James walked quietly along the canal bank right behind the tall figure of his father. It was difficult to see through the darkness of the clear June night, but any light would be dangerous.
Elijah and Ellen Gilbert trailed behind Brother Talmage and his son, being careful not to lose sight of them. Although Ellen’s uncertain steps slowed them down, Elijah held tightly to his sister’s hand. He was older and knew the way better.
The water made loud splashing noises as it passed over the old mill wheel, but further down where the four finally stopped the water was much calmer.
James’ father looked slowly in every direction, but there was no one in sight. None of the townspeople in Eddington, England, had seen the eleven-year-old boy leave the village with his father and friends. It was safe to go ahead with the baptism.
Earlier that year, in the spring of 1873, James had become seriously ill. The Talmage family grew concerned about the life of their oldest son. Three years had passed since the time he should have been baptized, and his father thought that perhaps this was the reason for his boy’s sickness. He made a covenant with our Heavenly Father to baptize James as soon as possible if only he could be well again. James recovered and his father was keeping his promise.
The baptism was scheduled at night to avoid any trouble with the villagers.
Mormon beliefs were new and unpopular in the area at that time, and the members of the Church were often treated unfairly.
Brother Talmage stepped into the water and firmly braced his feet so that the current could not upset his balance. Just as he offered a hand to his son, a horrible noise more powerful than a scream broke the calmness of the night. It was a combination of a shriek and a howl and sounded as loud as a thunderclap.
James froze on the bank and Ellen clung to Elijah in fear. Father Talmage was also frightened by the sound and understood his son’s trembling as he stood alone in the dark.
“James, are you too frightened to be baptized tonight?” his father asked. James answered by stepping boldly into the deep canal.
The cold water soaked his thin clothing, but the young boy was unaware of the shivers running down his back. The noise stopped as mysteriously as it began the instant James entered the water. Elijah’s grip loosened on his sister’s hand and they both bowed their heads as Brother Talmage said the sacred words of the baptism. Then his strong arm lowered his son into the water.
Elijah helped James onto the bank as Ellen stepped into the water. She too was baptized a member of the Church and that night made a special promise to our Heavenly Father to keep His commandments.
When they returned home, Brother Talmage told the rest of the family about the strange happening. Surely, he thought, the loud noise reached the house, yet no one heard anything unusual. Questioning the townspeople the next day provided no answers either, for it seemed only the baptismal party shared the experience.
James E. Talmage never understood what caused the strange sound on the night he was baptized. But through his trust in the Lord he had had the courage to be baptized and to obey our Heavenly Father’s commandment. Later in his life he became a great leader and an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.