Notes: Once again, I had to make some decisions about events in Josiahs past. I followed cannon as much as possible. This story takes place a couple days after the episode Penance. I chose to portray Indian names in the Cherokee language as opposed to, Red Bear or Silver Wolf; I find it more realistic and less distracting. I doubt very much, and even in my studies, that any of the Native American Indians Tribes referred to each other in the white mans tongue.
This story is dedicated to all those lost and suffering from the September 11th tragedy in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Special Thanks: To Julie, for all her corrections and yellow highlights. To Antoinette, for all her wording and encouraging words. To Katherine, for her wonderful suggestions, and to Elisia, for her encouragement!
Please send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Josiah stepped out of the old church and took a deep breath. A home was a good thing to have. As the sun made its decent into the evening, the former preacher thought about his past and his future. He seated himself on the top step and laced his fingers together while resting his arms across his knees. He sighed. Vin knew about his sister Hanna, he didnt know everything, but he knew about her. In a way, it made him feel better, just having someone else know, and Josiah came to the conclusion, that wasnt necessarily a bad thing.
When he spotted the former bounty hunter walking slowly across the dusty street towards the old church, Josiah had to smile. Vin, like a brother, had gone out of his way to discover the truth when Josiah had been accused of murder. In many ways the young tracker reminded Josiah of himself. Only when he was Vins age, Josiah had been too young to fully understand the value of friends. Over the years he had learned to appreciate those friendships that came along, and well here he was, still learning. Hed lost his family many years before and really hadnt come to terms with leaving the regulated world of the Priesthood. Hed crossed so many rivers and was just now discovering who Josiah Sanchez was.
It was only a couple of days ago Cyrus Poplar, had killed himself, taking his own life after being discovered as the man whod killed and attacked several young women. Women like Irene Dunlap, Mary Travis, and Hanna. They hadnt done anything wrong, except be strong and independent. Josiah didnt understand what drove a man like Poplar to kill out of malice. What was the difference between him and Chris Larabee, or Vin Tanner, or Josiah himself? Was there a difference? Hed killed men before, and not all were in self-defense.
Josiah, Vin acknowledged. Seeing Josiahs nod of approval, he sat himself down beside the big man and watched as the sun said goodnight.
Brother, Josiah said, with a sad smile. You upta hearin a story?
Vin smiled. He knew what the former preacher needed. He needed to talk, and more importantly he needed someone to listen. Vin intended to be there. Think that sounds right nice, he responded, leaning back against the railing.
Josiah nodded. When Hanna and I were kids he said fondly, we used to sneak out of the house while our father was busy and wed read about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Vin nodded, hed heard about the stories, mostly from the orphanage where hed spent some of his time growing up, but he remembered what they were about.
Father wouldnt let us read such books when we were young said they were written with the Devils pen he made his voice sound harsh, but our Ma, his voice was softer, she didnt mind the stories she said they were good for a young persons mind
San Francisco 1842
Youd better put that book away before you father gets back, Ruth Sanchez said, trying to hide her smile while she finished washing the dishes. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a bun that rested at the base of her skull. She shifted her stance as her feet became more uncomfortable from standing. The apron tied around her waist did little to protect her simple brown dress from the water splashing around the washbowl.
Why does he hate them so? Josiah asked. He looked at his sister who could only shrug her shoulders.
His heart is in the right place, Ruth responded, as though she were trying to convince herself of that very thing. He believes your body is a temple
Hes told us that, Hanna complained. Besides if our body was a temple why then does he do the things he does? She touched her bruised shoulder that was hidden not only from Josiahs eyes but her Mothers as well.
Hush child, Ruth scolded. Dont speak ill of your father.
She wasnt speakin ill of him, Josiah spoke up. I think its a good question. He closed the book and quickly hid it in the waistband of his pants.
Your father is under a lot of pressure, Ruth tried to explain, but felt as though she was failing. Hes an example to the community and if they see him acting in a manner that he admonishes who would believe what he has to say.
Why dont you mind that we read those books? Hanna asked.
Ruth turned and looked at her two children. They were quickly becoming young adults. Josiah was now fifteen and Hanna would turn thirteen within the month. I think youre old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, and I want you to know that there is more in the world than just what your father and I can tell you.
Like India, Hanna said with a smile. She had loved it when her fathers missionary work had taken them to that far away land.
Ruth reached out and touched her daughters cheek. Yes, like India.
I want to go back, Hanna said matter-of-factly.
Believe that and you will, Ruth responded, before going back to her dishes.
Josiah looked at his Mother and then at his sister and saw so much similarity there. They both had the same fragility about them, the same hazel eyes, and the same light complexion. However, there was a wildness in Hanna that his mother didnt have.
It wasnt uncommon for Hanna to sneak out on warm nights wearing nothing but her nightshirt and play in the small stream not far from the house. She said it was the only time she didnt feel trapped by her fathers harsh criticism. Young ladies were not to be seen doing unladylike things. Playing in her knickers was one of those things. Ruth didnt mind seeing her daughter enrich her life by acting in ways that freed her spirit. Her husband, Caleb, didnt see things that way. He wanted his children to walk within the Biblical laws. They were a reflection of him as a man, and he saw himself as a faithful servant of God.
The front door squeaked open, allowing all of the homes occupants to know someone was arriving. Caleb Sanchez hung his hat on the nail behind the door and straightened his plain black attire. He was a big man with wild gray hair that seemed to have a mind of its own. His face had warm features but the coldness of his eyes told a different story. His face was clean-shaven, and yet at the end of the day, the hint of a five o clock shadow appeared on his chin.
Ruth, Caleb said, turning toward his wife, your ankles are showing.
Quickly, Ruth pulled her dress down. Shed lost track of time and forgotten all about tucking it up into her apron. She only did it to keep the hem from getting dirty while she worked on her chores.
I kept a plate warm for you. She opened the wood cook stove and placed the pie tin that was full of food on the table. Josiah, Hanna, she motioned for her children to leave the table and get ready for bed. The immediately obeyed and quietly left the room.
Caleb pulled out the chair his son had been sitting in and leaned back. Im taking Josiah to town with me tomorrow.
Ruth nodded her head in understanding. That was where Caleb had been spending the majority of his time, teaching the Chinese about the true God. She knew that Josiah had a special friendship going with several of the Chinese people. She also knew that he enjoyed learning about new beliefs and religions, and she wanted him too.
Hell be pleased. It does him good to get out, Ruth responded, returning to her dishes.
Hes simply going to help me preach the Word nothing more I dont want him learning anymore about the pagan ways of the Chinese. Caleb shook his head looking at his plate. They pray to their dead relatives.
Ruth wisely kept her opinion to herself. She turned her attention back to her husband as he said grace before starting his evening meal. She looked up and smiled when Josiah and Hanna quietly reentered the kitchen.
She watched as her children said their goodnights to their father and she kissed them each on the cheek before they made their way up to their rooms. Caleb was a strict man. He demanded that things be done his way no exceptions. She knew Josiah was finding his fathers strong hand to be extremely restrictive. Ruth understood that perfectly. Her children were free thinkers and needed to be encouraged to follow their passions and their dreams rather than be confined to their fathers rigid demands. Ruth knew Hanna would soon do whatever she had to in order to escape, and Josiah Josiah would break his own spirit and body trying to please Caleb. And Caleb would let him.
Ruth had married Caleb when she was just fifteen. Shed been born a Pennsylvania coal miners daughter and she couldnt wait for this wonderful man to show her the world. At first, the marriage was seemingly perfect. However, as time went by, she saw him for who he was. He wasnt a bad man, just overzealous when it came to his beliefs. His missionary work took precedence, and ultimately it was his family that suffered.
Josiah was fifteen, in a world where other boys his age were taking on adult roles, he was still treated as a child. He was expected to be in bed at a certain time, study his Bible an hour before and an hour after breakfast, and he was expected to obey without question. But Josiah had questions, he had countless questions, and they were questions that needed answers. Ruth knew her son loved his father, but one day that love would be quenched with anger and bitterness when Josiah reached manhood. She was helpless to do anything but watch. She worried more about Hanna. Though she was still just a girl she seemed older for her age. Ruth had repeatedly told her husband that Hanna had an old soul. Caleb just laughed. According to him, his wife put too much stock in her gut feelings, and they were to be ignored. Hanna just needed a stronger hand.
Ruth continued to finish her dishes in silence, wondering what paths her childrens lives would take.
As Josiah helped his father repair the wheel to their surrey, a storm was brewing, and not just with the weather. Caleb paused, and looked up at the sky then slowly shook his head. He needed to get the wheel fixed before Sunday. He was particularly proud of the sermon hed been working on and he wanted everyone to hear it. He turned his attention toward the wood shed after hearing what sounded like laughter coming from within it.
Dont try and put the wheel on by yourself, Caleb ordered Josiah. Ill help you when I get back.
Josiah looked up and watched as his father headed towards the wood shed. Grease dripping onto the dusty ground from the brush he held. He didnt know what his father was looking for or what had captured his attention, but his walk and stiff shoulders told the boy something bad was about to happen. Josiah knew his father was upset and he hoped it wasnt something hed done...or didnt do.
Caleb opened the woodshed door and found his thirteen-year-old daughter with a boy no older than Josiah. The tension in the air seemed to thicken with each passing second. Caleb didnt say anything right away. Instead, he looked critically at his daughter, and then, maliciously at the young man who had been caught with his hand up her blouse.
Before anything could be said or done the young boy rushed past Caleb and toward the woods behind the house. His horse was hidden out there. He felt a rock hit him in the back of his shoulder, but he kept on running, never thinking about Hanna or her fate.
Caleb turned his attention back to his daughter. He paused to wipe the dirt off of his hand onto his dark pants. The veins on the side of his neck were pulsating. When he bent to reach for his daughters arm she quickly hid behind a pile of split wood.
Get out here now! Caleb ordered. He pointed to the ground indicating where he wanted his daughter to stand before him. NOW!
With shaky hands, Hanna moved past the woodpile and stood in the spot where her father had pointed. She stuck her chin out in defiance and tried to be strong, but the fear in her eyes gave away her weakness.
Do you have any idea of the position you have put me in? Caleb continued to rage, I am a minister in this town and my own daughter is no better than the pagans I preach to! Where is your shame?
Hanna clenched her jaw and continued to hold her defiant stance.
How do you want your punishment delivered? He asked, before she could say a word.
I dont think I did anythin wrong, she spoke up.
Caleb grabbed her arm forcefully and pulled her up into his face. The Devil is in you child and I will beat him out of you.
Hannas heart started to pound frantically in her chest as the grip on her arm became tighter. She glanced over her fathers shoulder and noticed Josiah walking toward them. In her preoccupation, the slap her father delivered to her face caught her off guard and she fell to the ground in a heap.
Seeing Hanna fall, Josiah rushed for his sister. He pushed his father out of the way and stood guard over her. Hanna pressed her hand to her face and tried to collect herself.
MOVE OUT OF MY WAY, BOY! Caleb screamed, even angrier now.
Dont before Josiah could finish he was pushed violently to the ground.
Hanna screamed when her father picked her up and pushed her towards the woodshed. Josiah chased after them rubbing his abraded hands and skinned up elbow on his pants. At fifteen, he was taller and bigger than most boys his age, but he still wasnt big enough or knowledgeable enough to defend his sister. He jumped when he heard the door too the woodshed slam shut. The solid click of the lock inside caused him to shudder.
Hanna continued to cry as she wrapped her arms around her knees. Josiah sat next to her with his head down. Hed listened to the paddling from within the woodshed all the while wishing he could do something. His mother had returned from her trip to town and had immediately known what was happening. Like Josiah, she hadnt been able to do anything. As Caleb got older he became more violent and more self-righteous. Ruth did what she could to comfort her daughter in the aftermath, but it wasnt enough it was never enough.
I hate him, Hanna said, forcefully wiping the tears from her cheeks.
Josiah nodded his head in understanding.
Hanna grabbed her brothers shirtsleeve and turned pleading eyes to him. We could run away leave this place, she spoke as if this was the first time the idea had come to her. You look older than you are Josiah, and you can work. She sat up on her knees. I can cook and clean.
We dont have any money, Hanna. Josiah looked hard at his sister. Though the idea was appealing it wasnt practical. Where would we go?
Anywhere, where he couldnt find us, she pleaded. Ill go mad if I stay here.
Why must you push im so? Josiah asked. He knew that in most cases, it wasnt her fault but it always seemed that Hanna placed herself in these situations.
Push him? Hanna asked in surprise. I dont have to push him Josiah he hates me. She slumped back into a sitting position and twisted her hand the hay that she was sitting on.
He doesnt hate you, Josiah responded, unconvincingly.
Hanna looked out the loft doors of the barn and sighed. She could tell by Josiahs tone that he didnt believe what hed just said. That was okay, because she didnt believe it either.
Ruth wiped the tears from her cheeks as she stood at the base of the stairs leading up to the hayloft. Shed heard everything. Her children were suffering because of her inability to provide a safe home for them. She saw this as being her fault. Perhaps if she had provided a safer home Hanna wouldnt have to search for comfort in another way. Her children needed a home where they felt loved, by not just one parent, but two.
Caleb demanded things of his children that they obviously couldnt deliver. There had been a time when he hadnt been so strict, but like his father before him, he was trying to control every aspect of his childrens lives. Hanna had acted inappropriately and she deserved to be punished, but not in the manner that she had. Ruth dried her eyes then grabbed her skirt. She had to be strong, not just for herself but her children as well. She quietly started up the stairs.
Josiah watched his sister carefully. He knew she was serious when shed said she wanted to leave. He loved his sister and he wanted to do what he could to protect her, but he didnt know how to do that and obey his father at the same time. Hanna wasnt alone in her feelings, he too felt as though his father hated him at times. He looked up when he noticed his mother stick her head up over the top step and he smiled weakly.
Ruth returned the smile to her son then slowly made her way into the loft. Are you both all right? she asked quietly.
No! Hanna responded sharply.
Ruth nodded her head in understanding. I understand why youre angry she didnt have a chance to finish when her daughter threw herself into her mothers arms. Im so sorry, she whispered into Hannas ear.
Josiah watched in silence as Hanna cried on her mothers shoulder. There was something about Ruth that made her children succumb to her warmth. She reached out and grasped Josiahs hand.
After church on Sunday, when your father leaves for his studies with the miners well leave here and find a place of our own. She looked hard at her children. Pack one bag and keep it hidden underneath your beds
What are we going to do for money? Josiah asked concerned.
Always the practical one, Josiah, the fire of the Lord. She smiled looking at her son, Sometimes it is best to think with your heart not your head. She clasped her hands around Hannas face then continued, I have a little bit of money saved. Its enough to get us to my sisters in Ohio. She smiled confidently, grasping her hands around her childrens. She could see the newfound hope on their faces. Be ready and dont tell anyone. She waited until both her children nodded their heads in understanding. She knew they ready and willing to leave.
Hanna hugged her mother tighter. I wont say a word, she promised.
Hell fire and brimstone. Caleb Sanchez preached the gospel as though his long robe was on fire. He looked out over his perish. They were his family, they were the souls that needed to be saved. He didnt realize the very people he was trying to save was an allusion to his family at home.
Ruth kept a tight grasp on her childrens hands. She was just as scared as they were. How was she going to care for her family? What would Caleb do once he discovered they were gone? What would she do when she ran out of money? She wouldnt be sharing the responsibility of caring for her children now she would be on her own. Josiah was old enough and well educated, he could easily find a job. Hanna and herself would be more difficult. She could cook and perhaps they could work as a seamstress team.
She had made the final plans to leave once her husband had dropped them off at the house. As soon as he left after lunch she intended to take her family to the train station. She made enough food to last them awhile and she knew how to budget her money. Now, it was simply building the courage to leave. And she would for her childrens sake.
Caleb shook the hands of his patrons as they left the small church and said some encouraging words to those who needed to hear them. He smiled and graciously accepted the congratulations for his wonderful sermon. He didnt notice Ruth or his childrens unusually quiet behavior.
As soon as he was ready he helped his wife into the newly repaired surrey. Josiah and Hanna sat in the back and to keep his sister calm he grabbed her hands in a comforting embrace. He was scared as well, but like his mother he knew this was for the best.
I didnt hear your opinions on my sermon, Caleb announced. Please, tell me what you thought. He slapped the reins on the horses back and moved the chestnut gelding into an easy trot.
It was one of your best, Ruth said, looking out past the road and toward the dark blue sky.
I must agree, Caleb responded confidently. Although, I dont think Mr. Tansy would agree, he said with a smile, however, there was a hint of bitterness in his voice.
His wife Lydia is due to have her first child. He didnt leave because of your sermon, Ruth chastised.
Caleb held his tongue but everyone in the carriage knew he was upset over his wifes statement. Josiah looked at his father and wondered what he would say to his wife when he was alone with her. Josiah swallowed; his father wouldnt say anything because they wouldnt be there.
Josiah instinctively reached out and held his sister tight as the surrey suddenly moved violently to the right. Ruth and Hanna both screamed and tried to jump from the cart when it tilted and landed harshly on its side. The horse spooked and rushed forward dragging the cart behind him.
The big horse took another lurch forward, breaking the carts main axe, freeing himself from the shafts and reins. Everyone froze for a moment as if time stood still. Josiah adjusted his grip on his sister and when he discovered she was fine except for a few scrapes and bruises then turned his attention to his mother. Caleb had freed himself from the wreckage and was trying to help his wife who was now trapped beneath the surrey.
MOMMA! Hanna yelled, seeing the condition of her mother. She ignored her own injuries and pried herself out of Josiahs grasp then moved to tend Ruth.
Ruth opened her eyes and looked in shock at the situation. She couldnt feel anything below her waist. She smiled when her daughter picked up her hand and held it tightly. Its all right, she tried to comfort.
Hanna continued to weep as she brushed the bloody stands of hair away from her mothers face. Dont die, she pleaded.
Josiah and his father worked frantically trying to lift the surrey off of Ruth. Hanna turned pleading eyes to her brother when she noticed a growing puddle of blood beneath the carriage sidewall. Josiah paused and looked at his mothers face. Even in her condition she was the only member of the family who didnt seem to be worried. She knew she was dying, and her thoughts lay with her children not her own life.
Ruths labored breathing came quicker and shorter but she kept a smile on her face trying to comfort her daughter. Josiah kneeled down next to Hanna and begged God for his mothers life. Was this the consequence for their hasty plans to leave?
Josiah, Caleb said, capturing his sons attention. Take your sister home, he paused looking down at his family, now.
NO! Hanna screamed, holding on tighter to her mother. I wont leave her with you! she sobbed.
It its all right, Ruth mumbled, her voice barely audible. She kissed Hanna on the cheek when her daughter lowered herself closer to her mothers face.
I love you, Hanna whispered in her mothers ear. She tried to shrug out of Josiahs strong grip when he started to pull her away.
Shes gone, Josiah whispered in disbelief, as he pulled his sister from the sight. His mothers eyes stared blankly at the sky and for the first time in his life he watched as his father wept.
Josiah hugged his sister as she cried into his chest. Tears from his own eyes fell down his cheeks. How could things have gone so wrong so quickly? He wanted nothing more than to be gone from this place from this pain.
Ruth was dead.
Caleb gave the eulogy at his wifes funeral while his children stood together next to the simple casket. Over a hundred people showed up to pay their respects, and both Josiah and Hanna were pleased to see the impact their mother had on these people.
The wheel that had been replaced only a day before had broken again. That had been the cause of the accident. Caleb, in his grief, had inadvertently blamed his son. Josiah blamed himself already he didnt need the accusations coming from his father. Arguments became more common in the Sanchez household. Usually between Josiah and his father. Hanna rarely spoke and when she did it was never directly to Caleb. She blamed him for everything and she took her anger out on herself.
Caleb locked himself away in his study, burying himself in his Bible. The loss of Ruth had resulted in the final separation of his family and there wasnt anything he could do about it. His daughter refused to speak with him, and it seemed every time he entered a room, she found some excuse to leave. Josiah had become distant as well. Caleb had lost that bit of respect he had once had with his son. Now, he wasnt anything more than a stranger.
As the next couple of years went by Josiah found himself falling further and further away from his fathers teachings. At seventeen, well over six feet tall, and with muscles on top of muscles, he was no longer intimidated by his fathers size. Although Caleb didnt let that detour him from giving his children the punishment he felt they deserved.
Hanna had befriended a young couple from town. Caleb didnt like their influence on his daughter but Josiahs persistence had enabled the friendship to continue. For the first time in years Hanna smiled, spoke freely, and seemed to be enjoying life. Josiah didnt care why as long as she was happy. However, he was anything but.
The tension in the Sanchez household could be cut with a knife on most nights. While Hanna was visiting friends, Caleb locked himself in his room, and Josiah studied. He studied all religions, not just the one he grew up with. He was finding it difficult to follow the same religious tenets as his father. How did Caleb know that his way was the right way? There were so many different beliefs out there that Josiah wanted to learn as many of them as he could. His father didnt agree.
Hanna smoothed her blue skirt down and pulled her shawl over her shoulders. She was heading into town for a barn dance. Her beau was a young man by the name of Harvey Dalton. He was a handsome young man who Caleb even approved of. After all, Harvey had aspirations of becoming a minister.
When a small chestnut mare trotted up to the house Hanna looked out the window and saw that Harvey had arrived. The black buggy seemed to be the perfect vehicle to arrive into town with. She blew past Josiah and her father and rushed toward the carriage and allowed Harvey to help her to her seat. She saw him as a means of escape from her current situation. More than anything she wanted to leave her fathers influence.
Josiah watched her leave knowing what it was she was feeling. Like her, he wanted to disappear as well. He couldnt stand to be around his father anymore. All of Calebs attention was focused on saving the souls of the people in his parish, and the people he ministered to on the road.
Josiah gripped the book on Confucianism tighter and sighed. His father hated the book, but there was something about it though that fed Josiahs need to learn. He didnt necessarily feel that the book was right or that the Chinese peoples way of life was right, but it was different and thats what fed his desire. What religion could honestly say they were right in all things? Hed seen so much wrong in all beliefs, including his own.
Caleb watched as his daughter left with her young beau. He hoped shed get married, that way he wouldnt have to worry about her anymore. He loved his children; he just didnt know how to show it. The Word he taught meant more to him than anything, including his family. He believed the best way of parenting was through discipline. He didnt realize how a kind word or a hug could change a childs bad day into a good one.
Caleb turned angry eyes to his son when he saw the book he had grasped in his hands. I dont want that trash in my house, he snapped.
Its not trash, Josiah retorted.
Its an abomination to everything that is righteous! Caleb snapped.
And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations
Dont you throw the Bible at me, boy!
You cant deny what is in front of you forever, Josiah said in disbelief.
I can and I will deny you, his voice was low and threatening.
You already have, Josiah responded sadly. He threw the book hed been carrying onto the table. Strange, he said with a laugh, how a man like you, who saves souls, could lose his family so easily.
Better to lose my family than my soul. He didnt pay attention to the shocked expression his son wore. If youre not gone by morning Ill have the sheriff escort you out.
Josiah nodded his head in understanding. Ill be gone.
Josiahs big bay gelding nudged his handlers shoulder as the cinch was tightened. He could tell by his masters mannerisms that things werent right. It was in part due to the erratic movements, spontaneous vocalizations, and the unpredicted shedding of tears. King, short for King Arthur was the name appropriately given to the big bay by Hanna. Josiah didnt mind the name, at least it wasnt Red, the name the animal had when he purchased him.
Carefully, Josiah tied his few belongings to the skirt of his saddle. He didnt want to leave his sister. Hanna was the most important person in his life, but he understood that shed met someone she truly cared about and he wouldnt pull her away from the possibility of her happiness. Harvey Dalton seemed to be a nice young man with great potential. Even if it didnt work out, Hanna was spending most of her time with her new friends in town. Shed be safe with them until he could save enough money and get himself settled. Then he could send for her.
Josiah jumped when he felt a soft hand on his shoulder and he turned to find a surprised Hanna staring back at him. Youre leaving? She just knew it, even though nobody had told her.
Josiah nodded his head. I cant stay here.
We could go together, Hanna said with a smile. I dont have much to pack, and I wont be in the way
What about Harvey? Josiah asked.
Hes real sweet but well, you understand, she avoided the question. Hanna pulled on her brothers arm and turned pleading eyes to him. Dont leave without me.
As soon as I have some money saved, Ill send for you.
Will you? Hanna looked intensely at her brother. She knew he believed fully in what he said but she didnt. She laughed and patted King on his nose and looked around the barn. The shadows seemed to have a life of their own as the flame from the lantern flickered. Mr. Waters and Becky are taking me on a picnic on Wednesday. Harvey wanted to come but I said he couldnt. She smiled again and then reached up and kissed Josiah on the cheek. Hes real nice and all but hes so boring. Hanna moved around King and scratched the big horses withers.
Josiah stood motionless for a moment as he watched his sister. She didnt seem to be affected at all that he was leaving not the goodbye he was looking for.
I wont tell father youve left, Hanna said with a mischievous smile. Ill let it be a surprise when he discovers youre gone. She chuckled. I have to go, she said flatly.
I love you, Josiah said loud enough for her to hear. He watched her as she stopped at the barn door.
Goodbye Josiah. She tucked her chin and then headed for the house.
Josiah wasnt sure what it was that hed just witnessed, but he shook his head and continued to pack. He knew Hanna had a different way of dealing with things, shed always had. Like today, sometimes she hid the pain trying to pretend it wasnt real, and other times it consumed her. There was no middle ground with Hanna. She always seemed to be at one extreme or the other.
Slowly, Josiah led his horse out of the barn and looked up at the full moon. It was a beautiful night. He smiled and waved at Hanna who was standing at her bedroom window looking down on them. She waved back, then let the lace-curtain fall back into place. The light in her room was quickly extinguished and Josiah understood. It was time to move on.
Josiah wasnt sure where he was headed. He just knew he was leaving San Francisco. He wasnt even sure if he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, and at seventeen, who could blame him. This would be his first Christmas without his family, and more so, without his mother. He wasnt sure what shed meant when she had said that he was the practical one. Growing up in a family that was constantly on the move and always relying on the kindness of others to keep them fed and clothed had done its part in Josiahs life. His father always managed to preach the gospel and put the fear of God into his listeners, therefore earning enough money to survive on. Though sometimes tithe and donations just werent enough.
Never having been afraid of hard work, Josiah took every job he came across. Usually it had to do with carpentry. He didnt mind. It worked not only the body but the spirit as well. Hed continued to travel south, into Texas, where he enlisted in the army.
As soon as the Mexican-American War escalated, Josiah knew his life had taken a turn he hadnt expected. Never before had he seen a man killed and even worse hed killed. Granted it had been the result of war, but hed still taken a life, a direct violation of the fifth commandment. But war was different wasnt it?
This had been the first time in Josiahs life that he hadnt had any restrictions. Nobody was telling him what to do and when to do it. Sure, he followed his orders, but this was different. He also found himself giving in to all the anger hed built up over the years. Anger directed at his father he was now directing toward the enemy. Every time he fired his weapon, every fight he found himself in, and anyone who was unfortunate enough to get in his way when he felt the anger strike him, was doomed to suffer the consequences.
His reputation of being quick to anger became known throughout the ranks. Josiah was a man who wouldnt tolerate abuse or inaction. It was strange watching a man become violent toward someone, often at the drop of a hat for mistreating a woman, violating the rules of war, of even striking a horse out of anger. There were some things Josiah expected out of his fellow man, and one of those things was respect for all life.
War had a strange way of making boys into men, and, making men into boys. Orders were usually yelled over the sound of gunfire and cannon roars. Men fell to the ground bleeding and crying their last. The weather was hot and dry and at times water became more valuable than gold. Food rarely ran short but when it did those men of the lowest ranks lost their horses for food. Those men were then made to walk. There were no uniforms and clothing ranged from buckskins to home spun linens. Men whod enlisted clean-shaven and well dressed quickly became dirty and bearded. The war was hard on everyone, but an arrangement had to be made between Mexico and America, and part of that deal was California and Texas.
Josiah wrote to his sister when he could and he tried not to let it bother him that she never wrote back. It wasnt that he didnt miss her, he did, but in the lack of response he was able to avoid the possible pain and sorrow any letter might bring. He wanted to remember Hanna as he left her, carefree and spontaneous. He tried not to think about his father and when he did he usually followed it up with a bottle of red-eye. There was so much pain still hidden and buried that Josiah struggled to free it.
You ever gonna get a letter? The way you send em out you should, Michael ORourke tossed a small piece of wood into the fire that was slowly burning. He was a short man with unkempt bright red hair. Hed earned the nickname Irish because of his obvious heritage. He wore a goatee that was pointed at the chin and his mustache he rolled at the ends. Scars from a rough adolescence marred his forehead and cheeks.
This comin from someone who cant read, Josiah responded in good humor.
Dont matter none, Pike from Walts squad done read all his letters ta me and they werent nothin but his folks talkin about his brother havin the shits.
Josiah chuckled and continued writing his letter. What about your family?
Aint got none, Irish shook his head, my Ma died when I was just a kid and my Pa drowned after e got drunk and fell off the fishin boat.
Sorry to hear that.
Na, Irish shook his head. Figure its better this way. Cant write anyways so at least this way theyll be waitin for me when I get wherever it is Im goin after I die. He leaned up against the log and looked out toward the other campfires that were burning in the distance. Whater you gonna do when the Wars over?
Ill make that decision when the time comes, Josiah responded flatly.
You should become a lawman or somthin. Hell, youre mean enough for it.
Irish, Josiah paused and looked up at him. You talk too damn much.
Been told that before, he laughed, and threw another twig into the fire. My Pa said once that the fastest way ta spread news was to tell me cuz I worked fasteran the mail service. Irish chuckled.
Your Pa sounded like a very intelligent man.
Guess that would depend on who ya asked. Irish leaned back further against the log hed planned on sleeping against and looked up into the clear sky. What about your Pa? Is he a smart man?
Josiah paused a moment and thought hard about the question. Yes, hes a smart man but hes not a friendly one.
Michael didnt ask why Josiah didnt think his father was a nice man; he didnt think it was his business. And, Josiah didnt seem like he wanted to talk about it. Instead, he watched the sky and looked at the stars. There were so many of them, and yet, they all seemed isolated.
Bullets ricocheted off of rocks as men frantically tried to avoid being hit. Though the battle had been anticipated it was never truly prepared for. It was one thing to fight an opponent from a distance or crouching behind a barrier, but hand to hand combat took more guts and more brains. Rifle butts, knives, clubs, and even rocks were used to subdue the enemy.
Broken noses, bloodied lips, black eyes, and bruises disfigured everyone involved in the battle. While doctors worked on the more seriously wounded, soldiers cared for each other. Santa Anna was in trouble and that was what kept the men in good spirits. The Santa Fe Trail was now stained with the blood of American soldiers, many of whom claimed Texas as their home.
Josiah wiped away the steady stream of blood from his chin as he looked out over the now tarnished landscape. His right eye was swollen shut. Blood, saliva, and sweat stained his shirt and pants. He looked at his friend, Irish, who was lying in the dirt under a tree trying to find some comfort in the shade. A bloodied bandage covered his right side.
Think Ill go ta heaven er Hell? Irish asked, through clenched teeth.
What do you think? Josiah answered the question with a question.
I hope Im goin ta heaven aint real sure though, he sighed, reaching out for his friends hand.
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
Irish smiled. The son of a preacher, he said trying to catch his breath, guess I shoulda figured that out.
Josiah smiled and watched as his friends eyes stared blankly at the blue sky. His breaths came shorter and quicker and then they stopped all together. Michael ORourke died with his hand held tightly in Josiahs grasp. Things had changed so much for the young son of a preacher. Would his father even recognize him would Hanna?
By 1847, war was over between America and Mexico, however, it still raged on in Josiahs mind and soul. He tossed and turned on the bed causing the young woman sleeping next to him to get up. The sun was just coming up over the horizon and the birds were singing their early morning tunes.
Abigail closed her dressing gown around her waist and looked back to the bed and watched in wonder as her companion continued to wrestle his dreams. Shed known Josiah for more than two weeks and had learned little about his past. Like so many of her other customers, she knew he was haunted by his memories. She knew he carried a mean looking knife on the back of his belt and his handgun was never far from his reach. He drank a lot, and he usually ended up preaching the gospel after one bottle of red eye.
Josiah tossed again, caught up in the memories of war and his memories of home. Anger fed them both. He continued to mumble in his sleep as his dream became more violent. Suddenly, he reached for his weapon that rested on the table next to the bed.
Abigail jumped when she noticed her companion reach for his gun. Josiah! she yelled, throwing her tiny form over his body. Josiah, stop, she ordered, placing herself on his chest next to his face.
Josiah paused and wrapped his heavy arms around the woman lying on top of him. What happened? he managed to ask through a haze of memories.
You was dreamin, she responded, only inches from his face.
Josiah nodded in understanding and then looked over the room. How had things changed so fast? Abigail pressed her cheek to his and sighed, thankful that nothing had happened. Did I hurt you? Josiah asked solemnly.
No, Abigail responded.
Praise God, Josiah murmured.
Abigail sat up on the end of the bed and looked down at the handsome man. You should try talkin about whatever it is thats botherin ya it might help some.
Talking isnt going to help.
Whos Hanna? Abigail tried to busy herself with one of Josiahs shirts. She returned her gaze back to the bed. You talk in your sleep, she answered, before he could ask.
Josiah sat up and ran his hands over his face. At twenty-two, he felt like he was 100. Guilt seemed to eat at his very being. Hannas my sister, he said it as though he didnt quite believe it himself. I promised her thatd Id save enough money so I could pull her away from our father.
Josiah looked at Abigail as though shed lost her mind. He wasnt living a life that could support his sister. Not knowing where he would be from one day to the next. Never knowing where his next meal came from. No, this wasnt the life he saw for his sister.
I cant ask her to live the life I do, and who knows for much longer Ill be living it. Josiah sat up on the edge of the bed and rubbed his hands over his face feeling his callused fingers on his unshaved chin. Shes safer where shes at.
Abigail looked hard at him. I dont believe that, she stated, before getting to her feet.
She was right, and deep down Josiah knew it. He just didnt know what to do about it. His life hadnt turned out like hed expected. He didnt hear the door open and close as Abigail made her way downstairs. He was lost in his past in his memories.
There wasnt one thing in particular that steered Josiah to choose the priesthood as his next step in life. It was, perhaps, a combination of everything. Hed always admired mans faith in their beliefs, and Josiah felt as though that was a large part of his life that was missing. The war had given him the opportunity to fight some of his demons. Those demons included his father, the war, and the guilt he felt over the death of his mother, and for leaving his sister. He wanted to return to her, more than anything he wanted to return to her, but he couldnt, not until he had something to offer her.
To pay for his time at seminary school, Josiah got a job repairing saddles, wagons, and leatherwork in general. He loved working with his hands. His education, though at times trying, was enriching. Hed been so engulfed in his anger that hed forgotten the feeling of peace.
Josiah continued to write his sister and now that he had an address she knew where to reach him. He received letters only on occasion but he kept every one so he could reread them. Hanna never talked about their father. Sometimes her letters were filled with wild ideas for adventures and other times she could hardly complete a sentence. He knew she was suffering, he didnt need it written on a piece of paper and for the first time in his life he felt as though he was accomplishing something for both of them. He could go back to San Francisco with the intension of caring for his family.
Josiah sat in the sanctuary looking at the cross that had been carved over a hundred years before. He was asking God questions only He knew the answers to, and Josiah knew he probably wouldnt get an answer. But he asked them anyway. It was dark and very little light entered the room. The windows were stained glass with beautiful images of Mary and the baby Jesus. He felt most at peace in this room.
Josiah smiled when he felt a warm hand touch his shoulder. He didnt need to turn and look to know who it was.
Contemplating your orders? Father John asked gently. This had been his home for more than forty years, and hed seen many young men graduate and take on their own parishes. He also knew that the last step was always the most trying for most of them. Josiah was no different.
Josiah turned and looked at the father. His eyes were still youthful despite his growing age. Crows feet and laugh lines framed his face. I fear my faith is not worthy, Josiah confessed.
Father John sat in the pew behind Josiah and looked heartedly at the cross behind the pulpit. We all question our faith, son.
All my wrongs do I have a right to be here? Josiah turned questioning eyes to the man sitting behind him. This was a question that had disturbed him from the beginning and now that he was so close to taking his orders, and it weighed heavy on his heart.
That is something only God can answer and that is something you must ask Him.
Did you get an answer when you asked?
Father John smiled, leaning back in the pew. He thought momentarily and then responded, In a matter of speaking, yes, I did get an answer. He looked hard at the young man who was contemplating the rest of his life. Following Gods path is not always the easiest path to follow if it were easy, John leaned forward and patted Josiahs shoulder, you wouldnt be here. With that said he stood up and headed to his other chores.
Josiah watched Father John leave, and he sighed. Life had been so trying. With his mind made up he stood and headed for his room. This was the right path for him to follow at least for now.
The simple black suit with the white collar wasnt what people saw first when Josiah entered a new town. It was his size, and then the black suit and white collar. His booming voice only added to his appeal as men and women sought desperately for God. Josiahs knowledge of the Bible combined with his appearance would cause anyone wasnt familiar with Spirit to search Him out.
Josiah never stayed in one town too long, always on the move. He was in a continual search for that missing part of his life. It never dawned on him that he had managed to travel west he was heading home. After all these years, he was going home.
The house looked the same. Perhaps a little worn from the weather, but still the same. Ruths roses had long since overgrown their small section of the garden. The ground looked to have been untouched since her death so many years before. Josiah knocked on the front door of the house hed grown up in and waited for an answer. It was later in the day, long past the time his father usually made it home after his visits with his parishioners.
When the door slowly opened, light from within the home seeped from the crack like mornings early dawn. Whos there? came the rough angry voice.
Father, Josiah calmly replied. He clenched his rosary tightly, praying for strength.
The door opened wider and Caleb looked harshly at his son. The once strong, independent, force of a man, was now no more. His hair was white, but still unruly. He walked with a cane as his back curved drastically to the left. His clothing was still black but tattered. What shocked Josiah the most were his fathers eyes. They were so dead.
A priest, Caleb laughed. How pathetic, he snarled, turning and heading back to his chair in his study.
Josiah stood stunned in the doorway, watching as his father slowly made his way from him. Gradually, Josiah entered the home. So much had changed. Dishes littered the counter and table. Dust covered everything in the room. He walked past the disarray and entered the room where his father sat, now wrapped in an old blanket. A fire burned slowly offering little warmth.
Wheres Hanna, father? Josiah sat down on a stool and watched the man who at one time been his role model.
Caleb turned his attention to his son. Try the asylum, he spoke bitterly.
What? Josiah asked confused.
I tried to stop her, but she wouldnt have it. I even locked her in the cellar, he replied angrily. Shes turned her back on everything that is righteous, giving herself to every man she could, drinking like Caleb turned his attention back to the fire. Found her in an alley a month back drinking that Chinese opiate...laudanum I took her to that place in the hills for those that are mad.
Josiah looked at the ground and then back to his father or what used to be his father. He was nothing more than a shell of a man now.
Its your fault shes unbalanced, Caleb accused. You had no right writing her letters, making her believe youd come back for her!
Josiah looked in shock. It is my fault for leaving her with you! he snapped, getting to his feet. How dare you accuse me of this? He turned his back and continued, You never touched her except out of violence. You never showed us love, sure, you gave your followers everything they needed but you starved your own family!
What gives you the right to come into my home and accuse me of this?
I have every right! Josiah stormed. Im your son!
No son of mine would have turned his back on me on God to become a priest! Caleb responded, getting slowly to his feet.
What do you know about God? Josiahs voice lowered. Pain was etched on his face as he confronted his father. If this is your representation of Him he paused, I dont want to have anything to do with you. With that said, Josiah looked one last time at Caleb and left the house. He could hear his mothers tears in the back of his mind as he crossed the yard, heading toward his horse. He had to find Hanna.
As Josiah rode into town he unclenched his hand and noticed the small indentations left by the rosary; scars that would disappear in time. Josiah remembered when his father was so passionately preaching the gospel. People would come from miles just to hear him speak and as a child he loved and respected his father. Things had changed so much over the years. Josiah wasnt the young exuberant boy looking to please his father in any manner he could. Now, he was a war veteran and a servant of God. Hed learned the hard way that life wasnt a guarantee. There were too many variables that could take it away. His father be damned.
The San Francisco Institute for the Mentally Impaired sat alone on a hill overlooking the city and oceanfront below. Trees and shrubs lined the tall brick fence and steel gate. Josiah paused as he looked in. The darkness of night and bright moon seemed to create a haunting image of Hanna within those walls. There was a solitary light burning in a window adjacent to the front doors, but he didnt think he could get anyones attention.
When the sound of footsteps sounded in the distance, Josiah immediately perked up. He tried to press his face as close to the steel gates as he could. A guard, carrying a lantern, was slowly making his way to the front gate. Josiah decided to wait. He could hear his horse munching on the grass, the clang of his bridle grinding against teeth and leather.
Josiah jumped, hearing the guards heavy voice. He resumed his previous position at the gate, trying to peer in.
Please, Im Father Sanchez. I need to get inside.
The guard trotted over to the gate bringing his lantern up as to see whom he was talking to. Sorry Father, but the gates to remained locked til mornin, the guard replied sadly. His uniform was tattered at best and he reeked of alcohol. His hands shook almost uncontrollably, but he seemed coherent enough.
Theres someone in there I need to see, Josiah pleaded.
If you come early in the mornin you wont have no trouble gettin in. Miz Wales, why shed be the one to see if you got someone in here worth seein, the guard looked down and started up again, to be truthful Father, cant see you havin anyone worth seein in a place like this.
Perhaps this is the kind of place where someone like myself is most needed.
All these folks is loony in the head, aint a one of em thats right. The guard shook his head. Most folks in this place die fore too long, dont get many visitors neither.
Josiah nodded his head in understanding. His sister was in this place and he needed to get her out. What time in the morning would be appropriate?
Eight, I reckon.
Thank you, Brother. Hesitantly, Josiah headed to his horse and mounted up. More than anything he wanted to ride in there and get his sister out, but hed have to wait until morning.
The call of the saloon seemed to grow stronger as Josiah made his way into town. He tried to rely on his rosary for strength and his belief in God, but so much had happened. He hadnt expected his sister to be locked away in that place. Was it his fault for leaving? Would she have been placed there if hed come home sooner? Would she even accept him?
With questions bombarding his mind Josiah rode past the church hed called home for the past four years and headed to the quiet hotel at the end of the road. He needed a good nights sleep and he needed to think about his future.
Never in all his days had Josiah seen humans treated so disgracefully. Even in battle there was some humanity in the way prisoners of war were handled. But here, people were forced to sleep in the aisles, in nothing more than cotton nightshirts. The stench of human waste filled the building causing Josiahs eyes to water. His sister was amongst this.
Miss Wales led Josiah through the long corridors. She seemed all business, now, that there was a man of the cloth following her. Josiah clenched his Bible and the rosary tighter, praying for strength.
You must understand that the men and the women are kept in different holdings. It would be highly inappropriate for cohabitation
Yes, Josiah interrupted, I understand.
You say Hanna is your sister? Miss Wales didnt turn to look for an answer, she just kept on walking, I hope you mean that in the family sense and not in the, she turned and looked at him, Biblical sense. She turned back toward her destination and continued, There aint no use for religion in a place like this.
Seems to me, that this is the perfect place for it.
Humph, she shook her head, these folks are mad, unbalanced the only thing they need, she sighed, opening the door, is a burial plot.
Josiah didnt know how to respond to such a cold statement. He followed her into the room and looked around. Rather than bedding, the women were forced to sleep on straw. While some lay still, others were huddled together in groups talking or brushing each others hair using their fingers. Some rocked back and forth muttering things only they understood. Josiah was appalled at the conditions. He blamed himself for Hannas predicament.
There, Miss Wales pointed to the corner of the large room, is your sister. Dont be surprised when you see her
I want to take her home, Josiah responded sadly.
Listen, father, she snapped, you take her out of this place shell end up in one again just like it. Ive seen it happen time and time again. Its best if you just see her and leave.
Ill be taking her home, Josiah repeated, in a low threatening voice. He left Miss Wales standing by the door and he headed for his baby sister.
Hanna sat on her haunches clutching the hem of her dressing gown, looking lifelessly out the barred window. She didnt notice when Josiah sat down beside her. She looked toward the man in black who placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Hanna, Josiah quietly spoke. When she turned to look at him she quickly turned away and looked back out the window. Im so sorry
I knew youd come back, she whispered.
Im taking you away from here, Josiah said, standing up. He gently took his sisters hand and helped her to her feet. She was thin, dirty, and exhausted.
Hanna latched onto her brothers hand as though it was her only link to salvation. She wouldnt let go. She clutched his arm and followed him out of the building. Josiah knew he couldnt save everyone in that asylum but he could save his sister and thats all that mattered to him at the moment. He walked her past Miss Wales and then past the guards. In one hand he clutched the word of God and in the other he held onto the last of his family.
Josiah grabbed his bedroll and covered his sister with the blanket and then helped her into the saddle. With a ridged spine, a determined jaw, and conviction in his heart, he walked out through the front gate.
Town was once again bustling with activity as Josiah entered leading his horse while Hanna remained seated in the saddle. He stopped at the general store, and making sure his sister was safe for the time being, he headed inside to purchase her a dress and some food. He didnt know where he was going or what his plans were. He just knew that they were once again leaving the city. Hanna needed some place quiet and reserved, some place clean, and a place where she would be safe. She hadnt said a word since leaving the asylum but she did seem more relaxed.
The storekeeper seemed pleased that a man of the cloth had entered his business. He was more than willing to help. He even gave Josiah a discount, thinking it would help pave his way to heaven. With his arms loaded with packages Josiah left the store to be greeted with his sister trying to stop a group of men from pulling her from the saddle.
Come on there sugar, ol Pete said you were the best poke in town, the cowboy joked, grabbing the young womans arm.
Hanna didnt say anything, she just held tightly onto the saddle horn.
Let her go, came a deep growl from the boardwalk.
Well, now Preacher, the young cowboy playfully replied, pulling his hand off of Hanna.
The group of young men backed away. Several left all together, not wanting to cause a problem with a preacher. Others backed away but stayed close enough to watch. The young cowboy called Milt rolled his shoulders daring the preacher to make a move. Josiah walked down the steps and looked up at Hanna to make sure she was okay, and then carefully placed his newly purchased items in his saddlebags. He watched as his sister pulled the blanket back up over her shoulders then grasped the saddle horn tightly again.
Listen Brother, I dont want any problems. Josiahs voice was calm and reasonable. My sister and I are traveling through
Your sisters a whore, Milt replied, with a grin. He was looking for a fight, and he didnt care with whom.
Josiah clenched his fist. Weve all been sinners
You savin her for yourself, before the cowboy could say anything more, he found himself with a bloody lip. You bastard, he yelped, collecting himself to strike out.
Josiah clasped the boys fisted hand and squeezed bringing him to his knees, then, with a quick jab, punched him in the jaw sending him to the ground. Anyone else? Josiah challenged, looking around. His size and strength had sent the smarter ones away and the rest looked at him in awe. When nobody stepped forward, he grabbed his horses reins and started walking out of town, leaving everyone to watch in wonder.
It had been so long since violence had been a part of Josiahs life; so long indeed. He found himself longing for the life hed chosen against. The ability to settle a dispute with force rather than turn the other cheek, maybe he should have listened to Irish and taken to enforcing the law. Perhaps that wouldnt be any better. He was bringing up old questions hed raised during his time at the seminary. Did he have a right to be wearing the cloth? What made him any better than the next man? Why did he want to turn too violence and the drink rather than God when the need arose? Why was he haunted with the image of his father?
Josiah continued walking until they came upon a quiet place to camp overnight. Only the sounds of the horses hooves hitting the hardened dirt and the animals heavy breathing filled the air. Hanna had not said a word since leaving the asylum. She seemed content just sitting atop Stars back, swaying with his motions, and feeling the breeze in her hair.
Carefully, Josiah helped her down off the horse and he walked her to the creek so she could bathe. He took the blanket, thinking she could manage on her own, and went to get the dress hed gotten her in town. Star grazed happily on the lush green grass while his master searched the saddlebags.
Hanna stood completely still letting the crystal clear water run over her tiny feet. Unsure of what to do, she simply waited.
Josiah headed back for the creek not wanting to disturb his sister, but when he looked up his heart cringed. She stood in the water like a child afraid to swim. Her nightgown clung to her body as she looked curiously at the rocks. Never in his life did he think hed have to become, not only a brother, but also a friend, and a parent for his sister. He took off his jacket and set it with the dress then went to help Hanna.
He had to help her undress, bathe, and redress. All the while he fought the urge to cry. There had been a time when she was so full of life, but now, that spark had been quenched. He had to help her eat, comb her hair, and then put her to bed. He sat up watching her sleep, while poking the fire with a stick. Angry with himself, angry with his father, and angry with God, he thought hed made the right decision about his life. Now, he knew he was wrong.
Vista City wasnt the most popular town in the west, matter of fact, it could hardly be called a town at all. A trading post, saloon, brothel, and a territorial jail were the only standing buildings. The locals consisted of farmers, ranchers, and a few miners. Though it was obvious that trappers and hunters frequented the saloons they didnt live in the immediate area. What brought Josiah and Hanna to such a place was the tiny convent on the outskirts of town. A simple place that sought solace and peace.
Wearing his black clothing and white collar, Josiah knocked on the front door. His sister stood behind him grasped tightly in his hand. A nun, with a soft kind face answered the door. She looked momentarily at the father and then to the young woman standing behind him. Nothing was said as she opened her home to these strangers.
For the first time, Hanna let go of Josiahs hand and walked to the stained glass windows and carefully started tracing the lines in the pictures.
Is there something we can do for you father? the nun softly asked.
I am in need of consolation, Josiah admitted, watching his sister.
Come, the sister ordered.
Sister Katherine will watch her, she turned understanding eyes to her guest. Please, let us talk. Sister Margaret patted Josiahs shoulder and guided him into a small office not far from the foyer. We dont get many visitors here and even fewer men.
I hope Ive not come at a bad time.
Nonsense. Sister Margaret smiled. What would you like us to help you with?
Josiah paused and looked at the woman who was so small yet seemed somehow overpowering. He told her about his sister and what he needed. He didnt hide anything from this woman and he opened his wounds for her to see. Though she couldnt cure the illness, she could treat the symptoms and for now that was good enough.
Sister Margaret showed Josiah where his sister would be staying and who would be watching her. The convent, though simple, was exactly what he wanted. Hanna could live here and be happy, well, happier than she was before. The nuns were kind and they only wanted the best for her. Because Josiah was a man of God they took her in, regardless of her past, and they opened their doors for him. Whenever he needed a place to rest, food to eat, or a bed to sleep in, he could come here and not fear.
Josiah stood at the doorway and watched as Sister Katherine led Hanna to her room. Yes, this was the best thing for her. He knew that now. That was the one thing in his life that was right.
Leaving Hanna in the state she was in was the hardest thing for Josiah to do. Guilt, pain, and anger seemed too consume him. As the doors closed behind him he pulled the white collar from around his neck and stared at it in wonder. Had God forsaken him? Or was he turning his back on God?
With elongated strides, Josiah rushed for his horse. He didnt know when, just that it happened, but hed dropped his collar. Perhaps leaving it with his past so he could search for his future.
The saloon bustled with activity and the sweet smell of whiskey filled Josiahs senses. The big man walked up to the bar and ordered a bottle then quietly set out for a small table in the corner. He had a lot of questions to ask himself, and the even harder task of answering them. He didnt know where to begin. Was this as simple as his faith being tested and hed failed, or was it more?
The whiskey tasted sweet and slipped down his throat like honey. He tried to block out his fathers condemning voice or the look of disappointment on his mothers face. Nothing, however, seemed to matter at the moment except drinking away his problems.
Cowboys played friendly games of cards while others enjoyed their drinks. Laughter, off key piano music, and talking, filled the air like children playing on the wharf on a hot summer day. This really wasnt where he wanted to be. He never thought in a million years that hed end up like this. And never, did he think his sister would have suffered so.
Gone was the black clothing. Now, Josiah wore simple cotton pants and a plain shirt. His rosary was exchanged for a Colt Revolver and his Bible his Bible he kept wrapped in an old scarf in his saddlebags. Josiah could simply draw attention due to his size, but the weapon strapped to his hip captured attention for other reasons. Though he wasnt a fast draw, he was accurate. What he was known for, however, was his strength and the ability to handle himself in a fight.
Josiah wasnt handsome in the classical sense of the word. He was striking, and women found his looks strangely irresistible. With a heavy jaw, narrow eyes, and a full head of dark unruly hair, the ladies did enjoy his company. What they didnt enjoy was his simple life. Money wasnt his desire, the search for knowledge was. Where many men his age were consumed with marriage and financial stability, he was consumed with bettering his life in seeking the knowledge of others. He read books on philosophy, religions, and political views. The more he read though, the more questions he asked.
Josiah worked odd jobs. Sometimes he worked cattle, mended fences, and built homes. Wherever he felt needed he went. He continued to study, even stopping along the way to learn from trappers and Indian traders about the ways of the Indian people. Josiah found his faith in the faith of others. It amazed him how so many different beliefs could have so many devoted followers. He admired that and he wanted to be a part of it.
Discovering new places and new things wasnt something that was unfamiliar to the son of a traveling Minister. Theyd visited places like India, Africa, and most of the Americas. Josiah had to admit to himself that he missed seeing the look in peoples eyes when they discovered something new. When they found a new faith and a new god.
The Cherokee people were one of five civilized tribes. However, the white population disregarded Washingtons claim that the people of the Cherokee Nations were the first Indians to learn the white mans ways. After all, they were still Indians.
Josiah was drawn to them for not only the people, but also their way of life. The laws they lived by and learned by somehow brought him out of his reverie and back into the living. After leaving Hanna, hed shut himself off from everything and everyone. Hed even killed a man in a bar fight for doing nothing more than spilling his drink. It was his own strength that he didnt understand. He could pick a man up off his feet and throw him across a room and not break a sweat. Hed even wrestled a bull and won. The stories soon found their way across the lands and rumor had it, that simply stepping into Josiahs way could get a man killed. Of course the rumors had lives of their own but there was always some truth to them.
Through a twist of fate, Josiah came to live with a small tribe of Cherokee just north of Texas. It was a young brave who found him wandering the land just south of the tribe. He was stumbling about without a shirt on, without a horse, and carrying an empty bottle of red-eye. By the time the young warrior had brought Josiah to his chief the big man was sound asleep.
Iskagua or, Clear Sky, was the Indian Chief who allowed Josiah to stay at his camp. Though it wasnt uncommon to see trappers and traders making their way through campgrounds, it wasnt all that common either. Iskagua was a peaceful man who enjoyed the life that had been given him. After suffering a life threatening illness and escaping the Raven Mocker, he lived life to the fullest and gave every being the same chance that had been given him so many years ago. He saw Josiah as a lost soul, someone who needed to be healed, not on the outside, but the inside.
When Josiah woke to a pounding headache, he wasnt entirely sure where he was. The smell of rawhide and fire invaded his senses, but it was the soft bed covered in buffalo hides that brought him back into reality. An Indian woman sat on her heels and gently wiped his face with a doeskin cloth. Her long black hair was pulled back into a single braid that reached the middle of her back. She spoke softly in a tongue that Josiah didnt understand, but there was a kindness in her voice and her face that made him relax. He didnt remember much other than leaving the town hed been staying in. For reasons he couldnt remember.
When the tepee flap opened the Indian woman quickly took her leave as the chief entered. With long gray hair that had been expertly braided and entwined with leather and feathers, Iskagua, made himself comfortable on the pallet next to the bed. He wore buckskin clothing but it was the kindness in his face that settled Josiahs fear.
After the introductions were made Josiah sat up as to be more attentive to his host. The brown blanket that had been covering him fell to his waist exposing his bare chest.
It was Gitlugunahita that found you amongst the thickets, Iskagua went on to say. My people have decided to call you, Yan-egwa. He smiled when he noticed the confused look of his guest. It means Big-Bear. They refer to your size. The chief puffed out his chest and brought out his arms to make himself look bigger.
Josiah smiled and then nodded in understanding. Thank you for takin me in like you have.
Iskagua nodded his head in acceptance. Several of the children found your horse and belongings. The animal seemed to be looking for you. He is a good friend?
Im an old man, but I learned long ago that a friend like that is worth keeping, the chief smiled and then reached over and patted his young guest on the shoulder. I will send Walela back in, he said getting to his feet, Im sure she will have tea for your head. Be wise, and drink it. He chuckled and headed back out of the tepee.
Josiah watched him go wondering what path his life had taken.
It wasnt long before Josiah found himself surrounded in the teaching and beliefs of the Cherokee way of life. He understood from his travels that each clan was different but he found himself feeling at home within this group of people.
Iskagua laughed when his young son fell from his horse after trying to mount the large beast while it was moving. The boy, no older than six, was already trying to become the strong warrior his father would be proud of. Josiah had been told to call the boy, Sparrow, because his traditional Indian name was too difficult for the white mans tongue.
Josiah walked across the camp and smiled as more children rushed passed him playing a game. The women worked on stripping deer skins and buffalo hides of meat and flesh while the men gathered in groups talking about things that were important to them, hunting, fighting, and caring for their families.
Yan-egwa, Iskagua called to Josiah. He motioned for his guest to watch as his son tried once again to mount his new horse. My son learns by repetition. He laughed.
So I see, Josiah replied, joining in on his moment.
Do you have a family? Iskagua asked, never taking his eyes off his son.
Josiah didnt know how to answer and he paused for a moment. My family is
As a man, you can only change yourself, not the people around you. And only through time do you find the correct path, the words came out of the chiefs mouth as though he were mentioning the weather and not Josiahs life. He continued to watch his son try and try again to mount his horse, and then finally the small boy stopped the animal and sought out a rock to stand on. Though he is young, he is smart and a wise man knows this. He looked from his son to Josiah.
Im not a wise man, Josiah admitted.
If you are not so wise why then, are you still here? Iskagua smiled then patted Josiah on the shoulder. You should spend some time with Asvnoyi he will help you find your path.
Josiah watched the chief walk toward his son. He was a proud father and one who was willing to show it, not only in his smiles, and affection, but his being as well.
The holy man, Asvnoyi, was uncharacteristically young. He was a few years older than Josiah and that showed in his face and demeanor. He wasnt nearly Josiahs size and he walked with a limp, but there was a special power about him that made people take notice. He kept his hair braided and entwined with horsehair. Scars ran up and down his arms, put there by himself, as a tribute to the Mother and her Gifts She had bestowed on her people.
Josiah watched as offerings were made and ceremonial tokens were wrapped in special white doeskins. There was a meaning for everything and everything had a meaning. There was something special about these people and their way of life.
Iskagua says you are lost, the holy man said, while finishing his task.
Asvnoyis directness caught Josiah off guard, and he looked from the ground to the sky wondering what to say, or if he should say anything.
You believe this? Asvnoyi asked quietly.
Josiah sighed and reluctantly nodded his head.
Asvnoyi smiled and focused his attention back to his task. To admit this means you are on the right path.
Nothing was said for quite some time as the holy man finished his duties. Josiah watched him wondering what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Hed left the priesthood, turned his back on his father, and abandoned his sister. What right did he have to ask for direction?
To move forward, you must first forgive your past. The holy man looked at Josiah, knowing what it was the young man sitting before him was thinking. Hed seen many people, of all cultures, looking lost and unsure of themselves. Many found their way in their own time, many didnt, but those that did found their paths with a willing heart and this man wasnt ready. Asvnoyi stood up and looked at Josiah hard for a moment. When you are ready, I will show you, but first your heart and your mind must be open.
You think I should go? it was a question, not a statement.
Yes, but know that you are welcome here.
Josiah stood up and sadly nodded his head in understanding. He didnt want to leave but knew that he had too. He needed to check on Hanna. At twenty-eight years old he felt like a child, unsure of what to do, afraid to face his fears, and feeling alone. There was still a lot of hate built up in him, anger that had been buried deep was making its appearance a little at a time. These people had been kind enough to let him sleep off a drunk, then they fed him, and they let him sleep in their homes. The least he could do was show them the same respect and leave before he did something hed regret. He wanted to stay and learn but he knew in his heart that he wasnt ready and that was the first step in walking the right path.