Draft10

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CHAPTER 10


No one among the Brethren disputed the house of prayer of the Five Corners Free Congregation was demolished by two shells that burst overhead while Mark Lange huddled within. But after he crawled out from the pile of timber unharmed it became a matter of faith that he had literally met Jesus Christ.

It also became a matter of faith that the scroll he brought out of the wreckage had been written in Heaven, as he claimed, though it could not be denied that the parchment was abnormally white, and none of the Brethren had ever seen the like.

As for the money Mark also carried out of the church none other knew, except for his wife Joanna.

Lange told his fellow parishoners his leg had been broken by falling timber and a large splinter of wood had become lodged in his kidney, but he was healed by Christ himself. This claim Joanna readily be- lieved, not merely because she knew her husband was not a liar, but she saw a new scar in Mark's back where previously there had been none.

But for the time being these matters were set aside. The Brethren were preoccupied with burying the fallen soldiers of both armies, as they had done once before in Maryland. It was to them a familiar, if hateful task. They were adequately compensated by the United States for their labor at least, if not for the loss of much of their farm land to many hundreds of burial plots.

While this was being done Mark set about in his evenings copying out Jashen's translation of the White Scroll. He was preparing what he called the Printer's Manuscript, that it might one day be bound as a book. When he read aloud from the growing text the Sunkel, Clark, and Martin families, all who refused to so much as look at the White Scroll, said Mark was trying create new scripture from his own mind, a mind damaged, perhaps, in the blast that destroyed the church. A new bible was something they simply could not accept. These three families returned to Sharpsburg, Maryland where Elder David Long welcomed them home as prodigal sons and daughters.

The following Sunday Mark told the families of the Brethren who re- mained in Gettysburg that it was God's express command the whole congregation pick up and move to the territories.

The obvious question was how to pay for such a journey? Mark assured them God would provide, but not that he had, in fact, already done so. The Millers, Wustners, and Hurst families did not have sufficient faith to accept this. They split from the Five Corners church, but they remained in the vicinity of the town.

After the work of burying the fallen soldiers of both sides had been completed the nine families who remained in the congregation made preparations to sojourn west. Some of them sold their homes outright, while others deeded them to kin who would remain behind. It took until the end of the war in the spring of 1865 for the Porters, Ber- gins, Henrys, Zinters, Hillings, and Krauses to provision themselves for the pilgrimage. But the Savitts and the Brannens dwindled in their ardor. After Atlanta fell late in 1964, just before the elec- tion, they deemed it safe to return to Maryland, and this they did.

The town of Gettysburg was served by rail. President Lincoln himself once rode a train there to deliver his eloquent few words in memory of the fallen. Mark Lange took his flock first to the state capital in Harrisburg, and thence by a hodgepodge of lines across the Appalachian Mountains all the way to Pittsburg. These railroads were laid of wrought iron, and the maximum speed permitted was a mere twenty-five miles per hour, lest they wore out in one year rather than ten. And setting aside the fact the mountains were a barrier to east-west trav- el in general, there were many stops along the way. From Harrisburg it took most of the night and the better part of the next morning to cross the state.

At Pittsburg the congregation switched from rail to steamboat, which, despite moving with the current down the upper reaches of the Ohio River, made no better speed than a sustained brisk walk. But unlike the train, there were staterooms to occupy on the upper deck. The la- dies segregated to the stern. Lange's group was not so destitute as to be relegated to sleeping on the first deck amid the bales of cotton and other cargo, as many of the walk-ons did while the steamboat made its way downriver.

From the rails outside their rooms the members of Lange's flock looked out with contentment upon the ever-changing scene along the river as it sliced through the forested hills. They spent three days steaming first north, then south and west, stopping at times to board and dis- embark passengers or to take on firewood for the boiler that churned, ever so precariously, it seemed to them, under the wooden and very flammable decks.

At Cincinatti Mark Lange's group disembarked from the steamboat and again took to rail, as they had come to the end of the mountains and had passed through an odd corner of the country where time and circum- stance had not yet conspired to make the railroad network complete. But again, at East St. Louis, after crossing the states of Ohio, Indi- ana, and Illinois, they briefly took to the water once more. At that time the only bridge lay far to the north in Davenport, Iowa.

Once the travelers and their luggage were safely on the western shore of the Mississippi River they resumed riding rail once more. The Mis- souri track was laid of Bessemer steel, permitting travel at a break- neck forty-five miles per hour. Yet all the nighttime hours and much of the following day was consumed by the trek across the state.

In June of 1865 the line west came to an end just a few miles past Independence, Missouri, as it was yet a few years prior to the comple- tion of the transcontinental railroad. And Mark Lange, glancing at the train platform even as they were rolling to a stop, saw someone he recognized waiting for them, the extraordinarly tall Anael of indeter- minate sex, who was standing next to someone who was more clearly male and even taller. He raced up to greet them as soon as he disembarked.

"We meet again, Mark Lange," Anael said, "and this time in much better circumstances than the first! I trust your journey has so far gone well?"

Mark said, "Very well indeed, Anael. And I cannot describe my immense relief to find you already here."

By this time some of Mark's followers had gathered around, marveling that at least one of the strangers knew their pastor. These were the nucleus of hardcore believers who never waivered in their faith, yet it was comforting to hear even a little comfirmation of what Lange had frequently told them.

The one who was taller than Anael said to Mark, "Did you fear you would reach the end of the line and find yourselves to be castaways?"

"This is Azrael," Anael said to them. "Hy is of the B'nei Elohim, as I am."

Lange greeted Azrael with the mutual forearm grip that he knew was the custom in Heaven. In reply to hyz question Mark said, "I dreaded the hard looks and harder questions from my flock should we arrive here with no one to greet us. Perhaps I feared it would be a sore test of their faith, and mine."

"The journey you just made was the test of your faith," Azrael said, "and that you are here, all of you, says everything. But the simple truth is this: Anael and I have been working since dawn bringing all these mud-wagons here, and riding back by turns to bring more."

"Are there, then, only two of you?"

Anael nodded. "Just the two. I hope these seven wagons will suffice, Mark, for you and all your people, and of course your luggage. Come, ride with me in the lead coach, Mark, you and your wife, and I will speak of the place that will be your home for this fall and winter."

The lower valley of the Blue River, where it dumped into the Missouri River, divided Kansas City from the town of Independence. Anael and Azrael led Mark Lang and his flock seven miles from the train station up the Blue River valley, past many small farms, cross- ing the river now and again, until they were come to a large structure snuggled hard against the west side of the valley.

Within walking distance was the site of the Battle of the Blue. The battle was named, as was frequently the custom of the Union, after the stream of water nigh at hand, although the locals named it the Battle of Bryam's Ford. This battle, which occurred the preceding October, was the last major tussle of the war to occur west of the Mississippi.

The building was a single-story pile of large interlocking limestone brick, built without the necessity for morter. Anael said che hemself assembled the twelve foot high walls, and it did look sound, with a good roof, but Lange thought it could do with a coat of whitewash. It lay inside a larger fenced area with a small herd of oxen. The ani- mals had grazed the grass to nubbins and now subsisted on bales of hay.

Led by Azrael, and assisted by Joanna Lange and the men and older boys, the fourteen horses that had been used to drive the pilgrims to this place were unharnessed from the mud-wagons and led into this area to mingle with the oxen and feed on alfalfa, which was spread out just for the steeds. The animals considered it to be candy.

Anael gestured at the oxen and said, "Here are the beasts that will pull your wagons, Mark. At least for part of your journey. Alas for them, they will go no farther west than Fort Kearny. After that the poor worn-out things will head for somebody's dinner table."

Following Azrael the thirty-six pilgrims stepped through the large double doors to look inside the structure. They saw a large bay with ten prairie schooners under various states of assembly. The hoops for their bonnets reached nearly to the ceiling. One end of the bay was set up as a common dining area. Along the walls were set private rooms of diverse sizes for each of the seven families.

Azrael said, "I welcome every one of you, followers of Mark Lange, to this place which has been prepared for you to carry out the command of our Lord. There is much yet to do, and much for you to learn to do, before you will be ready to finish your journey. But by then it will be, I think, too late in the year for you to arrive at your destina- tion with time to make ready before winter sets in.

Anael said, "Azrael and I have been granted the privelege and the hon- or to help you make all the necessary preparations. Take no thought of money! This room and board, these animals and the wagons they will pull are all gifts of the B'nei Elohim, freely given."

Hearing this Mark said something that Azrael already knew, even if most of Lange's parishoners did not. "The Lord gave me much money to make this pilgrimmage possible, and half of it yet remains. Did he, perhaps, give us too much?"

"Not at all," Azrael said. "The oxen you saw will only take you for half of your trek, and then you will have to trade them for fresh ones. The money you were given will make up the difference. Also, if I am not mistaken, your followers have only brought such clothing and family heirlooms you could not bear to leave behind. You will, over the next several months, make many overnight trips to Kansas City to purchase whatsoever new items you may need."

And to himself Azrael thought the people who had come to that place needed a less awkward name to know them by than to just call them "Lange's followers". In the weeks to come a child among them, Linda Bergin, would learn that some oxen were not easily turned by the touch of a pole. They were called "stiff of neck" and this was the source for many references in the Bible which referred to the children of Israel as a stiffnecked people. But such stubborness was really a good thing if it was desired to move toward a single goal without turning to one side or the other. Linda took to calling all the pilgrims, including herself, "Stiffnecks" and it quickly caught on.

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