Fiction: Tolerance

“The Apache people will never take to Christianity with all of its ridiculous rules and regulations,” Miss Peckham said.

“And you’re an expert, then?” Thankful asked.

“I’ve seen enough to know that God can’t possibly take notice of us. No god would allow such false hope and suffering,” Miss Peckham replied.

“I agree whole-heartedly, Miss Peckham,” Fahy said. “Good luck to you, Bill.”

“Mr. Fahy, you can’t believe God wills suffering. People choose for themselves,” Thankful said in surprise at Fahy’s cynicism. “I think what you’re doing is noble, William.”

“Of course you would, Thankful,” Fahy remarked.

“You think Indians choose suffering, Thankful? That’s more heartless than I would have given you credit for,” Miss Peckham said.

“No, people make decisions and seek no counsel in God—that’s where we all lose our way.”

“And when have you ever lost your way, Miss Thankful? You always have a perfect map and plenty of funds,” Miss Peckham pointed out.

“I’ve been lucky in many ways, it’s true. When I was young, I had a dream that I witnessed Jesus carry his cross. He turned to me and asked what I would do.”

“Thankful, enough of this talk—don’t embarrass yourself,” Fahy said.

“I think she’s interesting,” William said.

Fahy cocked his head with a haughty laugh. “Since when does anyone put stock in what you think?”

“That was uncalled for, Mr. Fahy.  I’m ashamed of you!” Thankful cried. “Ever since Miss Peckham has come you’ve turned into a complete cynic and a stranger to me!”

“Thankful, I can’t have changed in three days,” Fahy groaned. “I don’t know why you’re being so sensitive.”

“Why did you have to go ride with HER?” Thankful cried.

“You said it was all right!” Fahy replied.

“Well, I didn’t mean it of course!” Thankful sobbed. “And all of this horrible talk about religion and keeping babies from being born is disgusting and beneath you, lieutenant!”

Miss Peckham patted Thankful’s shoulder and spoke in the syrupy way she had.  “Oh, Thankful dear, don’t you worry about God. Everyone, including the Indians have a right to be spiritual in their own way.”

“Worshipping trees and such is not like worshipping God,” Fahy laughed. “I’ve had more fun watching Indians whooping and hollering to their gods than I ever had attending mass. Everyone has a right to do what they like.”

“What about truth?” William inserted timidly.

Thankful had tucked herself under Fahy’s arm but turned to William with curious eyes.

“Christianity has its merits as a civilizing force. That cannot be denied,” Miss Peckham said, “but let’s all be mature—the basic notion of Christ rising from the dead is ridiculous and impossible to prove.”

“So . . . what you’re saying, Miss Peckham, is that an educated person would never believe in the supernatural or miracles or. . .” William’s head hurt, but his heart quickened, too.

“Bill, there are no miracles. Science will one day prove it,” Fahy said.

“I don’t know much, but maybe it’ll be Christ, who comes to prove things,” William responded.

Miss Peckham chuckled. “I bet the Messiah snuck off to France and had a good laugh.”

William scratched his head, but no thoughts came.

Mr. Kenyon had been listening from a distance and entered the fray. “If our Lord had played such a contemptible trick on the apostles then we’re doomed and should throw in the fiddle.”

“Well, his people could have faked the whole thing,” Miss Peckham pointed out.

“You’re welcome to your theories,” Kenyon said, “but the apostles went from timid, cowering fishermen and misfits before the Resurrection to courageous founders of the Church who were willing, one by one to be martyred for their beliefs.”

“That’s a high price to pay for a lark,” William remarked.

“Your livelihood depends on making us believe that,” Miss Peckham scoffed, “but I’d rather worship a tree. At least I can cut it down to make firewood.”

“It’s not just about you!” Thankful cried.

Kenyon laughed. “What an opinionated bunch of friends you have, Mr. Weldon.”

“They’re not my friends, sir,” William said, saving them the trouble.

Thankful took his hand. “Willy, be careful and write your parents. They worry an awful lot.”

“Miss Crenshaw, stop being such a mother hen,” Fahy said, joking to hide his annoyance. He kissed Thankful on the forehead.

Kenyon turned to see William’s reaction, but there was none. “Mr. Weldon, Captain Markham has kindly lent us two soldiers as escort. Do you know Lieutenants Joyce and Fahy?”

“Sir, I am Lieutenant Fahy.”

“Oh, good. Very nice to meet you. Now William will have a peer.”

Fahy sneered at William.

“Do we really need escorts?” William asked. “I’m very good with a gun, sir.”

“My friends want soldiers, William,” Kenyon said.

“Yes, preaching the love of Christ will take a show of force,” Miss Peckham scoffed.

***the Peacemaker by John George Brown

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