Amelia Folsom (Seeress and Revelator) is a visionary woman. She does not predict the future—she prophesies it. Crystal-gazers are a dime a dozen in Salt Lake City, but Folsom is no corner clairvoyant. She is the Mouthpiece of the Lord. And it is to him, at present, that she directs her gaze.
Actually, she is looking at herself in the small oval mirror by the door that opens to the rostrum of the Tabernacle. But she speaks to Jehovah, with whom she enjoys an easy rapport.
“This will strain credulity, Lord,” she informs her reflection. “It will be a terrible test of their faith. But if thou art for me, who can be against me?”
“Plenty of folks is against you,” says Bathsheba Bigler, who sits heavily upon her stool on the other side of the vestibule.
“Not plenty,” says Folsom.
“Brigham’s against you,” says Bigler.
“Well,” says Folsom, placid as a duck pond. “Brigham is one man. And he’s dead.”
Brigham has been dead lo these past several years. It isn’t clear to her that Bigler has entirely absorbed this fact. Nonetheless, it is true. Folsom was there when the great man passed. She may have even given him a little push, to hear some people tell it. But that is coloring it greatly.
She, his favorite, his sole remaining wife, had stood vigil while his spirit debated whether and when to depart from the world of men. He had grasped her hand with an astonishing amount of vigor.
“Don’t let them dismantle the Principle,” he’d enjoined, suddenly potent. “Though all the powers of earth and hell combine against you, do not abandon polygamy, Amelia.”
It seemed a strange stand to take, all things considered. There had been a time when Brigham had devoted nine breaths out of ten expounding the doctrine of plural wives. But that had been when women were as plentiful as watermelon pips, with elders bringing more into the valley every week.
“Dearest husband,” she’d murmured. Would it be correct to tell him, now, as he lay on his deathbed, of her encounter with an angel some three months previous? She resolved to test the waters. “How shall I continue in the Principle after you join my sister wives on the other side of the veil?”
“You must marry again,” he had commanded, rising up on an elbow impatiently. “Get yourself sealed to someone as soon as I’m gone. Erastus Snow will do. He has a vacancy.”
“He has many,” she’d allowed. Erastus’s fourth wife had died in July, following wives one, two, and three.
Brigham had looked at her sharply. “Let it be known that the sealing is for time, not eternity. And if any girl child results from the union, she and her posterity belong to me. It’s non-negotiable. Erastus can keep the boys, much good will they do him.”
That had grated a bit. Surely widowhood granted, if nothing else, a reprieve from the insult of being broodmare.
“No man shall touch you but he agrees to this beforehand, Amelia!”
“Consider it done,” she had said, watching him fall back upon his pillow, confident that she would submit. “No, really, husband, it’s done. I married Erastus last week.”
Brigham had gaped at her then, bewildered. He’d never much gone in for humor, but now she worried that he might not see the seriousness of the thing. So she’d laid it out straight, starting with the plague that had swept across the globe not long after he’d plucked her from the bosom of her parents and made her his twenty-fifth wife.
The Saints, at the outset, had considered themselves immune from it. They had not by God dragged themselves across the plains, suffering every degradation, crawling (some of them) on their hands and knees, losing fingers and toes to frostbite, boiling their own boots to stave off starvation, only to be scourged like the gentile nations. No, sir. They were safe in their valley. Though the Angel of Death might visit every gentile household in the land and strike down its females, surely it would pass over the daughters of Deseret!
To this end, the midwives swabbed the lintels and doorposts of every house and hut in which lay an expectant mother with bundles of field mint dipped into lamb’s blood (and tossed the herbs under the bed for good measure). But these precautions were met with defeat, and out of the mothers’ bodies they pulled boy after boy after boy after boy. “A stem’s on the apple,” they would apologize when handing the baby to its mother, while the devastated father turned his face to hide his tears.
Then the Angel of Death stretched forth his hand in earnest, and girls and women dropped like flies. The Saints were not spared in the slightest. When the ward genealogists tabulated the results for Year One of the Great Plague, they found that a little over twelve percent of the remaining population was female. The Lion of the Lord, even Brigham Young himself, was made an involuntary monogamist when all his wives (but Amelia) died. And he’d fared better than the Quorum of the Twelve, as each and every apostle became a bachelor.
“But all will be well in Zion!” she had assured Brigham.
Then she’d testified of the angel with the flaming sword who had visited her one night, sending her into a sort of ecstasy she couldn’t begin to describe, though she tried her level best, given the limited vernacular of a callow virgin wed to a man in his sixth decade. Among other revelations, he had taught her that a woman must take many men to husband.
“Brigham, this is light and knowledge!” she had exclaimed. “The plague is not the end of celestial marriage—it’s just the beginning. I have consolidated our kingdom! I have married all of your apostles.”
“Married them to whom?” asked Brigham, his confusion absolute.
“They are married to me, dear husband. And so are your counselors. We are sealed together, all of us. This is the true order! A woman cannot exalt her family unless she takes a plurality of husbands.” She had thought again of the angel and his flaming sword, and shivered. “I must obey or perish.”
Now Folsom recounts Brigham’s dying words. “When Joseph told me to take more wives,” he had groaned, “it was the first time in my life that I desired the grave. This is the second.”
Bigler heaves herself off her stool. “He got his wish. That don’t mean he’s in favor.”
Folsom turns away from the mirror. “He’s in favor. The Lord’s hand was in the plague. He can see that now.”
“So you say. Has he appeared to you?” demands Bigler.
“No, not as such,” Folsom confesses. She is surprised by Brigham’s refusal to come to her from the spirit world and admit that she is right, that the prophetic mantel sits well upon her shoulders, that Zion prospers. She deems it very small of him, not to mention utterly predictable. She slips her hand into the pocket of her severely tailored black skirt. “I have something for you.”
Bigler, first counselor to the President, most trusted confidante, plague survivor, and pregnant with (by the looks of it) twins, waddles to Folsom. Her face is red and her hair is damp. It is the hottest spring on record, and this is the second day of General Conference. She hopes she doesn’t go into labor right there in the Tabernacle. Folsom holds up a golden brooch in the shape of a honeybee.
“What does ‘deseret’ mean?” she catechizes as she fastens it to the front of Bigler’s dress.
“Why, it’s the honeybee the Jaredites brought with them to the Promised Land. It’s right there in the Book of Ether, as any eight-year-old can tell you,” says Bigler.
“Just so,” says Folsom. “Brigham was obsessed with bees. He had a bee fixation, you might say.”
“He had his enthusiasms,” says Bigler. She notices that Folsom wears a honeybee brooch on the waist of her skirt. Bigler suspects it is not by chance that bee imagery is burgeoning in the valley, and that (plague or no plague) the territory of Deseret has become a leading producer of honey. The Saints are world-class apiarists. They know bees.
“The Beehive House is but one example,” Folsom continues.
Bigler considers it, the loveliest of Brigham’s mansions, surmounted by a square cupola, itself topped with a carved beehive as big as a rain barrel, and gilded. Gilded! The most dangerous place for a man to stand, once upon a time, had been between Brigham Young and a nickel, but damned if he hadn’t had that beehive gilded. The final session of Conference starts in four minutes, and where on earth is Folsom heading with this, she asks.
The Prophet purses her lips and looks back in the mirror. She entreats Jehovah: “Fill my mouth with thy words, O Lord.” She holds Bigler’s gaze in the glass. “Under Brigham, our homes were hives of industry. I’ll give him that—he knew how to make the people toil! What busy, busy bees were we! But I live in the Beehive House, now, with my husbands.”
Bigler nods. She, herself, has taken several spouses, although they do not live under the same roof. Most of the women in the upper echelons of church leadership have adopted spiritual husbandry, as it is called. But they do not parade their husbands in public. They do not broadcast it. It—the New and Most Everlasting Covenant—hasn’t been preached from the pulpit. Yet.
“A hive without a queen is a hive in disorder, a hive that will fail. Zion would have failed, Bathsheba, if we’d kept at it the way Brigham taught. Do you see? Every hive must have a queen. She alone holds the keys of power, and her husbands are privileged to help her in the work of creation. It’s the true order. And God’s house is nothing if not a house of order.”
“He’ll not be mocked,” agrees Bigler.
“No, he most assuredly will not,” says Folsom to the mirror. Then she turns to her counselor and takes her by the hand. “The Saints are ready for this. Their hearts have been prepared, though it took a plague to do it. I’ve seen the future, and it flows with milk and honey. Thus saith the Lord.”
“Thus saith the Lord,” says Bigler.