A short story by Philip Walls
From all the tall tales and exaggerated stories surrounding the escapades of various misfits, bandits, outlaws and crooked lawmen known to the old wild west; there remains one story of faith and virtue seldom told in this generation. No more biographies of wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James or Billy the kid; those men have had their moment in the sun. Rather, this is the story of a simple man named Wilfred, his wife Elda and their lovely daughter Betsy.
Betsy was a sweet girl. She never had a cross word toward anyone. She had not yet heard that type of language until she was nearly a grown woman. The thought of what the world outside could offer her never entered Betsy’s mind. She knew nothing of the old times or the new conquered territories. Nor did Wilfred and Elda seek to teach the child of such things.
“Where give the sense in teaching a child of war, when we can teach a child of Love?” Elda would ask her husband.
Wilfred would agree, “I reckon, Betsy can decide for herself what to make of this world, when she’s older”.
Members of the local church would comment on how Betsy growing up in Beckonridge had made the town just feel like a brighter place for many. She had the type of presence where a person could feel a little bit shy or inept when the child wasn’t around.
Betsy was always outgoing. As she grew older she came to know everyone in the county by name.
“She has a true love that I seldom even see in myself,” Pastor Garrison once told Elda. She was always willing to help people with whatever need they had, even if she had not been asked to do so.
“Jesus didn’t help folks for no reason.” Betsy would tell people. “I reckon I better be ‘bout his ways likewise.”
Betsy knew little to nothing about the world outside Beckonridge. She only knew of her parents Love, their instruction, and she felt no desire for any other understanding. The Love of Christ came natural to Betsy.
Back in those days most everything was homemade, including the home. Wilfred built their cabin over the course of a few years while they lived in a small make-shift shack there on the property.
Young Betsy would often play with her mother in the center room, cross stitching threads of Bible verses into pillows they’d make for the neighbors. Over the years since Betsy’s birth, Elda was able to make a fair wage selling her stitching. Wilfred taught Betsy the same out in the fields by tracking small game, tending to the chickens and cattle, and even teaching her what plants where good for food and those which were not.
Wilfred, Elda and Betsy worked, allowing Elda to raise the two of them in a humble three-room cabin. Every so often Elda insisted she, Wilfred and Betsy would take the family carriage to the markets in and around the nearby towns to sell off her pillows and the supplies Wilfred raised from the fields.
Elda would stich the family name in the lower corner of each pillow and had become well known by word of mouth. The towns folk would often comment on her pillows whenever they’d cross paths.
“My dear, are you the one making those lovely Christian pillows we all see around?”. A voice called out from behind Elda as the Welsh’s step off the carriage.
“We is!” Betsy responded without hesitation.
“We are.” Barbara Smith, the towns school teacher corrected the young child as she called for her husband. “Harrold, come meet the Welsh family everyone is talking about.”
“Wilfred!” Harald makes a B line with his hand extended anticipating a firm shake – and he got one. Wilfred nearly crushed Harrold’s soft fingers.
Harrold squinted slightly at the surprise. “Ah..hum, its… a pleasure to meet you, sir. You spend too much time out in the fields my good man.”
Wilfred would respond with great pride as the men retract hands after their greeting. “My place is at home with my family, Mr. Smith. Don’t reckon I got too much time for pokin’ round town. Just came in to pick up a few supplies.”
“Well,” Harrold replies with thoughtful expectation, “If you ever find yourself with too much produce or you get overrun by chickens, I’ll make room for you and your family on the shelves down at ‘The Smithton. How’s that sound?”
Harrold and his wife Barbara owned the general store there in town selling supplies from all around the country – nearly everything a person would find need of in the home.
“Don’t forget Momma’s pillows!” Betsy was excited as Barbara returned to her attention, bowing down to pinch the child on her cheek.
“We wouldn’t think of forgetting your blessings, my dear. You bring your parents by the store any time.” Barbara said.
Seldom to interact with the people of Beckonridge outside of church and wholesome commerce, Wilfred Welsh and his family were still very well known.
From her earliest memories, Betsy had already become accustomed to living a simple life of chores, charity and love. Her parents, knowing the area well, left Betsy home one day seeking to test the child’s grit. Not surprised at all upon their return, young Betsy had swept the porch and emptied the wood burning stove. That old stove shined like a pistol when they walked in the door. The darling child smiled from ear to ear – and filthy with soot from head to toe.
As Betsy grew older, she became more involved in the family chores. At only seven years old, she once told Elda she wanted to stich a particular Bible verse into a pillow for her friend Samantha down the path.
“What scripture would you like on the pillow”, Elda asked her daughter.
“The one pastor Garrison spoke about in church today Momma”. Betsy replied.
“Go get the Bible off your Daddy’s bed, show me which verse you lookin’ for”. Elda smiled rocking in her chair as the spirited your girl ran gleefully across the room.
The Bible was already open – balanced on one hand flipping pages with the other, Betsy crept back across the wooden plank floor. She scraped the soles of her feet one by one across the boards in small strides as if scratching the dust of the fields from her feet. Looking intently at the scriptures, Betsy squints. Flipping through the pages knowingly – her eyes focused never leaving the book as she slides closer to her mother. Finally nestling her way in between Elda’s legs pressing the Bible against her own chest.
“Yes my dear”, Elda replies.
“I member the preacher says so but I can’t know where it is”, the sweet child whispers.
Loud guff’s of laughter rain from the opposite room where Wilfred prepares a chicken and fresh pickings for supper. “One day you’ll be able to read that whole book Betsy. If I was any good at teaching that cursed language, I’d do it myself”, He hollered out. “Elda, we better tell sister Bethany at church she’s lookin’ for some learned words”.
Betsey giggled, “can you read it to me momma?”
“After supper, sweetheart.” Elda grabs the last parcel of clothing from the basket sitting next to her.
Elda taught the both of them many things. Being able to sew and stich clothing was a woman’s job but, “a man should know these things too.” She would often tell Wilfred. “It aint gunna hurt your knees none to get down and scrub some clothes against the washboard, Wilfred.”
He would laugh heartily. “I’ll help you with the clothes do’ins when you help me out in the fields, mother.”
Wilfred would reply – often with Betsy listening intently. “I’m able, that’s true. But the land needs tending too, Elda.”
Their daughter Betsy would often giggle, hanging on every word as they conversed lovingly back and forth. With her hands covering her mouth Betsy laughed, “Daddy! You aint gunna help Momma with the clothes do’ins are yu?”
Wilfred was a man not quick to words.
He would think about how what he said would affect his daughter and replied, “No sweetheart, that’s a Woman’s do’in. But I reckon you’ll need to help your Momma with the clothes do’ins… after you’re done helping me tend to the fields!”
Elda burst into laughter. “She’s more than willing, Wilfred. But don’t you go turning my little girl into no butch woman, now come over here and put these clothes in the chest.”
“Yes Momma”, Betsy states submissively.
“Not you sweetheart, your Poppa can put the clothes away. You’ve done enough. Now, go wash up for supper”.
“Wilfred, you finish cleanin’ that foul and come put these clothes away you hear?”
Elda gathered her thoughts as she crossed the room toward her bed.
“I… I’m feel a bit faint and need to lie down for a few minutes.”
“Yes, mother.” Wilfred acknowledged.
Though Elda loved the church as much as she loved her own family, Wilfred only ever loved his family and the fields.
The family would often use their time at the table to speak of the Gospels. Wilfred too often had a view for which Elda was never comfortable discussing around Betsy. Elda kept that conversation away from her daughters wondering ears, but it didn’t stop Wilfred from speaking his mind after a long day tending his fields. It was the one area where Wilfred had little self-control over his emotions.
“Now, I don’t need some long-winded preacher from France telling me how to love my kin”, He spoke frankly. “I know God and God knows me. I’m tellin’ yu, God don’t need my money and I don’t need his.”
Wilfred was a loving man but much more than his daughter, he was tough as nails.
Young Betsy disagreed, “We make a good living Poppa, it wouldn’t hurt us to give a little back to the church.”
With a sweet disposition, Betsy listened to her stern father’s reply. “…You’re probably right, I reckon”. His back was straight and chin high as he finished the first bite of pickings and gravy. Never breaking his posture, Wilfred wiped the food from the side of his mouth and folded a stained cloth over his leg. “…You’re probably right, sweetheart”.
Quick to laughter and always understanding, Betsy accepted her father’s words with a nod and a sweet smile. She laughed then looked back to seek her mother’s attention before returning to her plate. Elda responded to Betsy with a wink of her eye. Not yet looking away from her mother, Betsy wiggled, giggling in her chair chewing on a savory chicken leg.
Years would pass and the family was getting along well. By the time Betsy turned eighteen she was as strong as most men in town. Elda and Wilfred knew she was just as beautiful as any woman in the county too. They would never admit this to young Betsy as she continued to help the family around the house, and most other folks around town. But, concerning all things, it wouldn’t matter. Betsy knew exactly who and what she was – modest, and remained as wholesome as the Lords sweet mother. Betsy held this in her heart to be true, offering prayers and thanksgiving continuously.
Wilfred earned an honest wage tilling the land and working with his livestock. Elda and Betsy continued stitching pillows. The three of them were more than content on the outskirts of that quiet desert town.
As time went on Wilfred learned more about the land and tending to the animals. He had even hired a few helping hands. Meanwhile, Betsy for the most part took over her mother’s stitching. Elda sat intently doing small house chores as her family name spread across the county.
Over the course of a few months Elda became a bit feeble with even the smallest chores around the house. She would quietly complain about dizziness and aches in her neck, back, knees, ankles and fingers. Wilfred would eventually call for the doctor as the pain got worse.
“There are many good people all around the country using morphine for this type of thing ma’am.” The doctor explained. “It’s a simple poke in the arm. It’ll only sting for a moment. It’s what I take myself when I get to aching.” The doctor continued as he administered the dose.
Elda felt better almost immediately. “This here’s called a hypodermic needle. There is a paper inside with instructions.” The doctor added. “I’ll leave an extra dose with you in case the pain flairs up again in a few days but you come and see me if it gets too bad, you hear me!?”
Betsy thanked the doctor for helping Elda then walked him back to his carriage.
Autumn would come soon after and the land began to get colder. Wilfred had a good year working the land. The chickens spawned well giving plenty of eggs and he’d also learn about foods that grew well in the dry territories. The produce had start to become fresh and abundant. He sold most everything that season in hopes of a more prosperous spring.
As autumn settled into winter, the Welsh family settled into their home.
The snow came in from the skies to the north west. Winter that year was far colder than anyone had previously known from their time in Beckonridge. Four days had passed before the clouds ceased dropping snow but the wind and the cold would keep the ice around for over a month.
It wouldn’t take that long.
Early in the storm Elda began to cough despite the heat from Wilfred’s cast iron stove in the center room. Elda grew ill in a very brief period of time.
“Don’t worry Momma, Jesus keeps us in his blessings. Even in the winter’s storms.” Betsy had no fear as she comforted her mother.
“I’m fine, sweetheart. I… I just… the man is in trouble…,”
Elda wasn’t making sense. Her eyes grew more distant.
“I just, feel… somebody has to stop her.”
“Momma? Are you okay?” Betsy asks with a sense of fear growing in her heart.
“Yes, sweetheart. I just… I just feel faint is all. It will pass, dear.” Mother replied.
In the late hours of the following night Elda’s speech became a murmur. She had begun to stutter sentence fragments incoherently. Not wanting to upset Betsy, Wilfred waited until his daughter returned to the stove.
“My love, you aint makin’ much sense… Elda, I need you to talk to me.” Wilfred whispered, waiting for an answer. Confused, he gazed silently at his wife, holding her hands desperately.
Elda was in great pain and spoke softly as tears rolled down her cheek onto the pillow.
“The man …doesn’t know…” she stutters.
“Shh, shhh… calm down Elda,” Wilfred whispers not wanting to frighten his daughter. “What man, baby? Elda, what are you talkin’ about?”
Elda would stare straight through Wilfreds eyes as if she was looking right past him, somewhere in the distance. His wife fell silent for a moment before speaking again but this time she spoke up with more courage and strength in her voice.
“You’ve gotta stop her, Wilfred!”
“Shhhh, Elda please!” The frightened man whispers.
Elda coughed giving a deep wheezing sound.
“I’m here Elda… Elda who we gotta stop? what woman? …you mean Betsy?”
“NO!” Elda cries out load.
“The man doesn’t know!”
“Momma!” Hearing her mother’s desperation, Betsy ran back into the side room to see her father kneeling beside the bed.
“Momma!!”… Betsy falls at her mother’s side, “…Momma?”
Betsy and Wilfred would take turns nursing Elda. They brought her water and prepared bits of what little food they had left from that year’s harvest. Never allowing his fear to show, Wilfred cursed himself under his breath despite Betsy’s hope. He became very still and ate little to nothing saving the remains for his ailing wife and daughter.
It was nearly eight miles to town and both horses had vanished from the barn the night just before the storm came over head. The anger welled up in Wilfred as he sought for answers. He knew he could not leave his wife and daughter alone in the cold but Elda needed medicine. What Medicine? Wilfred thought. The concern of baring the cold and running to town had crossed his mind. “I need a doctor!” he cursed himself again in the late hour.
The panicked fits Elda was suffering had stopped. That night as the family nestled into sleep, Wilfred would curse God for the first time since he was a young man out on the trails.
Woken the next morning by the sting of frost on his toes and coughing fits from his wife, it was the first time he had ever seen Betsy cry. There was blood in the cloth Elda held to her mouth. The anger and disbelief was overwhelming. He found his daughter’s eyes with his own.
“Daddy…? PLEASE!” the young woman didn’t understand as she wept for her father’s help.
Filling the stove to the brim with clean dry wood, he pulled the bed near the freshly kindled fire insisting they wrap themselves in the blankets.
“My Love,” he gathers them both near to the stove. “We aint far from town and the wind is low this morning. I’ll return within the hour… You stay put right here by the fire; you understand me?”
Wilfred quickly dressed in his thickest winter armor and bolted out the door into the frozen morning.
The sun slowly rose over Beckonridge the next spring with blossoms far earlier than the towns people would have thought. The whole of the county, it seemed, was frozen in time from the sights and sounds of the winters passing. Elda was only one of many they had lost that cold winter. How Wilfred and Betsy missed Mother so.
Betsy clang to her father’s Bible, constantly reading. The seasons seed and feed stored underground the year before sat untouched. Wilfred sat on the porch each day glaring at the fields occasionally embracing his solemn but faithful daughter. He took long walks, weeping and seeking understanding in the desert alone.
Wilfred was overcome by regret and became very morose. Unlike Betsy, he found no comfort in the Gospels after losing his loving wife.
Early in the spring many of the townspeople would stop by the house to offer their condolences, they missed her too. It didn’t help and often only made things worse. He looked for answers but the answer never came. Wilfred was broken. He’d begin to work the land once again but had failed to gain the progress he’d hoped for a season before.
Betsy had her own way about her after her mother’s passing. She was always kind, offering help to others as often as she could. Aside from her Christian duties, she didn’t say much for a while. She took refuge in pastor Garrison who often told her to go home and comfort her father. She would, but the embrace from her father only became distant as the thinning man fell into a deep depression.
In late spring Wilfred became possessed with the thought of leaving home. The spirits had overcome his will to forgive as he began to drink heavily. In a bout of anger aimed at the Lord himself, Wilfred bought a horse and with nothing more than a note placed on the stove – he left. No comfort for Betsy, no farewell to the people who loved him. Just a note.
“I recon I be back someday if your God permits. -Wilfred”
Betsy was left to wonder the family farm and continue toiling with the help of neighbors and hired hands. “Daddy will return,” she told Garrison sternly. “He just needs some time.”
Giving his demeanor and willingness to never give a dam about anything, Wilfred had no trouble convincing the outlaws he found on the trail that he didn’t have a care in the world. He only ever said, “I’ve had enough of this life, boys. It seems this life has had enough of me.”
At one point during his drunken stupors he made the mistake of asking, “do you think anything happens after this life? Do you think we’ll ever see our kin again?”
The cowboys would have a laugh sitting around the camp fire. “You aint makin’ it back to your kin any more then I aint headin’ up to New York city! Dammit Willy, pass the bottle! I reckon you had enough.”
The leader of the pack would give him a kick in the ribs once in a while as he slept on the ground. Wilfred never responded outside of what appeared to be the drunken moans of a dying man. The gang never doubted his troubles on the account of his weakness’, dry voice and drunken appearance. That, as well as the fact Wilfred was always willing to pony up for another bottle of whiskey gave some credence for the crew to keep him around a bit longer.
Sore as all hell, Wilfred lay pretending to sleep on the ground next to the fire each night. And so, it went. For nearly four months that summer Wilfred began to wither away under the heat of a summers blaze and the stink of the bottle.
The money he’d brought with him had run out and the boys weren’t as generous as he had been to share their booze or the cured meet and beans held in stock. He would drink from the streams and eat from the land. A week or so would pass before he was sober enough to once again think clearly.
Late one night as the crackling of the fire simmered, he began to hear Elda’s voice as if she were there with him. “Betsy, would you go tell your pa to come in from the fields. I’m making that spice for the vegetables he likes”.
Elda could always know what Wilfred wanted even before he asked. She spoke softly and lingered in his memories for the next few days. A broken man would start to remember home.
“Fella’s… I gotta get back up to New York City.” Wilfred joked with a sour depression in his voice.
“He, he, hee ha haaaaah,” the men all get a good laugh.
“Good luck with that one you yellow sum bitch”, one of the men yells out.
“You just stay away from that bottle on your way back to hell, Willy.”
The cowboys all had their last laugh as Wilfred faded east back out away from the desert’s sunset.
The commotion brought on by Wilfreds departure woke up their leader who then rolled over and fired his pistol into the air as a warning. The crew quieted down as the boss took a seat next to the frying pan.
“You dogs aint got no right to judge that man. A fella just needs to dry out once in a while”, the old man spoke staring gravely at the fire.
“Now sit down and shut up you dammed fools. We need to find out what we gonna’ do about Wyatt Earp.
Betsy was out collecting the last bits of that year’s harvest with Pastor Garrison after her loyal friends and hired hands retired for the season. Garrison and Betsy would share stories back and forth about the Lords Good News.
To Garrisons’ surprise, Betsy stopped quite suddenly. “Pastor Garrison?” She asks while drawing her arm up to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “What’a you thing Poppa’s doin’ out there on the trails?”
The pastor considered the question knowing there was no reasonable answer the woman was not already aware of. “I truly can’t tell you Betsy, but I think…”
Garrison finds sense for a pause. The pastor sees a figure out west down along the path but didn’t draw attention to it.
“…But, I think,” he continued, “we should head back to the house for a bite to eat. I have the bread sister Sara baked and we still have milk and dry potato chips from the market…” Garrison looked back down at the path as Betsy gathered her basket and sheers.
“Lord have mercy!” The pastor prayed silently walking south back towards the cabin. Betsy followed only steps behind.
A few yards from the house the pastor coughs into his fist, “Ahemm!” He paused again, turning to the woman. “Nature calls my good lady, why don’t you go ahead inside and offer a prayer for the meal.
“Yes, Pastor. As you wish.” Betsy would always agree to such a blessing.
As Betsy entered the house Garrison didn’t look back to the path along the property line, instead he took a knee for Prayer.
“Father in Heaven, all grace given to those in Jesus Christ. I pray earnestly this day for a loving family – I grant, as a faithful minister of your gospel for these good folks to be whole again on this day.”
A tear falls from the Pastors eye landing in the desert sand below.
“We know that all good things come from you Father, and without you…” another tear falls, “there is nothing good in the world… I pray to thee Father, may by the grace of Jesus Christ you find in your mercy to reunite this family.”
The pastor looks up from his prayer to see a thin sickly looking man walking toward the porch.
“Pastor Garrison? aren’t you coming in for a… haww..”
The young woman Gasps, falling to her knees on the porch. Betsy locked eyes with the man but for just a moment, doubted.
“Please Lord, keep Papa safe and bring him back home.” she prayed only seconds earlier in the center room of the cabin.
With her hands bracing herself upwards, her eyes never braking away now up and running toward the thin shadowy figure, skipping, hopping, trying to see his face through the water welling up in her eyes.
A woman remembers her Love. “Daddy!!!” She cried.
Garrison rose from his hands and knees to see Betsy leap into her father’s arms. The two of them fell back into the sand as the Pastor looked on with resolute Faith.
“This is the second time I have seen you cry, Betsy” Wilfred says with a dry raspy voice and a painful aching for water.
“…It is the last time I will allow it.”
“I thought you left me?” Betsy braced herself up and helped her father from the ground. She took a portion of her blouse to wipe away the dirt and grit from the old man’s face.
Close enough to hear his feeble voice whisper, Wilfred smiles, “My pillow is bare… and the fields need tending too.”
Tears and laughter overwhelmed Betsy as she hurled her arms around the old man’s neck, “Aww, My sweet Papa… I’m so, so very sorry”.
“You’re sorry”, Wilfred replies in pain. “Sorry for what, child?”
“You look so skinny Daddy, what happened?”.
Wilfred was a man not quick to words.
He looked Betsy in the eyes, remembering Elda in the face of his beloved daughter for a brief moment…
“You still know how to make that spice for mothers’ vegetables?”
Betsy buried her face into Wilfred’s chest spilling tears of joy.
The following year, Wilfred worked the land with help from the towns people, the church and his beloved Betsy. With a new-found commitment to Christ, everyone in town knew Wilfred was back from the wilderness and he had accepted the loss of his loving wife.
At church, pastor Garrison called him up in front of the congregation. The room arose with loving cheers.
“It seems I gave everyone an awful scare when I left.” The church was quiet.
“Out there on the trails I had come to know a fear far greater than anything my anger had to offer.” Wilfred addressed his friends trembling.
“I feared the Lord would not forgive a coward such as I”, his hands shaking. Lowering his head, he remembered the shame.
“A man who could leave his family without a father,” he paused. “This man is no man at all. As you are all aware, Betsy had not lost her faith the way I had that cold winter. If it were not for Elda’s love and instruction over the years, I bid Betsy may not have embraced me upon my return.
“It is clear to me now my friends, I have seen Elda’s goodness remaining with me, now alive in Betsy. I carry Elda’s memories with me in my thoughts and prayers and knowing this brothers and sisters…”
Wilfred’s voice now swelled up. His eyes grew brighter. Tempered admirations rose from the congregation as he continued, “by God’s redemptive power we keep those who have passed from this earth alive with us in the Risen Christ!”
Several “Amen’s” rose from the people as many rose to their feet.
“We are granted this promise and I know by the Grace given to us in Jesus Chris, one day we will all see our families again.”
The spirit came over Wilfred that morning like nothing the town had ever seen. He gave a sermon declaring the Resurrection from the dead as an absolute assurance – not simply a hope we all try to hold on too.
The towns people loved hearing this. It brought a renewed strength to the community. The livestock and crops gathered and toiled over the next few years were bringing blessings to the county, the farm hands were content and healthy, and Bekonridge was flourishing in its own small town manner.
It was a blazing hot summer day as Wilfred and Betsy were heading back from delivering Elda’s signature pillows as well as a load of supplies to the markets across county line. Betsy was a grown woman now but still young at heart, and still possessed a childlike sense of wonder. She sat in back of the carriage playing make-believe, staring out at the wilderness mimicking funny noises to the creatures she saw along the way. Wilfred and Betsey were truly happy and more full of love than ever before.
He stumbled through the doors of the Bunckhouse saloon out into the morning light. Setting a path on foot in one hell of a drunken stupor and a half bottle of whiskey under his arm, he was ready. He hadn’t sleep at all that night – he drank. John had begun his plan for self-destructing a month earlier and was fully intent on quickly seeking the end to which he knew was inevitable.
John had not eaten for days. A man can lose his appetite in time when his faith is lost so suddenly. Anything he found under the hot desert sun would have been better than the circumstances thrust upon him in prior years. The poor man had lost all faith and hope. Discouraged beyond any thoughts of forgiveness and as drunk as the bottle itself, he began to walk – stumbling his way out of town.
The day passed and the sun set. John had sand in his boots, trousers and his back against a slanted rock pointing out – up into the desert’s night sky. A man sat buried in certain death by a lover’s betrayal. Exhausted, he drifted off to sleep but slept without dreams.
The man had been taken for everything he had. Love would conquer him completely before hurling him back out into a cruel and unforgiving universe. To his own downfall, his would-be fiancé knew nothing of love. A beautiful and cunning young liar for certain, Amanda was a woman who held no regards for true Love – to which she claimed as an ‘absolute truth’. This beautiful demon possessed nothing more than the idea of love for financial gain and she was dammed good at roping the suckers in.
John was woken the next day by the sting of sunburn on his face as the morning heat drifted up over the ridge. He had blistered lips and was dying for a drink of water. The thought of anything else was foreign. Taking his first conscious breath, he raised his arm to wipe the dirt from his eye line. He felt weakness throughout his body. Dry eyes and the pangs of hunger and hangover gathered as he pulled his face away from the morning heat. Ever slowly grimacing and crawling into the crevice behind the rock he had found comfort in the night before. Now feeling relief from the pain of sun brunt skin, he set his back against the cooler side of the rock.
“I need water.” He thought to himself with great distain and doubt. The memory of not having water for days and the thought of the new morning skyline where too much too bear.
“How have I done this?” A cold chill entered his spine bringing him a brief moment of physical comfort. A jolt of adrenaline brought on by fear and disgust.
“What have I done?” He nearly faints still thinking of a cool drink of water. He opened his eyes once again in a desperate hope for salvation from himself, but the colors of exhaustion blurred his vision. He faints.
He awakes. In a longing for mercy, John made the mistake of trying to understand how a woman who claimed to love him could do such a thing as this, now weeping. “Have mercy on me…” He cried loudly in the desert shade with every last bit of strength he held within. A cool breeze immediately brushed his face just before the moment he lost his breath. Unconscious, he sat sturdy against the fair side of the shady rock.
High noon passed and the cool rock was no longer offering its shade. Once again, the dying man awoke. This time, to much more agony as he lay with the left side of his face down in the smoldering desert sands. Finding enough strength to sit up against the rock he began to wonder again if there were any hope. Briefly he wondered.
Delirious, he slowly looked to the sky, glancing up across the desert floor to the nearby hill leading up from the valley. Grimacing again as the sun steadily burned his face and neck. Up and up ever more he sought for hope in the surrounding terrain. The vultures hovered in circles across the sky. His now watering eyes viewed the sun once more collapsing, when – a voice.
A woman’s’ voice. Faint. He failed to stand with his last bit of strength falling back against a small crevice in the rock. Unable to move – now wedged against a boulder and the sands. He hears a woman’s voice more vivid but sees nothing. In the distrust of not believing his own mind, John forfeit his caring and closed his eyes settling into the rock. Slowly drifting out of consciousness, he hears the woman’s voice.
“Forgive me but I don’t know your name…”
“Kind Sir? You should not be out here all alone…?” The woman moves in for a closer look. …Oh my God,..”
“Papa! Come QUICK!!!”
Wide eyed and full of fantasy, Betsy whispers into the man’s ear. “Kind sir, can you hear us?”
“Go into the other room, Betsy. You’ve done enough and I don’t want you in hear when he wakes.”
Still hopeful, Betsy returns to her father kissing him on the cheek.
“You know I love you sweetheart but we shouldn’t have bothered with this.” Wilfred calmly explains.
“I disagree Poppa,” Betsy curtsies her father and leaves the room.
Not knowing what to think, Wilfred speaks to the unconscious man.
“Say fella… can you hear me?” No response as he ponders the circumstance of his daughter’s misfortunate finding.
Peering in from the doorway Betsy questions, “Daddy, you see his eyes? He aint lookin so good… may need a doctor.”
“GO! into the Other ROOM BETSY!!” The old man shouts aloud.
Minutes would pass as Wilfred stood over the man, not knowing what to do. Betsy never left her father’s doorway.
“Wait! …No, Betsy. A doctor cannot help this man.” Wilfred’s heart sank thinking of the last time he called on the doctor. He fell to his knees next to the dying man.
Several minutes would pass as Betsy stood in the doorway looking upon her father praying over the dying man. Wilfred kneeled, never looking up.
“Fill a bucket with fresh water from the well Betsy… bring a clean wash cloth, soap… prepare a plate of mother’s vegetables and bring drinking water.” Wilfred sat very still, contemplating.
With that same smile that lights up every face in Beckonridge, Betsy jumped and rushed out the door to gather water.
Full of hopeful anticipation, Betsy returns moments later with the supplies.
“How can we help him Poppa?” Betsy asked her father, testing him.
Knowing it was a rhetorical question, Wilfred blushed, “Yes Betsy. We’ll see to it the man gets what he needs.”
The two of them spent the next few hours cleaning and feeding the man back to health. “Feed the chickens before you go to bed, Betsy. Tomorrow we’ll take this man to see Garrison.”
John spent the night in and out of consciousness drinking as much water as Wilfred could offer him. Betsy slept peacefully in the opposite room.
“Lord have mercy.” Wilfred prays over the man. “I know the feeling.”
It was a cooler morning than the day before. Wilfred woke the man with another bowl of boiled vegetables and water. Betsy made a brief introduction for her and her father before explaining how they found him.
“Yes, I remember.” The man recalls with a desperate whimper.
“For the love of God son, what were you doin’ out there?” Wilfred waits for an answer. “You took us for quite a scare, I’ll have you know.”
Wilfred and Betsy couldn’t help but stand there feeling sorry. The man was lost within his own thoughts.
“No matter, we’re gona’ help you up out of that pit we found you in,” Wilfred raised his voice, “and we don’t want no trouble, you understand me!”
They could barely recognize the man’s words though his dry and raspy voice, but it was clear enough to hear his pain.
“Love is the only trouble I know.”
Betsy had never seen such a display of emotion before. She didn’t know what to think. A broken heart was nothing unfamiliar to her but she had never seen it from a man her own age – and here a man in such dire straits.
The two of them stood there looking on in sorrow. Wilfred wanted only to see the man was given help without further trouble coming his own way. It hadn’t been long since he too would recover from a similar downfall.
Despite his foul smell and vulnerable circumstance, Betsy couldn’t help but notice how handsome the man was. She wanted only to see him lift his head, wipe away the tears and smile for her. The thought of a smile for this man – as a happy man – would tug at her heart for the next few weeks as if she was called to duty by her Love for others.
“Lord Father God, show me the way, grant me the ability to help this man. If only this man could…” Betsy prayed silently, “Grant me the courage Lord and guide my heart, show me a way to help him through these troubles.”
The smell of incense was faint with a strong breeze blowing in through the church windows. The pews were empty on a Tuesday morning. This allowed plenty of time for them to get to know the stranger. The three of them would spend all morning with pastor Garrison.
“John!” Betsy called out walking across the main room of the church back to the kitchen. “I don’t know where you come from ‘er what your customs are, but I’m gona boil us a pot of coffee.”
John didn’t speak above a whisper but they could all hear him. Though he was quite taken by Betsy’s charm, he was ashamed of his appearance and the condition they found him in. He would only assure them he was week and would be on his way as soon as he was well enough to get along.
“I’m sorry for my appearance miss. I’ve been through some difficult times. I’ll be out of your way as soon as I’m able”, John mumbled.
Wilfred and Garrison pivoted in their seats to look at the young man oddly. Betsy turned back toward John almost in unison with the others after hearing what he said. She whipped her chin around looking over her shoulder in a downward motion with one eyebrow raised and spoke softly across the room, “We have all been through hard times, sweetheart.”
Betsy called out with a loud voice while walking away toward the kitchen – displaying the rugged and sensual side of her nature for the first time in front of her father, “You gota’ saddle up and get back on that horse, Mr.”
Betsy’s sweet voice nearly barked at the man.
Wilfred whips his neck around looking back to the pastor. “What did she…!?”
Garrison chuckled, “Wilfred!” the pastor interjects. “She has a point”.
John!” The pastor continues. “I’m sorry my son, but I cannot except that.”
Garrison drew the man’s attention. “the Good Lord is going to feed you before you make any further decisions.” the pastor explained with a warm smile.
Garrison walked to the back room to draw a couple coins from the prior week’s offering plate. “Wilfred!” Garrison calls out.
“Yes pastor?” Wilfred responded from the front pew.
“I’m headed over to the Smithton to purchase a loaf of bread. I still have a couple dozen eggs from your chickens.” Garrison addressed Wilfred with a quick brush of his nose.
Wilfred grins, now understanding the play.
“Yes’sir, them chickens’ is spawning good Pastor. I reckon I won’t be able to give’um away before too long…” Wilfred became a bit more animated, “on the account of their bein’ so many, Harrold had to lower the price of my eggs down at the market just ta’ get people to buy’um. I recon we got too much food around these parts; I tell you what.”
John’s eyes grew wide at the thought of a full stomach and a friendly conversation.
“I mean…” John paused. His mind was still broken, full of anger and distrust. The last person he put his faith in betrayed him to the point he was willing to take his own life. John knew now he would have succeeded if Betsy had not found him. He was content with the moment but the demons inside spoke eerily to his sorrows, ‘how can I trust them?’
As if from a second consciousness, he found a faith ever so small but present. He couldn’t get over this overwhelming feeling – like déjà vu or a hallucination from his aching head – he was immediately felt drawn to Betsy.
“I mean… I could stick around for a bit if it’s not trouble.” John states while thinking of Betsy’s smile.
“It’s no trouble, son. You stay put, have a cup of coffee.” Garrison insisted as he exited the building.
The Pastor returned from the market with a cheerful greeting, “Look what I have!” He calls out loudly walking down the center aisle of the church. The three of them were all sitting in the front pew trying to get more acquainted. “Not only do I have bread,” Garrison swivels around the church in a panoramic view while shuffling his feet, “I’ve also stumbled upon a fresh quart of milk!”
John laughed for the first time – not because he thought it funny, but because he was intrigued and confused by the pastor’s goofy humor.
“Where I come from,” John spoke out loud now surprising them all, “The priests don’t have cohorts with the people outside of confession booths or the inner chambers. As far as I recall, people are told to shut their mouths! To sit down, bow, kneel, listen and fear the fires of Hell! They tell us to look up to the priest as if he were God himself!”
No one knew if he was laughing or crying at this point given his outburst.
“So what, are you all supposed to be my savior or something?”
Betsy was riveted now that John had spoken up for the first time. His voice echoed across the hall, “What kind of priest are you!?” John laughed with robust confusion.
“No, son… I am no priest,” Garrison returns with a warm voice.
“I’m only a man who found God in the time of my desperation.”
Betsy lovingly punches her father in the arm as Garrison continued.
“And I refuse to let you out of my sight until this spiritual fast of yours has been broken.”
The pastor heal-toes to his right now addressing Wilfred. “As the towns pastor I believe the best medicine for this man is a few weeks out in the fields with you and Betsy.”
Wilfred chuckles again, “I’ll put’um to work you can be sure of that… but I still don’t know who this man is pastor. He’s a bit reluctant to talk about it.”
In her sweetest manner, Betsy walked to the preacher’s pulpit looking down upon her new friend. She spoke to John with the same passionate deliverance to which everyone who met her had a deep adoration. Betsy affirms, “John, you are welcome here but we must know how you came to be lost out in the wilderness.”
The pastor looks up to Betsy standing proud at the pulpit and then to Wilfred sitting in the pew, with acceptance. Garrison then returns his focus to John.
“I am no more a priest than anyone in this town, John. However, with everything I am – and that’s not much – I will never again let the Good Lord’s saving grace out of my thoughts.”
John was amazed at their tone of voice. So, sincere.
“You have no penance to give, John. You have nothing to prove. My friend… you have only to accept the Grace now given to you by our Father in Heaven and the atoning work of Jesus Christ.”
“Amen!” Betsy proclaimed jumping down the small stairs turning to sit in the pew next to John.
“So… how’s about some breakfast, Mr?”
“I mean to say,” John now had the feeling for the first time he was actually welcome here. “I haven’t got a friend in the world aside from my parents. But their gone now. And I’ve had nothing but bad luck with people who say they want to be my friend.”
John now spoke outright and honestly but in a soft monotone voice as if he were in a trance, remembering the past. “I’ve heard people speak of true love and offer promises of a better future.”
John’s eyes turned to water as he spoke, “Every promise given to me in the name of love… has been nothing more than the devils lies.” He stood up from the pew now speaking plainly, pointing his empty cup of coffee toward the back room. “If you insist, I still feel quite feeble, ma’am.”
Betsy did well at hiding her emotions. She wanted only to embrace and comfort the man. She had never heard such language or disbelief.
“Let us eat then.” Betsy says with a soft smile.
Betsy quickly prepared breakfast. She set the plates down in front of the men then sat in the chair opposite John. Garrison offered a blessing over the meal before attempting to comfort his new friend.
“A man can be burdened by keeping things welled up inside, son.” The pastor spoke in a voice that offered reassurance. “We are all family in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. Perhaps, we can help if you if you allow us the chance to understand what you’ve been through.”
Suddenly, John felt the need to get it all off his chest. He laid out the events piece by piece of what lead him to plan his final journey into the wilderness.
“My father had recently passed… I was left to take over his business. He used to make the best horseshoes around… but I’m not my father and I don’t know all he knew about the metals. He was able to teach me enough to where folks in the surrounding counties would still buy my horseshoes… but dad had signed a contract with some dammed railroad company to produce as many railroad spikes as he could offer. I wasn’t able to meet the quotas.” John spoke softly.
They could all see he was terrified and shaking as he picked at his food.
“Dad was murdered by the cowboys for nothing more than refusing to give them his saddle bag.
“My mother died when I was a child, and my father was always distant. I couldn’t hold a conversation to save my life. And I wasn’t meeting the railroad contracts until just recently. Hell, even a stranger could see I didn’t know what I was doing.” He spoke with a trembling in his voice.
“I continued my father’s work… but the cowboys kept picking at me taking nearly half of my profits. “Half my profits for the breath in my lungs,” they told me. The sheriff wouldn’t lift a hand to defend me.
“It didn’t matter; the horseshoes and the spikes were enough. After only a year, I had more money from Dad’s knowledge than I knew what to do with… that’s when I met Amanda.
“She had been hanging around town looking for employment. Or so she said. I know now the cowboys sent her to keep an eye on my. She was able to convince the owner of the local saloon to run the front desk next door to the inn upstairs while staying with me during the days.”
John gave a long sigh before finishing the last bit of coffee. “She told me everything I needed to hear. We spent every day together. Every, word… she spoke, made me fall more and more in love with her.”
Now realizing the extent of the man’s struggles, Wilfred felt the need to change the subject. “So, you’re a Blacksmith?” he asks.
“You know John, I must have bought some shoes from your pa several years back. Good shoes, still using them today.”
“I was a blacksmith, sir.” John folded his hands on the edge of the table then buried his face into his arms.
Again, the man began to weep hysterically.
“I had no idea…”
“She ruined my life!”
“Why couldn’t somebody have warned me?”
“What!? John, what did you say!?”, the night of Elda’s passing engrained in Wilfred’s memory.
Betsy’s jaw dropped as she remerged her mother’s last cry;
“You’ve got to stop her!”, “The man doesn’t know!”
Neither Wilfred nor Betsy had ever told a soul of their mother’s ramblings the night she died.
“Wilfred?” the pastor stood up from the table to touch John on the shoulder.
“Wilfred? what is it?”
“Betsy? What’s wrong”, Garrison asks with confusion.
Garrison saw a tear roll down Wilfred’s face. Betsy began to cry. They couldn’t believe it.
A bolt of silence came over the room as the three of them wept.
“Déjà vu,” the pastor whispers in French over the silence.
Garrison saw the three of them sitting at the table, but John’s words had taken the Welsh family somewhere far, far away.
“Wilfred…” Garrison didn’t know what to make of the moment.
“…I’ll give you folks some time.”
“You can stay with us until you figure out what you intend on doin’,” Wilfred took the man in under his arm, speaking to him as if it were his own son.
That day as they left the church, Wilfred knew full and well ‘this is the man Elda saw in her vision’.
“Now I must insist that you help us out in the fields. It’ll do yu some good, John. It builds strength. And I’ll feed yu good, too.”
Betsy smiled watching her father help John into the carriage.
“I’m tellin’ you the truth, John. You’ll never have to worry ‘bout any woman hurtin’ yu round here. You have my word, son.”
Behind the carriage, Betsy had dried her eyes but hadn’t yet spoken a word. She was mesmerized – shaking at the reality of what just happened. She took to her knees there in the dirt as her father helped John into the front, “Momma, I reckon you approve?”
Betsy’s hair whipped sideways suddenly as a strong gust of wind blew through the town. The sun immediately came out from behind the clouds drifting overhead – she remembered her mother’s embrace. With all awe and wonder, Betsy suddenly recalled the poem mother insisted she memorize in her younger years,
won’t happen often, have patience my dear,
“I know, it happened for me.
“Our precious Lord Jesus works miracles in life,
“Of this, I am sure you will see.”
John regained his strength and sober thought over the course of the next few weeks as he worked with Betsy and Wilfred out in the fields. He would begin to teach Wilfred about molding metals. Wilfred would in turn help them build the forge for working the metals.
Wilfred took noticed of how Betsy and John had now become inseparable. The two of them had a look in their eyes reminding him of his early years with Elda. Not that he ever sought for a sign, his faith was reaffirmed by Elda’s vision. There was no greater joy in Wilfred’s life than to see the two of them falling in Love.
The following week, as the service ended, pastor Garrison was greeting people at the door on the way out of the building. John sat in the pew with the intention of waiting for everyone to leave.
Betsy had yet to tell him of Elda and the night she passed – She was in Love with John and didn’t want to scare him off by witnessing to some fantastic story.
“Betsy?” He took her hands in his to kiss her fingers. “Can you give me a few minutes?”
“Of course, Sweetheart. Take your time.”
Garrison returned inside after everyone had gone to see John kneeling in prayer. He closed the doors and waited silently for John to finish his thoughts.
“I hear you’re quite the work horse.” Garrison sat next to the young man bringing his arm around John to rest on his shoulders. “Wilfred also tells me you’ve begun to build the forge in back of the barn to fashion your horseshoes. That is a great thing you’re doing for the town, John.” Garrison pat’s him on the leg. “We need a man like you around these parts.”
John thanks the pastor, “Dad would have wanted me to continue working with my hands.” he whispers.
Garrison takes a deep breath, “Your dad would be proud of you, John. I’m sure of it.”
Garrison did not respond except to tilt his head slightly looking the man in the eyes.
“Ever since I met the Welsh’s I have had a feeling that I have known them all my life. I… I don’t know how to explain it.”
Garrison knew all too well the feeling of finally finding a place to belong.
“Often times, we never really know where we’re headed. That is to say, not until we get to a place the Lord had planned for us all along.” Garrison began.
“I myself spent 28 years of my adult life wondering this country. I had no direction. My parents came over from France looking for a new life. They were not exactly wholesome people, that I can tell you. I ran away John, and never looked back. Sometime later, that’s when I found Beckonridge – the people took me in as if I was one of their own. It was then that one of the elders gave me my first bible and I…”
John abruptly cut him off mid-sentence. “Pastor?… tell me what it means to be baptized.”
“John,” Wilfred glances briefly in all directions to make sure no one can hear them, “you go park the carriage and tie up the horses then come in through the back entrance like we talked about.”
Wilfred calls out for Betsy as she takes her dad by the arm up the stairs in through the front door of the Church house.
There was a basin of water that day where the pulpit usually stood. The towns people entered the church with great blessings anticipating a baptism. No one knew what was happening on the account of Wilfred and Garrison keeping this secret so close to their chest. John went out of his way to not only allow this to be a surprise for Betsy, but to have time to pray before he entered the chamber.
The congregation settled into the pew’s as Garrison began to speak. He brought the people to remembrance of Philip being called by the Holy Spirit to go out into the road that led south from Jerusalem where he would Baptize the eunuch there on the side for the road. He spoke also of 1 Peter 3 where baptism is not the putting away of flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
““Jesus Christ. Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him”
“This is what it is to be baptized my beloved,” Garrison signals by peering back to the entrance behind him. “To put your old understanding aside and accept the Holy Spirit into your life. Knowing we have a deliverer in waiting to keep us in his blessing while we are in the flesh and to usher us into a new life when the Father calls us home.
“We are blessed this day to bear witness into the Kingdom, a man who has been called by the Grace of God, and by his own understanding and proclamation has given his heart to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
The people arose in cheer as John entered by way of the back room. With a wave of the pastors hand the congregation sat down and a silence came over the room. Betsy was the only soul to remain standing.
“My Love?” she whispered, but everyone in the room could hear her gasp. She drew her hands to cover her mouth. ‘My Love!’
Wilfred glanced to his daughter with a big smile as the old woman behind him asks, “Wilfred, is that the drifter you took in?”.
“Me?, Nooo, Mrs. Perkins. That was all Betsy’s idea. I almost left him out on the road where we found him.” Wilfred whispered to the old woman while looking up to his daughter who was standing proud in assurance of the moment.
“You see, Mrs. Perkins…” Wilfred began to respond but was interrupted by the church exploded into great cheer as John ascended from the water.
Betsy, now sprinting up the center isle of the church to embrace John.
Wilfred continued, “You see, Mrs. Perkins. Betsy and I were traveling back from the markets across county line one day and I heard her hollerin’ out from the rear of the carriage, “Hold your Horses PA!!””
“I’m tellin yu Mrs. Perkins, Betsy up and leapt out the side of the moving wagon. She tumbled onto the ground, picked herself up and bolted out into the dessert.”
“Betsy? Well, I never!” Mrs. Perkins is stunned having never heard of Betsy act in such a way.
Wilfred laughs, continuing his story, “I’m tellin’ yu Mrs. Perkins… I was hotter than a dime store pistol. So, I’m yelling for her, “Betsy!? have you lost your mind?” I’m yellin, I’m yellin, I’m hollerin’ loud as I can…
“So, I bring the carriage to a stop… I jump down to the side of the carriage and stand there watching Betsy approach the side of this rocky ridge just a bit off the track, she turns back to me waving her arms in the air like she’d done saw a signal fire.”
“I’ve never heard Betsy holler so loud in all my life”
“”Papa, Come QUICK!!!” she says”
“What is it, Betsy?” I holler back. “I’ll never forget it, you could hear Betsy smiling from a mile away.”
“Mamma sent me an Angel, Pa!”