When Josiah entered Vista City he was surprised to see the telegraph operator wave him down. It wasnt that the former preacher was well known, but rather, he was hard to forget. After having thrown a couple of the towns largest cowhands through the saloon glass window, everyone seemed to know who he was.
Josiah dismounted and tied Star to the railing and walked toward the office where Bill Mackey had disappeared inside. Suddenly, he came rushing out of the office with a slip of paper in his hand.
Father Sanchez, Bill said with a shaky voice. This telegram came for you a while back and since I didnt know where to send it I just kept it, he handed the slip of paper over to Josiah and continued, Sheriff Nills didnt know where to find you neither, hes the one that said just to hold onto it and hope that one day
Thank you, Josiah responded, only half listening to the conversation. When he opened the telegram the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He ran a hand through his long hair and turned crystal blue eyes toward the road. Unsure of where to go or what to do, he just stood staring blankly at the path before him. Caleb Sanchez was dead. Hed died three months ago.
Josiah crumpled the piece of paper in his fist then headed toward the saloon. It wasnt that he felt guilty over the death of his father, but because he didnt feel anything. He needed a drink.
After visiting Hanna, Josiah headed back to San Francisco. He couldnt stand to be in anyones company. Though his sister looked better, shed gained some much needed weight, and actually seemed better than the last time hed seen her, that fire in her eyes was still gone. She didnt talk, even the nuns had said that Hanna refused or wasnt able to speak. She had, however, taken to drawing and Josiah had managed to find some hard to find chalk. It was the only gift he could give her that she seemed to understand.
It was hard for him seeing her like that. Her laughter was gone. Her spirit had been quenched. At twenty-six years of age she was gone in spirit, but not in body. Wasnt it supposed to be the other way around?
San Francisco bustled with activity as Josiah rode in. Looking out past the wharf the night sky and ocean seemed to become one entity. This was a beautiful city indeed. Fires burned in the center of the streets lighting travelers ways and the saloons rang wildly with excitement.
It was hard to believe that just a few miles away from town there was a complete wilderness, and here, it was a thriving town with all the latest fashions and wealth. The Gold Rush of 49 had brought many men and their families West. While some got wealthy, others found jobs.
Josiah dismounted and started up the steps into the Gold Nugget Saloon. It was the flyer tacked to the wall outside the saloon doors that captured his attention. A scantily clad woman had been drawn on the flyer holding a garter. In bold print under the image was the title of the show being performed that night. Getting Gerties Garter, Josiah sighed. Hed never seen a show before and the woman in the picture caused his heart to skip a beat. With newfound determination Josiah entered the saloon and grabbed a table near the front of the stage. Nobody dared threaten him about having the best seat in the house. He ordered a beer and waited patiently for the show to begin.
Smoke, the smell of whiskey, and cheap perfume filled the air as more customers entered with the intent of watching the performance. Everyone was excited. It wasnt common for a real New York actress to come all the way out West to perform. Men of all ages, classes, and sects came to watch.
When she stepped out onto the stage Josiah didnt know if his heart had fallen to his feet or if it simply quit beating all together. Her long auburn hair was curled and danced perfectly around her shoulders as she moved. Her eyes were so rich and green he thought hed get lost in them and never find his way out. Her robust figure only added to her appeal as she gracefully sashayed across the stage. Her voice sounded like an angels and her lips moved perfectly around each word. Josiah was in love.
As soon as it started, it ended, and moans of disappointment could be heard like stampeding cattle through a canyon in the small saloon. Though she gave an encore, it wasnt enough. Relief came when her manager stepped out onto the stage and made the announcement that Ms Emma Dubonnet would make three more appearances within the week. So, of course, he encouraged everyone to purchase their tickets and arrive on time.
With the last of his money, Josiah did just that. He purchased a ticket for the remainder of her performances then quickly headed out back of the saloon to wait for her departure. He wanted to tell her how much her act had meant to him. He wiped his sweaty palms on his pants then cursed himself for not having a cleaner set of clothing. Quickly, he pulled his hat off his head and nervously played with the brim when the door opened.
Ms. Dubonnet? Josiah somehow managed to choke out.
Why yes, she replied calmly, placing her finely manicured fingers over her chest. She tensed when her manager placed his hand on her shoulder, reminding her that he was there.
I just want to let you know how much your performance meant to me. Josiah smiled, showing off his handsome features in the light cascading from the open door.
You mean that? she asked, slightly encouraged.
Oh, yes maam
Emma, she interrupted, please, call me Emma.
Josiahs smiled widened. Would you mind lettin me escort you to ? he asked, then snapping his fingers in frustration after realizing he didnt have any money. At least let me walk you to your hotel.
Id be honored, she replied, and then gently she took his elbow and walked with him. Her manager followed at a close distance behind.
Do you like it here?
I must admit, the trip here was quite an experience, however, the scenery is quite breathtaking. Emma smiled, increasing her hold on Josiahs arm.
Josiah stopped in front of the hotel and reluctantly released his hold on Ms. Dubonnet. She was so beautiful. Id like to see you again, he said, turning questioning eyes to her.
Lunch tomorrow, she answered, with a smile.
Ill be right here at noon. He stood firmly in the spot where he knew shed meet him. There were only two people in the world at the moment himself and Emma.
Ill be here, she smiled and then reluctantly let him go. Wait, she called out. I didnt get your name.
Josiah smiled and introduced himself then with a nod, watched her walk into the hotel with her manager following closely behind. Now, all he had to do was find some money.
Never in his life did Josiah yearn for money. Hed always lived with what he needed, not what he desired, but now, he desired a woman, and this woman needed to be properly cared for. Work had been natural for the son of a traveling minister. Time and time again, moving from one town to the next, Josiah had always managed to find a job earning enough money to keep him fed, clothed, and bedded. Now, however, he wanted to think about someone else. Emma was beautiful, and used to having lovely things wrapped around her body, good food to eat, and a clean bed to sleep in.
Josiah looked at Star and made his decision. Reluctantly, he led his trusted mount to the livery. With the saddle and bridle still on his back the horse followed his master.
Forty dollars was all Josiah got, but it was enough, if he spent it wisely. Though it was hard selling his horse he couldnt help but feel it was for the best. Star was getting up in age and the liveryman had said he knew a family that would take great care of the animal. That would have to be good enough. Josiah didnt think Star could make another cross country trek if he had to, although the animal would try. With a soft pat on the neck, the big man said goodbye.
Walking through the streets of San Francisco brought back many memories for the former Priest. He couldnt bring himself to visit the house he used to live in and he couldnt bear the thought of visiting the cemetery where his father now rested. He wasnt sure if he was afraid to face the fact that his father had been well received in the hearts of his followers and yet so bitter by his own children. Nobody understood Josiahs confusion. How could they? He didnt understand it himself. Forgive and forget. How could he forget, when every time he saw his sister his heart swelled in anger for the man whod done his part in destroying her life?
Pain pierced his chest every time he thought of Hannas last words to him. I knew youd come back, he never should have left her. Maybe, if he got married, he could build a home where his sister could live. A room where she could draw and paint and a wife whod learn to treasure her as much as he did. That would be perfect.
Emma smiled when she saw her lunch companion standing in the doorway of the hotel lobby. She wore a pretty blue dress with antique lace highlighting its accents. The man standing there was dressed in a simple outfit, but it wasnt his clothing that captured her attention. It was his handsome physique, broad white smile, and crystal blue eyes.
Josiah held in his hand his hat, as he watched New Yorks version of Aphrodite descend the stairs. Her manager, or chaperone, walked a few steps behind her carrying her parasol.
I do love a man who knows the value of being on time, Emma said with a smile.
Josiahs smiled widened as he stuck his arm out for her to take.
Youll have to excuse Peters presence Emma looked back to her manager, and then continued, he feels I should be chaperoned.
Cant say that I blame him. If you were my daughter Id make sure you were chaperoned as well.
You want children? Emma asked, as they walked to the restaurant.
Id like to have three daughters, Josiah replied.
Daughters, Emma sounded shocked, thats unusual. Most of the men Ive met want boys. Strong boys to work the land and carry on the name, her voice went low as she tried to make herself sound strong.
In my travels Ive learned that women are the stronger of the sexes, and for carrying on the name? he paused and looked at her, its the person behind the name that counts.
So profound, Emma countered.
Josiah laughed and ended up talking all through lunch telling his new lady friend all about his travels. As it turned out, the couple had quite a lot in common. Emma too, had traveled extensively throughout the country singing and acting. She had even performed for the President of the United States, something she was extensively proud of.
When the two were together, Peter didnt exist. It was obvious he was only there to protect his investment and he hated every minute of it. He did have to admit that this was the first time in a very long time that Emma looked like she was enjoying herself. She looked forward to her time with Josiah and in turn her performances improved. It wasnt until Josiah Sanchez popped the question, asking Emma to marry him, which caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up. If Emma married, and she was willing to, hed go broke.
Emma felt safe with Josiah; she didnt know why, just that she did. He never spoke harshly to her and always had a kind word. It didnt matter that she painted her face, or wore revealing clothing, or even performed in saloons and dance halls. She didnt know if shed be able to be a normal wife, someone who could cook and clean, someone who could darn socks, or even attend church. But she would try. She thought shed miss the attention given to her by her admirers. Shed miss the fancy clothing and perfumes. But she could live without it. At least shed try.
When Josiah announced that he was going to study with a Cherokee Holy Man for the next two years. Emmas heart stopped. This was New Orleans all over again. Only her fiancé there left her for another woman, not a holy man. She understood why he had to go and in the back of her mind she was relieved. Truly, she didnt know if she could marry Josiah, he was perfect in every way except he didnt have money. She could wait two years. Emma took a drink out of the brown bottle on her nightstand. It helped soothe her pain, not just from Josiahs decision to leave, but her own painful past. Now, the opiate encased in that brown bottle was her friend.
Josiah placed the photograph given to him by his bride to be in his old Bible. It would be safe there. It was hard saying goodbye to her, but he needed to find his path and he didnt want to become his father that is what scared him so bad. He had realized that, when he had lunch with Emma. He found himself criticizing her dress, her makeup, and the way she looked in general. Not that he ever let he know what he was thinking. Being so critical was something his father would have done. So instead, he tried to do the exact opposite. But how long would it be before he vocalized that to her. He didnt want to do that, so instead he decided to get his life in order before he got married. He owed that to Emma he owed that to himself.
Josiah told Emma hed be back, hed find her, no matter what city she was in. He wanted to write her but shed simply replied that it would be futile. Not knowing where she was going to be at, and moving from one town to the next the letters would never find her.
With the last of his money, Josiah purchased a stage ticket East, and then at a stop in the New Mexico Territory, hed walk north until he found Iskagua and his tribe. He wanted to study and learn and rid himself of all that anger he had stashed away. He was ready to find his path.
By the time Josiah found Iskaguas tribe, hed worn out his shoes and was relying on leather strips and leaves to keep what was left of his shoes together. He carried a single bag over his shoulder, filled with only the things he needed clothing, his Bible, and bedding. Sure there were things in the bag that hed had for a very long time and couldnt part with.
When the view of several tepees appeared it was the most beautiful sight in the world. Smoke from fires burning rose toward the sky then disappeared. Josiah knew that the Indian people had probably known for quite some time that he was making his way toward the camp. Only for the reason that most of the people knew him and the fact that he hadnt been gone that long caused everyone to relax. Children played and ran up to him as he made his way into camp. Several tried to shoot him with invisible arrows, while others used him as a barricade to hide behind. Josiah just laughed. He sighed heavily when Iskagua stepped out of his tepee and stood with his arms crossed over his chest and a knowing look on his face.
Josiah was sure hed never meet a more knowledgeable individual. There was something about the chief that he respected out of instinct. Though hed only known him for a short while that admiration was well documented and for good reason.
Asvnoyi said you would return, Iskagua said, with a smile. It was a warm fatherly smile that caused Josiah to yearn for what hed missed as a boy.
I came to study and learn, Josiah responded, dropping his bag to the ground by his feet. I figure its time I find my path.
The chief laughed then directed Josiah toward the burning fire. Without having to ask, Iskaguas wife handed the big man a bowl and ordered him to take a seat in her own tongue. Josiah complied and started eating the hefty stew.
Yan-egwa was back, and for the first time in a long time he was welcomed.
The laws of the Cherokee people were, for the most part, understandable. While Josiah was able to learn about some things others he couldnt. Religious secrets were forbidden and this was something that Josiah understood. What captured his attention more was the simple fact that many of the punishments for crimes committed by the Indian people were very Biblical. Even more so than the Christian faith that hed been brought up under. Granted, many of the punishments were more extreme, but these were the laws.
Asvnoyi was blunt in everything he did. As a boy hed taken it upon himself to learn English because the spirits had told him to. He in turn taught many of the young children. Though the idea was disturbing to many of the tribe members the chief agreed that to know your neighbor one had to learn his ways.
Much to Josiahs surprise the Cherokee people talked about the Norths upcoming war with the South. They spoke of it even more than the people in San Francisco had. Many thought it amusing that these white men were fighting over land that had at one time belonged to them. There were many issues that surprised Josiah, such as slavery. It was the womens voices being heard in regards to freeing the black man, but the Cherokee didnt see it that way. They themselves had owned slaves. It was a part of their culture, their way of life, and their status. Usually their slaves were natives from other tribes. However, they did respect the fact that it was the white women who was taking a stance on a very unpopular subject.
The Cherokee were a noble people who lived their lives on their own terms. Much had changed for these people and Josiah couldnt help believe that the government had done them a great injustice. The land they lived on was poor, but it was the land in which the government had told them they could survive on. Many times blankets and clothing were dirty and so mold ridden that they were useless. The clan relied on their own hunters and warriors for food, at least until the deer and buffalo disappeared.
As a leader, Iskagua knew better than anyone how important it was for the children to learn about the past, and to walk carefully into the future. His people followed him willingly and understood what it was he wanted. If Josiah, a white man, was willing to learn with the Cherokee, perhaps there were more who would be willing to understand them and therefore be willing to live with them. Iskagua was a very intelligent man, and he realized very early that the White Culture was here to stay and as a result they would grow in number more than anyone realized.
Iskagua also wasnt blind to the relationship between Josiah and Walela, or Hummingbird. There was much more to them than just the polite greetings and passing departures. They were both young and needed the warmth of a young couple. Josiah truly cared for Walela, and she for him. Though their relationship wouldnt be accepted in the white mans world, it was accepted here. Iskagua would not deny them their feelings for each other.
Asvnoyi looked out past the wilderness and toward the man sitting across from him. Josiah had been an impressive student. He never anticipated a reaction, or shunned a belief, and he always seemed willing to learn something new. Josiah had stepped into his name, Yan-egwa, with great ease. The children of the tribe often challenged his strength by testing him. Many would hang from his strong arms while others gathered at his feet, trying to stop him from walking. It never fazed them that he could keep walking no matter how many children were attached to him. To even further test his abilities they wanted to teach him to use a bow and arrow. When Josiah pulled back on the bow, getting ready to release the arrow, he snapped the bow something that was only done by the strongest of men. The children would always laugh and carry on when Yan-egwa did something spectacular.
Josiah, in turn, loved the attention. He was witnessing a community of common faith. There were over fifty people in this clan and all of them respected each other. This was something Josiah hadnt witnessed in his own home. Granted there were skirmishes, but they were to be expected. The laws of these people were taken seriously the punishments werent worth the risk of getting caught.
Asvnoyi had taught Josiah some of the basic laws. Crimes such as arson, theft from the dead, treason, and infanticide by the father all resulted in death. What surprised Josiah the most was the fact that a mother who killed her child would not be punished. Murder was murder, no matter who did the killing, but maybe there was something that the Cherokee knew that he didnt.
Why is it that you forgive others but not your father? Asvnoyi asked, wrapping the buffalo hide around his shoulders.
Josiah didnt know how to answer.
To heal your heart you must first forgive.
I dont know that I can, Josiah admitted.
Asvnoyi, or Night Hawk, nodded his head in understanding. He wouldnt push, he knew not to. Where will you go from here?
I dont know.
This troubles you?
Josiah nodded his head. Ive been traveling all my life, I figure Ill keep doing just that.
For how long?
The big man chuckled. As long as it takes my friend, as long as it takes.
It is good to learn all you can, from all you can. But it is also good to know peace, and your so called traveling isnt peaceful. Asvnoyi looked from Josiah to the flame of the fire. You are running from your past.
Is that what my father was doing, moving us from one place to another?
Your father was like a gopher, tearing up the ground where he moved.
Josiah laughed he could see the similarities.
And like a gopher, when it rained it caused his home to flood.
And mine? the big man asked reluctantly.
First, you must find a home and only then will you decide its fate.
Josiah nodded. He not only needed to find a home, he needed to find one that would welcome him. His father would say that his studies with the Cherokee was sinful and polluting his mind with their pagan ways. But these people knew more about life than anyone hed ever met and for the first time he was learning on his own terms, and not that of his fathers. He would have liked to learn more about the Chinese and while he was in India he would have liked to learn about the Hindu ways, or even the Muslim. There was so much diversity in the world, who was he to say that he was closer to God than any of them. Josiah realized that his path was the way of learning, and hed continue down his path as he continued to learn.
Josiah studied with the Cherokee for two and a half years. Hed been given a medicine pouch that he wore on his belt. Yan-egwa, looked like a true native of the lands hed traveled. With a Mexican poncho, a thick belt given to him by Awi-agina, or Fawn, a woman whom hed come to admire, and buckskin pants he was a strange combination of everything hed learned and everything hed been born into.
Walela was the hardest to say goodbye to. She had spoken to him when he was down or doubting himself. She always had a good word for him and she always knew the best ways to challenge him. She made him smile and laugh when nobody else could. When the time was right, she even warmed his bed. There were no qualms about it, and the whole camp respected it. Walela was Yan-egwas woman. She cooked, cleaned, and even repaired his clothing, and she never asked for anything in return. Josiah had asked her to go with him, but she couldnt or she wouldnt. It didnt matter either way. He understood her worries about the white mans world, and he wouldnt force her. She would forever hold a piece of his heart.
The Cherokee were on the move once again. This time they were heading north and it was hard for Josiah to say goodbye. Learning from these people had given him a new perspective on his own life. He pulled stories that his grandmother had told him from when he was a boy, and he brought everything he could into his own belief system. For the first time in years he was feeling peaceful. Now, he was heading back to Vista City to visit his sister. He wanted to find a small piece of land and build a home where she could live with him. Josiah was good with his hands, he could farm, do carpentry, and he could even teach, anything that could bring in enough money so he could care for his sister.
Josiah was worried that Hanna wouldnt remember him. Though she looked better the last time he saw her, she still wasnt well. He would love to learn that shed spoken, or possibly communicated in some other way with the nuns who were seeing to her. He really missed her.
Walela, stood on the hill overlooking the land where shed fallen in love with a man. She watched him leave, and waved a sad goodbye. She wanted to go with him, but she couldnt. His world wouldnt accept her like her world had accepted him. She understood that, but the pain in her heart was still very real. Gently, she rubbed her belly. A child was coming and the father wouldnt know. A boy, Walela told herself. Yes, a boy with his fathers heart, and his fathers strength. This brought a smile to her face. She was ready to face her life, and her future alone.
The War Between the States was coming and thats all anyone wanted to talk about. The idea of the South seceding caused everyone to worry. Not just about the war, but their financial stability, and the welfare of those with family in the South.
Josiah entered the saloon after riding into Vista City, with the intention of getting a cup of coffee. It was late and the restaurants were closed. Men of all walks of life sat in their chairs listening to a little man wearing spectacles. He was sitting on the bar next to a lantern getting ready to read from a newspaper.
Sit down friend, one of the customers called to Josiah. Ol Smithy just got back from South Carolina and brung with im a paper.
Hell, Dietz, the papers morean three weeks ol, cant say for sure whats gonna happen. Dietzs friend responded.
That wars a comin an we best see to our families, another voice called from within the room.
EVERYONE HUSH! the bartender yelled, getting everyones attention.
Smithy cleared his throat and pushed his spectacles up closer to his eyes. This is from the Charleston Mercury paper. My brother lives there and he gave me this for all of us to see and realize
Shut up Smithy and read the damn paper, a voice called from the stairs.
Smithy sighed and then continued, Passed Unanimously at 1.15 oclock, P.M., December 20th, 1860, he paused before continuing, To dissolve the Union between the State of South Carolina and other states united with her under the compact entitled The Constitution of the United States of America. We the People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention, on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also, all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, rarifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between Sough Carolina and other States, under the name of The United States of America, is hereby dissolved. Smithy sighed and then said barely above a whisper, THE UNION IS DISSOLVED, he read the large bold print off the bottom of the page, the words looked to be the only ones there. He then dropped his hands in his lap with his fingers gripping the paper tightly.
The whole saloon was eerily silent. No glass was raised, no cheroot put out, and no breath was released. War was inevitable and everyone knew it.
I buried my Ma n Virginia, a young man with fiery red hair said sadly. Like to think Id at least be buried in the same country with er. A hand touched his shoulder in sympathy and understanding.
If its a war thats comin hell Ill fight for my country. Dietz sat up straighter in his chair.
You gonna die for it too? his friend asked solemnly.
Ifn I have too.
Lincoln ill set things right, the bartender said with conviction.
Shit, Teddy, he aint even elected yet, a younger man with hard eyes and a long scar that ran down the side of his face snapped at the bartender.
He will be, came the terse reply.
Josiah shook his head in disbelief. Another war. He didnt know if hed be able to fight in this one. Oh, sure, he was still young and he had experience, something that was going to be needed, but this war would be different. They wouldnt be in another country, chasing the enemy through the hills, desert floors, and wastelands of Texas and Mexico. This war was going to be fought on their own lands, by their own people, and by their own kin. Brother against brother. This war would be different, and it would leave a deep wound no matter who won.
A beer was placed in front of the former priest and everyone raised their glasses to the continuation of the Union. Things would be put right, no matter what.
Josiah cracked an eyelid and groaned. Nothing made sense at the moment and he closed his eyes trying to get himself collected. He knew he was sleeping on straw, and he knew that his head had somehow managed to cage an Indian elephant. Unfortunately, that elephant wanted out. He shoed away whatever it was that kept breathing on him and tickling his cheek. He didnt want to open his eyes.
The New Mexico Territory Vista City Hanna. Josiah opened his eyes when things stared to come together. He looked up into the brown muzzle of his horse, Tope, and sighed. He didnt remember how he got here. He didnt remember much of anything. A war was coming. Grief filled his senses as he sat up and leaned back against the railing of the stall.
The big paint nipped at his masters poncho, waiting for a treat of some kind. The big horse had been a gift to Josiah from Asvnoyi. Though the animal was young he seemed to know how to handle his master when things got a little strange.
It had been two and a half years since Josiah had consumed any alcohol, and obviously hed indulged a bit last night. His head was killing him and his mouth felt as though it had been stuffed with cotton. His eyes watered as he tried to adjust them to the light that was coming in through the barn doors. He silently hoped he hadnt killed anyone. He looked down at his hands and his clothing, checking for blood, relieved that he didnt find anything. Using his horse and the stall railings for support he slowly stood up. His head continued to pound and his stomach turned.
Josiah rubbed his face with a callused hand as he concentrated on not losing his stomachs contents. He needed to get ready to see Hanna. He didnt dare go see her looking like this. His hair was too long, shed never seen him with a beard, and his attire was unacceptable. He reached into his pocket to pull out the little bit of money he had and was surprised to retrieve a wad of cash. What had he done? Whos money was this? He scratched his head and then realized he needed to find his hat.
Tope nudged his masters shoulder wanting his breakfast. Josiah sighed when he noticed his hat under his horses right front hoof. So much for his hat. Not willing to take the chance of retrieving the article, he left it. The big man looked up when he noticed a young boy enter the livery. All the horses nickered softly when they noticed little Jared head toward the feedbags.
The boy, Jared, couldnt have been a day over twelve. His unruly blonde hair stood up in spots, causing Josiah to chuckle. When the big man had met the boy the night before his looked exactly the same.
Jared jumped when he heard the laughter from behind him, but calmed when he realized who it was.
Sorry Im late, Mr. Sanchez, but I had to milk the cow this mornin. Pa got in kinda late
Its all right son, Josiah replied, stepping out of his horses stall.
I heard bout what ya done last night. Jared smiled. Sure wish I coulda seen it.
Josiah groaned. What had he done?
Pa said he aint never seen nobody move a wagon full of grain without horses before. He said ya didnt hardly break a sweat.
Josiah relaxed, a little. That must have been where he got the money, winning it from his escapade.
I heard stories at school, bout a man who could wrestle a bull and drink a beer, at the same time. The boy grinned, and then continued, You always been strong like that?
No, not always, Josiah responded sadly.
Bet you werent scrawny like me?
Youd lose that bet, Josiah said with a grin.
Jared smiled happily; there was hope for him. Well, Id best feed the horses fore Mister Hanson tans my hide for bein late. He nodded to Josiah and then quickly went about his business.
Josiah watched him for a few minutes then tentatively headed toward the baths. He needed a haircut, a shave, and some clean clothing.
Sister Margaret smiled when she opened the door to the convent. She looked exactly the same as when Josiah had last seen her. It didnt look as though anything had changed.
Brother Sanchez, Sister Margaret said, motioning for him to enter. It is good to see you again.
Hows Hanna? Josiah asked, before anything else could be said.
Your sister is doing much better. The sister smiled and continued, She speaks only to Sister Katherine, nobody else, and weve discovered that she enjoys gardening, as well as drawing.
Josiah smiled, slightly encouraged by what the petite woman was saying.
Hanna Sister Margaret paused, unsure of how to say what she did, Has suffered greatly, Josiah, and shell never be the same as she once was.
Can you tell
If Hanna wants you to know, shell tell you. She touched Josiahs arm and started to direct him to where his sister was.
Josiah was received with a warm embrace and a smile that hed never thought hed see again. Though she didnt say anything to him, she walked him around the garden like a small child would show their parents how proud they were of a deed well done. It hurt him to see her like this because she was such a warm loving individual. She looked like Ruth and the older she got the more she really did look like her mother.
To see his sister like this made his heart weep. All her pain, her scars, and her losses could have been prevented if he had been there for her. But now, she was limited to living here, with only two friends, and a brother who could only see her on occasion. The Hanna he once knew was gone he had to realize that. This was the best place for her.
The former priest thought it would be hardest leaving her again, but it wasnt. Arriving there had been the toughest part of his day. Now, however, he just wanted a drink. Hanna didnt seem to be upset when he said his goodbyes; instead she went on about her business. Painting on small blocks of wood. Sister Katherine seemed to be the one person in Hannas life that she was the most comfortable with, and with that in mind, Josiah left them together.
It wasnt long before Josiah had fallen off his chosen path again. It hadnt been anything particular that had caused it it had just happened. He compared it to a buffalo getting swept off the tracks by a train. He kept his medicine pouch close to his heart, but he had a tendency to lose himself in the drink. Mostly he drank to forget, but sometimes he drank to remember.
It wasnt so much the bad times in his life he wanted to hold onto, but rather the good times that were fading. He remembered sitting around his grandmothers feet listening intently to her haunting tales of bandits and the Crusades. It was she, which introduced the idea of crows being the sign of the dead. And it was something that continued to influence his life. As he got older he looked to his mothers mother for inspiration and guidance. Like Ruth, Nana Dee had thought it important to feed the imagination.
Hanna had been too young to remember Nana Dee, and in Josiahs own mind her images were vanishing. It was her stories that lived on. He only thought about them when he saw something that would remind him of her.
Things were changing, and they were changing fast. A war was coming, and everyone was trying to prepare for it in the only way they knew how. Young boys were looking forward to serving their country, fighting for what was right, and making a name for themselves. Josiah not only turned his back on the priesthood, but himself as well. Now, he was fighting in saloons, making a name for himself as someone not to be messed with, and becoming exactly what he hated.
It wasnt until March of 1863, that Josiah joined the Union Army. Compelled to do so as one last attempt to straighten out his life. Hed spent the last eight months behind bars for killing a man while in a drunken rage. Josiah had been fortunate; the murder charge had been dropped and hed only been charged with destruction of private property and had served his term until the proprietor had been paid in full.
Josiah sighed, hed taken another life and had spent all of his time in jail thinking about it. He didnt think himself a violent man, but when he got drunk every bone in his body desired to hurt someone, as he had been hurt. The problem lies with the fact that nobody was going to know how he felt nobody.
His horse Tope had been sold after his incarceration as part of his payment for debts owed. The horse he rode now was a big bay gelding who was born about the time of Moses. Mose, was a faithful animal, just not overly energetic. Josiah didnt complain. At least he had a horse to ride; it was much better than walking.
General William Sherman, or Cump, as his men knew him, was a driven man who knew what he wanted and went for it. Though Josiah admired his desire for the modern war, some of his tactics were less than humane. The Confederates hated him, but Sherman was one of the most sympathetic Generals to the Southern cause. After spending much of his earlier years in South Carolina, he knew more about the South then he did about the North.
Only nine years younger than the great general, Josiah would watch him in awe. Sherman knew what his lifes destiny was and he didnt fight it. He led his men with the same determination that drove him. His men admired that and followed him, they walked into battle accepting whatever fate had in store for them.
Josiah didnt know how, but during that time he found himself consoling many of the men. Not just the boys who were away from home for the first time, but the dying, and scared as well. He fought side by side with these men, became friends with them, and shed his blood with them as well. It was strange looking at the enemy; they looked just like he did. They spoke the same language and shed the same tears.
Josiah dusted off his pants with the palms of his hands and looked up. His young friend, Billy Howard, stood next to the large oak tree that seemed to be isolated from the others. Young Billy, was seventeen years old, but somehow seemed older than his age. Life hadnt been easy on the young man whod been raised in an orphanage after the tragic death of his parents. He looked at life through skeptical eyes but he had a heart big enough for the world.
When the war ends, Im gonna go west and get me some land in the Oregon Territory. Ive been savin long enough, so I figure Ill be able to get a nice parcel with that money, Billy said, hope laced every word he spoke.
Theres nothin more beautiful than watchin the sun come up over the oceans crest. Josiah smiled, remembering his time in San Francisco. He loved watching the suns early appearance. You make it to the Oregon Territory and you find yourself a bit of land near the oceans shore. Get yourself a good woman and youll be the luckiest man on Gods green earth.
Billy smiled, his grin reaching from one ear to the next. Youre welcome to come along dont have many friends and itd be nice havin one around.
Thats most kind Billy, but I have things I have to fix.
Your sister? Billy asked, knowing it was Hanna that worried the big man.
Josiah reluctantly nodded. Yes, Hanna, he said to himself. Hed only told Billy a little about her, but the boy was smart enough to know that she was the source of his discomfort and at many times his guilt. Josiah couldnt fix her, but he could support her and to do that he needed to be closer. He knew inside that he was getting closer to being able to take on that responsibility, hed been afraid of it for so long.
You know, you could bring her along. I aint sayin that it wouldnt be hard at first. Hell, I figure the first few years are gonna be down right tough but itll work out in the long run. Billy suggested in earnest. He knew how hard it could be for folks, hard enough for those that had money and were healthy, much less someone who didnt. After I joined up, I got real sick with typhus, thats what the docs called it anyways. Thought for sure Is gonna die. My friend Gabe didnt last longeran just a few hours he started his story as though he were reading it from a book, but Josiah knew the young man before him had lived his own hell, when I got well, I decided I werent goin to let nobody tell me how to live my life or what to do with it. Lifes hard enough with all that shit people put on ya.
Thats real kind of you to offer, Josiah thanked him.
Billy nodded. He knew Josiah was a proud man, so was he, and he wouldnt push the subject. Whater you plannin fer after the war?
Dont know, Josiah responded sadly.
Cant last much longer can it?
Hell, Billy, it wasnt supposed to last this long. Josiah tossed a log into the fire and watched it burn. He hadnt been fighting as long as many of the men, but this hadnt been his first war either.
Whyd you enlist?
I needed a change in my life Josiah couldnt think of anything else to say.
I needed the money, Billy grinned sheepishly. Dont rightly care who wins, slong as I get paid.
Josiah looked as his young friend slightly surprised by his statement. Why is that?
Billy looked long and hard at the former preacher before he answered, Can you say whos right in this damn war?
The Union has stated from the beginning
Oh thats bullshit, Josiah, and you know it. Billy threw a stone into the burning fire. This whole damn thing was started because those folks in Washington got scared of losing that money that the South brought in you ask me I think this whole things about money.
A lot of people would disagree with you, Josiah butted in.
Let em. People is gonna believe what they want to.
Youre too damn skeptical for someone so young, Josiah replied, good-naturedly.
Cant afford not to be. Billy chuckled. Besides, he grinned, then continued, it makes playin poker that much easier.
Josiah gave a laugh from deep within his belly. So that would explain my recent losses.
Billy joined him in laughter. Gettin land by the oceans gonna cost me more.
Josiah shook his head and threw a handful of twigs at the youngster sitting across from him. He was thankful for the brief reprieve. Billy could find the humor at his own funeral. When the laughter died down the sound of crickets chirping and the fire burning filled the still air. Things were so quiet for now.
General Sherman was not known for keeping his men in line. Many times his men were known as bummers by other ranks. The lack in his troops only made the stories about him and his men grow wilder by the day. After the burning of Columbia, South Carolina, things got progressively worse. Josiah knew, just by watching and listening, that this was an unruly band of men. There were certain rules that were to be followed during wartime and everyone here seemed to ignore them. Men turned into thieves, vandals, and, at times, arsonists. Very rarely were more serious crimes reported in Shermans company, but all in all, they were there.
Crows were everywhere, eating on the flesh of the dead. Those that had been fortunate enough to die instantly didnt see the horrors being done to them. Nature could be cruel at times, and in war there was no exception. Sweltering heat, time, and the sun could do things to a body that werent meant to be seen by the human eye. And the smell was painfully indescribable. Despite all that, it was the crows that caused Josiah to cringe. There they were, mocking the very lives that had fought so hard for their country. Those black birds fought one another for whatever piece of flesh they could gather, despite the fact that there was enough for all of them, 300 times over.
With the smoke still lingering in the air from the Carolina campaign, the men moved forward. There were still things to do. There were more battles to be fought. Pretty soon the year would come to an end and they all hoped with the New Year would come victory. Everyone wanted to go home everyone.
War did things to men all men. Josiah, having been experienced in battle before joining the union army, watched in wonder. Was this supposed to put him on the right path in life, or keep him from it for eternity? He was tired of death, tired of fighting, and tired of killing. Hed killed enough, not just in war, but also in life.
In the year and a half Josiah had spent with Billy, the boy had grown into himself. He still had unruly blonde hair, but his eyes were 100 years older. It was the same with all of the men. Josiah shook his head and looked out toward the sleep tents and the small fires burning in the distance. Christmas had been hard on everyone and now the men were facing the turning of the year. They all wanted to believe that 1865 would be different, but that belief was soon quenched with experience. The South did not want to back down, and everyone knew it.
Billy licked his fingers clean and leaned back against the log next to the fire. A Midwestern boy by birth, he didnt find the cold Georgia nights difficult to bear. Josiah, however, was wrapped in a blanket while sitting close to the fire. He was thankful for the fact that Sister Katherine was taking care of his sister, making sure she was warm and had a belly full of food. Though Hanna didnt write, it was the sister who did, and for that Josiah was thankful.
Some of the men have got a poll goin, Billy said with a smile. Theyre takin bets on when this skirmish is goin to end.
How much did you put down? Josiah asked, knowing the kid had made a bet.
Five, Billy responded, then continued, I think itll end sometime round June got a good feelin.
Can your good feelin give me a day to look forward to? Josiah chuckled.
Billy closed his eyes for a brief moment and then reopened them. Looking strait at the big man he answered, The thirteenth.
Is this a feeling?
Na, its my birthday, leastways I think it is.
Josiah chuckled. Billy did have a way about him. Reluctantly, Josiah picked up his Bible and looked at the worn leather cover. Hed kept it next to his heart in a pocket inside his jacket. He pulled out Emmas photo and carefully ran his thumb over his face. Would she even remember him? He hoped so, because he couldnt forget her.
You should write er, let er know where youre at, Billy suggested.
Quickly, Josiah stuck the photograph back into his Bible. Ive tried. He shook his head. I think its for the best, if we were meant to be together we will be.
You and your faith, Billy said in disbelief.
Yes me and my faith.
When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox it only took a few hours for couriers to notify Grants generals. General Sherman was one of them. Josiah knew in his heart that the war was over before the telegram arrived. There was something in the air that couldnt be explained. Finally, after two years of service the marching would stop. No more trekking through mud, water, heavily wooded areas, or swamps. If Josiah was going to remember anything about the war it was going to be the marches.
When the announcement was made the men cheered, cried, and fell to their hands and knees in prayer. It was time to go home. It was time to leave this dreaded place. Billy looked out over the crowd and then back to Josiah who had his eyes closed and his face toward the spring sun.
You thinking about that land of yours? Josiah asked knowing Billy was looking at him.
No, Is thinkin about that five dollars I lost.
Billy, one of these days someone is going to take you seriously. The big man chuckled then went quiet. You scared?
The younger man looked questionable at the former priest. Hell yes he was scared. He was just a boy when he enlisted, and now, he was a man. A war hardened man. Aint got no reason to be scared, lifes lookin me in the eye and Im staring it right back.
Josiah looked at Billy. You ever get into trouble, you call on me. The seriousness in the air thickened. You understand?
Billy looked at his friend wondering if he knew something he didnt. I understand.
Josiah slapped the younger man on the shoulder then went on ahead. His boots hit the muddied ground splattering the southern soil on his pants and shoes. For the first time in years a new hope filled the camp and the men were ready to move on with their lives. Josiah, at 38, was ready to go home. He was ready to see Hanna and take care of her like he should have been doing. He was ready to pay his penance.
Riding another new horse, Josiah said his goodbyes to the friends hed made in Shermans regiments. Billy had left a few days before, wanting to head west to the Oregon Territory. He was going to buy that land by the ocean and watch the sun come up over the horizon. He owed it to himself, and to all the men that had died around him.
While many men decided to stay in the army and serve their country, Josiah, and many like him, headed home. Summer had arrived with a vengeance and the trek west wouldnt be easy. Josiah pulled his hat down further onto his head and kicked his horse into a trot and left the land that hed called home for so long. Nothing but tattered remains filled the farms, ranches, and once abundant plantations. Former slaves carried their few belongings on their backs heading into uncertainty, while former confederate soldiers headed home too nothing.
The West was calling Josiah by name, as a gentle breeze gently caressed his ears. Vista City would get closer with each passing day and Josiah yearned to see his sister again. Shed be 35 now he shook his head. Where had the time gone? What was he going to do with the time he had left?
Lance kept a steady pace as he traversed the rough terrain. He listened to his masters commands like the well-trained horse he was. The team was heading northwest, partially to avoid the more aggressive Indian tribes and to avoid the devastated remains of the war torn South. Josiah slowed his horse down and dismounted to look more closely at the well-traveled path they were following. The trail wasnt wide enough to accompany a wagon, but pack mules and horses had left a path clear of vegetation. Josiah led his mount past the rocky outcropping and down the steep slope before remounting. It was before he managed to get himself seated that Lance snorted and reared up onto his hind legs. The swipe of a bears paw came across Josiahs chest and he was knocked from the saddle onto his back.
The bear roared and swiped again at the horse but missed and he fell forward onto his massive front legs. The animals neck and shoulders moved as one unit as he landed. Power permeated the air about him and every living thing around him knew it. Lance rushed away sticking his nose and tail in the air, only wanting to escape another attack. The birds had hushed their singing and everything went silent.
Josiah sucked in a deep breath of much needed air and reached for the large knife he had tucked away in his boot. His chest burned relentlessly, but thankfully hed been wearing his heavy jacket and the bears strike hadnt been fatal. Blood seeped between the torn flesh, but Josiah ignored his pain and quickly started to back away from the enormous beast. To most men Josiah was an intimidating size, but to a bear
The beast roared again showing off its white teeth. When the animal swiped out again Josiah lunged forward with his knife, this time he was ready. The strong arm of the bear struck its prey in the shoulder at the same time the knife was embedded into the beasts right eye.
Moments seemed like hours as Josiah kicked his feet out toward the now frantic bear. The animal swiped at the knife before falling onto its side only to get up again and rush off into the woods. It stumbled several more times before disappearing.
Josiah grasped at the wounds on his shoulder and chest. They burned fiercely and the blood he was losing was making it almost impossible to keep his senses. He looked in shock at his hands; hed made it through two wars only to be killed by a bear. His hands shook uncontrollably as he slowly stood up and started walking up the trail. He knew he wouldnt make it to the town hed just come from so his only hope was making it to the next one.
Even before he made it a half-mile down the small path Josiah collapsed from blood loss and exhaustion. He lay there, fearing not for himself but for Hanna. He wanted to apologize, he needed to make things right with her, but he couldnt, not if he was dead.
The smell of burning candles and kerosene filled Josiahs senses. He felt a wet cloth wipe his face and neck and little by little he opened his eyes. The room was dark except for the dull light of the burning candles and kerosene lamp. A form hidden in the shadows sat next to the simple bed he was laying in.
Josiah opened his mouth to talk but nothing came out. A strong hand gently lifted his head and a cold moist glass met his dry lips. The water felt good against his scratchy throat and parched tongue. Where am I? He managed to ask, though his voice was harsh and almost inaudible.
The Monastery of St. Christopher, came the soft-spoken reply.
Josiah squinted his eyes for a moment. I didnt think there were any this far north? He rested his head against the pillow.
That is where Gods work is most needed. The Brother smiled and continued, In the most unexpected places.
Josiah smiled; he understood how true that very statement was.
Im Brother Simean. It was Brothers Jacob and Aaron that found you. Simeon moved slightly and placed the cloth hed wiped the younger mans face with back into the washbowl. They also discovered your bear.
I killed him?
Theyre arent many men who have fought a bear and lived long to tell about it. Simeon gently grasped his guests arm. I do believe God has a special place for you
Brother Aaron, who has been blessed with a healing hand, managed to stitch up your wounds they will scar but thankfully they didnt get full of corruption.
How long have I been here?
Two days, and youre welcome to stay as long as you need. Brother Simeon stood up and gently patted Josiahs good shoulder. You should rest. Ill wake you for breakfast come morning.
Josiah nodded and watched as Brother Simeon left the small room, his long dark robe gently flowing behind him. How could he repay these people for giving him his life back? Now, he would see Hanna, now he could set things right. It wasnt long before Josiah closed his eyes and dosed off to sleep.
Josiah woke to find his right arm strapped to his torso. His skin felt tight but thankfully the pain wasnt too bad. Sunlight crept in through the simple window coverings and his eyes quickly adjusted to his surroundings. He could hear birds singing outside the open window and the sound of several shovels striking the rocky ground.
When the door squeaked open Josiahs attention turned from the window to the monk who entered the room with a smile. Brother Simeon greeted his guest with a plate of home cooked bread and eggs and a tall glass of milk.
You look better today, he said, moving the now empty kerosene lamp to place the plate on the small table. Brother Aaron changed your bandages early this morning and was pleased to see that your wounds were clear.
I really want to thank you for savin my life.
Brother Simeon smiled and then, without being asked, helped Josiah sit up. There is no thanks necessary. It was by Gods will that we found you.
Still I want to thank you, Josiah replied with a smile.
Eat, and then Ill show you around the grounds if you feel up to it. Brother Simeon gently patted Josiah on the shoulder and then quietly left the room.
Josiah watched him go. For the first time in a long time he felt at peace and he was thankful for it.
The Monastery was small but built similar to that of the classical Spanish style communes. The outside was sod, wood, and rock. The inside was much more intricate. Porcelain tiles, that had been carefully painted, covered the walls on each side of the entryway. Most of the rooms were simple in decoration and construction because they were used more for practicality than anything. However, the church was exquisite. The benches had been carefully carved displaying the first story of the Bible to the last story. The pulpit was covered in red and white satins while a monk wearing the traditional brown robe carefully painted his own rendition of Caravaggios, Supper at Emmaus. The painting, though dark and mysterious, seemed to pull Josiah in. He not only wanted to know what each image in the painting was thinking, he wanted to know about the artist.
Brother Andrew has been with us for sixteen years, Brother Simeon answered Josiahs question before he could ask it. He took his vow of silence and now spends his time in meditation and painting.
The work is breathtaking, Josiah whispered.
Youll find that most of the men here are devoted followers of God and use, to the fullest, the gifts that have been given to them.
What about you? Josiah asked out of curiosity, as Brother Simeon continued to show him the grounds.
Simeon chuckled. Ive been blessed with the gift of speech or so my brothers tell me. They walked into the kitchen where two monks were cooking the evening meal. Youll find that about half of us have taken the vow of silence, others have chosen more menial type of work such as cooking, he smiled to the Brother closest to him who handed both he and Josiah a small bit of fresh baked bread, others work in the garden, some work with the farm animals, and there are those of us who venture out and aid the Indians with their needs.
You ever have trouble with them?
Surprisingly, no. The kind hearted Brother watched as Josiah munched on his bread. I fear that most of the stories of massacres and violence against the Whites is of their own creation. The Indians want to be left in peace much like us here.
May I ask you something? Josiah paused and looked hard at the man next to him.
How do you know youre right in what youre doin?
Thats a complicated question, Simeon smiled and nodded his head. I dont believe any of us are truly right, he responded sadly, however, its the light we have and live up to that creates our relationship with God, not the church we attend.
Josiah smiled. His father could have learned a lesson from this man. When did you become a monk?
I grew up a Catholic in Connecticut, but I lost my way when I became a young man. He chuckled remembering back. It was when I turned 35 that I decided to change my life. Id heard about this place and decided to come West. Ive been here for fifteen years.
I admire you for that, Josiah stated.
Brother Simeon smiled and touched Josiahs arm. Dont admire me, brother, admire what God has done for me.
Josiah stood and watched as his new friend walked out into the gardens. They were beautiful. Flowers of every kind lined the walkways and the grass was so green it didnt look real. Carefully chosen rocks had been placed on the path between buildings and the front gate giving the residents a feeling of heaven on earth. Though the walls were thick and high they didnt give the appearance of being, harsh or dangerous. Instead, they were built as a form of art, and anyone who cared to look would notice it. Ivy and bird nests created a home for the people within the walls. Trees and carefully trimmed bushes provided not only shade but fruit as well. They were completely self-proficient. The gardens, Josiah was sure of it, was Eden on loan from God. Not one weed penetrated the freshly turned ground. A painter couldnt have painted a more exquisite image.
I was a priest once, Josiah admitted, looking in awe at the gardens.
But not anymore?
No. Josiah shook his head. I seem to have trouble
Turning the other cheek. Brother Simeon laughed, not to belittle the man before him, but in understanding.
Yeah, you could say that, Josiah replied with a smile of his own.
Dont be ashamed of who you are Brother. Embrace what makes you different, theres a reason God made you the way He did. Brother Simeon walked toward the barn with Josiah following closely behind. Even I have found it necessary in my life to get a little Old Testament at times myself.
Josiah laughed, filling the air with the sound that had been silent for so long. Yes, he did get Old Testament at times. When they entered the barn, Josiah paused. His horse Lance stood in the last stall munching on some hay, content to be there.
He wandered in with a few of our own Indian ponies, Brother Simeon said.
Josiah smiled and patted the Brothers shoulder before moving forward to see his horse. Brother Simeon watched in amusement.
Thanks to Brother Aarons healing prowess Josiahs wounds healed quickly. There would be scars as a lifelong reminder of the incident, but he wouldnt replace that with the time hed had with these people. He truly felt blessed. While he stayed in their care he worked constantly on repairing the old greenhouse. A storm had ripped part of its roof off and the shutters needed repaired. Hed never been a stranger to hard work, his father made sure of that. However, this was different. Now he was beginning to see the benefits. It helped clear his mind, answer questions hed never known to ask, and it helped him build strength and character.
This was the kind of life Josiah wanted and it was the kind of life he wanted for his sister; free, simple, and rewarding. The Brothers at the monastery had been warm and inviting. Theyd managed to show Josiah how kind God truly was. He also learned that Church wasnt a building, it was the people who gathered in common faith.
Brother Simeon watched as Josiah finished saddling his horse. He was leaving to fulfill his destiny in life. Simeon was sorry to see him go, but he understood why his friend was leaving. He needed to move on with his life and he needed to help his sister.
Josiah turned and shook Simeons hand. I want to thank you for all youve done.
Simeon pulled out of his robe an old roughly carved wooden cross. I made this from an old piece of drift wood Id picked up while I was at the coast before I made my way here. He handed the cross to Josiah who took it gently. Its not fancy, but I discovered my path while carving it perhaps it will help you find yours.
Josiah smiled trying to hide the tears that wanted to fall. Thank you, he whispered.
Brother Simeon smiled and reached out and squeezed his friends forearm. Greatness awaits you my friend. He took a step back and watched as Josiah mounted up on his horse. Gods hand on you Josiah.
Josiah tipped his hat and kicked his horse in the sides and slowly they made their way out of the monastery. Home was just around the corner and he intended to get there. He had to.
Josiah was a household name in Vista City and it surprised the big man that people hed never met knew who he was, just by his appearance. The town hadnt grown much, and the buildings looked the same. Weeds grew out of control next to the water troughs, just out of reach of the horses that were tied there. Dust devils blew sporadically down the main street while a few children played in the side alleys. Even the saloon seemed desolate with only a few patrons engaging in a game of poker and drink.
Lance stopped when he felt the slight pull of the reins. The horse stuck his nose in the dirty water and shook his head, clearing away the pollen, dust, and bugs that had gathered as a film on the surface. Josiah wrapped his horses reins on the hitching rail and headed inside the hotel. He intended on getting a bath, a meal, and a change of clothing before going out to see his sister.
Sitting at the restaurant table Josiah didnt need to look up to know everyone there was looking at him with curious eyes. The stories had rung wild, taking on lives of their own. Yes, Josiah had killed men and hed killed out of anger and without provocation. But hed never killed with malice in his heart. Hed only defended himself. Sometimes someone died. His strength was a legend of its own. According to the stories, Josiah could bend the end of a rifle, split a log in only one swipe, and crush a mans skull with his hand.
As he finished his meal he tried not to let the stares bother him, but they did. It wouldnt matter to these people the truth of his life the lies were too fascinating. Determined not to let this bother him, Josiah took a hot bath and washed the layers of dirt off his body. He trimmed his beard, only leaving a now graying mustache and a soul patch below his bottom lip. He cut his unruly hair, wanting to remove any likeness to his father that he had, now it was short and always covered with his wide brimmed hat.
Josiah tightened the tie around his neck and looked at himself in the mirror. The only thing he had that reminded him of his father was his eyes, and he couldnt change those. With broad shoulders covered in an off white shirt, his hips and legs hidden under black slacks. Though he wasnt dressed fancy he was ready to face his sister.
With one last look in the mirror, Josiah headed outside. People in the lobby moved out of his way before he had a chance to ask them. Shaking his head, he mounted up on Lance and headed for the convent.
It was Sister Katherine who met Josiah at the front gate. She smiled warmly and quickly hurried Hannas brother inside. A storm was brewing and she didnt want to get wet.
Brother Sanchez, it is so good to see you.
I hope Ive not come at a bad time, Josiah responded, not wanting to put the sisters out anymore than he had.
Nonsense, she scolded. I fear I must tell you that Sister Margaret passed away a few months ago. She wanted so much to see you come home safe after the war but her heart gave out a day before the news came of General Lees surrender.
Im so sorry I didnt
Youre here now, Brother, youre here now. The nun gently touched his arm and guided him toward his sisters room. Hanna will be pleased to see you. She keeps your letters locked away in her room, Katherine said with a smile.
Josiah stopped outside Hannas room door and looked seriously at her caregiver. Can I take her home?
Sister Katherine paused and motioned for Josiah to follow her. The office they entered was full of books, many older than Josiah felt, and images of the Holy Trilogy. There wasnt a speck of dust in the whole room and everything looked in perfect order. The nun sat behind the desk and laced her fingers together.
Hanna has come a long way since you brought her here, Josiah, and I dont think by removing her you would be doing her any favors.
I cant ask you to care for her youve done so much all ready. Josiah nervously rubbed his hands together.
Katherine smiled. Hanna is a gifted individual who has special needs, but most importantly shes welcomed here and you or Hanna will never be looked on as a burden.
Josiah ducked his head and nodded. Shes not better is she?
The sister shook her head. No, shes not.
The former priest nodded his head in understanding.
Hanna was pregnant
What? Josiah interrupted.
She told me she had done some things when she was younger and she felt as though the loss of her child was her punishment for her actions. Sister Katherine watched Josiah carefully. She said her father beat her until she lost the baby under the circumstances Josiah, this is the place for her. Here she can be at peace with her past, theres nobody here wholl hurt her, and she doesnt have to be afraid.
Ill send money whenever I can Hanna was pregnant, the words echoed in Josiahs mind.
Sister Katherine nodded her head. Most importantly, come and see her, that is all I ask.
Did she say if my father knew what he had done?
No, and I ask you not to repeat anything I said to Hanna. She speaks to me in confidence and I do not want to break that. Katherine stood up and pushed her chair under her desk. This may not be an ideal life for her, but it is a more suitable one.
Josiah couldnt deny that. It was hard enough for himself; he didnt want to think about how hard it would be for his sister. Slowly, he followed the sister once again toward Hannas room, angry with himself for her predicament, disgusted with his father for her situation.
Sister Katherine understood how difficult it was for Josiah. She also knew how hard it was for Hanna. This was the best place for her. They all knew it, now it was just a matter of dealing with it.
Hanna smiled when Josiah stepped into her room. She got up off the floor and greeted her big brother with a warm embrace. It was so good to see him again. Hannas hair had been pulled back away from her face, though she was still thin, she had some color on her features.
Josiah returned her hug with vigor. It was so good to see her again. She was all that was left of his family, and he wanted to keep her safe for the rest of her life. He realized at that moment that he couldnt do it on his own, and he thanked God for providing a place for her.
She still didnt talk but she proudly showed her brother her creations in paint and chalk. Images of the Bible shed tried so hard to suppress as a child, now they consumed her imagination. Giving new life to old stories, Hanna was able to express herself through art. Her room had been completely covered in colors and drawings. Obviously the money Josiah was sending went for her supplies. He didnt mind. Why would he?
Hannas clothing was simple and basic, not the fine silks and cottons seen in the towns hed recently visited. However, they were practical. Their purpose was to keep her warm and covered and they did their job in abundance. She had given up wearing shoes and when Josiah asked Sister Katherine about it her response had simply been, Hanna enjoys the feel of the earth beneath her feet. Josiah didnt complain. Hanna was healthy, and that was all that mattered.
The sister, Josiah, and Hanna all ate together and enjoyed the sound of the rain hitting the room of the convent. Winter was just around the corner and the soft movement of the tree branches and bushes going dormant were only the conformation of that. Sitting near the window towards the gardens brought back a lot of memories. Josiah didnt know if his sister was thinking about the times theyd had a picnic with their mother while their father was away. Those were some good times. It didnt matter he guessed, as long as he remembered them.
When it came time to say goodbye, Josiah noticed how Hanna immediately fell in love with Lance, and the big horse nudged her affectionately. Josiah told her that hed named the animal after the character Sir Lancelot from the book King Arthur and the Nights of the Round Table. He didnt know if she understood that, but it made him feel better. Hanna had loved the story as a child, but now she showed no recognition of it.
Hanna waved as Josiah rode away and then she quickly went on about her business. This was her home.
Josiah left with a heavy heart. It always tore him up inside to see his sister. It was the realization that she was never going to be the same girl shed once been. Oh, she looked better, and she acted better, but she wasnt the same. His heart broke knowing his father had beat her to the point of causing her to lose her child his nephew or niece. Josiah clenched his fists around the reins. It seemed everywhere he turned their was a reminder of his father and he hated it.
Every bit of extra money Josiah made he sent to Sister Katherine for Hanna. Though he moved from town to town he tried to visit her at least once a month. Every time he saw her it was a reminder of what hed done, and what his father had done. He usually left with the intention of getting drunk, and sleeping away his painful past.
The stories of his past followed him wherever he went. He hoped they would disappear as time went by, but they didnt. Traveling from one town to the next, doing everything from trapping and hunting to construction. Jobs were scarce, but Josiah was determined to stay close enough to Hanna that it would only take a few days to get to her. He never treated himself to anything except a bottle of red eye and the occasional good meal.
As the years went by Josiah decided that penance was his way to salvation, if there was one to be had. It was nine years after the war that he discovered an old abandoned church that was in desperate need of care. Only the front remained and that was even in tatters, but Josiah figured he was just the man to rebuild. It wasnt far from a nameless town that had been built by a homesteader some forty years prior and was now run by outlaws and bandits. Vista City was only a couple days ride from the old church and that suited him just fine.
The sound of a coyotes cry filled the night air and Josiah looked up from his fire toward the mountains in the distance. The night was so peaceful here. The stars lit up the night sky while the full moon supplied ample light for night travelers. Josiahs muscles ached from moving rocks that would one day supply the walls for the church he was working on. He leaned back against the Mexican saddle hed purchased some months before. Hed worn out his other saddle and this one seemed to have his name written all over it. His horse, Lance, now fourteen years old, munched on some grass a short distance away.
Josiah jumped when he heard the sound of another horse ride closer to his camp. He grabbed his pistol and carefully tucked it away under the blanket that hed thrown over his shoulders.
Hello, the camp! The call came from a short distance away.
As the horse and rider got closer Josiah looked intently at them. This was a hard land and he wasnt about to be robbed and left for dead in the desert. With the light of the moon giving him adequate visibility, Josiah could tell the rider was a black man riding a chestnut gelding.
Mind if I share your fire for the night? The stranger asked kindly.
Dont see why not, Josiah responded. He let his guard relax when he realized that the man was alone.
Im Nathan Jackson, from Four Corners. The man introduced himself after dismounting. Im the healer there. He stuck his hand out for Josiah to shake.
Josiah introduced himself and watched as this stranger carefully tended his mount with care. Though his clothing was old it was well cared for. What captured the former priests attention was the leather harness that held several throwing knives behind Nathans back.
Theres coffee youre welcomed to it.
Thank you, Nathan said. He grabbed a cup out of his saddlebags and using the rag next to the fire he reached for the pot and poured himself some of the hot brew. You travelin through?
No, Ive been here a long time, Josiah replied with a smile.
Aint seen ya in town and most dont last too long travelin alone. Nathan carefully leaned back against his saddle. He knew who Josiah was, hed heard the stories and if anyone could survive in this land by themselves it would be him.
Most but not all, Josiah corrected.
Nathan chuckled. I guess youre right.
The folks around here must keep you busy, being that there arent many doctors in the area?
Try none, Nathan sighed, but there are a few folks here thatll let me see to them, not many, but some. Its hard for a Negro to get folks to trust em.
Negro or not, son, its hard for everyone.
Nathan nodded. Ive been to Wilsons homestead, theyve come down with the measles. He shook his head. Wouldnt let me treat em at first, not till they got real sick.
Theyre doing better now? Josiah asked, genuinely concerned.
Lost the youngest, but the two older boys is gonna pull through okay.
Then youve done all you can for them, Brother. Josiah sighed and looked across toward the man on the other side of the fire.
Just wish I could do more.
But do not forget to do good and to share for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Josiah quoted, Hebrews, chapter 13 verse 16.
You a preacher or somethin? Nathan asked in curiosity.
I used to be, Josiah reluctantly admitted, but Im not one anymore.
Nathan looked at the big man sitting across from him. Do you miss it? he asked, hoping he hadnt pushed to far.
No, the big man shook his head, I dont.
Nathan nodded in understanding.
I havent seen many Negro healers in my travels. There wasnt any malice in Josiahs voice. Howd you come by it?
I was a stretcher bearer durin the war. Picked up what I could, Nathan admitted. Got tired of watching people die, thought I could do my part in tryin to keep em alive.
Thats a noble thing to do.
When I ran from the plantation all I wanted to do was be free, and fightin in the war seemed to be the right thing to do Nathan continued, feeling uncommonly comfortable talking with this man, There aint many doctors here, so the least I can do is try and keep those that are willin healthy.
Josiah nodded. It was strange looking at this former slave, knowing he had to have been full of anger at one time, but now he served anyone who was willing to let him. There was no comparison between the two men. Josiah still angry and bitter about his past about his father, and Nathan, doing what he knew, healing, to treat the people of this territory, blacks, whites, and Indians.
So what are you doin all the way out here? Nathan asked, taking another sip of his coffee.
Exercising my demons, Josiah responded with a laugh.
Nathan joined him. In truth both men were exercising them only in different ways.
Next thing I know is, Brother Nathan, is asking me to help you and Chris defend the Seminoles. Josiah chuckled at the memory.
Seems you didnt want to ride with us at first, Vin jabbed.
Didnt, Josiah admitted. But after you boys showed back up, like I knew you would, Id decided that this was my path. The birds of darkness told me so. Josiah paused and looked at Vin who was ginning. Just didnt think wed last this long.
Hell, Josiah, Im just shocked you lived this long, Vin replied with a laugh. Im sure glad you have though.
Me too, Brother, me too.
Vin stood up and stretched his back then he gently slapped Josiahs shoulder. Leme buy ya a beer, to celebrate new beginnings. He smiled looking down at his friend.
And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. To new beginnings. Josiah replied.
No truer words had ever been spoken.
Vin started down the steps and suddenly stopped. He knew what the former Priest was thinking. Whats said twixed you and me... stays that way.
The sincerity in Vins voice caused Josiah to smile. He knew he could trust the tracker. Josiah stood up and rolled his shoulders. Maybe we can talk ol Ezra into a game.
Wont have to do much talkin, Vin responded.
Thats my point, Josiah said with a chuckle. There were very few constants in life, but it seemed these men were one of them.
Notes: Its important to realize that the laws and belief systems of the Cherokee Indians vary from clan to clan. Much of their laws and beliefs differed; do to their location, experiences, and longevity.
The newspaper Extra came out of the book, Civil War Extra; A Newspaper History of the Civil War from Nat Turner to 1863.
Corruption was the term most often used for the term infection.
Next: Innocence Maintained: - JD
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