Exercise #50: Good-bye, Evangeline

"Winter Quarters" by C.C.A. Christensen

“Winter Quarters” by C.C.A. Christensen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exercise 50 Instructions

Lawrence Tulle sat dejected in an old shack in Winter Quarters. In the bed lay his last, best reason for living, his wife Evangeline. He couldn’t believe he’d suffered so much at her side only to lose her now.

He remembered the day he first met Evangeline Martin. Her father operated the laundry in the town of Nauvoo. Lawrence was a farmer’s son, through and through. He’d come into the laundry to have his Sunday clothing washed. Lawrence’s mother, Elizabeth had been terribly sick that day, but she’d insisted that her husband and sons all go to church anyway. So, since Lily Tulle had been unable to do the washing, Lawrence, as the eldest, was obliged to take the family’s clothing to the Martin laundry. It had been Evangeline who met him at the counter, with her pretty green eyes and her beautiful smile and suddenly Lawrence found himself making up excuses to visit the laundry. His father hadn’t approved at first.

“There’s work to be done, boy!” he’d bellowed. “This is no time for messing about.”

Lily Tulle, however, had seen what George Tulle hadn’t. It was she that persuaded George to give a little and she came up with a number of creative new reasons for Lawrence to visit that laundry every week. Within a year, Lawrence had proposed marriage. Six months after that, he and Evangeline were among the first to be married in Nauvoo’s beautiful new temple.

Things were difficult after that. Evangeline quickly became pregnant and just as quickly lost the child. This happened over and over. The family’s doctor suggested that Evangeline might not be built for child bearing. Lawrence, however, like his mother, saw what the doctor had not. He took Evangeline to see the prophet. Joseph Smith, titular leader of the quickly growing community, had been busy. His brother, Hyrum, however, had not. He and another brother had laid hands on Evangeline’s head and promised her that, even if she never brought any children into this world, she would be the mother of thousands in the world to come if she stayed close to the commandments.

Shortly after that, however, Joseph and Hyrum and a number of other brethren left Nauvoo. Later, the inhabitants learned that the two brothers had been killed by a mob attacking Carthage jail. A few months later, the saints learned that Governor Boggs had “asked” the Mormons to leave. It was around this time that Evangeline got sick. At first, she assured him that it was nothing more than a cold. He wrapped her in blankets and put her in his covered wagon. Then they, along with their neighbors, left Nauvoo for the Mormon encampment they’d called Winter Quarters. Here, Brigham Young, the new prophet and president of the church, had indicated that the saints would wait until conditions were safer for travel.

The cabins at Winter Quarters, however, were drafty and Evangeline’s cold quickly turned to pneumonia. Lawrence spent the better part of two whole weeks trying to keep her fever down and get his wife to eat. The sisters of the Relief Society brought clean clothing and food for the two of them. They even stayed up with her some nights so that Lawrence could sleep. It was during one of these makeshift vigils that Evangeline Martin Tulle slipped gently from this world.

“Brother Tulle?” a familiar voice called from the entrance, jerking Lawrence from his bittersweet memories. The door opened and in stepped Brigham Young.

“Brother Brigham,” Lawrence replied tonelessly, laying his wife’s cold hand back on her still chest.

“Brother,” Brigham sighed, pulling a chair up so that he could sit beside the grieving man. “It’s time to leave.”

“I can’t,” Lawrence replied, a single crystalline tear trailing its way down his hollow cheeks. Things were quiet for a while then, unable to resist the urge any longer, Lawrence began to cry. Brigham gathered the man into his arms and held him until the worst of it was over.

“She’s not really dead, Brother,” Brigham offered after a while. “Sister Tulle was a god-fearing woman. She lived the gospel better than many other women can say.”

Lawrence looked up, tear tracks lining his face.

“Would she want her man to die here in this desolate place?” he added, clasping the grieving man by his shoulders in a firm but gentle way that reminded Lawrence of his own mother, long since dead. “Starved to death by grief?”

Mutely, Lawrence shook his head. Digging into his trousers pocket, he pulled out his handkerchief, the one Evangeline had made for him, and wiped his eyes.

“Come on, then, brother,” Young smiled sadly. “Let’s bury her and be on our way.”

Together the two men dug a trench in the hard earth, then laid Evangeline’s still form in it and covered it up again with dirt and rocks.

“Come now, brother,” Brigham smiled comfortingly, grasping Lawrence’s tired shoulder. “You’ll live with us, now. Our cabin is west of here on the outskirts of Winter Quarters. Gather your things. You can meet us there.”

Lawrence nodded, not trusting himself to speak for fear of bursting into tears again. Brigham patted his shoulder and left. Alone, Lawrence returned to the cabin he had once called home and began to gather what remained of his possessions. Much of what he’d owned had had to be sold to pay for Evangeline’s doctors. Oddly, however, as he packed what was left, he began to feel as though his wife were there, perhaps standing behind him, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders, as she often did when she needed reassuring or he did.

“Don’t worry, darling,” Lawrence said, “You head for home. I’ll catch up.” Within him, his heart began to warm and a feeling of peace overwhelmed him, like Evangeline was thanking him for this promise. With a sigh, then, Lawrence shut the door behind him.

Alone, he headed west.

********************

This story is based on an event that actually occurred in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With the exception of Brigham Young and Joseph and Hyrum Smith, all the characters in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to anyone either living or dead is purely coincidental.

I had a hard time with this particular exercise, given the need to finish with the sentence, “Alone, he headed west.” I knew I needed to find out who “he” was and why he was heading west and why alone. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about Mormon history and how the Church was expelled by Governor Boggs following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. This story is the result. If you have questions about anything in this story, please feel free to contact your nearest Mormon missionaries or check out Mormon.org.

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2 thoughts on “Exercise #50: Good-bye, Evangeline

    • I’m glad. I felt very much like I was being guided as I wrote this. For all that he’s fictional, Brother Tulle seems so real to me. I could even conceivably believe that he probably married again, perhaps two or three times, had several children and perhaps even held a prominent position in the Church. If I ever wrote more about him, which I could see myself doing, I think he might often look back on what happened in this story and think of it as the defining time of his life.

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