann wished “Father” were there to tell them everything would be all right. Her real father had died suddenly when she was just a baby, but when Mother married Parley P. Pratt, Mary Ann had learned to love him and call him “Father.” Now he was away on a mission.

As the tears wet her nightgown, she remembered once when she saw the Prophet cry. It had happened the year before, when Mary Ann’s family was returning from England. Many converts came with them on the boat, and they were anxious to see Joseph Smith.

“I’ll know him immediately,” one man said. Others agreed that they, too, would be able to pick him out, even in a multitude.

Mary Ann told the converts how noble and grand the Prophet looked on his horse at the head of the Nauvoo Legion. She told them how she had watched him preach to the people in the Kirtland Temple, and to the Indians in the grove at Nauvoo.

Mary Ann still remembered how the steamboat pushed through large, floating blocks of ice on the Mississippi River as it approached the city of Nauvoo. At the landing there was a large group of people waiting to welcome the company of travelers. Right away, Mary Ann noticed the Prophet. He came on the boat, into their cabin, and embraced Parley Pratt. Then he welcomed each family member in turn.

The Prophet was a very big man. Six foot, her father had said. Mary Ann’s head came just above his belt buckle, but he leaned over so he could look into her eyes and shake her hand. Then he sat down and took her little brother on his knees.

“Well, well, Brother Parley, you have returned, bringing your sheaves with you.” He hugged little Parley and Nathan, and the tears filled his clear blue eyes and streamed down his cheeks. Mary Ann had discovered that grown folk sometimes cry when they’re filled with joy, so she knew it was just his happiness spilling over.

Mary Ann recalled how Father had teased the Prophet when he saw the tears.

“Brother Smith, if you feel so bad about our coming home, I guess we’ll have to go back again.”

After that, everyone laughed, the Prophet most of all. Then he said, “Brother Parley, bring your folks up to my house.” Mary Ann remembered how as they walked up the hill with the Prophet, she had tried to match her step with his.

Mary Ann’s thoughts were interrupted when little Susan began to whimper. Her mother lifted the baby out of the cradle and rocked her. Even through her tears, Mama’s voice was sweet and clear, as if she were still singing with the choir.

Listening to her mother sing, Mary Ann recalled a meeting she had attended in the grove by the temple. The Prophet, noticing that the choir seats were empty, asked all those with hymnbooks, who could sing, to step forward. He beckoned for Mary Ann to come and sit in front of the stand. His eyes were twinkling when he said, “You can sing, can’t you?”

Just thinking about it brought fresh tears to her eyes. The children in Nauvoo would surely miss the Prophet!

“Do you think he knew it was coming, Mama?”

“Everyone was concerned for his safety. His life was constantly threatened.”

“I think he knew,” Mary Ann insisted. “Do you remember three weeks ago in the grove on Mulholland Street when the Prophet asked all the children to meet the next Sabbath for a Sunday School? Then he said, ‘I don’t know if I can be here. I will if I can, but Brother Stephen Goddard will be here to take charge.’ Don’t you think he knew, Mama?”

Mary Ann’s mother held her close, next to little Susan, who was sleeping peacefully on her mother’s lap. They both knew it was a question to which there was no answer. Together they watched the sun brighten the sky and smelled the perfume of roses and sweetbriar, brought in on the early morning breeze.

After a time, her mother said, “There’s one thing I do know. We’ve been blessed to have known that great good man. You weren’t much older than Susan when he first shook your hand. And once, on an excursion boat, when you were resting in your father’s arms, as Susan is doing in mine, the Prophet took your feet and placed them on his knees so you would rest more comfortably.”

“I remember that, Mama.”

“Someday you can tell Susan all about it.”

“Oh, yes, I will!”

Mary Ann slid to the floor and knelt at her mother’s knees so she could look into the sleepy-eyed face of her little sister.

“I’ll tell her how I knew Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God the first time I saw him—and how I still know it! And some day, in heaven, Susan and I will be able to see the Prophet together.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Chuck Lee