The Mormon Prophet

Language: English
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In the United States of America there was, in the early decades of this century, a very widely spread excitement of a religious sort. Except in the few long-settled portions of the eastern coast, the people were scattered over an untried country; means of travel were slow; news from a distance was scarce; new heavens and a new earth surrounded the settlers. In the veins of many of them ran the blood of those who had been persecuted for their faith: Covenanters, Quakers, sectaries of diverse sorts who could transmit to their descendants their instincts of fiery zeal, their cravings for "the light that never was on sea or land," but not that education by contact with law and order which, in older states, could not fail to moderate reasonable minds.

With the religious revivals came signs and wonders. A wave of peculiar psychical phenomena swept over the country, in explanation of which the belief most widely received was that of the direct interposition of God or the devil. The difficulty of discerning between the working of the good and the bad spirit in abnormal manifestations was to most minds obviated by the fact that they looked out upon the confusing scene through the glasses of rigidly defined opinion, and according as the affected person did or did not conform to the spectator's view of truth, so he was judged to be a saint or a demoniac. Few sought to learn rather than to judge; one of these very few was a young man by name Ephraim Croom. He was by nature a student, and, being of a feeble constitution, he enjoyed what, in that country and time, was the very rare privilege of indulging his literary tastes under the shelter of the parental roof.

In one of the last years of the eighteenth century Croom the elder had come with a young wife from his father's home in Massachusetts to settle in a township called New Manchester, in the State of New York. He was a Baptist by creed; a man of strong will, strong affections, and strong self-respect. Taking the portion of goods which was his by right, he sallied forth into the new country, thrift and intelligence written upon his forehead, thinking there the more largely to establish the prosperity of the green bay tree, and to serve his God and generation the better by planting his race in the newer land.

The thirtieth year after his emigration found him a notable person in the place that he had chosen, with almost the same physical strength as in youth, stern, upright, thrifty, the owner of large mills, of a substantial wooden residence, and of many acres of land. He was as rich as he had intended to be; his ideal of righteousness, being of the obtainable sort, had been realised and strictly adhered to. The one disappointment of his life was the lack of those sturdy sons and daughters who, to his mind, should have surrounded the virtuous man in his old age. They had not come into the world. His wife, a good woman and energetic helpmeet, had brought him but the one studious son.

Ephraim was thirty-two years of age when a young girl, strong, beautiful, impetuous, entered under the sloping eaves of his father's huge gray shingle roof. The girl was a niece on the maternal side. Her New England mother had, by freak of love, married a reckless young Englishman of gentle blood who was settled on a Canadian farm. Pining for her puritan home, she died early. The father made a toy of his daughter till he too died in the fortified town of Kingston, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. No other relatives coming forward to assume his debts or to claim his child, their duty in the matter was clear to the minds of the Croom household, and the girl was sent for. Her name was Susannah, but she herself gave it the softer form that she had been accustomed to hear; when she first entered the sitting-room of the grave Croom family trio, like a sunbeam striking suddenly through the clouds on a dark day, she held out her hand and her lips to each in turn, saying, "I am Susianne."

That first time Ephraim kissed her....