The Red Coat


Emily buttoned her red coat as she hurried up a hill. On its crest she looked toward the east and saw a beautiful sunrise. Its pink glow lit the great empty prairie.

How far east is England now? wondered Emily. How many miles westward have we journeyed since we left the beloved green hills of home?

“Emily! We’re ready to leave,” called her father.

Slowly Emily went back down the hill. Her feet lifted puffs of dry brown dust as she walked past people whose handcarts were in the rear of the long line. Everyone in the company was ready for another day of travel.

She was glad she didn’t have to pull a handcart all day like most of the men. Some women helped too. Even children and old people helped push the heavy carts up the steep hills and clung to the rear of them to slow them going down steep slopes.

When Emily reached their own handcart, her father was fastening the ropes from the canvas top to the wooden sideboards.

“It’s a good thing you have that red coat,” Father said. “We can see you even from a long way off.”

“You shouldn’t wander so far away by yourself, though, Emily. You could get lost in this wild country,” Mother scolded.

“I’ll be more careful, Mother,” Emily promised.

As the handcarts fell into line, Emily wondered if her parents understood why she walked back every morning to look east. Maybe they aren’t as lonely for our cottage back in England as I am, she decided. Remembering their home in Dorchester with its roof of golden thatched straw and the lilac bush where robins chirped at dawn, made Emily’s throat ache.

The long line of handcarts moved forward away from the rising sun. Mother’s voice broke into Emily’s thoughts, “You better put your coat in the cart. It’s getting too hot to wear it.”

Emily hated to part with her coat even for a few hours. However, she slowly put it into the handcart. When she had it on, England didn’t seem quite so far away. Wearing it brought back all the treasured memories of home.

Emily thought about the morning Grandmother had given her the coat as she was leaving with her parents for America to join other Latter-day Saints in the faraway Rocky Mountains.

With tears in her eyes, Grandmother said to Emily’s father, “I still don’t understand why you must leave England for your new religion. I know I’ll never see you again.”

Then she took Emily’s hand. “My dear, I have a gift for you,” she said. “It’s a coat made from wool I spun and dyed myself. Wear it always to remind you of me and of your home.”

Slowly the long days went by. Each step took Emily further away from her grandmother and England. Each step took everyone in the handcart company closer to their unknown “Zion” in the mountains. Around the campfires at night they talked of a valley encircled by towering, snow-topped mountains. Emily wondered if anyone else felt as lonely and frightened as she did.

Wagon trains going to Oregon or California sometimes passed the handcart company. One day a man from a wagon train stopped and said to Emily, “My daughter could use a coat like that one you’re wearing. Would you like to sell it?”

Emily thought of what her family could buy with the money, but she shook her head. “No, thank you, sir,” she answered. She felt that selling the coat would not only be giving up something she loved very much but it would cut her last tie with her old home.

The trail the handcarts traveled became rougher. One night around the campfire Captain Ames asked everyone to listen to a special message. “I don’t need to tell you that the trail has become much more difficult and our carts are wearing out,” he announced. “Each family must discard every item that can be spared in order to lighten the loads.”

Many belongings were left beside the trail the next morning. Emily’s heart was heavy when Father said to her, “I think you should leave your heavy red coat behind.”

“Oh, please, Father,” she pleaded, “please let me keep it. I’ll carry it or wear it all the time so it won’t take up any room or add any weight to the handcart. Grandmother made the coat especially for me.”

“The weather will grow colder soon,” Mother added. “Maybe we should let Emily keep her coat. I’ll help her carry it if it becomes too heavy.”

Father looked at Emily and her mother. He saw how much the coat meant to both of them. “If you’re willing to carry or wear it, then you may keep the coat,” he said, “but it’s not to go on the handcart. We must obey Captain Ames’ rule to lighten our loads.”

One morning as Emily was walking behind her father she looked up and saw white snow-topped peaks along the western horizon. A few days later the handcart company was making its way through the mountain passes. The wheels on the worn handcarts creaked loudly with each turn. Everyone was weak and tired but they still kept going.

Late one afternoon Emily felt she could not walk any further. Her red coat seemed unusually heavy. Emily thought she couldn’t take another step before resting for just a few moments.

I’ll just climb up that little slope and rest under a bush for a few minutes, Emily decided.

While resting, Emily watched the line of carts and people toil up a winding, mountain path. She lay down to watch the clouds float by. How good the ground felt to her aching back and legs.

Suddenly Emily sat up. It was dark. She had fallen asleep! Her first thought was to run as fast as she could, calling for her mother and father. But it was too dark to see where she was going.

I must stay calm, Emily told herself. “Dear Heavenly Father,” she prayed, “please keep me safe through the night and tomorrow guide my parents to me.”

Soon a peace flooded over Emily even though the black hours of night passed slowly, slowly. She put on her red coat. Feeling it close around her brought a warmth that was more than just protection against the chill of the night.

Memories of England and Grandmother and her old home were as precious as ever. But there alone on the hillside, Emily began to think more about her new home in a valley where she could be with her father and mother. Maybe Grandmother might come there someday too, she thought.

As the morning sun lightened the sky, Emily’s sadness and loneliness seemed to leave. She climbed up on a rock to watch the sun come up as she had done so many times. Always before her thoughts had turned with a homesick feeling to the east. Now she looked toward the west. In that direction they would have a new home.

Far in the distance Emily saw several men. As they came closer one of them started waving and then she heard her father call, “It’s Emily. That red coat has brought us right to her!”

Emily ran down the hill. “Oh, Father,” she sobbed, “I’m sorry I got lost but I’m glad you found me.”

“We might not have found you,” Father replied, “if it hadn’t been for that red coat. How grateful I am that you kept it and that you had it with you to keep you warm. We spotted it a long time before you saw us.”

“I’m grateful too,” Emily answered. “It will always be something special to remind me of Grandmother and England. But now I know a home isn’t just a place, and that love is more than just a coat. I can hardly wait until we reach the Valley.”

Father smiled. “We found you,” he said, “but I guess during the night you found yourself too.” He gave Emily a warm hug.

Without looking back, Emily put the coat over her arm. Then she and Father turned their feet and their eyes to the west.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Howard Post