Incident at Fox Meadow

By Ray Goldrup

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    Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence (D&C 4:6).

    Twelve-year-old Simon Stone let more string out so that his kite could climb higher in the sudden rush of wind that lifted it aloft like a winged thing in the copper-colored sky. Simon’s uncle, Elias Thatcher, had helped the youth build the kite a few days earlier in an effort to keep Simon occupied while Elias felled trees.

    Lumberjacking was a hazardous business, and the lumbering activity in Hammond County was no exception. Already that season three men had died tragically. A far safer place for a young boy than where they were cutting wood was in the bunkhouse, sweeping floors. But that chore took Simon no more than an hour to complete, and he pined for something else to do besides watching logs pour out of the flume at the sawmill. After all, he had been at the camp at White Pine for nearly a year.

    Flying a kite in the woods was hard. Simon’s uncle had said that the trees on the slopes were closer together than hands in prayer and that the wind went into a fit just trying to find a way to go through them. Sometimes Simon found it difficult to believe everything that his joshing uncle told him. But Simon did believe his stories about an unusually large and mean wolverine that everyone called Old Scratch. The wily varmint usually roamed the slopes below Fox Meadow.

    Another thing his uncle had told him that he believed was that by studying and doing the good things taught in the Book of Mormon, a person could get closer to God than by any other means, short of personal prayer or dying. Elias had given the boy a copy of the book, one that Elias had been presented as a young missionary while living in Nauvoo. The book had helped to ease Simon’s lingering sorrow over his parents’ deaths, and he had read it faithfully, pondered its contents, and prayed about its truthfulness.

    One day when Simon had emerged from his secret place of prayer, he told his uncle that he experienced “a feeling that was as warm as the down comforter Mother used to wrap around me on cold winter nights.” He said that he knew the Book of Mormon was true and that he would one day be reunited with his parents in the world to come.

    “Now that you know the truth,” Elias had counseled him, “you have a duty to Heavenly Father and to yourself to live it. It won’t always be easy to stand firm against the opposition that may come. But let the winds of adversity blow you forward, never down.”

    Suddenly the sound of a gunshot disrupted the stillness, and Simon’s kite began to tumble toward the earth like a piece of limp cloth. Simon glanced around and spied a youth with a single-shot army carbine emerging from the trees that bordered the small meadow, a dark grin creasing his face. “I guess I haven’t lost my touch,” the youth sneered.

    It was Clay McCalister, a son of one of the lumbermen. Big for a thirteen-year-old, he was a short-tempered bully and had often taunted Simon because of his gentle manner and the book of scriptures that he always carried with him.

    Simon gazed at his kite lying broken on the ground. “There wasn’t any call for that, Clay,” Simon blurted uneasily.

    Clay’s grin widened. “No call for a lot of things, Stone,” he retorted. “But that doesn’t seem to keep them from happening, now does it?” Clay ejected the spent shell from his rifle and slipped another cartridge into the breech.

    Simon, deciding that the best place for him to be was anywhere that Clay wasn’t, crossed to where his kite lay, picked it up, and started out of the meadow.

    “I’m not through with you yet, Stone!” Clay declared.

    Simon froze; then he turned and faced the menacing youth. “You ruined my kite,” Simon said boldly. “What more do you want?”

    Clay stepped closer. “You think you’re something special, Mormon? You think that book that you’re always carrying around is going to save you?”

    “No,” Simon replied, “but its teachings will, if I live by them.” Clay seemed to be listening, so Simon continued. “There was a prophet by the name of Joseph Smith who said that a man cannot be saved in ignorance—”

    “Are you saying that I’m ignorant?” Clay barked.

    “No,” Simon returned, “but it never hurt anybody to become a little more learned.”

    Clay just stared. No boy had ever spoken to him with such simple boldness. He narrowed his eyes and demanded that Simon hand over the Book of Mormon. “Maybe I can make it even more holy with a bullet from my carbine,” he added with a cold chuckle.

    Simon stiffened. “I can’t do that, Clay. It’s a sacred book.”

    Clay regarded Simon threateningly. “Mormons aren’t real popular around Hammond County. Your uncle probably told you that already, him being one too.”

    “Yes, he did,” Simon replied evenly. “He also told me that it’s important to stand up for what you believe, even when it’s not easy.”

    Clay snickered. “Like now, Mormon boy?” Clay started forward. “Are you going to give me that book, or am I going to have to—” Clay’s boot caught under an exposed root, and he fell hard across a stump. It knocked the wind out of him, and his rifle discharged skyward.

    “Are you all right, Clay?” Simon asked.

    Clay glared at Simon, gasping for air. “I feel a lot better than you’re going to, Mormon!”

    Simon sighed and started out of the meadow. Making his way down the slope, he was careful to give a wide berth to Old Scratch’s territory. Simon paused in a small clearing to rest. The brushwood was so dense that he almost missed seeing what appeared to be a burrow above him. He shuddered at the thought that he might one day encounter the beast.

    As Simon was about to move on, he heard a crashing in the brush a short way uphill. His blood ran cold as he whirled around and caught a glimpse of Clay McCalister. The youth had regained his wind and was racing down the slope to overtake him.

    Simon had no sooner turned to flee, when a scream erupted from the thick undergrowth above him. Again he stopped. Simon couldn’t see Clay, but the boy was still screaming. Simon started back uphill. When he got close enough to see through the foliage, he spied Clay lying on his back, without his gun, pressed against a half-decayed log. The wolverine was growling and slowly closing in on him, provoked by Clay’s intrusion of his privacy. Scratch’s short snout sniffed at the boy’s foot; his sharp teeth were bared.

    Simon crept out from behind the trees, removed a hunk of jerky from his pocket, and tossed it a short distance from the wolverine to lure it away from Clay. While the animal’s attention was diverted to this new object, Clay quickly crawled off.

    After distancing themselves from Old Scratch, Clay questioned, “Why did you do it, Stone? I mean, I shot up your kite and was going to bust you up good.”

    “You needed help,” Simon replied matter-of-factly. He patted the small, worn book that protruded from his pocket and added, “In the Book of Mormon, it tells about a prophet named Enos who prayed for his enemies. If he could do that, the least I could do was try to …” Simon’s speech trailed as he beheld what appeared to be a tear in Clay McCalister’s eye.

    Clay quickly wiped it away. “Haven’t you ever had anything in your eye before?” Clay snapped defensively.

    Simon smiled understandingly. “Sure, Clay,” he said, “lots of times.”

    Clay stared at Simon a long moment, his eyes gradually settling upon the Book of Mormon. “Could I borrow that book of yours for a few days, maybe?” he asked somewhat sheepishly. “I won’t tear it up or anything, honest. I’d just like to read some of it—find out what it’s all about. And what you’re all about.”

    Simon nodded and handed Clay the book. “Keep it as long as you like,” he offered.

    “Don’t start thinking that I’m going to become a Mormon or anything like that,” Clay asserted.

    Simon smiled. Clay’s most likely right, he thought. But Simon had planted a seed, just as someone once had for his father and mother and his Uncle Elias. Those seeds had taken root, and many had been blessed because of it. Maybe, just maybe, Clay would be too.

    Illustrated by Dick Brown