“Do you think maybe the flux is punishment for the war?” Gibbs searched Hiram’s face.
Hiram’s bones were heavy and his eyes dry as dust. When he closed them, he saw Yas’s eyes, open in death. Hiram hadn’t been able to save his friend. “I’m inclined to think that the punishment for making war is that you have a war.”
“So the flux is just one more thing God sees fit to dump on us, eh?”
Hiram stood inside a Catholic church, leaning on a crutch. The building’s walls were cool white plaster, and a row of columns supporting tall arches marched from Hiram’s position toward a stained-glass window at the back of the church, above an altar. Hiram could read neither Latin nor French, so none of the chapel’s many inscriptions or engravings meant anything to him. He could understand the stained-glass image, though: Christ in a red robe, Christ floating above the ground, was the returned and resurrected Lord, Christ come back to usher the world into its state of millennial peace.
The image made him smile, despite everything.
Gibbs lay on the stone floor beneath an arch, a short stack of personal effects beside his head: spectacles with a cracked lens, a razor, three books. The army didn’t have enough cots, so in this church-cum-field hospital, the patients lay on thin mattresses, covered by greasy wool blankets. A second man lay on his own mattress beside Gibbs. He faced away from Gibbs and Hiram both, into a dark corner of the church. Between the two mattresses lay the second man’s possessions, including a pen, tattered blue notepad, and a single book.
“Are you a Mormon chaplain?” Gibbs asked.
“I’m just Mormon,” Hiram said. “A doughboy like you, I expect. Father Raphaël asked me to talk to you.”
“Father Raphaël thinks I’m mad at God,” Gibbs said.
Hiram shrugged. “Sometimes . . . that’s understandable.”
Gibbs pointed at Hiram’s crutch. His hand trembled. “You came over from the wounded hospital.”
“I got shot.” Hiram tried not to think of the mob of German cultists, foaming at the mouth, and Yas Yazzie’s last moments, lying on frozen mud.
“They have you across the street?” Gibbs asked. “In the library?”
“No books there now,” Hiram said. “I don’t know, might have been a library once.”
“I’m not mad at God,” Gibbs said. “There’s no God to be mad at.”
“Ah.” Hiram shifted position on his crutch, wishing he had a stool to sit on.
“Neither will the Lord suffer that the Gentiles shall forever remain in that awful state of blindness.” Gibbs smiled, showing a missing tooth in the front of his mouth. “That’s what the book says, isn’t it?”
“First Nephi, thirteen.” Hiram nodded.
“Well, I’m not blind anymore,” Gibbs said. “And I guess that means I’m a Gentile.”
“That ain’t even it.” The man in the other mattress stirred. The blanket fell away from his face, revealing a pale and sweaty cheek. “You’re quoting it wrong.”
“That’s Nuttall.” Gibbs laughed. “Now I not only gave him the fever, I can’t even quote the Book of Mormon right.”
“Neither will the Lord suffer,” Nuttall recited from his pallet, “that the Gentiles shall forever remain in that state of awful woundedness.”
Hiram scratched his head. “I seem to recall it the way Gibbs does. Though I’ll admit, I’ve been shaken up and knocked around a bit recently, so maybe I’m remembering it wrong.”
Nuttall forced himself up onto one elbow, grabbing his book from the floor and handing it to Hiram. He shook violently and coughed from the effort; by force of will, Hiram managed not to turn away, but he touched two fingers to his chest, reassured by the feel of the cool iron disk of his chi-rho amulet against his skin. He took the book and examined it. Its spine announced that it was the BOOK OF MORMON; its cover was brown leather, stained dark by years of handling. Inside, the text was not divided into numbered paragraphs.
“Grandma Hettie’s Book of Mormon was an old one, too,” Hiram said. “Before Orson Pratt broke it up into verses.” He turned to the title page and found: PRINTED BY E.B. GRANDIN, FOR THE AUTHOR. 1830. “First edition.”
“It was my great-grandfather’s copy.” Nuttall fell back on his mattress, shivering. “He gave it to me when I shipped out.”
Hiram had to find First Nephi thirteen by his memory of the text; the chapter divisions were not the ones he knew, either. There it was, at the top of page 31: “Neither will the Lord suffer that the Gentiles shall forever remain in that state of awful woundedness,” he read.
Gibbs rose almost to his knees to force a different Book of Mormon into Hiram’s hands.
This one had the familiar chapters and verses, and Hiram found the passage quickly. “I’ll be hog-tied,” he said. “Awful state of blindness.”
“Two Book of Mormons,” Gibbs sneered, “and no God.”
“I didn’t give you the flux!” Nuttall snapped.
“It was you, visiting that whore Angeline, or it was God.” Gibbs laced his fingers behind his neck and stared at the ceiling, a sour grin on his face. “Take your pick.”
“You had symptoms first!” Nuttall spat as he accused Gibbs, and Hiram clenched his teeth together to avoid lurching back.
“That doesn’t mean anything, you idiot.”
“And she’s a fine girl!” Nuttall collapsed onto his blankets. “We just talk.”
Hiram looked at the two books again. “Why are they different?”
“Because it’s all nonsense,” Gibbs said.
Nuttall was slower to answer. “Because . . . because someone thought he knew better than the book, and took it on himself to fix the words.”
Hiram scanned the rest of the page. “It’s the fact that the plain and precious parts of the Gospel of the Lamb are missing. That’s what causes the . . . the woundedness.”
“Or the blindness!” Gibbs snapped.
“Shame to have two Mormon fellows from the same regiment quarreling,” Hiram said.
“Same town.” Nuttall’s voice sounded wet around the edges, as if he had been crying. “Grantsville.”
“I’ll read a verse or two,” Hiram said softly, “if you don’t object.”
“Trying to change my mind?” Gibbs asked.
“It won’t work,” Nuttall said.
“The only mind I ever really try to change is my own.” Hiram said nothing for a moment, and when neither soldier answered, he read, from Nuttall’s copy. “I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof, did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow. And it came to pass that after I had seen the tree, I said unto the spirit, I behold thou has shewn unto me the tree which is precious above all. . . . And the angel said unto me . . . Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.”
He stopped reading, and silence filled the church. Down the row of columns, Hiram could hear the gentle tread of Father Raphaël’s feet, and the soft cries of a man deep in the grip of fever.
Yas had had no time to cry for himself.
Hiram hadn’t wept for him, either.
“I might pray,” Hiram ventured, “for all of us. If you don’t stop me, that is. We’re abroad, and we could stand to have the love of God shed in our hearts.”
They didn’t stop him.