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"One Man's Calling"


Chapter 1
One Man's Calling

By Wayne Fowler

It was a calamity of quirky happenstance. “Hey, Lil’ Missy!” The drunken miner crashed through the double doors of the saloon, the remains of his meal mixed with beer and rotgut whiskey having exploded all over 17-year-old Livvy, Elizabeth Tolsen. Livvy’s timing could not have been more perfect for catching every putrid drop and chunk of the young miner’s spew.

The offender had just begun his first drinking experience beyond his father’s Tennessee farm wine. Batwing saloon doors were hard to come by in 1883 in Colorado mining country. The drunken man crashed through the doors of the Gold Stake Saloon. His spraying vomit arced vertically, missing the boardwalk entirely, but not, unfortunately, Livvy, who he’d sent flying into the street's muck. The odor was horrid, nearly gagging Livvy immediately.

The sour stench was very close to causing her own disgorge. She imagined her hair saturated with the filth. Though far too decorous, her instant impulse was to shed herself of the vile filth, leaving her ruined clothes to the street and fleeing to her mother’s protecting arms, as well as her bath. The torrent caught Livvy totally unaware, blasting her into the mud and mire. 

Feeling somewhat better immediately, the poisonous rotgut evacuated, the staggering twenty-eight-year-old man attempted a clumsy rescue of the thoroughly tousled Livvy. His efforts were extremely inappropriate for a female above the age of five or six.

Livvy’s first concern, once she returned to more practical thought, was the kitten she carried, the busted flour sack and ruined flour ignored. She quickly fought to protect her decorum one-handedly, fending off hands far too forward as she rose from her backside. Her attention was in a civil war between the cat and her honor.

Livvy was a grown woman by any standards, excepting the girlish appearance of her freckled and innocent face and the pony tail. Her mother thought the child somewhat more safe made out to be as young as possible. She chose that side of the drying, but still muddy street as preferable to the boardwalk opposite after having been rudely spoken of, and to, once too often by customers of the two saloons on the uphill side. Proposals of marriage and the like were easily ignored … but not all the time. Sometimes the tones cut through her stony defense. Sometimes unpleasant and occasionally insistent remarks cut like knives. She hated that she couldn’t hide her fury.

With a leap, Livvy could have cleared the boggy mud in the street, knowing that the entry to every saloon posed certain risk. The Gold Stake Saloon side seemed to cater to the gentler, friendlier stock of miners, men from decent families who’d left wives and mothers and sisters in search of wealth sufficient to return with farming funds, their integrity undiminished. These men, Livvy felt, though fully capable of any and all misbehavior while away from the guiding hands of their network of friends and family, were a far better risk than the Bawdy Queen or Avalanche Saloon customers whose bent was for the working girls within, as much as for the cheap liquor. Those men’s actions belied any feminine raising or influence, more like wolves than people. Graciousness was not their forte.

Livvy was carrying a yellow kitten given to her by the general merchandiser’s wife, and the ten-pound sack of flour her mother sent her for, began her gingerly skip past the Gold Stake Saloon entry, wary of would-be suitors regardless of their level of gentlemanliness. The kitten matched Livvy’s hair color on sunny days when her hair brightened considerably from her normal tawny shade. The pony tail was her mother’s idea, a way of declaring the child too young for lonely, amorous men.

The coast was clear, no one coming or going on the newly planked walkway except those entering and leaving the various shops and businesses along the hundred-foot section of town buildings that were anchored on one end by a rough-built jail. The jail itself was down from the walk way and securely pinned to the ground. The other end of the strip housed a dentist, who also served as the year-old mining town’s only doctor and barber, performing all services to the occupants of his multi-purpose chair. The normal street traffic of horsemen, mule men, miners leading donkeys, and waggoneers managed the muddy street, most of them favoring the dryer high side.

Then the drunk's filth followed by his hands in her hair, on her face, and her chest. Her mortification was one second from explosion.

Ben Persons fairly jumped from his horse, leaving it to wander. As hungry as a skinny vulture, Ben had skipped breakfast that morning, breaking camp as quickly as light allowed and hurrying to town for reasons he couldn’t fathom until he saw the young lady being manhandled by a drunken man. Bounding over a miner’s mule-pulled two-wheel cart, he gently wrestled the foul-smelling salooner’s hands from Livvy. “Hey, Buddy. Whoa there. Maybe you’d wanna hobble yonder to the creek and clean up some, huh?”

The stumbling drunk, his unfocussed gaze darting from Livvy to the spilt flour and back toward the saloon, finally settled on Ben’s eyes. “Uh, yeah. ‘Kay. You shay so.” With that the man staggered across the street toward a gap between two buildings, heading for the creek a short distance beyond.

“Miss, I could walk you home, then fetch another sack of flour,” Ben offered. He stood a gentlemanly arm’s length from her, one hand extended as if in offer to help her rise to her full stature, which would bring her eyes to his prominent Adam’s apple level.

After an aborted attempt to salvage some of the loss, Livvy looked up to her savior. In the instant it took to note the flour and simultaneously secure her agitated kitten, she noted the robust health and vigor of her rescuer. In her toe-to-head scan, she felt herself linger on his natural smile and what she interpreted as genuine concern in his slightly furrowed brow. His sparkling blue eyes invited friendship and trust. She smiled at his comic choice of the word fetch. Being on the tall side for a woman, she had only to lift her gaze slightly, taking in the young man’s trim but muscular build. Beginning to speak, she caught herself in a coughing fit, a drop of saliva inadvertently sucked into her lungs as she nearly gasped at the gentleman’s beauty.

Beauty was the right word. Once fixed to his eyes, she was struck dumb. Despite the youthful two- or three-day stubble, his more than pleasantly ruddy appearance was nearly blinding. His crystal blue eyes were magnetic. Not much older than herself, she’d instantly determined his prospects, subconsciously calculating his compatibility as a lifelong companion. The resonance of his soft, but masculine voice melded with her pulse. She could sleep to its charm, or scale the mountainside in pursuit. She reckoned his age to be within courting range. It was his eyes, though, that brought an automatic smile to her own. In the instant between thought and deed, she imagined herself swooned into his arms, nestled into his welcoming embrace. All this in the moment before the dream-of-a-young-man spoke.

“Miss?” Ben asked, wishing to, but unwilling to clap her on the back as he might a person caught between breaths. “Can I go get you the flour?”

Blinking back tears of strain as she recovered from her spell, Livvy managed to croak out, “You know where I live?” suddenly chagrinned that she’d yet to thank him.

“Soon’s you tell me, I will. And don’t you worry none. I’ll give you plenty of time to, uh …,” Ben glanced at the mess made of her dress. “And give you a chance to get cleaned up.”

“The livery. My Pa’s the wheel-wright. He rents part of the livery from Mr. Tobbs. We have the place behind the livery.”

“Well, that’s just where I was headed. Guess I’ll hafta find some way to kill some time,” he said. “I’m Ben Persons,” he said, tipping his hat, his too-long tawny hair curling behind his ears beneath his Stetson. His bow, an inch more than a nod, was not lost on Livvy.

“Long as it isn’t there, or there, or there,” Livvy replied with waves toward the three saloons. “I’m Livvy, and we’d all be proud to share our supper with you, my parents and I. Give me a chance to work up a proper, more grateful thank you.”

Ben rubbed his chin, his gentle pleasantry soothing her spirit.

“The dentist up yonder allows men to shave and such for a nickel. Or he’ll do it for you for two bits.” Livvy bit her lip at her forwardness. “Not that you need to on my account. Be there ‘bout the time the sun hits that peak over there,” she said, pointing to the west. “But come as early as you’d like.” With that, Livvy fast-walked to nearly a run as she attempted to out-distance her embarrassment. “The mercantile closes at five,” Livvy shouted over her shoulder.

Ben smiled broadly at her departure, watching to see if she’d look back.  Looking to fetch his horse, no easy task since both he and the horse were new to the town of misaligned blocks, he finally located it on the rise toward the creek where it had found a patch of some kind of rye grass. The flour, a shave, and a visit to the livery where he was bound in the first place, and he would welcome home cooking, the first real supper since he’d left the wagon train more than two weeks past.

+++

Again, Ben dismounted on the fly, arriving at the livery and jumping in as a horse attempted to tear a chunk from the ferrier, the livery stable owner, Mr. Tobbs, who’d been bumped to the ground. “Whoa, Big Feller,” Ben calmed the horse, intervening by slowly moving his hands in an effort to soothe the excited animal, its head and neck nearly rearing, its eyes bulging. “Easy, Big Boy.”

The horse settled. Livvy’s father appeared in time to help Mr. Tobbs who was rolling in the dirt as if on fire.

“Are you all right?” Livvy’s father, Ralph Tolsen asked, his words drowned by Mr. Tobbs’ curses.

“That, whatever his name is, can shoe his own horse!” Tobbs bellowed. “I’ll not go near that beast!

“Put ‘im up,” he ordered Ben, as though an employee. Tobbs brushed dust from his clothes, ridding himself of his embarrassment.

“I’ll do it,” Ralph offered, understanding Tobbs’ impropriety.

“That’s all right,” Ben replied. “I don’t mind. No offense taken,” he added with a smile toward both men. The horse snorted, shaking his head as if in victory. Snot and mucus clouded the air around the animal’s head as he cleared his sinuses with a huff and lip babble, as a man blowing his nose to the ground – times ten thousand. The men watched to see whether the horse survived.

“Mr. Tobbs, is it?” Ben asked of the calmed lumberjack-of-a-man.

After proper introductions all around, Ben handed the flour sack he crudely set on the ground before rescuing Tobbs to Ralph. “For your wife,” he said to the bewildered man. Turning to the livery owner, Ben said, “Mr. Tobbs, in trade for a day’s room and board for me and Red here, I’d be proud to finish that job for you.” Ben nodded toward the stallion.

“That beast needs cut, worsen shod. Do it for free, I was sure I wouldn’t be shot dead.”

“Oh, he isn’t that bad,” Ben said, reaching up to scratch the horse’s head behind his ear as he would a dog. The horse snorted in response. “I learned that I could handle most any animal on the wagon train. You talk me through it, and I’ll shoe my first horse.”

“Fella, you have a deal. And I won’t care if you hammer that knothead to tears.”

Ralph laughed hysterically as he glanced at Ben’s amiable smile. Looking at the sack of flour in his crotched arm, he headed to the house in the back where he knew he’d hear the rest of the story from Livvy.

+++

“Tobbs, he came from the north, way north, Michigan, or Wisconsin, or somewhere,” Ralph said, passing bread to Ben, encouraging him to eat heartily. “Says their snow was heavy, wet heavy. Ours is powder. His family was dairy, but Tobbs, he doesn’t like animals. You could tell, right?” Ralph continued without response. “He told me how a cow kicked him in the head, sideways. You know how cows can kick?” Ralph asked, his eyes fixed on Ben.

“Straight sideways,” Ben answered, smiling at Livvy, who showed signs of barely tolerating her father in a kind and loving manner. “Pa said that was the reason milk stools always had just three legs – so’s you could skit clear right quick any direction.”

Ralph chuckled. “Yeah, well, Tobbs, he don’t know any other way to make a living, but he don’t like animals.” Ralph, hearing his wife clear her throat, paid more attention to his plate. “Alpine needed a livery. Tobbs, he was going to strike gold, but … Where was I …? We came from Missouri. Just after those raiders came up from …” Ralph stopped mid-sentence, catching Mae’s scornful look. “Where was I?”

“Tobbs doesn’t like animals,” Ben answered, glancing at Livvy with his infectious smile.

“He lets you have as much of his barn as you need,” Livvy’s mother said, defending Tobbs.

Ralph harrumphed, stamping his feet like they were in protest.

After the simple meal of bread, beef and potatoes was finished, Livvy and her mother began cleaning up. The women allowed Ralph the honors of interviewing Ben, knowing that he would ask all the questions they had, and then some. “Didn’t see no gear on your horse? What brings you to gold and silver country?” Ralph preferred a story to an answer, believing that he’d already provided the response, meaning that every Alpine traveler was a prospector.

“Following God’s lead,” Ben said. “And the mountains. Round one, and another, even more majestic fills your … your whole self. I can’t hardly believe what I’m seeing.”

“Hah! Your neck wants to freeze looking at them, sometimes. Sometimes I hear ‘em talking, talking like my departed father.”

May, Ralph’s wife harrumphed herself, wanting to hear Ben’s story.

Never having heard anyone mention following God, the women’s wide eyes and gaping jaws bid Ben to continue. Knowing that their hospitality and their downright friendliness deserved as much, he told his story.

“My pa died at Manassas. Some call it Bull Run,” he began, knowing that Yankees referred to the first real Civil War fight as the Battle of Bull Run. “The man that brought the news was my pa’s best friend in the army. He lost his arm on the same day Pa died. He married my mother before I was even born. That was near Flippin, Arkansas, just a spit from the White River.”

“That the same as what bounded the Cherokee to the north?” Ralph asked, ignoring the fact that the lad omitted all references and descriptions of the boy’s family life. He understood that the rough Ozark Mountain country would have been physically demanding, but no more so than for millions of other primitive families.

“The same. ‘Til they were escorted to the territory. I was determined to go to Bible College…”

“You’re a preacher?” Livvy exclaimed.

After a moment’s pause, Ben answered in the negative. “Naw, I was trained to, and could, but that wasn’t my calling. I knew it all along, but …”

“You have a calling?” Livvy’s mother asked, dumbfounded.

Livvy’s gaze to Ben would have been embarrassing had he caught her eyes.

Ben’s smile halted further questioning. “Before I graduated, my grandpa sold his mill and died soon after. He left me nearly three hundred an’ fifty dollars. So I paid off the rest of my tuition, bought my horse, Red, and here I am.” After a pause, he added, “And that’s why I won’t allow you to pay me for the flour.”

“Well, Son,” Ralph said, a title not missed by Livvy, “Tobbs could use a little help, not full time, I’m sure, but enough to pay for you and your horse’s puttin’ up. And you’re welcome here every evening for supper. Isn’t he May?” Ralph glanced to his wife.

“A’course he is. Ain’t he Livvy?”

Livvy melted, unable to respond, thoughts of matrimony and motherhood flooding her being.

Ben’s smile melted them all. At a loss for words, it took his full concentration to keep from reaching to Livvy and hugging her tightly.

+++

As Ben settled into the family routine, Mae offered her blessing for the two to take walks. Though nearly full grown, her folks still practically insisted she return by dark, despite being with Ben, the most trustworthy man they’d ever met. Though she could have broken free at just about any time, Livvy preferred after supper chores were finished and she’d had a chance to clean up.

“So tell me about a calling,” Livvy asked on their first evening walk just off the road to the neighboring town of Wagonwheel. “What exactly is it? How do you know what it wants you to do? Is it a voice? And when did you first know about it?”

Ben stopped and turned to face her fully. Grinning large, “Anything else?”

Nonplussed, she added another question. “Was it like God called to Samuel while he was asleep in bed?”

Turning back to continue their walk, hand-in-hand, Ben explained, “Naw. Wasn’t like that at all. I was nine when I first knew something. A spitfire of a travelin’ preacher come through. They built him a brush arbor and he preached twice a day for a week. He was a hellcat, I’ll tell you. Sit too close and you caught his spittle, him screechin’ an’ screamin’. Demons ‘round there didn’t stand a chance.”

“That was your calling, him screaming.”

“No. Truth is, I didn’t hardly hear a word he said. But the first night he preached … it was while he was praying. He even screamed that. Like God was deaf. That first night, I felt it. Here, in my chest, and in my throat. My head was full of God. And when I said yes, well that was it. I knew.”

“So, you started preaching when you were nine?” Livvy asked.

“No. Mostly what changed was that I liked to pray. It’s like talking to God …”

“Shouting and screaming like the preacher did?” Livvy asked.

Ben grinned. “I kind’ve think God plugs his ears with his fingers,” Ben laughed. “No, but I learned from that night on how my doing wrong hurt God. It got real easy to know what to leave alone.”

“Like girls?” Livvy said, releasing Ben’s hand, her head tipping toward the ground, unsure whether she wanted to hear his response.

After a moment of silence, Ben caught her hand again, smiling at her with his eyes.

“Did you have girlfriends, then?” Livvy finally asked.

“Sure, but before I could even guess if it was right, they’d up and marry somebody else.”

Livvy’s laughter was contagious.

“I can just see you,” she said. “You taking long walks with a girl, shining up to her, then go sit on a stump and stare at the sky for a month waiting for a sign from heaven.” She began to laugh again.

Ben finished her thought; “Meanwhile, Joe Bob makes off with Sarah Jane. Over and over again.”

“Until everybody’s married but poor Ben.” Livvy squeezed his hand, winking playfully.

“How about in college?” Livvy asked. “Any girlfriends there?”

“Too busy. There was a gal on the wagon train, though. Rebecca. But two days after we got to Santa Fe, her parents loaded the wagon back up and they left out for California.” Ben became solemn. “There’s an example. I would have gone on to California with them in an Ozark second, but my head kept turning north, toward the mountains. I just sensed an urging to Colorado. I didn’t feel right until I was on Red and headed here.”

“To me,” Livvy said, squeezing Ben’s hand. “Did you love her?” Livvy returned to being more serious.

“No, I don’t think I loved her, but … The calling isn’t like handwriting in the sky. I’m like most everybody else, I’d guess. Just do what seems right.”

“I don’t think most people do,” Livvy replied. “Were you called to come up here, to Alpine? What was that like?”

After a pause, Ben explained. “You ever seen a water dowser, the way his willow fork pulls? Or play with two magnets, the way they repel and pull? It’s not like that, but I do sense a strong, compelling urge. In Santa Fe I could have gone with the Sundersons, but the road north out of Santa Fe to Colorado was as strong as a magnet, drawing me. It wasn’t until I took my mind off Rebecca and focused on God that I knew, though. Soon as I got headed on a course, I felt a peacefulness all over. Heading here just seemed right.”

“To me,” Livvy offered.

Ben smiled with his whole self, gently squeezing her hand. “Matter of fact, that day you got …”

“The kitten,” Livvy filled in, saving Ben from describing the sordid details.

Ben smiled. “Yeah. Well, I woke with a start. Packed up, doused the fire, and kept Red at a pretty good clip all the way to Alpine.”

“To me.”

“Never got down from Red ‘til I saw you,” Ben finished.

Livvy sighed, leaning her head on Ben’s shoulder.

+++

“Town needs a church,” Ben said to agreeing nods everywhere he went around town, fitting it into every conversation. “Could double as a school and town hall,” he added to those less enthusiastic. “I could send for a preacher from the William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where I graduated. Could be here, time we had it built,” he said to the generally accepted leader of the town, who was elected mayor as soon as the community was incorporated.

Heads nodded assent among those gathered in front of the mercantile.

Chorused among them were shouts of, “Why not you?”

+++

“Heard you turned down the preacher position,” Livvy said. “Could be a real fine career. A real good thing.” Livvy was, and not for the first time, somewhat disappointed and confused, the same feelings as those that followed Ben’s reluctance to pursue her more physically. His kisses, though impassioned, lacked follow-through. Not that she would follow far, but he failed to live up to her expectations of behavior that might indicate an impending proposal. Livvy had already made her decision and was ready. She literally ached for him.

“Not my calling. Don’t know what, but I know God’s got another plan for me.”

Not wanting to hear what she felt coming, Livvy interjected, “Nothing wrong with being a church builder, and maybe deacon, or whatever they call ‘em.

“Tell me again, Ben, what exactly is a calling? Are you to be a big city preacher? Or is it to another woman? One that will give you five hundred children,” Livvy’s tone clearly expressed frustration.

Ben hesitated.

Livvy continued. “Or something between? How do you know about a calling? Maybe sometimes a person could get it wrong.”

Ben pulled her hand to his lips, kissing it gently. “You know how you are to one day marry, have children, raise a family? You know how certain of that you are? Well, it’s something like that. I just know that I have things to do. Who knows what small, insignificant things affect the next moment? I don’t know, maybe my intervention with you and that saloon drunk saved him from being shot by someone else. Maybe he never takes another drink. Maybe he goes home to his family and one of his sons becomes the president of the United States, or a war hero who saves hundreds of men. Who knows what a calling is. Maybe it’s none of that. I know I was called to you. And I sense that that call is … done. I’m called to move on, Livvy.”

Livvy couldn’t quite contain a hiccup of a sob, choking it back. Her chest ached, pain that hurt more like a house fell on her than her previous ache.

“I laid awake all last night. I’ll be leaving soon as your preacher gets here.”

Livvy bolted before Ben could mouth the words, “I love you, but …” Her confusion devastating, she ran from their favored creek side park setting the hundred yards to her home, avoiding him the remainder of his stay. After the extremely awkward mealtime that next day, Ben took his remaining suppers in town. His heartfelt good-byes and departure from the family were tear-filled. Livvy, silent the entire time, offered herself in a lingering embrace, innocent but still intimate. Finally gurgling a farewell, Ben understood that he was welcome to return any time.

Author Notes (2028 words) Longer than I like, but with a 2000 word minimum for the contest ...
I've added chapter 1, part B to this post. I have no idea what it will do to the part A that I've entered in the contest. Nevertheless, chapter 2 will be the third post of this story.
Ben Persons - A young man with a 'calling' from God
Elizabeth (Livvy) Tolsen - daughter of Ralph, a wheelwright, and Susan Tolsen
Mr. Tobbs - Alpine's livery owner
Ralph Tolsen - Livvy's father


Chapter 2
One Man's Calling, Ch 2

By Wayne Fowler

So far, Ben Persons, a Missouri Bible College graduate, left a wagon train in Sante Fe to follow God’s lead, which was to Alpine, Colorado where he saved young Livvy from a drunk. As soon as he encouraged the town to build a church, and he arranged for a preacher, he again sensed God’s lead, leaving a nearly heart-broken Livvy.

Arville Johnston was sent home to recover from his shrapnel wound on the second day of battle at Gettysburg, a cannon ball exploding with him just at the edge of the killing zone. His limbs healed, and by most accounts he was fit for return to duty. He was spared the heart-wrenching decision whether to ride the train back to General George Meade’s army, or north toward Canada from his home in Moline, Illinois, where all his relatives worked for John Deere. He was torn between battle carnage and what the army would call desertion, a five-minute trial followed by death by hanging.

General Lee’s surrender allowed him a western option. His first job offer was a stage line shotgun guard position. It sounded like a god-send, there being no factory work west of Missouri. Arville’s very first ride didn’t turn out as well as he’d imagined.

+++

Near Wagon Wheel Gap, along the Rio Grande, Ben felt compelled to make camp, dining on trout caught on one of the hooks he’d packed back in Liberty. Bugs for bait, he feasted on the delicacy three times a day. Nearing noon of the third day of camping, having no idea why he lingered, his fire all but out, Ben heard what he figured to be pistol shots from down the Sanderson stage road. Several small pops without a rifle’s cracking echo, told him that someone was up to no good. He bridled Red and quickly mounted bareback, rifle in one hand, the reins in the other. Red was up to the task, bounding up the rocky embankment. The old weathered Spencer repeating rifle was identical to the one his step father carried from the war to his Arkansas home. It was a gift of the wagon master once they’d reached Santa Fe, payment for helping with stock, as well as for conducting Sunday devotionals. He’d even officiated two funerals on the trip, both old men straining beyond their limits freeing wagon wheels, one out of a mud bog, the other from an ancient rut.

From a distance he saw the top of the stage. It wasn’t moving. Gunshots as well as no visible heads above the coach profile told him that the stage was being, or already had been, robbed. Ground tying Red, he quietly stole toward the stage. Four male passengers stood beside the coach in their long-handles, one of the bandits going through the pockets of their clothing. Another outlaw fought with a strongbox lock as a third sat idly horseback, his pistol leaning lazily over the saddle horn. From Ben’s vantage point he could only assume that the driver was bent over the man riding shotgun, obviously injured, probably a headshot by the way the driver was tending him.

“I got ‘em, John. Tell Zack to come on up with the horses,” Ben yelled over his shoulder to no one, convincing the robbers that he was not alone by the way they glanced all around.

The one on horseback snapped off a shot in Ben’s general direction, missing him by the distance of the side of a barn. His second shot, fired on the run, was closer. The two afoot scrambled to their horses, loosely tied to the back of the stage. One of them, Demone Lovelace, squeezed his finger on the trigger, expertly aimed at the center of Ben’s chest. The hammer fell on an empty chamber, his pistol empty of live rounds, having forgotten that he’d only that day taken someone’s advice to load only five rounds, leaving the one under the hammer empty. Escaping with the stage as cover, the outlaws spurred their horses. Ben didn’t fire a shot, though he held a bead on one bandit until he was out of range.

“You didn’t fire a shot!” one of the passengers complained.

“And what might be your fate were I to engage in a shootout? They get me, you’d be next. I get one of them and the others might well be bent on revenge somewhere down the line. No Sir. Get’cher clothes and begin counting your blessings. How’s your man?” Ben asked the driver as he approached, one eye peeled for the bandits.

“Grazed his skull good. Got some bone, I’m afraid. He live and he might be wishin’ he didn’t. He was gonna go back for his girl, marry her and bring her out here next week. Now, I don’t think he’ll make it back to town.”

“Let’s have a look. You tend to the team and your gear.”

The driver, old enough to be Ben’s father and ordinarily one to give orders, rather than take them from a young whippersnapper, did as bid, shaking his head as to why he was. “His name’s Arville,” the driver said. “I’m Hector.”

Leaning over the injured man, Ben prayed for healing, something that came to him out of the blue, and never before. A moment later he spoke toward the passengers. “Bring me a couple shirts. The ones you just put on if you have to.”

The two nearest immediately removed the shirts they’d just donned. With one Ben cleaned the bleeding wound that the driver hadn’t quenched with his neckerchief. With the other he fashioned a bandage tied more tightly using the sleeves.

“Make him a pallet on the coach floor,” Ben directed to immediate obedience. Between them, they managed to get Arville, the injured man, onboard and the party on their way. Ben casually enjoyed his last day of camping on the river, letting Hector drive on.

“How’s Arville?” Ben asked at the stage office in Creede the next day.

“He was awake and talkin’. ‘Bout as soon as you left,” Hector, said. “He’s over at the Doc’s office. They’re makin’ him lie still for twenty-four hours. You’d think that layin’ there was worse than bein’ headshot, you ask him. What’d you do for ‘im, anyway? I saw cracked bone. Not sure the bullet even came out.”

“Prayed for him,” Ben answered, his eyes peering into Hector’s soul.

Hector’s mouth opened as if to speak, closing as quickly, saying nothing.

After a moment Ben turned to leave. By the time he reached the doorknob, Hector had regained his faculties. “Hey!” he started, loud enough to be heard across town. “Sorry. Didn’t want you to get away. You’re a bit younger than they usually hire, but I’ll back you if you want work. At least until Arville’s ready to come back.”

Without hesitation, Ben agreed, knowing God’s lead when he saw it.

+++

“Train’s comin’ through. Maybe early as next year, year after, sure,” Hector shouted over the din of the horses, the steel-bound wheels and the clatter and creaking of the stagecoach.

Ben was working as shotgun, vigilant for robbers. He nodded agreement.

“Where’s your family?” Ben asked, waiting for Hector to get one of the horses to better match stride.

“Kansas. ‘At’s where we lived when we married, Nellie and I. Flatter land I’ve never seen. Grow corn, wheat, barley, nearly anything. Almost makes you hate to waste that good ground on hay, bad as you need it, though. We started out poor. Got a farm on shares. Then the old man died and left it to us. Reason we got it, his whole family Indian kilt. I hired on with Barlow and Sanderson. ‘Posed ta been four day a week – two out, two back. Then to keep the job I hadda change routes, keepin’ ahead of the railroad. Now it’s six days a week, for not much more money, and I only get back to Kansas twice a year. Kids, near grown now, do the farmin’ with the wife. Soon’s I save up enough for mules to replace the geezers we got, I’m goin’ back.” With that, Hector snapped the reigns, urging the four-horse team to a slightly faster pace.

The relatively flat bottom land between mountain ranges seemed to be as rich as any row crop land Ben had seen anywhere. The next quiet piece of road, away from likely danger, Ben pierced Hector’s very being with an intense, uncomfortable gaze. “Go now, Hector. Before the next route change. The next one will be far more dangerous. You’ll not see your family again. The roads will be treacherous, and the bandits more bold. Go now. Don’t wait.”

Ben had never told anyone what to do with their lives with such vigor. Serious suggestions maybe, but this delivery was different, as if the words spoken were not even his own. He clapped Hector’s thigh as he offered him the canteen. Neither spoke again until they reached the next way station where the team of horses was replaced with another in less than four minutes.

“Gonna do it,” Hector said as he reigned the team to action. “Get back to South Fork, I’ll tell ‘em they got one more out‘n-back. Find somebody quick ‘cause I’m goin’ home. Yes Sir.” With that, he gave Ben a contented smile.

Ben felt the same satisfied feeling as when he’d prayed for Arville, sensing God’s hand of protection.

Author Notes This is the third post of One Man's Calling, but only chapter 2.
Ch 1A and 1B have now been combined into Ch 1.
Ben Persons: A young man with a calling from God
Arville Johnston: stagecoach shotgun guard
Hector: stagecoach driver
Demone Lovelace: stagecoach robber
John and Zack: made up names that Ben used to trick stage robbers


Chapter 3
One Man's Calling, ch 3

By Wayne Fowler

In the last chapter Ben felt led to make camp by a mountain stream off the road a bit. There he remained until he successfully interrupted a gang robbing a stage coach. Ben prayed for the healing of Arville, the gunshot guard. After talking over the guard job, Ben followed God’s leading and counselled the stage driver to quit his job and return to his family that he’d been supporting.

Ben arranged to end his own stage coach duty at Creede, another shotgun rider taking over from there.

“Heard about you,” the town sheriff, JD Watson said. “Heard you work cool under pressure, not too quick to get folks hurt.” Standing on the boardwalk, Watson towered over Ben, who’d just dismounted and was loosening Red’s cinch strap. Red snorted his gratitude.

“Heard about you, Sheriff. Treat people fair, easy with second chances,” Ben replied, keeping to himself the source of his information.

“Need a deputy, ‘specially somebody to watch the jail nights, whenever we have guests, which lately has been purty reg’lar. You’re young, but not.” Watson stepped off the boardwalk, offering Ben his hand.

“Pay enough to eat?” Ben asked, his eyes and smile telling the sheriff he’d take the job.

Sheriff JD Watson was the son of a modest sized plantation owner in northern Georgia. Physically favoring his father, a tall, barrel-chested man with a gravelly voice that sounded as if emanating from the bottom of a well, his demeanor tended more toward his mother’s, a more thoughtful and empathetic person than her husband. JD often found himself in a mediating position between his father and the plantation superintendent over matters concerning the hundred-plus slaves. He hated having to persuade his father that fair treatment of slaves was more important than profit. That strength was not measured by force, but by integrity and honor. And he despised having to resort to comparisons of plantation livestock.

JD’s father was proud of the rank of colonel he was able to garnish for his son in General Sorrel’s Division in the Confederacy. He was also happy to have him off the plantation.

His return to the burned down plantation found both parents deceased, the slaves freed, and his younger siblings all in favor of selling the land to carpetbaggers. JD accepted a meager share and joined a wagon train headed for Santa Fe. Single-handedly breaking up a saloon brawl ultimately put a star on his chest, a lawman. A string of odd circumstances landed him the sheriff job in Creede, Colorado, where he was elected both mayor and sheriff.

Creede was more of a way-station than a mining town at the time. The end of a stage line and freight hauling line, it served as a jump off point and re-supply base for silver mines. Laid out on the headwaters of the Rio Grande tight against a hard rock bluff on East Willow Creek, the town Willow Creek quickly absorbed West Willow Creek, Stringtown, Jimtown, and Amethyst, and was renamed Creede, the name of a successful miner who’d spread enough payola about the town to secure its name.

Later inhabitants and passers-through were as apt to be ranchers or farmers as miners.

A couple days into the job, Ben was challenged. “You the new deputy? Hey, I think I know you. Yeah, them eyes.” The inquisitor was a squat, rotund specimen of a man. His three-piece suit seemed to Ben to be his only one based on the frayed edges and assortment of grime. The man’s balding pate shined through the misshapen comb-over, parted on the wrong side for a right-handed man, just above his right ear. Ben reckoned that a hat would make it near impossible for the man to see anyone’s face, the kink it would require to look up. Ben recalled advice from his stepfather to never trust a man in a three-piece suit. Since college, this was his first opportunity to consider the premise.

Ben might have chuckled at the sight except for the foreboding sense of evil about this character. It was the same feel as when he’d seen the man in front of a brothel/saloon in Alpine, Livvy’s little town. The man’s aura was wrong, wrinkling Ben’s brow as he attempted to discern the direction of the wrongness.

“Yeah, you was the one got ‘em to get all churched up. Them eyes. You leaving made everybody think they was more’n they was. They didn’t run me out, though. I moved on, followed the money. Just so you know, I don’t like you. An’ don’t much like anybody who does.”

Ben had yet to speak, content to watch and listen. Salinger. Something Salinger was his name. Ben recalled the foul manner with which he’d treated his female employees, calling them by their body parts rather than their names. Ben noted Salinger’s twitching fingers, his right hand resting on the pistol strapped about his girth, the holster comically dangling over the area of his belly button. “Can I help you?” Ben finally asked.

“Want Billy outta there. Outta your jail. I need him to clean up. Only help I got that don’t think he can get after the girls for free. What’s his fine?”

Billy Moore was a puzzle to everyone that knew him, a true poser. He had an eye for the women, but only one eye. That is, he saw them from only one eye at a time, and that through a peripheral vision that he had mastered to an art form. Seeing them, holding them in his vision, they only sensed his glare, not actually seeing it. Though he never spoke to women, whether in public or private, he hung on the words they spoke to him, his ears literally perked.

Extremely difficult to look at, his mother had been an alcoholic while she carried him. Birth defects in facial features and mannerisms made youthful courtships impossible. But, unfortunately, his appearance was not connected to his desire. He turned fifteen in St Louis. Knowing that he’d had just about the last of his mother’s meals, her male callers not liking him to be anywhere near when they came around, which was every day, he plotted toward the day he would empty her purse, and leave.

A week after his fifteenth birthday, celebrated by no one, he roamed residential neighborhoods, as had become his routine, looking for opportunities to view women or girls through their windows. Seeing a young couple heavily into a nearly illegal public display on a front porch, he couldn’t keep himself from their window once they’d moved inside.

No sooner did he have his nose to the glass and he was jerked backwards by a hand in his belt. Picking himself up from the ground quickly became a repeated theme, slugged back down by either the belt-pulling neighbor or the romantic young man from within. When he could no longer pull himself up, one or the other of the assailants picked him up for further punishment.

The men’s hands sore and tired, the violated one knelt beside Billy, speaking directly into his brain through his swollen and bleeding ear. “If I catch you looking at a woman again, it’ll be this all over again.” A kick broke one of Billy’s ribs.

He never looked a female in the face again. Before properly healed, he was in an empty cattle car pointed west, two sacks of food, two silver dollars and some smaller coins his stake. Turning eighteen in Creede, again celebrated by no one, he begged a saloon owner the trade of food for his cleaning services, willing to clean anything. Salinger put him on the payroll when he tired of Billy’s begging for food in return for what turned out to be quality cleaning. “Just don’t fool with the women,” Salinger charged.

“Oh, no Sir, won’t even look at ‘em.”

+++

It was near dark, only Ben’s second night on the job. The sheriff brought Billy in for public indecency, urinating on Main Street. He was at an alley, but hadn’t the manners to at least turn his back to the public. Ben calculated that Salinger waited until the sheriff had retired for the night, figuring to intimidate the new guy.

“Don’t believe I’ll let Billy out, Mr. Salinger.” Ben subtly rose to his full stature, crossing his arms over his chest.

Mason Salinger winced at the youth’s familiarity and arrogance. “Why, you, you whiskered pup.” His fingers twitched violently, though his hand hadn’t moved.

Ben thought it comical that Salinger would negatively reference his week-old facial growth, the start of a beard that Ben was contemplating, while the man’s own patchwork of grizzle more resembled a mangy dog.

“What’s his fine?” Salinger repeated, spittle spraying the personal space between the two.

“Not set yet. He’s spending the night right where he sits.” Ben recalled the sheriff’s rancor, seeing the way Billy had wagged himself in full view of the street while finishing his business.

Salinger nearly tripped over himself in his effort to turn and storm off. Ben envisioned a swelled tick marching away with a side-to-side gate.

+++

On nights when there was no one in the jail, Ben’s duties included patrolling the streets from dark until the early hours of the morning, the sheriff-issued Colt Peacemaker and holster securely tied to his leg. Noises of unruly conduct kept him in the vicinity of Salinger’s two saloons, both on Main Street opposite one another. He’d yet to draw the handgun, his hope that shooting anyone never be required. Hearing a familiar retching sound, he could barely make out that it was Jackie at the landing outside her room on the brothel’s second floor. As often as he witnessed her routine, he correctly figured that it followed most, if not every, customer episode.

“You gonna arrest me?” Jackie asked as Ben quietly ascended the stairs, following clear direction of his calling.

“No Ma’am. I want to help. I can get you on the stage out of here. Take you out of town, get you on the stage unseen. Buy you a ticket to anywhere you want to go.”

Jackie caught a glimpse of Ben’s eyes from the light from her room. She saw his sincerity. “You’d do that? Why? And where could I go? Look at me.” Turning her face to the light, Ben saw her swollen nose and blackened eye. The bite marks on her neck were both fresh and scarred.

“You’ll heal. There ain’t no hole so deep, God isn’t deeper yet.”

Jackie began to scoff. Until she saw Ben’s eyes, his honest eyes, noting that he’d yet to look down her top. His expression held no sense of condescension.

“But…”

“Start with Alpine…”

“I was in Alpine!”

“It’ll be all right. I know a family that’ll keep you safe until you heal. Then Denver.” The idea leaped into Ben’s thinking, speaking the plan as it manifested. “Hotel and restaurant work until you meet a nice young man that wants a family. You’ll learn all about love, Jackie, real love.”

Jackie instantly buried her face in Ben’s chest, sobbing convulsively. “Can we go now? Right now? Hide me in your jail until you can get me out of here?”

“Get your wrap and a blanket.” Ben escorted her through town to the jail, unseen by the several who’d looked directly at them.

In the jail, Jackie felt compelled to explain herself.

“You don’t need to say a thing,” Ben reassured her.

“But I do, even if just for myself,” Jackie insisted. “My step father …”

Ben held up his hand, slowly lowering it, taking one of Jackie’s into his. Ben’s eyes bore into Jackie’s. With a hiccup, Jackie’s momentary trance-like state was broken. She sighed deeply, fully accepting that Ben somehow knew, and understood, everything about her. She nearly forced words explaining how her step father gave her to someone who sold her to Salinger, but held her peace with the realization that Ben accepted her as a worthy soul.

+++

“Sheriff, you have to go after them! He ruined me. Bad enough people don’t pay like they promise, but that wagon load of goods will close me up. I can’t order no more.” The complaint was from the mercantile/general store owner, the town’s first, Pressure from the town’s second general store cut deeply into Brockton McKnight’s profit margin. “He said he was from the Ford ranch. Had their wagon, and brand on his horse. They usually pay cash. I figure he stole ‘em, the wagon and horse. Headed north. My bet is that you’ll find him sellink it cheap to the North Creede store.” McKnight enunciated ink as he did all his ing words. Pulling his handlebar moustache from both sides of his mouth, he repeated his demand for recovery. “He said Ford himself would be in the next day to pay.”

Within minutes Sheriff Watson and Ben were riding at a fast canter, a pace the horses could maintain the entire distance, even at altitude. His first trip to the north, Ben noted a row-crop farm on the way. An inner urge impelled him to return for a visit.

“Have your gun out,” JD told Ben, directing him to the back door of the general store. “We’re not here to have a fair fight. Biggest part of sheriff work is to not get shot.”

There was no one in the store but the owner, who provided description enough to identify the man. He begged the return of his money to JD and Ben’s backs as they left the store. Following the sheriff’s orders, the man reloaded everything back to the Ford wagon for return to the rightful owner in Creede J.D. and Ben would stop for it on their return.

The miscreant was at the saloon, laughing into a glass of beer.

JD casually walked to him, lifting his gun from its holster just before tripping him to the floor. As instructed, Ben watched the other customers, his gun drawn in a non-threatening, but ready posture. “Everybody hold still,” Ben ordered. JD took a silver dollar from his prisoner’s pocket, offering it to the bartender toward a round on laughing boy, the dollar being a small price to pay by the North Creede store owner.

Bound and ready for travel, JD lectured the store owner a second time. “Oughta run you in for theft-by-receiving. You knew full well that he wasn’t a freight man, or any kind of legitimate peddler.”

“I was going to send word to Creede, Sheriff,” he responded.

“Uh-huh.” The sheriff’s tone belied his trust.

Ben drove the wagon load of goods while the sheriff escorted the thief, a fired Ford Ranch employee back to Creede. Ben stopped at the row-crop farm for his intended visit.

+++

“We don’t care what they done,” the young farmers sang out in near unison. If they don’t mind dirt floors, we don’t mind their soiled past.”

“I’m just saying that these girls are as sweet and innocent as you treat them. You don’t bring up their past, I expect they won’t either.”

“Heck, Ben, the cow gets into the garden, you don’t shoot her, you just lead her out.”

Ben smiled, accepting the comparison’s weakness, but appreciating the men’s attitude.

Within the week Ben whisked Jackie’s two friends, both high yellow orphans that Salinger had purchased from the underground flesh market in Kansas City, to the farm, promising to let them know when it might be safe to allow them to venture to Creede. Salinger would be moving out soon enough.

+++

“Ben,” JD began one morning as he entered the office to relieve him. JD had lain awake most of the night thinking of Ben, unable to rid himself of a growing concern over the young man. “Ben,” he repeated.

Ben held back a morning greeting, at first finding it odd that JD hadn’t greeted himself in his usual manner, but simply by name, an uplift to his voice that foretold something of import to follow.

“Ben,” JD said a third time. “Been thinkin’ on this … You have some, some kind of future ahead of you.”

Ben remained silent, biting back dismissiveness and sarcasm, which wasn’t in his nature anyway.

“You’re special, Ben. I guess you know that, though.” JD didn’t mean anything of an egotistical bent, merely a statement of the obvious. “Heck, law enforcement, politics, business, or whatever, you could go to the top of whatever you chose. You have something. Here you are, half my age and working as a night jailer and I catch myself wishin’ I was you. Took me all night to figure things out. Not that I have.

“What I’m tryin’ to say is that you need to, to go sit on a rock and decide your course right now. Today.

“Why you could take up with any of those girls you’ve been savin’. They all worship you. Start your family, and get on to whatever it is you’re meant for.”

Ben paced himself. Allowing his boss, and friend, time to believe he’d considered the counsel. “JD, don’t think I don’t appreciate your kind thoughts and concern. I do.  But my future is right now. My next step. I don’t want to take my next one but that God tells me. You know Joseph, in the Bible, he spent three years in prison following exactly what was ordered for his life. I’m only comparing myself to his following, not his life.

“Oh, I know I’ve taken missteps, here and there. I can feel it when I have and it isn’t hard to get back on track. As far as a wife … I don’t see that in my calling.”

JD’s eye sparked wide, the first he’d heard the expression.

“It isn’t healthy to marry someone who worships you, anyway. First time you accidentally let out a stinker, well, there goes the pedestal she put you on.”

JD laughed out loud, breaking his tension. He envisioned himself climbing out of a cesspool, covered with the worst imaginable, clearly observed and disdained by a worshipping bride.

“Better to marry somebody who knows you, and likes you anyway.”

JD nodded, sensing the wisdom. “Well,” he began, “I just …”

“And I thank you for it, JD. That’s what friends do.” With that, Ben donned his broken-down, second-hand Stetson, leaving the office to JD.

+++

“Sheriff, I want that boy outta here, clear outta town!” Salinger was adamant. “It’s him, or me. And you know I pay more toward your salary than anybody in town.” Salinger was, of course, referring to Ben, the man he’d rightly suspected of somehow making off with his female staff.

“Well, Mason, I’m glad to hear you put it that way. ‘Cause I happen to know of two miners wantin’ to settle in town, get off the mountain for the winter. They’ll buy you out for what you paid to build. And your stock at cost.”

Before Salinger quite reached boiling point, his finger-twitching right hand resting on his pistol, Ben injected himself, his eyes intently boring into Salinger’s. “Won’t be a better offer.”

Sheriff Watson was taken aback at Ben’s insertion, raising his eyebrows at the youth’s temerity. Once said, he settled into a clear acceptance and understanding of Ben’s call and role in the matter. He watched Salinger whither under Ben’s glare, Salinger’s gun hand limp.

With nothing but a barrel of whiskey and a few cases of bottles, Salinger and three brothel maidens made their way out of town, heading for the San Juan Mountains where rumor had it gold had been scratched up.

Billy had quit Salinger shortly after his stay in Ben’s jail. From out of the blue, the hotel owner thought Billy might make a good cook. He did.

+++

“Ben”, the sheriff began one morning upon relieving Ben of his night’s duty. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing, saying to our customers, but it’s working. Tom, Johnny Q., Randy … and a few others used to drop in for our hospitality on a regular basis, taking their nights behind our bars. I know they’re still around, but … Spratt in there,” he added, pointing to the jail, “I ‘spect not to see again, either. You been preaching to them, or what?”

Ben smiled, his calling overcoming his fatigue.

+++

“Feel like my job’s done here, JD.” Ben said one morning to the sad but knowing eyes of his friend.

Ben had no idea why this day was different from any other.  He felt especially good after the talk with the young man in the jail.  He’d felt that before. Salinger was gone. There were more women in the other saloons; but they did not draw his focus, though he could not fathom why. He’d come to accept that not every problem was his to fix.

“Ben, I love you like a son. Wish you’d stay, but I guess I understand. That church you’ve been talking about all over town’s gonna be built.” JD swallowed, relaxing the grip about his throat. “Happy trails, Son, and I sure hope to see you again.”

With that, Ben leaped onto Red without use of the stirrup, his crystal blue eyes glistening with tears as he galloped off. He cleared the town proper just as a stranger was entering, a stranger whose gaze felt evil. Ben believed he’d seen the man inch his pistol from its holster as he quickly passed by. The man’s mouth gaped half opened as if to speak, or perhaps in some sort of quandary. Ben spurred Red to a short sprint, out of pistol range in a moment’s time.

Author Notes This is the first part of a long chapter.
Ben Persons: A young man with a 'calling' from God
JD Watson: Creede sheriff
Livvy Tolsen: Ben's young female friend in Alpine
Mason Salinger: evil business owner in Creede
Billy Moore: hired man of Salinger
Jackie: saloon girl employee of Salinger


Chapter 4
One Man's Calling, Ch 4A

By Wayne Fowler

So far, Ben worked as stagecoach guard for a time where he encouraged the driver to return to his farm. Ben then worked for JD Watson as his deputy. Ben left Creede, Colorado, in his quest to follow the will of God. As deputy, Ben managed to save several saloon girls from their plight, engendering the wrath of the saloon owner, Salinger, who Ben and the sheriff ran out of town.

Creede’s sheriff, JD Watson, had never been a religious man. The old home place in Louisiana was in a remote parish, or county, the nearest town having but one church, the ancient cathedral ministered to by an Irish priest to the handful of women who attended Mass regularly. The priest never ventured beyond his walls. JD often thought of the after-life during the war, witnessing many trench conversions and cries for salvation among the terrified soldiers under his command. Generally, he spent that time tending to his weaponry and his men’s needs.

Occasionally, as the sheriff of a rough mining town, he seriously reflected on the matter of eternity and the after-life as he watched men draw their last gasps, occasioned by his own hand gave him the most pause.

It was a slow, mid-week evening when a commotion at the Silver Dollar Saloon drew his attention. He’d just passed it by and walked not forty steps when the sound of a fight turned him about. “Hold it!” he ordered, seeing a freight driver about to deliver a potentially lethal blow to Frankie’s unconscious head. Frankie was on his back, obviously defenseless. The short fight’s loser.

“I was bluffing, Sheriff,” the freight driver, a man of about six feet and muscled shoulders said. “This punk walked behind me, saw my cards and snickered. Seeing the coins on the poker table, the sheriff said, “Now how about you drag him to my jail. That’ll be payment enough for disturbin’ the peace. And I’ll fine him five dollars to cover your loss. Fair enough?”

The freight driver finally lowered his fist, nodded to JD, and hoisted Frankie to his shoulder.

+++

“Mornin’, Frankie,” the sheriff said about ten minutes later, Frankie safely locked in a cell. Frankie groaned as he sat up, holding his head with both hands. “Mornin,” he repeated loud enough to let Frankie know that he’d best return some sort of greeting.

Frankie glanced up at the sheriff, and then his surroundings, figuring where he was. “Morning, but I happen to know that it’s still Thursday afternoon and I’m supposed to be at the hotel at work by six.”

“Well, Son, you’re going to be a bit late. As a matter of fact, Toby’s going to have to work your shift tonight.”

“He won’t like that.”

“He might even have to hire somebody else, since you’re going to be staying with me for a while.”

“What do you mean? For losing a fight? That don’t even get overnight. You usually separate the fighters for a bit, an’ that’s it.”

“Not this time. You’ll be stayin’ a while.” At that, JD left, not ready to have his long talk with the young man. He still wasn’t ready when he brought Frankie a late supper of potatoes and beans.

Over oatmeal the next morning, after allowing Frankie the use of the outhouse, JD pulled a chair up to the cell bars. “Frankie, how many times have I arrested you since you got to town?”

Frankie didn’t respond, but increased the pace of spooning up the gruel.

“Six. And that doesn’t count the many times I’ve scolded you for whatever it was that drew my attention.”

Frankie glanced at JD through his eyebrows, not lifting his head. The oatmeal nearly gone, he continued spooning, though with only a dab in each bite in order not to have to fully engage in conversation.

“Son, that makes you a repeat offender.” He exaggerated the term, unused to its sound. “It might take me some doin’, but I’m thinkin’ I’ll just adopt you.”

“You can’t do that, Sheriff. First, I didn’t start that fight. Second, it’s against the law!” He emphasized law for effect.

“Oh, you know the law, do you?”

“I can read. Graduated from High School in Moline. Habe Corpse. You have to charge me, or let me go. And the fight? All I did was see his butt crack you know? The way he doesn’t wear a belt and his pants fall low?”

“He said you snickered at his bluff hand. Gave away his play.”

Frankie grew silent in obvious thought. JD gave time.

“Sheriff … I don’t see very well. Can’t hardly see at all, really. I couldn’t make out the cards if I held ‘em in my own hand, unless I pulled ‘em tight to my face. Been like this my whole life.”

JD wondered how he hadn’t figured it out before. “You’re blind?”

“Nearly. I can see figures. People think I’m looking at them funny, or at their women, and we’re in a fight.”

“Which you lose because you can’t see.” JD nodded his head in understanding as he spoke.

Frankie lowered his head.

“And you never told anyone because you didn’t want to look weak.”

“Or be taken advantage of,” Frankie added.

After a moment, JD spoke as in confirming his resolution. “Well that’s it then. You’re in protective custody until I say different.”

“You can’t do that, Sheriff! I got rights.”

“Yeah, well you do what you have to do. But it’ll be behind those bars.”

“For how long, then?” Frankie wailed, his voice on the edge of a childish cry.

JD thought a minute, his plan only in development. “You remember my deputy named Ben Persons?”

“Kind of. He left ‘bout the time I got here.”

“Yeah, well. I’m thinkin’ he’ll be back through here sometime, or other. That’s when you get released.”

“That’s horse crap! You’re some kind of dictator!”

“And that’s another reason I’m taking you into my care, Frankie. Your mouth. You have a control problem. Why, half your troubles have been your mouth overloadin’ your brain. You insult people near every time you open it. And that’s got nothing to do with your eyes!”

Frankie opened his mouth to speak, closing it back, choking off a part of a word.

“Now that’s a start. You’ll get fed three-a-day.” JD left the sheriff’s office wondering what he was doing, questioning his actions.

+++

A few days later, JD woke Frankie’s sleep by barging into the office, a prisoner by the collar, a gun to his side. “Wake up Frankie. I need your cell.” A sleeping drunk occupied the jail’s second cell.

“You letting me out?”

“No. You’re under what I call office arrest. You’re confined to the office and the outhouse. Oh, and you’re in charge while I’m gone.”

“I’m a deputy that’s under arrest? That’s crazy, JD!”

JD smiled to himself.

The next morning over coffee as the two sat in desk chairs brought out to the boardwalk, JD began “Tell me about yourself, Frankie. How you came to be so much trouble.”

Frankie gave JD a look that might have gotten him punched by anyone else. Comfortable with him, Frankie opened up. “I was the second of three boys. My older brother got to do everything. Jimmie, the youngest couldn’t do anything wrong – the apple of Daddy’s eye. Only times I remember him talkin’ to me was to tell me to grab my ankles for a whuppin’.

“Don’t get me wrong, JD. I deserved every one of ‘em.”

JD smiled, nodding his head.

“Soon’s I had my diploma in my hand, I was in an empty west-bound cattle car with the old man’s wallet and all Momma’s potatoes I could carry. Only reason I was in school long enough to graduate was that Daddy said I was useless on the farm – hoed up as many corn sprouts as I did weeds.”

“Nobody ever thought to check your eyes?” JD asked.

“Phuph.” Frankie made a puffing, snorting sound. “New bull, cultivator, bad crop. You kidding? You went to the doctor for typhoid, or a broken leg. I wasn’t sick.”

“Well Doc Cranston can order you some specks.”

“Yeah, well, you cost me my job, Sheriff!”

JD smiled in silence, gladly willing to outfit the youth with spectacles.

Tired of the melancholy and unwilling to follow the course of the conversation, Frankie leaped from the chair, tangling himself in its legs before kicking it to the street. Refusing to concede fault, he stormed back into the office shouting derogatorily about Deputy Ben who’d quit and ran off, and in his estimation – never to return. “What’s so special about him, anyway?” Frankie shouted through the slammed door.

JD shook his head sadly, hearing Frankie rouse the drunk from the cell that Frankie was claiming for himself.

Author Notes I skipped over a couple chapters of character development that show the impact Ben is having on people that he has helped, and then moved on from. Hopefully, as some of them re-enter the story, I can repair the damage.

Ben Persons: a young man following the call of God
JD Watson: sheriff of Creede, Colorado
Frankie: a young man, resident of Creede
Slim: an injured person Ben brought to Creede


Chapter 5
One Man's Calling, chapter 5

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, Ben briefly returned to Creede where he ministered to Sheriff JD and a young man named Frankie. Ben has now returned to the mountains.

“Hey, Ol’ Timer,” Ben said to the wadded-up soul he found sprawled on a jagged rock slope of Antelope Mountain. The mountainside was peppered with pines standing singly. With the large boulders and crags, Ben couldn’t see the codger until climbing right up to him. Done with the one he hauled to Creede, Slim, Ben had resumed his quest of following God’s will and calling.

“Hah! You know the Morse Code, do ya?” the obviously broken-legged miner said through cracked lips that barely covered corn-yellow teeth.

“Morse Code? No, but I figured that metal-on-metal sound wasn’t natural. So I followed my ears. This must be an Indian trail up here until you turned off a ways back down. Kind of out of the way.” Ben allowed him control of his canteen, watchful that he sip and not gulp.

“Prospecting. You didn’t see my burro? Wasn’t Morse Code, anyways, this past hour I been hammerin’ out Amazin’ Grace. ‘Course maybe it was my upbeat that mighta been lost on ya.”

Ben said he hadn’t seen the burro, that he’d hobbled Red down the slope where he’d left the Indian trail, praying that a mountain lion wouldn’t get the big gelding.

“Prob’ly all the way back ‘round to Antelope Spring by now. Well, this would’ve been my last day up here. Drank all my water, yelled myself hoarse. Gonna be real cold tonight. I was done fer for sure.”

“Broke your leg, I see,” Ben said, kneeling in front of the whisp of a man, ignoring the stench from what was obviously the old guy’s inability to contain his bladder.

“Least it don’t hurt no more. Think you can get me offa this rock?” he asked, meaning the mountain.

“Long as you don’t bust my ears screaming in pain,” Ben said in jest.

“Screamin’s over fer me. I’m to the cryin’ stage.”

Ben smiled as he picked up the lightweight as he might an infant.

“Ahh,” the codger agonized. “Name’s Schmidt. Folks call me Ol’ Timer, like you said. Leg kinda hurts bad this way. Maybe if you let me hang on yer back. Let it sorta just dangle.”

Ben’s slowed pace allowed him opportunity to appreciate the view, the monstrous mountains filling his vision. Though he would never deny his Ozark mountains their legitimacy, his home state heights were dwarfed by the colossal Rockies. Picturesque Ozark bluffs, as beautiful as they were, hardly compared to the breathtaking grandeur he witnessed with the crippled geezer on his back.

“Think you can sit the horse?” Ben asked as they reached Red.

“Leg won’t like it. Rather ride yer back, you don’t mind. Least ways down to the river?”

“I don’t mind.” With Ol’ Timer like a child riding piggy-back, Ben picked his way down the mountainside, Red following untethered. Once at the Rio Grande, a river no wider than a buckboard and two-horse team were long, Ben made Ol’ Timer as comfortable as he could. “Gonna hafta get you to a doctor, somehow,” Ben said as he made camp. “Too far for my back and feet. Ruined these boots getting off your rock.”

“Hah! You likely can doctor me. Clean breaks. Heard ‘em both, bouncin’ down that bluff. Pull ‘em straight, first one, then the other. Tie ‘em up tight and hear me holler.” Ol’ Timer guffawed at his sing-song.

Ben smiled, nodding, as he sensed that God would help them both.

+++

“Partner, huh?”

“Yessir. I’ll do the talkin’. You do the walkin’. Hah! Workin’, I mean. I’ll teach ya ta hard rock mine. Sally, that burrow a’ mine’s gonna be around south and east a’ this rock. Got a bale a’ straw she’s partial to, prefers that to hay. Don’t guess your gelding would bother with it, though.”

“You have a mine already?” Ben asked.

“Hah! Yup. Got color, rather have a dollar. Not much, but color. Lookin’ for better. Nothin’ wrong in that, no Sir. Legal, too. You can have two, buckle my shoe. Hah! Or just ‘bandon one. Two weeks and it’s fair game for anybody else to claim.”

Ben nodded, grinning at the old coot’s lame rhyming.

“Make me a crutch and I can get there. Cain’t work, but you can. Hah!”

Ben nodded, smiling.

Walking together, Ben’s temporarily repaired boots easily held him to Ol’ Timer’s sluggish pace, they found Sally, her pack hanging below her belly. Ol’ Timer made faster progress hanging onto Sally with the arm on the side of his broken leg, the bones set and bound into a dogleg position. They were settled and stewing beans with salted pork well before fellow miners in the area quit work for the day.

“Thought you’d quit us,” all in proximity said, more or less, some possibly wishing it were the case.

“I’ll do my quittin’ after you boys been to skittin’. Hah!” Ol’ Timer answered.

Ben shook his head, not getting the joke.

Ben spent the next several days making and breaking blisters on his hands. Finally, out of beans and into the rice that neither man cared for, unable to cook the little pellets to chewability, Ol Timer declared a holiday, a day of rest and journey to North Creede for supplies, vittles and boots.

“You know, Ol’ Timer, prospecting, mining, is an occupation, not a get-rich-quick scheme,” Ben said.

“Don’t I know! Started in ’48 over ta Sacramenny. Been at it more’n thirty years. No quick in that. And no riches, either.”

“But see, your head’s tellin’ you it is quick. One strike from instant wealth. Riches untold. The next hammer blow. The next stick of dynamite. The next rock.”

Ol’ Timer smiled, “Yup.”

Ben went silent, given no more words to speak. In North Creede, a pair of used boots sold by the undertaker were all Ben could find that fit. Grubbed up, Ben’s silence encouraged Ol’ Timer to pass the saloon by.

“Don’t drink at’all, huh?” Ol’ Timer asked while stirring their beans back at the mine camp.

“Don’t need it. Don’t want to be where it makes me go. Don’t want to do what it makes me do. Don’t want to hear what it makes men say. Why mess with it?”

“You talk like you been there,” Ol’ Timer said.

Ben smiled. “I was a lot stupider some years back. Teenager in Arkansas …” Ben shook his head at the singular experience.

+++

“Ol’ Timer,” Ben began after the beans had been served. “We were talking about getting rich.”

Ol’ Timer’s ear perked. By this time, he’d learned Ben well enough to know when to pay strict attention.

“Look at your knuckles. Those hands can hardly hold a pick ax, or drilling rod. Your leg isn’t going to heal right. Come next year … That’s if we make it through the winter. This hole will barely feed us. There’s gold, here, sure, but it’s stuck to that quartz and we ain’t getting it off without more investment than we have. Now, look across the valley. See where Frank Thomas and Big Swede have their mines? “

Ben waited for Ol’ Timer to locate the area.

“Why you reckon they left that wide a birth ‘tween ‘em?”

“That bluff. My guess.”

“So you get above it. Start below it. But behind it …” Ben knew inherently, in his spirit, that he’d been shown something. A one-time sight for a single purpose. He knew that God would not be showing him veins of gold willy-nilly. “We sell this hole for the few dollars it’s worth, claim the gap between those two, spend a month proving it, then sell it for enough to put you in a retirement home, or boarding house, with a tolerant housekeeper in Denver. You can Hah! those geezers to death, maybe find a widow geezer. And beguile everybody with your tales of wonderment.”

Ol’ Timer began to say something, but instead locked onto Ben’s eyes. Finally, Ol’ Timer spoke … quietly, somberly. “You get all that from yer Bible?”

Ben nodded. That he was ready to give up what he would be the absolute richest claim in the region bother him none in the least.

"Ya know, Ben, I hear you aprayin'. Sometimes I'm thinkin' yer atalkin' ta me. Way you pray's like yer talkin' to a friend."

Ben smiled. He knew the right moment had come. "Know your A, B, C's, Ol' Timer?"

Ben waited for his nod. "Admit you need saving and want Jesus for your friend. Believe that he is the son of God and came to earth to save you. And then just confess your sins and that you accept him as your savior."

"Heck, I know'd all that. Just ain't done it."

Ben waited.

Ol' Timer turned red, pinching his lips. After a single choking noise he asked Ben, "I gotta say my sins out loud? To you?"

"Nope. You could, but don't have to."

Ol' Timer wiped his eyes. "Sins. Mostly in my head. Ain't done 'em, but I thought on 'em so hard I might jist's well have."

Ben nodded.

"But I left my wife and youngun. Went back once, but they was gone."

Ben nodded again as Ol' Timer bowed his head. After a long silence, Ben placed his hand on Ol' Timer's head. "Jesus, Ol' Timer's as wicked as they come. But he admits it, believes you sacrificed yourself for him, and would like to make your acquaintance." Ben drew back and waited a moment.

"Oh! Ben! I feel like I'm havin' a heart attack, I feel so good!" Ol' Timer gasped, breathing in deeply. "I feel like I'm in a flower garden!"

Ben smiled.

Author Notes Gold was discovered east of Sacramento, California in 1848. The first substantial Colorado gold strike was in 1859.


Chapter 6
One Man's Calling, chapter 6

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben led Ol’ Timer to salvation. After convincing him to sell his two mines and move to a Denver retirement, Ben set out following God’s call.

“Son, it’s close on to winter. Most ranches start letting go, get down to bare bones. You might’ve seen two cowpokes on the road,” the rancher, Dale Vickers waved skyward without direction. “Truth is, I’m sorry as hell to see one of ‘em go. The other was all right, far as cowboys go, but … And I’m not sure others might not leave, too.” Vickers stared into the space between himself and Ben. “Never heard of a ranch so hard to keep help. Where you worked?” Vickers asked Ben.

The Vickers ranch consisted of a full section of Rio Grande bottom land south of Lake City, Colorado. Calling a section, 640 acres, was however, a huge understatement in that the ranch property controlled access to thousands and thousands of acres of mountains and the valleys between. The grassy hillsides flourished with more grazing land than Vickers could ever stock.

“Never have ranched, done a lot, but not cowboyed.” Ben stood silently, his confidence radiating.

Vickers’ eyes widened with curiosity. “And you want put on for the winter? Asking a lot, son.”

“Promise you I’ll earn my keep. Red here’s a quick learner. I’ll do my best to keep up.”

Vickers felt good about the boy, real good. “Don’t have a clue what the bunkhouse problem is,” he said, wondering aloud why he couldn’t keep a consistent crew. Ben’s eyes held his gaze. “But my gut tells me to throw you in there. Check in with Franklin, he ramrod’s the Bar-V.” With that, he threw up his hands in an act of helplessness and dismay, waving Ben toward the bunkhouse after shaking his hand.

Ben led Red to the corral where a group of men were saddling their horses.

“What I say goes,” Franklin said. “You don’t like it, you eat it. I don’t need no suggestions, or complainin’. Timbo over there’s top hand. His words’re mine. Got it?”

Ben hadn’t seen which one was Timbo, but figured he’d learn soon enough. He nodded assent.

“Mount up.”

Ben had no idea where they were going, or what they’d be doing, but figured that the worst that could happen would be that he be sent packing with only the loss of a day, and a chunk out of his pride, a lesson in humility. He wished he’d had more breakfast than the biscuit that lay lonely in his gut.

Timbo sought him out on the ride up the mountain slopes. “We’re bringing the cattle down for the winter. Got most of ‘em the last few days. My word’s law. What I say goes. You don’t like it, you eat it.”

Ben wondered if the two men knew of the echo.

“Stay clear of the main house. Don’t need to talk to any of ‘em. Vickerses, or their help. Clear? Got it? And be sure to do your business in the outhouse. Vicker’s girls ...” He didn’t complete his sentence.

The ranch house was a two-story clapboard housing Vickers, who rarely rode with the crew, his wife, and four daughters, the oldest fourteen, a skinny girl tasked mainly with overseeing the two youngest. The second-born, an eleven-year-old, shadowed her mother every day. None ventured near the cowboys.

Franklin lived in a lean-to shack attached to the tack barn. Timbo and the cowboy crew’s bunkhouse was beyond the hay barn.

Ben nodded.

“And don’t be blinkin’ those eyes at nobody, either, Timbo continued. “Already I don’t like you. You only got the one horse? That’s all most come in with. I’ll show you which you can pick from when we get back. Every other day, horses get rested. Stay where I can see you. I point, you go. Got it?”

Ben got it.

That evening, settled on a board-hard bunk, nothing but a folded blanket for a mattress, he wondered if he’d had it.

The next day was the same, only up a different mountain valley. Returning too late for him to pick a mount the day before, he again rode Red.

“Why you on the same horse?” Franklin yelled from across the group of several cowboys. Everyone knew he was yelling at the new guy, Ben. “You an idiot?” Franklin continued. “You kill your mount, you’re walking outta here. And off the ranch, too.”

Ben saw Timbo grin.

No one looked his way, all suddenly too interested in the yellowed aspens. No one had yet introduced themselves, each averting his eyes, preventing Ben from taking the initiative. He decided to play it out. If a losing hand, all he’d lose was the ante, which was only time that he had to spare anyway. Mid-day he saw the value of a second mount, Red clearly outside his range of stamina. Ben did the work, pushing Red into thickets and around rocky knobs in search of cattle, but not too hard, a walking pace may not impress the boss, but it would do.

That evening after chuck, he sought out Timbo.

“Oh, yeah yer horse. Either of those two bays,” he said, nodding into the corralled herd.

Ben hoped he’d understood which he’d pointed out, several of them fitting the bill. Ben bit his tongue, withholding a question about spare horses that the two cowboys who’d quit must have used. He decided to try them out that evening, rather than chance saddling another man’s in the morning, or worse, getting bucked off in front of everyone. He entered the pen, cautiously approaching a bay with an interrupted stripe, one that might be easier to identify, and one that he was sure hadn’t been ridden either of his two days of work. The mare jerked her head up and down as Ben attempted a halter.

“Easy girl.” Gently and slowly, Ben moved the others away from his pick, separating it from the herd. With his back to the pick that he named Queenie, he began a rhythmic talk to her, barely keeping her in sight peripherally. He had to keep moving in order to keep her isolated. He hoped for enough daylight to get it done. Ben didn’t notice the crowd of men gathering along the corral fence. Presently, the herd stilled themselves in a corner of the rectangular pen, Ben between them and Queenie. One of the men thought to open a gate nearest the herd, moving them to another pen. One called Slim brought Ben his saddle and tack along with a friendly smile. Ben thanked him, wondering how many western men were called Slim.

Ben and Queenie were alone in the corral. Ben walked a tight circle a short distance from her, always keeping his back to her, talking gently. After about five minutes, Ben stopped at his saddle and tack, picking up his bridle, his back entirely turned to the horse. He stopped his chatter. Within a moment Queenie ambled up to him, nuzzling the ground at his feet. Guardedly, Ben turned and slid the bridle over her head, gently talking to her, stroking her neck, but not yet looking at her full on. Queenie did not resist the saddle. Nor his mounting her. Expecting the worst, Ben cautiously relaxed, bidding the animal to circle within the corral. He could hear murmurs of acceptance from the men.

“Ben, is it?” asked Slim, the one that brought him his gear.

Ben nodded.

“That one’s been broke, but too hard to catch. Always took two men to rope her. Not worth the trouble. The other … Let all of us get ours out first in the morning and, well … I guess we’ll have to see.”

“Thanks,” Ben said.

“When yer done here, I’ll introduce you around. See, the newer men are afraid you’ll take their winter from ‘em, and us year-rounders, well, I guess we just gotta see how things play out with Timbo and Franklin.”

Not exactly sure what he meant by the Timbo and Franklin remark, Ben merely repeated his gratitude.

The next day, no trouble with Queenie, they travelled the south side of the same valley, where slopes were much steeper and rockier. Ben was eternally grateful not to suffer Red that work. It would have been the end of a fine horse.

Ben thought it odd that Timbo and Franklin were nearly inseparable. He would have thought a top hand was like a supervisor, a subordinate to the foreman, a deputy that served as boss when away from the boss. He recalled that at the ranch they acted peculiar, as well: standing too close, sitting too close, walking too close – closer into personal space than normal. And when one was out of the bunkhouse, they were both out. He decided to test his guess.

Before breakfast the next morning he asked Slim to pay no mind to what might happen, implying that the sentiment spread among the others. As soon as Franklin reached his normal place at the end of the eating bench, Ben hopped beside him, taking Timbo’s normal spot. The energy from Timbo was palpable, electrifying. Ben picked up his plate, wolfing down a few bites as if in a hurry to use the outhouse. Timbo was nearly hysterical, for no obvious or reasonable cause. Franklin’s slight smirk was undecipherable. As if at the starting gate of a race, the instant Franklin forked up his last bite, Timbo shouted for the men to mount up. “Let’s go, boys. Get ‘er done! Mount up!” He was chagrinned to see Ben already mounted.

“Worth only gettin’ half yer breakfast?” Slim asked Ben.

“What do you think?”

“Kinda answers why some of the men been getting’ crapped on, why some others left. Guess it’ll be up to Franklin now. Surely, he knows a little girl when he sees one. Watch yer back. I expect we’ll be carryin’ you back down today. Rest of us, we’ll do what we can.”

Ben nodded, wondering if he’d overstepped his calling.

For the first time in anyone’s memory, Timbo broke from Franklin, working the mountain as a top hand should. The entire day someone from the crew found reason to ride between him and Ben.

+++

In front of the bunkhouse the next morning, Franklin shouted orders for the day, culling those cattle to be driven to the rail yard, branding those that missed it the last spring, and separating those to be sold locally.

Timbo hollered to Ben, “You ride fence. Get on the outside so’s you don’t have to open any gates or wire that don’t need opened.”

The men all glared at Timbo, knowing that outside the fence was impassable with the river bank and rocky bluffs. Timbo turned toward the corral.

Exiting the tool shed with a fencing tool, Ben saw Franklin, who told him to forget the fence and to hitch up the buckboard, he’d be driving it to Lake City. “I’ll be leading a steer to our butcher,” he said. “You’ll catch up to me ‘fore we get there. Oh, and bring your chestnut.”

After tying his horse and the steer to the back of the wagon once Ben caught up, Franklin climbed on beside Ben. “You the one stopped that stage hold-up some time back? Then deputied for Watson over in Creede?”

Ben nodded.

“Well, we don’t need no lawman here at the Bar-V.”

“Just trying to cowboy,” Ben replied, snapping the reins.

“Not too fast. We want that meat back there nice’n tender.”

After a mile of silence, Franklin spoke. “Guess I shoulda known, figured things out a long time ago. Timbo. He reminds me so much of” … Franklin swallowed hard. “Think my son woulda turned out like him. Boy could rope, ride … wadn’t ‘fraid a’ nothin’. Died of some kinda fever. Never did know which one. His ma couldn’t take it an’ went back home to Texas. Timbo, well, he just makes me think of Little John. Wasn’t so little when he died, though, nearly full grown.

“Timbo, now … there’s somethin’ there I just ain’t seen.”

“Sir, I’m sorry if I …”

“Naw. Ain’t you got men riled up. And it wasn’t you that made others quit these past years.”

“Sir. I don’t think most men care nothing about his personal twist.”

Franklin winced at the words.

Ben continued, “It’s just that they want to be treated for how they work, for the men that they are, and not punished for what somebody believes that they’re thinking.”

“He been doin’ that?”

Ben said nothing.

After a period of silence, Franklin finally cleared his throat and harrumphed a well then.

“Sir, my take is that he confused your affection for something else. And if you were to lay it out for him …”

“Oh, I can do that, all right. But the men’ll have no respect for him. Not that they do now. I see that now. My feelings must have, sort’ve, kinda messed with my seein’ that. Like I was always seein’ him through my own eyes, and not theirs, seein’ my son, not Timbo.

“Naw. I heard that the Circle-T across the river was gonna be up for sale. It ain’t the Bar-V, but I think I can convince Mr. Vickers that even if it don’t turn a profit, it won’t be five years and its value will double. Once the railroad comes through, anyway. Timbo gets promoted, and the men get shed of him. The Bar-V oughta settle, make ‘im more money.

“We get to Lake City, I’m gonna give you a month’s pay. Your bedroll’s in the wagon, there. I know you ain’t been here a week, but I’m doin’ it for Timbo … and for you. And I’ll tell anybody that asks you’re a top wrangler.”

Ben nodded, smiling his gratitude.

Author Notes My apologies for the length of this chapter. It seems that One Man's Calling requires chapters longer than I'm happy with for FS posts.

Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Demone Lovelace: a man following an ungodly call
Dale Vickers: owner of the Bar-V ranch
Franklin: Bar-V foreman/ramrod
Timbo: Bar-V top hand
Slim: Bar-V ranch hand
wrangler: horse handler

I skipped over the chapter introducing Demone Lovelace, thinking it complicated matters without adding appreciably to the plot. I could be wrong in doing so. Demone, an evil person, has already passed on several urges to harm Ben. Hopefully I can get Demone's story told further into the work. Any thoughts?


Chapter 7
One Man's Calling, chapter 7A

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, Ben left the Bar-V ranch after helping to ‘set things right’ in the bunkhouse. He was headed into lake City, Colorado following God’s call.

“You Italian?” a man at an adjacent table in the part saloon, part restaurant asked.

“Arkansawyer,” Ben answered.

“But ‘fore that?”

“Family came from Tennessee, far as I know. Maybe Mississippi before that. Why?”

“Heard you askin’ about work. There’s a mine over to Animas Forks looking for seventy-five men – Italians need not apply, they advertize.”

“Well then … Ich bin ein Italiano.” Ben responded as he imagined one of his college buddies might have – rife with snarkiness.

“Huh? Oh, well. Prob’ly just as well. Heard they built a giant size bunkhouse and require all single men to live there. Then they charge ‘em all their wages for rent and keep. I think the superintendant came from the coal mines back east.”

Ben shook his head at the plight of the poor men, who counted on mining wages to send back to their families. Lucky prospectors are one in a million, and miners that aren’t killed or injured can’t save a nickel to send home. He saw the need for a leader, someone to organize the miners in order to help them be better miners for the owners, and better supporters of their families. He knew there was a need … but knew also that that was not his calling.

At the livery in Lake City, where he inquired about work, he heard of the advance railroad crew building trestles, some only over a ditch, others fifty, sixty, eighty feet tall. Ben felt an urging.

+++

“Say you can work horses?” the man at the table inside a saloon asked. “Can you work a team from the ground, working block and tackle?”

“Sure,” Ben replied, not exactly lying, though he’d never touched block and tackle in his life. Other farms back home had them in their tall barns, but their own barn was a walk-out, the loft at ground level from up on the hill, an actual second story at the low end. He was certain that he could learn it quickly enough, also knowing that the wrangler worked the horses, or mules, or even oxen, and not the hardware. He figured he could manage the work.

“You got a horse?  We ain’t feedin’ yer horse. Put ‘im in with ars an’ somebody gonna ride off with ‘im.” To the gathered men, he yelled, “You all be right here in … three days.”

Three days hence fell on a Sunday. Ben grimaced, but acknowledged the order. His calling was undisturbed.

Three days later, early Sunday morning, Ben stood among a crowd – older boys and men. Most appeared to be failed miners, some possibly sons of miners, one group standing somewhat apart, were likely cash-starved locals, and many appeared to be the fired Italians. Nearly all of them clearly suffered from being under-nourished.

“All right, men,” the recruiter began. “You’re all on the payroll beginning tomorrow morning.”

Ben heard the grumbling of men who’d already felt cheated of a day’s pay.

“What, you want paid for riding in a wagon? The job’s in South Fork. Starts there. That’s where we have a camp waiting for you.”

“We have to get our gear! All we brought was our totes! We have to tell our families!” Those and other shouts drowned out the recruiter’s attempt at control. After several moments he drew his railroad issue navy Colt, firing it into the air. “See here!” he shouted. “See here! You all be here. Right here tomorrow morning at sunrise. No difference. You start here and work to there, or start there and work to here. No difference.”

“Why ain’t you hiring men in South Fork? Something wrong here.” The shout came from someone in the crowd.

“Because all of you are here. Those men are building the roadbed and laying track. Now we’re in the mountains. Just good sense. Now you’ll work double hard to get this day made up!” He fired his pistol again for effect.

Ben used every bit of the rest of the day locating an extra blanket that someone was willing to sell, figuring he’d need two.

+++

“I say we strike!” a man shouted to a mixed chorus. The few men were gathered outside their camp, away from prying ears, Ben among them. “They haven’t done one single thing that they’ve promised. Two weeks and we ain’t seen a pay day yet.”

“Promised us work,” one retorted drawing jostling guffaws.

“We got work, sure enough. Work aplenty. Ask Ponack, him with the broken back. Sent home to starve on a cot. We ain’t been paid a dime. Not one thin dime. No wood for a fire at night, hardly any food. And we ain’t even Chinese!” The speaker was a miner from the Eureka mine near Animas Forks, fired for the same sort of trouble-making behavior.

“He’s gonna git kilt,” a friend of Ben’s, a fellow wrangler, said to him in a whisper. “Railroad boys got ways miners don’t. They been at this a long time.”

The speaker ranted on, repeated himself to a growing rumble.

Ben made his way to the man’s stump, a log he used as a podium, hopping on and edging him off with a gentle turn of his broad shoulders. “Men, we have every right. No one here, or anywhere else, wouldn’t agree that we’ve been slighted. Now I’ve heard all sorts of remedies all the way from sitting down and crying like babies …” He paused to let the laughter subside. “To taking up arms and murdering every man wearing a bow tie.” The crowd understood him to mean bosses and owners of every sort.

“Now I’m not taking up for them, or anybody else. But …” Ben paused for quiet, gazing across the crowd, making eye contact with as many as would. “I’ve been at a stage hold-up where bandits tried to take the strongbox that held payroll. It does happen.”

“That ain’t food!” someone shouted to concurring grumbles of hungry men. “Nobody robbed ‘em of our food!”

“No, it isn’t food. But there are ways, and there are ways. We’ve all heard the stories of what’s happening to workers back east … in the factories and such. The ones that raise the issues get themselves blackballed, no work, nowhere. That is, if they’re not killed.  We’re not a lot different,” Ben said.

No we ain’ts and we’re betters were shouted and repeated throughout the crowd.

“As to our pay, no we didn’t get paid this week like they promised, but guess what? We didn’t get any pay the weeks before that either, when we were sitting at home watching the cat scratch and the wives work the garden. We can hold out another week.”

The grumbling continued, but sounded to Ben to be more positively charged than negative.

“Now, they know we can knock down every trestle built faster than they can be put up. They know that. Change is coming, but change happens slow. You make a fast change and it isn’t the changers that benefit, but the next crew, the next generation. Look at the Negroes. Yes, they’re free, but most of them are starving to death, can’t get work anywhere. Look at the activists back east, the ones can still talk or walk. Isn’t their families that will benefit. Maybe their grandchildren, but not them. Change is gonna come, but I can promise one thing for sure …” Ben stopped, waiting for total quiet. “It won’t start on a railroad line, and it won’t start in the San Juans.”

The murmurs sounded like a herd of cattle slowly rumbling through heavy grass.

Ben began to step off the makeshift podium, only to be thrust back up. “Ain’t leavin’ us high ’n dry,” one said.

“Go talk to them!” The charge was followed by assents throughout the crowd. Finally, Ben agreed.

“When?” shouted the original rouser, the one who’d started the meeting.

“How about right now?” Ben replied. “But this one demand I have …” Again, the men quieted for him. “Not a shout, not a grumble, not a word. We can’t have them frightened or angered. We’re going to be civil. Agreed? You don’t get a mean dog to calm down backing it into a corner.”

After a few moments of whispered grumbling, Ben noted the nodding of heads throughout. After finally making his way to his friend, he asked him to give his bedroll and belongings to whoever needed them. The Lake City bank held Ben’s funds. Red was stabled in Lake City where his rifle was stored with his saddle. Ben trusted he’d be returning to them in short order.

+++

Ben knew that access to the highest level authority at the site would be near to impossible. He also knew that nothing could stand in the way of his calling. Following an inspiration, Ben decided on a John the Baptist approach. The temperature had taken a definite downturn, dipping into the thirties with the setting sun. This evening was colder than the last. After a thorough clean up at the river, Ben cut the legs off his long handles, barely covering himself. Donned in cut-off long johns only, a torch in each hand, he proceeded to the project manager’s railcar, standing like a statue, both torch-wielding arms extended, compelling himself not to shiver.

“You’ve got to see this, Boss,” a guard said to Saul Tate, the project manager. “You can see him out your window.”

“What the blazes? Who is he? What’s he doing?” Tate demanded. “What’s he want?”

“He ain’t said. He just showed up. Standing there like Moses.”

Gazing at Ben, Tate started to demand that he be removed, or at least asked what he was doing, or … Until his eyes locked onto Ben’s and then he was as good as struck dumb. The guard knew better than to assume higher than his station, especially awestruck by the god-like statue Ben presented. Finally, Tate snapped free of his paralysis and asked the attendant to bring the man, whoever he was, into the car. Tate was still mesmerized.

Another guard, a recent hir-ee named Demone Lovelace took aim at Ben’s throat from a distance of only thirty yards. His rifle resting on a stack of railroad ties, himself concealed, Demone sensed his nearly unbidden trigger squeeze, releasing the tension just as Ben responded to another guard’s bidding.

“Mister Tate,” Ben began unbidden, declining a seat. “You need to feed your crew. Without coal, your locomotive goes nowhere but downhill, right? Without grain, horses walk, but can’t pull, or run. Without food, slaves can get to the fields, but can’t work the ground. And without food, your dogs will eat your leg.”

The last, a subtle, implied threat was noted, but accepted as simple logic.

“Who are you?” Tate finally asked.

“Who I am doesn’t matter. Your workers haven’t had meat for three days. Or bread since yesterday. They are weakening as we speak. Soon they will fall out, walk off, or bite anything within reach.”

Tate ordered the job foreman fetched. Neither Ben nor Tate spoke during the wait, Ben’s unblinking gaze locking Tate in place.

“That’s one of the wranglers,” the foreman said unasked as he entered the railcar.

“No matter who he is,” Tate said. His eyes remained on Ben’s. “I want the men fed. And fed now. Tonight. And don’t be too quick to roust ‘em in the morning.”

Ben blinked, breaking the lock on Tate. He then accepted the offer of the seat Tate gestured to as Tate took another.

“Go, now. Both of you.”

The two couldn’t get out quickly enough, scrambling over one another in their exit.

“How would you like a real job for the railroad?” Tate asked.

“No Sir. My job’s done here. The crew wouldn’t trust me, or they’d expect more of me than I’m prepared to give, and your men wouldn’t trust me either. No Sir, my job’s done. I’ll be moving on.”

Accepting a set of clothes, nicer than he ever owned, Ben made his way to town, to wait for the morning stage to Lake City where Demone Lovelace was preparing to return to Creede, finding Lake City too primitive for his liking.

Author Notes This is the first half of the chapter. 2000 words is a bit long for a FanStory post (in my opinion), especially considering the meager payoff I offer. (smiley face here)
Ben Persons: a young man following the call of God from one day to the next


Chapter 8
One Man's Calling ch 8A

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, Ben resolved a labor dispute and has moved on, following God's call.

Demone Lovelace first became aware of who he much, much later learned to be Ben Persons in St Louis. It was some years past, but as clear as yesterday. Demone was in St Louis looking for a grubstake, not the kind a prospector sought, one who would finance a search for gold in exchange for a share. Demone needed money to get himself out of town. The law had its eye on him. It was time to find another town. Working alone, his options were limited.

Burgling or mugging would get him food and shelter for a day, or two. But he needed more to clear St Louis.

Watching banks was out. It worked twice, but now it appeared that he was a suspect, watched and followed whenever near a bank. He’d figured out how to determine who was going in to make a deposit, and who had just exited after a withdrawal. His guess had paid off twice, but he saw prison in the third.

Demone recalled having walked past a private college. Who would enter the administrative offices of a private college before fall classes began. And be carrying a purse full of money?

Demone hadn’t settled into his perch five minutes when he saw a young man several years his younger walking up with purpose. Demone was drawn to money as a bee to a bloom. He rose and began his approach, looking off to a side, but his take down move planned to a science – an elbow to the kidneys as in passing, a kicking trip followed by a chop to his throat. Grab the purse and be off through the wood in seconds.

Never before had Demone felt such a sensation. Just as he cocked his arm for the thrust, it was as if he was in a thundercloud and lightning was about to strike. Every hair on his body quivered. His arm and elbow refused his command. He turned to look at the youth’s back. An aura surrounded the young man. Demone ran, turning into the wood unrewarded.

Demone made it out of St Louis, but not at Ben Persons’ expense.

Some years later, Demone walked his spent horse into Creede, Colorado where he saw a young man on a red gelding, the horse striking him as if soon to be his own, but for a matter of a bullet and a shallow grave. The young man, Ben Persons, seemed completely unaware. Ben Persons gazed left and right, a certain situational awareness part of his nature. Though the connection to the eyes of a man walking his horse flashingly brief, Demone froze as if shot.

Demone flashed back to a time when he’d briefly been a part of a gang that attempted to hold up a stage. His kill shot at this same man fell on an empty chamber.

Then the ridiculous scene at the railroad where he was interrupted.

Demone sensed that his fate was in the palm of this man’s hand.

+++

Red was ready, stabled long enough with an attendant stingy with hay. He pawed the ground, reared his head and bared his teeth in excitement as Ben approached. After a stop at the general store for hard tack and salt pork, he had headed for the Lake City livery, determined to get at least halfway to Cinnamon Pass before nightfall, or at least as far as he had the last time, before coming upon Slim, the injured man. Over the pass, south at Animas Forks, and on to Silverton, if he was quick, he could beat the snow. Thinking over his previous evening, he decided to take along a sack of oats, trusting Red was up to the load.

Whether overgrown chipmunks, or undersize groundhogs, he’d never seen anything like them – the friendliest rodent-varmints he’d ever beheld. A stretch just before the American Basin had at least one on nearly every rock he skirted. An added surprise was their temerity, their cheekiness. Most of them stared straight ahead as he ventured closer. After passing, their heads turned to follow his progress as would an owl. As much as he might, Ben couldn’t force himself to kill and eat one, as pet-like as they appeared.

Tempted to let Red graze and rest for the night in the Basin before the climb up the pass, he thought better of it after spotting a hunting party in what appeared to be a fairly permanent encampment. They were well into a drunken revelry. He’d do Red a favor and pass the opportunity by figuring they’d stop at the first acceptable place clear of earshot. It wasn’t to be. Dusk lasting mere minutes as the sun broke over the peaks of the San Juans to the west, Ben turned back, deciding to camp below the Basin. With a very small fire, they might well escape notice of the partiers. At least they’d be on their way before the rowdy bunch awakened in the morning.

By morning, several inches of snow had fallen. Ben looked skyward and up the slope of Cinnamon Pass, the trail completely obscured, wondering about the validity of this particular part of his calling. By the look of the sky, there’d be no melting. “Nothing to it, but to do it,” he thought. After a cup of oats for Red and no cup of coffee for himself, he retraced the trail as far as he was certain from the previous evening.

“Okay, Red. Here’s where you earn your oats. I’ll walk the first time you ask. Hyup. Let’s go.” He nudged Red with his spurless heels. Hitting a patch of shale rock, Red began slipping, failing to catch anything to give him stability. Ben leaped off to the uphill side, sliding in the snow only a short distance. Red went to his knees, nearly toppling to his left, the downhill side.

“Lord, please spare Red’s legs,” Ben prayed aloud. “I’ll walk the mountain, but please keep Red’s legs whole.” Red immediately steadied himself.

“Well, guess we’re to fellowship with those boys after all. C’mon, Red. Up you go.  Atta boy.” Ben urged Red to stand facing uphill, getting him righted before cautiously leading him down. Fortunately, Red had already slid beyond the shale.

“Hello, the camp,” Ben announced as soon as he thought proper. “Hello, the camp.”

No one stirred.

Once Red was loosed to forage as best he was able through the snow, the Basin creating a pasture, Ben tended the hunting party’s unbanked fire, finally getting an ember to take hold and begin to burn. His small tin sufficient for only one person, he felt it best not to touch the hunters' gear, even to make them coffee. The sun fully risen; he began to be less careful about making noise.

“Who’re you?” demanded the first out of the bunkhouse tent.

“Name’s Ben Persons. Camped below last night. My horse fell trying the pass this morning. Thought it best to rest him.” Ben gestured with both hands, one downstream where he’d camped and the other toward the Basin Lake where Red found graze.

The camper held his head with both hands after attempting to follow Ben’s pointing.

“Try again this afternoon. Or tomorrow. I called to the camp,” Ben added.

“Yeah, well, none of us don’t feel so good this mornin’.”

Ben nodded.

“I’m Camp, Tom Camp. Last name’s too long for America, Camp’ll do.” With that, he stepped a pace around the corner of the tent to relieve himself. “Others hear this, they’ll rouse. If you’d build up a white man’s fire and fill that pot over there from the lake, I’ll get the coffee.”

Ben set to it.

Returning to the camp, yellow snow ringed the tent.

No one else introduced themselves, though Ben had. Camp was the only one who’d uttered anything intelligible. The others were content to let him ramble as they plowed through their breakfast of beans and biscuits, the biscuits unevenly cooked in a too deep Dutch oven.

Finally, one spoke, not pointedly to Ben, but obviously for his benefit. ”Look, honest work here. Feedin’ miners. Up here … everybody’s got a past. What’s past. Man can decide up here, to go honest.”

It was an odd speech, tweaking heads and eyes in bewilderment, but Ben understood. He’d recognized the man as the one rifling through pockets at the stage hold up. The speaker had recognized Ben, as well.

“Take out all the folks got second chances, wouldn’t be much left of the Good Book,” Ben replied with a friendly smile, his eyes finding the ex-outlaw’s.

The man, Thomas Coleman, nodded gratitude. He gestured toward the horses, silently suggesting they separate from the others. “They know me as James Coley around here.”

Ben nodded acceptance.

“It was you turned me,” James said. “No offense, but when you looked at me, back there at the stage, I saw my Mama starin’ at me. An’ she didn’t like what she saw. Then I felt your Henry on my back all the while I was high-tailin’ it outta there. Why didn’t you shoot?”

Ben answered, “Wouldn’t’ve suited my calling.”

James turned to look Ben more squarely, nodding understanding.

“This is my calling. You. Here and now,” Ben said.

James looked skyward, and then scanned the mountain ridges, anywhere but into Ben’s eyes. After a few sniffles, a back-handed swipe at his eyes, and a choked beginning, his voice steadied after the first few words. “Yer doin’ it again. My Mama. She was a preacher’s daughter.” He chanced a glance at Ben. “She made no bones about prayin’ for me. Every time I cut up. Her on her knees prayin’ to God for me to find him, quotin’ Bible in her prayers.

“I used to laugh it up.  God’s lost and needs me to find him.”

Ben kept still.

“Tell you. Her on her knees hurt worsen’ any whippin’ my pa ever gave me.” James paused. “Don’t know why I fell in with those boys. My horse broke his leg. I couldn’t afford another. Stealin’ one seemed the only way. Then … well, I was a horse thief, right?”

“Then that day, with your sights locked on the back of my heart. Well, I veered my horse away from those boys an’ never looked back.”

“You ready to find God now?” Ben asked.

Falling to his knees, James began to pray as had his mother, as if talking to a dear friend. Gently, Ben touched James’ head, praying with him.

Rising, James announced his plan. “Goin’ to California. Right now. I feel it.”

Ben understood. “Here take this. I don’t need it. You do.” From a pocket he withdrew two Double Eagles. “Find a church.”

“I will, Friend, one can teach me to preach. I feel it.”

Ben nodded. “A calling.”

“Get out there, look me up,” he said as if California was a little town.

“Afraid it might be in the by-an’-by we meet again.”

James understood.

+++

“We would’ve taken the game over to Animas Forks yesterday, but Ivan the Terrible in there.” Tom Camp pointed to the tent as Ben returned.

Another man picked up the story. “Took a Ute arrow. We tried to doctor him. Doubt we could get over the hump as drunk as we all got tryin’ to drunk him enough to get it out. Shoulda left it in an gone on, I guess. Name’s Smith.” He held out his hand to shake, the only one to do so.

Smith pointed to one of their party. “Jim Beam there couldn’t stand for Ivan to drink alone.” As it turned out, Jim Beam wasn’t his real name, but a nickname for the man from Kentucky who Ben instantly perceived to be an alcoholic. “The rest of us, well, I guess we just wanted our share,” he said sullenly.

“Ivan?” Ben asked, nodding toward the tent.

“Leg has fever. You know doctorin’?” he asked.

“Studied some,” Ben answered. The college offered a term of first aid, as well as another of common diseases for those among them who might be called to a mission field or pioneering ministry.

“Had to cut him up pretty bad,” Smith said apologetically. Smith had taken Ben into the tent to see the injured man.

The wound was a hideous mess. “Everybody put a hand to it once Ivan finally passed out. I think somebody mistook a bone for the arrowhead. It’s still in there somewhere.”

The arrow had entered a few inches above his knee from behind.

“Way it went in made it real hard to work on. Him not wanting to stay on his stomach, and us tryin’ to get him liquored up.”

Ben nodded as he studied the bright red, swollen, meaty flesh. “My guess is that a doctor’s going to take the leg off. Soon. Today.”

Smith nodded.

Smith’s announcement to the party was a repeat of what they’d overheard already. No one volunteered, everyone avoiding eye contact with either Smith, or Ben.

“What really happened here?” Ben asked, his spirit speaking to him. “He didn’t get attacked by an Indian, and you all have a drinking party with no notion of defense, or guarding the camp.” His eyes travelled the hunters, seeking truth.

No one moved as Ben refilled his coffee. His eyes continued to search their faces. Smith beat another by only a fraction.

“He rode in dragging that elk.” He pointed at a carcass, disdain in his voice. “Dragging it, for crying out loud.” The others’ expressions demonstrated their disgust at such treatment of game.

“Had the arrow in his leg, braggin’ about it like it was a trophy. Like he was a war hero. Heck, he bought his way out of the war. His family paid a farmer three hundred dollars to take his place. Up in Indiana.” He turned his glare to the fire. “Said he shot the elk and before he could dress it, a Ute brave plinked him. Said he fought the Indian off, and well … Here he rode in.”

Ben sensed the lie of it, as did all the others.

“Was two holes. One in the shoulder could’ve been an arrow,” Smith added, pointing to the elk.

Ben nodded.

As they built a travois, a sled-like gurney to be pulled by Ivan’s horse, Ben told them that he would take the man down to Lake City, learning that neither Animas Forks nor Eureka had a doctor. Silent sighs of relief filled the camp.

Unsaid, Ben knew what he would do: pull the man to where he might have the best chance of meeting the Ute’s who no doubt had been watching all the while. At the risk of further hurt for the delayed care, Ben knew that the sacrifice of time was absolutely required: his calling.

At the first valley to the south, Ben urged Red off the Lake City trail. Drifting snow laid bare a path that might as well have been shoveled, as clear as it was of snow. An hour further was a small knob, clear of brush or trees but for a single, small, lightning-struck tree – perfect for a blazing white man’s fire.

As Ben tossed on the last limb, he saw that he was surrounded by four Utes. None spoke.

Casually, Ben strode to Ivan, stripping him of his coverings. The Indians followed. Exposing the wound on the man that they recognized, Ben motioned that the leg would be cut off.

After bowing to each of the four men, two middle aged and two younger than Ben, Ben turned back to one of the younger men. “It was your elk,” he said. Pointing to Ivan, who was then conscious, but obviously feverish and in pain. Ben continued, “We all hope he is sorry. We are sorry for him.”

The Utes gave no indication that they understood. Their solemn expressions hadn’t changed since their first appearance.

“He has no honor among his brothers. I will take him to get his leg cut off. He will ride the train to the east, off the mountain, where no elk will ever go.” Ben made gestures unknown and unbidden as he spoke. Finished, the Ute he’d addressed as the one who’d shot both the elk and Ivan, extended his hand in white man manner to shake Ben’s. They all nodded, their smiles speaking friendship and acceptance as they left as quietly as they’d appeared.

At Lake City, Ben found someone willing to take Ivan to the railhead once he’d sufficiently recovered.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow the call of God
Demone Lovelace: a man determined to follow a different call


Chapter 9
One Man's Calling, Ch 9

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben took Ivan to Lake City, after making amends with the Indians that Ivan had wronged. Ben arranged for Ivan to be transported east to a doctor, and then on east to his Illinois home. Ben is in Lake City looking to follow God’s leading.

“Son, we’ll ride on down to Creede. See the livery man, named Tolsen.”

“Ralph Tolsen?” Ben asked excitedly.

“Yeah, that’s him. Got a huge operation. Trades in horses, no mules. Heard he just bought the stables recently.”

The Lake City plan was that Ben would harness-train them for room and board and every eighth sold would be his. Fair, or not, Ben was satisfied with the deal with the Lake City stable owner.

Once shed of Ivan, Ben set about seeking work, no sense of travel in him. The livery stable was a second one in Lake City, one nearer the lake. The corrals completely devoid of stock made him curious enough to ask.

“Would’ve thought business would be teeming,” Ben said to the proprietor, a man of about forty years. Ben found him in a tool shed putting together harness leather and hardware. “Where’s the stock?”

“Gonna be,” he replied about the business. “Say, ain’t you Ben Persons?”

Ben nodded.

“Heard about you. Heard a lot, actually. Mostly from my wife. You might remember her. Tex Morgan did not elaborate about the former saloon worker, Mattie, that Ben had rescued.

“Heard you was honest, a good man with people and with stock. Heard about you from lotsa folk,” he added. “You lookin’ for work?”

Ben shook his hand, making formal acquaintance and accepting the quasi-partnership.

“Yup, this’ll be a hub for livestock that ain’t donkey or burro bred soon enough. And ranchers don’t break horseflesh for anything but the saddle. We’ll buy all the unbroken, or half-broken stock we can get.”

+++

Once back in Creede, Livvy leaped into his arms, full-body hugging him. “Oh, Ben. I’ve prayed to see you again!”

As had Ben, though his singleness of purpose hadn’t changed. “Honey …”

“Oh, I know. You aren’t going to marry anybody. But I wanted you to approve of my husband-to-be. I’ve even put off setting the date, hoping you could meet him. Allowing you approve, of course.” Livvy giggled with excitement.

“Come on. You can talk to Pa later. Come see Ma. She’ll bust her gut, seeing you!”

She did.

“I can’t wait for you to meet William, William Ferlonson,” Livvy exclaimed. “He’s a surveyor. He mostly works for the gover’ment, but takes jobs from everybody. He’s laying out Buford’s farm for streets and lots on the north end of town this whole week. You might have seen him. He’ll be here for supper. I can’t wait for you to meet him. He was in the Army. He worked out some of the reservations in Oklahoma. You’ll like him. He has your eyes. That’s what first drew me, thinking about you. He’s a lot like you, Ben, kind, and strong.” Livvy finally slowed her chatter.

Finding an opening, Ben began to ask his question, interrupted by Livvy.

“Yes. That’s the best part. He likes me. We talk, and laugh. Oh, I just know you’ll approve.” Livvy quieted as if a flame totally doused with cold water. “But if you don’t …”

Livvy’s mother took the opportunity to intervene. “Show him about, Dear. I can see to supper.” Livvy’s mother had no reservations concerning Livvy and her William, perfectly accepting Ben’s life choices. Though she would have cherished Ben as son-in-law, she understood. Ben was not then, nor was he now, a man to marry anyone. He was a man set apart. She now knew in her heart.

+++

Ben did, indeed, approve of Livvy’s William, a man of small stature, but large personality.

After a huge breakfast that Livvy and her mother began long before dawn, William had the opportunity to speak with Ben alone, Livvy’s mother seeing to it.

“I thought you were a god,” William said. “The way Livvy spoke of you.”

Raising his hand, indicating he wasn’t through, he continued, “Oh, I knew you weren’t, and I knew I couldn’t compete. So, I just decided to be myself and see where it got me. Ben, I give you my word …” He spoke to Ben, who was younger than himself, as if he were an elder.  “… That I’ll cherish her. Show her honor and respect. I’ll do my best to love her as much as you do.

“Yeah, it shows. She knows it, we all know it. And we all know that you have work to do. You’re not God, but you do God’s work. You’re God’s man. And I want you to know that you’re welcome in our home anytime, anytime at all.”

Ben’s blue eyes glistened. He spent the entire evening peeling, first potatoes, and then apples with his belt knife, listening to Livvy carry on about her man. William bore out the truth of her words.

+++

Demone Lovelace sat at a table in the saloon called The Palace. Serving as an enforcer, his chief job was to ensure customer payment, especially for the company of one of the three ladies. He refused admission to any he deemed unprofitable. His senses awoke in an instant. He reflexively reached for his gun, glancing erratically about the nearly empty room much as a hen might sense a king snake in the house. Pistol in hand, he finally inched his way to the door, and then outside. Scanning the street, his gaze settled on a man astride a red gelding just then leaving town. Had his horse been available, he would have ridden the threat to his existence down and shot him stone cold dead for no other reason than a sense of self-preservation.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following after God
Ralph Tolsen: A wainright, father of Livvy, friend of Ben
Ivan: injured man Ben brought off the mountain
Tex Morgan: Lake City livery owner, Ben's new employer
William Ferlonson: Livvy's husband-to-be
Demone Lovelace: Ben's unknown nemesis


Chapter 10
One Man's Calling, ch 10A

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, Ben worked training horses to the harness in Lake City. A reacquainting with the Tolsens allowed him to meet Livvy’s William Ferlonson.

The next spring found Ben in Telluride, helping Livvy’s William lay out the town. Livvy accompanied her new husband, the contract expected to last throughout summer. A rooming house for Ben afforded the couple their privacy in a rented house. Ben immediately convinced the town council to set aside two parcels to be sold for churches at either end of town: one for the starch-collared souls, and the other for the more casual, the stiffness more in their backs than collars, the common laborer types.

+++

Rarely out of his second-floor office above his saloon, a room he often thought could make him more money with an added girl using it more profitably, Mason Salinger enjoyed the view of Telluride, watching the goings on. Every man passing by was a potential customer. Mason Salinger, the same man as Ben and Sheriff Watson had run out of Creede, laid claim to a large portion of every dollar in their pockets and totes in the town of Telluride. His enjoyment came to an end the day Ben rode into town. Seeing him on the streets nearly every day made it worse, knowing that he’d soon have a church built; and be busy poisoning the town against him. Costing him money. Disrupting his life. Souring his every meal. Salinger unconsciously gripped his pistol handle every time he saw Ben, not realizing that with every glance out the window he was no longer enjoying the view, but searching out blue-eyed Ben Persons. Instead of thinking about opening a bank, he was wondering where he would go next if Telluride threw him out. He saw no other end. Other than an end to Persons.

The summer drew on interminably. Studying his account books, Salinger noted that while whiskey sales were up each month, as of the date he first saw Persons, gambling table profits were down, as was the trade of his girls. It seemed that they were doing more drinking than anything else most nights. And since Persons arrived, he’d lost two girls. Up and disappeared. Those were the first he lost.

That fall, not seeing Persons’ surveyor friend for a few days, Salinger learned that the couple had returned to Creede, leaving the do-gooder behind.

+++

The mining camp of Keystone was down river on the San Miguel, a couple miles west of Telluride. Some of the folks most inclined to have a church built in the region worked mines in Keystone, which differed from most camps because the miners brought their families with them. One of the families, Gerrard and Clara Fugler, came west on the same wagon train as had Ben, recognizing him by chance the day they’d registered their claim that past spring.

Ben felt the calling take him and Red down the San Miguel. While his mind advised winter accommodations, his sense urged him into the mining camp. Ben had never assumed, or presumed that because he was used of God, that his meals would float from the sky as manna. He, like every other, concerned himself about sustenance and protection from the elements. The biting wind ignored, Ben gave no thought to the looming nightfall, but followed the haphazard trail into Keystone.

“Ben! Ben Persons!” Gerrard was ecstatic. “God sent you. I know he did. Come in. Come down from your horse. I see you have the same one. A good horse. Come in and see Clara and our little Mary. Clara and Mary, sounds good, yes? I saw you in town weeks ago but then lost you.”

The month-old infant let out a healthy squeal as the two entered the rough-hewn aspen log cabin. Her timbre, even as the squeal turned to a shriek, foretold a rich soprano.

Gerrard, twelve years Ben’s senior, found Clara working at a canvas supply company in St Louis. Selling his homesteaded forty acres to a neighbor for barely enough to outfit a wagon and pay a wagonmaster. Gerrard then sought a wife, a woman willing to travel west. As he sought materials to finish his wagon, Gerrard saw Clara gazing at a departing wagon train. He proposed on the spot, promising that they’d be members of the next train. Miraculously, Clara didn’t conceive until their Keystone cabin was built.

“Ahh, Mary, baby,” Gerrard took the infant from her mother, who tried to rise from their bed, a humble pallet that took up a third of the small abode.

“No, my lamb, don’t get up. Look, Ben Persons!”

Clara managed a smile in her silent greeting.

“Clara … struggles to recover. She … something isn't healing. She ...”

Ben raised his hand for Gerrard to stop. “Gerrard would you mind taking Mary outside, give me a minute with Clara?”

Without hesitation Gerrard snatched Clara’s wool overcoat from a peg near the door and bundled the whimpering infant, mumbling more to himself than Ben as to how he knew that God would send someone to help. He knew Ben to be a college-trained preacher, good with animals, and easy to like, the limit of his knowledge of the young man. But his spirit bade obedience.

Once out and the door closed, Clara attempted to speak, “My milk …”

“Shhh. I know. Lie still.” Ben began to pray aloud, thanking God for the young family, thanking him for giving them a daughter, thanking Him for keeping their souls in His care. Reaching to Clara, his right hand hovering over her, he gently touched her forehead with his left. “In the name of Jesus, your son, I’m asking complete and immediate healing for Clara. Lord, you know her need. Your daughter needs your Holy Spirit. Touch her parts, fill her with milk, but most of all give her an overwhelming sense of your presence. Let her see what I see, Father, a healthy, happy mother and husband, raising little Mary, and an abundance more in her long and faithful life.”

Had Gerrard been in the room to see Clara’s response, he most certainly would have disturbed her healing, as dead as she appeared, her lower jaw slightly gaped, her eyes only half shut. Her pallor, though, had there been better light, could have been seen to be gaining color by the moment.

Ben quietly left the cabin.

“She’ll be fine,” he told Gerrard. “But is there someone you can take …”

“Yes, the Simmermans across the river there.” He pointed at a cabin half dug into the canyon wall. “Their baby is running into the river to play every day. Martha keeps her on a tether – has to. Little Mary has kept her in milk. I think they have saved her life.”

“If she could keep Mary for the night?”

“Yes, I know she will. And in the morning?” Gerrard looked to his cabin.

“Clara will be wanting to nurse Mary’s breakfast. Be sure Martha knows that.”

Tears filled Gerrard’s eyes, streaming down his face as he hugged Ben, little Mary’s screech of discomfort breaking him loose.

+++

“Halves of everything we break loose of the mountain’s grip. This summer hasn’t been so good,” Gerrard pledged.

“We’ve been fine,” Clara said as she moved Mary to her other breast. “It was good that we already had gold enough to see us through until Ben arrived.”

Gerrard’s nodding again shook his flimsy table. “Yes! And now we can start fresh. Halves.”

“God has blessed me, Gerrard. I have much more than I left Missouri with. We’ll put whatever share I earn aside and see what happens.”

Gerrard’s nodding again shook the flimsy table.

“Gerrard, show Ben the claim. Introduce him around. You’ll need to add on to our cabin before you two can do any mining. Come back some time after noon and I’ll have this place cleaned up and a proper meal.”

Without a word, choked for a voice, Gerrard kissed his girls. Clara mouthed a “thank you” to Ben as he offered his smile, his beaming face encouraging her own.

+++

“What happened to the river?” Gerrard’s question matched that of other miners of the community as they came down from their mine some weeks after Ben’s arrival.

“It just dried up,” another miner said. “Like God turned off the spigot.”

It hadn’t completely dried up, pools here and there, but the normally vigorous flow was completely stopped.

“Don’t think this was God’s doing,” Ben said, putting away his whittling. “I’ll saddle Red and see what I can see.”

It was mid-December. The temperature had dropped, but the snowfall was manageable. Those that remained to work through the winter were faring well. Most of Ben’s time, rather than working the mine, he spent putting up firewood and hunting, bringing in enough venison to feed the settlement. He did take time, though, to get one of Salinger’s girls to marry one of the miners, with blessings of acceptance from all the wives.

Returning to Keystone after his investigation, Ben called for a general meeting.

“They built a dam.”

The clamor stopped Ben’s report. Waiting for quiet, he continued. “Looks like they’ve been working on it quite a while. Just dropped some blocks in place to begin holding the water back a few days ago. I rode in asking for a job, to get a closer look around. Salinger from the saloon financed it. They said I’d have to go see him. Pretty sure they knew who I was why they said to see him.

“Anyway, it was obvious they’re going to hydraulic mine.”

+++

Again, the boisterous murmuring and shouted questions interrupted his delivery.

“No, it’s not for water for Telluride. With pressure from the dammed up river, they’ll shoot jets of water to the hillsides blasting away in a minute what it would take a week for a man to move.”

“And make the San Miguel undrinkable,” a man shouted.

Another added,” And come spring that dam will burst.”

“Wiping out Keystone,” injected another.

“What are we to do?” read the panicked faces of the gathered.

“We can move on,” Ben said to the gathered people of Keystone, full well anticipating the responses. He was not surprised by the calls for battle against Mason Salinger.

Being Ben’s partner afforded Gerrard the respect of silence as he held up his hand to speak, as if a school child. “If we blow their dam now, before it fills, what will happen?”

Everyone stayed their thoughts.

Ben, accepting his position of authority and counselor, replied, “First, cabins close to the river, including ours, will likely wash away. You all probably know how that would play better than me. Then Salinger will send men, probably not his miners, but some he’ll send for and move us out. With guns, most likely.”

Those whose jaws weren’t fixed in a gape murmured among the group.

Anticipating the question, Ben raised his voice to be heard over the clatter. “The law might be on our side, but don’t count on help. Help wouldn’t get here in time. And there’s no reason to think that Salinger couldn’t buy them off.

“‘Fraid we’re on our own.”

“Would the law abide us blowin’ their dam today?” Gerrard asked.

The last of the grumblers quieted.

“Doubt the law could put it back up. Might arrest anybody caught damaging others’ property.”

“Earth ain’t his property!” someone shouted to a chorus of “amens”.

“Might be seen the same as blowing up his house,” Ben replied.

“By a jury?” the shouter asked.

Ben shrugged. “First is to pray what God would have you do.” The crowd quieted more than if Ben had killed them all. “Then the next thing is to get off the river, everything you don’t want to end up fifty miles away and ruined. I’ll go see Salinger.” Ben walked away, leaving the community to discuss and decide.

Finding Ben in their cabin, Clara asked, “Would Salinger buy us out?”

Ben thought a moment before asking how much she thought it would take to satisfy each family as Clara began to assemble their few valuables and furnishings, preparing to store them up the river bank.

Making the largest mistake of his life, Ben saddled Red and rode to town, confident in his judgement, not taking his own advice to consult God.

+++

“A thousand dollars a claim,” Ben said, standing in front of Salinger’s desk, not offered a seat.

After time enough to make a variety of uncharitable facial expressions, Salinger replied. “I wouldn’t pay a hundred. Why should I pay for what I can get for free? For a hundred dollars a claim, I could send those rock-cullers sliding down the mountain on their …”

“Mister Salinger …” Ben began, interrupted by Salinger’s attendant strong man, Max,  bear-hugging him from behind.

“Take him out and teach him to go back to wherever he came from. Or at least not to come back without a gun.” Turning his glare to Ben, “You’ve messed with me for the last time.” He attempted a punch with a half-clenched fist, yelping at the pain to his hand. “And make him pay for that, too!” he yelled, squinching his face in pain as he tucked his hand into his armpit.

“Pleasure, Boss.”

Ben did not resist being physically maneuvered down the stairs. Once outside, he spun out of the tough’s grasp and strode to the center of the street. Salinger’s man, Max, grinned, flexing his muscles, slowly making his way to Ben. As Ben raised his arms defensively, he heard a warning shout to look out. Another Salinger man, Jones, was advancing from behind him. Ben ducked in time to cause the butt of a pistol to glance off the side of his head, rather than crush his skull where his soft spot had been twenty-two years past. Ben fell to his knees, his head reeling.

“Pick him up,” Max told Jones.

As the man holstered his pistol, Ben spun, his aching head causing his eyes to clamp shut. Instinctively, as he raised his fists, he kicked straight outward, catching Jones full in the groin. Jones instantly dropped into a fetal position, rolling in the street, more like a groaning pill bug than a man.

With a ferocious roundhouse, Max slammed Ben to the side of his head, knocking him to the ground, nearly unconscious. His kick followed to the same concussed spot, fracturing his skull.

“Now, you pick him up,” Salinger told Max, having followed them outside, pistol in hand.

This time, Ben was unable to spin from the bear hug that cracked a rib.

Salinger made a full fist, catching Ben square on his nose, breaking it with a loud crack, flooding Ben’s face with blood, his shirt already bloody from his head injury. Salinger drew his pistol from the holster at his stomach as Ben struggled to his feet. Max, Salinger’s burly tough man, edged forward, waiting for a signal to completely destroy what remained of Ben. Turning to the thug, Ben attempted to focus, one eye already swelling closed. As Max physically flinched, Salinger cocked his double action pistol, raising it to point at Ben’s chest, his arm out-stretched.

Clumsily, Ben closed the ten-foot distance, walking directly into the handgun, tottering Salinger to his heels. He stared as Christ might have at Satan while hanging on the cross.

“Hold it right there!” Wheezing from his run after having been sent for by on-lookers, the Telluride Marshall shouted as he rounded a building corner. He had run the three blocks from his home. “Stop. Right now, Salinger. Lower the gun.”

He did, awkwardly shuffling his feet for balance as he tottered backward. The Marshall yanked the gun from his hand. “Somebody get this man to the doctor,” the Marshall ordered. In his scan of the witnesses he saw Jones edging to the back of the gathering crowd. Turning to Salinger, the Marshall pushed him away from Ben, speaking as he backed Salinger, the joke of a human specimen, toward the saloon. “Been waiting for something like this. Knew it was coming. You have forty-eight hours to sell your interests in this town, pack your gear, and get out.”

“You can’t do that! Marshall, there’s no way I can get any kind of price under those terms.”

“I can, and I am, and you will.” The Marshall turned his attention to Ben, who’d gently resisted assistance from others. “Son, you need to see a doctor.”

Closing his eyes from the pain that had just then worked its way through the adrenaline, Ben managed to ask for his horse and help getting mounted. His mouthed words of being alright were unheard, but understood.

“Somebody loan me a horse," the Marshall yelled out. “I’ll see you home then,” knowing that Keystone was a short ride, but long enough for Ben to fall off and break his neck.

“Forty-eight hours,” he yelled back over his shoulder. “From this very minute.”

+++

Two miners were new to Keystone, arriving in the middle of that summer. They were at the end of their grubstake, financed by none other than Salinger himself. Middle-aged men who’d laid claim to failed mining attempts all about the San Juans, they’d yet to see either gold or silver.

True to form, as is the case in many circumstances, debtors find reasons to hate their benefactors. They manufacture reasons that loans need not be repaid, finding causes in support of either inflicting injury, or at least to delight in their hurt. A better opportunity would never arise. Taxing two sticks of dynamite from each Keystone resident, they argued merely to be ready, preparing in the event that Ben directed the dam’s destruction, something everyone knew would have to happen eventually, and the sooner the better.

The sticks bundled and blasting cap set, the two crept afoot up the drying riverbed, reaching the base of the dam unseen even before Ben was struck by the first blow. As quietly as they could, they burrowed into the rock-filled, earthen dam. They hadn’t considered the length of their fuse until the moment before placing the charge. “Gotta give us ‘nough time to get outta here,” one said. The other man, estimating that it would take less than a minute to climb the river bank, cut the fuse at two minutes.

The fuse lit, the first charged down river, back the way they’d come. The man who lit the fuse, figuring that his partner had settled on the best way out of the water’s path, followed, wishing that they would begin climbing the bank with every stumbling stride.

The explosion was fierce, rocketing stones and debris upward and down the streambed. Water vapor created a cloudlike fog that confused the workers all around the dam site. The chute of the canyon served as a rifle barrel, pummeling the two before they could escape.

Keystone folk watched the corpses float past, the wash only a few feet higher than normal after a big rain. They’d heard the explosion, paying it no heed as it sounded like an ordinary day of hard rock mining. It was the noise of rushing water that drew their attention.

+++

The remainder of the winter saw Ben nursed to health in Keystone, a semblance of his old self, but now suffering from blackouts and occasional seizures with any excitement or stress. He walked with a mysterious staggering hobble, no obvious injury to his hips or legs. He sometimes stammered for words, preferring silence to the difficulty of speech. Ben’s prayer life included repentance for his taking matters into his own hands rather than waiting for God’s resolution.

Author Notes Ben Persons: young man following the call of God
Mason Salinger: saloon owner, prospectors' financier
Gerrard and Clara Fugler - prospector/miner couple, friends of Ben from the wagon train
Martha Simmerman: Keystone resident who nurses Clara's newborn

Please Google Earth or Google Map Creede, Lake City, Telluride, Colorado, and the surrounds for a sense of the geography.


Chapter 11
One Man's Calling, Ch 11A

By Wayne Fowler

Ben was set to leave Keystone, intent on following God’s leading. Keystone and his friends were safe from Salinger, who Ben had had a hand in being kicked out of yet another town. Sadly, though, Ben had taken a beating, suffering a head injury when he acted on his own, ahead of God.

“It’ll be fine,” Ben assured Clara and Gerrard. He hadn’t felt more competent in weeks.

“But your seizures, your fainting spells …” Clara insisted.

“I have work to do. You know it’s right. The pass is clear. Red will not fail me. I need to go to Ophir. There’s work to be done.” With that, he drew Clara into a farewell hug, gently patting her back. “Can’t thank you enough, Friend,” Ben said to Gerrard, shaking his hand. Ben guardedly mounted Red, careful not to make any sudden moves. “It wouldn’t do at all to fall off in a wad in front of his anxious friends at this point,” he thought.

+++

Mason Salinger had made his forty-eight-hour deadline of vacating Telluride, the Marshall and two others, deputized for the chore, standing vigil as the appointed hour approached. The Marshall was a visible presence in and around Salinger’s properties the entire time, Salinger’s operations being the sources of more complaints than the other saloons and bordellos combined.

Knowing the condition behind the forced sales of the two saloons, the claptrap hotel, and the mining claims owned by Salinger, the offers were worse than lowball. Salinger found no buyer at all for the claims, everyone knowing that they were for the taking after abandonment and no one wanted the tainted properties badly enough to risk money.

Salinger managed to move two of his older working girls, who felt they might not be treated as well by a new manager, two barrels of whiskey, and a lock box of Treasury Notes, Gold Eagles, and Half-Eagles. Salinger and the two maidens rode a wagon pulled by a team that had seen their best years, and may not see another mountain pass, at least not without off-loading the whiskey. Max and Jones rode horses in not much better condition.

Their destination of Montrose proved too ambitious for the stock, barely making Placerville, a community already burgeoning with saloons. In a building barely able to resist the winter’s fury, hardly a customer, cash dwindling, Salinger managed to put together stock and supplies to strike out for Ophir the next spring. Ophir, a new community, was to be his restoration, returning to him the wealth that he figured was stolen from him by Ben Persons.

+++

Ophir was mostly canvas, buildings more on the order of square yurts, tents struck on wooden platforms. Only a few permanent structures had been built, a few more being put up at the time of Ben’s arrival, the arrival that was observed and reported immediately to Salinger by Max.

“A bullet this time, Boss. A 44-40 right between the eyes.”

Salinger glared at his employee.

“We can hold him ‘til you get there, somewhere way out of town. You can be the one to do it,” Max continued.

“No. Not that way. The man is golden. These mountains love him. His body would be found and you know who they would all come for. They’d shoot you, but hang me. That pup is going to die, but we have to be smart about it. He has to come after me … in the wide open. Plenty of witnesses. Self-defense, plain to everybody.”

“Boss, he won’t do that. He’ll stand there like …”

“He will. Oh, he will.” Salinger raised his hand from resting on his pistol to his chin. “You remember that little missy he was so tied to?”

“Isn’t she married to that surveyor?” Jones asked.

“No matter. He’ll come. And ready to fight this time. You two go to Creede. Get her. And I mean quiet. You wait as long as it takes to get her when she’s away from her husband. He’ll be away at work somewhere. You get her out of there at night. No one sees, understand? You knock her out, booze her up, whatever, just get her. And wait until dark to bring her here.

“Persons sees her dazzled up in here, he’ll come.”

+++

“Ben Persons!” Arville, the stage coach shotgun rider shouted. “You’re perfect! The stage job, a wrangler, a lawman, and even a miner! Yeah, I’ve kept up with you. A lot of folks have. You could run for governor! Am I glad to see you!” Arville Johnston clapped Ben on his shoulder as soon as Ben lighted from Red. “Am I glad to see you!” he repeated. “You saved my life. And don’t think I don’t know it.”

“Wasn’t me. I just prayed.”

“Well … it was you who prayed! See those burros? In the pen yonder? I know they’re short. Anyway, I have forty of ‘em. We’re gonna team ‘em up and train ore over to Silverton. These can carry a hunnerd an’ twenty pounds each, live on a hat full of straw, and smile at you. A day over the pass and then back. Water at Mineral Creek. Every trip a different team. Over and back.”

“There’s a smelter in Silverton?” Ben asked.

Arville, nodded, grinning. “And there’s profit to be made in foodstuffs or general mercantile goods that we can haul back. Miners bring me the ore. I pack it into burro packs, load ‘em, and you lead ‘em over the pass. We could take turns. Every other trip.”

“How about I do the pass every trip. Red and your horse take the turns?” Ben replied, smiling, the left side of his face not quite the same as the right. Ben knew that the enterprise would be short lived, but would profit until a smelter was finally built in Ophir.

“Did you manage to send for your gal?” Ben asked.

“I did. And didn’t,” Arville replied. “Sent for her all right. Her reply asked if she could bring her new husband, him being fired from John Deere.” Arville laughed at his own telling.

Ben shook his head in commiseration.

The men shook hands, Arville still laughing. “Let me show you where you can stay. We’ll get you some town food, such as it is.”           

Ben was learning the names and quirks of twenty burros as he led the tethered animals east, figuring out how best to pace Red. The views majestic with mountain ranges, peaks and overlooks, Ben ignored the discomforts and relished in God’s handiwork. He barely arrived in Ophir, and was already preparing to head back out, a job that he felt blessed to have. Ben noticed the Avalanche saloon, instinctively knowing who owned it.

Salinger learned of Ben’s burro operation the same day, delighted in the arrangement.

+++

It was a full three weeks before Max and Jones returned with Livvy.

“Boss, like you said,” the burly Max reported. “Her husband, the surveyor, was around all day and all night for near a week before he lit out, packed like he’d be a while. The girl, she’s gonna have a baby, Boss.”

Salinger’s eyes furrowed. “How …”

“Oh, you can barely tell. But I heard ‘em talkin’,” the quieter one named Jones said. “Reason she ain’t gone with ‘im.”

“Where is she now?” Salinger asked impatiently.

“Tied up in an abandoned mine just south a’ here. We’ll bring ‘er in come full dark,” Jones answered.

“One of you should’ve stayed with her,” Salinger admonished.

Max continued his tale as if uninterrupted. “Then she spends a lot a’ time with her mother, over to her mother’s place,” Max added. “But we did it. Jones came up with the plan. Got a buggy from the livery. Told ‘em a girl wanted it to follow after her man. The owner gave us a real squirrelly look, asked what girl, but we didn’t say. He rented it to us anyway.”

“Hah! We didn’t even know where he was goin’, her husband,” Jones injected.

Max continued the narrative. “That night we were outta there with her hog-tied and a sock in her pie hole. Shed the buggy ‘fore we got to Hogback Mountain. We put ‘er in britches an’ a hat an’ …”

“You didn’t …” Salinger looked Max up and down.

Max understood. “No Sir, Boss. Stupid, we ain’t. That boy comin’ ta get her be after you, not us.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Mason Salinger: saloon owner, prospectors' financier
Gerrard and Clara Fugler: old friends of Ben who offered him mining partnership
Max: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Jones: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Arville Johnston: stagecoach guard that Ben had previously prayed for his healing of a gunshot wound, here a livery stable entrepreneur
Livvy Ferlonson (Tolsen): previous heart-throb of Ben. Since married to William Ferlonson


Chapter 12
One Man's Calling Ch 12A

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben left Keystone heading for Ophir. Months before, Salinger who was bound for Montrose, only made it as far as Ophir. He sent Max and Jones to kidnap Livvy, setting a trap for Ben.

“You didn’t …” Salinger looked Max up and down.

Max understood. “No Sir, Boss. Stupid, we ain’t. That boy comin’ ta get her be after you, not us.”

Jones nodded.

“Wait until an hour before dawn to bring her in. I don’t want anybody to see how she got here. Come tomorrow night, I’ll have her dazzling like the bawdiest floozy I’ve ever had.”

“Tell ‘er your gonna make a tart of her baby,” Max suggested.

Salinger nodded, the idea far-fetched, but likely effective.

+++

“Look here, Missy. You are going to act the part. That, or I’ll, well, just be sure that there is no lack of drunken men I can run through your beehive. You are going to do exactly as I say if you want a chance to ever see your husband again, if you want to have that baby.”

Livvy knew full well, understood perfectly that she was bait in a trap set for Ben. There was no question that he would try to save her. And there was no question that he alone of all men could do it. Salinger could, and would, kill her baby, and bring ruin to her life. She saw no alternative to doing as he bid, dressing the part, making herself up, even putting on the act should it come to that. The gown was humiliating, the make-up, embarrassing. The only man to have seen as much of her as the dress exposed loved her soul more than her skin. The man now ogling her, hated her soul.

Livvy thought hard, and prayed harder the entire trip to Ophir. She saw no opportunity for escape. And after the first day, it was likely that escape from the two ruffians might put into more peril than being captive. She despised putting her own life, and that of her baby ahead of Ben’s or her husband’s.

It took a week, but Salinger had Ben’s timing figured. His initial thought of some sort of public, self-defense play in the street had never made it as far as a plan. Once the girl was secured, Salinger could never work out how he could be certain that Ben would force a fight rather than simply somehow rescue the girl.

Salinger’s plan to force Livvy to become a saloon girl never materialized. He imagined her befriending or beguiling someone to warn Ben, or to at least organize her rescue with locals. The only option was to secure her in a room, the threat of sending Max and Jones to her apparently sufficient.

Livvy considered a thousand options, even attempting to chew through the rope bindings at night and escaping through the second-floor window. What held her back was the clear direction from God. On the trail over Ophir Pass she heard a loud and distinct voice. It was so loud and clear that she snapped her head toward her two kidnappers, briefly considering whether either of them spoke, but knowing they hadn’t. “Stand. When the evil day comes, stand.”

The Sunday previous to Livvy’s kidnapping, she took note of the preacher’s comments. He was in the middle of a series based on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, but after announcing the title of that Sunday’s message, he caught himself. Gazing to the rafters, he declared in as clear a voice as Livvy had just heard: “That ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Without notes, he went on to preach Ephesians chapter six, emphasizing that when a person has armed themselves with God’s armor, they were to stand fast and watch as God delivered them. Stand.

Livvy knew that her rescue would come, and when the evil day was to come, what she would do.

“Come over here to the window.” They were in a room with a view to the street in Salinger’s saloon. Her hands were securely tied behind her back, her feet hobbled loosely enough to allow short steps. “Now lean out the window and look up the street to the left. Do you see him? Well make sure he sees you,” Salinger demanded. “Real good,” he added.

Livvy knew what he meant, wearing the harlot’s garb.

“Ben! Get help. There’s three of them! Don’t come alone!”

The last she screamed out as Salinger pulled her back in, slamming the window shut. He’d expected her to yell to him for help, but hadn’t expected her to detail the situation as she had. In his fantasy, he imagined only Ben charging headlong into his trap, murder on his mind. Serious mistake was in transferring his sordid thoughts onto the minds of people who were not sordid – always had been his weakness, though he didn’t know it.

Pitching her onto the bed, he straddled her backwards, her head behind him. With a rope that was tucked into his waistband, he had her wrist bindings tied to her leg hobble in seconds. With a little force, he was able to get a sock into her mouth, securing it with a scarf around her head.

He busted into the room and tried to shoot me, but he hit the girl, and I had no choice but to shoot him. I tried to wing him, but I’m no gunman.” Salinger had rehearsed the lines he would tell the first to appear. He was ready for Mr. Ben Persons. His plan was to immediately shoot Persons before the first word was spoken. Too often he’d heard about long-winded idiots shot as they went about explaining themselves. He would then shoot the girl and then untie her. After trading guns with the dead Ben, he would place himself where Livvy would be between him and the door before anyone entered the room. Max and Jones were at the base of the stairs and would see to it that only Persons would go up. They were to allow time for the untying before letting anyone pass.

The town had no lawman, but any of several might likely assume the role. Salinger merely required impartial witnesses to Ben’s charging up the stairs, and the scene he would set in the room. Livvy would be buried under a different name before anyone from anywhere came asking. His shot to her face would hasten the decomposing. Burying her without a covering would help, as well. He had a foolproof plan.

+++

Ben lit off Red much as he had some years past, in front of a saloon in aid of the very same girl. This time, he stumbled to his knees, holding his head to keep from passing out. Slowly, he gained his feet, wobbling to the walkway.

As he entered the saloon with a stagger, those inside gave him space. “Sit down before you fall down, Stranger,” one man said to sniggers around the room. Jones and Max exchanged smirks.

Ben took in the twelve-by-thirty narrow bar room. It was late afternoon. Too early for serious socializing, the bar was only half full of patrons. A barkeeper stood behind his bar, a note of un-natural trepidation in his stance, but both hands on the bar. Three miners played cards at a table. Two drifters stood at the bar, each holding beer glasses, one of Salinger’s ladies between them. Both Salinger’s men stood at the base of the stairs. Ben’s eyes, beginning to focus, held them in place. Though they were following orders to do that very thing, Ben’s glare kept them from blinking, or even closing their gaping jaws.

Nearing the card table, Ben asked the closest man for the loan of his gun.

“Yer drunk. Go sleep it off.” Everyone in the room laughed except the barkeeper, who used the opportunity to escape.

Ben approached Salinger’s men unarmed, unconcerned that he would pass through them, knowing though, that either could stop him. But they stepped aside, allowing unobstructed passing. Both noticed that he was indeed unarmed but for the knife on his belt. “Take one a’ mine,” Jones said. Ben ignored him, not giving him the dignity of acknowledgment, but took the gun. It wasn’t hard to determine which door led to Livvy, even had he not sensed her presence.

The toughs behind him, Salinger no doubt inside with a gun, and Livvy in serious danger, Ben forced himself to calm. Opening the door could mean death, Livvy, as well as himself. He knew it. Bursting down the door could mean passing out. Then probable death for them both. His hand on the doorknob, Ben stopped himself and closed his eyes. Under his breath, he prayed. Not a long prayer, Ben got right to the point: “Jesus, what would you have me do?” Ben released the door handle and knocked.

Max and Jones looked to one another. Salinger hadn’t covered that scenario. Instead of the rescuer barging into the room as Salinger detailed, he stood outside the door knocking. They were bewildered.

Ben knocked again. Hearing nothing, the noise below drowning out Livvy’s tepid attempts of warning, Ben waited. Salinger’s hand jerked Livvy’s bindings, keeping her from anything more than squirming.

Stepping back from the doorway, Ben motioned to Max. “He wants you,” Ben said.

Max paled, not moving.

Ben’s glare burrowed into Max’s depths, commanding obedience. Almost as if against his will and fighting every step, Max inched his way up the stairs and down the short landing to the room’s door. He drew his pistol.

Jones held his spot at the base of the stairs, following his last order.

Ben motioned for Max to open the door.

“Comin’ in, Boss,” Max announced.

Salinger assumed Ben had changed his mind and lowered his gun.

Ben followed Max as if glued to his back. He was safe enough, but could not see Salinger, who immediately began firing at Max’s edges, hoping to wing Ben. Salinger’s plan ruined; self-preservation became the goal. Max, in an effort to avoid being shot any more than he already had been, fell to the floor, spinning to get his gun pointed at Ben, who was no longer behind him, but behind Jones, who’d bounded up the stairs and approached the doorway, his gun drawn.

Livvy managed to swing her feet to the floor on the side of the bed where Salinger stood just as Ben fell to the floor.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Mason Salinger: saloon owner, prospectors' financier
Max: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Jones: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Livvy Ferlonson (Tolsen): previous girlfriend of Ben. Since married to William Ferlonson


Chapter 13
One Man's Calling Ch 13

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben saw Livvy in an upstairs saloon/bordello window, obviously held captive by Salinger. Ben ran to her rescue. After passing Max and Jones Ben paused at the room’s door to pray. He summoned Max to enter first. At this point in the gunfight Max and Ben are both wounded by Salinger. Livvy is hog-tied.

Jones cautiously peered into the doorway from an angle, gun in hand. Ben Persons lay unconscious on his face in a heap, a bloody mess on the right side of his back where a bullet exited. Max was half underneath him, a neck wound pulsing blood. Livvy, hog tied on the bed to the left, squirmed furiously. Salinger had scooted himself to the corner of the room hidden by the opened door. Jones inched into the quieting room. The stench of gun smoke and blood attacked his nostrils, accented by a girlish squeal from Max as Jones nudged his foot with his own, checking for life.

Below in the bar, every single man scrambled out the door, joining the barkeeper in the center of the street. One man cautiously returned and ascended the stairs, his gun leading the way, followed by a fast-gaining Arville Johnston.

Finally, seeing his gun edge into the room, Salinger shouted to Jones, his voice a scared shrill, “See if he’s dead!”

Jones knew Salinger to mean Persons. He holstered his pistol before kneeling to pull Ben from atop Max and turn him over.

“I’m bleedin’ bad,” Max said, unmoving, blood pouring from the side of his neck.

Jones inched his way over the two in order to look at Ben’s face, into his opened eyes.

“Well?” Salinger demanded, his voice returned to normal.

Eyes fixed onto Ben’s, Jones could only mumble incoherently. Though unconscious, Ben’s eyes spoke to Jones, seemingly boring into his soul. Jones stood, transfixed.

“Finish him!” Salinger yelled. “Or get outta the way and I’ll do it!”

Livvy managed to bounce herself on the bed, veritably shouting through the sock tied into her jaw. Salinger snapped off an accidental shot in her direction, and then turned his gun to Ben, clicking the trigger on a spent cartridge. Cursing, he began to reload, managing only the single bullet that he was able to retrieve from a pocket, his britches too tight to reach into further from a crouched position. He was too terrified to stand, cowering in the corner of the room between the doorway to the downstairs and the doorway to the outside staircase on an adjacent wall. Aiming at Ben’s head from a distance of mere feet, Salinger clicked on two empty chambers before his live round cycled to the hammer. As his finger pulled the trigger the third time, Livvy finally managed to stand, though bound tightly. By her ungainly action, she bumped Salinger, causing him to shoot Jones who was beside Ben. Salinger then bolted out of the room and out a fire escape door, running around the back of the building. He ran to the outhouse where he hid until dark, well after everyone had cleared out.

“Untie her!” Arville said to another dumbstruck would-be rescuer, the card-playing miner. Arville pushed Jones aside in order to get to Ben, whose right-side chest wound bubbled foamy blood. Max lay still, his arms and legs stepped on, dead. With Ben’s own knife, Arville cut away Ben’s shirt. Gasping in his shock, Arville turned his head toward Livvy, their eyes agreeing in desperation. Arville’s skyward glance preceded his index finger plunge into the pulsating cavity by less than a second.

“God,” Arville began. “Your servant needs you.” Arville immediately felt a tightening around his finger, Ben’s wound gently expelling it.

Squirming loose of her ties, Livvy squirreled her way to Ben, drawing his head to her lap. Arville was oblivious to her state of exposure as she calmly repeated Jesus’ name, no other words coming to her.

“See to him,” Arville directed the miner, breaking his ogling of Livvy. Together, they dragged Max out of their way and stretched Jones out and away from Ben. Jones’ head wound was not bleeding, merely a red spot above his left ear. Other than that, he appeared to be nothing more than a sleeping man.

Known to no one, Salinger’s bullet was defective, loaded at manufacture with only half a charge of gunpowder, sufficient to explode and propel the slug, but not enough to wreak the carnage of its design. Slowed by Jones’ skull, penetration was negligible, lodging in the region controlling Jones’ speech.

“Get a doctor!” Livvy yelled to the miner.

“Missy, you and him,” he replied pointing to Arville, “are as close as we got.” The miner squirmed on his feet, torn between staying and leaving.

“Put your gun away and help me get Ben onto the bed.” Together, they managed.

“Go get some water,” Livvy told him. “And then tell the bartender to find me my clothes.”

As Livvy and Arville peeled Ben of his bloodied shirt, mopping his back of blood as best they could without causing more injury to the torn flesh, they worried, but marveled at his calm unconsciousness.

Jones awoke and stood behind Arville, somehow fully alert, docilly moving to look into Ben’s face. Virtually blood free, no apparent injury other than a small smear of blood on the side of his head, he attempted to speak but produced nothing but grunts from his moving lips. Livvy and Arville stopped their ministrations to look at him.

Aware of his condition, Jones reached to the side of his head, drawing back modest redness on his palm. He slowly made a palm-to-palm praying gesture as he looked skyward, his message of salvation and belief clearly understood. Livvy and Arville resumed aiding Ben as the miner returned with a bucket of water.

Salinger shivered through the long hours of the night, not leaving the outhouse until the wee hours of the morning. His saloon too small to afford him an office, he kept his wealth hidden in the shack that served as his home. At sunrise Salinger and his canvas suitcase stole to the livery barn where he bought back the wagon and team he’d sold when he got to town. Intent on heading west and completely out of the San Juans, he hoped to escape the sure stories of his kidnapping a woman and killing Ben. He whipped the team to fast trot.

+++

“We have to get him to help,” Arville said.

“My husband … William …”

“He know where we are?” Arville asked.

“I’m not sure he even knows I’ve been taken yet. He was working up near Powderhorn. My father would come, probably already has, but he wouldn’t know which way. He would most likely go tell William. And then …”

“Let’s get Ben to Silverton. We’ll worry about what happens after that when we get there.” Silverton was the largest community they knew of that was in the right direction. Though they held little hope of expert care, they could only do what they could.

Jones, proving to be a loyal servant, managed to collect supplies and a buckboard, even without speech. By lunchtime they began the bumpy climb over Ophir Pass.

+++

“We can’t cross it,” Arville said of the raging shoal, the river cascading over large boulders. “I’ve never seen it this high.” They were at Mineral Creek below Anvil Mountain.

Jones shook his head from side to side.

“It would bust the wagon to pieces. Carry Ben to who knows where or how far,” Arville added.

“Guess we make camp,” Livvy offered. Jones had already gotten down from Red, Ben’s horse.

+++

The morning brought a small band of Utes with the rising sun, their intention to cross the ford toward the whites. Livvy and her men watched as they walked their way across the waist-deep torrent, arm in arm, successfully fighting the current.

At their camp, no one speaking, no one even thinking of touching weapons, the Indians looked at Ben’s motionless face, his eyes opened wide. They nodded recognition.

“We take him,” one of the Utes said. “You leave wagon, ride horses across tomorrow.” Taking charge, they removed Ben from the wagon using the stretcher he’d been loaded on. Dumbstruck, Arville and Livvy knew that Ben was safe. They had no alternative plan.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Mason Salinger: saloon owner, prospectors' financier
Max: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Jones: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Arville Johnston: stagecoach guard that Ben had previously prayed for his healing of a gunshot wound. Here a livery stable entrepreneur
Livvy Ferlonson (Tolsen): previous girlfriend of Ben. Since married to William Ferlonson


Chapter 14
One Man's Calling, Ch 14

By Wayne Fowler

In the last chapter, Ben was shot rescuing Livvy from Salinger and his two toughs, Jones and Max. Salinger escaped, Max was killed, and Jones, suffered a head wound. Jones, though rendered mute, turned his life around merely gazing into Ben’s eyes. He bonded to Ben as a sort of servant. Jones, Livvy, and Arville Johnston, attempting to take unconscious Ben to Silverton, allowed some Ute Indians to take him to their tribe for treatment of his wound.

“Jones will watch over you,” Arville said to Livvy, despite his own reservation about the possibility of Jones’ dropping dead from the bullet in his brain. “I’ll find William and bring him to you here in Silverton.  You’ll be safe, and I can ride twice as fast on Ben’s horse. And don’t worry none about Ben. The Utes like him.”

Livvy, uneasy with the plan, accepted its sense, smiling within at the thought running through her mind of everyone liking Ben Persons.

Jones nodded vigorously his acceptance of his duty.

As painful as it had been for them to watch the Ute carry their wounded friend away, their spirits were at peace, trusting better the Indians than the whites’ blacksmith or dentist’s doctoring.

+++

At an encampment near Bear Creek headwaters, the Utes applied a poultice to Ben’s wound and encouraged him to swallow a cup of an herb and bark concoction. Two days later he was in the Sneffel Wilderness Area at the shore of Blue Lake where he convalesced, gradually gaining consciousness and enough strength to move about.

“You worship the Creator of the sun and the earth,” Ben said, interpreted by Silver Hawk, Ben’s closest friend among the Ouray tribe. Over the many weeks of Ben’s recuperation, he’d learned some of the Ute language, but on this occasion, he felt compelled to be interpreted. Though physically restricted by a slow, gradual recovery, weakened by the loss of the use of his right lung and a general overwhelming fatigue that sapped his stamina, he rose to this occasion, despite his previous, but continuing condition. “I also worship this Creator. Many of my people, also.” Ben waved toward the east indicating the expanse of the whites. “You pray at sacred trees. I also revere a certain tree – a tree cut and made into a cross.” Ben formed a cross with two sticks he’d prepared in advance of his sermon to the gathered tribe. “Far away, made known to a people that were not whites, but in a distant land, the Creator sent his son, his only son, from his heaven to our earth. He was offended by the hateful ways of people. He wanted to return their hearts to himself. Cleansed of their evil. The evil that lives in every man’s heart. That which makes him take what is not his, and lie to his mother and father, the evil that makes him do that which is not right in the sight of man, or the Creator. Even you, who are a good and honest people know that this evil hides in hearts of even the best of you.”

Following the shaman’s nod, the people nodded their understanding and agreement.

“In this far-away land, the people resisted the Creator’s son. While some accepted his love and forgiveness and healing, the leaders turned away from him. They killed him on a cross of trees.” Ben held up his crossed sticks for effect as the tribe gasped their confusion.

“On this cross, dying a hideous death, the Creator’s son begged his father, the Creator, to forgive the people of their fault. He who had never committed crime, the pure one sent from the Creator took the faults and sins of all the people, then and now and forever, to himself.” Ben delivered his message with increasing fervor. He paused, allowing the people to grasp the gravity of his words. “He died their death, in their place. Their own penalty of death, he took on himself, sacrificing his pure life to the Creator for them. They, as we, could be forgiven their evil simply by asking to be counted among those he died for.”

“Yes. He died on that cross of trees. But he rose again to life. He rose again to show us that though we all die, we, too, will rise again. Not in this life, but in the greater life that waits for us with the Creator in his heaven.”

Everyone looked to the sky, understanding the concept of life after death.

Waiting for the whispered comments to subside, Ben continued. “Some whites, many who have come to your land, do not know this Creator, or his son who died for us but rose again.”

The people’s expressions visibly lightened.

“Yes. They buried this son. His name is Jesus. They buried him in a cave, sealing it with a great stone that no single man could move. But after three days he rose, alive! And because he lives, you can live, too. Forever. When you and I leave this world, we will go to the heaven of our Creator and live in peace and love with him and the son who saved us from the darkness of death.

“We can live in this world, free from the evil that no longer hides in our hearts. And we will die and then rise as he did, ascending through the heavens to the Creator. This son I speak of has sent me to you to show you the way to his forgiveness, and to his heaven and to his great love. My friends, I tell you the truth, though many people of all colors find it hard to understand. Ask the Father Creator to help you to see, and he will. He will.”

After the final interpretation, the people were silent. The shaman studied the ground beneath his crossed knees where he sat. Finally, a young man, one of the most athletic and robust of the tribe stood. Speaking toward Ben, he said, “I believe the Creator’s son is who you say. I wish to be rid of the evil, the darkness that hides not very well in my heart.”

Silver Hawk stood facing Ben, but waving toward the tribe. “We have all heard you talk to this Jesus. First, we thought you were loco.” Silver Hawk motioned to his head, the tribe all nodding agreement. “You talk to this one like he’s is beside you. And he is your friend. We begin to think that you are not loco. But you see what we cannot see.”

Looking to his tribal friends and relatives, Silver Hawk continued. Still looking to the tribe, Silver Hawk said, “You do not sing and dance before your Creator’s son, but you honor him with your talk, and your heart. We see this.”

By that time, Silver Hawk was again facing Ben, the tribal members as one, nodding agreement.

“We believe you are true. Show us this Jesus.”

The entire community rose to their feet in concurrence, the chief and shaman among them.

“I can do that,” Ben said. “All of you know of spirits: the spirit of the rain, of the elk, of the earth, of the sun. And many more. The Great Creator is spirit. He is the chief of all the spirits. And his son, Jesus, is now spirit. All of the spirits you know of are as the leaves of the aspen. The leaves provide shade. They become beautiful. And then fall and die. The son of the Great Creator is alive forever. He is love. He loves you, and wishes for you to love him.  If you will believe this, you can close your eyes and see this for yourself.”

The people’s confusion of closing their eyes to see was quickly allayed as they followed Ben’s lead. “Jesus, thank you for saving us from the evil that would destroy us. Thank you for meeting us here in these mountains. Thank you for loving us and filling us with your presence and your love.” Ben moved about, touching each on their heads, continuing to pray. “Open the eyes of my friends’ hearts, Jesus.”

As Ben made his way through the tribe, laying his hands on each one, they shivered and shook as if sparked. Each one reacted a little differently than the other, some crying with joy, some shouting, many raising their arms in praise. All of them basked in God’s love.

Ben made his way to the hut set assigned him, assisted by two young men. There, Ben slept the rest of the day and the night through, much stronger the next day than the day before.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Mason Salinger: saloon owner, prospectors' financier
Max: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Jones: enforcer type employee of Salinger
Arville Johnston: stagecoach guard that Ben had previously prayed for his healing of a gunshot wound. Here a livery stable entrepreneur
Livvy Ferlonson (Tolsen): previous girlfriend of Ben. Since married to William Ferlonson
Silver hawk: a Ute indian


Chapter 15
One Man's Calling, Part A

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Arville, Livvy and Jones felt obliged to allow a Ute Indian band to take Ben to their village for healing. Ben preached Christ to them, converting the entire tribe.    

On the first sunny day of spring, Ben spoke to his friend Silver Hawk about returning to his people. The winter, though difficult, was endurable.

“We will take you to Uncompahgre. Chief Ouray and his wife travel there soon to work with some warring young men who have taken offense at whites. Too many whites slaughter deer only for the hind quarters. Since your ranchers have brought cattle to the valleys, there is enough to eat, but not enough to waste.”

Ben nodded agreement and assent.

+++

The roads to Silverton and then on to Creede were arduous but tolerable for Ben. Word of his return preceding him. Ben was greeted as a returning legend, a hero’s welcome his reception. Young baby Benjamin, placed in his arms by a grateful Livvy, brought streaming tears to Ben’s eyes. He was too choked to speak. Ecstatic for his return, those who knew and loved him were saddened by his obvious aging and the evidence of his weakened condition. Though healed of his injuries, he had not regained his vigor.

After they carefully tucked and wrapped Ben into Ralph’s rocker, Livvy, William and the Tolsens quieted, waiting Ben’s story. “I feel,” Ben began solemnly, “I have served my calling,” he declared. He went on to briefly described tribal life and the Utes’ conversions. Everyone was wary of second guessing him, of contradicting him. “Who were they to say whether he’d fulfilled his mission?” they all questioned. Livvy wondered to herself, troubled with the notion that she might have been the cause of his end. She, as did the others, doubted that so great a servant, and so grand a charge could so lightly be satisfied. Salinger lived, and a world of evil lurked about at every turn. And Ben, though clearly exhausted, was yet a young man with decades of life ahead. Glad that their friend would no longer face the dangers of confronting evil, still, they were somewhat dismayed.

Ben settled to an open-mouth sleep; his friends nervously anxious for him.

+++

Demone Lovelace saw Ben enter town, himself drawn to the street, by an irresistible tugging whenever sensing Ben’s presence.

Ben woke with a start, he struggled to gain his balance. “Leave me be.” His rebuke pained Livvy, who jumped away as if stung.

“I, I’m sorry, Livvy, honey.” Ben spoke to her as if an elder to a child, a grown child. “There’s someone outside that I need to see.”

Livvy sprang to the window. “No, Ben. I don’t like that man. I’ve seen him. He’s evil.”

“I know, Livvy. I know.” Awkwardly, his disobedient legs forced to carry him to the door, he struggled with the door’s catch that so easily released for everyone else. Finally outside, he saw Demone shifting his balance, one foot to another as he settled into a gunfighter’s stance.

With each arduous step, Ben straightened, arching his back, spreading his shoulders until the last step brought him face to face with anticipated destiny.

“Where’s your gun?” Demone asked. “Here. Have mine. I’ll take it from you and still kill you.” Demone drew and extended the handgun, pressing it into Ben’s unflinching chest.

At last Ben rose to his full height. Though an inch shorter than Demone, Demone felt dwarfed as his eyes truly peered into Ben’s. Locked by Ben’s piercing gaze, Demone froze in place, not a muscle moving. After a moment, Demone gasped a breath as if surfacing from water’s depth. Still his eyes remained riveted. Suddenly his body began a tremor, head to foot. At first a modest hum, he began to shake as if in a convulsion. The gun dropped from his hand, his entire being save his eyes in a spasm. Ultimatelly, Ben blinked, releasing his mental grip of Demone.

Demone slumped to the ground onto his knees, his arms hanging paralyzed with exhaustion, the back of his hands in the road’s dirt. Demone's chin bounced, finally settling on his chest. Almost as if levitated, Demone then rose to his feet, leaving his gun where it lay. With an unnatural awkwardness he bolted and ran away from Ben.

Silently Livvy stared at Ben in reverential awe as he lumbered his way back into the house where he resumed his rest in the offered chair.

Demone never returned for his gun, but found himself back in Denver, an alcoholic ever since his confrontation with Ben.

+++

“Hello, Son.” JD, the sheriff, greeted Ben, wanting to bear hug him, but afraid to injure the frail man. “I’ve wanted to see you since you got back.” JD, seeing Ben’s state of health, hoped he wouldn’t expect his job back considering his obvious health issue, as well as the fact that Frank was working out quite well.

“JD, I’m sorry I didn’t get around sooner. You deserve a quicker visit. I …”

“Nah. Don’t you concern yourself that way. I know you have to get well. How are you doin’?”  It was merely the polite thing to ask, Ben’s ill state plain to see.

“Coming along fine, JD. I’m fine. But I heard you had someone in jail. Si Palmer.”

“I do. I do. And you’re just the person he needs to see, too. The boy needs to leave the whiskey alone, beer too, I had any say in it. But whiskey puts him the jail ‘bout every time. Makes him want to fight.” JD tipped his head, looking through his brows. “And between you, me, and the stump, he ain’t no fighter.”

“He’s the older brother of one of my students, and …”

“Students?” JD ejaculated. “You school teaching?”

“Just started part time. Mrs. Parnel asked me to help her with the older ones with the mathematics. That’s not exactly her strong suit. And I’ll substitute whenever she accompanies her husband on his circuit, or missionary work.”

Amy Parnel was the preacher’s wife and the city school teacher. Joshua Parnel, Creede’s second preacher, had congregations in two other nearby towns, and traveled to other mining camps and communities as he could. He was ecstatic whenever he could find an Indian village that would let him preach.

“I can’t travel to the other churches, towns, but I’ll fill in for Pastor Parnel here in Creede when he’s gone away.”

“Seems right fittin’,” JD replied. He'd known, of course, about both the substitute preaching and about the school teaching, but felt not to undermine Ben’s positive news.

“Anyway, Vance, Si’s little brother knew I’d deputied in the past and asked if I’d visit.”

“And well you should, Ben, well you should. I was just going home to supper. You wanna join me?”

“Nah. Thank you, though. I’ll just go on to the jail.”

With that they parted, JD full of pity … and concern.

His pledge of sobriety was yet to be proven, his future wide open before him, but Si, shortly after release, headed for Denver where he would enlist in the United States Army. A career soldier, he would be a First Sergeant for General Black Jack Pershing in the War-To-End-All-Wars. At the battle of Catigny he urging the troops on to heroics. Si forever credited Ben Persons for his life’s turn-around. To Ben, it was just another day well-spent.

Still suffering from occasional seizures and episodes of listlessness, Ben adopted the jail as a regular ministry, visiting prisoners as often as his waning strength allowed. On one such visit he learned of Mason Salinger’s return to the region.

“What’re you in here for?” Ben asked after making a young man’s acquaintance.

“Opium,” the man replied. “Sheriff said I was drunk, but I wasn’t. Opium. No law against it, either. I wasn’t drunk in public and I shouldn’t be here.”

“I’ve heard of it being on both coasts, but where’d you get opium around here?” Ben asked.

The young man at first didn’t respond, at least until Ben positioned himself to gaze more fully into the man’s face.

“Mason Salinger,” he blurted as soon as making eye contact.

“Short, fat, round man. Not much over five foot tall? Wears his pistol in front over his belly?” Ben asked.

“No. He ain’t fat. He’s slim as I am. And he didn’t have a gun that I saw. Had three bodyguards, though.”

Ben learned that it was common knowledge up in Grand Junction that after the trouble in Ophir, Salinger had taken the train to San Francisco, boarding the Denver and Rio Grande Line to the Central Pacific Line. Unknown to Ben, a year later he returned with enough product, and the contacts and contracts for enough more to kingpin Colorado, to virtually own it. JD’s jailhouse prisoner knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew that Salinger had San Francisco underworld backing to support the venture. A wagonload was being stored in an abandoned mine near Mesa, just waiting for his army of peddlers that would arrive by train from the east. The jail inmate had seen Salinger, himself, at Mesa. Though he didn’t tell Ben, Salinger turned him down for work based on his being a user.

Ben left the jail in a haze, his calling awakening, wreaking confusion to his slumbering soul.

+++

“To him who knoweth to do good, but doeth it not …” Ben was reading his text to the congregation on the second Sunday after learning about Salinger’s opium scheme. His stopping gave concern to the group that he was about to have one of his episodes. The ones that knew and loved him best leaned forward, ready to leap from their seats. “To him who knoweth to do good, but doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Ben completed his sermon to the knowing concerns of his friends.

+++

“I have to,” Ben said to those gathered at the Tolsens’s that afternoon. Ben’s custom had become to take Sunday dinner at their place. On this occasion they were joined by William and Livvy, who was pregnant with her second child. JD and Jones arrived just before the meal was finished.

“JD,” Ben said as he hobbled down the steps, “I can’t stop Jones from tagging along. Truth is, I’ve come to depend on him some.”

Jones smiled.

“But I don’t know what’s going to happen. Or how I’m going to handle it. I just know that lawmen have to do things a certain way, and, well, that may not be the way I’m called to do it.”

Chagrinned, JD understood. “Guess you’re gonna say I need to trust God more, huh?”

Ben smiled. “Thank you, though. I appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know. No Sir, tomorrow’s northbound, we’ll be on it.”

About to board the train that next day, Ben was surprised on the loading deck by the Reverend James Coley, the former outlaw named Thomas Coleman, arriving from California. Ben hadn’t seen him since the American Basin hunting camp.

“Ben Persons!” James exclaimed. “I wouldn’t’ve recognized you but for those eyes. Where’s your meat? You swear off eating? How’d you know to meet me?”

“Actually, I’m boarding,” Ben replied.

“Booo-ard!” the conductor yelled, ready to lift the step stool. “Booo-ard!” He looked at Ben, knowing him to be a passenger.

“Then throw mine back on,” James yelled. “Let’s go.”

Jones helped with James’ suitcase.

“I heard it two weeks ago Sunday. It woke me up. To him who knoweth …”

“To do good,” Ben interjected.

“Plain as day. Showed exactly which train and what day. And here we are.” James’ smile disappeared. Whispering, he added, “He also told me to pack my gun.”

Ben shared what he knew, filling James in with relevant events and what God had shown him about Salinger’s future plan for Colorado. “The eastern hoodlums, and all the ne’er-do-wells from the mining towns, his poison in every town across Colorado, and then he’ll swarm into Denver. The police department won’t have a chance. Salinger’s evil will destroy people faster than you and I and every preacher in the state can save. I have to go to Mesa and stop it there. Now.”

We have to,” James corrected.

Across the aisle, Jones nodded to himself in agreement.

Inching to the window, Jones made room for a fellow passenger, a man entering the car from the one further behind them, a man that the other passengers were glad hadn’t chosen to attempt to sit beside them, afraid of his ugliness.

“Billy?” Ben nearly shouted. “Billy?” Ben was astonished.

Billy, Salinger’s cleaning boy, now bespectacled, merely smiled, introducing himself to James and Jones.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Mason Salinger: saloon and bordello owner. Here a burgeoning drug kingpin
Jones: a former Salinger tough. Since a gunshot that rendered him mute and a soul-piercing gaze from Ben, a willing servant
Ralph Tolsen: friend of Ben, livery owner in Creede
Livvy Ferlonson (Tolsen): previous girlfriend of Ben. Since married to William Ferlonson
Silver hawk: a Ute Indian
JD (Watson): Creede sheriff
Josh and Amy Parnell: Creede preacher and school teacher
Demone Lovelace: an evil antagonist/nemesis who has been drawn to do Ben harm since Ben first obeyed his call


Chapter 16
One Man's Calling, Ch 16

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben learns of Mason Salinger’s devious plan to destroy the region by introducing opium on a large scale. As God leads him to confront Salinger, He has also led Jones, Ben’s helper, as well as James Coley and Billy to help.

Four horses purchased with Ben’s savings at Grand Junction, they began the day-long ride to Mesa.

“Guess we can sit in town and wait for the ruffians to show up, or for God to direct us,” Ben said. “Might as well get a couple rooms at the hotel as sleep out in the cold.”

“Town this size must have a pretty big jail,” Billy said. “Come bail me out in the morning,” he added as he scampered off quicker that any could throw out a veto.

With an un-swallowed swish of whiskey in his mouth, Billy left the saloon in search of a deputy that he could feign drunkenness sufficient to be calaboosed.

“South down Grand Mesa Road near Clabber Creek. The first road east after the creek,” Billy said the next morning, relaying what he’d learned in jail. “They’re gonna make individual doses, just waiting on some people that know how to do it.

“Sounds easy enough,” James said as Billy and Ben mounted their horses. “I was afraid we’d have to burn down a building to destroy the stuff and burn down the whole town doing it.”

“Probably why they went out of town, that and to keep secret what they're up to,” Ben replied.

Jones handed Billy two boiled eggs and pointed at the canteen tied to Billy’s saddle horn. They started out at a slow walk, giving Billy a chance to enjoy his breakfast.

+++

At Clabber Creek, Ben asked the others to wait there while he rode ahead to scout the area.

“No, Ben. I’ll do it,” James responded, his voice insistent. “I fit in better. And you could use the rest. It’s been a hard ride.” It hadn’t been a hard ride, but James was well aware of Ben’s taxed condition. What he did not say was that his past offered a degree of roughness that might serve their purpose – and that he was the best gunman of the group.

A mile-and-a-half up the wagon trail, James came on a sharp bend, obscuring two armed men in front of an abandoned cabin that was more like a tool shed than a live-in cabin. A set of ruts ran beside the building toward a cliff about eighty yards back. The road followed the creek bed. At the face of the cliff where James figured Salinger’s hiding place to be, a mine tunneled into a knoll that separated the Grand Mesa Road from the Clabber Creek wagon trail. The creek spilled into a shallow gorge a short distance downstream.

+++

“You can turn around right there, friend,” one of the cabin guards commanded.

“Heard there was a homestead up here needin’ a hand,” James said offering plausible reason for his presence.

“Heard it wrong. Now you can git.” His gun hand had been massaging the butt of his pistol. His partner had his drawn, but pointed at the ground. Two carbines were propped against the building.

James slowly turned his horse, “Maybe the next creek,” he said as he trotted back the way he’d come.

+++

Returned to the others, James told them he wanted to check something out and would be back shortly. He galloped down the Grand Mesa Road around the knoll, and then returned more quietly.

After describing what he’d seen, he devised a plan. “There’s a saddle a half mile down this road. If you go on foot, you can get above the mine. I can stay here and keep these two busy worrying about what I’m doin’ while you take care of whatever it is you’re gonna do.”

Ben mounted his horse, accepting the plan as good as any. Jones and Billy followed. Giving them what he figured to be enough time, James returned to the Clabber Creek trail to within a hundred yards of the guards. There he dismounted and started a white man’s camp fire, one large enough to send the scent of smoke up the trail. His horse tied to a tree, James angled to the creek bed where he intended to stealth his way to the gorge where he could harass the two guards, convincing them to remain away from the mine and his friends.

From a tree-covered hillside, Ben clearly saw the mine entry, a large cave-like hole carved into the middle of an already cavernous grotto shelter. A dilapidated wooden structure was within the cover of the sheltering rock roof. Three saddle horses and a wagon team appeared to be asleep inside a make-shift corral.

Ben asked Jones and Billy to work their way around the knoll to where they could pepper the horses with stones, stirring them up enough for him to slip into the mine. Their brows furrowed with concern about leaving Ben to such a dangerous prospect, yet they obeyed. In short order, Salinger and a guard came out of the building to see what had riled the stock. Ben quietly slid down the slope on his seat and made his way into the mine unseen.

Jones and Billy quietly inched their way back into the trees.

Hearing the horses, James’ two guards ignored the campfire smoke they’d been craning their necks to figure out, even so far as to venture around the sharp bend a few steps, then to turn and begin a walk back toward the mine. Hidden in the gorge, James fired a shot that echoed off the mountainside, totally obscuring its origin. The two guards sprang into a confused crouch, their heads and eyes darting about in search of an intruder. As long as they stayed away from the mine, James was satisfied not to have to hurt them.

Inside the mine shaft, Ben saw that the floor dropped downward immediately. He smelled the water before he saw it. The entire mine floor was a lake. Not until he reached the water did he see the wagon as he turned to look back toward the mine entrance. The shaft had split, forming a ‘Y’. A two-foot-wide column of granite held up the ceiling as the shaft split in two around it, rejoining beyond to form a house-size cavern. The wagon was on the other side of the column, kept from rolling into the water by the business end of a sledge hammer.

A short man holding a torch entered the mine. “Who is that?” Salinger yelled, making his way closer to Ben.

“What is it, Mr. Salinger?” The guard from outside the grotto asked.

Salinger didn’t answer, but walked closer to Ben, the light from his torch beginning to illuminate him. Ben saw that he held a gun in his other hand.

“Well, well, well. My old friend the do-gooder.”

Ben saw Salinger’s jaw tighten, his pistol hand rising slightly. Falling to his stomach, Ben jerked the hammer from behind the wagon wheel. The wagon with its load of ten casks of opium instantly began to roll back into the water. Ben hoped that it wouldn’t float.

Salinger ran for the wagon brake, attempting to yell to his bodyguard, but for no apparent reason no sound came from his opened mouth.

Ben darted toward the column, the sledge hammer firmly in his two-handed grip. With Samson-like force, Ben swung in a discus-throwing manner. After his full circle swing, he connected with the column with an awful explosion of rock and debris clearing the path for the hammer to completely clear where there had been solid rock.

His hand on the brake and the wagon stopped with the bottom of the wagon bed barely wet, Salinger grinned, aiming his gun at Ben’s head. An intensifying, rumbling roar caused Salinger to look upward, catching a horse-sized boulder full on. The boulder was quickly followed by the rest of the mountain, killing the guard who’d ventured too far into the mouth of the cavity.

Ben was called home before the first rock crashed down.

James sensed his brother-in-the Lord’s home-going and allowed the two guards their flight.

There appeared to be no excavating the mine entrance.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Mason Salinger: saloon and bordello owner. Here a burgeoning drug kingpin
Jones: a former Salinger tough. Since a gunshot that rendered him mute and a soul-piercing gaze from Ben, a willing servant
James Coley (Thomas Coleman): former stage robber, converted and turned to preaching in California
Billy: former frequent Creede jailed person who Ben rescued

White man's fire: oversize fire, far larger than necessary for the occasion, wasting firewood and drawing unwanted attention

Note: There is only one chapter remaining after this one.


Chapter 17
One Man's Calling, Ch 17

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben destroyed the opium, collapsing the cave roof on himself and Salinger. Both died in the cave-in.

“I can’t breathe,” Livvy said, collapsing onto her husband’s shoulder. “I just knew that if Ben wasn’t the first one through the door when you all came back, that he wouldn’t be coming back at all.”

+++

The band of three, James, Jones and Billy, returned to Grand Junction where they accepted the livery stable owner’s offer of repurchasing the four horses and tack for half of what they’d paid. The train returning them to Creede arriving in the middle of the night, Billy and Jones went to their rooming houses while James waited for daylight at the train station, his heart aching over the loss of his friend and mentor.

The next morning James delivered the sad news where Livvy nearly fell out. “I can’t breathe,” she’d said, collapsing onto her husband’s shoulder. She hiccupped her sobbing, desperate for air.

The Reverend James Coley, formerly outlaw Thomas Coleman, the wayward son of a God-fearing, Jesus-loving mother, herself the daughter of a pastor and servant of the Lord, laid his hand on Livvy’s head, praying the Holy Spirit’s presence and love and peace.

+++

“Some of you have known Ben Persons far longer than I. Some of you should be up here now, doing a better job of eulogizing than I can.”  The Creede pastor, Josh Parnell, officiated Ben’s funeral service on the second day after the troop’s return.

“There’s nobody, nothing in this box.” He pointed at the empty casket before him in the packed church, people standing outside leaning into the opened windows. “Just like there’s nothing in the hull that’s left of our dear brother sealed up in that mine up in Mesa. ‘He is not here, for he is risen.’” The preacher quoted from Christ’s resurrection. “Ben Persons is not here.”

“Folks, there’s more people outside than inside. There’s a chill in the air, but would you all mind if we moved to the yard out front? Some of you men could set these pews out there.”

People’s heads nodded to one another in agreement. Some few moments later the crowd that filled the churchyard and spilled into the street in both directions quieted as the preacher said a short prayer, calling the service to order. He repeated his earlier opening much louder than he had inside the church.

From prepared notes, the preacher read a brief history of Ben’s life: his birth date, school graduation, seminary graduation, and the like, including the date of his death. He carefully folded the piece of paper and tucked it into a pocket. The only sounds heard were the muffled coughs and occasional sniffs within the somber community of mourners.

“That hardly tells anybody who our Ben Persons was,” the preacher said, finally breaking the stillness. What I’d like just now is for you who have been touched, been life-changed by this young man, to rise to your feet and call out your name. Call it out so’s Ben himself can hear you. You already standing back there raise your hand up and wave to him up in God’s heaven. Go ahead, now. Livvy, I know you’ve been. You start us out.”

She did. Miraculously, one after another, somehow knowing how to take turns and not walk on one another, a hundred or more, spoke their names, many of them women who were living their second chances. The last was Billy, his hand clutching the hand of a young lady who had looked past his repulsive appearance to see a pure heart.

Quieted, the crowd waiting for the preacher to resume, a sudden squeal and laugh burst from little Benjamin in his father’s arms. The calm was destroyed with joy spreading throughout in waves.

“Folks, folks, folks.” The preacher pleaded for quiet with his arms. Finally stilled, he continued. “Some have wondered whether such a man, such a calling could be brought to this end. Some might wonder if the evil Ben Persons died to arrest was worth the cost, worth the price that he, and all of us, have paid. Well, I’m here to tell you that the same might have been said of our Savior, Jesus Christ, taking his last gasp hanging on that cross before the meager crowd on top of that rock, Golgotha.

“You’ve heard the names about you. We can’t know how many more would fill the air had Ben, and Billy, and Jones, and the Reverend Coley not done what they did up in Mesa. Ben Persons was our Samson, mightier in his last deed than all of his life before. I’m here to tell you that he filled his calling. I know it. I know it.

“Ben Persons, if you can hear me now,” the preacher raised his voice and his head. Speaking to the sky with authority, he declared – “You have saved our sons and daughters from the hideous chains of drug addiction. You have saved our towns of unfathomable dangers and crimes in pursuit of this evil. You have rid this land of the toxicity of one who has exploited our women and our young men. You have fought the good fight. You have finished your course. You have kept the faith.”

With that, he stepped down to the casket, laying both his hands on it. “I’ll miss you, Son.” Unrestrained tears washed his face, as Livvy led the congregation in a reverent, yet emotion-filled parade past the empty box. One of them, an unarmed and unrecognized man named Demone Lovelace blinked through tearing eyes the entire service.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man determined to follow God's call
Livvy and William: long time friends of Ben
Ralph and May: parents of Livvy, long time friends of Ben
Joshua Parnell: Creede preacher
Jones: one time Salinger tough, converted by Ben. Became a sort of servant to Ben
Demone Lovelace: former nemesis of Ben


Chapter 18
One Man's Calling, Ch18

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben collapsed a cave, killing himself and Mason Salinger, a very bad man.

Leaving his body beneath the mountain, his friends returned home with the bad news. A funeral service was held for him.

Ben slowly opened his eyes, wondering where Jesus was, the disciples, St Peter, someone to welcome him to heaven. Presently, Ben saw a man approach. “Pa,” Ben said, recognizing him.

“Yes, son. It’s me.”

“You …”

“Manassas, but we only speak of pleasant things here.”

Ben looked around. “It’s, it’s …”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Ben agreed, gasping at the beauty of the flora. “Is this heaven?”

“Oh, just a taste. Just a taste.”

“Where’s Jesus? Can you take me?”
“That’s why I’m here, son. You took a powerful crack on the head.

“I know about your calling, but it isn’t over. He’s not through with you if you want to go back.”

Ben understood what he was being offered, but questioned it anyway. “You mean I could go back into my body and …”

Ben’s father nodded. “But it won’t be the same. God said that you would be completely healed. I felt, though, that your calling would be changed, to a different people.”

Ben gazed about. “I don’t see anyone.”

Ben’s father smiled.

“I’d like to help get this place filled up.”

Ben’s father’s smile opened to a toothy grin. “Kinda thought so.” He started to say something, but was cut short.

“I know. It won’t be an easy row to hoe. Easy isn’t my call.”

As Ben’s father hugged him, Ben felt another’s presence, a comforting, healing presence that flooded his soul. He coughed once, spewing dust from his mouth.

By feel, he determined that he was in an arch, two huge boulders supporting a monolithic slab roof. It was small, especially for his stout frame, but Ben sensed an exit, meandering around, over, sometimes under, weaving its way from the collapsed cave. Freedom was hours away, but it was eventually his after kicking out the last few feet of rubble.

“Hello?” Ben expected no response. He saw no one, and heard no one. He could use a drink of water, but felt entirely whole, invigorated, even. He wasn’t surprised.

Grand Junction was the obvious destination. That he would meet up with his compatriots was unlikely, but there would be another train that could get him back to Creede.

As if confirming Ben’s call, he wasn’t long onto the road toward Mesa when a lone traveler driving a wagon with a two-horse team rounded a bend going Ben’s direction. He slowed to a stop.

“If you c’n drive this team, you c’n ‘ave a lift,” he said in a brogue Ben was unfamiliar with. “Wheel come off just back o’er dat rise. Broke me finger and drivin’ ‘urts lahk fahr.”

“Let’s have a look,” Ben said, reaching up to where the man sat.

“It’s ‘at … ewee. Dón know if ‘at hurts, or …” Up until this point, the man laced his speech with every other utterance a curse, or foul word.

Ben merely touched the obviously broken middle finger.

“Name’s Jay. It’s longer, but Jay’s good ‘nough fer me.” Jay started to use his hand to help Ben up.

“That finger’s still broken. Feels better, and in place, but broken. Got any twine, or rawhide?”

Jay glanced about, his expression one of confusion.

“Here, give me your bandana.”

Ben wrapped the broken finger tightly to its ring finger neighbor. “We get to Mesa, you tie it up like that and keep it tied for a month. It’ll be fine. Here, give me your hand again. We’ll pray for it.”

Jay couldn’t help himself from lighting up, though he quickly reverted back to a straight face. “You a …”

Interrupting, Ben began to pray. “Lord Jesus, you’ve already heard and answered my prayer, but this time, I’m asking that you touch Jay: body, mind, and spirit. Give him comfort and a peace he hasn’t known in a very long time. Thank you, Lord.”

Ben hopped onto the wagon as Jay made room for him. Taking the reins, Ben snapped the team to business.

“You’re Ben, that Ben fella. Heard ‘bout choo from a hunter stopped at the Lazy S. He stopped for a meal last fall. You a preacher? My mee-maw tuck me ta mass. Her brother was the priest. Thirty-fi’, forty year back.”

The absence of foul language made Ben smile. “No, I’m not a preacher. Could, though. But I’m just a wanderer, I guess. Looks like he wandered me right to you.”

Jay smiled. “Or me to you. You think he knocked me wheel off and bust me finger?”

Ben laughed. “He mighta. Your soul worth a broken finger to you?”

Jay looked skyward. “Coulda broke my arm, be aw-right.”

Ben snapped the reins to let the team know he was still there, not to slack off.

“Can you read, Jay?”

“C’n read.” Jay didn’t ask why.

“While yer at the mercantile getting supplies, I’m gonna get you a Bible. I’ll show you where to start. And don’t you worry. God will talk to you from his word just like he talks to me.”

Jay nodded, and kept nodding.

+++

While in Mesa, Ben heard of a prisoner at the jail, a horse thief who was going to be hung. As soon as the Bible was delivered and Jay shown where to start, Ben headed to the jail. Ten minutes after meeting him, Walter Schuster was crying like a baby, apologizing to God.

“Ben, they’re gonna hang me in two days, Thursdy sun-up. Would you go up there with me, up on the gallows?”

“Sure I will Walter. Sure I will. And I’ll be back here tomorrow to visit with you, maybe help you write a letter to your folks. Tell how you’ve made things right with God.”

“They’d like that, Mister Ben. They’d like that.”

By the time Ben saw Walter into his grave, he’d missed the Thursday train that would have started his journey up to Grand Junction and then on to Creede. Ben’s own funeral would be held on that next Saturday. As fortune had it, his connection to Creede required another day layover.

+++

As the train slowed, Ben hopped off from between cars. He felt strongly impressed not to make a public appearance. While in prayer, God plainly told him that he’d been buried and that his friends had made peace with it. Ben acknowledged to himself that he had in fact died. And had been buried. On the bank of the Rio Grande, Ben finished the last of his biscuits and waited until full darkness to make his way to Livvy and William’s house.

Ben’s arrival timed to Livvy’s return from the outhouse. She froze, seeing Ben, not clearly enough to make out his features in the darkness, but knowing it to be him, sensing his presence.

“Ben, are you real? Has God sent you as an angel?”

“Livvy?” William half shouted his whisper out the door having heard her voice.

The opened door shined enough light that they both recognized Ben. While William stood amazed, Livvy launched herself to Ben, shamelessly wrapping herself around him. Ben hugged her back.
“Come inside, both of you,” William whispered. “Neighbors will think Livvy a crazy woman.

At the doorway, William stood staring in amazement as Livvy reached up to kiss him, recognizing that her husband might require some affirmation of her love.

“William, it’s Ben! He’s real, and not a ghost!”

Ben smiled.

Ben told them the story – his death, visit to heaven, and return to earth and the events of the past few days. “God has made it clear to me. He let me come here. Let everyone remain at peace with my passage in these parts. But I had to treat you and your parents as I would want them, you, to treat me. So I waited until dark. But if you would bring your parents over here in the morning … and the preacher, Pastor Parnell. He needs to know, since he preached my funeral.”

Livvy and William shot glances to one another, knowing that they had yet to tell Ben of his funeral.

“Oh, how could you not have a memorial service. Hope he said a few good things about me.” Ben chuckled, drawing Ben and Livvy into his joke.

+++

Again, Ben told his story once Ralph, May, and Joshua arrived. Livvy and William were as spellbound as if hearing it for the first time. “… And the calling takes me to Chicago.”

As one, all but Joshua Parnell shouted “Chicago!” back to him.

Ben smiled. A cattle train from Pueblo will be waiting for me.” Ben said it as if he had a reservation. This time, all five nodded understanding.

“Ben, Joshua said, a degree of authority in his delivery, “The people of Creede have been extraordinarily generous. There’s $410 in an account I opened some months ago, not knowing why, or what it was for. Now I know. If you’ll wait until the bank opens …”

Ben nodded acceptance and understanding. He knew how God worked and would not begrudge Joshua the heavenly blessing that comes from following God’s will. “Thank you, Joshua. You know that it will go to good use.”

All but Joshua said in unison, “He knows,” drawing chuckles from all.

Ben was on the next train out of town, hopping aboard near the same place he’d jumped off the day before.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Jay: Lazy S ranch hand driving a wagon to town for supplies
Walter Schuster: prisoner scheduled to be executed
Livvy and William: longtime friends of Ben
Ralph and May: longtime friends of Ben
Joshua Parnell: preacher in Creede

There are many, many accounts of near-death experiences. Most, though not all, relate a light. I, obviously, opted not to.


Chapter 19
One Man's Calling, ch19

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben had a ‘near death experience’ where he met his natural father in heaven. Ben chose to return to earth and continue his calling, though he understood that it would change, sending him to Chicago by way of Pueblo. A clandestine meeting in Creede allowed him to say good-byes.

“Hey, you’re here!”

Ben looked around, sensing the shout was for him. He’d just arrived in Pueblo, Colorado. Without even looking for a long-awaited meal, he wandered toward the cattle pens, crossing several tracks at the trainyard to get there.

Seeing a man waving what appeared to be a rail employee’s hat, Ben approached.

“You ready to work? Got your tummy full? Been lookin’ for you for an hour. Get these critters in these stockcars. Twelve in each. I’ll send the boys over to help. You just make sure there’s a dozen ‘cause they’ll want to turn crossways an’ then you can’t fit ‘em in. Twelve, not ten or eleven!

Load every car from here to the… well, on this track. Then we drag these out and load the cars on the next track over. Yer boss has been here twice so I wouldn’t dawdle none. Said he’d fire you.”

“Then let’s get after it,” Ben said as he began to open a gate between himself and the stock cars. Ben's total bewilderment was stayed by his trust in God, wondering what was happening, but delighted to watch God work.

“The boys’ll do all that. You just have to get twelve in each car, packed in tight.” At that, the man left. Within minutes three young men started moving cattle his way. One hopped onto the side of the first car and lowered a ramp.

Ben was embarrassed at first, trying to figure out how to load the front and the back of the car, leaving room in the middle at the ramp for the last two. Finally satisfied, he began to raise the ramp.

“My job, mate,” one of the young men yelled. “You make them think they don’t need me, they’ll let me go. See? ‘Sides, you need to be down there ahead of these steers. See, they’ll get past ya, mate.”

Ben scampered to get the second car loaded with twelve, not eleven, steers and cows. He’d figured out an efficient method, but by the time he got to the last car in the string, he was exhausted and famished.

“So, they fired me?”

Ben looked at a man who could be his twin as he walked up. “Not as far as I know. My name’s Ben.” He stuck out his, meeting the strangers for a solid shake. “I see now why he spoke to me like he did. He thought I was you.”

The man started laughing. “You are right handsome!”

Ben laughed along with him.

“C’mon, let’s get this car loaded before they drag it out from under our feet. Name’s Hank.”

“Ben.”

Hank signaled with his hat for the yard engineer to move the string of loaded cars. As they walked around the back of the last car, headed for the first in the next string, Hank asked Ben, “So, you wantin’ this job? That it?”

“No, Hank. I’m just following God’s lead. He sent me here.”

“Well, Ben. I believe you. My son’s fourteen. He ran off last night. He’d been talkin’ about a gang he wanted to join. Took me all morning to find him, and then hours to talk him into comin’ back home with me. Promised him I’d try to get him on with the railroad when he was sixteen, or sign him into the Army, whichever way he wanted to go.

“I don’t know, though … You got kids?”

“Fourteen?” Ben asked, having done the math with respect to the son's age.

“My wife’s by … well, my wife’s. But I love him. He’s just havin’ a rough spell just now. I don’t know what I’d a done without you fillin’ in for me.” Nearing the stock car that was next to load, Hank said, “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Thank God. He arranged it some time back.”

“Every day. Every day, I thank God. Look. Go to 610 Maple Street. It’s off Main. Tell Florence you’re hungry. She’ll know you. She’s that way with people. She’ll show you where to clean up and have a plate by the time you are. I’ll be along about suppertime. Maybe a little late today, though.”

They once again shook hands and Ben made his way to Hank and Florence’s home.

+++

“Hello, Florence? I’m sorry to be so, so familiar, but Hank never told me your last names. I’m Ben Persons.” Not wearing a hat, Ben brought his hand to his eyebrow and performed a small bow.

“Well, I de-clare! If was a little darker out, I would open the door and kiss your cheek believing you were my Hank. Come in. Come in.

“So, you’ve met Hank?”

“Yes, ma’am, Mrs.?”

“Florence. And this is Bobby, Robert.” Facing her son, Florence admonished him to stand and shake Ben’s hand.

“Are you Hank’s long lost brother, or somethin’?” Bobby asked.

“Not as far as I know. Y’all from Arkansas by any chance?”

“Illinois,” Florence replied, “but the kids were born here. Deborah is in school.” Florence couldn’t help herself from shooting a glance to Bobby, quickly returning to Ben. “I’ll bet you’re hungry. Bobby? Would you please show Mr. Persons where he can clean up? Thank you, dear.”

Bobby began walking toward the back of the house.

“Bobby?” Florence chastised.

“This way, Mr. Persons,” Bobby said with a certain sheepishness, having been admonished.

After pointing to the backyard well, Bobby declared, “Hank ain’t my pa. My father was a drunk half-breed. Makes me a half-breed, quarter, anyways.”

Ben stopped and turned to Bobby who was about to dash back into the house. “Bobby!” Ben didn’t shout, but he used his previous deputy voice, commanding obedience.

Gaining Bobby’s attention, Ben softened his voice and demeanor. “Do you believe Hank loves you?”

“Uh, well, yeah, I guess.”

“You know, you aren’t the only person raised by a man that wasn’t his father.”

“You?”

“Well, yes, after mine was killed in the war. But more’n that, Jesus was raised by a man not his father. Not even close. You know who Jesus is, right?”

“Yeah. I’ve been to Sunday School.”

“And something else. Jesus wasn’t white, either. Most likely about the same color as you. Dark hair, dark eyes, All of it.”

“He was an Indian?”

“No, but like an Egyptian.” Not knowing Bobby’s understanding of world geography or cultures, he though Egypt close enough. “From that region.”

“Hummmf,” was all Bobby said.

“Bobby? You think you could find me some soap?” Ben grinned his friendliest smile.

“Sure!” Bobby hopped off, his attitude improved.

“Mr. Persons,” Bobby said, returning with a chunk of soap. “You sure do look like my da… Hank.”

“I’m thinking it would be all right to call him dad, Bobby. It’s a sign of respect. Bobby, your dad loves Jesus. And he loves you. I know it.”

Bobby turned to leave, but wheeled back. “Thank you, sir.”

Later at the table, the evening meal finished, Ben explained his presence, describing his calling, and how it led him to the stockyard.

“Praise God,” Florence and Hank said in unison, the two laughing together.

“’Cause I sure need this job. Not sure what, come winter though.” Hank and Florence exchanged somber glances to one another.

“Oh?” Ben asked.

“Hurt my back last winter. Scraped by ‘til I got on with Union Pacific.”

“What happened?” Ben asked.

“Aww, wasn’t no injury, really, it just kinda quit on me. I couldn’t get up one day. It was a time.” Hank shook his head, recalling his agony. "Anyway, I lost my timber job and … still, some days…”

Ben held up his hand, silencing Hank. “Would it be all right if I prayed for you, laid hands on you and prayed for your back?”

Neither Hank nor Florence had ever before heard of such, but nervously agreed.

Looking to Bobby, Ben asked him, “Bobby, would you like Jesus to heal Hank’s back? Do you think Jesus would heal a white man’s pain?”

“Uh, yeah. I guess so.”

“Come on, Bobby, Florence, and you too, Deborah,” Ben added, making room for Florence and Deborah to gather around Hank. “Now everybody lay a hand on Dad.” Once everyone had their purchase, Ben touched Hank on the top of his head saying “Jesus.”

Instantly, Hank bounced upward, not much, but his flinch was noticed by each one.

“Did you feel that, Daddy?” Deborah asked excitedly. “You sparked, like lightning!”

Tears flowed down both Hank’s and Florence’s faces.

Everyone backed up as Hank began to scoot his chair from the table. Bending from the waist, he reached down and touched his toes, shouting “Glory, glory, glory” as he smoothly stood back up, raising his hands toward heaven.

Ben watched joyously as the family hugged together, laughing and crying.

Finally, Bobby approached Hank. The others, sensing a solemn moment, gave him space. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ll try to do better. Thanks for coming to get me today.”

Jubilation again filled the room as Ben quietly crept out the back door on his way to Chicago.

Author Notes After pursuing God's call in the Colorado mining country, Ben ended the threat of drugs taking over the region. Killing the would-be kingpin, Ben lost his own life. In a near-death experience, Ben elected to return to earth to continue following God's call.

Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Hank, Florence, Bobby and Deborah: a Pueblo, Colorado, family God sent Ben to help


Chapter 20
One Man's Calling, ch 20

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben saved a Hank’s job by filling in for him, and saved his family with counseling for a fourteen-year-old and healing for Dad.

Armed with a sack of biscuits and jerky, and a canteen of water, as well as a small case for a change of clothes and a few essentials, Ben boarded a train that would, with a couple transfers, get him to Chicago. Since it was coach, he would be allowed to get off and back onto a different train at will. After sharing with those around him who had nothing but hungry eyes, he learned he had enough for only one meal. But he wasn’t a bit sorry for sharing.

Sensing no reason to get off at St Louis, or any of the water stops other than for exercise and an occasional bite to eat, Ben merely transferred to his Chicago bound train. Not a single notion what his new life would look like, all he knew for certain was that he would miss the Rocky Mountains.

“Ever been to Chicago, youngster?”

The run from St Louis to Chicago was full.

“Chicago?” Ben’s seat mate yelled, shaking Ben from his stupor. Since St Louis, sleep came in fits and spurts. Ben’s seatmate, a man at least twice Ben’s age evidently required little sleep.

“Uh, no sir. Never have.”

“Best thing ever happened, Catherine O’Leary’s barn catching fire. Made a real nice city of it after burning out all the riff-raff.”

“Uh-hmmm,” was all Ben could say to that, not wanting to argue the case of the hundred thousand, or so, who were made homeless and displaced.

“Yup. Cleaned up an area a mile wide and four miles long. Still be burning today but for the rain after just two days of the fire. 17,000 buildings.”

“Where’d all the people go?” Ben asked. “They have insurance?”

“Hah! Sure they had insurance. But when you run for your life, you don’t think about a piece of paper, your policy. And without that… poof.” The old man kissed his gathered fingers, snapping then toward the ceiling as if to say up in smoke.

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Where they went? Back where they came from would be my wish. Some neighborhoods not a soul spoke English. Huh! There’s fifty thousand Sicilians just moved west a few miles. And lots more, too. Calling it Chicagoland for crying out loud! Just sixteen years ago, but it looks like they all come back.”  

In Ben’s mind’s eye he saw thousands and thousands of hurting people, people lost and needing God, needing saved.

+++

It was July of 1887 and Ben had no earthly idea that Chicago could be so hot. He was grateful for the breeze that blew in from the east.

People were everywhere. Old Galena Station had been rebuilt much like other buildings in sight, built of brick and stone, and terra cotta clay. Ben saw buildings he had no idea could be constructed so high. He would later learn that they were called skyscrapers. He spent his first night in a room at the Hatch house owned by the railroad, feeling guilty that there were still people without homes or a decent place to sleep.

Without clear direction from God, his calling silent, Ben strode toward Lake Michigan, a lake as big as the sea, he’d been told.

Though it was a weekday, there were throngs of people at the beach, mostly women and children, but they were flocking to the water to escape the oppressive heat.

Suddenly Ben felt an overwhelming urge to preach. In as loud a voice as he could and remain intelligible, he began. “Hear the word of the Lord! Hear his words of salvation! The kingdom of the Lord is at hand! People, Jesus loves you. He wants to live in your hearts.”

Folks quickly backed away from Ben, but didn’t run. Most of them turned to listen. It wasn’t long until a youth came running up with an empty, wooden soap box that Ben hopped onto. In an instant between words Ben thought as how just a week previous he couldn’t have climbed onto the box without help, or falling down.

“People, when pestilence, or fire, sweeps through your towns, your homes, and takes your children, children that Jesus gathers to himself, don’t you want to be one day with them?”

Mothers within Ben’s hearing to a soul each looked toward her own children. “When banks fail and lenders come for your home, don’t you want a savior? When the Reaper comes for you, don’t you wish to know your destiny?

“People, Jesus loves you, and he wants you under his protective wings. All you have to do is believe that he is the son of God. That he died and rose again, and that you are a sinner, as are we all, and that you would like to be saved.”

Ben went on for a half an hour in the same vein. Some wandered off, some turned back to the water, and their activities, but others replaced them. Ben didn’t shriek, or threaten Satan’s curse, but offered a simple plan, simply told in a spirit of love.

“Find a Bible. Find a church. Find Jesus.”

Ben picked up the soap box to take to the nearest business where it might belong. He felt invigorated and strode off to tour the area, unconcerned whether he planted seeds of faith, or watered seeds planted by others.

+++

Ben saw two immediate objectives: somewhere to live, and a ministry. He was careful, though, not to manufacture a ministry himself, but to wait on the leading of the Holy Spirit, to follow his calling. Without a map, or particular direction, he began wandering the city, stopping at every church he found to inquire about a boarding house, preferring those accommodations to a hotel. Again, though, he sought God’s will, not his own.

The churches were nearly all locked. Where he found parsonages, they were also locked. The few where he saw people, he found cold shoulders.

After crossing a small river on Harrison Street Ben was confronted by three black-haired, obvious ne’er do-wells.

“You walk like you’re somebody, or you have money. Which is it?” the leader charged, his two comrades into Ben’s space on either side of him.

“Well, now, friend, whether I am somebody, or I have money, is between me and my savior.” Ben focused on the speaker’s eyes, ignoring the other two. The man spoke with an accent that could have been Spanish, though by appearances, Ben guessed Italian.

Suddenly, the speaker flashed and slashed the air between them with what Ben considered a cross between a tiny sword and an ice pick. Ben stepped into the rippling air cut by the action. The man again slashed across, back, and across again. Nothing happened. Ben didn’t flinch.

The man took a half step back and examined his stiletto. It was dry of blood and a quick glance revealed Ben’s shirt uncut.

“My name’s Ben. And you have answered my question. Right on this very spot tomorrow after breakfast I’ll be preaching God’s gospel. I’m inviting you and your friends to come and hear about my savior’s love.” Ben stuck out his hand, “Ben Persons. And you are?”

The man squinted as he peered into Ben’s gaze, nodding to his two friends, they all three turned and walked away wordlessly.

Looking about, imagining tomorrow’s crowd of listeners, Ben saw a youth who’d been standing nearby, watching the goings on. “My name’s Ben,” Ben said loud enough to be heard across the street.

“Heard you say that to La Lama. Are you crazy? You know, touched?” The boy of about twelve shook his head side-to-side in an exaggerated fashion.

Ben laughed. “No, at least I don’t think so. What’s your name? And do you know where I could rent a room?”

“I’m Tony. Olive, or somethin’. She’s the old woman who lives across the street from my house rents a room. But I think somebody’s in it.”

“Well, let’s go find out, Tony. But why aren’t you in school? And what is La Lama?”

“School’s out for the summer. La Lama is The Blade. I’m supposed to be working at the mill, but I told Ma I wanted to work at the stockyard. But they wouldn’t hire me.”

“How hard did you try?” Ben asked, a knowing smile on his face.

Tony burst out laughing. “Sir, my pa is black-balled. Would you hire me?” Tony delivered his speech as he had every hiring agent he encountered. He returned Ben’s grin.

“Works every time, I imagine,” Ben said.

Tony’s eyes twinkled.

“How much you expect to get paid if you were to work at the mill?”

“Supposed to be fifty cents a day for spool work, but then they dock you for your gloves and for bathroom breaks that you don’t even take. Yer lucky to take home two dollars a week.”

“How would you like to work for me for four dollars a week?”

Tony furrowed his brow for an instant. “I ain’t gonna get cut up by La Lama, am I?”

Ben laughed. “Let’s go see about that room and if your mother will agree.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
La lama: The Blade, a local tough guy, gang leader
Angelo: La Lama
Mrs. Bertelli: mother of Tony
Mrs. Koska (Oliwia): landlord of Ben


Chapter 21
One Man's Calling, ch 21

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben spent his first Chicago night in a hotel and then walked to lake Michigan where he preached on a street corner. He met La Lama, The Blade, and Tony, a twelve-year-old boy, offering him a job as a helper.

 “Mrs. Bertelli, Tony will be safer with me than working anywhere else, I assure you,” Ben said after meeting Santina Bertelli, who would be working, herself, but for the six young ones under five years of age screaming around the house, four of them hers.

As long as Ben paid her the four dollars a week. And since they did not attend Mass anywhere, seven days a week would be fine. She didn’t mind that Ben wasn’t Catholic. The main sell, though, was that Tony would be released from his duties with Ben in order to help her whenever she required his assistance.

+++

“Ben, is it?” the woman asked with a European accent that Ben could not distinguish. “If you dón mind a room where a man died last night, it is yours. Seventy-five cents a day, or four dollars a week if you pay in advance. Ben asked her to please keep the change. Breakfast at six. Supper at six. If you miss, too bad for you. Nothing on Sunday. Maybe some bread, only. And no woman!

“And find someone else to wash your clothes. I wash only bedding, and only bottom sheet once each week.”

Ben accepted the terms and paid her in advance for a month, paying Mrs. Koska twenty dollars.

+++

At half past six the next morning Ben and Tony were bound for the Harrison Street corner, first on the lookout for something for Ben to stand on. He figured that his audience would be on their way to work, but didn’t mind if all they could get were snippets as they traveled past. Snippets were seeds, too.

Once the street emptied, Ben climbed off the rickety box, amazed that it had held up. He looked around for La Lama, but hadn’t seen him. He would search the crowd again at the lunch hour when he planned to return for another delivery.

“Now, Tony, suppose you give me a tour of the area all around us, just these neighborhoods. Introduce me to everyone you know. We’ll also look for a better box.

“And after the noon preaching and we find lunch somewhere, we’ll find a print shop. We need some flyers.”

“Flyers?” Tony asked. “Birds?”

“No, Tony. We want to hand out some gospel messages. That’s going to be one of your main jobs. We’ll also look for other corners where I can preach to more people. And corners where we don’t have only going-to-work people.”

By the end of the first day, Ben had met three pastors, offering each one the same proposal: he would hand out as many tracts as they gave him, even with their church identification printed on them. He would announce every church near where he preached, advertising their service times. “I don’t need a flock,” he said. “People need the Lord.”

+++

Then next day, it rained, so Ben and Tony rode the horse-drawn buses all over the city from the Harrison Street Bridge to the lake and all over what was called The Loop. The rain letting up, Ben sent Tony on home while he stayed at the Harrison Street Bridge to witness to people and rise to preach whenever anything resembling a crowd developed.

“Ben, Il Fantasma. You are The Ghost.”

It was La Lama and his two friends. Approaching Ben, causing the following day’s noon gathering to disperse, La Lama repeated himself. “Look.” He pulled his stiletto, showing the blood-stained knife to him. “It is not the knife. The knife loves the taste of blood. It is you. You must be a ghost or else you would be dead today.”

“La Lama,” Ben began. “By what name did the Virgin call you when you first took the Holy Communion?” Ben pierced La Lama’s soul, glaring into his eyes. The two friends reached for their own knives as La Lama stood mesmerized.

“You are Angelo. Angel. Your mother birthed you and christened you an angel. Are you an angel, Angelo. Are you your mother’s angel now?” Ben did not release his hold. Still locked onto Angelo’s eyes, Ben spoke to the two friends. “You two walk away. Now! Angelo wishes to speak to me alone.” The two scampered away as fast as they could without breaking into a coward’s run.

“How do you know my name. No one alive knows my name.”

“Except your mother,” Ben replied.

“My mother no longer speaks. She just sits, dying day-by-day, eating when someone feeds her.”

“But you won’t feed her, Angelo. Your mother’s angel refuses to feed his mother.”

“How do you know these things? Are you a devil?”

Ben gave Angelo a pinched expression. “What sense does that make, Angelo, angel. The devil does not do God’s work.”

Angelo grimaced. “My mother talk to you?”

“God talks to me, Angelo. He told me that he still loves you. He loves you and the blood on your knife will be your own if you do not turn to him… today. Today is your time, Angelo. Put La Lama in the middle of that river,” Ben nodded toward the Des Plaines River. “And take yourself to father Bianco. He will wait for you to hear your confession, but he will not wait for very long.” Ben turned to leave.

After just two steps, Angelo screamed at him like a man drowning. “How do you know these things?”

“Ask Father Bianco, Angelo. He will tell you that God has given you this great chance, this great opportunity.” Ben left Angelo frozen in place.

Angelo slowly turned and walked toward the river where he cast his knife to its very center.

Ben turned to Tony. “We’re finished for the day, Tony. Let’s go home. I want you to ask your mother if there is anything you can help her with this afternoon.”

“What’re you gonna do?” Tony asked.

“I need to pray, to thank the Lord for what he has done. Praying is where I get my strength.”

Tony stopped. A couple steps further, Ben turned to look at him.

“Are you an angel, or something?” Tony asked, incredulous.

Ben smiled. “No Tony. This morning when I stepped up on the box ….”

“You farted! I almost laughed. I had to cover up my mouth. I didn’t think you would like it much if I laughed right then.”

“No, I wouldn’t have. Now, do you think an angel would do that?” Ben was grinning hugely. “C’mon, your momma.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
La Lama: The Blade, a local tough guy, gang leader
Angelo: La Lama
Mrs. Bertelli: mother of Tony
Mrs. Koska: landlord of Ben
Father Bianco: priest of St Joseph Cathedral

Angelo (La Lama) was amazed that Ben wasn't harmed by his knife, convinced that it was a miracle.

Matthew 13:3-9 (parable of the sower)
1 Corinthians 3:6-9 (some plant seeds, some water them)
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit) Verse 8 - a message of knowledge


Chapter 22
One Man's Calling, Ch 22

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben hires Tony and rents the room across the street from Tony’s house. Ben and Tony tour part of Chicago. Ben confronts La Lama with divine knowledge, causing him to change his life.

Ben and Tony had toured the neighboring miles of city. Ben had a fairly established pattern of preaching-corners within the first two weeks in Chicago. Ben, though happy with his acceptance in the community didn’t feel he was solidly within his calling. Nothing amiss, he was sure that God was pleased and was blessing his ministry, still, he felt as if he’d cracked open a watermelon and was merely licking at the edges, the sweet heart beyond his reach.

The preachers in the neighborhoods, once met, accepted his presence, each grateful for the names and service times to be printed on Ben’s flyers. Ben was convinced that saving a person without concern for their religious growth was more than likely dooming that person to a return to their previous vices. Hooking a fish didn’t get it landed. Tossing a person a life buoy ring didn’t get them in the life boat. They needed Christian guidance and fellowship.

It was on such a day as Ben was searching for God’s direction that he arrived to the boarding house in time for the evening meal. Greeting him at the door was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her jolt toward him, he could tell, was a slight nudge by Mrs. Koska from behind.

“Hello, Mr. Ben, I’m Hanna.” Hanna held her hand out for shaking. Her nervousness and unease were dripping from her words and expression. Her smile, though genuine, nearly trembled with unease. Wrenching her hand free, she scampered away.

“Supper is ready as soon as you clean your hands, Mr. Ben,” Mrs. Koska said. “My granddaughter is helping me today and she will join us.”

Ben immediately saw the setup in play.

“Mr. Ben, Hanna cooked the ham, and the cobbler we will enjoy for the dessert. She has celebrated her eighteenth birthday and is going to go to secretary school in the fall. Hanna, tell Mr. Ben about your church choir performance. Go on, child.”

It was extremely awkward for both Ben and Hanna. For one thing, Hanna was far from a child. As far as Ben could tell, she was King’s ball debutant-worthy, a ravishing beauty that a man might sell his soul for.

But Ben’s soul was not for sale. It was, though, like all men, accessible to be stolen.

None of the saloon or bordello women that he’d rescued from unsavory circumstances bothered Ben in the night as did Hanna. Not even Livvy, who Ben loved and would have happily spent his life with touched his physical being as did Hanna. Praying helped mentally, but… Finally, Ben dressed and quietly left the house a couple hours after midnight for a long, uncomfortable walk.

Finding himself at the lakeshore, Ben removed his shoes and walked into the lake until he could no longer touch bottom. Floundering about for a few seconds his choice became clear. He could fall in love and marry Hanna and spend his entire life trying to keep and satisfy her, or he could follow his calling. He could not do both. Suddenly the scripture came to him: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Ben was certain that he would not miss heaven for leaving the ministry to marry Hanna, but he was equally certain that he could never be satisfied with the exchange. Hanna was not evil. Neither was marriage. Marrying Hanna would be a choice.

He would have two conversations: one with Hanna, and another with Mrs. Koska. He had made his choice.

Chuckling to himself on his walk home, Matthew 16:23 came to him. Though he knew Hanna was not Satan, and would only want the best for him, nevertheless, the temptation to abandon the calling was clear.

That evening, again Hanna was helping her grandmother.

“Hanna,” Ben said, as she placed a generous helping of apple cobbler in front of him. “With Mrs. Koska’s permission, would you take a little walk with me after the dishes are washed?”

I’ll clean the kitchen, child. You walk with Ben,” Mrs. Koska said from the doorway into the kitchen.

A few minutes later they were walking out the front door together. Without a second thought, Ben took Hanna’s hand to assist her descent down the few front steps, releasing her at the bottom. Hanna’s glance to her empty hand gave Ben pause, figuring that she might have intended to continue holding hands.

“Hanna,” Ben began once they’d made the first street corner turn that would take them out of sight of the house. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met, ever seen even.”

Hanna blushed and stopped her hand from fanning herself. Her eyes darted from Ben to a mud puddle in their path. Falling was not an option in this moment. Her attraction to Ben had been obvious.

“Ben … I, um. Mama Oliwia … She … She’s my grandmother, but I call her Mama. You are a most interesting man, and certainly …”

“Hanna.” Ben held up his hand. “Let me save you. I’m not … I have a calling from God, and I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I can’t …”

Hanna forcefully let out the breath she was holding in. “Oh? A calling? Like God called you? How interesting.”

Ben nodded.

Hanna blew out another breath of relief. “Mama Oliwia wasn’t entirely accurate, but only because she doesn’t know. I was waitressing in The Loop when Marshal Fields … you heard of Marshal Fields? Well, I’m not fooled. I know why he wanted to take me to dinner. But he has an assistant …”

“What’s his name?” Ben asked, a tease in his voice.

“Thomas.” Hanna’s blush returned. This time she did fan herself. “Oh, he’s not as cute as you. But he’s so funny. We laughed all evening. He’s hoping to take me out again.

“Ben, I don’t know what I’d have done if you wanted to … well, I just don’t know.”

“I would like to meet your Thomas one day, Hanna.” At that Ben reached for her to pull her tight and give her a reassuring hug.

After they’d turned another corner to walk home, hand-in-hand, Ben said, “Now I can truthfully say that I have hugged the most beautiful woman in the world. Thank you, Hanna.”

“Thank you, Ben.”

“Shall I tell your Mama Oliwia, or you?”

“I think I’d better. She needs to know about Thomas because it won’t be very long. I’m not going to let him get away from me.”

Ben burst out laughing.

Hanna was at the doorway as Ben prepared to give her and her grandmother their privacy by continuing his walk alone. She asked if he would be around the next Sunday afternoon to meet Thomas.

“I certainly will be. And I’m sure that he isn’t as ugly as you made him out to be.”

Hanna entered the house laughing herself to tears.

+++

At the Harrison Street Bridge street corner the next morning, just where Ben normally positioned his soap box, Angelo stood waiting for Ben. Ben couldn’t discern his expression – something between fight, and cry.

Breaking the tension, Ben greeted him. “Good morning, Angelo. I’m happy to see you.”

After a hesitation Angelo looked Ben square in the eyes. “I’m lost, Ben. Lost.”

Ben prayed a moment in silence. “No one will hire you. You know this so you don’t even ask. You have changed your life so you can no longer steal, or force others to give you what is theirs. You are at an intersection and you cannot see which way to turn.”

“How do you know these things, Ben. How do you …” Angelo stopped before choking up.

“I see you with a badge, Angelo. Your past is as far as the east from the west. You keep talking to Father Bianco. The next time I see you, you will be in a beautiful uniform with a shiny badge.” Ben reached out to shake Angelo’s hand.

Angelo left, a lump in his throat preventing from a heartfelt thank you.

+++

“We need to go into the deep water, Tony,” Ben declared. “Waters to swim in. Where more fish live than even we can catch.”

“So tomorrow we go to Lake Michigan?” Tony asked excitedly.

“I don’t know, Tony. I just know that we will listen very hard for the call, and then follow it.”

Tony shook his head in confusion, but confident enough in Ben by this time to follow him anywhere.

+++

After stopping to witness to several people along the way, Ben and Tony reached Throop Street where Lakefront Park ballfield began. It was Saturday and it looked as if the whole world was coming to watch the Chicago White Stockings play baseball. Tony’s eyes sprang open as large as saucers, his mouth completing the sight.

“Don’t see why we don’t,” Ben said in answer to the unasked question.

It was early, hours ahead of the game, but the gates were open to ticket holders for Saturday festivities.

“Waters to swim in,” Ben breathed to himself. “You ever see a baseball game?” Ben asked Tony.

Wide-eyed, Tony could only shake his head no.

“Well, neither have I. Let’s go see what all the fuss is about.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Mrs. Bertelli: mother of Tony
Mrs. Koska (Oliwia): landlord of Ben
Hanna Koska: granddaughter of Mrs. Koska

1 Corinthians: chapter 12:8 (divine knowledge)
Mark 8:34-38 (gain the whole world, but lose his soul) (in part, paraphrased)
Matthew 16:23-25 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human." But Jesus Himself spoke this way about following Him when He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
Psalm 103 (as far as the east from the west)

The Chicago White Stockings was the precursor to the National League Chicago Cubs baseball team.


Chapter 23
One Man's Calling, Ch 23

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Mrs. Koska attempted to set Ben up with her beautiful granddaughter, Hanna. Ben counseled Angelo to be a policeman. Ben and Tony trek to the Chicago White Stockings baseball park in search of a greater mission field.

“Look, Ben! Clowns! And jugglers! And … What’re they doing?” Tony was dazed by the activities in the ballpark. It was midmorning with the ball game hours away. Actors, games, food vendors, fruits, snacks, and much more that amazed Tony.

Ben, as well, truth be told. Paying double – admission to the fair event, as well as the ball game –Ben and Tony gawked at the acrobatics and rope walks and such. They’d neither one ever even heard of such goings on.

A little further on they found some activities for fan participation. For as little as a penny, a person could knock over a bottle with a baseball and win a prize, a nickel would get more baseballs and greater prizes.

“Look, Ben, over there. Those people are lined up to hit a baseball to those White Stockings players! You could do it, Ben! You could hit it!”

For a dime, you got three swings. If the batter hit the ball, he got a dollar. If he hit a home run, which was any ball over the head of the two fielders, he would win ten dollars.

“You can do it, Ben. I know you can.”

Ben paid the dime and got into line. Soon enough, it was his turn to bat. The first pitch whizzed past him, allowing him no chance to do anything but flinch. The second pitch was a curve ball that twisted Ben into a knot, landing him on his keester as the ball curved over the plate, missing him altogether.

Getting back into position, Ben noticed one of the uniformed fielders assume a batter’s stance, acting as if he held a bat, his hands close together. Ben mimicked his posture. This time, Ben watched the pitcher’s throwing hand, then watched the ball as it raced to the catcher. His eyes still on the ball, Ben swung the bat, meeting the ball. Continuing his swing, he hit the ball in the air toward what he would learn was the right field. The fielder raced to his left and back, barely getting near enough to stop its flight, but not actually catch it.

“You hit it, man, step over there and collect your dollar.” The arbiter was the catcher. “Good hit, by the way. Next batter.”

“It shoulda been ten dollars, Ben. It went past him.”

“No, Tony. He stopped it. Besides, I didn’t do it for the money. The fact is, I feel kind of bad about the whole thing.”

“Why?”

“Preaching the good news, saving people’s souls, helping people is way more important than any game.” Ruffling Tony’s hair, Ben added, “Besides, didn’t you see me fall on my butt?”

They both laughed.

After feasting on a meat pie that Ben had watched being cooked well enough to deem safe, followed by a peach turnover, Ben bought them each a sarsaparilla soda. They were in their seats as the entire affair was dismantled for the upcoming baseball game.

Ben smiled and made an effort not to spoil Tony’s fun, but inwardly Ben felt as if he was cheating God of the time that he could have been outside the park preaching to the thousands of people that poured into the park all around them. Ben imagined everyone of them missing heaven because he wasn’t out there showing them the way to salvation. It made enjoying the game nearly impossible.

+++

“Time to go,” Ben said.

Tony’s expression said it all.

“Tell you what, Tony, with the score five to one, it likely won’t go extra innings. I’m going to be on Harrison Street outside the entrance where we came in. If you get turned around, just walk around the park and listen for my voice. I have to preach.”

“I won’t get turned around. Thanks, Ben.” Tony’s eyes spoke gratitude, as well as dismay. He was grateful to be able to watch the end of the ball game, but was mixed about shirking his duty, his responsibility to Ben… and the ministry that he felt a part of. “We don’t have flyers for me to pass out anyway,” Tony added weakly.

No sooner was Ben out of sight and Tony was following after, mindful of his responsibility.

+++

“Are you on the team?” Ben shouted. “Fear not striking out. Don’t let missing a play keep you from dusting yourself off, reading for the next. Just be on the team! Join the team of Jesus Christ. Everyone who applies gets on the team. No one is dropped, or traded. Get on the team. Are you on the team? Jesus wants you. Don’t just be a spectator sitting in the stands when you can be on the team.”

Ben repeated his spiel until the last fan left. He’d seen Tony working the area from the first moment, proud the lad had considered his priorities. Circling Ben like a border collie trained to herd sheep, Tony pointed toward Ben, while announcing, “There’s Ben Persons. He knows how you can be saved.” Tony used several comments, but was effective in causing many to turn and to hear some of Ben’s delivery.

On the way home, Tony started to ask Ben about the possibility of a repeat of the day. Before he got past “Ben …” Ben replied, "Probably won’t be more festival days, but this is my spot for every home game that God doesn’t send me somewhere else.” He ruffled Tony’s hair.

Tony knew in his gut that Ben would let him watch a game here and there.

That night after the prayer time that usually followed supper, Ben replayed the preaching moments in front of the ball park. He calculated that he could be heard by individual souls for about two minutes as they walked into and through the range of his voice. About half that time, they should be able to clearly distinguish his words.

With pencil and paper, Ben wrote out a dozen two-minute sermons, careful to put in some sort of call to salvation in each minute. He could repeat the two-minute drill, or run through his repertoire with each session. Within days, Ben discovered what time blocks he could preach more lengthy sermons as he saw people lingering prior to the opening of the ticket booths and gates to the park. It was after the games that he most held to his two-minute sermonettes. Ben also familiarized himself with the neighboring churches of the ball park, changing his flyers to include them.

One weekday game about two hours before the first pitch, one of the Chicago White Stockings players noticed Ben approach with his preaching box. The ball player was walking to the park from his nearby rented room.

“Hey! Excuse me,” the player said. “You’re the one got that hit.”

Ben knew what hit he was talking about.

“Only hit all day. You could make it on the team with a little training.”

“You could make it on God’s team with no training at all, friend,” Ben replied. “Hey. You’re the one that caught it. You showed me how to hit. Thanks.”

“Didn’t catch it though. You hit it too hard. But what do you mean, get on your team?”

"Not my team. The team of Jesus Christ, his eternal team. No cuts, no trades, no errors. You accept that you’re lost and need a team. Jesus is the captain of that team. He forgives all your past errors. He doesn’t care what your batting average is, or your fielding percentage. Fact is, he loves you and wants to give you his uniform.

“Look at it like this,” Ben continued, an audience gathering behind the ball player. “You have a ticket for the train by just standing here listening. You accept what I’ve said and believe it, and then confess the truth, and Jesus, the conductor of this train, will punch your ticket. You can’t be kicked off or snatched off his train bound for glory.”

“Look, I wanna …” the player nodded toward the ball park employee’s and players’ gate. “But …”

“What’s your name?” Ben asked.

“Billy, Billy Sunday.”

“Billy Sunday, you see that Presbyterian church steeple right over there?”

Billy looked and nodded.

“You go in there after today’s game. Not tomorrow, Billy. Today. Pastor Welch will be waiting for you. Trust me, he knows his ABC’s and how to help you get on the team and your ticket punched.”

Billy nodded, smiling, and jogged toward the players’ entrance.

Ben gazed after him, a certain premonition registering. He resolved to visit the Presbyterian pastor as soon as the game got started and his congregation made their way into the stands.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Billy Sunday: baseball player and then evangelist

Billy Sunday played for the Chicago White Stockings in the 1880s. After hearing a street preacher, he was saved. He attended the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church and went on to become one of the most dynamic evangelistic preachers of the era.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Sunday


Chapter 24
One Man's Calling, Ch 24

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and Tony went to a Chicago White Stockings baseball game and festival. Ben was instrumental in Billy Sunday’s conversion.

“Ben, how come you never take an offering?” Tony asked one day as they were returning from preaching at the ball park. “You know, like some others do. Before you came, I saw one on Wabash Street. He would scream for a few minutes and then walk around with his hat out.”

Ben smiled. “Oh, I will, I suppose. But not until God tells me to.”

“God really tell you to do stuff?”

Ben thought a minute. “He tells all of us to do stuff, Tony. Even you.”

Tony looked at him like Ben was crazy.

“First, he tells you how to behave and relate to people in his word, in the Bible.”

Ben offered a grimace.

“Sometimes, the Bible even gives you specific instruction. Take for example, one day your mom asks if you’re ever going to get a haircut. And the next day someone taps you on the shoulder, and when you turn around they say, ‘Sorry, I thought you were a girl.’ Now the very next day the wind blows your hair in your face and you don’t see a hole and step right in it. And then, that evening when you read your Bible, you’re reading along, you know, just wanting to get to the end of the chapter so you can go to sleep and all of a sudden, the only thing that you can see are the words Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him?

“Now, I’m not debating the scripture, I’m just saying that when you see scripture that dances right off the page and it lands in your heart, God might be talking to you, especially after he might be talking through people, too.

“And it could be about anything. Maybe you’re reading away and you see the part about not eating pork. Now we know, that it’s good to eat pork, but that scripture just screams at you to pay it strict attention. You just can’t get it off your mind. And then, the next day when we stop preaching and I offer you a pork sandwich …”

“I say ‘no way’,” Tony interrupted. “And I don’t let you eat it either!”

Ben smiled, winking at Tony.

“So, is that how God talks to you?” Tony asked.

“Sometimes. Sometimes through other people. Sometimes from the Bible, and sometimes in prayer. You know, Tony, praying is talking with God. Not just talking to him, but with him. And that means listening for his voice.”

“He talks to you out loud?”

He can, but usually it’s a sense, a strong impression. Once, though, a long time ago, I was in a town in Colorado. I was walking the street looking for someone I could help. I felt the strongest urge that I could help someone.”

“Like pull ‘em out of a well?” Tony interjected.

Ben smiled. “Something like that. Well, from where, I couldn’t tell, but I heard the purest voice I’d ever heard. Never anything like it before.”

“Wha’d it say?” Tony spat, his eyes wide opened.

“Look up!”

“That’s it?”

“Yup. Look up.” Continuing before Tony could ask, Ben said, “So I looked up. And right to my right was a staircase to the top floor of a … hotel. And on the landing was a girl not a lot older than you that I could help.”

“Were you scared? What’d you do?”

“No, but I looked all around to see who it could be. But yes, God can talk to you out loud, just like he did Samuel. Do you know that story?”

“That the one where Samuel thinks his priest, or whatever, was calling him at night?”

“That’s the one.”

“Did God call you?” Tony asked.

Ben allowed a pause before answering. “Yes, he did, Tony. He sure did. Not like he did Samuel. But he did.”

+++

Angelo met Ben one morning, waiting for him outside as Ben was about to start out, unsure where the day would lead him. He was about to learn.

Seeing Angelo’s face, Ben looked over to Tony’s house in time to catch the boy’s attention. “Help your mother today, Tony. No work today.”

Tony looked dejected, but returned to his house, nonetheless.

“What can I do for you, Angelo? You don’t have to work today, a Thursday?”

“No, Ben I have the day off. I’m supposed to go get a new uniform. And a suit I can work in.” He looked at Ben through his eye brows.

Ben tucked his head to return the favor.

“They’re making me a lieutenant.”

Ben raised up, his eyes opening wide. “After these few months, weeks?”

“Yeah. Me too. I had the same reaction. Then I heard what was behind it. Diamond Jim. You heard of Diamond Jim? Colosimo? No? Well, we knew each other, a little.  Back when I was La Lama. Anyway, Diamond Jim is a wheel in The Syndicate.”

“The Syndicate?” Ben asked.

“The gang, the mob. They call themselves The Syndicate. Like they’re legit.”

“And you heard that this Diamond Jim of the mob is having you promoted?”

“And I promise, it ain’t ‘cause they think I’m a good lawman.” Angelo kicked the dirt.

“Let’s walk,” Ben suggested as he started out. “You drink coffee?”

“Just started. Everybody does at my station. Tastes like hot mud, but if you put enough cream and sugar in it …”

“Let’s go to Ward’s.”

“There’s a soda fountain on La Salle. It’s by the tailor shop I’m supposed to go to.”

Ben nodded, changing direction. “That’ll give me time to pray,” Ben said.

They walked in silence and after a few blocks Ben spoke. “So, you’re concerned that Diamond Jim is going to expect you to be his man?”

Angelo didn’t respond to the obvious.

“And you don’t know what you’ll do.”

Again, Angelo remained quiet.

“He’s gonna want to test you. And soon.” Ben said. “Tell me a little about him.”

“He’s a big man. I could cut him, but he won’t fight fair.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Bordellos, mostly. ‘Bout a hunnerd of ‘em, what I hear. Along with other stuff.”

Ben nodded.

“They ever get raided by the police?”

Angelo nodded. “Most likely.”

“He’ll want to know which is next. Tell me Angelo, would anyone get hurt if you tipped him off?”

“Embarrassed, prolly. But not hurt.”

Ben nodded.

“But then he’d think he owns me,” Angelo complained.

“If you don’t cooperate, he’ll think you are the enemy. You won’t live a week,” Ben predicted. “And maybe someone around you. Maybe fire your family’s home.”

Angelo snapped his head to Ben. He was only a boy during the great Chicago fire, but the trauma would live forever.

“One thing, Angelo. Trust no one. There is no one on the force that you can be certain of, no matter what they may tell you. Someone might sound like they hate the Syndicate, as you call them, but only be testing your mettle.

“You could quit the force, Angelo.” Ben stopped walking to turn a look at Angelo full on.

“They would still think I was the enemy,” Angelo replied. “And maybe take insult of me not accepting this honor. Or worse, think me a coward. They would kill me.”

Ben began walking again, walking and praying. At the corner of La Salle, Ben asked Angelo what he wanted to do.

“I want what Jesus wants. What does he want me to do? That’s why I came to you.” Angelo’s eyes were pleading.

“Angelo, what I do, is one day at a time. One step at a time. I try very hard not to get ahead of my calling. You get fitted for your suit. I don’t think hot mud would sit very well on your stomach just now, so I’ll go back and spend the day praying for you.”

Angelo nodded his gratitude.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: La Lama, The Blade, a local tough guy, gang leader. Ben converted and convinced to become a policeman
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit

1 Cor. 11:14 (long hair)
Lev. 11:7b ... and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.
Acts 10:9-15 (call nothing God has made unclean)
1 Sam. 3 (God speaks to Samuel)

*I played with the dates for some of the characters, but not by much.


Chapter 25
One Man's Calling, ch 25

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben explained how to hear God’s voice. After counselling by Ben, Angelo accepts a corrupt promotion sponsored by a gangster.

“Mr. Ben, are you sick, Mr. Ben?” Mrs. Koska was tapping on Ben’s door. Finished cleaning up after breakfast, she was concerned. Ben had declined supper the evening before, and had now missed breakfast. She heard muttering from inside Ben’s room. Hesitating to disturb him, her concern for his health overrode her value of his privacy. She inched the door open. “Mr. Ben?” she whispered.

“Oh, Mrs. Koska. I was praying. I hope I didn’t disturb you.”

“No, Mr. Ben. I was afraid you were sick. I heard … And you didn’t eat supper and now breakfast.”

“I’m fasting, Mrs. Koska. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you last night, but last night I didn’t know I would be … Well, anyway. I’m fine. Thank you for inquiring.” Ben’s gaze bid her to close the door and leave.

Ben prayed another hour before taking his praying to the road, praying while walking.

“Hey, Ben,” Tony said. Waiting for Ben outside, the soapbox strapped to his back like a backpack, Tony was ready to start the day. He knew better than to ask why Ben was late.

“The White Stockings start a series in Philadelphia today,” Tony declared as if asked. “Then they go to New York. So, are we going to the Harrison Street Bridge?”

“No, Tony, I’m going downtown. I need you to clean up that lot where the leather shop used to be over on Lexington. Clean it up real good because we’re going to play baseball on it this Saturday.”

“Who?” Tony asked. After a moment, Tony squealed. “But that’s a big field!”

Ben just smiled. “And see if you can find something to make bases of.” He began walking and praying.

+++

At a messy, unkempt restaurant on Canal Street, Ben entered and waited at the doorway to be greeted. A waitress saw him, but immediately swallowed hard and turned away. Two rough-appearing men approached Ben from a back room. “Take me to him,” Ben commanded. Neither man said a word, though both attempted.

Ben followed them through the door they’d just passed through. Not a word yet said, they presented Ben to a man who stood from a table, a plate of fried eggs in front of him.

“Vincenzo Colosimo,” Ben said.

Diamond Jim squinted at Ben, furrowing his brow. Though Ben was tall, standing over six feet, Diamond Jim towered over him.

“No one knows that name,” he growled.

“God knows all about you, Vincenzo.”

Diamond Jim continued his glare.

Ben ignored the two goons behind him, no thought to the similar circumstance in Telluride with Sallinger’s ruffians. As Ben began to speak, no one noticed that Diamond Jim began to crane his neck upward. He was seeing Ben magnified double his own size. Diamond Jim heard Ben’s words as if spoken by a giant.

“Vincenzo, I have dealt with the bear and the lion. And I will deal with you. You claim to own a certain colt who is destined for greatness. You aim to break him, to ruin him before he is grown and ready for the track. This colt is not yours, Vincenzo. He belongs to me, says the Lord of Hosts.” Ben broke his gaze into Diamond Jim’s eyes, turned and strode out of the room, brushing aside both body guards.

On the way back home, Ben stopped at a store and bought two different sized baseball bats, several baseballs, and two dozen Brooklyn style ball caps. He also stopped at a diner for two sandwiches of delicious, though questionable content.

+++

“All right, boys,” Ben began the next day. Fifteen boys gathered in front of him on Tony’s ball field. “Who wants to play baseball, be on the team?”

Every hand went up. Ben introduced himself and learned the boys’ names.

“Here’s the deal,” Ben began. “Everybody who wants, gets on the team. It’s just like being on Jesus’ team. Everyone know who Jesus is?” Ben waited to make eye contact with each boy. “Tony, that box we brought? Pass out what’s inside to everybody.

“Now, when you put this cap on, it’s like when you are in Sunday School, or catechism. When you accept Jesus into your heart, you put on his uniform; you’re on his team. And no one can jerk you off his team, can they?” Ben waited for understanding. “When you are on Jesus’ team, he wants you to stay on his team. He will find a place for you. Just like we’ll find a place for you on our team.

“On this team,” Ben held up one of the caps, “Just like Jesus’ team, you might make an error. Who knows what an error is?”

“When you drop the ball,” one boy yelled out.

“That’s right,” Ben said. “Everybody makes an error once in a while. We all do. You learn from errors, but you don’t get kicked off the team. How about outs? Who knows what an out is?”

Cacophony filled the air. Ben grinned and nodded, figuring they got the concept.

“That’s right. We all get called out. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it’s not.”

“Like when the next batter hits into a double play,” an older boy yelled.

Ben, not fully versed in the game, recognized the boy as a leader. “What’s your name, son.”

“Jake.”

“Jake, how would you like to be the captain of the team, a captain that I can use to teach the younger ones?”

Jake grinned large.

“All right. Now for the next few minutes, we’re going to throw the ball to one another. Jake and … Tom, is it?” he asked pointing to another of the older boys, “Jake and Tom and others will walk around and show the younger ones how to throw and catch. Then some will take turns learning how to bat. And then we’ll have a little game. Sound good?”

Shouts of glee resounded.

No sooner had training begun, with as many groups formed as there were baseballs, when a carriage pulled up, one of Diamond Jim’s thugs the lone passenger. He climbed down and walked to Ben. “Rode all over town lookin’ for ya. Boss said give you this.” He handed Ben a leather wallet stuffed with bills.

Ben extracted a hundred-dollar bill and handed the wallet back. “Tell him much obliged. It’ll go to good use. Tell him where we are and that he should buy this parcel and donate it to the city.”

The man looked at Ben incredulously, and did as bid.

As did Diamond Jim.

At the next opportunity for the boys to practice, Ben gathered them, the initial fifteen and several more. “Boys, do you remember what I said about never getting kicked off the team?”

They all yelled that they did, even the new ones.

If there’s any bullying, I might have to be the disciplinarian. Do you know what that means?”

They all said “Yes,” even the ones uncertain.

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. Just like Jesus. And if you don’t do as I ask, or what one of the older ones who are helping coach asks, you might have to sit on the bench for a while. But I want you to understand that the only way you can get kicked off the team is to go completely out of control and give yourself over to the devil. Just …”

“Like Jesus!” they all shouted, meaning that in the most positive way.

“Now, where do we learn the rules of how to play baseball?”

“The rule book,” several answered.

“That’s right. And where do we find the rules of how to live?”

Finally, Tony answered. “The Bible?”

Ben grinned. “Let’s have a game!”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Mrs. Koska: landlord of Ben
Angelo: La Lama
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone√??√?¬¢??s Chicago Outfit

1 Sam. 17:34-37 (the bear and the lion)
John 3:16 (whoever believes in Him will have eternal life)
John 6:35-37I (will never drive away)
Heb. 12:4-11 (disciplines those he loves)


Chapter 26
One Man's Calling, Ch 26

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben started a boy’s baseball group. Ben confronted Diamond Jim about Angelo. Diamond Jim donated to the boys’ cause.

Considering Diamond Jim’s donation, as well as the likely source of some of the funds, Ben thought that he would pay one of the bordellos a visit, especially since rescuing women had been one of his callings. First, though, he had to consider how he might help those he managed to save. Chicago wasn’t quite the same as Colorado. Skipping supper that evening, Ben again fasted and prayed.

The next morning Ben and Tony took a horse-drawn taxi ride as far west on Harrison Street as the man was willing to take them. He promised to try to work that area and to be there for the return trip in six hours. At the livery stable where they were delivered, Ben rented a single horse carriage. He would have preferred a saddle horse, but for Tony being along. An hour-and-a-half at a pretty good trot later found them at a Methodist church in Lombard. Ben felt right, that it was far enough from the city.

The Methodist pastor was excited to help, exactly the type of mission the people of his church had been praying for. There was a farming family named Peck and a restauranter named Babcock. Between them, they could engage and protect all the women Ben could bring. And the Methodist membership would be delighted to help them in their restoration. In fact, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad made a stop at Babcock’s Grove.

It wasn’t difficult for Ben to find one of Diamond Jim’s bordellos. He could have asked Angelo, but thought better than to involve him in any capacity. Next, Ben studied the train schedules and learned that the depot he needed was number four of the seven in the city. The train he needed ran twice a day.

Ben surveyed the area for churches, visiting with the pastors. He also located several other of Diamond Jim’s bordellos. Within a few days, he had memorized railroad schedules and routes to depot number four from each of the bordellos. Each building had its own surreptitious exit challenges. He also had flyers printed relevant for each. Street corners affording him surveillance was the easy part.

“Wish you could, Tony, but I’m going to be doing some evening preaching every once in a while, and well, it’s just a little too …” Ben thought better than to challenge the boy’s bravado by saying dangerous. Instead, he said late at night. “What I need you to do,” Ben said, is to keep the schedule for me: White Stockings home games, baseball practice and games, and the Harrison Street Bridge days. And to make sure we have flyers. Also, I’ll be giving you a copy of the one I’ll be needing from time-to-time. The printer shop knows you, so they’ll take your orders. The downtown days are the only ones you can’t go with me. On those days, you can work on the ball field and help your mother.”

Tony was moderately dejected, but proud of his list of duties.

Ben paid for a visit to the bordello, resolving to find a better way to rescue the women. He selected a young woman that his spirit told him had been recently crying.

“Leave your clothes on,” he said, confusing the young woman, girl actually, now that he had a better look at her.

“Annie, do you want out of this life?”

Unable to speak without crying, as touched as she was by Ben’s compassion, she nodded as though to rattle her brains. Tears flowing, she first asked, “Where to? I have nowhere to go. If I don’t shape up soon, they’re going to give me drugs, they said.”

“Somewhere safe. Honey, we’re only on the second floor. I’m going out that window and you’ll have to drop to me. Can you do that?”

She hesitated, but finally agreed.

“Just drop bottom first, like you’re falling onto a bed. I promise I’ll catch you. Is there anything here you have to have, to take with you?”

She shook her head no.

Standing together in the alley under the window, Ben looked her square in the eyes. “Keep a hold of my hand and don’t let go. Don’t run, and don’t talk to anyone no matter what. Can you do that?”

She agreed, nodding.

“No one will be able to see you. No one at all. As long as you hold my hand. All right?” He dared not take a taxi, certain that some of them received kickbacks from Diamond Jim’s organization for steering customers his way.

Until standing at the ticket booth at depot number four, no one saw Annie.

“Annie, are there others who want out?”

“I’m not sure … Yeah, Caroline. She has red hair.”

Ben didn’t know what red hair had to do with anything, but figured that Annie thought he might need the information to help him pick her out.

Answering Ben’s questions, Annie said, “They don’t let us newer girls out. They bring us everything. And they guard us. Some of the ones that have been there a while sleep in the … rooms, well, you know. We sleep on the top floor in, like a dormitory.”

The next night, Caroline led him to a room at the front of the building on the third floor. Yes, she wanted to leave, as long as it wasn’t just to another bordello. No, she had nothing she needed to take with her.

“Can we get into one of the rooms toward the back, maybe on the second floor, but at least one with access to the fire escape?” Ben asked.

“We don’t dare use the stairs, we’ll be seen,” Caroline said. “But the middle room on the right has the fire escape. But the ladder at the bottom has been removed. I checked one day.”

While Ben thought, Caroline came up with the solution. “I’ll go to the bathroom at the end of the hall. When you hear the door shut loud, that’s when you can go to the middle room. But we’ll only have a few minutes before someone comes back to use it again.”

Ben nodded. Ben needed to help Caroline get out the window since it didn’t open quite as far as Annie’s had. And Caroline was considerably chunkier than Annie. Ben gave pause mentally, but didn’t hesitate physically. Catching her from the second-floor landing buckled his knees, but he gave God all the glory for the success. Employing the same tactic as with Annie, they made it onto the train. Caroline didn’t know for certain whether any of the other women would take the leap to escape. She thought a few might, but wasn’t sure. She did, though, tell Ben of a shop that two or three at a time were escorted to in order to buy clothing.

Ben reconnoitered the shop, finding a back door easily breached.

It was a few days later that he saw a man walk three women into the shop. He stayed on the walk out front. The man gave Ben the eye as he entered.

“You want to get away?” Ben whispered to a lady examining undergarments.

Her first thought was that he was attempting to pick her up. Ben’s eyes told her differently. “When?”

“Now.”

“Gladdy,” the woman yelled in a frantic whisper to another woman an aisle away. With her head and her hand, she motioned for the one named Gladdy to come to her. “Does Sybil want to get away with us?”

“Us?”

“Yeah. Him and me, and you.”

“I don’t … yeah, she does.”

“Get her. Quick,” the first one, who turned out to be Mary, demanded excitedly.

Outside, Ben at first wasn’t sure how a procession of three would work, whether all three would be invisible. But as he gave his instruction, a holy confidence overwhelmed him. “Don’t let go of each other, and don’t run, No matter what.”

They understood.

The shop was several blocks from depot number four, but no one complained. And no one saw anyone but Ben.

The next time Ben was preaching at a downtown street corner near a Diamond Jim bordello, Big Jim and his two henchmen appeared. The two assumed their positions behind Ben.

“I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ ‘bout who dun what,” Big Jim charged, invading Ben’s space and peering eye-to-eye as Ben held his balance on the soap box. “But some a’ my girls is missin’. An’ folks been seein’ a lotta you ‘round here.”

Ben turned on his gaze.

“Just so’s you know. We’re watchin’.”

Diamond Jim sauntered away, attempting, but failing to reach his desired posture.

Imagining the heartache of some of the women working for Diamond Jim, Ben plied his passion into preaching words of God’s love, determined not to scamper off by Diamond Jim’s influence. It wasn’t long before Ben saw a uniformed policeman walk around the back of the bordello. Ben followed.

“Hey! You can’t piss here.”

“Thank you, Officer. Just stretching my legs away from the crowd. Know what I mean? Standing on that box for hours at a time …”

“Sure. I couldn’t do it ten minutes.”

“This your new post?” Ben asked. “Kind of rotten duty, standing here in an alley all night.”

“Gettin’ paid for it… twice, if you get my drift.” The officer winked.

“I don’t think so, at least not tonight. You know who I am?” Ben considered kicking the officer where he would be disinclined to visit any woman for quite some time, maybe knocking him in the head to affect his memory, too. Instead, Ben cast such desires aside and silently prayed.

In answer to his prayer, the officer would discover physical intimacy impossible for the rest of his life.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit

Diamond Jim was a real Chicago character who owned bordellos, gambling halls and bars.


Chapter 27
One Man's Calling, ch 27

By Wayne Fowler

In the last chapter Ben rescued five Diamond Jim ladies after securing a place to hide them out in the country.

“Ben, wait up!” It was Angelo.

“My, my, don’t you dress up pretty,” Ben teased, causing Tony to snicker and Angelo to grimace and turn red. “What can I do for you, my friend?”

Angelo glanced toward Tony, figuring how he could speak in a code that wouldn’t be accidentally repeated in a bad way. “I don’t know what you did, but I wanted to thank you. There’s been no, you know, demands. None at all.

“And how’s it going? Great. It’s easy to figure. The ones that suck up to me are all on the take some way or other. And the ones who resent my promotion are the straight shooters. There aren’t many of them, but I’m tryin’ to win them over. I figure that if I lean on them for their expert … you know, their know-how …”

“Great idea,” Ben agreed.

“But I wanted to get you up to date on the woman-snatcher case. You read the papers?”

Ben shook his head.

“The city, meaning The Syndicate, is all up in a tizzy about some gang that is taking women and making them disappear.”

Ben thought it comical that that was exactly what he was doing.

“Anyway, there’s reports of a dozen already.”

Ben wondered whether someone else got the same idea. More likely, he thought, that some women, seeing how others broke free, simply escaped on their own.

“We’re on alert. The whole department is supposed to be on the lookout. You know what I mean?”

Ben nodded, thinking through all Angelo was telling him, and how it would affect his rescue operation. “Maybe more praying?”

Angelo, completely out of character, wrapped his arms around Ben, hugging him. “I want to thank you again, Ben. You are my true friend.”

“And you mine, Angelo. Just watch your back. Don’t let two get behind you.” Ben had a vision of Jones and Max from Colorado, and then thinking of Diamond Jim’s two goons.

After parting, Ben and Tony resumed their trek. “Ben,” Tony began. “Is that the same La Lama?”

Ben chuckled. “No, Tony. La Lama is dead. God made him a new man.”

Tony looked up to Ben in awe.

+++

Ben preached at a new street corner near the stockyards that day, gratified by his reception. Many people stopped to listen. The whole day, though, part of his mind was in prayer and meditation. His main concern was that he not get ahead of God, or tease his ego by rescuing women in the face of increased security. He did not want to take Diamond Jim as a personal challenge, determined to beat him in reckless abandon of following God’s lead.

But he couldn’t shake a certain ominous worry. There was a house of black girls in dire peril. He felt it. He felt the pain of their physical torment.

Ben splurged, buying Tony a plate lunch that included a hunk of cake, but limited himself to a cup of coffee and prayer while Tony ate like a starving hound.

Preaching that afternoon, Ben was consumed by the story of the Good Samaritan.

The next day Ben sent Tony to the ball field and took himself to the waterfront.

A taxi took him to a Diamond Jim bordello featuring black women. Ben positioned himself to be on watch, unnoticed. After a while he circled the block, the building having shared walls with the neighboring structures. Ben saw no guards, police or private. He figured that Diamond Jim only considered the whites at risk. Ben stayed into the evening when customers began to arrive, noting there were still no guards.

The next day, Ben toured the area for means to get to depot number four. Taxis were out of the question, as were city buses that quit running at sundown. Soon enough, he found a black man who directed him to a black-attended church.

“Whooie!” the preacher exclaimed. “I thought I was too late. Too late to be a part of the underground railroad, getting peoples to Canada. Whooie!” He slapped his thigh. “Yes suh. We c’n do it. Yes suh. Ah know … we got a blacksmith in ar’ very congregation. Wagon and driver be right ‘chere.” He pointed to the front of the church.

“Well Reverend. That’s great, and all. But I really don’t feel led to involve anyone who might be threatened later. I really do appreciate the offer, though. Do you think your man would allow me to drive the team? He could pick up his wagon and team at Harrison and 5th.”

“Believe he would, Brother. Would your women folk be needin’ anything? Food, clothes?”

Ben’s eyes lit up. “Both?”

“This building has a cellar. Bread and such and clothes will be here startin’ tamarra.”

Ben thanked him profusely, telling him how proud Sister Sojournor Truth would be.

“We do it for the Lord, Brother, for the Lord.”

+++

The next night at nearly midnight Ben entered the front door of the bordello. Led by God, Ben picked out the boss, a stout, black woman. Sitting on a high stool behind a bar.

“Would you like to leave this business?” Ben asked her, his eyes peering into her soul.

“Lawdy, I would. An’ take all these girls with me.”

“Any customers here?”

“Only you,” she said to Ben.

“Gather them up. Hurry. Tell everyone to put on their best walking shoes.

Within minutes Ben led eight women – the boss and seven working women – down the alley behind the building and then the two blocks to the A.M.E. church where food and clothing enough for all eight awaited. Less than a handful of minutes later Ben headed the team west intending to avoid the train, driving the women the entire way to the farm at Babcock’s Grove, returning the wagon after the team had been fed and rested.

“Whooie! The A.M.E. preacher exclaimed. “Heard all ‘bout it. Whooie! Praise the Lawd! You bes stay clear a’ this side a’ town, brother. Bes’ you stay clear.”

Ben smiled, thanking the pastor for his role in the affair.

+++

“We goin’ to the game today?” Tony asked as Ben came outside ready to start the day.

“Who’re we playin’ today?” Ben asked.

“New York Giants. They’ll prob’ly pitch Tim Keefe. He started out not so good this year, but lately hardly nobody can hit ‘im. I think he learned a new pitch, one that slides across the plate and umpires are lettin’ it go for strikes.”

Ben scrunched his face at Tony, amazed at his knowledge. “What should I preach today?” Ben asked, wanting to steer their conversation spiritual.

“I like how you compared baseball to life.” Tony’s voice grew excited. “You know, first base and second base and Satan and all that.”

Ben tussled Tony’s hair, laughing.

Too early for fans, but several ball park employees passing by, Ben began to preach. After a few moments, a frog in his throat stopped him for a drink of water.

“Excuse me,” a man in an expensive suit called, quickly stepping toward Ben as if afraid to miss the opportunity. “

“Yes Sir,” Ben answered.

“First, I want to give you this.” The man handed Ben a handful of dollar bills that turned out to be a hundred.

“Thank you. It’ll be put to good use.”

“I’m sure it will. Look …”

“Ben.”

“Ben. I’m Al Spalding.”

“The president of the White Stockings,” Ben interjected.

“Yes.”

“You were a pitcher!” Tony exclaimed to Ben and Al’s chagrin – until Tony added, “One year you were their only pitcher! You won 47 games!”

Spalding changed his demeanor. “For that young man …” He reached for his wallet, extracting a card. “You show that and you get into every game all year – for free!”

Tony took it, staring at it with wide eyes and opened mouth.

Both Al and Ben laughed.

“Look, Ben, if I could arrange it, would you preach in my church? I mean, it isn’t mine, but the church where I attend.”

Ben thought a minute, closing his eyes. “Mr. Spalding, I would be honored. But it isn’t my calling. But … you have a man right there …” Ben pointed toward the stadium. “Playing in your right field that God is calling right now.”

“Billy Sunday?” Spalding’s tone had a hint of incredulity.

“He’s listening for God’s call,” Ben said.

Al Spalding thanked him and went his way.

Ben tussled Tony’s hair. “Let’s preach,” he said to a grinning boy.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone√¢??s Chicago Outfit
Sojournor Truth: famous underground railroad heroine

Alfred Spalding: part owner and President of the Chicago White Stockings, founder of Spalding Sporting Goods


Chapter 28
One Man's Calling, Ch 28

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben rescued eight black women, the entire bordello full, from a Diamond Jim facility. Ben also met Al Spalding, an owner and the President of the White Stockings, and founder of Spalding Sporting Goods. Ben got a good report from Angelo regarding his police work, but a warning that everyone was watching for the person snatching women.

“Ben! What are you doing down here? Downtown? Come with me! Hurry!”

Somewhat reluctantly, but honoring, as well as humoring, Angelo, Ben went along. Though he did take the time to move his soap box to the edge of a building.

Angelo led Ben into the first alley they came to, across the next street and into a strip that separated the business district from lake Michigan. “Ben, I wanted to come to your place last night but I think I’m being watched. That’s why I was on Michigan Avenue. I was followed to lunch. I got mad and went out the back door and then made sure I lost him. Ben, there’s a contract out on you – five hundred bucks.”

“Well, all my time in the wild west I never had that!”

“It’s not funny, Ben. They have a description. It isn’t very good, but someone could make a guess. And there aren’t that many street preachers.”

“Diamond Jim’s upset, is he?”

Angelo looked at his friend and laughed. “What I want to know. I know your powers can stop a knife. But can they stop a bullet?” Angelo stared into Ben’s eyes.

“No, I can’t say it does, since I was shot out in Colorado. Angelo, all I can say is that I have a calling to follow God’s leading … one day at a time.”

“Can’t you follow him, I don’t know, someplace where Diamond Jim ain’t?”

Ben smiled at his friend.

“He really hated losing an entire house full, didn’t he?”

Angelo laughed like he'd been tickled. Finally settling, he turned serious. “Ben, there are guards inside and outside of every bordello. All the taxi drivers know they’ll get a large tip for reporting when they see you out preaching. You’re wanted by the police, too. I think my captain is all right, but the Commissioner is dirty. He’s been around to all the precincts saying he wants you caught. Even the coppers are eligible for the reward.”

“There’s an idea. You take me in and get the reward. And I’ll prea…”

Angelo interrupted him. “You won’t leave a cell alive, Ben. Someone will hang you inside the jail cell.”

Succumbing to Angelo’s concern, Ben grew contrite. “Well, we wouldn’t want that. And I don’t exactly see that as God’s plan; though it might be, mind ya,” he was quick to add. “Maybe I’ll mosey down the beach a bit and do some praying. Then maybe preach to some cattle and hogs at the Back of the Yards.”

“Thank you, Ben. I’ll get you a new soap box this evening.”

“Oh, don’t bother with that. I have a spare.” Ben’s smile and eye twinkle was infectious, causing Angelo to snort and chuckle.

+++

“What’re you so grim about, Tony?” Ben asked that next morning, meeting Tony in the street halfway between the homes.

Tony kicked at the dirt. After a silent moment, he blurted out, “You don’t take me half the time anymore, and school starts next week and …”

Ben saved him from his voice breaking into a cry.

“Tony, I don’t know what I would have done without you this summer. I really don’t. And neither one of us will ever know how many people we’ve influenced for the Lord. But I know in my heart that we have.

“Some of my work has been dangerous. That’s all I can say. And some of it has kept me out late into the night. You know that.”

Tony nodded.

Striking a new thought, Ben asked, “Does your school have counselors?”

“What’s that?”

“Someone to talk to kids who are troubled, before they actually get into trouble?”

“The principal does all that … with a paddle.” He looked at Ben through his brow, grinning.

“Tasted that paddle, have you, Tony?”

“A time or two,” he confessed.

Ben nodded. “Well, maybe he’d like to not have to do so much paddling. And since we learned so much about baseball, maybe they’d let me coach a team after school. You could be my assistant. I’m thinking I could preach all morning, go to the school, maybe two or three schools, in the afternoon, and then preach at Lakefront Park.”

“So I still have a job?” Tony asked, his glee obvious.

“Course you do. We’ll have to negotiate your part time status, but I would never fire you. I need you.”

The two headed for the Harrison Street Bridge, Tony considerably taller than he’d been walking from his house to Ben’s, his self-esteem and confidenced having grown.

+++

 Ben waited until the first day of school, his destination The Emporium Saloon on State Street, a gambling joint run by John Mushmouth Johnson. Johnson was a kingpin of Chicago crime. God had told Ben that his enemies were not large enough.

“What’s that yellin’ outside,” Johnson asked his assistant. The assistant jumped up from the table to find out.

 “Street preacher,” the assistant named Tally said. "I stayed long enough to hear what he was after. Just peace and love and all that.”

“Humph. He ain’t the same one Diamond Jim wants dead, is he?”

“Could be, John. Looks like he could be.”

“Humph. He bothered any a’ Jim’s gamblin’ joints?”

“No, John. Only the bordellos.”

“Any of ours?”

“None reported any problems.”

“Well, when he takes a break, bring him in here.”

Tally got back up.

“Hey! Ask him nicely.”

“Sure John.”

+++

“Heard you upset Diamond Jim some,” Johnson said, not bothering to make acquaintance.

Ben said nothing.

“What? You got nothin’ ta say?”

“God hasn’t given me anything to say,” Ben replied. He’d yet to set his gaze.

“Diamond Jim got ahead of hisself. He don’t make contracts.”

Ben understood that this was the man who determined life and death in Chicago.

“That ain’t to say you make it home alive, though. Takes time for word to get around, you understand.”

Ben offered a minute nod.

“Ain’t to say, too, you don’t have an accident, fall off a roof, if you get my drift. Cost a’ workin’ yer flappers. Guess you know that, bein’ a street preacher.” The street preacher he spat as he might gutter rat.

“Why’d you pick my corner, Preacher?”

“Everybody on your corner already saved?” Ben asked. “You?” Finally, Ben locked his eyes on John Mushmouth Johnson’s.

“Everybody out! Gimme some privacy!”

Their eyes remained locked as the room cleared.

“I was properly dunked in a horse trough,” Johnson declared, blinking, but not wiping the tear that welled in his eyes.

“You died to yourself, burying the old man, or boy, I should say, and rose up a new creature in Christ Jesus? You know it takes blood to wash away sins, not water, right?”

After a moment, John quickly smeared at his eyes before tears fell down his cheeks. “What do you want with my town?”

“I want every soul I see to find Jesus, and then to make their way to heaven, John. How about you?”

John didn’t know whether Ben was asking if he was going to heaven, or what he wanted with Chicago. “I know all about the scam, Preacher. My old man marched me to that horse trough and ordered the preacher to baptize me right then, ahead of a line of people at my mother’s church, Bethesda Baptist.” John let out a nervous laugh.

“We walked away from there, me drippin’ wet. Jake Adams had followed us to the church, clubbed my pa a good one with a hick’ry hunk. Said he was takin’ back the horse that my pa never paid fer. My pa beat him near to death. The man wasn’t never right again. So much fer turnin’ the other cheek, hey Preacher?”

Ben took a moment to reply. “Where I was before coming to your town, your father would be swinging from a rope. And that preacher should have listened to God. He would have declined to dunk you.

“To answer your unasked question, I have no interest in your gambling houses, or how Chicago is administrated. God has not called me to such. But let me ask you a business question.”

John perked himself up.

“Why would a good manager wish to employ a woman of pleasure who is not pleased to provide her best, but indeed, is repulsed and disdainful of her customers?”

John picked up a half-smoked cigar from a bowl, taking his time to light it.

“Doesn’t sound like good business sense, does it, Preacher?”

Ben remained silent, staring at John.

“You might aim that part of your ministry at the alleys where the homeless sleep,” John said, blowing a cloud of foul smoke at Ben.

Ben rose and left without waiting to be dismissed, clearly understanding that the women he would rescue would be set free, booted out without a cent. Immediately, God showed Ben a vision of a homeless shelter that would offer a cot, a meal, and help getting a job. As he studied the vision, he saw a group of churches financing the project. He simply needed to find the church that would operate it. Home missionaries, Ben imagined.

As for John, Ben was all too familiar with uncommitted Christians, those who trusted in a one time ritual to be a lifetime pass for wrongness, those who knew the Christian language enough to respond to ministers, walking away unchanged in their hearts.

+++

“There’s a new movement," Ben said to the Methodist minister. "Started in London several years ago. Taking off like wildfire. Booth, his name is, Booth, William Booth.” The pastor of the Methodist Church on Washington Street bought in completely. “He calls it the Salvation Army. I’ll organize and recruit from the city churches, the Catholics will help. We’ll sweep the alleys looking especially for women recently expelled from bordellos."

Ben went home satisfied in his soul.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
John Mushmouth Johnson: kingpin of Chicago, African-American, owner of gambling joints, bars, and bordellos (nickname earned by his extreme foul language)


Chapter 29
One Man's Calling, Ch 29

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben learned that there was a contract out on his life, and then met the kingpin crime boss of Chicago.

“Hamburger sandwich? What’s that?” Ben asked the Lutheran pastor who was waiting for Ben to step down from his box at the Harrison Street Bridge.

“Come on. I’ll show you. On the way to the diner, the pastor, Michael Winslow, explained. “It’s a meat patty that’s already prepared. And they cook it while you wait. Only takes a minute. Then they put whatever you want on it. You can eat it walking down the walk. Only costs a nickel.”

“Fast food, huh?” Ben asked.

Once seated, Michael got down to business. “Ben, it’s about the people you send my way. They, well …”

Ben allowed the man time to put his thought together.

“They just don’t stay. Two, maybe three Sundays at most. Not one of the dozens … and dozens who came in.”

Ben was gratified that his ministry had that impact. God gave him nothing to say, so he didn’t.

“They sit there and listen, all right. No trouble, or anything, but then they’re gone. I don’t know what to do with them.

“What does God say when you pray about it?” Ben asked.

Michael didn’t respond.

“Let’s pray now. Here, take my hand.” Ben offered his hand on the restaurant table. Taking it as if about to touch a snake, Michael flinched at the touch. Ben gripped him as if holding on for dear life. “You start us off,” Ben said.

Stammering, Michael knew not to repeat one of his liturgical prayers, but didn’t have a clue how to proceed.

“Pastor Mike, let’s go to your church and you can sell me another of these … hamburger sandwiches.”

Michael just looked at him.

“Or maybe you could sell me a nice, saddle-broke gelding.”

After a moment Michael caught on. “I can’t sell what I don’t have.” He swallowed hard, pride a difficult chew.

“I don’t mean to be cruel, Michael, but why did you choose the ministry?”

“Hunh. I’m the eighth of eight. My oldest brother was heir to the farm. The next two apprenticed out. My next older brother, a cow kicked him in the head. He finally died when my mother stopped feeding him. The other one joined the Army. Haven’t heard from him in years. There were no others to enter the clergy, so that left me. See, every family needs at least one to become a pastor or priest, sort of as a guarantor for the family, understand?”

Ben nodded, a sadness covering his face. “Let’s walk,” Ben said, rising from the table, leaving a quarter for their meals. “I do my best praying while walking.”

A block down the street, Ben asked, “Michael, do you believe what you preach?”

A little too quickly, he responded. “Sure. I believe in God and that Jesus was his son.”

“And …”

“And the fall of man and sanctification and everything in between. Lutherans have a seminary.”

“Do you love your congregation, Michael?” Do you love people? Do you love Jesus?”

Instantly, Michael burst out bawling, sobbing, “I don’t even love myself!” he managed.

“Do you want to?”

Michael’s expression said yes.

“Let’s kneel. Right here, Michael. We don’t need to worry about anyone else,” Ben added as people gave them wide birth.

“Jesus,” Ben began, “please forgive us our sins of apathy and ambivalence.”

Ben laid his hand on Michael’s head. Immediately Michael began in a near shout, “Oh, oh, oh. Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Nearly incoherent, Michael continued with expressions of sorrow mixed with gratitude and praise.  

“Fill him with your Holy Spirit, Father,” Again Ben touched Michael’s head. Michael fell over sideways as if dead.

Ben smiled at the passers-by, telling them that all was well. Michael was just praying.

+++

Mrs. Koska had a message to give Ben. She couldn’t wait for Ben to come down to breakfast. Knocking on his door as early as she felt comfortable, Ben answered, fearing the house was on fire. “You are to be at your A.M.E church at six, Ben. Your policeman gave me the message last night after you went to bed. He begged me to let you have your rest.”

Ben thanked her, saying that he would have but a piece of bread and a quick cup of coffee for breakfast and then be about his day.

Ben was there just ahead of Angelo. Seeing him approach, Ben ducked into the cellar, figuring Angelo didn’t wish to be seen talking to him. Angelo was there with Ben a moment later.

“Ben, I’m glad you made it. The good news is that the bounty for your head cancelled. The bad news is that Diamond Jim still wants your … butt. His contract of five hundred dollars is just for your capture so he can have you beaten.

“The worse news, though, is Mushmouth. He wants you worse than Big Jim does. Word is, he had a terrifying dream about you. If you are killed horrible things will happen to him. So he put a thousand dollars for you to be captured and brought to him. I don’t know how true it is, but I heard he wants to break your legs and throw you into a west-bound cattle car.”

Ben thought of the irony. “Thank you, my friend. It sounds like another day of fasting and prayer. And right here is as good a place as any.”

“Ben, ask God if maybe Detroit, or Philadelphia could use a good street preacher?”

Ben smiled and bid Angelo to go, again thanking him.

+++

“Mr. Persons, I cherish the moment you set foot on our grounds.” The principal of Tony’s school welcomed Ben with open arms, ecstatic over the concept of a ‘counselor’. “Like Jesus promised a counselor,” he exclaimed. “Monday and Tuesday afternoons, is it? Fabulous! And a baseball club, too. Oh, and I want to tell you, Tony is like a different person. His attitude toward others is nothing less than, than Christ-like!”

Ben didn’t ask, but assumed the man had seen Tony helping him preach on street corners.

“This was first a Presbyterian school. They gave it to the city when public schools started, oh, decades ago.

“I was you, I’d pass on the Roosevelt Road school. He’s, well, let’s just say I think you’ll be more favorably received at the school on Racine.”

At that, Ben was on his way to a call to preach at a particular corner, confident that God had someone there who needed to hear his word.

 

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Michael Winslow: local Lutheran pastor
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Mrs. Koska: landlord of Ben
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
John Mushmouth Johnson: kingpin of Chicago, owner of gambling joints, bars, and bordellos


Chapter 30
One Man's Calling, Ch 30

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben arranged to be a counselor and baseball preacher at Tony’s school and possibly another. Angelo advised him that the contract on his life had been cancelled, but that both Diamond Jim and John Mushmouth Johnson wanted him beaten – horribly. Also in the last part, Ben counseled and prayed with a pastor who was ministering without a call.

Worse than anything else. Ben heard rumors that other street preachers were moving on, abandoning Chicago for fear of their lives. Ben was heartbroken that his determination to rescue women, defying the risks, might have spilled over to the other preachers being threatened. He prayed for courage for them, assured that those with God’s call would persevere, that only those who loved the sound of their own voice and the love of money would flee.

+++

Angelo sent a trusted officer to Ben’s home, telling the officer to wait for Ben’s return should he be away. Ben was at home.

“Lieutenant Angelo asked me to bring you to the office, Mr. Persons. He said to tell you it would be safe.”

Ben complied, glad that there was a carriage since he felt worn out. They didn’t speak the whole way.

Inside Angelo’s office awaited a surprise sitting in a chair opposite Angelo – Jones from Creede. He stood and gaped at Ben. Presently he wrote on a slate that hung around his neck: “NOT DEAD.”

“No, Jones. I’m not dead. I was, but not now.”

Both Jones and Angelo looked at him wide-eyed. Angelo thought about the knife incident of their first meeting.

“Long story,” Ben said sheepishly.

Jones gestured that he would hear it as Angelo vocalized the same.

Ben told it, his near-death experience and direction from God.

Both men nodded understanding.

Jones smiled large and wrote “HAPY” on his chalk board after wiping it with the heel of his hand.

“All I know, Ben, is that an officer brought Jones in. When Jones, here, got to someone who knew who Ben Persons was, me finally, he handed me this letter.” Angelo handed Ben a sealed envelope.

Ben opened it and began reading. When he finished reading the letter from Livvy, he handed it to Angelo, indicating he could read it, as well.

“Livvy’s a dear, dear friend in Creede, Colorado,” Ben said.

The letter read: Dearest Ben, we’ve been praying for you ever since you left, but never as much as these past several days. The burden we’ve all felt has been almost more than we can bear. When Jones came to William and I and all he could do was to mouth your name, we knew. Jones has been working at the livery with my father, and he will be missed. But whatever it is, we know that you need him. He knows that he can return to us any time.

Ben, please be careful, but we know without doubt that you are in God’s hands and are willing to follow His call, whatever it is.

We all love you more than words can tell.

God bless you and may the Lord be with you.

Livvy

Tears welled in Angelo’s eyes. He wiped them away unashamedly. He handed the letter back to Ben. “Whew!” His voice cracked even in the single syllable.

“Yeah,” Ben agreed.

+++

His box set up in front of The Emporium, Ben mounted, instructing Jones not allow anyone to surprise him from behind. Many knew who he was, but all were terrified of the aura, an invisible shield around Ben. He began preaching his first fire and brimstone message: “You brood of vipers! You vile heathens! You rob from the widows and orphans and trample the oppressed. Woe to you, you slanderers, and thieves, and adulterers.” Ben’s voice strengthened and rose in volume. Mushmouth did not have to ask what it was Ben was preaching.

“How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Passers-by hurried along their way, but to a person, somehow understood that the preaching was directed to souls inside the saloon.

Ben perfectly quoted Matthew chapter 25 verses 41 through 46 which damned the goats Jesus separated for their failures, which included failure to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, feed and house the impoverished, and visit the poor and imprisoned.

As Ben preached, Jones kept busy defending Ben’s back as several in Mushmouth’s employ attempted to grab him, too terrified of Ben’s foment to approach from his front. On two separate occasions Jones disarmed men who would have backshot Ben.

Jones was breathing heavily – in a lather, but excited to be of assistance to his friend. He felt squarely in the center of God’s will, and invincible. He saw the two large men exit The Emporium, one turning to the left and the other to the right. He saw that they’d both crossed over to his side of the street a half block away, each turning back to him and Ben. Jones asked God for strength and wisdom.

Ben saw the two as well, but continued preaching, repeating the theme.

As the two thugs neared Jones, both veered to behind him. Jones sensed their timing. Turning to face them, Jones knelt down into a squat. With a burst of speed and strength, Jones connected with upper-cuts to both of them, breaking jaws and teeth, and sending both of them flying backward to crash to the walkway. People dove out of their way, letting them crash.

Ben continued to shout his message.

Seeing Mushmouth, himself, in the doorway to his saloon, tepidly waving to Ben, Ben quoted Psalms chapter 105 verse 15: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”

Mushmouth nodded.

“Thank you, Jones. And God thanks you. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Jones nodded.

Inside The Emporium, an employee directed Ben to a back room where Mushmouth waited.

“What do I have to do?” Mushmouth asked, conceding defeat.

Ben began to gaze into his eyes, but Mushmouth quickly looked away.

Ben thought a moment

“No woman is to be held against her will.”

“Already done,” Mushmouth replied. “What else?”

“There’s a chapter of the Salvation Army being organized. They’ll need funding. And any other group that is helping the poor.”

Mushmouth nodded.

Ben felt a check in his spirit against over-reaching his call, demanding what could not be sustained.

“And go back to Bethesda Baptist and find an altar. Get saved, John. For the sake of your soul. There’s no pit too deep God can’t pull you from.”

Mushmouth’s appearance was as if every sinew and bone lost its rigidity, he slumped as if shrunken.

Ben fetched his soapbox and bid farewell to Jones, who then headed toward the depot that would take him to Denver and back to Creede.

“Hug everyone for me, Jones. Tell them that I love them. Tell them how greatly you helped me.” Sensing Jones’ sadness, Ben added, “I know that you would stay with me, but I feel God’s calling moving me on. Thank you, Jones. I’ll never forget you. Oh, and tell everyone to keep praying for me.” Ben smiled.

+++

It took a couple weeks to set up Pastor Michael Winslow as the school counselor. He was more than eager, a newfound love of people flooding his soul.

Tony was saddened by the news of Ben’s leaving, as was Mrs. Koska

Ben was excited to be about his calling. “I think there are a whole bunch of people need saved in San Francisco before something bad happens,” he said, hugging Tony good-bye.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Jones: one of Salinger's thugs, converted by Ben, rendered mute by a gunshot to his head, became a devoted helper
Mrs. Koska: landlord of Ben
John Mushmouth Johnson: kingpin of Chicago, owner of gambling joints, bars, and bordellos

Matthew 23 (Woe to you...)
Matthew 25: 41-46 (promise of eternal damnation for those outside God's will - paraphrased)
1 Chron. 16:19-22 (don't touch God's anointed)
Psalms 105: 12-15 (don't touch God's anointed)
Acts 26:28 NKJV You almost persuaded me to become a Christian. (one of the saddest verses in all of the Bible)

A devastating earthquake hit San Francisco in 1906.


Chapter 31
One Man's Calling, Ch 31

By Wayne Fowler

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Splurging, Ben purchased a ticket to San Francisco that included a sleeping bunk, but since it was still daylight, he was comfortably seated in a passenger car waiting for the train’s departure, a matter of minutes away. Suddenly his hackles raised, his senses alerted. Two large men approached from the head of his car. They did not appear to be looking for seats. Turning his head, Ben saw two more of similar nature at the back of the car. What would take place in the next minute was obvious. Ben’s checked luggage would be traveling to California without him.

“Let’s go, Preacher,” the nearest man demanded, showing Ben a small pistol, one a Colorado tough guy would be embarrassed to own. “Unless you want us to carry you outta here and risk some a’ these fine folks getting’ shot up too.”

Ben accompanied them off the train and to a waiting carriage where two of them climbed in with him, the pistol more blatantly displayed.

The man to Ben’s left sported shiners that had begun to yellow. He appeared to be pained. Ben deduced that he might have been one of Jones’ subjects. Without warning he spun in his seat, crashing a balled fist into Ben’s solar plexus, knocking every bit of wind from his lings. Paralyzed, Ben couldn’t draw breath for so long he felt himself dying, fading away. He wondered if he would get to see Jesus this time.

Finally, with a loud gasp, he sucked in air that, surprisingly, felt nearly as painful coming in as it had going out. His eyes watering, he felt his face flush. Trying to sit up straight, the man to his right whacked him in the forehead with his elbow. Both men looked to each other grinning. Ben didn’t know if he’d been unconscious seconds, or minutes, certainly not hours since they surely didn’t have far to go, the train depot being near enough to either Diamond Jim or Mushmouth. Curious, but not curious enough to ask, Ben waited to see who his captor was. Ben was glad he’d sent Jones on ahead. They certainly would have killed him immediately.

The slugger mumbled something to the elbow-er. Ben guessed he had a problem with his jaw.

“Oh, yeah.” The elbow-er turned and blindfolded Ben, obviously having forgotten to do it earlier. The hood smelled like a feed bag. Once out of the carriage, they tied Ben’s hands behind his back and then led him down a dank stairway into a basement. Ben thought it felt more like a basement than an earthen cellar. He had the feeling that he’d been in a city alley and or below a city building. The noises were muted and smells confused with the strong winds of that day.

“Take off his hood and gag him!” The man descending the stairwell was Diamond Jim. “I don’t want him callin’ God in on this.”

Ben tried not to shake his head at the stupidity of the words.

After being slammed into a chair, Ben couldn’t help but grin at the idiocy. For his imprudence, he received an open-hand slap to the side of his face. Ben casually and deliberately turned his other cheek. Another slap, this one harder, stinging. He couldn’t make himself smile.

Filthy fingers pried his mouth open, a rag jammed in and tied behind his head.

“Now, we can talk,” Diamond Jim said, pulling a chair up to face Ben. “Hit ‘im again,” Jim commanded to one of his toughs. ‘I don’t think I have his full attention yet.”

This time it was a fist. Ben thought his nose might have broken. Diamond Jim was right. He now had Ben’s full attention.

“You might’ve noticed, I’m not Mushmouth. I’ve got a brain. And I’ve heard that horse trough story before. So don’t be thinkin’ you can yank no heart strings around here.

“Tie ‘im some more, boys, I see too much wigglin’.”

Diamond Jim got up and climbed the stairs out of the basement. Once tied tighter one of the toughs clubbed Ben from behind. Ben slumped over, believing feigning unconsciousness more comfortable than being hit again.

+++

“Tony! What’re you doin’ here? Shouldn’t you be in school?” Angelo studied Tony’s face, concerned about the boy’s frantic desperation.

“Angelo, I, I don’t know what to call you in your uniform … Captain Angelo?”

Angelo laughed. “I’m only a lieutenant, but Angelo is fine. What can I do for you? Are you in trouble? I can’t keep you from being paddled, you know.”

Tony grinned. “No, it’s Ben!”

“Ben? He’s probably clear through Iowa by now.”

“No! He’s here. In a cellar, I think.”

“In a cellar?”

“I had a dream, and …”

“Ahhh.”

“No, it’s not like that.” Tony exclaimed. “I know what you’re thinking, that I’m a lonely kid who misses his friend and all the action and wants … I don’t know.

“No. Ben showed me what he does when he has worries. And well, Mom had my favorite supper last night, but I thought I should skip supper and go to my room to, you know, pray. I mean, I didn’t pray like Ben does, but, I … anyway. Later when I was asleep, I saw Ben hauled off his train and put in a cellar. He was tied up and beat up. You gotta do something, Angelo.”

Angelo did not dismiss Tony’s words.

Angelo pulled a sheet of paper from his desk drawer, took a quill and wrote a note to Tony’s principal, asking that Tony be excused for his absence that morning. Signing it, he handed it to Tony promising that he would do all he could. “Get on to school, now, Tony. And Tony … thank you.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Jones: one of Salinger's thugs, converted by Ben, rendered mute by a gunshot to his head, became a devoted helper
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
John 'Mushmouth' Johnson: kingpin of Chicago, owner of gambling joints, bars, and bordellos


Chapter 32
One Man's Calling, Ch 32

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Diamond Jim kidnapped Ben from his train and imprisoned him in a basement in the city. Tony dreamed the scene and reported it to Angelo, who accepted the possibility.

Angelo knocked and entered his Captain’s office, closing the door behind him. He was about to risk it all. The captain, Richard Costello, looked up, surprise on his face.

“Lieutenant.”

“Captain, if I could have a minute of your time?”

The captain nodded, putting down his pen.

“Have you heard anything about a street preacher named Ben Persons?”
“You mean your friend? The one responsible for those hooker abductions?” the captain’s gaze was penetrating. “Nothing goes on around here I don’t know about. They don’t pay me to just hold this chair down.

“Look La Lama.” The captain glared at Angelo. “Yeah, I know all about you. Who do you think had to listen to the Commissioner order you promoted? You think I don’t know it came from Diamond Jim? Diamond Jim wanted you promoted, and guess what? I’ve been watchin’, and I haven’t seen any funny business … yet. But that don’t mean much. Sure, I expected this and that. Expected you to be all of a sudden throwin’ money around like you just got rich. Nothin’. All right. Maybe you’re smart, bankin’ your dough. Maybe you’re just bidin’ your time, waitin’ to pay Diamond Jim back. I don’t know. So what is it. La Lama?”

Angelo swallowed hard, and then pinched his eyes into lasers. “What you heard, and what you know is right. Up to where you expected me to be Diamond Jim’s man. I had no hand in my promotion. Ben Persons changed me. I’m not La Lama any more. I went to him, Ben, when I was promoted. He said if I took it, Diamond Jim would think he owned me. If I refused, he would kill me.

“Ben, my preacher friend, went to see Diamond Jim. I learned that after. Nobody asked to do nothing. If I was asked, I would come to you, since I believe you are on the up-and-up.” Angelo settled back in his seat.

After a moment, the captain said, “Maybe I’ve been a bit hasty. You can understand why. This Ben changed you from La Lama. But Diamond Jim thinks you are still a thug. Preacher Ben goes to Diamond Jim and what? Tells him to lay off you, or something?”

Angelo nodded.

"Hmmm. You’ve done good work. Worked hard to learn the law. I’ve seen that much. Now, what is it about your preacher? Now.”

“I believe he’s been abducted and someone has him here in town.” Angelo did not say that his information came from a twelve-year-old’s dream.

The captain drew his hands up to his chin, contemplating. Without saying anything, he got up and strode to his door. Opening it, he yelled for an officer named Dirkowitz, calling him Dirk. No one responded.

“Go look up your snitches. I’ll have Dirk here by ten. You meet us at The Tap.” The Tap was a bar owned by a retired cop, frequented by policemen. “There’s no keeping our meeting secret, but at least there we won’t be overheard.”

Angelo nodded at Captain Costello with a growing degree of respect.

+++

“I don’t know if your preacher friend is captive, or not,” Captain Costello told Angelo and Officer Dirk. “But he chose a rough mission field. He would be safer in Africa preachin’ to a buncha cannibals. Even if we find he’s here, we might not be able to save his hide. He certainly must have known what he was doin’, takin’ those hookers. Who he was makin’ mad. But if you can find where he is, we’ll make a full-scale rescue. Only thing, it’s just the two of you. Don’t involve anyone else, and don’t let your snitches go tell any other cop what you’re up to. It’ll cost that preacher his life.”

Costello left Angelo and Dirk to finish their coffee and get acquainted.

“The lowest rookie makes lieutenant in less than a month!” Dirk looked at Angelo for the story. Angelo told it to him from the start, from La Lama trying to gut Ben Persons. Dirk nodded through the telling.

Finished with the story, Dirk extended his hand. “You take a free doughnut when it’s offered, but find an excuse to take a pass on loot. Or other favors without directly offending anybody. Don’t let yourself get cornered. You help protect me; I’ll help protect you.”

Angelo offered his hand for another shake.

“Who knows,” Dirk said, smiling. “If you live long enough, you have time to make captain and promote me to lieutenant, or at least detective.”

Angelo laughed with him.

+++

Ben had been left alone for what he considered an hour, at least. His nose quit bleeding and his cheeks stopped burning. He was grateful not to be blindfolded. The large area was dark, but with acclimated eyes, he could see well enough. He was tied to the wooded shaker chair back and legs with simple cotton rope, but tightly enough that he couldn’t wriggle free.

+++

It wasn’t much, but having nowhere else to start, Angelo followed up on a tip that Diamond Jim was at a particular gambling site that he owned. That, in and of itself, was not unusual, he often visited various of his enterprises.

Angelo felt to go inside and pay it a visit, despite the certainty that Diamond Jim would not take his brand of involvement kindly and would mark him as a problem to be dealt with.

Alone, Angelo entered the premises. Gambling was going on, but Angelo, in the civilian suit that he’d changed into after Tony’s visit, presented no threat. He saw Diamond Jim’s tall, barrel-chested enforcer enter a back room. His hand on his revolver, Angelo followed.

“So, this is what you choose, is it, La Lama?” Diamond Jim asked. “You think the clothes makes the man? The badge makes the man?”
“Where is he?” Angelo asked.

“Who, the Pope? He’s in Rome, last I heard.”

The thug laughed.

“You gonna pull that pistol, or just play with it?” Jim asked, staring at Angelo’s hand as he slowly reached toward his own.

Angelo drew it. “Stop there, Jim. Where is he?”

Despite the muffled gambling noises, they all three clearly heard the crashing sound from beneath their feet.

In the basement directly below then, Ben stood up and dropped flat onto his back, shattering the chair and raising a distinct knot on the back of his head that he would dearly like to rub. Ben shook himself in an effort to get loose enough to move. The knots still tied, Ben managed to get his arms in front of himself at least.

“You just signed your death warrant,” Diamond Jim stated matter-of-factly, oblivious to Ben's escaping below his feet.

“Maybe so. Maybe so. But whatever that noise was, we’ll just stay up here a few minutes. I won’t take your guns, but I’ll shoot you both if either of you move toward one.”

In the basement, it took quite a bit of doing, but even with his arms bound to sticks that were formerly chair arms, and the chair legs themselves still tied to his own legs, Ben managed to crawl out through the coal chute, scraping and clawing his way. At the top, Ben had to turn himself around in order to kick out the wooden slats that had the opening boarded up. Leaning nearly upside down in the chute, he barely had the force to get them loose. Walking down the alley, he was a veritable clown show, waddling and hopping.

Angelo managed to maintain control of the stalemate for a solid twenty minutes, though he didn’t think he could stand another second of Diamond Jim’s rancorous threats.

“I’m leaving now,” Angelo finally said. “I don’t want to shoot anybody, but I will if this door opens before I’m out of the building.” Angelo carefully eased out after a quick glance to see whether anyone stood on the outside of the door. In an act of subterfuge, Angelo charged for a back door just as Diamond Jim’s bullets punched through the office door. Outside, had he looked left instead of simply sprinting to the right, he would have seen Ben hobbling down the alley.

Ben made it all the way to the street before finding someone willing to untie him. From there, he walked to a horse-drawn bus, eager to be anywhere away from that block.

+++

Finally, Ben made it to Pastor Brown at the A.M.E. church.

“Whooie! Yes suh. We can hide you. We shore can. Get you a doctor for that nose, too.”

Two hours later, well fed, his nose straightened, and a cot set up inside the church proper, Ben found the altar a good, obviously well-used, place to pray. He dared not expose his friends in the old neighborhood to the thuggery that would certainly follow him had he gone that direction.

Ben found a soap box and fitted backpack straps. Using a combination of alleys, business back doors, and even rooftops, he managed to relocate his two and three minute sermonettes all over the business district, preaching God’s love. He was fairly certain that God’s hand of protection was over him as he noticed men that were most certainly on Diamond Jim’s payroll looking right through him. The next day he did the same thing. Keeping his route random, Ben foiled every attempt to corral him. He was grateful that Alexander Bell’s invention of a dozen years past had only just begun to be installed in Chicago. He certainly couldn’t outrun telephone wires.

Diamond Jim was frantic, panicky in his venomous ire. He had every man he owned in search of Ben. Every contact was under orders to report his whereabouts. As well, every policeman was tasked with his apprehension. Angelo and Dirk, with opposing agenda, determined to get him onto the first train to anywhere.

Ben avoided the A.M.E. church the next night but found shelter in Michael Winslow’s Lutheran Church, showing up drenching wet from a sudden cloudburst. Food, clothing, and a few hours’ sleep, and Ben was off again before sunrise, preaching on the move all over the city proper.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Tony: a twelve-year-old boy, Ben's helper
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Richard Costello: police captain
Dirkowitz (Dirk): good policeman
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
John (Mushmouth) Johnson: kingpin of Chicago, owner of gambling joints, bars, and bordellos
Michael Winslow: a Lutheran pastor that Ben helped, showing him the way


Chapter 33
One Man's Calling, Ch. 33

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben escaped from Diamond Jim to the A.M.E. church, though he was unaware of the help. Ben began street preaching all around Diamond Jim’s territory. Angelo was accepted by his captain and partnered with a good cop. Diamond Jim frantically sought Ben.

*****

“Good morning, Angelo,” a voice said from the shadows.

“Who’re … Ben? Is that you?”

Ben stepped toward his friend. “And who else? And who else dressed in a suit would walk into town at first light?”

The two hugged one another.

“You were in the basement of the Lucky Seven, weren’t you?”

“If that was the name of it, yes.”

“I thought so. I heard a crash, and felt you.”

Ben smiled. “You felt the Holy Spirit, my friend, the Holy Spirit.”

“You’re preaching all around Diamond Jim? Why? What’s your plan?”

“My plan? My plan is to do what God says. No more, no less.”

Angelo started to ask how long he thought he could do that, but thought better. “How can I help? What can I do? I can get you to a train depot, but you won’t get on, will you?”

Ben smiled. “Do what God asks. No more, no less.” Ben repeated himself. “Keep your mind on what God would have you to do. Not just here, with me, but every day, my friend, my very good friend. And don’t worry. By day’s end I’ll be on one of two trains: one headed for San Francisco, or one bound for glory.”

Angelo nodded. “I, I don’t, I really don’t know which one I prefer.”

Ben laughed, joined by Angelo. Another hug and they walked away, Angelo to work and then to try to stay close to Ben, and Ben to preach.

+++

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Ben began preaching in the same manner he had the day before, shifting his location every few minutes. Occasionally, he caught glimpses but more, he felt Diamond Jim chasing him, even running, in his attempts to catch him. In his mind, he saw Diamond Jim panting with exhaustion. In fact, Diamond Jim outran his exhausted, overweight and out of condition thugs. Pure hatefulness drove Diamond Jim up one block and down another following the sound of Ben’s preaching. Finally, hours after most people in the streets had arrived at their places of employment and before the streets filled with the lunch break crowds, Ben stood in the center of the street, preaching God’s Gospel. He didn’t budge as Diamond Jim nearly fell into him, loosely grabbing the collar of his shirt. All Jim could do was to gasp for breath, heaving for air and recovery of his strength.

Ben looked at him with eyes of pity.

A half block away, one of the few four-horse teams in harness to a large city bus stopped to let off its passengers. At the same time, Angelo rounded the corner, not a hundred feet from Ben and Diamond Jim.

Ben and Angelo’s eyes locked for a half-second as Angelo deftly pulled his gun. Slapping the lead horse, Angelo fired his gun into the air beside the horse’s ear. Untrained to gunfire, the team bolted, a veritable stampede down the road, the few pedestrians dived out of the way, both to the left and the right. Diamond Jim still drooling and panting, possibly aware, possibly not, stood rock still as though his legs were locked. As if with practiced deftness, Ben leaped onto the lead horse’s back while the team and the trailing wagon bowled atop of, and over Diamond Jim, sending him to his own reward. Within a dozen yards, Ben managed to stop the team. Once he settled them with his natural calming manner toward animals, he bowed his head toward Angelo, and then fast-walked to a nearby train depot, a westbound train about to depart.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Angelo: a young, tough guy that Ben converted and then convinced to be a policeman
Richard Costello: police captain
Dirkowitz (Dirk): good policeman
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
John 'Mushmouth' Johnson: kingpin of Chicago, owner of gambling joints, bars, and bordellos

Matthew 5 (the Beatitudes) paraphrased in Ben's sermons


Chapter 34
One Man's Calling, Ch 34

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, Ben caused his nemesis, Diamond Jim, to become exhausted chasing him around Chicago. Ben’s friend, Angelo fired his gun, causing a team of horses to run over and kill Diamond Jim. Ben boarded a train bound for San Francisco.

^^^^^^

“Bo-o-ard!” The conductor waved to the engineer, signaling him to depart, picking up his wooden stepstool for use at the next stop.

“Excuse me,” Ben said to the conductor who was passing by his seat. Ben cleared his sleep- congested throat. “Where are we?”

“Just left Rawlins,” came the reply.

Ben sighed, settling into himself. Beginning at Cheyenne, and again at Laramie, Ben considered delaying his trip to San Francisco in favor of a visit with his very good friends in Colorado mining country. Rawlins would have been the last logical place to venture off the train. The excursion would have cost months – all a diversion from his calling.

To this point, the trip had been rest – rest, restoration, and recovery. Recovery from the aches of his beating, restoration from the stresses of the pressures of Chicago, and rest.

At Cheyenne, Ben strongly considered switching trains, hopping on to one headed for Denver. Surely God would have use for him in the growing city of Denver. Other trains or stagecoaches could get him to Creede. Or he could buy a horse, though he might have to get a job in order to save enough money to buy a horse and the necessary tack and outfit. He’d never be able to afford a horse as good as his Red that he’d given to William, Livvy’s husband. And the deviation would cost him weeks, or even months.

Livvy had been Ben’s first serious relationship of his entire life, outside the one he held most dear, of course. Jesus was the reason he left Livvy. The calling Ben felt to fulfil Jesus’ plan for his life more important than anything.

That plan seemingly culminated in his destruction as Ben found a way to end Mason Salinger’s evil existence, bringing an end to a massive opium drug infiltration. God, though, had other plans for Ben, sending him to Chicago in furtherance of the call.

That same call pulled Ben toward San Francisco – not a return to Colorado gold and silver country. Very briefly, Ben considered what life in the arms of such a one as Livvy would hold. Ben immediately turned to prayer, asking God what He would have.

+++

Getting off his eastbound locomotive in Reno, Engineer Clay Mortenson sought out the yard supervisor. “Hey, Hanson! Is it 1198 I’m getting for the ride back to Oakland?”

“Same’s always,” Walter Hansen replied, wishing he could ignore Mortenson who it seemed always had one complaint or another.

“Well, it isn’t either, and you know it. But the last time I took 1198 the water governor wasn’t working. Ended up I put in too much water and then barely made it up to Donner Pass.’

Hansen grimaced. “I’ll have someone look at it.”

“Don’t send that new kid, he don’t know a water governor from a sand valve.”

Hansen acted as if he was making a note and then walked away. “Bes’ be gittin’ over there. Be here in a few minutes,” Hansen said, his voice overpowered by an approaching yard engine that was preparing to position two dozen empty box cars for adding to 1198’s run to Oakland.

Clay was supposed to be told the gross weight of his load, but never was. Counting the cars was no value because he wouldn’t know which were filled, and which weren’t. He had to admit, though, that Hansen rarely maxxed him to the limit, knowing the Sierra Nevada run to be all his 4-6-2 could pull.

“Hullo, Mort.” The fireman, Joe Keller, was responsible for feeding coal to the firebox. He was the only person to call Clay, Mort. Clay let it go because Joe was so good at his job. “You see the coal they loaded,” Joe asked. “Too brown, this stuff ain’t gonna burn good. Too brown. Too much lignite in it.”

“Well. Try to keep it hot,” Clay said unnecessarily as he checked the gauges and tapped the water governor.

Finally under way, twenty minutes late waiting for the yard to add the extra box cars, Clay heard Joe muttering to himself, having to work too hard to keep the firebox fed. The water governor, crucial to maintaining the proper steam pressure, seemed to be working, but Clay worried, regardless.

Between Reno and Donner Pass, the road climbed 3,000 feet, sometimes more than eighty feet a mile. It was a lot to ask of steam pulling millions of pounds.

Straining far too soon to make the grade, Clay choked back the water, building up the steam pressure. Slowing to a crawl just short of the summit, Clay eased further back on the water the tiniest bit. It was the last thing he ever did for the Union Pacific railroad Company. The explosion was heard for miles, though there weren’t but a handful of people scattered over those mountainous miles.

Joe was killed instantly. While the boiler blew completely off the frame in one direction, Clay blew off the train in the other. He lay to the side of the tracks broken, red, and blistered, his clothing burned and shredded.

Going so slowly, few people were injured by the sudden stop, bruises, mostly. Ben scrambled off as fast as he could and ran the couple hundred feet toward the engine. The damage was catastrophic.

It didn’t take Ben long to find Clay. “Mister? Mister? Can you hear me?”

Clay was in shock. He should have been dead, or at least unconscious, but lay in a stupor, his melted lips quivering.

Ben knew he didn’t have long to live, his skin half melted and falling off his body in hunks.

“Mister? Can you hear me? Pray with me, can you? Dear Jesus, I know you love me and want me to be in paradise with you. I’m sorry for all my sins, for every bad thing I’ve ever done. Forgive me, Jesus.” Ben had locked eyes with the engineer, not certain he could even see. But as long as he had breath, Ben was going to keep praying the sinners’ prayer. Clay grunted and nudged Ben. A little louder, encouraged, Ben prayed on, thanking Jesus for saving Clay.

While Ben knelt over the body, Clay felt himself lift up from the ruined corpse, directly through the man praying over him. Clay looked about at the wreckage. Wanting to thank the man who was now rejoicing, Clay understood that he knew already. Clay instantly followed a light.

Approaching Ben, the conductor, Alonzo, waited for Ben to rise up from lifeless Clay. “Baptist, myself. Glad for Clay. Too bad about poor Joe, though. He was a good man. Lost, but a good man.”

Ben glanced at the top half of what used to be the fireman, wondering.

“First of seven tunnels up ahead. Then a siding. We’re supposed to take the siding and wait for the eastbound to pass,” Alonzo said. “Uphill has the right-of-way.”

Ben not responding, Alonzo continued. “Not a big worry. There’s a switchman who mans the water tower. He isn’t supposed to, but he keeps both switches turned to the siding. The engineer and caboose brakeman both have to get out and throw ‘em back, keep from a head-on. Train from the east won’t be here to hit us for hours. Then, it’s no worry, he’ll be going slow enough to stop. But when we don’t get to Truckee, they’ll probably telegraph Reno and hold ‘er up. Hope. They don’t and the problem will be him stuck on the uphill slope running out of steam.”

“So what needs done?” Ben asked.

“Someone was to go behind, that flat stretch six, eight miles back. Maybe build a fire on the track.”

“He’d have to stay there and keep it lit,” Ben said.

“Stopping the eastbound shouldn’t be a problem. He should be on the siding, but someone needs to go that way to get a message out.”

Ben thought a moment. “You need to stay with the train and the passengers,” Ben declared.  “I’ll run up ahead. Take care of that end. Then I’ll come back and go back east and set that signal fire. I’d like to be the one to do it to make sure we don’t start a forest fire, anyway. ‘Preciate it if you’d have me some food an’ water to take with me.”

Alonzo nodded to Ben’s back, as Ben began jogging up the grade toward the tunnels and the siding.

+++

“Just gonna get my Bible an’ I’ll be off,” Ben told Alonzo when he returned from the siding. “Your switchman said they’d probably send an engine and empty cars to transfer the people. Equipment to clear the track would be after that.”

Alonzo agreed. “Might not be a train from Reno at all,” he told Ben. “I’ll send someone to you when I know. Maybe you should take a blanket? Maybe a slicker?”

“And an ax,” Ben added.

After a moment’s thought, Ben said that he would get someone to help him carry things, someone fit enough to directly return.

“Best get two. Brakeman could be one. He has a gun. There’re grizzlies up here. Your one man wouldn’t want to hike back alone.”

Ben smiled. “A pistol won’t be much account against a grizzly. Neither would a 30-30, much. But they’d feel better carryin’ it. Long’s they stay on the tracks and do a lotta shoutin’, they’ll be safe enough.”

“How about, you, Ben?”

Ben smiled. “I have a calling. And, I know what’s waiting for me.” Ben smiled.

Author Notes No idea why the last line is gray. Tried to fix it, but FanStory won't let me.

Ben Persons: a man following God's call
Livvy: a young woman in Colorado whose love Ben chose his calling over
Alonzo Seymour: train conductor
Clay Mortenson: train engineer
Joe Keller: train fireman
Carl Kelly: railroad supervisor

4-6-2 Four lead wheels, six drive wheels, and two trailing wheels on the locomotive


Chapter 35
One Man's Calling, Ch 35

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben rested as he rode the train from Chicago toward San Francisco. Just short of Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains the pressure in the locomotive boiler exploded killing the engineer and fireman. Ben prayed the dying engineer to salvation. Ben ran ahead to notify a switchman, and then behind to set a signal fire. He eventually made it to San Francisco.

^^^^^^^

Ben woke with a start. His room, or wherever he was, was rocking, shaking. The first thing Ben thought of was an earthquake. He’d heard of such, but had never experienced one. There was a huge earthquake in his home state of Arkansas, but that was even before his parents were born. The second thing Ben thought of was the painful knot on his head. Then he heard the groans around him.

He was in the hold of a ship.

“Up here, Maties. Up now. Here we go. A move on.”

Ben saw what must have been a sailor silhouetted at the top of a ladder that led to some sort of trap door. Ben and his half dozen fellow-Shanghaied compatriots began to make their way to the ladder and up to the deck. Once assembled, Ben saw that there were eight of them, all gawked at by ones he figured to be regular sailors.

“Listen here, Maties. Yer all sailors now. Look about chee. See any land anywhere? ‘Cause there ain’t none. Just you, me, and the sharks. Be tellin’ you yer job. Mates around jee will be showin’ ye how things is done. Learn it right off an’ you git no taste a’ me whip.” He snapped his whip for emphasis.

“Ye’ll be fed twiced a day. Ye’ll say ye don’t care for it. But chee will. Bes’ tell yerself ta like it right off. Better fer ye. Ye throw up, ye clean it up. Nobody wants ta walk in yer vomit, now. Ye don’t quit heavin’ … well.” The man indicated overboard with his thumb.

“You’ve already missed this morn’s meal, so ye won’t ‘ave much ta pitch. Make a line, now, and I’ll assign ye.”

As if an afterthought, the man continued his speech. “Ye’ve been conscripted. Jist like in the army. Ye could say ye’ve been conscripted into the Superbia’s navy. Where we’re goin’, an’ how long we’ll be is not cher concern. What is yer concern is ta mind yer betters. An’ here, that’s ever’body.”

When it came to Ben, the man, who turned out to be Sly Barrett, said, “Yer a big ‘un. Fore deck, the stay beam, ropes and canvas.”

Ben was glad that he’d pointed. Fore was easy enough to figure out, but Ben wasn’t anxious to get crossways with a man with a whip and authority to use it. Directly behind Ben was a youngster of a man’s height, but not old enough to sprout whiskers yet. Ben figured him for about sixteen.

“The riggin’,” the man said. Ben saw the man’s right arm rise, indicating the rope ladders that ran up to the top mast.

The boy burst into sobs and tears. “Heights,” he managed to squeal. “I’m terrified!”

Sly chuckled to himself. “Well, let’s see who yer more terrified of, the pretty view from aloft, or Miss Whip-poor-will.”

“Might not be necessary to whip the boy,” Ben said, turning to face the man.

Sly squared himself to Ben. Everyone on the deck stopped to watch.

Ben set his gaze onto Sly’s. “Boy could get up there all right. Then sure as world he’ll be down right there, dead as a hammer.” Ben pointed to the deck. “He’ll be more use to everyone as a cook’s helper. Might even make a career of it, cooking you roasted duck.” Ben continued his gaze.

Sly reared back his shoulders and jerked his jaw upward. Ben knew what was coming. The man’s pride demanded it.

“Cook’s helper with ye,” he motioned for the boy to move aft. “Then to Ben, “Off with ye shirt, les’ ye want it cut ta ribbons.” Sly motioned for one of the regular sailors who moved to tie Ben’s arms around the main mast. “Miss Whip-poor-will says seven lashes fer speakin’ outta turn.”

Ben complied.

As soon as the seventh broke the skin of his upper shoulders, whipping around and to catch his cheek, a sailor splashed Ben’s back with a bucket of salty sea water. Ben grimaced, but hadn’t uttered a sound the entire time.

“Fore deck!” Sly commanded.

Waiting to put his shirt back on until up the gangway and in the area he thought he should be, a sailor approached, introducing himself. “Not terrible smart, but a good thing you did. Everybody on deck knew that boy wouldn’t survive the day. Extending his hand, he introduced himself. “Hans. They got me goin’ on a year ago. Keep me locked up when we’re in port.”

Ben was surprised that someone named Hans wouldn’t have even the slightest accent. “Ben. Thank you. Now, I just need to figure out how to keep from kissing Miss Whip-poor-will again, at least until these scratches heal up.” Ben grinned.

"How did I get here?" Ben asked.

"if it was like myself, my ale was drugged. Some just get beaned. You wake up on a ship sailing for who-knows-where."

Ben rubbed his bean.

+++

“What kind of ship is this?” Ben asked his friend, Hans the next day. That first day Ben was too busy watching and listening to get off topic.

“Clipper barque. Built for speed mostly, cargo comes second. They get extra trips, which means more money for the owners, and we can outrun most pirates.”

“There’s still pirates out here?” Ben asked.

Hans gave Ben a look of incredulity.

“Guess so.”

“And we’re copper clad. No barnacles to slow us down. Can’t outrun a storm, though.”

One thing amazes me,” Ben said. “How we can sail against the wind.”

“Not really against the wind – sixty degrees. The reason we’re all the time adjusting sails. Can’t tack with rudder alone.”

Ben was to learn a foreign language, it seemed.

“Now, look at these.” Hans had three ropes tied to the pin rail. “You have to know these three knots like your life depends on them. Because it might. You have to know ‘em, and know when to use each. That one’s the bowline. You’ll be using that one mostly. The next one is the clove hitch, and then the cleat hitch. The cleat hitch is obvious. The clove hitch is a quick tie off. The bowline …”

“Makes a loop that won’t cinch up on ya. And easy to untie after the load is released.”

“You’ve sailed!” Hans exclaimed.

Grinning, Ben answered. “No, but I’ve been a miner. I know the bowline.”

“Then let’s get to the other four. There’s a double half hitch …”

“Used that one farming,” Ben said.

“The stopper knot is like this.” Hans quickly made a stopper knot, sort of hoping to playfully catch Ben up.

“Used that one building railroad trestles with block an’ tackle. Keeps the rope from slipping through the gear.”

“This is a clove hitch,” Hans said, expecting Ben to already know it. When he didn’t, Hans advised him to watch the clove hitch because it could work loose.

“And finally the sheet bend. As you can see, we use it to tie two ropes together. It’s better than a square knot.”

“Square knots can come loose,” Ben interjected.

“And the sheet bend is better for when the ropes are different sizes. Lemme show you one more. This is a rolling hitch. We use it to pull out a jammed line from a winch. Look around wherever you go on deck, or below. Look at the knots used. You’ll be able to figure out why. Now, sure you can tie the knots. And the right ones for the right uses. But when we get into a storm – and we will – your life, and all our lives, will depend on tying a knot you can’t see while holding on for dear life … quick like.”

Ben nodded as if he understood the seriousness.

Later that day Ben asked what they were hauling, what the cargo was.

Hans grinned, winking. “Levi’s britches.”

“Why the look?” Ben asked.

“You’ve been below. You see us loaded with boxes of britches?”

Ben looked puzzled.

“Everything on a ship is all about weight. We load more weight than the weight of the water we displace, we sink. We run empty; we topple over top heavy. We need weight. If the cargo doesn’t do it, we add ballast.”

“So …?”

“Britches don’t weigh much. And there aren’t that many boxes of ‘em. We’re hauling gold. Maybe not much in weight, a few thousand pounds, or so. But that’s the only answer I can see for not filling up with Mr. Levi’s finest.

“Coming in, we brought in rice. But not much, not enough to profit from. I’m thinking we brought in cases of opium.”

Ben grimaced remembering his last experience with an opium dealer, and what happened when he stopped Mason Salinger by causing the cave-in that killed them both.

+++

At supper that evening, the young, skinny boy Ben had saved from the loft brought him an extra lemon, thanking Ben profusely after introducing himself.

“Glad I could help, Jimmy”

“I’m really sorry you got whipped.” Jimmy was sincere.

“Aw, did me good, Jimmy. Keeps me humble.” Ben smiled his friendliest.

After Jimmy went back about his duties, Hans leaned in, “No matter what it looks like, eat all the fruit you can get – scurvy.”

Ben didn’t tell him that he knew about scurvy from being a miner.

 

Author Notes I omitted a chapter of Ben meditating and studying scripture regarding Christ's journey into the belly of the earth with respect to setting the captives free while he set and watched the warning fire.

Your bean is your head. To get beaned is to be knocked on your head.


Chapter 36
One Man's Calling, Ch 36

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben learned a little about sailing from his friend Hans, and accepted Jimmy’s apology for taking his whipping.

“What’s happening?” Ben asked, immediately wishing he hadn’t.

“Storm, you stupid bloke,” came a response from across the sleeping quarters of hammocks stacked four deep throughout the room, barely enough room to stand between them.

It was every man on deck. Most were already awake, merely awaiting the call. Ben scrambled to the fore deck. It was like running on the backs of buffalo – with hundred-mile-an-hour winds trying to throw you under their stampeding hooves. Ben finally reached Hans where he was already securing the boom. He then went about untangling the brails, or lines used to furl the sail.

“One of us has to go up,” Hans shouted. “The fore sail rigging is hanging up the fore-mast main sail. Take this knife. Cut it if you have to. They have to douse the main sails!”

It was a wonder Ben was able to understand the discourse with the wind howling, the straight sideways rain pelting, and the waves crashing the men and the ship. The seas were only about twenty-foot swells and breakers, but with the ship sitting higher in the water than a schooner or a full rigged ship, it was more susceptible to capsizing.

Ben had a hundred questions, but they could all wait. The Superbia was tossing violently. Shouts of “Man overboard” went unheeded, every man that was still on deck frantically about his task.

Fighting the fierce winds, Ben clawed his way to the ratlines used to climb up to the extended sail rigging. To Ben, the rolling of the ship was beyond frightful. He imagined, though, that he would be hearing some real tales of terror before the day was out. Looking down, Ben saw that at the leeward tilt, he was looking directly down into the sea. He looked back up, only a few more feet to the problem. After trying only a second or two, he cut the line away.

One of his feet pushed completely through the ratline, missing the horizontal stay.

Ben considered hanging upside down until the storm subsided when sailors could hoist him down for a second whipping, this time for clumsy stupidity. He finally freed himself and made it down, but not until he stuck the back of the knife in his mouth, as might a pirate, in order to use both hands more safely. Ben hoped Hans didn’t see the spectacle.

“Why were the sails rigged at night?” Ben asked when he and Hans had a moment.

“Tried to outrun the storm,” Hans shouted back. “Never works. If you can’t outrun it in daylight, best to make everything fast and tie yourself down. Night time is just crazy.”

“What now?”

“They have the rudder tied to run with the current. We wait orders. Fix lines. Catch one another.”

“The one overboard?”

Hans knew that Ben was asking about the man overboard shout of nearly an hour past. “Gone. In this kind of sea …” He shook his head.

Dawn was breaking, but there was no discerning the sunrise, as dark as the clouds were, just a general slight lightening of the sky. Word came that half the crew at a time could go to mess for a breakfast of cold gruel and stale bread. Ben was grateful for the sustenance nevertheless. After mess, half the crew at a time could go below decks for a couple hour’s rest. Though in the pitching sea, there was no sleep, and little rest.

After only a few minutes in the rack – what passed for a sleeping hammock – Ben made his way back to the fore deck.

“Good work up there,” the boatswain said as he passed by during an inspection. “For an Oss,” he added with a dismissing wave.

“I’m an arse, am I?” Ben asked Hans.

“An OS,” Hans said, “an Ordinary Sailor. Me, I’m an Able Body Sailor. Just means you get to climb.” Hans grinned. “’Specially when it’s storming.” Hans bellowed a laugh then.

The seas had calmed some, but not a great deal. It continued to bear careful movement to avoid being washed overboard by a strong wave. The dread, Hans explained, was a rogue wave that could lift the ship a hundred feet up, causing it to then dive headlong into the ocean, the bow digging in too deep to recover. Or if it came from the side and instantly heeling. She can’t recover from that, Hans had said, adding, “but at least you might have time to launch a lifeboat.”

Before Hans went below to take his turn at trying to rest, Ben heard another newly shanghaied man ask why the sails were set during the night, was that a safe practice? “Captain’s orders, I hear. Best not repeat that, mind ye. Thought he could outrun the storm. Hah!”

+++

Ben began to pray in earnest. “Lord, what is my mission here? Was it my prayer last night that kept us afloat? (He didn’t think so. He felt no spiritual affirmation.) Is there a work to do on this boat, or is my mission on land? A single person, or am I Jonah, sent to Nineveh? I was happy to help Jimmy. Was that it, Lord?

“Lord, you know me. I don’t need any sort of sign. I just don’t want to miss your perfect will.

“I love you, Jesus. Thank you for trusting me with a call to do your will wherever I am. I praise you Jesus, I worship you, Father. And thank you, Holy Spirit for your constant hand on my life. Hallelujah.” Normally, Ben did not close his private prayers with the traditional amen; but this time he did.

And as soon as he had, Sly approached.

“Matie, I heerd jee. You know, lad, about the first day, ye know I had ta do it. For order. Have to have order.”

Ben understood perfectly, though it was more along the lines of discipline and control, than order. But he understood and nodded to Sly.

“Tamarry bein’ the Lord’s Day, would jee speak a word or two? ‘Bout ten minutes, not no Baptist hour-long sermon, mind jee.”

Ben nodded. “Of course, I would.”

Sly nodded back. “Captain has a good book; you be wantin’ ta read somethin’ of it.”

“No need,” Ben said, thinking that perhaps some time in the future he might ask to borrow it. “Got it right here.” Ben thumped his chest over his heart.

“Ite den.” Sly left a grateful Ben alone on the fore deck.

+++

Ben prayed and thought about the sermon he would deliver the next day, what to preach. First thing came to his mind, of course, was a salvation message: introduce Christ, offer an invitation. Then he thought of his audience – it might take more than that. Ben thought of a message of comfort for the seven conscripts, the eighth one being the person lost in the storm.

Ben considered a message aimed at the captors, starting with the captain, himself. Ben was immediately checked in his spirit. He would never preach at someone. That was not his calling.

Preaching Paul’s message of his own shipwreck passed through his mind. But God had not told him that he would save the ship from destruction, or that should anyone follow his direction, they would be saved.

Ben thought about Joseph, captured and sold into bondage, falsely accused and imprisoned… No, too self-serving. Preach a message of passive resistance? No, too combative, regardless of how delivered.

Finally, Ben let go of his intellect, his conscious and deliberate efforts to think of the perfect sermon for the situation. He directed his mind to that of calm worship and meditation, waiting for the Holy Spirit’s leading. It wasn’t long, laying in his hammock, at least seven, maybe eight other men he could reach out and touch with hardly movement …and love your neighbor as yourself.

+++

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

“But who is my neighbor? I don’t live here. My heart is in San Francisco. My family is in St Louis, or Boston, or Shanghai. Ben paraphrased the story of the good Samaritan. “Who is your neighbor?” Ben asked, but not just the ones all about you in these tight quarters, or those rubbing elbows at mess, or on these decks, “But also those who come to your aid, though they be another color than you, another race, and other faith, even. Love your neighbor as yourself.

“Jesus,” Ben began praying, his hands together as a signal to the men, “thank you for an attentive group of men. Bless them. Amen.”

Ben noticed slight smiles and nods of approval among the sailors mixed with the furrowed brows of confusion. Ben was satisfied that he’d spoken God’s words.

Sly approached him. “A bit more than yer ten minutes.” His grin belied animus. “The captain would see you. Knock and yell out cher name at ‘is door.”

“Well done, lad. Well done. Crisp and to the point. Team building, Camaraderie. Team spirit. I like that. Never took to the malarky myself, confessing, and all that pomp. Heard screaming on a street corner once. Told the driver to run him over. Almost got him. Hah!

“You’re our new chaplain. Haven’t had one for years. You’ll be saying the words men want to hear should we have to bury anyone to sea. Usually do, at least one every run. Quartermaster, well, let’s just say he has a public speaking problem. And the boatswain, well, men don’t take well to the one speaking over the dead being the man most responsible for his demise.

“No, you’ll do fine. Chaplain. That’s in addition to your regular duties, mind you. And I’ll be the one telling the boatswain. Won’t do to have you out there flaunting any misconceived high and mighty position. No, you’re still an OS.” Despite the sophistication of his diction, the captain’s OS came out arse.

Ben grinned behind a straight face, knowing that God was at work. Afterall, he let an actual arse do the talking one time – an ass speaking to Balaam in the scriptures. Ben remembered every moment of the day that he first heard that sermon preached back in Arkansas. Ben praised God for helping him contain his laughter in front of the captain.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Sly Barrett: Captain's mate on the SS Superbia
Hans: an experience seaman Ben befriended
Jimmy: the youth Ben saved, but took a whipping for

Mt. 22:34-40 (love your neighbor)
Luke 10:29-37 (who is your neighbor)
Num. 22: 21-38 (Balaam's donkey)


Chapter 37
One Man's Calling, Ch 37

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, the ship survived a storm. The captain made Ben the ship’s chaplain.

It was Ben’s third Sunday preaching. He managed to extend it to half an hour without complaint. An eye more on the congregation than Sly or the captain, Ben watched for fidgeting. Absent that, Ben simply closed the service when the message dictated. He wasn’t interested in embarrassing anyone, so he kept his invitations to sailors who would like to speak with him about anything at all. Sly was accommodating when it came to allowing crewmen time with Ben and allowing them to use the hold for private conversation.

“Tell me, Ben, how’d ye come ta be here?” an ABS named Phillip asked. “You bein’ such a decent type, an’ all.”

Ben smiled. “Same day I got to San Francisco. I was wandering around the city, looking for something to eat and a place to stay. Got to Stockton Street and saw a policeman. He pointed out a café that turned out to be a saloon that served bacon and beans.”

“Aye.”

Ben was surprised at how quickly landlubbers adopted the lingo of the seamen.

“Aye. The Barbary Coast.”

When Ben furrowed his eyes, the seaman explained that that section of town had gained the Barbary reputation. “And the police are in cahoots with the saloons, brothels, gambling halls, they’re all in it together. That officer prob’ly followed you in to get his bounty. Your coffee was drugged. Your skull got whacked, and you woke up in our hold.”

Ben nodded. They’d already spoken of the sailor’s needs, a long-ago wife that Phillip had left, never to return. “Oh, she’s remarried, I’m sure. But I have this …” Phillip beat on his chest with his fist.

“Guilt,” Ben said.

“Yeah, I guess. Landlord prob’ly threw her out after a few weeks. I signed on to crew a ship to round the horn near ten year ago. Had some whalin’ experience. Turned out I like the life.”

Ben nodded. “Not saying it wasn’t a bad thing, Phillip. But you can be forgiven. You just have to ask.”

“Asked, I have,” Phillip answered. “Was a mission church in Hawaii. Where we’re goin’ now. I’d take ya, but you’ll be locked up ‘fore we port. Just gonna get fresh water. Fruit and vegetables. Storm blew us off a might, but we got ‘nough ta reach Honolulu.

“Are you truly sorry for the predicament you left your wife in, Phillip?”

“Aye. I am.”

“Then I’m going to step away for a minute. You need to speak your sorrow to Jesus. He’s the only one can forgive you. Not me. Not any priest. You need to let Jesus see your heart. And then be still until you feel his forgiveness. If you’re serious, it won’t take long.”

Ben rose, leaving Phillip to fold his hands where they sat. Within a minute Ben heard Phillip crying like a baby. A moment after that, Phillip walked past Ben, nodding his gratitude, his lips pinched as if he would burst out sobbing should he open them. Ben expressed his gratefulness to Jesus.

+++

“Hawaii,” Ben said to Hans as a sailor up in the crow’s nest shouted “Land ho.”

“How would you know that?” Hans asked, surprised.

Ben smiled.

Looking about them, Hans said, “They’ll be locking us in the hold soon.” Looking at the position of the sun, he added. “Probably right after mess. I’d go light, I was you. There’s no privy down there. A pot, but …”

Ben nodded his thanks.

Ben was locked in, but at daybreak, just after their morning gruel was brought to them and they had time to eat, the hatch was opened again, Ben and Hans’s names were called out.

“Don’t think we’ll let cher big muscles lay away when there’s work to do, do ye? Inta the boat. Soon ’nough ye’ll be wishin’ ta be back here hole’d up.”

Ben manned an oar.

The first trip was for kegs of water, filling the landing craft, a boat larger than a dinghy. The water staged on the dock, Ben had no time to even look around. Sly stood on the dock between the water kegs and the shore.

On the second trip, the crates of fruit and vegetables had not yet arrived. Ben followed the men onto the dock, unchallenged. Though the mass of them blocked the dock to the shore, diving over and swimming to shore would be simple. He was certain he could avoid Sly’s cap and ball pistol. He wondered why he didn’t have a revolver, a Peacemaker or a Cimarron 45.

Suddenly, Ben looked to the sky, wondering where the sound was coming from. It was like a swarm of bees that must have been as large as a barn, and as near as a head-knocking tree limb. Ducking wildly, Ben heard explosions to burst eardrums.

“Are ye gone daft on us, Ben?” Sly asked. “We need ta brain ya, do we?”

“Something terrible gonna happen right here, Sly. Right here.”

“Right soon?” Sly asked, looking about nervously.

Ben did respond, but began to settle. “No, I don’t think so, Sly. But I need to pray for this place. This place and for the souls of a lot of men. Soon’s we get back aboard.”

Sly nodded. “Ye c’n pray all night ‘n the hold quick’s we git them crates.” Sly pointed his pistol toward the head of the pier where men were bringing crates on their shoulders.

+++

“Sly,” Ben began as they rowed back to the Superbia, “how long until high tide?”

“Not ‘til near dark t’day.”

Ben felt that it was fairly low tide based on the water marks and height of the water at the pier. “A couple things, here, Sly. Why would that British ship have oarsmen moving her about, like they might row themselves out of the bay in low tide? And have you ever seen a British ship with such a dark-skinned crew?” Ben had no idea whether or not the British would employ ethnics. He just remembered school history of British ship claiming every English-speaking Caucasian as British subjects and taking them from American ships, one of the precursors to the war of 1812.

Sly studied the four-masted, barque. “She’s not a warship, but she’s got twenty eight pounders. Row hard, lads. Row hard.”

At the ship, Sly ordered the men return to the pier for the second half of the load of food stuffs, appointing an ABS to take charge while he went to the captain.

“She’s a pirate, shor’s the world,” Sly told Ben, greeting him on the landing vessel’s return. “They not knowin’ if we be leavin’ on the eve or morn tide, they rowed out ta be ready. Cap’n wants ye, with yer sharp eyes up in the crow’s nest. See did they lean east, or west. An’ then stay up there, an’ soon’s ye see trouble, drop one a’ this rag.” Sly handed Ben two rags, each weighted, one white, one black. “The white one means we put to starboard, the black, to port. Don’ mix ‘em up.

“Say east ‘r west when ye c’n tell. The rags ‘r for when we set sail and run ta sea in the quiet an’ the dark.”

Ben tucked the white rag in his right-side waistband, the black on his left.

Anticipating Ben’s question, Sly added, “I be tellin’ ye when ta be comin’ down. We’ll all be dependin’ on ye, Chaplain.”

Ben appreciated the title, though knowing that it was an appeal to his honor, and an acknowledgement that a great deal was entrusted to him.

“Can not see it,” Ben called down in a moderate voice that was evidently loud enough.

“Keep yer lookout,” came the reply. “They may hoist sail.”

For the briefest moment, sitting precariously on the tiny platform only a few feet from the very tip of the iron center mast, Ben wondered the wisdom or value of his comments that the ship might be pirates. He felt it sway several feet in what seemed like every direction.

It was a quarter moon night. No moon would have been better for a stealthy escape, but at least the moon would have passed well beyond its zenith before the Superbia would enter the sea. Harder to see the pirate ship, but hard for them to see the Superbia as well. And the pirates would not be expecting any nighttime departure. But any departing vessel should engage normal lights and make normal noises.

Mimicking the pirate ship, the Superbia crew towed her to the port’s mouth, prepared to catch a wind and sail out. Knowing that their expressed route was west, the captain charted an easterly escape, rounding the island and well on their way. The heavy barque would never catch the Superbia. And even should they lay in wait at the western point of the isle, the Superbia would be under full sail and uncatchable.

Ben perceived that the rowing crew was returning, hoisting up the landing craft. At the same time, he felt a man scaling the mast beneath him.

“Ben,” the sailor whispered.

Ben recognized him, but didn’t know his name. He felt it not unusual, since Ben was in front of the entire crew preaching every Sunday.

“Woulda brought chee a plate dinner, could I manage,” the man said, a smile on his face. “Bread an’ water’s all I could do.”

Ben expressed his gratitude.

“Look, Ben. I could say I found the nest empty and thought it best to keep watch. Keen me? Was you ta slip down quiet like, three hops an’ over the bulwarks. Some might here yer splash, but nought ta do ‘bout it. Short swim an’ yer free.”

Ben couldn’t stop himself from looking landward. Taking longer to consider it than he wished, Ben said, “Thank you, friend. But I’ve been assigned a responsibility. And I must see it through. It’s not that I don’t truly appreciate what you’ve offered me, though. Thank you.” Ben extended his hand.

Taking his hand, “I’m Andy. Andrew like as in the Bible.” Andy grinned large enough for Ben to see his teeth. “Can’t say I sorry you don’t take yer freedom.” Shaking Ben’s hand a second time, Andy descended back to the Superbia deck.

Ben shook his head at the lost opportunity for his freedom.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Sly Barrett: Captain's mate on the SS Superbia
Phillip: Abel Body Sailor crewman
Andy: ABS crewman


Chapter 38
One Man's Calling, Ch 38

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben ministered to a crewman and learned that he came to be shanghaied mostly due to San Francisco corruption. Ben brought attention to a likely pirate ship and was rewarded by crow’s nest duty. He declined a perfect opportunity to escape to his freedom.

“Ben?” It was another sailor that Ben recognized, but did not know his name.

Reaching the crow’s nest, the sailor began speaking. “Ben. I’m your relief. You make it down all right? I know you aren’t used to the ratlines and mast pegs, an’ you're prob’ly all stoved up, up here all night. Some of ‘em ‘spected you’d fall, miss yer grip, or fall asleep. The Cap’n, he left you up here thinkin’ you’d save his ship. The rest of us, we figure you saved our lives.”

Ben smiled at him. “What’s your name?”

“Winchell. But call me Slop. Don’t ask why. Somebody started it seven, eight year ago. I never did know why. It just stuck.”

“Slop, it is. Thank you, but I’ll make it. Thank you.”

“What you said true?”

Ben had no idea what Slop referred to, but guessed it was a sermon. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Slop.”

“I know you wouldn’t, but what I mean is … about everybody, the whoever part?”

“Slop, he who has ears to hear is even more than whoever. It especially means you.”

Slop’s eyes danced across Ben’s, skitting as if afraid to land.

“They’ll be wonderin’ what’s keepin’ you. ‘Fraid for you.”

“Slop, you keep a sharp eye out, but you can talk to Jesus at the same time. Just tell him about yourself, and that you would like to meet him. Tell him I sent you.”

Ben knew that Slop would reach into his sordid past, confessing his sins. He also knew that mentioning his name, Slop would be likely to approach the throne with greater confidence, with greater faith.

Ben flitted down as would a seasoned professional, receiving accepting nods from the sailors watching for him.

Sly clapped him on the back and spoke to him as an equal. “They be sittin’ ta the west, watchin’ fer us, wond’rin’ where we disappeared to. Hah! Saved us from a fight, ye did. Go tell ‘em ta feed jee an’ then git forty winks.”

+++

 “Up with ye! Cap’n ta see ye! Up wit chee! Sharp like!” Sly had lost his previous friendliness.

Ben hopped from his perch, gathering himself.

“Fore spar snapped, mizzen-mast sail torn’t in twain, ‘n the rudder – like a shark bit it whole! Cap'n’s quarters! Sharp now!”

Ben did as bidden.

The captain repeated Sly’s register of ills that befell the Superbia since Ben went to sleep. “How could that be?” he asked Ben.

“Captain, don’t these things happen in the trade?”

“I’ll not have your insolence! You gave God glory for our escape. He now owns blame for our doom!”

“Captain, aren’t these all repairable?”

“I’ll have you whipped. Now you get your God to steer that pirate another way. Or break him down. He can break us, he can surely sink him! An hour and you’ll be tasting steel. That is if you aren’t blown up with his cannon.”

Ben thought a moment.

“My reckoning, is that all you’ve done is to get us far enough to sea that we can’t swim to shore, those of us not horn-swoggled.” The captain's bouncing from foot to foot, out of sync with the ship's sway was disarming.

Ben was momentarily confused, believing that to be horn-swoggled was to be tricked, or deceived. The captain obviously meant something worse. “Might be the devil has a hand in trying to bring you ill, not the Lord’s work at all,” Ben said.

“Yeah, well you tell your God to be doing his fighting with the devil on his own ship. Not mine! I’ll be having a prayer to straighten this out. Get to it, or get ready for the whip. I’ll have the pleasure of seeing your back peeled before I’m keel-hauled. Deep six ya, after. Tell me, will that break the curse?”

“Captain, I’m happy to pray, but your prayer will likely have more impact. Do you believe in God, in his son Jesus?”

The captain backhanded Ben across his jaw, breaking the skin of his cheek and lips against his teeth.

Ben offered his other cheek, locking his gaze into the captain’s eyes.

“Sly!” the captain screamed.

Instantly, Sly opened the door and entered.

“Forty lashes. And if you hold back, it’ll be you!”

Roughly enough to satisfy the captain, Sly yanked Ben to the deck before the same mast Ben had climbed and descended scant hours earlier.  The ship quartermaster handed Sly his whip.

As Sly reared back, Jimmy scampered behind Ben, wrapping himself around his back. “I’ll take one of them!” he yelled. Sly obliged.

“Ahhheeeahhhgg!” Jimmy screamed in agony. Gurgling incomprehensibly, his tightening grip around Ben told Sly to give him another.
Sly did, crumpling Jimmy to the deck.

Before Sly could do, or say, a thing, Andy dragged Jimmy out of the way, taking his place. “I’ll have two a’ them,” he said.

Again, Sly obliged.

The captain watched, at first somewhat amused, though chagrinned that Ben wasn’t getting the whipping. When Andy jumped in for two of the whips, the captain looked around at the crew’s faces. He didn’t like what he saw.

“I’ll have two of those,” Hans said, pulling off his shirt. To a man, the entire crew began removing shirts, prepared to take Ben’s whipping.

Seeing the captain spin about toward his cabin, Sly waved toward Ben, muttering, “Untie him.” Louder, he began issuing orders designed to speed their repair and possible escape from the gaining pirates.

+++

“Captain, I agreed that something is at play.” Ben had opened the captain’s door, though he had not entered. “God does not bring calamity to his children, though the winds of evil may befoul them as the unsaved alongside. “Captain, is there a reason that the evil one might make sport of you?” Ben had no idea why he used language and expression foreign to his normal style. “Have you played Satan’s game intending to offer him the back of your hand? Has he dues to collect?”

After a moment’s pause, Ben asked again, “Do you believe in …”

Cutting him off, the captain screamed, spittle spewing from his mouth, “I believe in gold! And you can have all that you can carry in the dinghy if you’ll get off my ship and take your devil and your pirates with you!”

“Captain, there is but one way to save yourself, and your …”

“I’ll see you in irons! I’ll see you on the plank! I’ll see you … You can take your God and his devils like you and …” The captain grabbed at his throat as if being choked. Ben remained at the doorway, both arms extended toward the captain, his palms extended as if warding off a charge.

“Your words have convicted you. Who owns the Superbia, Captain?”

Turning crimson, his cheeks swelling as spittle began to foam, he continued to grasp at his throat. Ben followed his eyes to top shelf of a large desk secured to the bulkhead.

The captain staggered backward toward his narrow bed, falling onto it. Ben strode to him, helping him onto his back once on the bed. Ben left him to stare at the ceiling in a trance-like stupor. After lowering his hands from his neck to his chest. He looked at enough documents where the captain had indicated to learn that the ship’s home port was the San Pedro harbor in California. Ben sought out Sly.

“Set sail for San Pedro,” Ben said. “With the wind you can maneuver past the pirates, can you not?”

Sly stared at Ben in amazement, glancing toward the captain’s quarters where Ben had come from. “He’s …”

“He’s alive, but I’m afraid his conscience has overtaken him. I trust your rudder will turn us about?”

Sly nodded.

“Have the captain tended to. When you see the owner, tell him everything.” Ben moved forward to his assigned duties, not seeing Sly’s nodding.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Sly Barrett: Captain's mate on the SS Superbia
Andy: ABS crewman
Hans: an experience seaman Ben befriended
Jimmy: the youth Ben saved, but took a whipping for

Horn-swoggle: to trick, or deceive
keel-hauled: punished by dragging under the keel (bottom most) of a ship
deep six: buried at sea, usually alive
bulkhead: wall


Chapter 39
One Man's Calling, Ch 39

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben played a major role in the Superbia’s avoiding the pirates. When calamity befell the ship, the captain blamed Ben. When the Holy Spirit caused the captain to fall into a trance, Ben ordered Sly to return the ship to her owners in San Pedro, California. Sly acquiesced.

“Young man, I’m to believe you have saved our ship, and her crew.” He was one of the owners of the Superbia. “I also believe that I have you to thank for the wealth brought to land. We knew nothing about the gold, or the opium used to secure it. Nothing for that now, but we would like to offer you a reward. I’m told your intention is to return to San Francisco?”

“It is,” Ben replied.

“You know you would have a place on the Superbia, chaplaincy, and training to become a Quartermaster, perhaps?”

“Thank you, sir, but I believe God has called me to something else.”

“Ah, yes, a calling.” The man nodded his head as he studied the floor.

“Well, I have a thousand dollars here. It’s yours, along with our undying gratitude.” He reached toward Ben with an envelope of bills.

“Sir, a train ticket to San Francisco, and maybe a little to feed us for a few days, myself and whoever was Shanghaied from there …?”

“Evidence of your calling?” the man said, a smile forming in his face.

Ben smiled back. “Maybe.”

“Two hundred, then. That will get you to Frisco and keep you for a bit. And tickets for wherever those other men wish. Maybe after this, they’d prefer to return to their families.”

“Thank you, Sir. And may God bless you richly.”

“Thank you, son. He has. And I’m very proud to’ve made your acquaintance.”

Ben found himself aboard a BNSF passenger train, a bit wiser for the experience, but grateful for God’s leading, wherever it took him.

+++

From the train station, Ben walked until he hungered, seeking God’s will. Looking up, he saw that he was at a hotel that offered fine cuisine. He didn’t know about fine cuisine, but the aromas were enticing. Feeling no check in his spirit, he entered the restaurant entry of Hotel Carlton. From two to four people occupied every table but one where a single gentleman sat. His attire would ordinarily have steered Ben away, clearly above his pedigree.

“Mind if I join you?” Ben asked. “Name’s Ben Persons.”

“Clay, Clay Alexander.” He indicated a seat with his hand.

“Obliged. Seems to be a popular place to eat.”

“You won’t get poisoned. Might even enjoy the steak. Their mignon is their best, better even than their ribeye, which is the best in town.”

“Mignon, it is then. It’ll be my first steak in, oh … maybe a year,” Ben said after a little thought.

“Now you can break your fast. Dine, sup and sleep. Upon the very naked name of love.”

“One of the literary greats?” Ben asked.

“The Bard, himself. The Two Gentlemen from Verona. A play.”

“The Psalmist, I’m afraid is the limit of my poetic study.”

Clay nodded understanding. “Afraid religious studies were unheralded at The Point.”

“West Point?” Ben asked to Clay’s nod.

“But I see pugilism wasn’t neglected.”

Clay nearly guffawed, controlling himself to a vocalized snort. “They failed to teach the avoidance of dark closets.” He touched at a swollen ear.

“I see, though, that your right knuckles found target sufficient.” Ben noticed Clay’s right hand, the knuckles red and slightly swollen.

“They also failed to recommend avoidance of striking someone on top of his head, a fairly useless and potentially ignominious act.”

“And the knot-headed recipient?”

Again, Clay barely kept from drawing attention to himself.

“Let us say a Mr. Jefferson won’t be ordering filet mignon, or any other cut of beef for a while.

“Allow me to offer you my card, sir. You are the first aside from the printer and myself of the new design.”

Ben accepted the simple business card. “The white knight. Paladin.” Ben did not read aloud the four words on the card. “Paladin, wasn’t he a famous knight? Not one of Arthur’s, though.”

“Charlemagne. Yes, he was.”

A waiter brought two plates of the mignon and baked potato. “I took the liberty, sir,” the waiter said.

“Thank you, Hey Boy. Excellent choice.”

The oriental bowed slightly and backed away.

“A regular here, I take it,” Ben said as he began to force a knife into the thick, round cut of meat but finding the blade plunge clear to the plate with hardly any resistance. With raised eyebrows, Ben exclaimed, “Not the way you get them in Colorado.”

“Especially the 25 cent cuts,” Clay replied, grinning as he lifted his fork to his mouth.

“Especially.”

“This is sour cream,” Clay said, spooning a healthy portion into his opened-up potato. “I think you’ll like it. Heap it in there and stir it a bit.”

Sour cream?”

Clay smiled and nodded. “Guess men of the cloth don’t dine much, shall I say?”

“Oh, we eat. Beans and chickens don’t stand a chance once we hit town. But then, I’m no more a typical clergyman than you are a fancy gentleman.” Ben dove into his potato, his eyebrows rising in agreement with Clay’s prediction.

Clay raised his own. “Oh, my card. Yes, I am prepared to offer my services.”

“Mr. Paladin,” Ben grew a little more serious. “I have had dealings with men who may have been interested.” He thought of Salinger and Demone. “But please allow me to postulate: some customers are not always right. Truth and justice may lie otherwise.”

Clay paused before answering. “I shall endeavor to keep that in mind, always. If … you allow me to pay for this meal.”

“You may. I feel the kingdom advancing as we speak.”

“I pray so, Mr. Persons. I pray so.”

After leaving the hotel, Ben moseyed toward the district where he thought he had been shanghaied from, hoping to prevent what he could.

+++

Ben found a closed business, where he could see the public houses across the street and a good view of two or three blocks down the street. It was only beginning to turn dusk. He didn’t expect to see anything yet. He dared not fall asleep, though. He did not care to be shanghaied twice. Lighting the street lamps happened a little later than he thought they ought to have been, but not long after that, he saw two policemen ambling up the street, their Billy clubs ready for action.

A man clearly inebriated came out of one of the taverns. The policemen helped him walk two doors down, laughing as they guided him into another tavern.

Ben waited until the policemen were a few doors further on before making his way to the one they’d walked the drunk to. Inside, even though it was dark, Ben saw no sign of the man he’d seen in the street. Presently a very large man appeared from a back room. He looked about the room before walking to the front door where he stood guard.

Ben left, not letting the large man see his face.

Turning opposite the direction the policemen travelled, Ben counted the doors. In the alley behind the tavern, Ben again counted the doors. The one he wanted was locked. By its stiffness, Ben thought it might be barred on the inside. There was no response to his knock.

On the next street over, Ben watched and waited. Presently he saw three men amiably leave a tavern, joking among each other.

“Fellas! Hold up.” Ben ran to them as they looked around to see who’d called.

“You men care to help a fellow human being?”

Two of them reached for their pocketbooks, as if fending off a beggar looking for drink money.

“No. It’s not like that. I saw a man getting shanghaied.”

“We lost a friend that way,” one of them said. “He just went around back to relieve himself. He never came back. No sign anywhere.”

“You could help. He’s at the Ram.”

“Never go there, friend. That’s a mean place,” one of them said.

Ben laid it out – “I’ll keep the bruiser at the door busy while you go directly in and to the right where you’ll see a door on the back wall. He’s in there. Unbar the back door and out you go with him. Bring him back here and I’ll take him off your hands.”

“We’ll do it,” one said just before all four exchanged names.

At the Ram, the three entered first as Ben held back long enough for the big man to turn and look at them. Before he turned back, Ben punched him in the stomach as hard as he could, bending him over. The man leaned back into the wall and slid to his rump. Ben left before the man looked up at him.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Superbia: the ship Ben was shanghaied to

I apologize for the repetitious reference to the calling, but dialogue required.

I hope you forgive the deviation. Something like this might've happened, though likely not. I just thought it would be fun to insert the iconic character. The Paladin part of this chapter has no basis in reality.

The TV series Have Gun - Will Travel did not offer Paladin's name, but other sources indicate Clay Alexander, who came to be Paladin following a fight with Broderick Jefferson. Hey Boy became Paladin√¢??s assistant. The TV show always started in the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco.


Chapter 40
One Man's Calling, Ch 40

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part, Ben accepted the gratitude of Superbia’s owners and then returned to San Francisco. He shared a meal with Clay Alexander, who turned out to be Paladin. Ben enlisted the help of three men in aid of one being shanghaied.

Ben didn’t know whether the men that his three friends helped liberate had been drugged, knocked unconscious, or were yet suffering the effects of their drink. Whatever the case, the three valiant rescuers managed to get not just the one drunken man that Ben knew of, but another bound in the same room, as well. The largest of the three firemen carried the smaller of the two. The other two firemen carried the second, about-to-be-shanghaied, man to where Ben waited. The four of them took the two to the nearest church where Ben vouched to stay with them until they’d sobered enough to be on their own.

Parting, Ben suggested they not broadcast their adventure, since the police seemed to be involved on the wrong side.

For the next several days, Ben made quiet inquiries about police activities around the city. Street preaching on occasion, his hat out for donations, and witnessing as the Holy Spirit led, Ben felt led to pursue the city’s corruption. He found himself again at the Hotel Carlton.

“Well, hello, my friend Ben.” Clay Alexander greeted Ben when he found him at his own favorite table. “Are you ready for another of the Carlton’s steaks?”

“No, I don’t think so. Not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it. I’m afraid I can’t afford to reciprocate, and I wouldn’t impose on your generosity. No, I made sure to eat before getting here to ensure against temptation. This coffee will do.”

“They grind and mix a variety of beans themselves. Best in the West.” Clay sat in his customary seat that Ben had kindly left for him.

“No, I don’t need a steak, but I would like some information. Are you versed on the workings of the San Francisco government, specifically with respect to the Police Department?”

Clay frowned, looking around. After a moment’s pause, he leaned in somewhat. “Ben, are you familiar with the proverb: Don’t crap where you eat? Or, don’t foul your own nest?”

Ben nodded.

“My friend, there are worse things than being shanghaied.”

“Some things ought not be.”

“So, you think a new broom can sweep clean?”

Ben replied, “To really clean the steps, you need to start at the top. But I’m willing to pick up what makes men trip, stumble, and fall.”

“A trash collector,” Clay quipped.

“Or a street sweeper, if you must.”

“Look, I know of a man, a lawyer, Henry Halleck. He represented Juana Briones. She just goes by Juana now that she divorced her no good husband. Anyway, Halleck can tell you all you want to know, and then some about this town.

“But Ben … don’t be the fool who charges in where giants go to die.”

Ben finished his cooled coffee, rose, and thanked Clay as he left.

+++

 “Ben Persons, do come in. I’m honored beyond measure.”

“Sir?” Ben looked at the attorney, Mr. Henry Halleck askew.

“Clay. He told me of your meeting. And rather, I’m afraid, a bit more than he divulged to yourself.”

Ben furrowed his brow.

“Yes. Have a seat. No, on second thought, do you have another engagement this afternoon?” It was just after one. Hearing that he had not, Halleck stood. “Then let’s hire a cab and be off.”

“Off, sir?”

“Henry. Call me Henry. Yes, I understand you’re interested in the goings-on of our fine city.”

Ben nodded once.

“Well, none better to hear it from than Juana, formerly Juana Brionse. She’s getting on up there and I happen to have an updated will that requires her signature. You don’t mind serving as witness, do you?”

“Of course not.”

“Then let’s be off. And on the way I’ll tell you a story you may find of interest.”

Once having given the carriage driver the address, Ben and Henry settled in for a harrowing ride.

“How does he keep the horses calm in these conditions?” Ben asked. “The hills, the stops at the top, the trolley noise. He must wear out the brake regularly.”

Henry laughed. “Ben,” he began. “You never heard of our friend Clay, or Paladin, before coming here, to Frisco?”

“No sir, Henry. Should I have?”

“Well, let’s just say that you might’ve. Let me mention a couple names that Clay told me: Mason Salinger and Sheriff Watson.”

Ben’s eyes grew wide.

Henry chuckled. “I thought so.” He chuckled again. “You, of course know Clay’s business?” Seeing Ben nod, Henry continued. “Seems your Mason Salinger had aught against you. A thousand dollars’ worth of aught. But by the time our friend arrived in Creede, Salinger was already run out of town by you and Sheriff Watson.”

Before Ben could say anything, intending to ask why Clay didn’t pursue the matter, since he’d already been paid, Henry raised his hand.

“Two things: one, Salinger didn’t, you might say, leave a forwarding address. And two: it didn’t take long for Clay to figure out your role in town. Let’s say he was impressed. And three: well not actually three, but …

“Well, after some time, Clay read a newspaper account … he reads several newspapers … that a Los Angeles preacher took a leave of absence to go to Colorado. It seems someone told someone who told someone who told a reporter that both Salinger and you were dead, killed in a cave-in.”

Henry looked squarely at Ben.

Ben sighed, exhaling deeply, then nodded at Henry.

“Well? Are you both dead?” His face hid a chuckle.

“Everyone thought I was dead. Salinger certainly was, is. I let it lie when I found out and moved to Chicago for a spell.”

“Just in time to arrive in San Francisco and get yourself shanghaied.” Henry continued his gaze, a grin on his face.

Ben returned the grin.

“You, Mr. Persons, are living some life.”

“I am that,” Ben agreed. “One day at a time.”

+++

“A land grant of 4400 hundred acres, I owned. Lived at the Presidio when it was Spain. Later I owned the first house between the Presidio and Mission Delores.”

Juana was a little slow in her delivery, but clear and strong, despite obvious weakening with age.

“I gave some land to the city for a park, a big park. And I lost some of it, but not all, like most everyone else. Yerba Buena they called the place first. Named it after the herbs that grew wild. I used it for healing, healing mint tea.”

Juana studied Ben’s eyes. “You know something of healing. I see it.”

Ben offered her eyes of compassion.

“Then it was San Francisco. After St Francis de Asis. Twenty-one white residents when I built my house. Of course, that didn’t count me.” Juana laughed. “I could have bought them all, but they didn’t count me.” Juana merely smiled. “That didn’t matter. It didn’t change who I was. Now there’s 300,000, depending on where you stop counting.”

“Henry told me you are a doctor,” Ben said.

Juana didn’t contradict. “Scurvy, babies, broken bones, the like.” Juana gave a dismissive wave.

“Your healing work?” Juana asked, her eyes piercing Ben’s.

“The Lord has worked through me from time-to-time.”

Juana nodded, understanding. “You have a calling. I can see it. Not your calling, I cannot see. I see you in your calling. You have suffered, but gladly. You do not let dirty feet walk through your mind.”

Turning to Henry, Juana said, “You tell how the rocks roll around here. Tell him the truth. He dón need no ancient history lesson. Just what God needs him to know.”

Henry, who’d been a silent party to Ben and Juana’s conversation, nodded.

They bade their good-byes and left.

Ben learned that Juana had passed on not too many days after their meeting.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Henry Halleck: a San Francisco lawyer
Clay Alexander: Paladin (totally fictitious character, borrowed from television)
Juana Briones: an early and highly respected resident of San Francisco (historic character)
Mason Salinger: an old nemesis of Ben
Sheriff Watson: an old friend of Ben

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" - E.M. Forster, 1905
I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet. - Mahatma Ghandi


Chapter 41
One Man's Calling, Ch 41

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben met the oldest and about the earliest settler of San Francisco, Juana Briones. Henry informs Ben that Paladin had had a Mason Salinger contract to kill him when Ben lived in Creede.

“Juana said that you didn’t need any ancient history. But you need to know a little. Those twenty-one white residents were back in ’42. In ’48, the population was less than 500. That’s when Mexico gave California up to the States. Of course, you know about the ’49 gold rush and statehood because of the gold in ’50.”

Ben nodded.

“San Francisco went crazy. Money was flying like so many sparrows, Jaybirds, more like. There were millionaires, and wanna-be millionaires. The police were as corrupt as any of them. And not enough of them, either. Crime was horrible. Of course, I wasn’t here yet. I was born in the state capitol, down in San Jose. Moved to the city when I became an attorney. Juana was one of my first clients.” Henry smiled and shook his head.

“’51 there was the first of the Committee of Vigilance. Their concentration was on the gangs.”

Filling in the pause, Ben shook his head. “Not liking the sound of that.”

“Oh, I guess they did all right. A little hard-nose in their ways, some of them. A little rough.

“And then again in ’56. The same thing – the vigilance committee. They did it better that time. Three thousand of them, three-month stints. They didn’t get as full of themselves. Some of the police joined their ranks, glad to have backing for stopping crime. The difference that time was that they took over the whole government, either running things or overseeing things.”

“So what happened?” Ben asked.

“Probably the same as a lot of other places where growth is too fast, too much money slung about, and the opportunities for corruption too widespread. And … add to that hiring policemen who have no business carrying a badge.”

Ben nodded agreement. “Almost like when you ask for applications, you should never hire those who apply.”

“Or those who’d been arrested for violent crimes the week before.”

Ben snapped his head around to see Henry respond by nodding the truth of it.

“Look, Ben. Next Saturday evening there’s a party. All the wheels will be there. The governor’s supposed to be there. You have a suit?”

“I can get one.”

“Well if you can’t … anyway come to my office Saturday about six. One of my partners is about your size. I’ll have one. We can leave from there.”

Ben nodded agreement.

+++

Henry introduced Ben to a few of the party attendees, but soon joined toward a group of women, one in particular. Ben ambled about the room. One conversation caught his attention, the loudest of the four or five men obviously affected by his drink, a half full glass that he sloshed, causing his neighbors to pay more attention to what was more than likely not his first. “Will you send me your troops, Governor? You know what happened lash time!”

“The last time, Mayor? You mean when an honest bureaucrat couldn’t be found in the entire government of San Francisco?” The Governor laughed, condescension evading the mayor who was well on his way to inebriation only a half an hour into the party.

“We have laws! And vigilante-ism is against all of ‘em. There’s rumors …”

By this time, surprised at his presumptiveness, Ben found himself beside California’s governor and across from San Francisco’s mayor.

Ben felt compelled to pelt the mayor with accusatory questions. “Is there a street you would fear to walk, day or night, Mr. Mayor? Is there a policeman you would advise your friends, or your own children to avoid? Is there an inspector, or permitter who you would trust to charge only what is lawful and pocket nothing? Are there kickbacks in your contracts, Mr. Mayor?”

The governor leaned back in order to more fully appraise Ben.

“Mr. Mayor would you shave your mustache, dress as a commoner, and expect one of your police officers to come to your aid if accosted by a ruffian? Would you care to leave this building and walk even two blocks with me right this moment?”

“Well, what say you, Mister Mayor?” the governor asked with a certain challenge in his tone.

Ben nodded, his expression bordering scorn as he turned and walked away from the group.

“Your opposition next election, or your overseer next Committee of Vigilance? Best to clean it up, Roger. And I don’t mean window dressing.” With that, the governor signaled his aid that he was ready to leave.

Once at the edge of the room, Ben turned back, nearly bumping into a gentleman who’d been following him. Fascinated by the man’s tangle of hair, Ben almost missed the man’s comment.

“Your suit doesn’t suit you.” The man bore into Ben’s eyes waiting a response that wouldn’t come. Ben knew that the comment was not a reflection of the borrowed attire.

“Sam Clemens of the San Francisco Call.” He extended his hand.

“Ben Persons.” Ben saw the squint in Clemens’ right eye, obviously attempting to recall how he might recognize the name.

“I’m thinking a pickax in your hands, or maybe a gun.” Again, Clemens offered Ben a chance to explain himself.

“Or a Bible,” Ben finally said.

Clemens’ head bobbed as if agreeing. “Or a Bible. Not a thumper, though. And not a scholarly apologetic.

“You’ve read my letters to the editor about police corruption?”

“Sorry to say I haven’t. Only really been in town a few days. After getting off the train few months ago.”

Clemens studied Ben’s face, pointing an unlit cigar at him. “Shanghaied.”

Ben smiled, soliciting a guffaw from Clemens.

Responding to Sam’s outburst, two men sidled beside him.

“Oh, Ben Parsons, meet Bret Harte and… oh what in tarnation are you going by today?” Clemens grinned amiably at his friend who wouldn’t play along. “Oh, right, Ambrose Bierce.”

“Persons,” Ben corrected, shaking the two men’s hands.

“Dare say, you missed Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson by only a few days,” Ambrose said. “On his way up to Sonoma from his house in Monterey. Dare say, that man is one to watch. He’ll be the famous one.”

“Might want to walk backwards, or solicit some friends to watch your back, the one named Harte said. “Heard the mayor’s man asking about you. You came with Halleck?” After Ben nodded, Harte added, “A good man, a good lawyer to have on your side.”

“My side, gentlemen? I hate to think that truth, and justice, and common human compassion has a side, but rather is the floor upon which humanity attempts to stand,” Ben said.

“Upon which humanity stands,” Clemens repeated in a loud enough voice to gain attention. Continuing as if delivering a performance, his eyes invited a crowd. “My uncle Jeber, back in Hannibal, Missouri, had this mule, a Jenny, she was, not no Henny, the product of a male horse and female donkey. No sir, Ol’ Hubert, Uncle Jeber called him, was a Jenny of proper Jack and a Morgan mare.

“Ol’ Hubert, he thought to be envious of the true bloods, all primped and fawned over, carrying gentlemen and ladies, all riding side-saddle, mind you, to the balls and socials. Ol’ Hubert never toted no gentleman, nor lady, either one. Never tasted a single barley or oat, either. Grass of the stemmiest nature, hay even was his fare.

“Yessir, Ol’ Hubert, he was even somewhat envious of the donkeys that gave him sire. Why those creatures were the pets of the young and the old, alike, petted, and fondled, never required to carry heavy burdens, or to travel great distances. No sir. The horses and donkeys all, favored and cherished.

“Unlike Ol’ Hubert and his ilk. Hubert’s lot was to pull a Sears and Roebuck two-bottom plow.”

The women among the gathered, which was most of the room, blushed, fanning themselves.

“Why, to do the necessities bought him a taste o’ the whip. Yessir.

“Well, Ol’ Hubert, in short order, he decided that plowing those Missouri rocks wasn’t for him. No siree. He followed uncle Jeber right into the house and stood himself up on his hind legs for the whole world to see his nether parts.”

The crowd chuckled at Clemens’ picture.

“Well, soon enough, Ol’ Hubert grew fingers and a voice box and right away, he thought he was as good, or better, a man than Uncle Jeber.

“’Jeber,’ Ol’ Hubert said, ‘think I’ll be runnin’ fer mayor. Git me a suit made outta the flag.’”

Even Ben smiled as the room rang laughter.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Henry Halleck: a San Francisco lawyer
Samuel Clemens: Mart Twain, reporter for the Fan Francisco Call
Bret Harte: author, friend of mark Twain (in S.F. at the same time)
Ambrose Bierce: author, friend of mark Twain (in S.F. at the same time)


Apologetics: reasoned arguments, theory of religious doctrine

Liberties are taken with respect to the historical timeline of the Committees of Vigilance and the writers, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Ambrose Bierce, though the vigilantes were real and the writers were in San Francisco at the same time and knew one another.
The San Francisco Vigilance Committee was a vigilante group giving themselves the more peaceful name in hopes of presenting a more honorable face.


Chapter 42
One Man's Calling, Ch 42

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben overheard the mayor of San Francisco ask the state governor if he would send troops to squelch another Committee of Vigilance uprising. The governor indicated no. Ben confronted the mayor. Sam Clemens entertained the partiers with a tale ridiculing the mayor.

“A storm is coming. Make ready. Make ready your hearts. Clean your own houses, and then the house of your overlords, those who have say over you. Left unbridled, or unyoked, the creature will control the man. Clean yourselves, accept Christ’s righteousness, then control the beast that would control you!” Ben preached his message with little deviation.

One-on-one, Ben was all about saving people’s souls, but on his soapbox, he preached purity of motives, motives clearly being of a political nature, and heard as such by the masses. Ben didn’t hesitate to take the message into every section, every district.

In his travels, as he did in Chicago, Ben met with pastors of the various churches. His common theme was unity.

“Pastor Smith, the people of San Francisco should have one goal – to make themselves and their families ready to meet the Lord. A storm is coming to this town. I can feel it. And you can feel it. Nothing is more important than saving souls, and keeping them saved from the wiles of the world. Second, biting on the heels of being saved into the kingdom, is safety, safety for themselves, their families, and their neighbors. Before taking up arms, men ought to take up their voices in prayer for their leaders … and in their voices at the ballot box.

“Preachers and pastors and priests the city over should join ranks, form an alliance, a ministerial alliance. Sweep the city clean as you would your homes.”

Many clergymen in the city heard the message, though some were less than enthusiastic in the social concerns. Contrarily, some failed to understand the pre-eminence of evangelism, believing that close adherence to doctrine was the penultimate and primary focus of spiritual leadership. Undeterred, Ben continued preaching spiritual preparation and social consciousness.

As Ben finished sharing God's word on one street corner, three men approached him. The fog had not yet burned off and with the sun at their backs Ben could not discern their intentions. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, he stepped aside, toward another corner of the intersection. They not only angled toward him, but separated somewhat in the doing. Ben was fairly certain he could handle one easily enough, and maybe convince two to give it up, whatever they had in mind. But the third man told him he was in for a beating.

Suddenly the one in the center called his name, “Ben, Ben Persons?” It was Clyde Simpkins.

“Let’s walk,” Clyde said. “Jim and Walter will meet us after they get rid of your follower.”

“Follower?”

“Later. Here. Down this alley.” Clyde and Ben stepped it up, nearly running until Clyde was sure they were not followed.

“Jim and Walter will meet us at the fisherman’s wharf,” Clyde said.

“So what’s going on?” Ben began to stop, but was tugged on by Clyde.

“We can talk later. But we got wind that you were being followed. This was the soonest we found you and had the three of us to get you loose. Figured you wouldn’t go with anyone else.”

“Likely not,” Ben agreed.

“Had supper?” Clyde asked as they waited. “Not a proper meal, but a half a loaf o’ this an’ yer stomach will be happy, anyway.” Clyde purchased a medium size loaf of sourdough bread from a vendor and broke it in half.

“What’s that taste?” Ben asked. “Can’t say I’ve ever had that before.”

“49ers brought the starter over by boat. They call it sourdough.”

“Sour?”

“Yeah. Warmed up with butter … hmmm-hmm.” Clyde took another large bite.

Ben smelled it and nibbled a few bites until he gained a taste for it.

“Here they come,” Clyde said, watching his friends’ approach.

First, they told Ben about his being watched and followed for the past few days.

Then they got to the brunt of their issue.

“Ben, your pressure for a ministerial alliance is working. More than half of the pastors are on-board, and more will join. But the praying for better times and wait for the next election …”

“That ain’t workin’ so good,” Walter finished for Clyde.

“Uh-huh. Let me ask,” Ben said. “Have you prayed? Got on your knees for even five or ten minutes asking God what he would have you do? Or have you already made up your minds? Look, don’t think I’m not grateful for what you did. But when you ask God to do something, you have to give him a chance to do it.” Ben paused for effect. “I’m not saying to abandon all of your plans. Personally, I kind’ve like the one I heard where three or four civilians shadow policemen, at least those known to be crooked. And some blocks in this city could use strong, righteous men on patrol. There’s probably a lot more that could be done to help people be more safe. But it has to begin with prayer if you expect God’s hand of protection.”

Ben thought better than to hint that a protective hand would be on civilian guardians, knowing that some might very well be hurt, or even killed. But those were the words that came to him, so those were the words he spoke.

The grumbles from the three were barely intelligible. Finally, Clyde spoke. “We know you’re stayin’ under a tarp in the Presidio. There’ll be a man nearby. He’ll be wearin’ a white hat with a yellow band. Then he’ll be replaced with another. Call to them if need be. And don’t let no police take you anywhere.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Ben replied. “And again, thank you. Don’t forget what I said, a storm is coming and you want to be under God’s umbrella.”

The men separated; Ben bound for wherever God led him – followed by a man with a white hat banded with yellow.

+++

Ben found himself in the red-light district. He didn’t deliberately lose his white hat escort, but didn’t see him anywhere around. What he did see was a man with a familiar look. Ben strode across the street toward the man who appeared to be on his way to inebriation. “Whoa, Buddy. Watch yer step. You just about tripped.

“Hey, don’t I know you?”

The nearly drunk man looked at Ben and said that he needed to get to the Golden Cup Saloon. Ben understood him well enough.

“Why do you need to go there, Friend, You’re already half sauced.”

“They give me credit,” he managed to say without too much slurring.

“Looks like when you run out of money is a pretty good time to stop drinking.”

The man looked at Ben blinking as if he didn’t understand Ben’s words. “Huh?”

“Why is it that you want to get so drunk?” Ben asked.

“Caush ‘at what ‘appens when I drink.”

“Let me help you,” Ben said as he draped the man’s arm over his shoulder, Ben’s shoulder supporting him. “I’ll help you like we’re old pals.”

“Pals.”

“You’re one of the two we kept from being shanghaied! Remember me? I’m Ben Persons.”

“Shang-tied. Yeah. Shang-tied. Ish thish the Golden Cup?” he asked as they passed a saloon.

“No, that was, I don’t know what it was, but not the Golden Cup. Let’s turn here. Downhill will be a bit easier.”

“I don’t think thish is the way.” The man looked around, finally settling on Ben. “Hey! You’re the one didn’t let he get shanghaied.”

“That’s right. And maybe I’m doing it again. You never know. Come on, pick ‘em up. We’ll maybe get something to eat. You have a family, Joshua? It’s Joshua, isn’t it?”

“Josh Smalley. Where we goin’, anyway?”

“Guess I didn’t know where the Golden Cup was? Maybe this way.”

Ben kept walking with Josh until Josh begged to sit somewhere, he was too tired to go on. He told Ben his address, but Ben didn’t recognize the street name and didn’t think he had enough money to pay a cab. At any rate, most cabbies had quit for the day, as had the trolleys.

Seeing a church steeple just a couple blocks further, Ben coaxed Josh to tough it out for just a few more minutes. Around the side was a door that had a small overhang, offering a little protection against the settling fog. Josh was asleep almost instantly. All Ben had on was an overshirt, but he took it off and covered Josh as best he could.

Ben stomped his feet and jogged in place as he prayed.

 

Author Notes Ben had it slightly askew. Cleaning ourselves or our houses is not prerequisite to salvation.
Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Jim Ratcliffe: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Walter Byrne: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Joshua Smalley: drunkard that Ben and the three had rescued


Chapter 43
One Man's Calling, Ch 43

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben convinced most of the San Francisco clergymen to form a ministerial alliance in order to deal with an impending storm. The three who helped Ben rescue two from being shanghaied found him, attempting to enlist his participation in a vigilante effort. Ben convinced them to give God a chance to work. Finally, Ben found the same drunk that they’d rescued, helping him make it through the night.

“Josh,” Ben began as Josh pointed out his apartment building. “Do you want to continue as you have been, binge drinking?” Josh had told Ben that his drinking was a pay-day event. He paid his bills, and drank until passed out.

Josh took a long time to answer, but finally told Ben that he honestly didn’t know.

Ben nodded. “When you do know, look me up.”

Ben’s next order of business was to clean himself up, maybe get another hour of sleep, and then set about getting finances – he needed an apartment, or at least a room with toilet privileges. Remembering the conversation with his three friends, Ben decided that prayer was his primary need. Under his tarp at the Presidio, Ben began with worship and praise to God for who he was. He intended to move on to thanking him for what all he had done in his life, but woke not knowing when he’d fallen asleep. He felt invigorated.

The large Methodist church being his first thought, a modest Presbyterian church came first on his route. Ben met with the pastor.

“Yes, Mr. Persons, I have been approached about some sort of alliance. But to tell you the truth, I’m not too excited about laying aside what distinguishes us… what in search of a moderated faith, some sort of lowest common denominator? To what end? A universal blasé, milquetoast, pseudo belief in a general-sense Creator?

“I’m afraid we of the Presbyterian faith will decline, but…”

“Pastor, let me explain. Perhaps whoever presented you the alliance was a bit too hasty. The purpose is two-fold, with opportunity for far greater. First, ministers could support one another spiritually.”

The pastor began to jump into the discourse, but Ben quickly continued. “And some members are the stronger and could find themselves able to help bolster the younger or weaker. And secondly, who is so self-sufficient that they cannot be assisted by Christian fellowship? No compromising of faith, and no negotiating of tenets.

“Don’t we have but one major objective, Pastor: to acknowledge God in all his ways, and to bring as many to salvation as we possibly can?” Ben knew that principle could be counted as two, three, or parsed a thousand ways, but believed that the pastor in front of him was above that.

“Now I know that the Presbyterian church has for decades, centuries, been evangelistically- and socially-minded. You have built and staffed churches and schools for the pioneers the entire westward expansion. Done great things for the Kingdom of Christ. Your history and tradition are beyond dispute. Here, in San Francisco is a need. Alcohol is destroying lives and families. And we can do something about it.”

The pastor’s eyes immediately watered, tears streaming down his face. With trembling lips and a quivering voice, he asked Ben how he knew. How he knew that he could not make it through the day without drink, that he took lunch at eleven o’clock in order to get his first glass of wine as early as possible, and that he hadn’t had less than two bottles of wine each day since he could remember.

Ben laid both hands on the pastor’s head and prayed for him: grateful for the man’s confession, grateful for the man’s faith, gratitude for the man’s obvious desire to change.

“Are you ready to change, Pastor? Are you ready to ask God to fix what is wrong physically?”

To keep from sobbing, the pastor clenched his jaws, but said yes, violently nodding his head. Bubbles from his mouth through his thick saliva, he finally said yes, that he was.

“Lift your hands, Pastor, and praise God for delivering you.”

He did.

“Pastor, there is a problem that must be addressed.” Ben waited for the pastor to look him in the eye. “Your heart and mind say one thing, but your body, absent a miraculous healing, says another. Your body will crave the wine. Your hands will want to pour it, and your mouth will want to drink it.”

The pastor’s eyes opened wide like a man terrified.

“Pastor, I believe that it is critical that you meet with others with similar issues. Can I bring a man to you who needs the same as you?”

“Yes, if I can help…” He didn’t speak the reciprocal that they both understood.

Ben went on to the Methodist church where he thought he could connect their pastor with the Methodist church in Chicago, hoping for a Salvation Army branch in San Francisco. The pastor wasn’t in, but Ben was told to come back in the afternoon.

His head near spinning, Ben took a trolley car ride to the financial district. Exiting the streetcar at his destination, he took up residence on the corner with his hat on the ground beside him and began preaching Isaiah’s message of evangelism dominant in his heart: Who will I send? Send me.

In his periphery, Ben saw a man with a yellow-ribboned white hat board the other side of a trolley.

Standing on the street corner, his hat on the ground beside him, Ben began preaching Isaiah’s message along with Jesus’ whosoever salvation call. After a time, Ben stopped.

“Have a drink, Ben, isn’t it?” The man in the white hat handed him a canteen. Seeing Ben’s reluctance, he chuckled. “Water, Ben. It’s just water." The man continued, "I see someone put a confectionary in your hat. Ghirardelli. I’m told that’s the best. Don’t care for chocolate myself.” Hesitantly, Ben unwrapped the confectionary and tasted it, his first food of his day. “Wow! This is great! What is it, again?”

“Chocolate, Ghirardelli Chocolate. Can’t stand it myself.”

In that same moment, Henry Halleck approached. “Ben Persons! I was to look you up today, send someone for you. Fancy just coming on you on my route to the office!” After a greeting and introduction to Ben’s white hatted protector, Ben followed Henry to his office just around the corner.

“Juana’s will specified that ten percent of her estate was to go to charities. Of course I made contributions to her church, but… well, I simply haven’t the inclination to write checks to charlatans, or organizations that I don’t think Juana would trust.”

“Have you ever heard of the Salvation Army?” Ben asked.

Henry’s eyes lit up. “I have! Began in England? London?”

Ben explained that he was just that day to meet with the Methodist pastor who Ben was certain would sponsor a chapter.

“Whatever it takes, Ben. Juana would hug you for letting her participate. And also, she would like to contribute to your ministry. Would you make use of, say a hundred dollars a month?”

Immediately Ben saw forty as sufficient for his needs.

“Then let us say fifty and you can share as… as God sees fit.” The expression, somewhat foreign to Henry, came out as a stutter.

Ben thanked him.

“I’ll open an account in your name in the bank downstairs, The Miner’s Bank. You can make withdrawals as you see fit. Here, let me write a check and you can open the account. They’ll need your signature in any event. I’ll write if for the first quarter, a hundred and fifty.” Henry’s hand stopped as he got to the dollar amount on the check, writing two hundred without mentioning it to Ben.

Ben praised God with every step to the bank.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Joshua Smalley: drunkard that Ben and the three had rescued
Henry Halleck: San Francisco lawyer, friend of Ben
Juana Briones: an early and highly respected resident of San Francisco


Alcoholics Anonymous was born by the publishing of the Big Book in 1939, by William (Bill) Wilson, at first with a few friends, and then as many as 100 contributors worked on the book and the 12-step method detailed in the book. History dances in this part.

Prov. 3:6 (In all your ways acknowledge Him...) (There are many other scriptures of similar meaning)
Matt. 4:19 (fishers of men) ((here are many other scriptures of the same gist)
Ps. 63:4 (lift your hands) (there are many other scriptures of the same gist)
Is. 6: ... Whom shall I send?... Send me.


Chapter 44
One Man's Calling, Ch 44

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben connected an alcoholic pastor with his friend, the drunk in what began an AA club. Henry Halleck awarded Ben funds from Juana’s will.

^^^^^^^^^

“You’ll be coming with us.” Two policemen came to Ben from behind, grabbing him by the arms as he finished one of his short street sermons.

“No, sirs,” Ben said. “I’m heaven bound, myself. And I can’t say that I’m not anxious to return.”

The officers had Ben around a corner, quickly out of sight of the crowd that had gathered to hear Ben’s words.

“There’s a man at The Ram would like to see you. I think you’ve made his acquaintance,” one of the policemen said.

The other, not to be denied a leading role said, “It’s only a few blocks. You can walk smartly, or it’s over me shoulder like so much potatoes. Hah!”

“I’ve thought a bullet in the back of the head a far more favorable way to see my savior, but the Lord’s disciples suffered horribly, so who am I to quibble over petty details?”

“You’ll be wishing, ahg…” The policeman to Ben’s left suddenly dropped as might his sack of potatoes. Ben’s left hand freed, he swung a roundhouse to the officer on his right, intending to break his nose. Instead, Ben felt teeth break along with what might be one of his knuckles. He also felt pain in his forearm. When that officer fell, the white hat escort’s ax handle continued its downward momentum, clipping Ben’s follow-through.”

“Sorry about that, Mate," the white hat escort friend said. "Shall we be off before someone gets it in their head that civilians shouldn’t be knocking out police officers?”

They left at a run, ultimately headed for a doctor that could look at Ben’s injuries.

+++

Ben’s arm in a sling and his hand in a cast, his next project was decent living quarters. The white hat escort of the moment recommended someplace off the beaten path, the price of anything suitably safe being too high within the city. Ben found exactly what he needed, a bit more than he required, actually, on the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, a full one-bedroom apartment over a piano and voice teaching studio for $25 a month. Ben choked, but with Juana’s (as well as Henry’s generosity…), it was doable. The teacher’s father owned the building.

When Ben went to the bank for a withdrawal, he stopped in to visit Henry.

“Henry, is there a venue, an opera room, or I don’t know, a large meeting room in San Francisco? What’s the largest there is that rents out the space?”

Henry grinned. “Thinking of enlarging your street corner, are you?”

Ben laughed. “Oh no. Not for me. I’m thinking of arranging a city revival, maybe call it an awakening.”

Henry almost frowned, but didn’t.

“Margaret!” Henry called to his secretary. When she appeared, Henry asked her to note all the larger venues that might rent their facilities, both indoor and outdoor, along with any available contact information.

The next day Ben used his white hat escort to help him plot the venues on a map for the most efficient travel route between them. Ben also asked him how he might meet with Clyde. It was two days later that Clyde wore the white hat.

“Clyde, the man I wanted to speak with.”

“So I heard, Ben. Also heard you had another incident with our nearly shanghaied friend.”

“I did. And glad, too. We’re going to have an alcoholics group of some sort in San Francisco. Where men with the problem can help one another beat it.”

Clyde made a face, his eyes popping wide as he tipped his head sideways nodding. “Might work for some, might.”

“Gonna try to get a Salvation Army chapter, too.”

Ar-my?”

Ben described it to him, receiving another wide-eyed nod.

“What I wanted to talk to you about, to ask you really, was about city politics. Do you have anyone running against the mayor?”

“Well first, it’s not me. But I know what you mean. I’ve heard a few names, but doubt seriously if they could win. And even if they did, that they’d have the cajo… what it would take to clean things up, cut out the corruption.”

“What about Henry Halleck?”

“Halleck? He interested?”  When Ben didn’t respond, Clyde continued. “He’s solid. Got a good reputation. Fearless in court. He’s got standing, too. Been here near his whole life. And no doubt knows people, could appoint sturdy people.”  Clyde pondered a moment. “Let me float his name about, get someone influential to have a talk with him.”

Ben nodded.

Two days later he had a fair notion of how an Awakening series of services could work. At his first opportunity he took pen to paper, though he had to purchase both.

Dwight L. Moody, Chicago, Illinois

Dearest Bro. Moody,

            Please don’t think me presumptuous to write unbidden, but I have an engagement proposal. I also pray that you will receive this as bona fide despite no letterhead of officiousness.

First though, I trust and pray that this finds you well and your ministry flourishing in Christ Jesus.

I regret that during my brief stay in your fair city I failed to make your acquaintance. I’m afraid that the nature of my ministry there was of a slightly different social setting.

I am now called to San Francisco, a virtual pioneer city. There are hints of modernity, but as of yet, shall I say, kerosene is king. The population of San Francisco is around only 300,000 and seemingly growing daily. There are sanctuary seats for about one in twenty, tightly scrunched together. The rest are fair heathen, some worse, nay, many worse than others. An awakening is needed. As such, God has led me to inquire as to whether you would have 1) the desire, or calling, to undertake such a mission, and 2) whether you would have a couple weeks in your schedule, which I am sure is stretched.

I have no doubt, Sir, that should these points be satisfied, God will resolve any remaining issues.

One thing further – should you be positively inclined, there is a man called to preach evangelistically. He has travel experience, though God can work through anyone with or without such. His name is Billy Sunday and plays outfield for the Chicago White Stockings, or at least he did last I was about. His heart is right, I can attest, though I understand you have yet to attest for my own. Also, Billy Sunday could immeasurably benefit by your guidance.

In Jesus’ love, your humble servant,

Ben Persons

Ben read through it and decided not to second guess, trusting that the Holy Spirit gave him the necessary inspiration. Ben also took the time to write his friend, Tony Bertelli.

Ben spent the next several days working with the Presbyterian pastor and Joshua, as well as another man that the pastor knew about. Ben also engaged with the United Methodist pastor who would coordinate with the Chicago Methodist pastor about the Salvation Army. And following up on something Henry Halleck mentioned as an aside one day. Ben had heard of the Y.M.C.A. while in bible college in St. Louis, but hadn’t given it a thought until Henry’s comment. Ben wrote the dean of his college inquiring of a chapter for San Francisco, trusting that with God’s help, he could get it done.

It was almost, but not quite two weeks later that a letter awaited him under his door at his Haight-Ashbury apartment, a missive from D.L. Moody.

Dearest Brother Ben Persons,

            You needn’t have apologized. I immediately knew of you. God, Himself, has endorsed you and your ministry. I am the one in need of forgiveness. I heard you preach on the corner of Roosevelt and Wabash. I placed a quarter in your up-turned hat. I have apologized to God already. Here I apologize to you. I should have emptied my pockets.

            My intent was to introduce myself, but you immediately lit into another sermon, obviously desirous that every passer-by hears something of the saving grace of our dear savior. Then it came upon me that it was you who was doing God’s will in that moment and not I, and that I was to simply move on and allow God’s hand free reign.

            Not that only, was it that I heard of you. Your reputation among the clergy had gotten about. Rumor of your exploits with regards to certain, shall I say, redeemed women, were not mere rumor to my ears. And then the untimely demise of a certain tool of the evil one immediately followed by your own disappearance, well, sir. God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

            As to your specifics: 1) I have the desire, and sense the calling. And 2) All of October is suspiciously open.

            Please telegram me the date of the first appointment with sufficient travel time between for me to arrive a day or two before.

            And as to Bro. Billy Sunday, he has been sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenies. But fear not his season will be quite finished by October. We shall see what God has in store.

            Now, as to remuneration and expenses: Suppose we allow God to handle the petty things as well as things eternal.

Your Brother in Christ, anxiously awaiting your reply

D.L. Moody

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Joshua Smalley: drunkard that Ben and the three had rescued
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Henry Halleck: a San Francisco lawyer
Dwight L. Moody: a nationally renowned preacher and bible school founder

God Moves in a Mysterious Way - Christian hymn by William Cowper, 1773
D.L. Moody did visit San Francisco during this time frame.


Chapter 45
One man's Calling, Ch 45

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben was in a fight, breaking a knuckle and arm. His proposal that Henry run for mayor is being considered. Ben arranged for D.L. Moody to preach an Awakening series in San Francisco.

“Good morning, Clyde. You’re a welcome surprise. I didn’t expect to see you under the white hat so soon.”

“I wanted to share the news with you.”

Ben was just leaving his apartment, intending to preach at the Levi Straus factory as employees entered, before going to the Mount Sutro area, a region he’d yet to visit.

“And what news to share with me got you up hours before the sun on this Wednesday morning?”

“There was a meeting on Saturday of the, uh, well, I don’t know what you’d call ‘em. Anyway, there wasn’t a single objection to Halleck. So a few of them went to see Henry yesterday. He agreed to allow his name to be placed on the ballot, although he said he wouldn’t campaign. He would serve, just not play the political games.”

“Sounds like him,” Ben said, nodding.

“Then, Monday afternoon a courier delivered a document to our office laying out Henry’s agenda, his goals for a new city government. It starts with replacement of every appointed officer and investigations leading to prosecution of the police chief and anyone suspected of criminal behavior. Next was a law change that would allow bonds to be sold, the money to build a proper sewer system, and other needed projects.

“Henry repeated that he wasn’t going to campaign, but authorized our people to campaign for him with his platform.”

Ben smiled. “Sounds like steps in the right direction.”

At the entrance to the trousers factory, Ben was met with confusion. People were being turned away from the plant, not allowed to go in to work.

“Rats,” Clyde told Ben as they both backed away from the colliding crowd. “Managers won’t let the workers in. They’re going to have to do something about the swarms of rats that came with the crates of fabric just delivered off a boat in the harbor.

“Do you mind preaching over that way, today? I really need to go see what the city is doing about all the rats. You know that’s where the plague came from in Europe.”

“No, I didn’t,” Ben replied. “But you go ahead, I’ll go on to the Sutra. I’ll be fine.” After seeing Clyde’s questioning gaze, Ben added, “And I’ll be careful.”

+++

A couple days later Ben asked the on-duty white hat escort when might be a good time to find Clyde. On the next day, the white hat escort, a different one from the day before, guided Ben to an oyster bar at noon time. Clyde was ranting with another at a table for four.

“Ah, my friend, the preacher. Always good to see you… alive. To what do we owe the pleasure? Oh, this is my good friend, Alphonzo. Alphonzo keeps the peace, as much as possible, in the wharf district. Despite the interference by the police, right Alphonzo?”

Alphonzo smiled weakly.

Filling the opening, Ben brought Clyde up to date with the plans to have church revival meetings in October.

“Hmmm. Just weeks before the election. Should work well. An audience for a speaker, or two.”

Ben shook his head. “Sorry Clyde, but only if you plan on bringing a couple of the apostles back from heaven. God alone will be directing the awakening.”

Clyde silently stared at Ben. Finally, he laughed, bellowing, “As it should be, my preacher friend, as it should be.”

“The plague, though, will mass gatherings be safe by then? Will there be enough people still alive? Will it be safe to bring in our guests?”

Clyde thought a minute. "That is an issue, a present issue. The present mayor claims that the current matter is due to cadavers and burials. He got the council to issue an emergency order…”

“At ridiculous grafting rates,” Alphonzo interjected.

“… to empty every graveyard in the city. Move all the bodies to Colma a little town to the south.”

“The dead will outnumber the living a thousand to one,” Alphonzo added.

“And guess what?” Clyde immediately answered himself. “The mayor’s real estate buddy has exclusive right to sell the cemetery properties and take commissions.”

“And kickbacks,” Alphonzo added.

“You might avoid Chinatown,” Clyde said. “They’re gonna quarantine the whole district.”

“Nobody in, nobody out,” Alphonzo declared, a smile on his face that disturbed Ben.

“Guess that’s where I need to be. Do most of them speak English, or should I find an interpreter?”

Clyde and Aphonzo both glared at Ben as if he was a lunatic.

“God’s call is to people, gentlemen.”

After a moment, Clyde rose to leave. “Rat poison and cats, my friend. Fill your building with rat poison and cats.”

+++

“Best not to look, Mr. Ben. Look udder way.” Ben’s interpreter attempted to physically turn Ben’s body to face the opposite end of Kearny Street.

The interpreter, twenty-year-old Hao whispered “Tong”. 

Ben looked at him blankly.

“Tong, like gang, only worse. They business, Mr. Ben.”

“That child being drug by her hair?”

“She prostitute, Mr. Ben.”

“She’s a child! What ten, twelve?”

“Maybe fourteen, fifteen, I think,” Hao answered. “We small, you big.”

“Still a child.”

“Yes, Mr. Ben. Should be with parents. But she prostitute now.”

“Not here.” Hao led Ben to a more private area where he described the business of destitute parents in China who sold their daughters to a dealer who promised work and prosperity for the daughters, netting parents about $80, and then selling them in San Francisco for ten or fifteen times as much. “They promise work, family, good life. Not getting enough girls that way, the evil merchants kidnapped girls. Sometime girls not prostitutes, sometimes slave labor in factory.”

“Why would Chinese men here in San Francisco make it a profitable venture, the prostitutes?” Ben asked.

“Because of Chinese Exclusion Act. Only men, no women may immigrate to America,” Hao declared.

“And who helps these girls?”

Hao looked at Ben as if he was crazy.

“Who is the boss of Chinatown and not Tong?”

“Fang Cheng.”

“Take me to her.”

“She does not speak to gweilo, ghosts.”

Ben’s eyes bore into Hao’s. With a shrug and a “you will see,” Hao led the way to an apartment over a meat shop where a variety of dressed-out poultry creatures hung at the building’s edge facing the sidewalk.

Ben had been praying every step of the way.

Hao spoke animatedly with the shop proprietor, shouting going both directions. Presently there was a loud stomping as if a broom handle was pounding the floor above, heard by Hao and the proprietor below. They stopped arguing. The proprietor pointed to Ben and a door that led to a staircase.

“Mrs. Cheng?”

Fang Cheng again pounded her floor with a broom handle signaling Hao to accompany them.

“Mrs. Cheng,” Ben began sensing the Holy Spirit’s lead. “Little girls are beaten and injured. Little girls sometimes won’t eat, and become sick and die. Little girls take their own lives. They need a safe house where they can heal, where they can want to eat, where they can think of things besides taking their own lives.”

Ben waited for the translation, and then for Mrs. Cheng.

Several moments later Mrs. Cheng replied, her words interpreted by Hao.

“Fang Cheng did not expect this from you. She expected you to order her to stop prostitution. She wants to know if you are Hudson Taylor’s son, if you know Hudson Taylor.”

Ben smiled. “I would be proud to have known Mr. Hudson.”

Fang Cheng nodded at Hao’s interpretation. Presently, Mrs. Cheng stood, speaking a few syllables.

Hao simply said, “It will be done. We go now.” Hao headed for the door.

Familiar with the business of rescue missions, Ben asked Hao to translate more. “Is there anything I can do? Any way I can help?”

Ben took Mrs. Cheng’s frowning shake of her head as answer. He bowed and followed Hao down the stairs.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Dwight L. Moody: a nationally renowned preacher and bible school founder
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Alphonzo: friend of Clyde
Kim: Ben√????√???√??√?¬¢??s interpreter in Chinatown.
Fang Cheng: female leader in Chinatown
Hudson Taylor: famous British Christian missionary to China

Graft and corruption in San Francisco extended to union officers as well as government officials.
The bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco was 1901-1904.
The cemetery removal story is true.
Chinese gangs were, and probably still are, a true fact. And selling daughters into it either knowingly or unwittingly, also factual.
Margaret Culbertson and the Occidental Board of Foreign Home Missions set up a safe house during this era at 933 Sacramento St.


Chapter 46
One Man's Calling, Ch 46

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part San Francisco officials emptied all cemeteries, moving bodies out of town when the Bubonic Plague hit. Henry Halleck agrees to offer his name for the upcoming mayoral election. Ben meets with the unofficial boss of Chinatown who agrees to provide a safe house for some of the young, enslaved, prostitute girls.

Ben attended the next ministerial alliance meeting and was introduced by the Presbyterian pastor who had joined the month before. He first gave a report on the progress of the APG, Alcoholic Partnerships Group. They were up to eleven members who met twice a week, some of them even more often. Most of them had been sober since their first meeting.

“Pastors, and Brothers in Christ. As my friend said, I’m Ben Persons.”

The room erupted in applause.

Dumbfounded, Ben looked from one to the other, his mouth agape. Finally, the Methodist pastor stood and approached Ben. “Ben, we are all ministers of the gospel, Christian leaders. We all have our congregations that we care deeply about. But you have shown us Christ in action. You have shown us love, love for one another, and more importantly, love for the lost.”

The applause that died down while the man spoke, resumed.

Ben bowed his head, tears welling up. After a moment composing himself, he raised his hands toward heaven and began praying. “Thank you, heavenly father for the love you have for your people. Thank you for the Holy Spirit working in the lives of our brothers. Thank you for sending your son to offer us a way out of sin and into your holy presence. We worship you Father. We praise you Holy Spirit, and we glorify you Jesus.”

Ben looked to the amassed pastors, some in silent prayer, some staring in bafflement. “Amen?”

A chorus of “amens” rang back.

“Men what I have to report is that Dwight Moody has agreed to come to San Francisco for a week of meetings. He’ll be bringing others with him. I have taken it upon myself to arrange for the Grand Opera House for evening services, and the Boxer Stadium for daytime services.”

Mumbles crescendoed through the room.

“Please forgive my impertinence, or usurpation … Is that a word, Pastor?” Ben asked the Presbyterian pastor, a smile on his face.

“It is now,” he replied, an even greater smile adorning his.

“Every church is, of course, free to participate or not. I feel that the services will be a spiritual awakening, a revival, if you will. I expect little or no doctrine. That’s not what this is about. It’s about saving lost souls.”

Ben felt the mumbling among the pastors to be more favorably bent than previously.

“Men, for every seat available on Sunday mornings, there are more than twenty who could not find a seat to worship if they were inclined. My hope is that when the week is at a close... that next Sunday your churches will be filled and you will be announcing to those not able to fit in that you will offer another service following the first. And that you will be speaking with your deacons, or boards, or however your structure about building larger facilities. Some new churches may start up. And before anyone thinks otherwise, no, not me. I am not a pastor. That is not my calling.

“New churches, though, are not a threat. They would be welcome blessings. Imagine, a pew for every one of the 300,000 plus San Franciscans.”

The mumbles grew into words, and then into applause.

Again, Ben raised his hands. “It won’t happen without work, without plan, without organization. And it won’t happen if every one of the three thousand seats at the Grand are filled with your regular parishioners.”

Ben could see eyes crossing and brows furrowing. “And what of those who we hope have given their hearts to Christ in the meetings? Should they simply return to their lives of worldliness after Brother Moody returns to Chicago? And back to those souls who respond to the call of salvation in the meetings? How will they be led to Christ, individually if not someone at the altars ready to minister?”

“Glory, Ben? You have bitten the lion and we’re to tame it?” One of the pastors shouted.

It took a moment for the rest to catch up, but eventually another shouted, “Yes, he has. And yes, we will!”

Another of the pastors stood and spoke out. “You’ve all seen the flyers that Ben passes out when he preaches near one of our churches. Why, I saw one that had three different churches listed on the same sheet because we all sit on the same corner!”

“We could do that,” another pastor shouted. “A flyer with every church, address and service times.”

One of the first joiners of the alliance rose to stand beside Ben. “Brothers, we have time to organize. What say you to a manageable committee nominated and voted on by all to identify issues and make recommendations for discussion and review at our next meeting.

A round of ayes filled the room.

Ben sat down delighted to watch God move through his ministers.

The very few dissenters within the city, were not members of the alliance, though more would be joining when word got out about the Awakening.

+++

Ben made it a point to visit Henry as often as he thought appropriate without making a nuisance of himself. It was about two weeks from the alliance meeting where he introduced the Awakening meetings that he made his way to Henry’s office. He didn’t mind waiting in the lobby, not surprised to find a Bible there to keep him occupied while waiting for Henry to return from the courthouse.

“Ben, sorry to keep you waiting. Come in, come in.”

“Hello, Henry. A good day at the courthouse?”

“Not really, but justice was served. My client was guilty and is on his way to prison, but he has a chance to redeem himself. Pay his debt to society, and get out to live a free man for a while, anyway. What’s with you? Oh wait. You want some coffee, or something? No? Here, have a seat.

“You have been a busy man! The ministers’ alliance, the alcoholics group, the Salvation Army, the YMCA…”

Ben started to complain that it wasn’t all his doings.

“… no, don’t deny it. You either have a hand in it, or inspire others. You are a good man, Ben. A good man. Juana would be proud. Oh, and by the way, some of Juana’s endowment will go to the Grand and the Boxer fees.”

“Thank you, Henry. What I’m told, we got them for less than half their normal price.”

“I’m not surprised, the contacts you have.” Henry pointed upward, a twinkle in his eyes and smile.

Author Notes This is a 'housekeeping, fill in the gaps' chapter. Sorry for the lack of action.

Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Dwight L. Moody: a nationally renowned preacher and bible school founder
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Billy Sunday: a baseball player who went on to be a popular evangelist
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben


Chapter 47
One Man's Calling, ch 47

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben met with the ministerial alliance introducing the D.L. Moody meetings to very positive reception.

"I knew you’d be back ‘round here ’ventually. I’ve had people keepin’ eyes out fer ya.” The burly man from the Ram tavern had Ben backed into an entry to a shop that was boarded closed.

Ben looked around for an avenue of escape, a direction to run, as well as his white hat escort.

“Yer friend’s already bound up fer the sea.” The giant of a man’s laugh was like a gargling bull, a mixture of sounds you would not attribute to a human.

“No sense in runnin’. Jus’ git cher knees broke ‘roun ever’ corner. Won’t need no able body wher’ yer goin’.”

For the first time in his ministry, in his life, Ben prayed for physical strength. “Lord. Help me. Help my friend. Rescue him, Lord. I’m sorry that I took such a risk with his life. Forgive me my arrogance.”

 Ben attempted to bolt beneath the man’s raising arm but was slammed backward. Since the bull of a man warned him about broken knees, he saw the ax handle in time to leap straight up. Coming down, he snatched the ax handle from the man’s grip. Swinging as he had the baseball bat in Chicago, Ben heard the arm bone break. Ben reversed himself swinging just as hard from the other direction, breaking the man’s other arm. Another ruffian lumbered up from behind him once Ben skirted the incapacitated brute. Ben turned and squared himself as if to fight.

The second man froze, backed up and ran as might a gorilla, swinging his drooping arms. Ben heard a soft wailing noise from him for as long as he watched.

“What did you do, Lord? Did he see angels?” What Ben would never learn was that the man saw Ben at least ten feet tall – and fearsome.

Once at the Ram, Ben calmly entered, strode to the back-room door unimpeded, and untied his hatless friend. Together, they just as calmly walked out the front door. The white hat escort waited until out of sight of the Ram before rubbing at the knot on his head, listening to Ben’s tale.

+++

“Clyde,” Ben began, once Ben found him the next day.

“Don’t know how you did it, but good job,” Clyde interrupted.

“I’m thinking... as much as I appreciate you and your men’s help and guardianship, we need to call it off. It’s just too dangerous for them.”

“And not for you?”

“Oh, it’s probably dangerous for me, too. But I signed up for it. For me, it’s God’s plan. Not so much for your men. And I’m sorry I led us into the Mission District. I wasn’t following God. It was arrogance. Sometimes it gets hard to battle pride down.”

Clyde finally quit nodding. “I agree with you. Now, it might take a whole squad to keep you safe. How did you manage it, anyway?”

Ben smiled. “Don’t know for sure, but I expect the man saw an angel.”

Clyde smiled.

“But whatever, if I stay in the middle of what God wants me to do, I’ll either be safe, or I’ll be where he wants me to be. That’s what I want. And there’s no point in subjecting others to the risks.”

“And the hardships. You know it’s near impossible to keep up with you sometimes… and take care of yourself, too.”

“Not a very good subject, am I?”

“We’ve managed, but all right. But if there’s a direct threat. I’m thinkin’ God wants us to use our heads, and for more than catchin’ ax handles.” After a pause, Clyde looked at Ben with awe. “Broke both his arms, you say?”

Both men laughed.

+++

The commotion at the wharf was palpable, word of the event spread faster than the wind. Ben, who was then in Chinatown, ambled unhurriedly toward the uproar. Arriving at the pier, having to slide through people edgewise, he immediately saw the trouble – 56 horses being teamed together, 28 teams, to pull one wagon. The wranglers, or handlers, were probably adept enough with a single team or even a double team. But though there were several men, they were having a great deal of difficulty getting the 56 harnessed and connected. The reins were more than a hundred feet long. A teamster would never manage, Ben thought as he backed away to watch the spectacle from a perch. He did not feel compelled, called to assist.

In the more than two hours that it took to connect all 56 and then connect them to an obviously oversize wagon that had been loaded by crane on the pier, Ben learned that the load was a 31,000-foot wire cable for the trolley system. It weighed 130,000 pounds. The horses would either pull it, or not. Ben only hoped that they would not be asked to pull the wagon up the murderous San Francisco hills.

A problem developed immediately. The teamster was unable to convince the very long reins to even wiggle over the rumps of the fourth rank team, let alone notify the lead horses that they were asked to begin pulling. No doubt they practiced the maneuver where ever the cable was made, but not with hundreds of spectators. The horses could not possibly hear the teamster.

Beside the teamster sat a man with a whip. Ben didn’t see the whip before hearing its jarring cracking snap. Ben sprang into action, covering the distance, and separating the crowd of men as if on a mission. He knew that blistering the horses in front of the driver would accomplish nothing – nothing but abuse. The lead horses would be totally unaware, and non-responsive.

Reaching the horse being whipped, Ben leaped high enough to snatch the whip out of the air, jerking it from the grip of the handler. He glared at the man, teeth clenched, his fist shaking, daring not trust himself to speech.

Ben sprang onto the back of the near horse and with the smooth motion of an acrobat stood to his feet, moving one of them onto the back of the second of the team like a circus performer. Facing the teamster and the whip handler, the whip still in Ben’s hand, he roared at them as they trembled backwards, wide-eyed and terror-stricken. “Who’s in charge here!”

Eventually a suited man wormed his way from the pier behind the wagon. He looked at Ben, but said nothing.

Calming himself, Ben asked, “Would you like some help. I know a little.”

“I, uh, er… what do you say, Chalmers?” he stammered and then asked his teamster.

The teamster Chalmers didn't respond.

Ben looked to the man on the ground. “Have your men cut the reins into five- or six-foot lengths. Get 20 or 25 men on both sides, beside the teams. I’ll walk in front of the lead team. You just have someone in front of me as guide. You,” Ben said, pointing to the teamster, yell out commands that I can hear.”

The man-in-charge turned and called to someone named Jackson. A large, barrel-chested man approached from the sidelines. After a brief conversation between him and the man-in-charge, Jackson introduced himself to Ben after Ben jumped down.

“Name’s Jackson. Heard what you said. Makes sense. Here’s what I’ll sound like.” Jackson turned to face the lead horses. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he bellowed, “Hold!”

Ben smiled, extending his hand. “Ben.”

Ben turned to the man-in-charge. “You want, Jackson and I will cut the reins and recruit men from the crowd, telling them what to do. Get your guide up there and by the time Jackson’s in place, we’ll be ready to roll. Oh, and you might get about fifty silver dollars to thank the recruits for helping.” Smiling at Jackson, Ben pointed to the whipper and said, “Take it outta his wages.”

Jackson laughed and clapped Ben on the shoulder.

It was becoming a long day. To turn a corner, they had to block the wagon, detach the teams, and move them to the proper positions on the street being turned onto. Fortunately, Ben’s recruits were up to the task.

Finished, Ben left them to manage the mechanics of getting the nineteen-wire cable in place without him, leaving before the recruits had been paid.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men

Luke 2:9 ...filled with great fear (terrified) (after an angel appeared)
The 56 horses pulling the cable was a real event.


Chapter 48
One Man's Calling, ch 48

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben’s escort was captured and tied up in the back-room of the Ram tavern. The Bull of a man and his cohorts also caught Ben. For the first time in his life, Ben prayed for strength. God answered his prayer and showed the bad men a sight that made them run. Ben rescued his bound friend. Then Ben assisted with a 56-horse team pulling trolley car cable.

“’Scuse me, Sir?” He was a youth approaching Ben as he was about to step onto a wooden box designed to hold bottles. “Are you Ben Persons?”

Acknowledging the youth, Ben learned that Henry Halleck, his attorney friend needed to see him. Ben headed for his law office at as quick a clip as pedestrian traffic allowed.

“Hey Ben. Glad we could find you. Wasn’t sure where to send my man. Hope you didn’t tip him. I pay him to run errands and courier paperwork.”

Ben smiled, not responding to the question in his greeting. He had given the boy a nickel, wishing he’d had a dime.

“There’s something going on up in the north woods, up across the gate.”

Ben knew that Henry was referring to the Golden Gate inlet to the bay.

“Some kids have chained themselves to some redwood trees and they’re preventing the cutters from timbering them. Pretty smart kids, it would seem; they’ve managed with only a couple dozen of them to effectively stop them cold.”

Ben looked at Henry with questioning eyes.

“So, one of them is the daughter of one of my clients, a good friend.”

“And you want me to go up and talk some sense into the kids?”

“Well, that was my first thought. Then I realized that I know you pretty well enough by now to know better than to tell you how to conduct the Lord’s business.”

Ben smiled. “You would like to ask if I would go up there and see what God would have me do?”

“Couldn’t have said it better. My client will…”

Ben held up his hand as in stopping Henry from offering money. “Just tell me the girl’s name. Do you know the company that’s timbering?”

“T and C has been controlling most all cutting locally, as far as I know. But if you take the ferry, there’s a livery that will rent you a horse. You know something about horses, I hear.” Henry offered Ben a conspiratorial grin indicating he heard about Ben’s exploit with the cable company’s 56-horse team. They both chuckled. “Somewhere up the road an hour or two is a valley called Big Coyote, or Coyote Hollow, or something like that. There’s a big dairy homestead. Anyway, you’ll see the cutters and where the big trees start. She’s a tall blond and will probably be wearing britches, her father said.”

“I’ll head up there now,” Ben replied.

“Better take some food with you. Don’t know how hospitable folks’ll be. Oh, her name’s Isabelle, Isabelle Davisson.”

Ben nodded and left, praying every step of the way to the ferry.

+++

“Afternoon, Mister. Could you point me to the boss?” Ben saw a group of men standing in a line, shoulder-to-shoulder, two-man crosscut saws and axes in hand.

“One with the ax ‘bout ta cut dat boy’s hand off,” one said, pointing up hill. “He’d’a done it this mornin’, but he run to the crapper. Been in there ‘til just now.”

Ben thanked God for his mysterious ways.

Just as Ben zeroed in on the man with the ax, some hundred feet up the slope, he heard a shrill scream, piercing the air. The man with the ax stayed his swing, turning toward where Ben figured the scream to come from. Ben sprang toward the ax wielder at a fast walk. He was restrained by only a semblance of an attempt by one of the timbermen.

“Yo, the woodman!” Ben shouted as he climbed the slope to where the axman was already in front of a blond girl wearing britches.

“Who’re you?” the man with the ax shouted back.

“The one that’s going to save you from a long prison sentence.”

The man let his ax rest on his shoulder, as he let his chin drop to his shoulder. Ben reached out to take the ax, but accepted the man’s handshake instead.

“Ben Walters.”

“Ben Persons.”

“Well, that gives us a place to start, anyway.”

The teenager girl began to speak, but was immediately stopped by Ben’s outstretched hand, earning him, Ben, the axman’s, respect.

“We took away their water an’ food yesterday. Figured they’d be done by now.”

“How old you figure this one is?” Ben asked, straining his neck to look to the top of the tree.

“This one’s most likely over two thousand years. That’n over there 2500.”

“Must be what, two-three hundred feet tall?”

The axman looked up. “Three thirty’s my guess. Build a real nice house with this one tree.”

Ben quickly replied, “And in two thousand years you can build another one.”

The timberman gave Ben a quizzical look.

“You figure to cut every one of ‘em down? Blot the world of them? Tell me something, Ben, why is it that timberers clear cut instead of culling the mature, money trees?”

The timberer looked toward the forest. “Faster. Time’s money.”

Ben nodded.

“John Muir’s on his way!” The boy who nearly lost his hand shouted.

Only a tree away, about twenty feet, Ben asked him, “John Muir, the scientist?”

“That and a lot more!” boy yelled.

“He don’t own this land, or the trees,” Ben Walters barked.

“But he will. Maybe already does.” The boy didn’t shout that time, not wanting to outshout Walters.

“Look Ben,” Ben Persons began, “ it’s getting late in the day, maybe too late to get the limbers working, or the tree cut into logs. Why don’t we call a rainout, and see what happens tomorrow?” Ben let the man consider the suggestion. “Why doesn’t your team harvest spruce and fir? Aren’t they harder wood, better building lumber? And aren’t they easier to manage than these…” Ben lifted an arm to the majesty of the giant sequoia.

“It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” Walters replied. “And once you get the bark off, and then deal with the thick layer of soft wood, a huge percentage is on the ground.”

Ben nodded, smiling.

“But look at ‘er. The challenge of droppin’ that beast, loggin’ it outta the wood. Ah-hee boy! It’s what a logger lives for!”

“I get it, Ben. I do. Like climbing a mountain, standing on the peak.”

Walters nodded.

“But with the tree, once it’s down, you’ve killed it. Killed a beautiful, living thing. But… your fiftieth greats grandson could see one take its place.”

Walters looked at Ben, unsure whether or not to agree with him.

Turning to the kids, Ben said, “Why don’t you kids come on down and get something to eat and drink? Maybe find a place to camp?”

“Because they’ll put men up here that won’t let us back!” the boy shouted.

Walters grinned at Ben, nodding his head. “Ben, how about joining me for a meal? I don’t know what got into me this morning. Never had anything like it in my life. I just couldn’t get off the pot. Now I’m starving!”

Ben agreed, knowing exactly what had happened to him – God kept him out of the woods, stopping him from chopping off the boy’s hand, working mysteriously. “Let me check on the kids, like I promised I would, then I’ll be down.”

Walters lifted his hand in a mock wave.

After Walters was sufficiently distanced, Ben turned to the girl, “Isabelle?”

She acknowledged that she was.

“Would you come back with me, and let the boys carry on the fight?”

“Would you? If it was something you really believed in?” she asked, looking Ben square in the eyes.

After a moment, Ben nodded understanding. “I’ll bring you all some water, but I can’t promise food.”

As Ben turned to leave, Isabelle offered him her thanks.

+++

“Better come out here,” one of Ben Walters’ men shouted into the mess tent, interrupting breakfast.

“The kids gone?” Walters shouted as he walked away from his meal.

“Walters, is it?”

“And who would you be, another do-gooder from San Fran-cisco?” Walters challenged the robust, bearded man.

“No, a do-gooder from Sac-ra-men-to! I’m Governor Washington Bartlett; and I’m here to tell you that the land you are about to decimate is California State Park land. And the trees on this land are protected by law.

“Now, I’m not saying that you’ve done anything wrong. I’m a businessman, myself. And as Governor, I can promise you 10,000 acres of exclusive rights in Sonoma County just north of here. Spruce, Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Pine, and, of course, Redwood. Have you any questions, Sir?”

Walters looked from the Governor and then to Ben, who just shrugged his shoulders, grinning.

Bartlett directed an aide to offer Walters a set of maps.

“You’re that street preacher, aren’t you?” A man who introduced himself as John Muir approached Ben. He’d been standing alongside the Governor, but hadn’t said anything until then.  “I heard of you in San Francisco and in Chicago, too. I was there for a convention, such as it was,” adding the last half under his breath. “And Pastor Lindenmeier of the Frisco Presbyterian Church mentioned you in a couple of his letters. He thinks highly of you, by the way.”

“Thank you, Sir. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. And I’ll be sure to convey my regards to Samuel when I return. Today, I hope.”

Once returned to San Francisco, Ben learned that a sizeable sum had been deposited into his bank account, allowing him to contribute to the various causes.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
Isabella: daughter of a Henry Halleck client
Ben Walters: timberman
Washington Bartlett: Governor of California Jan 1887 - Sep 1887
John Muir: famous naturalist, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist
Samuel Lindenmeier: San Francisco Presbyterian pastor

John Muir was in San Francisco during this time frame. The John Muir Woods National monument was established in 1908.


Chapter 49
One Man's Calling, ch 49

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben traveled to Marin County rescuing protesting teenagers as well as giant redwood trees.

Dear Ben Persons,

            I am writing because you are in danger. Two of Diamond Jim’s sons and some of their friends have been making a lot of trouble. They have it in their heads that you pushed their father under the horses. They found out where you are and aim to come out to do you harm. It kills me that I cannot take care of them right here in Chicago. These boys are average in size, but are mean. They like to wear those flat in the front caps, black, that we call go-to-hell-hats. I am sending this through my Priest. Knowing you, every preacher in San Francisco will know how to find you.

Your friend, Angelo

+++

Ben spent a few moments praising God for what he’d done in Angelo’s life. And reminiscing of the friends he’d made in Chicago, Tony, Mrs. Koska, and the many pastors. He appreciated Angelo’s heads-up, but otherwise dismissed it as in God’s hands.

At the next ministerial alliance meeting, Ben was extremely pleased that several of the pastors were taking an active role in organizing the affair: advertising, preparing handouts and posters, contacting churches not represented in the alliance. On their own they spelled out exactly Ben’s main concern, that the seats might be monopolized by saved people. That would not be the case; no more than one person would accompany the invited, and then only when that might be the only way to get them to the meetings.

Another surprise was the boxes of wordless books sent by The Moody Bible Institute. At least a thousand of the four page, Charles Spurgeon created pamphlets were divided among the churches. Spurgeon designed the wordless book with three colors: black, red, and white. D.L. Moody added a fourth color – gold.

Ben immediately offered to finance printing two thousand more to be handed out by volunteers to children and families at the end of every service. Before Moody’s arrival, they would produce many more thousands.

+++

In one of Ben’s occasional meetings with Henry Halleck, Henry reached behind himself to a wine bottle from the top of a credenza. “From Isabelle’s father, with her gratitude. You may have also noticed a very nice deposit to your bank account.” He handed Ben the bottle.

“Well, I didn’t expect anything, just did what I thought best, which was hardly anything really.”

“I have my doubts on that, Ben,” Henry said gesturing for Ben to take the bottle.

“Thank him for me, but you take the wine home and enjoy it with your lovely wife.”

“Don’t tell me you’re Samson, or somebody, no drink and no haircuts?”

Ben chuckled. “I do need a haircut, don’t I?” He ran both hands through his hair. “No. I just never saw the use of drink. Saw too much back home. And everywhere else, actually. Makes a man say what he doesn’t want to say, do what he doesn’t want to do, and go where he doesn’t want to go,” Ben held up his hand. “Now, I know there’s social drinking. I know. But I’ve seen social drinking that would feed a family for a week. Naw, I just don’t see the need to learn to like it. Plus, and most important, I don’t see how it could possibly help in my calling.”

Henry leaned back in his seat. “I never thought of you like that. Guess I never really considered. You do have a calling on your life, don’t you?

“I know you came here from Chicago, by way of Hawaii.” Henry smiled and nodded to Ben, knowing the shanghai story. “But before that …”

“Chicago. Before that Colorado. Before that Missouri and Arkansas,” Ben said. “Long story. I’ll share it sometime.”

“Well, have you heard about the plans Leland Stanford, a railroad tycoon has, along with three other millionaires, for the Golden Gate Park. They intended to build a racetrack, and then to commercialize and privatize it.”

Ben had only returned from Marin County over the redwood trees affair a week prior. His ire rose immediately. Leaving the meeting, Ben decided to return to his apartment to pray and try to determine whether the feelings he was experiencing were righteous indignation, or merely expressions of the flesh. Was God telling him something, or were his personal feelings and emotions telling him that it was the godly thing to do. Ben could not resolve his dilemma. He knew that prayer was the only way to get resolution.

The next day, the park so heavy on Ben’s mind and no clear instruction from God, Ben decided to walk the park, a huge endeavor for a single day with its over a thousand acres, a half mile wide and more than three miles length. Its trails were a confusion. Sitting on a bench at the eastern entry was Clyde, Ben’s friend from his early days in San Francisco.

“Clyde! What brings you here? You hidin’ out?” Ben was never sure what Clyde’s job was, or who he worked for. He assumed that he worked for a political party.

“Oh, just checkin’ out the park. Wondering whether it was worth savin’.”

“Funny. I was trying to do the same.”

Clyde set his gaze on Ben’s eyes. “Stanford? You heard?”

Ben nodded. “Clyde?” Ben said with a degree of inspiration. “You know anybody named Frank?”

Clyde began nodding his head, his eyes focused on nothing. Eventually he came to a conclusion as if snatching a thought from the ether. He snapped his fingers. “He’s in charge of the San Francisco transportation Department, the trolleys and street cars. And the mayor is about to can him, put his cousin or somebody in his place before the elections. Frank could run a special: One weekend he could get every street car into service and bring thousands and thousands of people from all over the city up here to the park. The public wouldn’t stand for privatizing it, turning it into a money affair for the rich. I’m on it, Ben!” Clyde got up from his bench seat and hugged Ben, clapping him on the back.

Ben smiled back, thanking God for once again answering prayer.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Dwight L. Moody: a nationally renowned preacher and bible school founder
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men
Charles Spurgeon: world renowned British evangelist
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit

The San Francisco street cars carried 47,000 people to the park in one day, creating a ground swell to save the park from Stanford's race track.
Charles Spurgeon created his three-page Wordless Book in 1943. D.L. Moody added a gold page. Child Evangelism Fellowship added a green page between white and gold. Modern Baptists added a blue page between white and green. (Black=sin, red= salvation, white=righteousness, blue=baptism in water, green=spiritual growth, gold=heaven


Chapter 50
One Man's Calling, ch 50

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben learned that the ministerial alliance was organizing for the Awakening meetings and had received copies of the Wordless Book. Ben learned about some millionaires’ plan to commercialize the Golden Gate Park and after prayer, (unwittingly) told Clyde how to stop it.

Ben was ambling down Lombard Street about lunchtime, figuring pastrami on some of the delicious sourdough bread would make a good lunch. When he got to Stockton Street he turned left directly into the arms of two black men, one having a distinct resemblance to Diamond Jim: Mario Colosimo.

They were as surprised as he was.

Reflectively, Ben dropped from their arms, hopped back, and kicked out at one while round-housing the other. And then just as quickly, Ben was pinned against a wall, being placed under arrest by two policemen.

Two days later, one of the jail guards let Ben know that the man he’d kicked was in a hospital. Evidently, he’d had an untreated infected hernia. Ben ruptured it. They were waiting to see if the man died in order to charge Ben with murder.

Henry came to Ben’s cell on the afternoon. “Why didn’t you tell them I was your lawyer?” Henry asked.

“I did. First day.”

“The first day you were arrested? Have you been to see a judge yet?”

“No. Haven’t seen anybody but you. Now.”

“We’ll sue them. Name every one of them. Habeas Corpus.”

“No, I’d rather not. I’ve brought seven a’ these fellas to Christ.” Ben smiled to a fuming Henry. “But I am ready to get outta here and get a bath. Maybe a meal, or two. I ate better on the Superbia.”

“Give me an hour,” Henry said, calling for a jail guard.

An hour and a half later, Angelo appeared at the jail cell entry. Ben didn’t see him, being a general area of more than forty cell mates.

“Where’s my cowboy friend?” Angelo said, his voice just a degree below a shout. He was dressed in his Chicago lieutenant’s uniform, figuring that it would get him some professional courtesy. He brought it along for that very reason, but not figuring he would be helping bail Ben out of jail with it.

The two reached through the bars to one another, shaking hands, all their teeth showing in their grins. Ben’s fellow prisoners were all a’gape at his familiarity with a police uppity-muck.

While Ben and Angelo still had hold on each other’s hands, Henry came into the area with two guards in tow.

“Getting you out, Ben.” Henry gazed at Angelo, totally bewildered.

“I’ll tell you at your office, Henry,” Ben said, satisfying him.

The street car ride to Henry’s office was professionally silent. Angelo poured out the entire story in Henry’s office, starting from La Lama’s knife to learning that Diamond Jim’s two sons and their gang were San Francisco bound. Angelo was on the next day’s train to San Francisco.

Then it was Henry’s turn. Mario Colosimo would likely die within the next few days. Murder charges were imminent, considering Ben’s reputation with the corrupt police force. Ben would have a court appearance for his arraignment the next morning for the charge of assault. The city would amend the charge to murder if the Colosimo man died.

At the arraignment, 22 members of the clergy packed the courtroom. Angelo shook his head at the backwards collars, amazed that he would even be amazed at Ben’s support. The judge was a congregant of one of the pastors.

Ben was released on his own recognizance.

With a little investigative work, though on his own, since the San Francisco Police Department was not cooperating with him, Angelo learned that in the two rented railroad cabins, a total of eight traveled from Chicago. Mario’s brother Vincent, and six others were somewhere in San Francisco bent on revenge, now two-fold.

+++

Henry handed Ben a newspaper article printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, a newspaper with a statewide circulation.

STREET PREACHER ARRESTED FOR ASSAULT – MAYBE MURDER

A San Francisco street preacher named Ben Persons has been arrested for defending himself against a Chicago gang. The gang, led by the son of Chicago’s notorious Vincenzo Colosimo, aka Diamond Jim, traveled by train from Chicago to seek vengeance upon the person of San Francisco’s very popular and well-respected man of the cloth, Ben Persons.

At half past noon on August 30, two of the Chicago Diamond Jim gang accosted Mr. Persons. Slipping their grasp, Mr. Persons defended himself, injuring Diamond Jim’s son. Two of San Francisco’s police officers were quickly on the scene, taking Mr. Person’s into custody. In their report, obtained by this reporter, they claim to have witnessed the altercation and immediately subdued the attacker, Mr. Persons. Witnesses may testify that it was self-defense.

Mario Colosimo was taken to Mary’s Medical Center. He is not expected to live.

The trial date for Mr. Persons has not yet been set. Mr. Persons is represented by Halleck and Henderson Law Firm, Henry Halleck, Attorney-at-Law as lead council.

Ben read it and handed it to Angelo while his gaze was set on Henry, who sat with his hands templed in front of his mouth, hiding a smile. After Angelo read it, Henry handed Ben a card.

“This was delivered this morning. Know anything about it?”

Ben’s chuckle morphed into a pinched-off laugh. He handed it to Angelo.

Have Gun, Will Travel

WIRE PALADIN

San Francisco

 

Overlaying the words of the card was a white knight.

“I think I can explain that,” Ben said. And then he did, dismissing Paladin’s offer outright.

“But what about the newspaper article?” Ben asked.

Henry replied. “One: if we go to trial, I want your story out there. And two: I want the District Attorney to know that he has an uphill battle.”

“One,” Ben returned, “All they did was grab me. I threw the first punch, so to speak. Two: I didn’t see any witnesses.”

“Doesn’t mean there weren’t any,” Henry said, followed by Angelo’s saying that there were prob’ly some of his friends all over the place. His grin was infectious.

Ben, though, had an unsettled look on his face.

Henry’s secretary stuck her head into the office to deliver the news. “Colosimo just died.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Angelo: (La Lama - the blade) a Chicago friend of Ben, now a Chicago police lieutenant
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit

Have Gun Will Travel was a totally fictional television western. The main character was Paladin, who hired himself out as a gunman.


Chapter 51
One Man's Calling, ch 51

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben was accosted by Diamond Jim’s son. Ben injured him and was subsequently arrested. After three days in jail, Henry got him out on bail just as Angelo from Chicago showed up. Mario, Diamond Jim’s son, dies.

Two days after the article of Ben’s altercation and arrest was published, Pastor James Coley sat in his Los Angeles church office reading the San Francisco Chronicle, a routine he engaged in once or twice each week. “It can’t be!” he said to himself. “Ben’s…” He made arrangements for a fill-in pastor and was on the next train to San Francisco. In his satchel was his Peacemaker, a Colt 45.

James wore an outfit similar to that worn in Creede, Colorado, as he had boarded the train with Ben, Billy, and Jones more than a year past. His reverse collar was in his satchel, his six-gun was strapped onto his side. He entered Henry’s office as wild west lawman.

“Oh, my Lord! Where are we, Tombstone?” Henry’s voice carried all over the building. “First Paladin, now Wyatt Earp! We’re not going to have a gunfight at the O.K. corral in the middle of San Francisco – cowboys against the syndicate! Oh, my Lord. Somebody run and get Ben. He probably went home to take a bath.

“You,” Henry continued, pointing to James. “Come with me.” James casually followed Henry to his office where he proceeded to tell him the whole story. James told Henry of the stagecoach attempted robbery where Ben stopped the hold-up, of the Colorado hunting camp where Ben saved the injured hunter, and the events at the Clabber creek cave-in where Ben died. And of Ben’s burial.  Angelo told of Ben’s Chicago experiences the day before. Henry spent a long time sitting in his office chair.

After hailing a taxi to take James to Ben’s apartment, Henry left for the day early, headed for his church to ask his pastor to help him pray, a first for Henry Halleck.

+++

In Ben’s apartment the three, Ben, Angelo, and James, determined how best to survive, thinking that a master plan depended on staying alive first. Angelo, knowing the gang, somewhat demanded that he take night watch. The Chicago boys liked fire. And James Coley knew guns… and God.

It was unlikely that the gang would learn Ben’s address this early. They probably had at least a couple days. But it wouldn’t be as simple as hiding out somewhere else. There were other people, other residents to consider.

Vincent Colosimo had a letter of introduction from the Chicago Police Commissioner. He would play that card the next day.

+++

Henry walked up to Ben’s building just after first light, trailed by Angelo who was watching for anyone who may have followed him. His bag of doughnuts was greatly appreciated.

“Ben,” Henry began. “I don’t suppose you would consider leaving town until your trial?”

A glance to the men’s faces dismissed that notion.

“Didn’t think so. So how about limiting your work to preaching in various churches. You know, moving from one to another?”

“Wasn’t called to preach to the saved, Henry.”

“But it would just be tempor… So that’s out, huh? Okay, you have friends in Chinatown. Surely there’s a mission field you can find …”

“Too many innocents. And I don’t think these Chicago boys will respect our Chinese friends.”

“Ben, I don’t mean to diminish Angelo, or James, but they’re only two. And 24 hours a day stretches them pretty thin. How about we talk to Clyde and get a small army to …”

“Now Henry, how many people would accept the word of God if they saw me surrounded by an army? No Henry. I appreciate your concern, but …”

“Then maybe jail is the best place. You said yourself you’ve been saving prisoners.” Henry threw in his last suggestion before Ben totally dismissed every sensible option.

“Henry, maybe it’s you who are diminishing God. I know you believe. I know that, Henry. Look, I’m not a fatalist. I don’t have a death wish, although I’ve seen the other side and I’m anxious to see it again, to go on to glory land. If I’m swung on, sure, I’ll duck. I’m not a martyr, Henry. But I believe God. My job is to respond to his call. God’s using me. I know it. Just like he’s using you, and Angelo, and James, and anyone willing to yield themselves to his work.

“I don’t want anyone hurt. And I don’t want to cower from God’s call. What’s in between, Henry?”

Angelo cleared his throat, asking for the floor. “Henry, these boys, these boys play mean. They don’t play fair. They won’t be meeting anyone at your OK corral. You make good points, good suggestions about being safe. But you are thinking of the wrong people. Ben has not wife, or children, or loved ones that the Colosimo gang knows of, or can even learn of. But you do. Am I right?

“They might try that, kidnap your family. They know that Ben would give himself to them. And they would be across the bay and on a train. Maybe kill your family of witnesses.” Angelo shrugged as Henry turned pale, stumbling for a seat.

James calmly suggested Henry move them to somewhere safe, anywhere, even somewhere in the city would do. And that Henry, himself, not go home until the gang is dealt with.

Angelo kept the floor a moment longer. “The way Mario died, kicked in the coconuts. That will be playing on those boys. They’ll be acting crazy. Making mistakes.”

“And God won’t,” James said.

“Pride is my concern today, this morning,” Ben said. “Pride and arrogance. I will not tempt God.”

“How many policemen can be trusted?” Angelo asked Henry.

Henry shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe half. But identifying them, recruiting them would not be healthy for their future. They need to remain as they are until after the next election.”

Angelo and James nodded.

“I’ve never seen the Presidio,” James said.

Angelo and Henry didn’t know what to make of that remark. Angelo didn’t know what a Presidio was, but a thought flew through his mind that he’d never seen the ocean, or a whale, or a flying fish.

“Good place to pray,” Ben said, nodding.

“And I can move my family. I have to be in court at nine, but…”

“Tell me your address and I will watch your house until you can arrange things,” Angelo offered to Henry’s smiling nod.

A member of the Tong stood outside Ben’s apartment waiting for him. “Mr. Ben,” he said, bowing slightly. “Two Chicago men are at sea this morning. One to Hong Kong. The other to Japan, I think.”

Ben bowed slightly to him. “Please tell Fang Cheng I am grateful.” Ben wasn’t all that happy about the Colosimo men being shanghaied, but accepted the assistance.

+++

Three days later, after James and Ben took Angelo to see the ocean, despite him never mentioning the desire, a messenger was waiting for them at Ben’s apartment with a note requesting Ben to enter Henry’s office through the back door early that next morning.

“The D. A. will drop the charges if you will leave town. Ben, maybe that’s God calling you somewhere else.”

Angelo and James both snapped their heads toward Ben, quizzical expressions obvious.

Henry continued. “And you have to call off Dwight Moody.”

Ben spewed in his indignation. Gradually, he began to chuckle, and then laugh.

“I expect that came from the mayor,” Henry added.

“I thought Chicago was bad,” Angelo said.

“Guess evil’s everywhere,” James said.

“Ben, I’ve seen the police reports. The two officers will testify that they witnessed you kicking Mario Colosimo, unprovoked.” Henry’s gravity was plain.

“Henry. I don’t fear jail. I don’t fear the noose. What I fear is failing God. You are free to ignore the offer, or to respond as you see fit. I think I will, though, send a telegram to Mr. Moody and give him the opportunity to follow his conscience and faith. Thank you, Henry. Today, I think we’ll sample San Francisco’s best sourdough down at the dock of the bay. I can’t seem to get the image of a ship of sailors who need to hear about Jesus out of my mind.”

Henry smiled and nodded. “Trial’s set for September 4th. Every minister in the city will testify. And we’re deposing others left and right, including a young man who was a cook on your sailing ship.”

“Jimmy,” Ben said, smiling. “Just so you know, Henry. If asked, I’ll tell the truth. I struck the first blow.”

“After you were grabbed, right?” Henry asked. “But never mind that. I don’t plan to put you on the witness stand.”

James let out an involuntary groan. Ben just smiled.

Henry’s gaze bore into Ben’s eyes. “Ben, they wouldn’t be asking about your fight with Mario. They would attempt to grill you about Diamond Jim. You would hang for killing Diamond Jim, not his son.”

Sobered, Ben admitted solemnly, “Maybe I did kill Diamond Jim. Maybe I should answer for that. But I can’t worry about that today. We have a ship full of sailors to meet.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Angelo: (La Lama - the blade) a Chicago friend of Ben, now a Chicago police lieutenant
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
James Coley: (Thomas Coleman) an outlaw from Colorado, turned California preacher. He came to Ben's assistance against Salinger in an earlier chapter
Vincent Colosimo: son of Diamond Jim of Chicago
Mario Colosimo: son of Diamond Jim who Ben kicked and subsequently died
Fang Cheng: boss of the Chinese underworld in the Chinatown of San Francisco
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident who helped Ben rescue two men, a union organizer

Below is a Wikipedia account of the shootout at the O.K. corral. It is not particularly relevant to this story.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunfight_at_the_O.K._Corral


Chapter 52
One Man's Calling, ch 52

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and Angelo are joined by James Coley of the Creede, Colorado days. Two of the Colosimo gang are shanghaied. Ben refuses to accept an army of defenders. Ben was offered total release if he would leave San Francisco and call off D.L. Moody’s meetings. He refused.

REV MOODY STOP SATAN ACTIVE IN SF STOP I AM CHARGED WITH MURDER STOP MEETINGS UP TO YOU STOP

Moody’s reply to Ben’s telegram was prompt.

BRO PERSONS STOP FEAR NOT PHAROAH NOR BAAL STOP ONLY FEAR VANITY AND PRIDE STOP PRAYING NIGHT AND DAY STOP

James Coley sent his own telegram – to Creede, Colorado.

LIVVY FERLONSON STOP CLABBER CREEK IN SAN FRAN STOP SEND JONES TO HALLECK LAW FIRM WITH INTRO LETTER STOP

James didn’t wait for a reply.

+++

“Well, that answers that. I’ll save that for the next alliance meeting,” Ben told James and Angelo, speaking of Dwight Moody’s willingness to proceed with the Awakening meetings. “What do you men think about a view of the city? We can trolley up to Telegraph Hill. It’s a short climb from there.”

“Game,” Angelo said.

James nodded.

It was on Bay Street at the Embarcadero where the three hopped aboard a trolley. Almost immediately on the other side of the street there was a hideous scream as if someone was being tortured.

“STOP!” several people shouted to the driver. “Call for Fire and Rescue!”

As the three expected, wary of coincidences, the victim was one of the Colosimo men. In his attempt to follow the three, he missed the trolley step, catching his foot on the rail in front of the trolley car. The momentum and pressure of the car’s wheel somehow forced his entire foot into a crevice only a couple inches wide. One man tried to extract it, but only succeeded in the Chicago gang member’s louder screams. His partner looked on in horror, deathly white. Angelo saw him and helped him to a seated position.

“James! Pray for him, for his soul,” Ben directed. “There’s too much blood.”

James did, asking the man first if he was saved, whether he believed in Jesus. Ben dashed through the crowd to a corner hardware store. In only a moment Ben returned with an ax.

“Friend, you’re going to die if we don’t get you loose. If I don’t take off your foot, you will die.”

The man, then only whimpering, nodded agreement. James held the man’s upper body still while another bystander pulled off his belt and made a tourniquet below the knee. Within a second Ben raised up and came down with the ax, cleanly severing the foot. Several men then picked him up to place him in a Fire and Rescue wagon that had been staged at the Embarcadero.

The three turned to face the lone gang member who though still pale, was at least sitting up.

“Dón wan none a’ this. Would you give money to get out. Maybe Los Angeles?” The man trembled at the last. Ben withdrew a twenty-dollar gold piece from his watch pocket.

“You boys don’t mind a side trip to the train station, do you?”

Seeing their grins, Ben offered to escort the man. Angelo held up three fingers mouthing “only three more”.

+++

“I see how you do it,” James said. “Short, simple. Plant the seed. No theology, no doctrine, just Christ.”

Ben smiled at James, clapping him on the back. “Course it depends on how far your voice can travel, and how much noise around you, but if you can get your message out from the time a person gets within range to when they leave, if they slow down at all, or stop even better yet. If you get a crowd to hang around, well then, you expound a bit, maybe even get the salvation message out a couple different ways. And nobody’s gonna complain if you stop midsentence to witness or pray with someone.”

James focused on the space between himself and the ground, thinking.

“And if you can get a helper to pass out tracts, or flyers, more the better.”

Angelo had been listening, content to stay out, but finally felt compelled to jump into the conversation. “But you have to be real. People can feel phony. Somebody just wants to be on a box, rake in some coins. Or the kind’s more interested in scarin’ folks outta hell than lovin’ people into heaven.”

James looked at Angelo. “Angelo, God has plans for you. He does.”

James, waxing even more serious, studied Ben for a moment. “The last time I saw you, you were a physical nightmare, a damaged man. And then you were dead. But now…”

“Raised in the newness of life. God has blessed me.”

Both James and Angelo nodded agreement.

Changing their minds about sightseeing, a short time later they arrived at Ben’s apartment. “We could go to a hotel, but there’s a strong chance we’d be spotted, more than likely by a policeman. Or somebody would tip off the police,” Angelo said.

“And we only have three sides to guard here. Nobody’s gonna set fire to the long end of this building.”

“And we know how to guard this place.”

“Only tonight, I take a shift,” Ben said. “We’re in this together.”

They spent the better part of the evening filling as many buckets and tubs with water as they could find or borrow containers.

+++

James took turns with Ben on the soap box set on a street corner farther to the south, a distance from Ben’s normal travels. At first James was nervous, failing to draw any attention at all. Ben simply took his place and delivered simple messages, about twenty or thirty minutes at a time. James got appreciably better on his third attempt, less self-conscious.

“What made the difference?” Ben asked.

James knew what he was talking about. “I started seeing them as lost souls, not people that I didn’t care about.” After a moment, he added, “And made it more simple: lost and empty – Jesus sacrifice out of love – eternal life.”

“I could see the different reactions,” Ben said. “People began to cock their heads and look. Some of them might look at the church they pass near their homes. Some of them might one day venture inside. And if you preach all day, a few might even look at you with eyes asking you to help them.”

James nodded understanding.

They met up with Angelo on their way home. He’d been busy with the local police department. “Don’t look good. Only found two of the dozens I spoke with who had anything good to say about you. Some even went so far as to come right out and say that you cost them money!”

Ben smiled.

At the entry to the piano and voice studio stood a burly, bearded Jones from Creede. Ben ran the last few paces to greet him, the two joined in a hug.

After introducing Angelo, and bringing Jones up to speed, the four worked out a much easier guard schedule.

The next morning before they headed out for the day, James held up his hand, indicating he wanted to speak. “Ben, we need to decide something. Sometime or other, Angelo and I will have to go back home, to go back to work.” James again held up his hand, holding Angelo back. “And the Colosimo gang is down to three. Why don’t we pick a safe place and meet them?”

“Like the old days?” Ben asked, a grin on his face.

“Sorta.”

“Them boys carry little .32s like what that one we put on the train,” Angelo said. “And knives.”

Jones waved his hand dismissively.

Holding James back with his own hand, Ben spoke, “First of all, I’m up for murder. These policemen, as Angelo already told us, will stop at nothing to charge you three. And second, we have Moody and Billy Sunday coming to preach a set of meetings. How could a shootout help with that? And I don’t care as much about this, but third, I’m only out of jail on bond.”

No one had an answer.

Jones made a series of grunts, culminating with his finger pointing at Ben, his other hand making a knife cut across his throat.

James made the unnecessary interpretation: “How will it go for Ben Persons, the city’s renowned spiritual awakening leader, to have been slain in the street?”

Jones nodded with gross exaggeration.

Ben was in obvious thought. A few hours later Ben was of a different mind regarding the Colosimo gang. “Angelo, set it up. We’ll find an abandoned pier area, one not being used, away from where so many innocent bystanders might be. Then you get word to the Chicago boys through a policeman. Now, the reason I’m agreeing is that we have to keep the public out of my … our little problem. And one more thing: no weapons – no guns, no knives, not even a blackjack sap or a lead pipe. And make it no sooner than two days’ time.”

“Angelo popped his hand up. “Can we wear gloves?”

Ben smiled. “Yes, we can wear gloves.”

Angelo knew how much more powerful a gloved hand could hit, especially with a pouch of shot in the fist. Apparently, James did as well by his smile and nod.

“Oh, and one more thing, we don’t tell Henry. He’s an officer of the court.”

“Uh, how we going to keep from being shot, though, Ben?” James’ question was well-received, every ear cocked for the answer.

“We pray.” After a breath Ben asked, “Do you doubt?

No one answered.

I’ll pray. Now, what’s for supper?”

Author Notes Clabber Creek is James' referencing the event when Ben died.
The Embarcadero is the eastern waterfront
Awakening - one of the great Christian revivals in America

Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Angelo: (La Lama - the blade) a Chicago friend of Ben, now a Chicago police lieutenant
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
Diamond Jim: Vincenzo Colosimo, Chicago precursor to Al Capone's Chicago Outfit
James Coley: (Thomas Coleman) an outlaw turned California preacher from Colorado. He came to Ben's assistance against Salinger in book one
Vincent Colosimo: son of Diamond Jim of Chicago
Jones: Creede friend of Ben, former thug, made mute by gunshot, then devoted to Ben
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident who helped Ben rescue two men, union organizer
D.L. Moody: famous evangelist and Bible Institute founder


Chapter 53
One Man's Calling, ch 53

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben sent a telegram to D.L. Moody. He will travel to San Francisco regardless of troubles. James sent for Jones, Ben’s friend at Creede. Ben axed off one of the Chicago gang member’s foot after a trolley car accident. With him out of commission and another scared and sent away on a train, the gang is down to three. Ben and friends agree to set up a street fight at an abandoned pier.

Piers eighteen and nineteen were vacant. Each had empty warehouses, and the space between would do. The next day was a busy one. Jones managed to glue himself to Ben, despite the San Francisco hills.

Ben, James, Angelo, and Jones spent the night before the day of the showdown at the pier in one of the warehouses. They would not chance arriving after the place had been set up by their foes. The arrangement was for a nine o’clock meeting. At first light the four were in the area between the warehouses with their backs to the bay. At about 7:30 the three Colosimo gang members, accompanied by three more who appeared to be San Francisco policemen in civilian clothes, probably fellow Italians, arrived, spreading abreast.

“Perfect,” Vincent yelled. “Exactly where I want you. We will finish this and throw you into the ocean.”

No one on Ben’s side responded, simply spread somewhat, their four facing Vincent’s six.

The gang of six, Vincent Colosimo stopped their forward movement as they spread out. As if choreographed, they began advancing.

“The three policemen will not have guns,” Angelo whispered loud enough for the others to hear. “Billy clubs. Don’t let them get behind you.”

Ben’s people stood firm. Ben began to pray aloud. “God in heaven, we thank you that you have heard our hearts’ cry. You know that we do not want to hurt these men. We hold their families up to you, praying that their men return to their family bosoms unharmed.”

The gang members and police thugs looked to one another, none certain whether it was right to attack someone before they’d finished praying.

“Lord, please do not send your angels to obliterate your adversaries. Lord, we do not wish to see them consigned to Satan’s hell. We know that you are for us, and not against us. I ask now, Lord God Almighty that you stiffen the trigger fingers of these small children. We know they are tiny in your sight, as they are in ours. Lord stay our power that we not too badly hurt them. In the powerful name of your son, Jesus, we ask. Amen.”

At the amen, the four began to slowly stride toward the six.

Vincent and his two fellow Chicagoans, all three, drew their right hands into their lefts, looking down to study their trigger fingers. By that time the four had closed half the distance to the six. The three policemen had their clubs in hand, whacking their off-hand palms, nervous grins on their faces.

To a man the three gang members reached for the weapons, awkwardly extracting them from stubborn holsters. Double action revolvers, they could be fired with simple, though more purposeful trigger pulls, or by cocking back the hammers, lessening the force necessary to allow the hammers to strike the firing pins. In three easy strides Ben, James and Angelo had Vincent and his two friends’ gun hands bound in theirs. Each easily took the guns, quickly heaving them over the tops of one or other of the two warehouse roofs. Jones had positioned himself at Ben’s back, prepared to protect him.

At that point, chaos seemed to reign, though in slowed motion, choreography again seemed staged. The four jabbed, dodged, and parried as the six attempted to zero in on a man who’d escaped, moving off to jab and body-punch another.

Within the first few seconds, Angelo inserted himself between Vincent and Ben. Angelo absolutely believed that God had miraculously saved Ben’s life against his own stiletto, but instinct took over, and he chose to intervene. He suddenly learned that his previous life’s knife-attacking skills served him well when on the defense. He soon had the knife airborne to join with the guns on the other side of the warehouse.

As if on cue, as one of the six went to the ground, twenty-five or more uniformed policemen poured from either side of the warehouses, amassing as a force headed for the combatants.

Again, as if practiced, from within either warehouse, forty preachers, pastors, priests, and ministers of all types ran toward one another to lock arms creating a wall separating Ben’s four and the gang of six from the police.

The police whistles appeared to be the signal for Clyde’s union men to run out from the same doors as had the clergy, backing them up, holding them up, and even inserting themselves to replace fallen preachers as the police wielded the clubs.

Within minutes that seemed seconds, three gang members and three civilian clad policemen either lay, or sat on the ground with Ben and his three friends standing, heaving for breath and bleeding, but standing over them.

As loud as had Jackson of the 56-horse team, possibly heavenly assisted, Ben cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted “HOLD!”

To a man, they did.

“Where’s the captain?” Ben shouted, though he needn’t.

As the policemen withdrew somewhat, a man in a civilian suit approached.

“Captain,” Ben said. “These three wish to be escorted to the train station.” Ben pointed to Vincent and his two friends. “Today’s activities have come to a close. We do not wish to file any charges.

“Thank you, gentlemen, one and all. And the Lord thanks you.”

With that, Ben and all his friends silently walked around policemen as if nothing happened, save a variety of scrapes and bruises and a sore arm on James, which turned out to be a minor fracture.

Author Notes Regarding Ben's prayer, as believing Christians we must be ever conscious of presumption, an all too common flaw of faith.

Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Angelo: (La Lama - the blade) a Chicago friend of Ben, now a Chicago police lieutenant
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
James Coley: (Thomas Coleman) an outlaw turned California preacher from Colorado. He came to Ben's assistance against Salinger in book one
Vincent Colosimo: son of Diamond Jim of Chicago
Clyde Simpkins: San Francisco resident whom helped Ben rescue two men, union organizer
Jones: Creede friend of Ben, former thug, made mute by gunshot, then devoted to Ben


Chapter 54
One Man's Calling, ch 54

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and his three friends successfully fight off the Chicago gang and 25 policemen with the help of clergymen and Union men, though the clergy and union generally served as separators.

Thank yous, farewells and good-byes said, Jones insisted on staying with Ben. Ben promised to try to get to Los Angeles to visit James. He made no such promise regarding Chicago and Angelo.

+++

“Ben Persons, I assume.” The burly, bearded man veritably charged Ben as he bounded off the train. “A shiner and stitches, I see. Battling for the Lord! Ah, you sir, are the envy, though a dreadful way to say it, the envy of every missionary Christianity sends to the wilds. Yes, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, David Livingston, and Ben Persons.”

Ben shook Dwight Moody’s hand.

“The Colosimos are no more, I’ve learned, but alas, the devil always has more. Your exploits have become known, though, my lad – Chicago, San Francisco, even the high seas! And Colorado-o-o.” Moody tipped his head, looking through bushy brows conspiratorially, still gripping Ben’s hand. His expression said that he wanted to hear the story.

“We have a cab waiting, Brother Moody, to take you to a hotel that happens to have a fine restaurant. And here, I’d like you to meet some of San Francisco’s warrior pastors.” Ben introduced two of the pastors, also sporting stitches and bruises.

“I simply must know. Has my train transported me to the wild west? Is San Francisco as the conductor pledged, or more like Tombstone?”

Everyone chuckled as they proceeded to the horse-drawn cab.

Ben turned back to see another well-dressed man. “Billy Sunday! I nearly didn’t recognize you out of uniform.”

“Ben. It’s a shame that God’s uniform isn’t as comfortable as baseball’s,” referring to his Chicago White Stockings uniform.

They both laughed. “Welcome,” Ben said.

Looking at Ben’s injuries, Billy asked, “Am I here to preach, or fight? Because given the choice, I honestly don’t know which way I’d rather go.”

They both laughed again.

+++

“The Devil says I’m out, but the Lord says I’m safe! The devil says you’re out, but the Lord says you’re safe! Hello, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, my name is Billy Sunday. I was formerly a baseball player but now I’m a saved and sanctified child of God. Are you?”

The first meeting was a day service at the Boxer Stadium. Nearly 4,000 people were crammed into a 3500-seat capacity facility. The largest number were not church members anywhere. There were a number more of the curious outside on the grounds along with hundreds of Christian workers from the various churches, all prepared to hand out leaflets, tracts, Wordless Books, and invitations to San Francisco churches. Many had received training on how to witness and pray for people. The excitement was palpable.

Billy interrupted the beginning of his message to introduce Dwight Moody, who gave a one-minute welcome, explaining that he would have more for them that evening at the Grand Opera House.

Billy Sunday returned to the podium. “I love the enthusiasm in this place!”

The crowd’s excitement drowned him out. Waiting for a little more quiet, he continued. “Enthusiasm is as good a thing in the Church as fire is in a cook stove! Isn’t this a beautiful church?” Billy waved his arms about at the great expanse of sky on that beautiful October day.

“Now, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a stable makes you a horse!”

The audience erupted.

“Now let’s get something out of the way. People complain that there are too many hypocrites in church. Yes, there are. But when you go home, look in the mirror. And then see to it that there is one less.

“I spoke of the Devil calling you out a moment ago. The Lord calls you safe and waves you home. Well, the Devil, my friends, highest reward for you is hell. And the trouble with many people is that they have just enough religion to make them miserable. And then there comes the Devil’s reward.

“Folks, the church is not a dormitory for sleepers, it is an institution for workers; it is not a rest camp, it is a front-line trench. And the Bible is not a story book. It’s the book of life. The reason you don't like the Bible, you old sinner, is because it knows all about you. The Bible will always be full of things you cannot understand, as long as you will not live according to those you can understand.

“Now, when can you expect revival? The answer is when wickedness grieves and distresses Christians. But you say, revival is temporary – so is a bath!”

Again, the audience responded with boisterous shouts and applause.

“A fellow with no money is poor. Am I right? Well, a fellow with nothing but money is poorer still.

“Let me tell you something, one reason sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake. And an excuse is a skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. Now it’s time to be honest with yourself: Are you a Christian? Does Christ live in your hearts? Are you safe, or are you out?

“I'll kick it as long as I've got a foot. I'll fight it as long as I've got a fist. I'll butt it as long as I've got a head. I'll bite it as long as I've got a tooth. And when I'm old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I'll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition!

“Make an altar right where you are and repeat after me.”

Billy led hundreds in a prayer of salvation.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Jones: Creede friend of Ben, former thug, made mute by gunshot, then devoted to Ben
D.L. Moody: famous evangelist and Bible Institute founder
Billy Sunday: a baseball player who went on to be a popular evangelist
William Carey, Hudson Taylor, David Livingston: famous missionaries
Billy Sundays' sermon is from his own words by internet search, as are D.L. Moody's.
https://www.azquotes.com/author/14309-Billy_Sunday
Much of Billy Sunday's ministry was focused on prohibition.


Chapter 55
One Man's Calling, ch 55

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben met Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday at the train station. Billy Sunday preached at the Boxer Stadium in San Francisco.

^^^^^^^^^^^

“Ben,” Henry said, having sent for him the morning of the first Awakening service. “I got a continuance until after the week’s meetings by pleading that the jury pool would be otherwise involved, what with several thousand a day, and perhaps a different set of several thousand every day of the week.

“But that is the last continuance the court will allow. We go to trial the next Monday.”

+++

After a greeting and a singing of the new song: It is Well With My Soul, Moody began his talk on that first evening.

“First, let me say a few words about church. But before I do that, allow me to tell you not to think of your work, or of your churches now. Don’t pray for anything or anybody but yourselves. Attend now to your own hearts. Now hear me: God can’t fill you until you empty yourself.

“But before I get into my message, let me inform you all here and now – There is a storm coming to San Francisco. I know not what its nature, but be ready in your souls. I don’t know where that came from, I certainly didn’t plan it.”

Ben, standing to the side, knew where it came from.

Moody continued. “The song presented earlier was by Horatio Spafford. He lost his fortune in the Chicago fire. Shortly after, he lost his 4-year-old son to scarlet fever. Mr. Spafford's wife and daughters travelled to England. On their way back, his four daughters were lost at sea. As the couple later traversed the waters where his daughters perished, Horatio penned those words:

        When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

        When sorrows like sea billows roll—

       Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know

       It is well, it is well with my soul.

“People, hear me. A storm is coming. Are you ready?

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.

“Now, people, all the churches in the world cannot save a soul – only Jesus Christ. And Christ has put the offer of salvation such that the whole world can believe. Don’t be ashamed of Christ, the man that bought us with his own blood.

“Some men’s religion repels me. They put on a whining voice and sort of religious tone and talk so sanctimoniously you would think they are saints. But on Monday, they are quite different. We want a Christianity that goes into your homes every day.

“I am convinced what this world wants is true men and women, not great men, but true and honest and upright persons that God can use.

“We don’t merely want a mountain top experience. When a man gets up so high that we cannot reach down and serve poor sinners, there is something wrong.

“I should like to see a wave surging from Maine to California, sweeping thousands into the Kingdom of God. We are ambassadors and messengers; but never mind the messenger, take hold of the message. That is what you want.

“Man looks on the blood of Christ with scorn and contempt. But the time is coming when the blood of Christ will be worth more than all the kingdoms of the world. Perhaps the next very step people take may take them into eternity. The next day people may die without God and without hope.

“Read the Bible as if you are looking for something of value. Better to read one chapter for a month, than a month reading the Bible at random. When I pray, I talk to God. When I read the Bible, God talks to me. I know how to pray because I know the Bible. Many people have the Bible in their heads or in their pockets. We need it in our hearts.

The next part of Moody’s sermon laid heavy on Ben’s consciousness. He hardly heard the remainder of the message.

“In the place that God puts us, he expects us to shine as living witnesses. Everywhere God leads, there is your field.”

Ben trusted his pastor friends to assist with the service attendees and to see Brother Moody to his hotel. Other than to tell the few pastor friends that he had business to attend to, he went directly to his apartment, Jones tagging along, watching for possible trouble. Ben’s business was prayer, inspired by Moody’s words.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
D.L. Moody: famous evangelist and Bible Institute founder
Jones: Creede friend of Ben, former thug, made mute by gunshot, then devoted to Ben
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben

All the words by Moody are from his own sermons.
https://moodycenter.org/the-quotable-moody-d-l-moody-quotes/

I felt to include Moody's remarks because they so epitomized Ben and his ministry.
We return to the plot of One Man's Calling with the next post.


Chapter 56
One Man's Calling, ch 56

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben learned that his trial for murder would begin the Monday following the Awakening services. D.L. Moody preached his first message.

^^^^^^^^^

The judge detailed the charges against Ben. The jury of twelve men appeared to be ordinary enough, perhaps one or two business men. One, though, had the presence as if a retired police officer.

The prosecutor and Henry as defense counsel both offered opening arguments, The prosecutor described the manner of Mario Colosimo’s death in vivid detail, declaring that Ben’s kick directly resulted in Mario Colosimo’s death.

Henry described self-defense, animating the scene in front of the jury.

The first to testify was one of the doctors who treated Mario at the hospital. He was followed by the coroner who performed an autopsy.

Henry cross-examined the doctor.

“Dr. Hamilton, did the deceased have a pre-existing condition?”

“Oh, no sir. His heart was fine. He could have lived until he was 70… 75 maybe.”

“Doctor, did the deceased have any other medical issues?”

“Oh, well he might have had some swelling in his genitalia. It’s difficult to diagnose, really, after the injury.

“Doctor, were you the attending physician at Mr. Colosimo’s admission?”

“No… that was Dr. Philmore. He was called away on an emergency.”

Henry whispered to Ben that they’d gotten to Dr. Philmore.

“Doctor, did you see evidence of any infection in the deceased’s genitalia?”

“Objection, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said rising to his feet. “The defense is leading the witness and attempting to introduce evidence through a back door.”

“Sustained. Continue, Counsel.”

“Doctor, did the deceased’s genitalia, or nether region vicinity, bear any evidence of a previous injury?”

“Not as I could determine. He appeared to be in a great deal of trauma in his nether region and that’s what caused his heart to stop.”

“Doctor, the great deal of trauma you mentioned, do you imagine …”

“Objection, Your Honor. Doctor Hamilton is a professional surgeon. He does not imagine.”

“Sustained. Reword your question, Counsel.”

“Doctor Hamilton, please pardon me for my faux pas. I meant no disrespect. Is it your testimony that a single kick to the groin would kill a man?”

“Apparently, it did this one.”

“Doctor,” Henry said, his voiced decidedly louder and on the edge of frustration. “Have you ever seen any other patient killed by a simple groin injury?”

“Well, being as how the patient died, I don’t know how simple the injury might have been.”

“Doctor, how long have you been at Mary’s Hospital?”

“Going on two months.”

“Two months. How many times did you actually see the deceased?”

“That would be … uh, twice, I think.”

“Twice?”

“Yes. The second time to declare him dead.”

“So you attended him once. Did you, Doctor, on that one occasion, physically examine the deceased’s genitalia?”

“I looked at it. My concern was his irregular heartbeat. The damage done was obvious.”

“Doctor, what would a previous condition of infection in the nether regions look like?”

“Swelling, discoloration, things of that sort.”

“And did the patient, Mr. Colosimo present those conditions?”

“Yes. But so would a properly delivered kick.”

Henry gave up. “Thank you, Doctor. No further questions, Your Honor.” He could not undo the damage to Ben’s case.

The prosecutor then brought both policemen who saw Ben kick Mario.
“Officer Helms, what did you see on Aug 30 when you rounded the corner of Lombard and Stockton.”

“We saw that guy there, the defendant, kick Mario Colosimo in the groin.”

“And what did you do?”

We secured the defendant and then got medical assistance for the injured man.”

“Was the deceased alone?”

“No. He had another man alongside of him.”

“Did you see either of those men attack the defendant, Mr. Ben Persons?”
“No. We did not see nothin’ like that.”

“Thank you. Your witness Counsel.”

“No questions, Your Honor.”

Henry and Ben had already discussed not cross examining the officers. They would simply corroborate one another.

The Prosecutor called the second officer.
“Your Honor, we can dispense with Officer Fletcher’s testimony. The defense will stipulate to his testimony, that he claimed to see essentially the same as Officer Helms.”

“Your Honor?” The Prosecutor was on his feet, his voice whiney, his arms spread, his head cocked as if pleading.

“Call your witness.”

“The prosecution calls Officer Fletcher.”

The Prosecutor asked the same questions, receiving the same answers as officer Gelms had proffered.

Henry declined to cross.

“The Prosecution rests its case, Your Honor.”

The judge recessed for lunch, advising the jury that the defense would begin its case when they returned.

+++

“May it please the court, Your Honor, I call Jimmy Crowder.”

The youth that Ben had saved from death of a fall from the rigging of the Superbia by taking his whipping took the stand. He and Ben exchanged smiles. Once sworn in, Henry asked Jimmy to explain whether he knew Ben, how he knew him, and to explain the circumstances.

Jimmy was so excited to speak for Ben that he simply blurted out, forgetting the dialogue he and Henry had rehearsed. “Ben saved my life. He took the whipping that would have killed me and saved me from death. I woulda fell off the rigging the first time up.”

“Jimmy, let’s back up a little bit. “How did you and the defendant, Mr. Persons come to be on a ship together?”
“Oh, well we was both catched up, chang-hide.”

“Shanghaied?”

“Yeah. Tha’s right. Chang-hide.”

“And you to receive a whipping?”

“Objection, Your Honor. Leading the witness.”

“Sustained.”

“Jimmy, what happened on the first day of your… uh, cruise?”

“The Ship’s mate, he was assignin’ duties. When it come to me, he said I was to be a topsail man, you know, up the riggin’. Well, I sorta broke down, an’ the like on account of … Then Ben, there, he come up an’ told the Mate that I would make a good cook. And I did! But well, the mate ordered Ben to be whipped. For me, see?”

“Thank you, Jimmy.” Henry waved toward the Prosecutor who jumped to his feet, half startling Jimmy.

Jimmy’s testimony did not come across as practiced.

“Mr. Crowder. Did the Ship’s Mate ever say that you were going to receive any lashes?”

Jimmy looked confused. “I dunno whutchu mean, Sir?”

“Well, it’s simple. Did the Ship’s Mate order anyone to whip you?”

“No Sir. Don’t guess he did.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

“The defense calls Isabelle Waterbury, Your Honor.”

  Once sworn in Henry began questioning Isabelle.
“How do you know the defendant, Miss Waterbury?”

“He saved us from mayhem, perhaps mutilation, and quite possibly from death.”

Henry cautiously got the whole story of the north redwood trees into the record.

“Miss Waterbury,” the Prosecutor began. “Did your friend get his hand chopped off?”
“No, Sir.”

“And obviously you didn’t get your hand chopped off.”

Isabelle simply showed her hands to the jury.

“Miss Waterbury, you said that the Governor and Mr. John Muir arrived. Did you and the others release yourselves from the tree before the Governor and Mr. Muir arrived, or after?”

“After.”

“And this was the next day following, after Mr. Persons had spoken to Mr. Walters, the timber man?”

He was leading the witness, but Henry saw no point in simply delaying the response.

“Yes.”

“So for all you know, the Governor effected the saving of the trees and your safe return to the bosom of your family?”

“Uh, yes, I suppose so.”

“No further questions Your Honor.”

Henry was going to call a prostitute that Ben had rescued, but nixed that idea, reckoning that the Prosecutor would merely use her former occupation against Ben, possibly even calling her rescue a theft of property, or willful breaking of a contract. He dared not take the risk.

Henry got to his feet. “Your Honor my next set of witnesses I’ve scheduled for tomorrow… and due to…”

The Prosecutor jumped to his feet. “Your Honor, the defense knows how trials work. It’s not even 4:30. But… in the interest of justice, the prosecution will concede that the defendant has many friends, many friends, and has done good things for his many friends, and that all of these listed character witnesses will say flowery things about Mr. Persons.”

The judge addressed Henry, “Mr. Halleck, do any of your witnesses have anything pertinent to the act in question?”

“No, Your Honor. They are as the Prosecution stated, character witnesses.”

“Well, since that has been sufficiently stipulated, let’s move on. Who else are you going to call?” The jury plainly saw the judge glare at Ben.

“The defense rests, Your Honor.”

“All right, then. Court stands adjourned until nine AM tomorrow when we will hear closing arguments.” The judge slammed his gavel.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
D.L. Moody: famous evangelist and Bible Institute founder
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
Mario Colosimo: son of Chicago thug, Diamond Jim. In San Francisco seeking revenge against Ben.


Chapter 57
One Man's Calling, ch 57

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben stood trial for the murder of Mario Colosimo. It ended with the closing arguments carried over to the next day.

^^^^^^^^^

“Gentlemen of the jury,” the Prosecutor stood directly in front of them, a little closer than the closest was comfortable with. “This case is as simple as it can be. The defendant injured the victim and the victim died from that injury.”

The Prosecutor turned away as if he was finished.

After a couple steps toward Ben, the Prosecutor looked squarely. “And he didn’t even deny it! Oh, to be sure, the man who killed another man on the streets of our city has done nice things. Sure. Jack-the-Ripper no doubt loved his mother and was a good neighbor.

“No doubt the defense counsel will attempt to introduce evidence in his plea for mercy that his client is a man of God.” The Prosecutor held up one finger. “I will object to relevance. Besides, the Hunchback of Notre Dame was an employee of the church.” He held up a second finger. “He will try to call as fact evidence not introduced in this trial. I will object. That is against the law. The defense had the opportunity to present witnesses to the facts of their case and elected not to do so.

“This case, gentlemen, is to be decided on the facts as presented in this courtroom. It was not a minor tussle as counsel will attempt to paint it. A man died. And justice requires that the person responsible for that death pay the price for their actions. An eye for an eye, members of the jury. That is your only job.

“My purpose in this proceeding is to lay out the facts. The judge’s role is to see to it that we all play by the rules. The defense focus is on getting his client off the hook, so to speak. Yours is justice for the dead victim, who counts on you, and you alone. Thank you.”

Without waiting for the judge to call upon him, Henry jumped from his seat, walking toward the jury box quickly enough to startle those in front.

“Members of the jury, the Prosecutor has it almost right, except for an important factor. And that’s defining your role. See, the police could arrest someone, anyone, for any reason whatsoever, and throw them in jail, toss them in jail and throw away the key. They could do that. Excepting for you. You, gentlemen have a duty to see to it that innocently accused people do not get thrown into jail and the key thrown away.

“Now, who was the victim, we never heard …”

“Objection, Your Honor. Certainly, the defense is not going to attempt to taint the jurors, telling them that the victim deserved to die.”

“Over-ruled. We don’t know what counsel for the defense is going to attempt.”

The Prosecutor sat, his effort to conceal a grin ineffective. Henry dropped the angle he thought to pursue. Anything like pointing out that Mario Colosimo was a Chicago gangster would make the Prosecutor’s point.

Henry continued, “Gentlemen, the prosecutor called the little, one second affair a tussle, which it was. One kick in self-defense, keeping an aggressor at bay.”

“Your Honor,” the Prosecutor said, slowly rising from his seat. “The defense has not established, nor offered one single fact into the record that the fight that the defendant started was in self-defense. Evidence not admitted is my objection.”

“Sustained. Counsel is reminded that closing arguments is not the time to present your case.”

Henry knew that he could not raise a single one of the many points he’d intended regarding Ben’s character: the YMCA, the Salvation Army, the very successful alcoholics program, the mission for homeless men. Henry could not mention the many lives that Ben had affected through his ministry as evidence of Ben’s love for his fellow man.

Henry knew also that the decision not to put Ben on the stand in his own defense was the right decision. Ben would admit to his kick being the first blow. He would not be able to prove that he’d been grabbed, or that his interpretation of a grab was nothing more than people rounding a corner and bumping into one another, a stabilizing automatic reaction.

And without Dr. Philmore, who had told Henry directly to his face that there was no question that the victim suffered sepsis, a serious infection, and was in a serious medical condition well before August thirtieth. Henry was tied into a tight knot, nowhere to go and unable to move.

He thanked the jurors for their attention and dedication to the truth.

Deliberations took twenty-two minutes. Ben was found guilty. The judge wasted no time in pronouncing sentence. Ben was to be transported to the State Prison at San Quentin and there be hung by the neck until dead no later than October 30 at six AM.

+++

“Ben! Great news!” Henry was at the San Francisco jail in the same room where he’d met with Ben to secure his release. “One of the jurors came to my office. He said that one of the jurors was a retired policeman, and that he dominated, intimidated even, compelling the jurors to vote guilty. This guy even felt threatened. I’ll file the appeal today.”

Ben nodded.

At first Henry thought that Ben was in a state of shock at the prospect of being hung. 
“That’s good, Henry. Thank you. Now, like I said, empty my bank account. I don’t think there’s any other way I can pay you except to say that I’ll pray for you every day. Jail is a great place to pray. It’s little wonder why Paul accounted himself as most fortunate.

“Henry, Henry…” Ben waited until he had Henry’s full attention. “Henry, for me to live is Christ. And to die is gain. Henry, read Philippians – all of it, then read it again thinking of me. And read it on the day of my execution. And then rejoice.”

+++

“Benjamin L.  Persons. This is my prison. I’ve heard of you. Knew you’d be coming here. Was talk Governor Bartlett was going to give you a pardon. Too bad your fancy lawyer dragged out the trial. Now your Governor friend is dead.

“Won’t be no street preaching in the cell block or in the yard, either one. I hear of it and you’ll be in solitary until the day you die. Understood?”

Ben looked at the warden and nodded.

“Nothing to say? Now’s your only chance to see me.”

Ben gazed into the warden’s eyes. He recalled distinctly the words that D. L. Moody had unwittingly said.  “Warden, I’m here to bloom.”

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Henry Halleck: lawyer friend of Ben
D.L. Moody: famous evangelist and Bible Institute founder


Chapter 58
One Man's Calling, ch 58

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben lost his trial and was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Henry promised to file an appeal, but Ben was content, satisfied that he was following God’s call.

^^^^^^^

“Oh, I’m guilty as they come. I am, I’ll tell ye. Straight out. Ol’ Buzzard bartender. Wouldn’t credit me another drink. He done it before, an’ I paid ‘im, too.” The speaker was Ben’s cell mate. He hadn’t stopped talking since Ben was thrown in with him. “So I tuck that bottle he’d just emptied fer the one next ta me.”

The ol’ timer took a break to cough up some phlegm. Ben thought he reminded him of the old geezer he’d partnered with in the Colorado mining country. Abe Lamont was this one’s name.

“I smacked him right across the nose with it. Hit ‘im hard, I did. Broke ‘is nose, blinded ‘im, an’ made ‘im madder’n snot. He came over that bar at me an’ I run. He missed me an’ crashed through the plate glass winder. Opened up ‘is neck an’ bled out. Right there on the walk. I sat down an’ waited ta be arrested. It was down in San Jose, twas. Capitol then. My cell was on a ship. The Waban. Parked it right out there in the bay whal we prisoners built this prison. Don’t seem right, ‘bout that, buildin’ our own jailhouse.”

Ben asked whether there were any church services in the prison.

“Oh, sometimes. Depends on if a preacher wants ta come. You know, visit the sick and them in prison?”

Ben nodded. Close enough.

“I been forgive a’ my killin’ that bartender. Not the first time I asked, mind ye. Not even the second. No sir. But the third time, right here in this room I asked. And I meant it, too. I was sorry I done it. An’ not ‘cause I got throwed in here, either. I was sorry through an’ through. He forgive me, too. I know he did.”

“I know he did, too, Abe. I know he did.” Ben stretched as best he could on a narrow and too-short cot, thanking God for Abe as a cellmate and for putting him in a mission field.

“Kitchen duty for you,” a guard said as he walked by. “They’ll be coming to get you at four every morning. And if you wonder about a day off, you can wonder about a day off of eating for the whole prison because you want a day off.”

Ben figured he gave the same speech to everyone first assigned kitchen duty.

As Ben cleaned dried beans from the inside of a large pot the second day of work, a fellow prisoner came up to him. “Heard you was a preacher killed a man.”

Ben didn’t look at him, but continued scrubbing.

“I’m here fer doin’ what a man does. Wife wasn’t home when I come back from a long haul. I was a teamster. Then I tried my hand in the gold fields, know what I mean? Wife wadn’t home, but her daughter was. Not mine, mind ya. Wouldn’t do that. Anyway, I seen she was a woman now. So I did what a man does. I mean she… Anyway, reason I come to ya. I want forgiveness. See, some in here, they don’t take ta what I done, and well, when I see Ol’ Saint Pete, I want in, know what I mean?”

Ben stopped what he was doing and straightened to his full stature, glaring into the man’s eyes. “Forgiveness is not mine to give. Not me, not any preacher or priest. And the door to heaven is not Saint Peter, it is Jesus Christ. Mister, God looks for a broken spirit and a contrite heart. And he lifts up the humble. I’ll pray for you as I do everyone else, that they experience the love of Jesus Christ before it’s too late.”

Ben turned away with a renewed vigor in his scrubbing.

+++

That very afternoon when he returned to the kitchen to begin work for the evening meal, another man approached. “Names Ed. You remember Gil, the one come to ya earlier t’day?”

Ben introduced himself, affirming that he remembered the man, though he didn’t know his name.

“He was the one killed in the yard while ago. Got his neck broke.”

Ed turned to go about his own business, as Ben’s eyes flooded with tears that refused to staunch. That night in his bed was the worst night of his life.

+++

“Noticed you sticking to yourself. Greenies either do that, or try to wedge their way in with men that look like themselves. Your way is better… up to a point.” They were in the yard, the enclosed area between the cell block buildings. “My name’s Olsen.”

“Up to a point?” Ben asked after telling Olsen his name.

“Yeah. At some point you have to learn the rules. How to get along. See, you’re … every greenie is at a disadvantage. Your story, at least what’s on paper, was all over the prison the first day. But you, you greenies, until you plug in, are outside the news circle. Everybody knows you, but you don’t know anybody. Who to trust, who to watch, who to avoid altogether.”

“Makes sense,” Ben agreed.

“But here’s the thing. There’s a cost to everything in here. In any prison. You could call it an initiation.”

“I guess that’s about the same as the workplace, school, the bunkhouse, or anywhere if a man wants to fit in,” Ben said.

“So you want to fit in, or …”

“Due to swing in a couple weeks,” Ben said, moving his gaze from the ground to Olsen’s eyes.

“And your Governor friend died.” Olsen grimaced and shook his head. “Well, we haven’t had church here for a few months. What’s the worst that could happen were you to preach a little bit in the yard? You’re already a dead man.” Olsen grinned at him as he walked away.

Ben decided to bloom. Not wanting to directly disobey the warden’s order not to street preach in the yard, it came to him to aggressively testify. He began walking the perimeter, slowing as he neared groups of men. Ben thought to himself, “There’s street preaching from a soap box, and then there’s mobile preaching, on the move among people.” Loud enough to be heard by all nearby, with as much confidence as the Spirit empowered him, Ben began. “Jesus loves you. He can forgive you. Jesus can make you whole. Jesus can bless you right here in this prison. You can be as saved here as in any temple or fancy tabernacle in the whole world. Jesus will guide your steps, he loves you. Jesus gave his life for you.” The second time around Ben began softly singing a chorus to a Christmas hymn, occasionally interrupting it for Bible verse. “Oh, come let us adore Him. Oh come let us adore him. Oh come let us adore hi-im, Chri-ist, the Lord. For he alone is worthy. For he alone is worthy. For he alone is worthy-y, Chri-ist, the Lord. I give Him all the glory. I give Him all the glory. I give Him all the Glo-ory, Chri-ist, the Lord.” After a few rounds around the perimeter of praising God and declaring Jesus to his fellow inmates, Ben saw Olsen smile at him and then walk directly through the prison wall. He never saw him again.

Presently Ben’s path was obstructed by a man a few inches taller than himself, and considerably heavier. “Hey. Preacher,” the man said, bringing his right hand from behind his back. “I think I broke this finger. Can you, I don’t know… pray for it?”

Ben smiled, remembering the wagoneer in Colorado with a broken finger.

“I can.” First Ben reached and ripped the bottom cuff from right leg of his ratty striped prison suit. He tied the indicated finger, the middle finger to the ring finger and then prayed, holding the man’s hand. “In the precious name of Jesus, heal this broken bone. Jesus, we love you and we believe you. Thank you.”

“Oh, I think it’s healed!”

“Leave it tied at least until your next shower,” Ben said. “I’m Ben Persons.”

“I know. I’m Tom Thumb. Funny huh? It’s really Jason Thumb. Don’t know why everybody calls me Tom. Funny ‘bout the finger, though, huh? Being Tom Thumb.”

“I’m happy to meet you, Tom Thumb.”

One more time around the wall and a whistle blew, announcing that it was time to return to individual cells

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call one day at a time
Abe Lamont; cell mate of Ben
Craig Olsen; fellow prison
Tom (Jason) Thumb; fellow prisoner

Psalms 51 (contrite heart)
Mt: 25:35-45 (visit those in prison)
The story of the Waban prison ship is true.
San Jose was the first capitol of California.


Chapter 59
One Man's Calling, ch 59

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben met Ol’ Timer, his cell mate. An evil man asked Ben to forgive him of his crime against a girl so that he could get into heaven. Ben preached contrition. The man was soon afterward killed, breaking Ben’s heart. An angel speaks to Ben about his ministry. Ben prays for healing for a fellow prisoner’s broken finger.

^^^^^^^^^

In the kitchen, a senior inmate pointed to a stack of burlap bags. “Them’s dried white beans. We gotta let ‘em soak overnight.”

Ben walked over and reached to pick up one of the 50-pound bags from the floor.

“Not that one,” an inmate shouted as he walked back to the area from the lavatory. “Any other one.”

Ben shrugged and chose another.

What Ben didn’t know was that the sack didn’t contain beans, but sodium nitrate from Chile, repackaged and slipped into the prison as beans by an outside accomplice of one of the inmates.

The same inmate had been siphoning off and storing away coal oil meant for the stoves. He was almost ready.

Ben’s next opportunity to witness came quickly. The guard who rattled his cell bars the next morning to wake him for duty brought him to a cell block divider door, as soon as he had Ben beyond that wall, he cold cocked him with the handle of his club within his fist, striking him flush on the temple. The effect was jarring. Though the guard was only five foot eight, at best, he glared at Ben. Another guard was nearby, smirking, not involved, simply smirking.

Ben was over-joyed. Only once before had he been given such an opportunity. Ben blinked a couple times, shook his head, and calmly turned the other cheek, waiting for another blow.

For what seemed like eternity, Ben stood in place, maintaining his posture. Presently his guard shouted, “Well, git to your spuds!”

Ben did, thanking Jesus.

The prison didn’t trust inmates with paring knifes, of course. They first as thoroughly washed potatoes as the inmates’ commitment and dedication allowed, and then mashed them with a large, heavy mallet. One man placed a potato on a stone surface as the mallet man hefted his hammer. Once smashed, the first swept the pulp, skins and all into a large pot, replacing the mess with another spud. Boiled, inmates got potatoes one day, and potato soup the next, along with whatever else was on the menu.

Ben spoke to people as the Holy Spirit directed. He often had a word of prophecy, or simple encouragement for one or another. Occasionally he reached toward a man, called out a name that would be his wife’s name, or his child’s, and pray for them. Mixing short repentance and salvation messages with his praise, and songs of praise, he finally got the warden’s attention, called to his office.

“Persons, I told you no street preaching.”

Ben said nothing.

After a moment the warden spoke again. “But you’re not, are you?”

“No Sir.”

“Guess you’ve noticed that we have a chapel?”

Ben hadn’t, but said nothing.

“Well, all right. You are our new chaplain. Sundays at nine. You can leave the kitchen at eight, but be back there by ten fifteen. One hour sermon, no more.”

“Thank you, sir. Uh, Sir? May I have a Bible?”

“There’s one in the chapel.” He waved his hand dismissively.

Two days later, Sunday at nine o’clock, the line to get into the chapel ran more than twice as long as there were seats to sit inmates. The warden was situated to witness it. He sent a guard to Ben with a message. Hold it to 45 minutes, and he could preach it twice.

Ben was ecstatic.

+++

No one woke Ben that next Monday. He got up at the same time as every other inmate on the block, taking care of business and getting in line for chow with the rest of them. As he was leaving the chow hall, a guard told him to report to the chapel and that his hour outdoors would follow the noon meal.

Ben was overjoyed. He spent the day reading God’s word, meditating, and praying.

+++

The inmate involved with the explosive sodium nitrate and fuel oil did not know exactly where, or exactly how he would carry out the important part of his plan. He did know, however, that the chapel had an outside wall, a wall that served as wall to the prison. And outside that wall was freedom, and no other impediment. Once outside the prison, run across an empty space of a hundred yards, or so, about ten or twelve seconds, up and over a small hill, and he would be out of sight of the guards. It would be even easier in the dark.

What he needed was a method to get the materials to the chapel, a plan to be there with the materials, and several volunteers to escape with him. The bomb expert wanted other bodies escaping in case guards got lucky and began firing. Being the first out, odds were that the ones behind would get hit, and not himself. He would wait weeks, months, if necessary.

Ben being made chaplain was a godsend for the escaping inmate. He had inmates smuggle the sodium nitrate in their turned-up cuffs, their pants pulled low on their hips and wrapped in paper and hidden under their clothing. It was all inside the chapel between the wall and a piano in two services. The coal oil he didn’t even need to have stashed away with a supply provided for the heat stove. What he then wanted was a night service. He recruited a trustee.

“They want one last church meetin’, Warden. On accounta Persons gettin’ hung on Saturd’y. An’ if his appeal might get him a stay, well, they wanna church service Thursd’y night so’s they c’n pray fer it.”

The warden thought a moment. “Thirty minutes right after supper. Not a minute more. You get the word out. I’ll make arrangements with the guards.”

“Yes, Sir.”

+++

“Be all right if we were to gather ‘round you to, you know, pray?” an inmate asked. Ben recognized him from the kitchen, but didn’t sense that he was a serious believer. Nevertheless, Ben agreed to the general hum of eager inmates.

"Hey, what's that smell?" One of the guards elbowed his way through the congestion.

Not many seconds into the prayer, the guard nearly to Ben, there was an explosion lifting the piano off the floor and blowing a hole in the wall. Several people lay injured, or unconscious. Among the unconscious was Ben.

In the chaos of the second guard attempting to enter as inmates were trying to exit, several ripped their way out over the debris and through the hole. Tom Thumb dragged Ben and then picked him up fireman-fashion over his shoulder after ducking through the opening, enlarged somewhat by the earlier escapees. Tom was not among the chosen volunteers, simply a man who acted on impulse, as was his hefting of Ben.

Immediately outside the hole, Tom turned right, doing what might be called a fast-walk toward the bay to the east. In the darkness, he reached water undiscovered. Ben woke as his torso became immersed. “This way,” Tom told him. Ben complied, unaware of his whereabouts, or situation.

Author Notes I don't believe Ben would have escaped of his own volition.


Chapter 60
One Man's Calling, ch 60

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben escaped prison while being carried unconscious.

^^^^^^^^

“Where are we, Tom?” Ben was uninjured and fully alert, though he had a pounding headache.

“We’re in the water, Ben.”

Ben didn’t respond to that.

“We’re in the bay going east.”

“I have to go back, Tom.” Ben, who was in front so that Tom could watch him, make sure he didn’t drown, stopped walking in the neck-high water. Tom had kept them at that depth for better obscurity, as well as the fact that walking was easier. Tom nearly tumbled Ben over when Ben stopped.

Tom whispered, “Ben, you’ve escaped. You’ll go straight to solitary. Then Saturday morning they’ll hang you. And even if your appeal worked, it would be took back. If you go back, you hang. Pure and simple.”

As Ben was thinking, his heart breaking over being an escapee and seemingly confirming the guilty verdict, Tom turned him around, away from the prison. “We need a boat.”

“Tide’s coming in. That works for us,” Ben said, surprised that his words indicated buying into the escape.

“Yeah, current’s to our back and deeper water’s easier to stay hidden. I think I see a boat.” Within minutes they were in a tiny row boat that was barely afloat.

“Was warmer in the water,” Ben said. “That’s not a complaint, mind you.”

Tom chuckled as he rowed.

“There’s some buildings,” Ben said as he pointed in the direction for Tom to row. They gently beached the boat and then pushed it back into the current. They slopped their way through marshy muck to dry ground. Only one of the houses appeared to have any lights, even though it was still early evening.

At the one with the light, the door toward the water opened. It was about 70 or 80 yards away, but Tom and Ben could hear a man clearly calling. “Ben, Ben, Benny!”

Tom and Ben proceeded to quickly sludge their way, surprising the man with their response.

“Huh. Was callin’ my dog, but c’mon. C’mon. Fore we all get shot. Wasn’t gonna, but I’ll light a fire.”

“We’re escaped prisoners,” Ben blurted.

“A’course you are. Stripes. Soakin’ wet in the dark. I’m dumb, but I ain’t stupid. Hah! That dog. She’ll come when she gets a stud ta mount her. In heat, don’tcha know.”

“She? I thought you called Ben,” Ben said, shivering.

“Hah! Here.” He tossed Ben a large rag that he used as a towel and Tom a throw blanket that he used while sitting. “Git them wet stripes off. Quick like. I’ll git this fire agoin’. Then we c’n figure out how ta dress ya.” Hah!

“Ben. Now that’s somethin’. So now I know. Preacher up the road give me that dog when she was a pup. Said her name was Ben. I was curious, but she come to it, so…” He shrugged his shoulders. “That was goin’ on four year ago.”

Tom looked to Ben and over to their host, and back again.

“That’s how God works, Tom,” Ben said.

“Oh, my manners. Tom and Ben,” he said correctly pointing. “I’m Ferdinand. But call me Fred. Everybody does. My pappy was a sailor. I tried ta be. Stole a little pouch a’ coin an’ jumped ship. Was gonna gold mine. Got catched an’ served five years right there where you boys run… swum from. Pappy was dead. Never had nobody else. Stayed right here workin’ for the fishery. Been at it more’n twenty year now.”

Some hours passed as  they ate and warmed themselves by the fireplace. “Fred, we don’t want you to get into any trouble. Or to cost you anything.” Ben was sincere.

“Aw. I heard they got a real warden now. Mine … Sheeze. He was sumpin’ – liked to watch boys whipped, he did. An’ sometimes for nuttin’.

“An’ for money. Hah! Got this place for free from the old man, let me share it with ‘im. I nursed him into the grave. That ol’ man was good ta me. Yes, he was. Anyways, what Benny and I don’t eat, we got saved up for I don’t know what. Hire somebody ta put me on the pot, I guess. Hah!”

After warming up and dressed in some make-do clothes, Ben and Tom accepted ten dollars each, thanking Fred profusely.

“North,” Ben said in reply to the question. “It’ll stay dark for a few hours yet.”

“Get to San Rafael. Not too far. They got a rail station.”

Ben nodded.

When Fred looked to Tom. “Can’t go home,” he said. “Busted my pa up some stopping him from beating my mother. Got ten years for it. Nearly eight to go. Guess I’ll go south. Got a rowboat out there.”

“You’ll get picked up. You come to work with me. We’re short-handed. They’ll take ya. Work all day an’ late afternoon when we’re comin’ back in, well, you show that ten dollars to the captain an’ he’ll take ya to a San Francisco pier an’ pat chee on your bottom gettin’ off. Hah!”

“Here, Fred. Take this.” Ben gave Tom his ten dollars. “No, take it. You’ll need it.”

“Thank you, Ben.”

“Thank you. You saved my life.”

They hugged as Ben put his dried shoes on.

“Thank you, Fred. And God bless you.”

“Oh, yes. He has. He has. Hah! You two blessed me, too. And here.” Fred gave Ben a handful of dollar bills.

Ben hugged him, before going out the same door he’d come in, letting the dog, Benny, in before closing it.

+++

After waiting several hours, Ben hopped onto the train between cars, figuring he could hold onto the leeside until it slowed enough to hop off. He tumbled off just short of Novato, a small farming community. Ben thought he would freeze to death had it been another mile; but he survived. He elected to get something to eat, some better clothes, and continue his northerly route.

It was midday when he got off the train in Santa Rosa. Ben was not particularly hungry, but he knew that he would be soon enough. He also knew that he would be needing some better, warmer clothes. Certainly getting out of California was important, but food, clothing, and shelter were, as well. God didn’t seem to be pointing in any particular direction.

It wasn’t long, walking what turned out to be Santa Rosa Avenue, that he smelled fresh fruits and vegetables, tomatoes, most dominant. He couldn’t remember when he’d last enjoyed a freshly picked tomato. He was suddenly famished. Another block of walking solved the mystery – a streetside produce stand, unmanned, with a sign reading HONOR SYSTEM. Another sign listed prices, all reasonable, Ben thought. With a dollar’s worth of purchases, Ben sat at the base of a young redwood tree, prepared to enjoy the bounty.

“Might want this,” a voice said.

Ben looked up at a man only somewhat older than himself extending a cloth in one hand and a salt shaker in the other. Ben accepted both with a thank you. The man sat beside him, and started peeling a fist-sized potato. Ben had no idea where either the potato or the knife came from.

“Luther. I don’t recognize you.” The man smiled at Ben, offering him a slice of his potato.

“Ben. Just got off the train.” After eating the potato, Ben thanked him.

“Didn’t expect you to do a dance, but this potato saved Ireland. And it tastes fine, too.”

“Does that,” Ben replied, taking a large bite of his tomato after lightly salting it.

“Off the train, huh?”

Ben nodded.

“Need a job? My help went off to college last month and I could use help.”

“Vegetables come with it?” Ben asked, smiling.

He started work immediately after lunch.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call
Tom Thumb: an escaped inmate who carried unconscious Ben out through the break.
Luther Burbank: botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science. He actually lived in Santa Rosa during this time.


Chapter 61
One Man's Calling, ch 61

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben miraculously escaped the area of San Quentin and then hopped a train to the north, getting off in Santa Rosa where he met Luther Burbank, accepting a job offer.

^^^^^^^^^^

“Ben, have a seat. That can wait.” Luther motioned to a crate for Ben to sit on while Luther himself squatted on his haunches.

“I know that you’ve been working extra hours. You probably think that the time is to pay for your room in the shed, which was doing nothing before you moved in, costs me nothing for you to use. And for the vegetables you eat.

“Ben you are wasting away. Plain enough to see. You need grains and meat. And you haven’t said three words beyond good morning since you’ve been here. Your eyes smile at meal time, so I know it’s in you. Now, what can we do?”

“I’m an escaped murderer.” Ben’s lip quivered with the guilt that had been consuming him.

“Ahh,” Luther reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew two newspaper clippings. Handing one to Ben, he said, “This one?”

It was an article about the San Quentin prison break, detailing Ben’s charges and conviction, as well as the other one who’d managed to remain on the loose.

“Something didn’t add up, so I did a little research.” Luther handed Ben the other newspaper article, the one written by Henry Halleck.

Ben sighed and nodded, settling his chin on his chest.

“Wanna tell me?” Luther asked.

After a moment, Ben responded. “Can it wait until after work? I’m in a kind of fog about the whole thing, my life.”

Luther said ‘certainly’ and stood up to go about his business.

Ben read through both articles once more.

+++

“You deserve to know,” Ben told Luther. “You’ve been nothing but kind to me.” Ben told of his San Francisco experience, only briefly noting that he’d been shanghaied. He only touched the highlights of organizing the Awakening meetings and his own San Francisco ministry, detailing what was relevant to the murder charge, and then his unconscious escape.

“So, you’re a preacher?”

Ben grimaced, not feeling like a man of God.

“Look, Ben. I don’t know why, but I believe you. And I trust you, obviously. I bought eighteen acres out in Sebastopol, seven miles west of here. Some of the best soil … You know, this region is the chosen spot of all the earth, as far as nature is concerned.

“Anyway, I can hire someone to do your job. I’ve had three applicants this week alone. I need you to help me clear those Sebastopol acres. And… getting out of the center of town might not be a bad idea.”

Ben nodded, then looked Luther in the eyes. “I just need some winter clothes and the address.”

Luther smiled. “Try on a set of my clothes and boots so I’ll know the sizes. I’ll get your things from the Montgomery Ward's and take a little out of your wages each week?”

Ben nodded his gratitude.

“And if you will limit your work to no more than ten, twelve hours a day… and eat some mutton, or something every day. I say mutton because there’s a lot of local sheep. But get your strength and stamina.” Setting Ben up for an obvious joke, he made fists and donned an exaggerated expression. “You never know when you might need to run with the wind!” He laughed until Ben finally smiled.

The next day the two rode a carriage to Sebastopol. After showing Ben the ramshackle cabin that came with the acreage, Luther showed where to emphasize the clearing work.

“Would it be all right if I made friends with a neighbor, or two? Found out who had a mule we could borrow to pull stumps?” Ben asked. “Also, I’ll need a bucksaw. And a logging chain. I think we have everything else I might need.”

“Yes, yes, and yes. I didn’t think about a mule. We have Sally in town.”

“Mule would be better, most time,” Ben said. “Sally’s fine, but this out here would probably put her down.”

Luther nodded agreement.

“Tell you what. If someone will sell us a mule, do it in my name. I’ll be out here to help a few days a week once I get your replacement trained.”

They’d been walking the property, so Ben returned to the carriage to unload supplies. Soon Luther was returning to Santa Rosa as Ben resumed punishing himself with work.

+++

One day while Luther explained on a tablet how various fields and orchards would be laid out, Luther asked Ben off-handedly, “So preaching didn’t lend itself to marriage?”

“Divided focus,” was all Ben replied.

“Ahh. A man in service to the Lord shast not turn his head from the plow.”

“Ben chuckled. “Well, close enough in my case.”

“Oh, I’ve read the Bible. But I find Darwin’s Variations of Animals and plants Under Domestication of far more practical application. Read the Bible without the ill-fitting colored spectacles of theology, just as we read other books, using our judgment and reason, I say.”

Not wanting to argue, Ben merely nodded.

“What? No theological retort?”

“Not with the man who feeds me,” Ben replied sarcastically. “Besides, a person who only believes what he’s been told, will believe whatever he’s told next. No, God doesn’t want us to shut off our thinking. He wants our best thoughts, whatever is true.”

Luther let silence prevail for a moment before returning to the subject of marriage, without segue.

“Ahh. Myself, I’m looking until I find a charming woman, not necessarily a lady mind you, one who cares more about weed eradication than her fingernails.”

Ben looked at him and smiled. “I’m sure she’s out there, but you might have to go to Arkansas to find her.”

Luther laughed. “Perhaps. Perhaps.”

Making Ben shake his head with subject hop-scotch, Luther returned to the previous issue. “You know, less than fifteen per cent of the people do any original thinking on any subject. The greatest torture in the world for most people is to think."

With only a second’s delay, Ben quipped, “You know. I think you might be right.”

They both laughed.

Ben thought it a wonder that Luther could keep so many horticultural projects, in their nearly infinite stages of progression, active in his mind.

Ben’s peace quickly escaped him as he returned to the torment of his conscience of only moments before.

+++

One day in late February Luther drove out to the Sebastopol acreage that he’d named Golden Ridge Farm with a visitor, introducing him to Ben as Clarence Stark.

“Ben, Clarence here says weeds and flowers are all plants, useless unless you can eat them.” Eventually, Ben learned that Clarence was one of the Stark brothers of the Stark Brothers plant catalog company.

Clarence began to protest the deliberate mangling of his comment as Luther over-rode him. “I say, the difference between a weed and a flower is that the flower is an educated weed!”

“Learned what to do to prevent uprooting?” Ben offered to the delight of both men.

A couple hours later, after much explanation and illustration of his plans and dreams to Clarence, Luther turned to Ben, taking advantage of Clarence’s time away making valuable use of a distant oak.

“Take his offer, Luther. His company will not compromise your work in the least. And his resources will allow you to concentrate on your real work, and not worry about ten cent seed sales, or your roadside stand, not that I didn’t greatly appreciate that stand last fall.” Ben smiled, the first time in days.

Luther nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

Author Notes The blue and underlining of Darwin's book is FanStory's doing. I could not undo it.

Ben Persons: a young man trying to follow God's call one day at a time.
Luther Burbank: botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science
Henry Halleck: San Francisco lawyer and friend of Ben
Clarence McDowell Stark: a commercial botanist of Stark Bros, Inc, a seed and fruit tree company since 1816

Luke 9:62 No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.
Prov. 14:15 ... a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
Phil. 4:8 ... whatsoever is true... think about such things.

Luther Burbank had a 4 acre garden in Santa Rosa and 18 acres in Sebastopol (a small town a few miles west) during this time frame. Clarence McDowell Stark was a true character who bought into Burbank's dream.
Burbank was praised and admired not only for his gardening skills, but for his modesty, generosity and kind spirit.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther_Burbank
https://www.azquotes.com/author/2161-Luther_Burbank


Chapter 62
One Man's Calling, ch 62

By Wayne Fowler

This chapter is a bit longer. I apologize. But I didn't think it long enough to split.

In the last part Ben moved to Sebastopol to work at Luther Burbank’s Golden Ridge Farm. He had not yet been restored to the joy of the Lord, or to his calling.

^^^^^^^^

Ben lingered on Luther’s thank you. For some reason he couldn’t get the expression out of his mind. He allowed his mind free reign through the scriptures he’d stored away in his soul.

Ben finally realized that a spirit of contrition and remorse had just about consumed him ever since his escape from prison. He thought through the time that he’d dealt with the inmate with a haughty spirit. And he thought of the prophet Isaiah, who God told that He lives in the soul of the contrite – and would revive them.

He remembered Habakkuk. Ben laughed at himself. “Who remembers Habakkuk?” Shaking his head, he told himself Habakkuk’s story of the non-budding fig tree, and the grape-less vines, and failed crops. “Oh Lord,” Ben cried. “My fig tree doesn’t bloom and my vines are without grapes. Forgive me, Jesus.”

James’ words popped into his consciousness: Consider it joy when your trials test your faith and produce perseverance… that you may be pure and complete.

Ben took the remainder of the morning off, retreating to his room where he prayed with thanksgiving and rejoicing.

+++

“Hey Ben!” Luther rode his saddle horse rather than bring his carriage, as was his custom. He withdrew a newspaper from his saddlebag before dismounting.

Ben led the horse away from the fruit trees before taking the offered newspaper.

“Your lawyer won the mayorship last year. I told you I didn’t keep up. Well, here. Read this. He had your case re-opened.”

Ben took the paper which was opened and folded such that the story Luther wanted him to read was obvious. LOCAL STREET PREACHER EXONERATED was the headline. The article went on to say that with Mayor Henry Halleck’s reconstruction of the police department, and his perseverance into the Persons case, it was discovered that there had been a plot to charge Persons with murder over the street tussle that resulted in a man’s death. One of the policemen recanted, admitting that the deceased and his partners had started the altercation. The court reversed Ben Persons’ conviction, even though his appeal after trial had been denied. The state charges against Persons for prison escape had been dropped.

“Well, Ben? Guess you can go to town and whoop it up?”

Ben looked at Luther with obvious gratitude. “Think I’ll whoop it up right here.” He pointed to his chest, pinching back tears of joy.

“Well then, what’ll it be. How about some wine? An entire bottle?”

“Work!” Ben shouted. “Come look.”

Ben had finished assembly of a Sears and Roebuck mail order greenhouse just an hour before Luther rode up.

“This is terrific! We just need shelving. You won’t have time for that. We need to get the rest of the trees planted this month. What I’ll do is take some measurements and describe what we need at the lumber yard. They have idle time in the winter anyway. They’ll be happy to deliver the materials and build some tables and shelves. Yes! That’s what we’ll do.”

As Luther prepared to ride back to Santa Rosa, Ben reached for the horse’s bridle. “Thank you, Luther. Thank you.”

Smiling, Luther leaned down and spoke quietly. “I’m just the paperboy, Ben. Somebody else did all the work.”

Ben smiled and nodded.

+++

Ben walked to town, his first travel out of Sebastopol since he learned that he was a free man. He was too early for the service at the first church he passed, but was on time for Sunday School classes at the next. He went inside and took a seat. The lesson was hackneyed, but Ben didn’t mind. The Holy Spirit ministered to him.

“Brother, would you care to stand and say something?” The preacher was about to close his sermon on sanctification, dryly delivered. Ben didn’t mind, he’d been in God’s presence.

Taken by surprise, Ben at first started to decline, but stood when he felt the tug of the Holy Spirit much as he’d lived his life before his conviction. “Jesus loves you. And he forgives you. But unless we accept that forgiveness, grab hold of it, and latch on to it as if it’s precious gold …” He reached out his hand, grasping and closing his fist. He pulled his hand into his chest as he said precious gold. “We must accept his forgiveness. And then he will consecrate us for his special use and purpose.” He sat down to absolute silence.

A moment later the pastor simply began, “Brothers and sisters …’

There was a wailing sob, as if a dam burst suddenly, it was a female’s voice, Ben thought. From somewhere to his left on the opposite side of the middle aisle, and behind him. Ben instinctively rose and squirmed his way through people to get close enough to lay his hand on her head, as she mumbled under her breath while crying.

“Bless her, Jesus. Lift her up, O God. Cause your child to know without doubt that she is forgiven. That you cast it as far as the east is from the west into the sea of forgetfulness. Lord, don’t let Satan ever again hold out something that has been forgiven.”

Opening his eyes, Ben saw that everyone around her was wide-eyed with wonder. Gradually people began to quietly get up and walk from the sanctuary.

When Ben reached the door to leave, an older man reached out his hand. Gripping Ben’s with an iron-like grip, he asked, “Would you be so kind as to take dinner with us?”

Ben smiled and nodded yes, following the man around the church, walking three blocks in silence, turning a street corner and walking two more blocks before the man pointed to a house.

Dinner will be just a little while. The Missus and my daughter will be a few more minutes, I expect. Can I get you anything?”

“Water?” Ben asked.

“I’m Reginald,” the man said as he passed through a door to the kitchen.

“Ben,” Ben said loud enough for him to hear.

Reginald returned with a cup of water that Ben downed in one gulp.

“More?”

“Please, I walked in from Sebastopol this morning. Guess I got parched.”

“Sebastopol! I don’t blame you. Here, come on into the kitchen and get your fill.”

When Ben entered, he saw two women working together efficiently.

“Oh!” the older of the two said as if startled.

“Just need some more water,” Reginald said. “This is my wife, Rachel, and my daughter, Beth.”

Beth turned to face Ben; her head tucked low. She did a sort of curtsey, a pot and a utensil occupying her hands and preventing her from a hand shake. It was the young woman from church who had needed prayer.

“Pleased to meet you. Thank you for asking me to dinner.” Ben set the cup down, forgetting about more water.

“Just need to heat the corn and potatoes and mash ‘em up while Beth makes the gravy,” Rachel said. “Hope you don’t mind the ham cold, Mister … Ben. It’s smoked; so it’s good. It’s just a lot faster getting’ Sunday dinner on the table served cold.”

“Cold is fine, Mrs. …”

“Kline,” she answered. “But just call me Rachel.”

“Daddy, would you tell him? I, I don’t think we could eat with it hanging out there.”

Reginald nodded and waved Ben to follow him back to the room where they received guests. Reginald did not modulate his voice. Ben knew that the women could hear his every word.

“Beth married a farm boy. They had a little place east, over by Glen Ellen, grape country over toward …

“Daddy!”

“Oh yeah, well. Beth had a baby, a little girl. She was … wasn’t born right.”

Reginald clamped his jaws, blinking back tears.

“Deformed?” Ben asked softly.

 Reginald nodded wildly. “She was. It was bad. Well, Beth’s husband, he ran off. The next anybody heard from him he’d got a divorce. Rachel, she stayed with Beth. I had to go to work. Beth, she rocked that baby ‘til the end, right through all that cryin’, Rachel said. Then Rachel and Beth came back here together.”

Ben didn’t say anything. They sat in silence until called to dinner.

Ben was afraid to look at Beth, but afraid not to. He did his best to engage in polite conversation, offering bits of his history, where he was from, how he got to Santa Rosa, what he did for a living.

Dinner finally finished, Rachel suggested that Beth take Ben out back to the porch swing, that Reginald could help with dishes for once, and to be sure to put on a sweater; there was a chill in the air.

Beth was nice to look at: all the regular features in the right places. Auburn hair neatly presented with just a little curl. She certainly wasn’t a Hannah, or even a Livvy, but she was easy to look at, nevertheless. Ben supposed she was his age, maybe a year or so older. She was tall enough to look him in the eye without lifting her head.

Once seated and the swing motion figured out between them, Beth turned sufficiently to see Ben. “Your story left a lot of holes,” she said.

Ben smiled and nodded.

“So did mine. The baby didn’t have a skull, among other issues. And I rocked her until she died.”

“Beth, that sounds commendable. Surely you didn’t blame yourself for her condition?”

“No. I didn’t. I don’t know what caused that. But the rocking … That’s all I did. I … I didn’t feed her. It took two days, sitting there in that rocker.” Beth gasped, choking back a sob.

Without thought, Ben drew her into his arms, wrapping her into himself, rubbing her back.

“And you’ve borne, carried that guilt …”

“For nearly five years … until today. Ben you can’t know the burden that’s lifted.”

“I can, Beth. I can.”

“Would you care to tell me?”

Ben told her of the fight, and the trial, conviction, and escape from prison. Then of the news of his freedom.

Beth laughed modestly. Looking at him, she said, “Well, aren’t we a pair?”

Ever so quickly, Beth leaned in and kissed Ben a peck on his cheek. Hopping up from the swing, she extended her hand. “Come on. Let’s share your story with the folks. The whole story.”

Ben did, his heart completely unburdened.

Author Notes This is not intended to condone, or to promulgate euthanasia. Please remember that the setting is the 19th century.
Ben Persons: a young man trying to follow God's call one day at a time
Luther Burbank: botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science

Is. 57:15-19 (revive the soul of the contrite)
Hab. 3:17-19 (no grapes on the vines)
James 1:2-12 (Consider it joy when your trials test your faith)
I suppose I should also list the 'my yoke is easy' scripture, along with 'confess your sins one to another'.


Chapter 63
One Man's Calling, ch 63

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben learned he’d been exonerated and that escape charges dropped. And he met a young woman.

^^^^^^^^

“Ben, I don’t understand why you don’t move her out here, here to Golden Ridge?” Luther was serious. “I’ve seen her fingernails. I approve!”

“Not until we’re married. She insists. And I do too, I guess.” Ben quieted somewhat on his I guess.

“Well …”

“I’m going to ask her tomorrow.”

“Today! Take the rest of the day off. And take the mare. Stay the night. I’ll be here tomorrow. A lot of work to do. “Oh, and I’m the best man?”

Ben chuckled. “You are the best man.” He veritably skipped to the stable.

Beth and Ben agreed on all the important details of religion, philosophy, and life principles. Her mother’s parents brought her mother to California as a youngster from the Missouri Ozarks. They continued their simple lifestyle. Reginald’s parents came to California as children themselves, hauled from their New England farm.

“A calling,” Beth had responded when the two of them were together on the next Saturday afternoon. “Does a calling come with celibacy? The single life of a monk?”

“Not mine.” After only a blink, Ben corrected himself. “I mean, I’m not. I haven’t, I…”

“You’re unmarried, but maybe not for life? Is that what you mean to say?” Beth asked, blushing back a mischievous smile.

“Ever have a girlfriend, Ben. I mean besides me?”

Ben laughed out loud. This was the second time he’d ever seen Beth. The last Sunday when Reginald asked him to dinner. And now today. They’d shared one peck of a kiss that Beth managed to land on his cheek. That was the history of their relationship. But Ben was ready to spend the rest of his life with her, and work out all the getting to know one another on the journey. Beth’s spirit simply reached out and hugged his. Her smile, her nature, Her mannerisms. Maybe they reminded him of his mother on some subconscious level. All he knew was that he wanted to be as near her as he could get.

“Besides you,” he said, winking at her on the you. “One. Livvy, in Colorado.”

“And?”

“God told me that the calling was more important than her. I followed the calling and later blessed her marriage to a fine man. They are happy and as far as I know pumping out babies.”

They both laughed. Beth did a stutter-step, but recovered quickly.

“And you-u-u?” Ben asked, looking through his brow.

“One too young of a husband. He was …,” she cocked her head and made a grimacing face. “He managed to make a baby and then …”

Ben stood from the porch swing, beckoning her to join him for an embrace. Her head on his shoulder felt heavenly to both of them.

+++

“Okay, Luther. I’ve seen you cross pollinating, and grafting. But what’s your real secret? How do you do it, all this?” Ben spread his arms toward the field.

“My secret? You want to know my secret?” Luther’s inflection made it sound like an incredulous request.

Ben smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I mean thornless cactus. I’ve been in the desert.”

“The secret of improved plant breeding, my good man, apart from scientific knowledge, is love.  While I was conducting experiments to make spineless cacti, I often talked to the plants …"You have nothing to fear," I would tell them.  "You don't need your defensive thorns.  I will protect you."  Gradually the useful plant of the desert emerged in a thornless variety."

Ben guffawed in laughter.

“It’s true.” Luther went back to his work.

“Luther,” Ben asked as he helped in the greenhouse, “Like I said. I’ve seen your scientific work with plants. And I understand about Darwin’s concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest. That all seems like so much common sense once you get over the evolution aspect.  But …”

“Man from monkeys. That’s the stickler, isn’t it?”

“In a nutshell, I suppose."

“It’s like your Bible. Personally, I don’t believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale, or that the whole universe was created in six 24-hour days. But that doesn’t mean the rest of it goes into the compost bin. Those who would legislate against the teaching of evolution should also legislate against gravity, electricity and the unreasonable velocity of light, and also, should introduce a clause to prevent the use of the telescope, the microscope and the spectroscope or any other instrument of precision which may in the future be invented, constructed or used for the discovery of truth."

Ben nodded.

+++

“Go for a walk?” Ben asked as Beth came from the kitchen, the evening meal dishes done.

“Aw, go on dear,” her mother said. “You don’t need a chaperone.” Rachel waved them out as Reginald chuckled.

“Tell me about yourself,” Ben asked.

“Where do you want me to start?”

“The earliest you can remember. Bring me up to date.”

Beth chuckled. “Oh no, Mister. We take turns at this game. When I squeeze your hand, it’s your turn.”

Ben smiled. They’d walked through the back yard and were about to enter the street behind, but hadn’t yet. “First this.” He drew her into himself for a tender kiss that soon developed into passion, their mouths opening to one another, their tongues darting. Enjoying the brand-new experience, they allowed their tongues to meet, as if becoming fully familiar. Ben experienced the midsection discomfort and he had difficulty backing away from Beth. Beth leaned in, continuing their kiss, signaling Ben that breathing was allowed, though not separating. Ultimately, the whole-body kiss ended, followed by a familiar, polite follow up kiss.

“Beth, will you marry me?”

“Ben Persons, I’ll marry you this minute.”

Ben laughed. “Whoa, whoa.”

“What? Changing your mind already?”

“No! But …”

“Oh, all right, but tomorrow?”

“Living with your parents that bad, huh?”

Beth laughed. “No, but living without you is.”

They kissed again and then resumed walking.

“Besides, now we have to get married.” Bumping her hip against his told him that his condition did not go unnoticed.

“Sorry about that.”

“Better not be… Mister,” the twinkle in her eye telling him that she was teasing.

“But we have to talk. Seriously.”

“All right,” Beth said. “You are a minister with a calling that is more important than anything, more important than life, more important than me. I know that. And I accept the terms.”

Beth held up her fingers, counting to herself. “Twenty-one days from today. On a Saturday afternoon.”

“Beth, I don’t have a ring, I don’t have a home, I …”

“You’ll have me. If you’ll have me.”

“I’ll have you.” They kissed again, passionately, Ben’s arms around her, learning her sides and small of her back.

“Something you must know now, though, Beth.”

Beth comported herself, understanding the seriousness of the tone.

“I’m being led away. North. Maybe even as far as Alaska. And I can’t promise that we would ever have a permanent home.”

“I had a permanent home offered me once. It turned out not to be so permanent. I’m willing to accept whatever you, and the Lord, have for us. I guess, though, that I need for you to be one hundred percent sure that God is accepting me into the calling that he has on you.”

Ben knew better than to snap out an answer. “I’ll pray.”

Beth squeezed his hand.

“I died once.”

Beth’s head sprang to him, waiting for the story, wanting to hear all the stories.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call one day at a time.
Luther Burbank: botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science
Beth Kline: a young divorced woman in Santa Rosa, Ben's girlfriend
Reginald and Rachel Kline: Beth's parents

The Luther Burbank comments are directly from quotes.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther_Burbank
https://www.azquotes.com/author/2161-Luther_Burbank


Chapter 64
One Man's Calling, ch 64

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben asked Beth to marry him and she accepted. Luther explained his concept of evolution and belief in the Bible.

^^^^^^^^^

Beth’s parents were ecstatic, incredulous, but ecstatic. As were her church family.

“You’ll use my house for your honeymoon. I’ll stay out here," Luther Burbank offered when Ben told him the news. "How many days do you want. Take them, but after a week, you two come here and I get my house back. Deal?”

“Deal.” Ben nearly shouted in his joy. “But I don’t think it will take a week for us to want to be outside town. Out here and on our way to being a wedded couple, a family.”

“Does she, Beth, want to work? Have a job? She could learn the greenhouse work, and you could prepare the gardens. You and Seymour. He’s working out, right?”

“He’s doing fine. You’ll see for yourself during the honeymoon.”

“Guess I will, at that. All right. Fine then."

An hour later, Luther approached Ben. “So, I’ve given it some thought, and I want to give you the buggy and the mare for your wedding present.”

“No! That's too much. Your home for a week is even far too generous.”

“Yes. Part of your wedding present. But you must go to town before taking receipt and pick me out another, a horse and a buggy that is more suited to carrying, well, what we carry back and forth from here to town. I don’t want to have to use the big wagon all the time, and, well. You know…”

“Yes Sir. I’ll do it. As soon as I get the tomato garden planted.” Ben knew that much more than tomatoes would go into that plot, but referred to it as he and Luther knew it by.

Luther appreciated the dedication. He waved toward the diagrammed planting chart and set it back where Ben would find it.

+++

The next time Ben saw Reginald, Reginald told him, “I have $410 for you and Beth. I …”

“You’re kidding, right. How did … $410?”

“That’s right $410. That’s what I got for Stuart’s rig and team, what Beth and Rachel come home in. I sold it and saved the money for her. I took it back to his place, but when I saw him cavorting with another woman already, I turned it around and brought it back, my horse tied behind both ways.”

Ben didn’t share the story of being sent from Creede with a gift of $410 from the church. Though he needed no sign, he was grateful for something to help convince Beth. Ben praised God for the clear sign, the exact amount that he'd been given to take his ministry to Chicago. Ben determined to give his boss, Luther, his notice.

“And we can go out to the shed. I have all sorts of things out there that might be of use on the road, so to say,” Reginald continued.

“Thank you, Reginald.”

“Reggie, Son. You're family. Just Reggie. And another thing – this house is yours and Beth’s, whether Rachel and I are still livin’ in it, or not. It’s your home, and you can come back to it whenever you want. We had a son...”

Ben looked to Reggie for more.

“He was almost two years older’n Beth. He wanted ta join the army. I don’t know, maybe ‘cause I was in the war. Anyways, he was killed in some Indian thing down in Arizona. Anyways. The place is all Beth’s and yours.” Reggie wiped at tears that hadn’t yet fallen.

Ben clasped Reggie’s outstretched hand, and then walked into him for an appreciative, heartfelt hug.

+++

The next couple of weeks ticked by fast, but dragged on like a bad case of the flu. There was a lot to do and prepare to begin their northward journey. The problem Beth had was not knowing whether to prepare for a room, a home, or for camping out every night. Things she would not pack were fancy chinaware and the like. One thing she would pack was her Bible. She determined to be able to discuss scripture with her husband, something completely foreign in her previous life.

Ben’s trip to the livery was very successful. He traded Luther’s buggy and mare for a larger carriage that could haul their gear and things, and an untrained team that Ben was confident would take to training. He also managed a fair deal for Luther: a nice, new buggy slightly wider than his old one that he could easily adapt a flat, extended rack behind the seat. He also bargained for a much younger horse. Luther was pleased with the price. Ben and Beth were excited about their outfit, and the livery man, with a quick sale of Luther’s buggy and mare, made a small profit. The profit seemed large to him considering the team Ben traded for was untrained.

+++

It had been eleven months since breaking out of prison. Ben and Beth Persons drove their chariot north out of Santa Rosa. Ben was a free man concerning the law, eternally bound to Christ, and happily bound to Beth. Marriage was everything he’d hoped it would be. He only wished he could take Beth and introduce her to everyone he cared about across the country. A constant theme was so-and-so would get tickled to hear Beth say this, or do that. So-and-so would be so happy for me if they could only meet Beth.

Ben’s singular concern was finding time to pray, pray and not be self-conscious of praying out loud in Beth’s presence. His consolation was that Beth used that time to read her Bible.  Ben was surprised and delighted when Beth demonstrated an ability to recall a scripture accurately, and where she’d found it for conversation long after having read it. He remembered fellow Bible College students who didn’t have her comprehension or retention skills. He loved her all the more.

Their first night on the road was the small town of Cloverdale. It had a railroad station, and the few typical commercial enterprises. It was only about 35 miles from Santa Rosa. The team would be able to travel far longer distance once trained. Ben spent a good portion of the day with them unhitched, but in harness, and him walking behind them, Ben with a switch. Beth watched at first, but soon enough broke out her Bible. Ben suggested she begin with the New Testament or the Psalms, but he didn’t insist. Their plan was to stay in hotels when they could, and camp when they must. The Cloverdale hotel was fairly new and looked inviting. They certainly enjoyed the bed.

“I noticed the church back down the road looked a little run down,” Ben said to the waitress.

“Ain’t got no preacher. He died.”

Beth said “Awwww.” Ben said that he was sorry to hear that. “It’s short notice, but do you think anybody would come if I preached tomorrow, Sunday?”

“I know a bunch would. I could send Roy, my boy, ta tell everybody.” She said it with an expectant uplift in her voice.

“What 10:30, 11:00?” Ben asked.

“Old one started at ten.”

“Even better,” Ben said, smiling.

“You don’ suppose, you could…”

Ben’s expression encouraged her.

“You could, uh, marry folks. See we been… Couples have been sorta actin’ married. We said words to each other… me and Ike. Another couple, too. But… well, you know.”

“Honey, I don’t know for sure how legal it would be, but it would be my honor to perform a service that the Lord God in Heaven would be sure to taken note of.”

The waitress blushed, turning crimson. “I’m bringin' you both a piece a’ pie on the house even if I git fired for it!”

“Miss…”

“Helen.”

“Helen, what do you say any couples who want to get married meet with me right after tomorrow’s service, and we’ll have weddings right after dinner, or whatever time suits you all. Would that be all right?”

“Oh, yes sir. We’ll be there.”

Beth blessed Ben with the smile of her life.

+++

“What are you going to preach about, Ben?”

“Well, honey. First you need to know that I’m not a pastor. I’ve preached a few sermons as a fill-in, but mostly I street preach, and witness.” Seeing Beth’s perplexity, he went on. “See, street preaching, you don’t get many people to stop and listen. Mostly they’re on their way to somewhere, work, or something. You have just a couple minutes to get the gospel out, or to plant a seed of salvation. Once in a while you can elaborate, but … And then if you have the same corner for a while, you can get a sermon out in little snips. By the time you’ve seen the same person four or five times, you got ‘em a whole sermon, a whole message. Mainly, I want to get ‘em knowing how they need Jesus and try to steer ‘em into a church.”

“But tomorrow?”

“Helen didn’t say how long they’ve been without a preacher. I’d say some time.”

Beth agreed.

“So, a salvation message. Won’t hurt any saved person to hear it again. And in a church, you never really know. A man could be a deacon for twenty years, and suddenly realize he never truly got saved, just learned the words.”

“I love you, Ben Persons.”

Ben smiled, showing most of his teeth... and loved her back.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's call one day at a time.
Luther Burbank: botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science
Beth Kline: a young divorced woman in Santa Rosa, Ben's girlfriend
Reginald and Rachel Kline: Beth's parents

Foe Romper Room excitement, you'll have to use your imaginations -sorry. (winky face here) But rest assured there was excitement and compatibility.


Chapter 65
One Man's Calling, ch 65

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and Beth were married and after a short time left Santa Rosa for the north country only getting as far as Cloverdale, 35 miles away where Ben was set to preach the next day, as well as to officiate weddings.

^^^^^^^

“Ben, would you like …” Beth was embarrassed, stricken dumb. Not at all sure about how to offer to sing in the church service.

“What is it, darlin’?” Ben was enjoying lying in bed with her, ready to get up, but unwilling to leave contact with her.

“Well, years ago, I used to sing specials in church, you know, solos.” Very quickly she added, “I’m not saying I’m really good, or a performer. I’m not. But no one ever ran out with their fingers in their ears.”

Ben laughed, shaking the bed.

“The last few years, ever since… well I just sing to myself.”

“I want to hear you sing. No, I don’t mean like an audition. I mean. I love your voice. I bet you sing really well. Do you know Amazing Grace?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“How about I start us off with an introduction and prayer, then you sing, and then I’ll preach.”

Beth turned onto her side to him. “Would it be, I don’t know, sacrilegious for a preacher to make love the morning that he preaches?” She smiled with her whole face.

“I think it would be the most loving way to begin the Lord’s Day.”

+++

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see

Beth spoke the words dramatically. Ben had no idea that she could. With perfect inflection and emphasis, Beth brought the lyrics to life, personalizing them. Author John Newton’s heart, as well as Beth’s was in the air, floating upward as an offering to God.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
This grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright, shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see

“Join me, please.” Beth led the congregation of 46.

As Beth sat, picking up her Bible that saved her seat, Ben gazed at her. “Wow. Thank you, Mrs. Persons, Beth.” Before his hands clapped a second time, the people resounded with applause.

Then Ben preached, glad that he’d kept it to a short, twenty-minute sermon since the altar call resulted in nearly half the attendees responding. The altar service was as effective as Beth’s performance and Ben’s sermon.

Three couples wanted to be married. Helen and her man, a man who seemed half again older than her with three young ones hovering about, another couple, barely out of adolescence, and an old couple who’d been living as man and wife for forty years.

Ben signed Helen’s wrinkled document that she might, or might not, have recorded at the County Clerk’s office. Ben wrote the date of the service and signed Martha’s Bible, memorializing the occasion. To the youths, Ben suggested that they get themselves to a judge to make sure their relationship was legalized.

Their day finally through, hearts filled with joy, and $11 richer, Beth and Ben walked a trail along the bank of the Russian River.

“I had no idea you could sing so well. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I suppose there’s a lot neither one of us knows about each other,” Beth replied, leaning her head on his shoulder. “Why do you think that old couple, J.O. and Martha, waited so long to get married? Surely, they had opportunity.”

“Oh, no telling. Maybe they had to wait for someone to die, like a previous husband or wife. Maybe they didn’t like the old pastor.”

“Or maybe this preacher opened their hearts a little bit.” Her head on his shoulder, she had both her hands gripping his arm. She gave it a little tug when she’d said this preacher, looking up to him in time to meet his lips.

“But they could have gone down to Santa Rosa any time.”

“Simple times, simple people,” Beth said.

Changing the subject, Beth asked, “So, is this what a calling is like?”

Ben humphed. “Every day’s different. One day I woke up on a schooner, shanghaied and headed for China, or the Japans, or somewhere.”

“No! Tell me all about it.”

Ben did, resulting in Beth’s draping herself over him, as if in an attempt to protect him, or welcome him home, or in an effort to meld with him.

+++

About 40 miles up Old River Road, they came across a beautiful redwood grove and easy access to the river. It was early afternoon, and they’d yet to stop for lunch, what with a late breakfast and even later start on the road.

“You up for a bath?” Ben asked.

“I stink?”

“Just wanna see you nekit,” Ben teased, reverting back to his skinny-dipping days of youth in Arkansas.

Beth playfully punched at him.

“’Sides, I need ta give these geldings a little schooling.”

“I noticed they seem to get their lefts and rights mixed up.”

“One way a’ sayin’ it. Whadda we got for lunch?”

“Helen made us some ham sandwiches. And we have Luther’s apples.”

“Sounds like a feast,” Ben said, helping Beth down from the wagon that was a cross between a buckboard and what was commonly called a phaeton carriage. It was modified for a team instead of a single horse, and outfitted with a cover. The Santa Rosa builder hoped to construct a factory to build and sell a thousand of them. Ben bought his prototype.

Coming out of the cold river, self-conscious about being seen by a passer-by, though they hadn’t seen any all day, Beth asked whether they couldn’t camp for the night, even though they could probably make it to a town before nightfall. Ben readily agreed as he hopped to his clothing, nearly as bashful as Beth.

+++

A couple hours up the road was the town of Willits. After a not-too-pleasing restaurant meal, the two shopped at one of the general stores for food stuffs that would keep, getting back to traveling as quickly as possible.

“I didn’t like that place,” Beth said.

“The restaurant?”

“The whole town. It felt, I don’t know, creepy.”

“Creepy? Is that a word?” Ben chuckled.

“It is now.”

Ben thought a minute. “You’re right, though. Some kind of evil spirit about that place.”

“The food all right?” Beth asked, only partly joking.

“Oh, nothing a good blessing won’t fix.”

Beth leaned into him, content. “How did I get so lucky?”

Ben looked to her. “How did I get so blessed?”

Presently they came to an unmarked fork in the road.

“Are we lost?” Beth asked.

“No, the main road goes left, that’s plain enough, But …”

“The calling?” Beth asked.

“Think so,” Ben said as he urged the team to the right. A little past midafternoon they arrived at a sawmill operation, a dozen tents of various sizes pitched in a wide clearing.

Beth watched to see how Ben worked within his ministry.


Chapter 66
One Man's Calling, ch 66

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben conducted a church service and three weddings in Cloverdale, California. He learned that Beth could sing beautifully. They continued their northerly trek, veering off the main road as the Holy Spirit led them to a sawmill operation.

^^^^^^^^^^

Ben approached what appeared to be a tent where a boss might work, leaving Beth with the wagon and team. “Looking for help?” Ben asked an older man sitting at a makeshift table working at some ciphers.

“Maybe. You’ll have ta wait ‘til nearly dark fer Perkins to come in. He’s …” The old man pointed skyward with the two fingers that remained of his right hand, “… in the timber.”

Ben thanked him and returned to Beth. “It’ll be a couple hours. Let’s set up a camp out there at the edge, away from the steam-powered saw. I’ll work the team a while.”

Beth was agreeable.

“Lookin’ fer work, are ya?” the boss was Ben’s twin in size and shape, although thirty years his senior. “Ever do any loggin’?”

“Some, back in Arkansas. Some pine, mostly hardwoods, oaks. But mostly firewood.”

“See yer hands.”

Ben showed him.

“Hmmmp. Not calloused, but you work. You got size, give ya that. I pay two dollars a day, ax or bucksaw. C’n ya work chains an’ tackle?”

Ben nodded.

“We walk up the hill at first light. Ya got a woman. C’n she cook biscuits? New cook. He’s fine with beans ‘r meat, but his biscuits ‘r bricks.”

“She can cook.”

“Dollar a day fer all she c’n bake up. She don’t have ta do nuttin’ else. Oh, an’ she’s safe ‘nough up here. These’re fine boys up here. No liquor. That’s the key. Just makes men stupid… an’ careless.”

Ben nodded his agreement and gratitude.

Perkins called to him again as he began to walk away. “Meals are included. Hey, yer team. C’n they pull a log?”

Ben turned back. “They’re green. I’m just training them to the harness. I wouldn’t trust them on a slope.”

“C’n they pull to a block an’ tackle?” He meant for the more stable operation of loading logs onto a wagon.

“If I’m the one to handle them?”

Perkins squinted and nodded. “Dollar a day that we use ‘em.”

“Each?” Ben asked.

“Each.” Perkins dismissed Ben as if he’d just lost a bargain.

Beth was excited about the whole prospect – nervous about being the only woman in a camp full of men out in the wild, but excited to be of use.

+++

The first day was work with the team loading logs.

Perkins sought out Ben before light, waking him by softly calling his name. Ben was startled not by being awakened, but by the shock that the ruffian as Perkins presented the day before could behave softly and gently.

“You’ll see what I mean about bricks fer biscuits. We’ll use yer team this morning. Reason we didn’t bring any logs down yesterd’y. Our team couldn’t get the logs down and load ‘em up too ‘fore dark.”

“I’m up,” Ben said, making sure he didn’t uncover Beth while he rose with Perkins standing close by.

“Tell the Missus ta ask fer Chuck. Ain’t his name, but that’s what he is, Chuck.”

“Chuck,” Beth said, her head under the cover.

Perkins laughed, “Chuck.” He repeated as if mimicking Beth. He laughed again.

Ben’s team performed to his satisfaction.

With two wagons loaded, Ben’s team was expected to be hitched to the second one. Another man, Dell, Ben learned was the driver. Ben had looked the brakes over before agreeing to his team’s use.
“You know how to use those brakes, Dell?”

Dell didn’t take offense. Ben had already told him that the team was still green.

“They’ve never pulled a load before,” Ben said. “And downhill …”

“I’ll be careful with ‘em, Ben.” Dell’s tone was convincing.

Dell’s gentle persuading them to put muscle into getting the load moving pleased Ben. Hearing his name called, Ben jogged up the hill to Perkins who handed him an ax and pointed to a redwood of about three feet in diameter. “Make it fall downhill. Always downhill. Safer that way,” Perkins shouted.

When Ben reached the tree, he quickly surveyed the surroundings and then analyzed the tree, determining how the tree’s weight and the direction of the wind would affect its fall. He noticed Perkin’s nod of approval as he began chopping the wedge that would determine the tree’s fall. Ben was surprised how easily the redwood chopped, wondering why the softwood tree was in such demand.

He soon wished he had gloves, blisters forming with his first tree, the first tree he’d chopped in nearly twenty years. He could hardly believe the time that had passed.

As soon as the tree fell, it was swarmed onto by a crew ofyoung Indians wielding axes as they stripped the tree of its limbs. They worked one fallen tree after another, clearing the tree of the limbs for the sawmen to work.

The day done, and not a minute too soon for Ben, he made the trek down the slope with Perkins.

“Knew ya could work. Saw it in ya.”

“You have any gloves?” Ben asked.
“A dollar,” was the answer. Perkins laughed at Ben’s silence. “Hah! Leather. Dollar well-spent.”

Perkins answered Ben’s question about the Indians. “Yuki reservation over the next rise east. We’ll stop cuttin’ there, an’ turn ar’ work north. “The Yuki. This was their land. All of it. But you know what the govement does. Took it. Then moved a dozen other tribes in on ‘em on the reservation given to ‘em. I pay ‘em… but no liquor. No Sir. Maybe some others do, but not here.”

Ben nodded agreement.

A short time later Ben was eating the most delicious biscuit he’s ever tasted. After a sponge bath, he and Beth dropped off to sleep despite the noise of those not as tired as they were.

Happy to have the gloves, Ben prepared for a full day of tree chopping, wondering how this fit into his calling.

He would soon learn.

Preparing to chop down his tree, the wedge already made, he looked to where his tree would fall, as well as those working around him. Something didn’t feel right. Ben looked to the tree about forty feet away that a man was on the last strokes of dropping. With the same intense, whoop as his day with the 56-team cable-hauling day in San Francisco, Ben let out a holler that Beth heard down in the camp – “HOLD!”

Ben ran over to the timberman, grabbing his ax before it made one more fateful chop.

“Friend, hold,” Ben commanded.

“Clear away!” Ben shouted to everyone downhill of the tree, especially to the right as much as ninety degrees from the prescribed direction of the tree’s planned fall. “Clear away!” Ben waved his arms.

No one wanted a two- or three-hundred-foot tree to fall anywhere near where they stood. Everyone scrambled to right angles from Ben. Within a moment, without another ax chop, the tree began to twist, first leaning uphill, and then down. Twisting all the more, it fell totally contrary to plan. Landing, it rolled, slapping limbs the fifty feet of its travel.

The timberman gave Ben an appreciative nod. Within a moment, Perkins was at his side. “Wha’d ya see, man? Wha’d ya see?”

“Didn’t see it. Felt it.” Ben pounded his chest with his fist.

Perkins stared at him. “Saved men’s lives, ya did. We’re all in yer debt.”

“Did what God called me up here to do,” Ben said. “Be pulling out in the morning.”

Perkins didn’t understand, but he nodded anyway. “Could you? Could you wait ‘til yer wife could show Chuck how ta bake them biscuits?”

Ben laughed, nodding agreement as he returned to his tree.

“Take a break,” the timberman said. “I’ll finish yours. And thank you. I never saw that in that tree.”

“No one could,” Ben said. “God told me. That’s the truth.”

The man stared at Ben a minute, and then went to his chopping.


Chapter 67
One Man's Calling, ch 67

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and Beth deviated to a timbering operation where Beth taught their cook how to bake biscuits and Ben save men from catastrophe.

^^^^^^^^^^

“I think I’m beginning to understand,” Beth said, gently snapping the reins as Ben had instructed. Not that the snapping was necessary, the team was doing much better. Beth suggested that they feared return to the timber business, so they would straighten themselves up.

Ben didn’t disagree.

“About the calling?”

Beth nodded.

“One day at a time. Being open, continually yielded to the Holy Spirit.”

Beth nodded.

They both looked off to the nearby river.

“Before you go getting your hopes up," Beth said, "my math is telling me that you need another couple days off.”

“What, you don’t want a baby?”

“Not particularly while we’re camping out. But yes. And I’m not afraid.”

Ben looked at her with compassion… and love. “They said the town of Leggett was up here. Shouldn’t be too far, but the horses are getting tired,” Ben said.

“The next creek? Or go back to the last one?” Beth asked, her voice indicating she was good either way.

“Next.”

They were both glad of the choice. Good water access, a nice flat surface for the tent. A rock fire pit from a previous camper. And good grass for the horses.

“Any biscuits left?” Ben asked with a smile in his voice.

Beth smiled. “They are good, aren’t they. Considering the shape of that stove, I think God had a very great deal to do with how they came out.”

“It was all you, my beautiful bride, all you.”

They kissed, passionately.

“We’ll see the next time I bake some,” Beth said doubtfully.

“Now don’t go speaking negative. You prophesy yourself into baking bricks.”

“Ohpsh. I would never serve you bricks for bread! Cut me some sticks and we’ll toast them to go with the salt pork.”

+++

With none of the small-town hotels appealing to either one of them, and God not asking them to linger anywhere, they continued their journey, reaching what signage called The Avenue of the Giants. They’d both seen larger redwoods, but the road through the forest of 2,000-year-old trees was awe-inspiring. They were in a continual state of praise as they meandered through.

Ben stopped the team, holding up his hand, meaning that they should listen.

“Did you see that?” Beth asked, looking off into the woods to their left.

“No, but I felt it.”

Ben set the wagon brake and climbed down, helping Beth, a courtesy, since she could easily climb down herself.

They both began walking into the forest in the direction of their earlier interest.

“If you see a bear cub,” Ben said. “Run as fast as you can back to the back side of the wagon.

Ben drew his knife, wishing he’d brought the rifle that was packed away.

“There!” Beth cried. “Something white. Cloth, I think.”

Ben ran, following her point. Forty or fifty yards away he found a small child of about three years old, wearing a white shirt, or at least what was white at one time. The toddler was hoarse enough to only make a rasping whimper, and tired enough to drop, which he had.

“Get him some water!” Ben said, as they both ran to the wagon, Ben carrying the boy.

At the wagon, they stripped him, washed him and succored him as best they could while attempting to get a nearly unconscious toddler to drink.

“I’ll wet a rag for him to suck on,” Beth said as Ben settled him onto a pallet of sorts on the wagon.

“What do you think. Ben? Take him somewhere?”

“His parents could be searching in any direction. I feel like the best thing would be to sit here. Stay put until someone shows up.”

Beth nodded. “You can take care of the horses. I’ll watch him. You know, Ben. If we’d stopped at any of those hotels … Or even at one of the restaurants… Or if Perkins hadn’t asked me to show Chuck how to use baking powder and to fold… If anything, we would have missed him.”

+++

“Ben, today’s the third day.” Beth hated to say it so obviously, so stupidly, but that was the way it came out.

“Yeah. We better load up.”

“They could be just a mile up the road, sitting, waiting, making circle after circle around and around.”

Ben saw an absurdity in the logic, but kept silent, knowing that some form of the point could be true.

“We can make inquiries in town, stay there a day or so, see if there’s someone to take him,” Ben suggested as he harnessed the horses.

Beth watched the boy play at the fire that she would have to soon douse. The thought had crossed her mind more than just a few times whether God had given him to them. She wondered whether Ben had felt the same, but was determined not to be the one to mess with his calling.

The next town was Garberville. The first business they came to that appeared occupied was the Post Office.

“Welcome to Garberville. I’m the Postmaster, Zachariah Garber. Named the town after myself. Post Office asked me the name. And I told ‘em right then and there it became Garberville. Tried for the whole name: ZachariahGarberville. Had to settle. Oh well, as they say. What can I do ya for? Heh, heh.”

“Anybody missing a little boy? Two, three-year-old? Any posters looking for a little boy?” Ben looked around the lobby.

“Only posters allowed out there are wanted posters. Dead or Alive, sometimes. Like the old west. Shoot ‘em, and drag ‘em to town. Boy that would be something. Put Garberville on the map.”

“Thanks anyway.” Ben left. But not quickly enough to suit him.

He shook his head to Beth and they moved on into town.

No one in town knew anything, had heard anything about a missing boy, and didn’t recognize him as belonging to anyone.

“What now?” Beth asked. “What does this do to your calling. Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I caused your calling to go astray.” Beth put herself into a funk.

“No Beth. Too much proving otherwise. Maybe the little guy is the calling.”

Beth looked at the toddler. “How long we gonna call him Little Guy?”

They returned to the general store that was closed earlier.

“Found a kid, you say.” The old woman of at least sixty careened her head to look at him. “Same color hair as her. Was a man and woman in here, tornado … what day is this? Friday? Guess it was Tuesday, maybe Monday, anyway, she asked if I had canned food a youngun could eat. Potted meat, or beans, she was after. Her fam’ly stayed out. Never seen them. But had hair like his. Little bit a’ red. Wouldn’t you say he had a little bit a’ red in his hair?”

“Did you sell her any food?” Ben asked.

“Naw. Found some later. But she lit out. Said they could just do without, then. Like it was my fault. I’m calculatin’ he’s hers.”
“Which way did they go? Did you see?”

“Naw, I was still looking for the potted meat. I was on a search by then.”

“Did they have a wagon? Were they horseback?”

“Afoot when they come in here.”

Ben shook his head. “Well, if anyone come looking, would you tell them we went north?”

“Uh-huh. North.”

Beth and Ben were at the door with the little guy when the old woman yelled out. “Road outta town don’t go north. Stops. You gotta go back south to the Redwood Road. Then which way you goin’?”

“North,” Beth said when Ben wouldn’t.

“Redway just a couple miles,” she shouted.

“I’ll … if I had to talk to that woman every day, I’d run off into the woods myself,” Ben declared.

At Redway they were met with shouts and cheers. “Somebody run git Edna!” Beth and Ben heard. They continued on until a man stopped them, holding out his arms for the boy.

“That’s my grandson,” the man said. He didn’t appear much older than Ben.

“Somebody said the robbers of him took out west, cross the Eel. They might’ve made out like they were. You come from Garberville?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Beth answered.

“Edna gonna be mighty pleased. Posse lit out west toward Briceland. You know there’s some mean folk out there. An’ when a woman loses a child to some pox ‘r other. Well …”

“Andy!” The screech could be heard long before they saw the woman running. They did see little Andy snap his head to the sound.

Beth and Ben looked to one another, both sighing in relief.

At Edna’s supper table, her husband still to the west in search of the boy. Beth and Ben shared what they knew, speculating that the child robbers crossed the Eel going south, staying off the road, maybe staying to the river. There was no telling how the boy got loose of them. But somehow he did, and made it to where Ben and Beth could see him.

After the splendid meal, much of it brought in by neighbors, they spent the night in a hotel, courtesy of the town, the hot bath included. Ben and Beth were once again on their way.

+++

“You know…”

Both of them chuckled, both of them saying the same words at the same time.

After making eye contact, Ben started out. “This whole kid thing might’ve been a test.”

“I was thinking the same. Are we ready to start a family?”

“I have to admit, I had some negative thoughts about the idea,” Ben admitted.

Beth nodded. “If I get pregnant, I just do. But in the meanwhile, I’ll try to make sure my counting is as accurate as I can.”

Ben nodded. “That mean…”

“No, darling. Today is safe.” She hugged his arm as he snapped the reins for no apparent reason.


Chapter 68
One Man's Calling, ch 68

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and Beth found a lost (kidnapped) 3-year-old, taking 3 stress-filled days to restore him to his mother.

^^^^^^^^^^

“Sign read Larabee, but I don’t see any buildings,” Beth said

“Gave themselves a generous berth, it would appear.” Ben snapped the reins, encouraging the team to get on up. Grass had been thin lately. If Larabee had a livery, he figured to treat the team to some oats.

A few minutes later they saw a business strip.

“I’m ready for some chicken, or beef, something besides our salt pork. How about you?”

Ben agreed. “If we can’t get a decent meal, I might have to take part of a day and do some hunting.”

Beth nodded.

“There’s a hotel.” She nodded to her right.

“I’ll stop and get us a room, unload what we need, and then take the team to a livery. Just hope they have one.”

They did. Two hours later everyone was fed, put up and ready for sleep, including the sun. And then came the gunfire. At first Ben wondered if they celebrated Independence Day a bit later in the year in Larabee. Then he realized it was guns by the variety of boom noises, meaning barrel lengths.

He couldn’t see anything out the window, and didn’t want to draw attention to it by striking a light. Ben considered dressing and going down. Innocent people might be getting hurt.

“Ben. Come lay down with me. You wouldn’t know the good ones from the bad, no matter what it looked like.”

Ben finally agreed. By then it was over in any case. It was a long while before either of them got to sleep.

“Somebody get killed last night?” Ben asked of the hotel clerk the next morning.

“Somebody ought to.”

Ben studied the young man for more.

“One day I’ll get fired for talking … or shot. Hank Larabee thinks he owns the whole world, nearly everything in this town is his except this hotel. He eats his supper most nights at the restaurant up the street. Whenever he thinks there’s guests in here, he comes out shooting, his Navy Colt .44 in one hand and his famous Schofield .45 in the other.”

“Famous?” Ben asked.

“Claims it belonged to John Wesley Hardin. You know, the man that …”
“Yeah, I know.” Ben knew that Hardin claimed to have killed 42 men and went to prison at the ripe age of 23. Ben also knew that he was the son of a preacher and was named after the famous Methodist, John Wesley. It sickened him. It also sickened him that anyone revered the reprobate enough to want his gun.

“Hank claims his father, Henry P., killed over 60 Wiyot babies with a hatchet at the Indian Island Massacre. I got Bret Harte’s Union newspaper article here if you wanna read it.”

Ben waved off the offer, a sadness consuming him. “There another restaurant besides that one?” Ben pointed indicating the one Larabee ate at.

“Ours opens at eight. Toast an’ eggs’r good.”

Ben took that to mean not to trust anything else on the menu. He smiled a thank you as he left to hitch up the horses and see when his wagon would be ready. The afternoon before, he’d arranged for the axles to be greased, knowing they were due.

Beth was waking up after having fallen asleep again after Ben left to get the wagon and team.

“Good morning, darling,” they said to one another simultaneously, causing both to smile.

“There’s breakfast downstairs in a little while. No hurry. Wagon won’t be ready for another hour.”

“The wagon?” Beth asked.

“Yeah, the axles needed greased. I was hearing them yesterday.”

Beth nodded. “My beautiful, smart husband.”

“You’re the cute one,” he replied playfully, bending down to kiss her forehead.

Beth toyed with the idea of playing with his comment, that he didn’t consider her smart, but decided to save that for another time. “You find out about the shooting?”

“Yeah. Idiot Larabee. Owns most of the town. Beth, I need to do something.” Ben’s tone was somber enough for Beth to pay close attention.

“I’m afraid that I might be growing something I’m not happy about, something I don’t want.”

Beth scooched up in the bed in order to sit up, her back to the headboard.

“The first I noticed it was in prison, a man wanted a ticket to heaven, forgiveness for raping a young girl, his step-daughter.”

Beth couldn’t help but to make a noise reflecting disgust.

“And then that couple that stole our little guy. I wanted to call down the wrath of God. And now… The clerk downstairs told a story about the Larabee man … and his father, too.” Ben paused. Beth waited for him. “I don’t want my heart to grow cold over sinners. We’re all sinners. God loves us all. How can I preach forgiveness and salvation while wishing God’s wrath on the ones that offend me?”

Beth didn’t have an answer, so she kept silent. Neither did she try to make light of the matter by placating him with it will all be better. “What did you used to do when your heart was troubled, Ben?”

Ben looked at her with eyes of love and respect.

“Pray.” After a moment, his eyes grew even more saddened. “Would you mind going to breakfast alone? I’d like to go down by the river and pray. I’ll skip breakfast. Oh, man implied that the eggs were all he’d trust.”

Beth smiled. “Of course. The worst thing in the whole world would be for me to get in the way of the calling. I’ll be right here whenever you’re ready.”

Ben kissed her cheek and left.

An hour and a half later Ben snapped the reins, guiding the now well-trained team northward.

+++

A mile out of town, not even to the north-end Larabee sign, three horsemen stopped their carriage. The smallest of the three said, “Heard you don’t care for the Larabee hospitality. Also heard you got a big mouth.”

Ben didn’t know what he was talking about, but figured who he was and that he was referring to the conversation with the hotel clerk.

“At least that boy won’t be talkin’ any more. Least not the same as he was.” The man reached into his vest pocket, withdrawing a couple of white things. Tossing them toward Ben and Beth, they figured them to be teeth.

“You are an evil man.” Beth said, spitting her words as if bile.

“Maybe you’d like to lose your buck teeth?”

Beth didn’t have buck teeth, but Ben knew that the hotel clerk did. “Mister, I’d turn the other cheek. I’ve done it before. But you’ve crossed a line that God’s telling me to hold.” Ben casually climbed down from the wagon. Of course, he was not wearing a side arm.

The Larabee man settled back in his saddle, grinning.

Ben straightened to his full posture. With his right arm, he raised his hand and pointed toward the other two. “Go back to town.” Ben’s voice didn’t boom with volume, but it did with power. Both men startled as if struck by lightning. Each pivoted in their saddles toward town, their mounts a moment behind them. They took off in a full-out run.

The Larabee man attempted, but failed to maintain his smirking grin.

“Get down,” Ben commanded.

He did.

Ben calmly closed the distance between them, reaching down to take both pistols from their holsters. The shorter barrel, Schofield, Hardin’s gun with the seven-inch barrel cut down to five for quicker drawing, Ben swung over his head and into the middle of the river. The river was well over a hundred feet away, and Ben’s throw was a simple lobbing toss, but it plunked into the river’s current, immediately swept downstream where it would never be found. The other gun Ben emptied of bullets, pitching them into the nearby forest.

All the while the man stood before Ben, his lips trembling.

It was then that Beth witnessed a miracle. In her mind she saw her husband appear to grow to ten feet tall, the man in front of him cowering on feet stuck in place as if nailed.

By the time Ben returned to the seat beside Beth he’d returned to his former, magnificent self in Beth’s eyes. The gun Ben dropped to the ground was run over by the wagon wheels, damaging the works beyond repair.

Hank Larabee remained in place until long after Ben had snapped the reins.

Author Notes The Wiyott massacre was a true story involving Henry Larabee of Larabee, CA.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_P._Larrabee
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860_Wiyot_massacre


Chapter 69
One Man's Calling, ch 69

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part God showed a sampling of His power to Hank Larabee through Ben.

^^^^^^^^^^

Over an hour of travel and the two had yet to break the silence, both in a state of praise and worship meditating on God’s magnificence. The quiet was broken by the crack of rifle fire from behind them. Beth looked to Ben’s hands that did not respond to the sound. She expected that he would snap the team into a quicker pace.

“Ben?”

Another six rounds were fired off before he had time to speak. Ben smiled. “Faith, honey. Faith.”

Six more rounds sounded off.

“He had a Henry in his scabbard. Henrys hold fifteen rounds and one in the chamber. He doesn’t do that. We should assume it was loaded. But he wouldn’t carry a box of shells with him, and his cartridge belt held 44s and 45s for his pistols.

Another shot rang out, sounding like a tree branch broken. Ben didn’t tell Beth that he’d heard the air being ripped somewhere to his left.

“He’s scared, afraid to get very close,” Ben said. Then they both felt the thunk of their seat back. With the carriage top down, they’d been fully exposed the entire time.

“Well, that’s that.” Ben reined up, stopping the team. Taking his knife from his belt, he turned around to gouge the slug from the wooden seat back. “Henrys have a light load anyway, but at his distance, you’d probably just get a little headache if it hit right on your bean.” Ben chuckled.

“So that was your faith, your knowledge of guns?” Beth was more than a little rankled.

Ben chuckled again. “No. I’m sorry. I did know all that. But God told me not to fear. I just told you how God did it. It’s over now.”

+++

At the town of Slide, obviously in the process of changing its name to Fortuna, it was Farmers’ Market Day.

“Oh, let’s stop, Ben! Would you just look! Did you see the berries on that table? Oh, Ben…”

“First place we can, darling. Look for us a hotel.”

“Welcome to heaven, friend. Light yourselves. I’ll have a boy take your team to the livery.”

The hotel employee was beside himself with glee. "First folks to come up from the south in some time. Most get here by train, any more. What with the highway men, and all.”

Ben and Beth looked to one another, both wondering what the man was talking about since their trip had been so … unbothered, at least by highwaymen.

“You have a room, then?” Ben asked.

“For a couple such as yourselves, I’d boot the mayor, heh, heh! Yes Sir, we do. We do. Come little missus. Let me help you.” He extended a hand.

As she took it, Beth glanced toward Ben, a playful snicker on her face.

“Come, young man. Pete! Come, Pete knows his way with a team. You want them grained, I suppose? Pete!” He looked toward his hotel for the youth named Pete to come out, which he did.

“Sorry, Ship, I was … uh, hello Ma’am. You want me to take the team an’ get ‘em rubbed down and grained, Mister?”

Ben was convinced. He stepped down to join Beth’s side, helping her manage the rather steep step himself.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said with a twinkle in her voice, grinning. She couldn’t wait to get to their room where she could laugh out loud at the hotel welcome experience.

Once alone in the room, Beth turned to Ben, “Did we get made into royalty somewhere along the road into town? Did we ascend into heaven?”

“Well, you are my angel.”

They kissed with passion.

“No, I guess not. Since in heaven they are not given in marriage, and that …”

They kissed some more.

+++

“This pie is to die for,” Beth said. “The crust needs … but the apples! Just the right degree of tart, and sweet.”

“I like how they’re just a little bit firm, but cooked. Reminds me of Arkansas blacks.”

“Never had one.”

“They keep all winter. Nothin’ better in early spring before anything ripens.”

“Did you hear the lady at the flower stand talking about the weather around here?” Beth asked.

Ben shook his head.

“Forties in the winter, low eighties in the summer. Lots of rain, is all, but only a couple little snow dustings a year. I’m telling you, Ben. We’ve landed in heaven.”

“Speaking of heaven … church tomorrow?”

“But of course, my preacher man.” Beth smiled as Ben nodded his water glass to her.

“To Fortuna,” Ben said.

“And Eureka, right around the bay!”

+++

“Ben Persons, Ben Persons … Would you hail from San Francisco, by any chance?”

The church service was over and Ben was greeting the pastor at the door. Ben expected the next comment to be about him escaping from prison.

“Pastor Thomasson and I went to seminary together, shared a room. We write at least once a month. I remember he mentioned you several times. I mean, sometimes more than once in the same letter, things that impressed him.”

Ben nodded. “Send him my regards. Yes, I remember him. He was very helpful with the ministerial alliance and with the Awakening meetings.”

“Yes, Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday. I’ve written Billy Sunday in an effort to get him up this way. I haven’t heard back from him yet.”

The pastor pinched his eyes, studying Ben. Ben wondered whether he was daring to ask the personal questions.

“We haven’t discussed it yet, my wife and I, but we may be staying in town a bit. How about if I came by to visit?”

“I was going to ask. Would you and your wife come to lunch tomorrow? Just simple fare, sandwiches is my usual lot. Our home is just around the corner, number 211.”

“Noon?” Ben asked.

“11:30 would be better.” He chuckled. “The older I get, the earlier I want to eat. I think soon I’d be at four meals a day except I’d be in bed asleep before time for the fourth one.”

Ben laughed with him.

Beth had been visiting with the pastor’s wife and watching for signs that Ben was ready to leave. She joined him on the church steps.

“Lunch with the pastor and his wife tomorrow?” Beth asked.

Ben turned to look at her.

“His wife invited us, too.”

“11:30,” Ben said.

“They’re getting old,” Beth returned.

They both laughed.

+++

The apple pie finished, and Pastor Williams’ wife Dorothy refilling tea cups, Ben offered to tell the story of his arrest, conviction, escape, and exoneration.

After a moment, the pastor cleared his throat and responded. “I’m afraid bad news travels faster than good. And even when good news does travel, people are more drawn to the bad. Might not even read an article about someone being exonerated; but they certainly would one of a crime. My San Francisco friend, I suppose he felt the subject unimportant, never mentioned it. I’m afraid that it may haunt you.”

Ben nodded.

Beth wiped a tear before it could drop.

“It’s rather serious, the Pastor continued. “Suppose some small-town lawman honestly thought he was doing his sworn duty and arrested you. How long would you sit in jail before he learned otherwise? And how many times would you like to endure that? And what would all of that do to your ministry?”

Ben nodded.

“Why don’t you stay here, in Fortuna, and send for whatever documentation is available? And carry it with you? We could have you interviewed by the Arcata Union and the Humboldt Times.”

Ben and Beth both nodded.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's calling
Hank Larabee: heir of Henry P. Larabee, ranch and town owner
Arkansas black is a very firm and sweet apple with deep red skin that can be so dark as to appear black. And quite tasty! Just be sure it's very, very dark.
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Chapter 70
One Man's Calling, ch 70

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben and Beth escape unscathed from Hank Larabee’s rifle fire. They make it to Fortuna, falling in love with the area. Local Pastor Williams convinces them to stay and to gather documentation of his exoneration.

^^^^^^^^

Ben wrote a letter to Henry Halleck in San Francisco.

Dear Henry,

I am truly sorry that I have not written sooner. You deserve better than that from me. Truth was that I suffered a little depression for a while.

Congratulations on your election to mayor.

I was shown the news of my exoneration months after the escape. I had no idea all the time that I was in torment.

I was carried out of the prison unconscious. Rest assured, I had no part in the planning, or conduct of the escape. I was preaching. I realize that sounds lame, but it’s God’s truth.

Listen to this! God gave me a wife. She’s beautiful and loves me almost as much as I love her. She accepts my ‘calling’ and is even a blessing to it.

I am now at 211 Church Street Slide, California. Write it In Care Of: Adam Williams. He is a pastor friend. I will use his address because I don’t know where we will be when your letter comes.

There is a concern that local law authorities wherever we go might arrest me – over and over. In that regard, I write. Would it be possible to get a hold of documentation proving my case and that there are no charges pending over me? I completely understand if that is not possible, or if it would be too much trouble. I know how busy you must be.

I can barely wait until I can bring Beth to meet you. I know you will love her.

Thank you for all you have done. I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated our friendship.

Respectfully yours, Ben Persons

“How long do you think it will take, honey?” Beth asked.

Ben shrugged his shoulders. “A few days to get the letter to his law office. Then a day, maybe two to get it to his mayor’s office…”

“Why didn’t you send it there, to his mayor’s office?”

“He more than likely has a secretary, or assistant opening his mail. I’d just as soon not have this all out to the public. You just never know. That person might be of the other persuasion as far as office politics goes. Henry has a lot of house cleaning to do in there.”

Beth nodded.

“Anyway, it might take a few days to research and get copies of the court, the judge’s signature, and then I have no idea what it would take to prove I wasn’t wanted for prison break. It’s not like there’s a list of all the people not charged with a crime.”

“Wow. It might be weeks?”

“Maybe.”

“What will you do? Could you street preach?”

“I don’t feel that. Did you catch when Williams talked about the ships of would-be prospectors that come in? There’s sailors. The miners and sailors. I could minister to both groups. Do it right there on the docks. And fishermen’re down there, too.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve talked yourself into it.”

+++

Ben and Beth were in their hotel room waiting to go to their evening meal. “You know, Ben, this hotel is nice enough. The bed is fine.” She winked at him. “But it’s not really comfortable enough to spend a few weeks in. Do you think we could rent a room, or even an apartment by the week?”

Ben thought a moment. “That’s really a good idea. I was thinking about the horses, too. Between stable fees and us… I feel like we’re, I don’t know, wasting our … what I consider, our wedding money. I was thinking what if I hired out to the livery a half day, say four or five half days a week?”

And suppose if I offered to work for the hotel restaurant baking pies and biscuits? Everything else is good, but…”

“But you could really help them.”

Beth smiled.

The next day the positions were secured and they’d found a small, two room apartment. It had no kitchen, but did have its own bathroom. They figured that their lifestyle accommodated a light breakfast, a large restaurant lunch, and a light supper. But in fact, it was only a couple days and their landlord accepted Beth’s help, asking the couple to share supper with her, though they continued to eat light.

+++

“Men,” Ben said in a near shout in order to be heard throughout the crowd of about sixty men who preferred to be spaced out. “I know what it’s like to be locked in the hold, and in the brig. I know what it’s like to be in the crow’s nest all night, what it’s like to be up there with the ship swaying so hard you’re looking down on an angry sea. I know what it’s like to be tied to the mast and whipped bloody and then doctored with salty sea water. I know what it’s like to be tossed at sea, wondering if you were gonna be the next one overboard. Shanghaied on board the Superbia, a three masted barque schooner. I know these things.

“Listen to Beth say the words of John Newton after working on a slaver a hundred years ago, and then I’ll tell you the answer to those things I mentioned.”

Beth’s delivery was as inspired as when she first dramatized it. Ben noticed the ones to the back edged themselves forward.

“Men. You need a savior. You need one who bore your stripes.” Ben spoke a few minutes on Jesus’s arrest and humiliation and abuse. And then of his death. He let the pause last a few seconds before describing a triumphant rising from the dead, “Where he has defeated the devil and now stands as one qualified to redeem his children, them. That we fear not death. We fear not prison. We fear not abuse. That is all fleeting, nothing compared to the glory that waits for us in the ever after.” Ben’s crescendo-ing voice, building up to the climax was heart-felt and persuasive. Men, you who want what I have, a savior that you can depend on. Come. Walk up here and be saved.”

At first a few moved as if to rise up from sitting on the dock, finally one did, then a few more until nearly half of them stood before Ben.

Without the slightest reservation, Ben asked them to repeat the sinner’s prayer, speaking it a phrase at a time. Then he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over them. He told them not to hesitate to yell to him any time they saw him at the docks and he would talk with them about their salvation, about their savior.

Beth was moved.

Ben perfectly well knew that many of them would be either in a saloon or a brothel in a matter of hours, but satisfied himself that a few would value what had just happened. And some of them would remember enough to be convicted and return, whether to him or another preacher, Ben didn’t care. More dockside services were to follow.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's calling
Beth Persons: Ben's wife
Henry Halleck: San Francisco lawyer friend of Ben, elected mayor
Pastor Williams and his wife Dorothy: pastors in Fortuna, CA


Chapter 71
One Man's Calling, ch 71

By Wayne Fowler

In the last part Ben wrote Henry Halleck in San Francisco for documentation of his freedom. He and Beth took an apartment and both got part time jobs. Ben preached on the docks. In a previoue chapter, when God had caused Ben to appear as a giant to Larabee, Ben ruined his handguns.

^^^^^^^^^

Hank Larabee replaced his two handguns with a single Peacemaker, Colt .45. He practiced with it almost as much as he target-practiced with his Henry repeating rifle. He was devastated that he’d missed with sixteen shots at the man who had mocked him. He would not admit, even to himself, that he was afraid to approach closer. He allowed his mind to completely block out the giant of a man who had disarmed him. That part of the incident was more than a blank; it was as if it had never happened. Hank practiced with his guns. And he drank whiskey.

“I’m lookin’ for a man and a woman in a double team carriage.” The stranger nearly burst into the saloon, nearly shouting his remark, daring anyone to give him trouble. The stranger was Seth Brown, one of the Redway toddler’s kidnappers.

“Somebody knows who was ridin’ through here! Where they mighta stopped or turned off.”

None of the decent folk along his path would have given him the time of day, let alone inform on the nice couple in a carriage.

The stranger repeated himself, aiming his voice toward Hank.

“Wassit to ya?” Hank hissed.

The man took two steps toward Hank, stopping when he saw the Peacemaker aimed at his face. The pistol was slightly wobbling, but deadly enough. The stranger was satisfied with a negative response and left to continue his ride north.

The woman Seth had partnered with had let the boy that she’d kidnapped get away from her when he’d gone for food, not baby food, but hard tack and jerky. “The woman could worry about feeding the kid,” Seth thought. When he’d returned to her, she was half crazy. She’d been out looking for him like as might a lunatic. He helped her search for nearly an entire day, finally giving up. They were bushwhacking their way around Redway, crossing Briceland Road when a young man riding at a fast canter shouted that the boy had been found. The young man had only slowed enough to shout the news, on his way to inform all the searchers, particularly the boy’s father.

Eventually, the kidnappers learned Beth and Ben’s descriptions and route out of Redway.

“You gotta kill ‘em, Seth. Kill ‘em. Them two what took ar’ boy.”

Seth left the woman in Phillipsville to fend for herself while he moved more quickly in search of a couple in a double team carriage.

When Hank sobered slightly, he remembered the brute who’d asked about the couple that he would like to see dead. He loaded a saddle bag and rode north intending to catch up.

+++

Hank rode farther into the darkness than he would have under any other circumstance, far too late to make a camp. Finally, smelling smoke, he urged his mare on, letting her have her head until he saw the light that must have been a campfire. “Yo, the camp,” he yelled as soon as he thought the camper might be able to hear his approach. “The camp.”

“Good way ta get shot, ridin’ in on a camp at night,” the voice from behind a tree said. “Got nothin’ for ya. Just ride on through.”

“Ain’t wantin’ nothin’.” Hank stopped his mare. Just at the edge of the fire’s light.

The camper, Seth Brown, released the hammer of his pistol, easing it back to its safe position and then re-cocked it just to let Hank hear the distinctive action.

“No need for that,” Hank said. “You the one wanting the man and woman with a kid? Ridin’ in a carriage wagon?”

“Might be.”

“Well, I want the man dead. Just offerin’ we team up.”

The man thought on the idea long enough to make Hank believe he’d gone to sleep.

“Still ain’t got nothin’ for ya. Supper’s gone. I don’t eat of a mornin’.”

“You don’t mind if I light do ya? Got a bottle here I’d share.”

“Name’s Seth. Let’s have it.” Seth again uncocked his gun and came in from behind his tree.

The two rode north the next morning, not bothering to make any inquiries in the little burgs along the way where they saw no double team carriage. Presently, they entered Fortuna, the Slide sign having been replaced.

All Hank had evoked from Seth was that his woman would never be the same again unless he returned with the news that the couple who took her boy was dead.

All Hank let Seth know was that the man, Ben, was an evil that had to die. What he had not disclosed was that Ben saw through Hank, and had shamed him in his own sight. A man with that knowledge couldn’t remain alive.

Hank and Seth had already established that Hank would recognize the pair. Fortuna being a regular city, larger than any all the way back south to Santa Rosa 200 miles distant. Asking for the whereabouts of a couple in a carriage would be futile.

“You got money for a room?” Seth asked.

Hank smirked at him, but nodded. If Hank didn’t depend on Seth to face the giant he’d seen in Ben, he would have long past parted company with him.

+++

“He won’t be in no saloon,” Hank said, as Seth began to poke his head into one. “Hotel restaurant, general store… probably the livery.” They decided to return to their hitching-pole-tied horses and ride until they found a livery stable. The boy at the first one they found told them that there was another a few blocks further on.

“Got a feller, owns ‘at wagon, yonder. Starts work here ‘morra mornin’ might be who yer lookin’ fer,” the livery man said. “Seems like he knows animals.”

Hank turned and walked away without comment.

“Tomorrow,” was all he said to Seth.

That night in a saloon, Hank sauced on whiskey as Seth nursed one beer after another, it was the first that the two shared motives.

“So, what’s it to you?” Hank asked as if he hadn’t the first clue as to Seth’s revenge.

“My woman wants him… both of ‘em dead.”

“Why?” Hank insisted.

“Ar’ kid died, Some kinda fever. She got this other kid. Same look. Same hair. We was headed for the ocean figurin’ nobody would expect that. I went for food, and she lost him. He wandered off. Next we knew a couple in a carriage brung him to his momma. My woman’s half crazy. Won’t have nothin’ but them dead.”

Hank didn’t understand, wouldn’t have even sober, but he nodded anyway.

“You? What you got against ‘em?”

Hank poured another drink from the bottle he’d purchased, spilling as much as he poured. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t think of why he’d rode north to intercept them. He’d knocked out the hotel boy’s teeth for talking badly about him. And then it just came to him that there was a couple riding out of town who knew what he was. He couldn’t have that. If the man had just taken a couple punches and stayed on the ground, it would have ended, been over with. Hank would have ridden back to town, his friends bragging about his putting the taller, stronger man down and in his place, and life would have gone on.

But the do-gooder did something. First, he chased his friends off like scared bunnies. Then he did something to himself. Hank downed his whiskey in one toss, shaking himself all over as if he had a palsy. The do-gooder put some sort of hex on him. He threw John Wesley Hardin’s gun in the river. And then there was something that held him back when he found them with his rifle. Something kept him from getting close enough. Hank trembled again as he reached for his whiskey bottle, missing it and bumping it over, letting two or three shots worth pour out.
“Yer drunk.” Seth said, righting the bottle.

“Maybe.” Hank looked at Seth, hoping Seth could help him close the distance to the do-gooder who could see into his soul.

Author Notes Ben Persons: a young man following God's calling
Beth Persons: Ben's wife
Henry Halleck: San Francisco lawyer friend of Ben, elected mayor
Seth: the male partner of