A Time to Stand (by LizK)

Summary:  Not everyone in Hatton’s Gulch is happy about the arrival of a preacher.
Category:  The Clayton Chronicles
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:   1772


“Hey, Preacher!”

The gravelly voice from the saloon stopped Dave in his tracks and he turned slowly, a pleasant smile on his face, though he knew the man stopping him had no desire to be pleasant. Bill Patterson stared at him over the top of the saloon doors, his face hard and scowling.

“What can I do for you, Bill?” Dave kept his voice calm, though his patience with this particular man was starting to wear thin.

Bill stepped through the doors and stopped toe-to-toe with Dave, his beefy hands on his hips and bending his surly face down within inches of Dave’s. “You know what you can do for me, preacher. You can get yourself outta town,” he growled with a jerk of a thumb down the street.

The man’s breath showed he’d been having a few too many already that morning and his temper only reinforced that impression. Dave paused a minute, considering his options and realizing they were few. Patterson had been a thorn in his side ever since he had come to this town, and no amount of friendliness or patience on Dave’s part seemed to make one bit of difference in the man’s animosity toward him. But then Dave didn’t take it personally; some people were just that way about ministers. Patterson was belligerent for no apparent reason, but he wasn’t the first man Dave had faced that was.

He stepped back, then crossed an arm over his chest and placed a hand over his mouth as if considering the matter for a moment. He smiled again and pointed a finger towards Patterson. “Well, Bill, I’ll take that into consideration, but seeing’s as how I have a church service in the morning, I’m afraid I’ll have to disoblige you this time.”

“You been disobliging me ever since you came here and I ain’t taking no more of it!” The man reached forward and grabbed a handful of Dave’s shirt, dragging him forward again. “I don’t like you, preacher,” he growled into Dave’s face. “I don’t like you and I don’t want to see you around here again. Now, you just pack your bags and git. We don’t need your kind around here.” He let Dave go with a shove, then turned and walked back into the saloon.

Dave let his breath out with a whoosh, then took another deep breath as he tried to settle his own flaring temper. There were still times when that old man reared up and tried to take over. He shrugged his shoulders to settle his coat back into place and straightened his collar. His face set hard as he stared after Patterson.

“You oughten ta let him push you around like that, Reverend,” a voice at his elbow offered. He turned to find Carl Simpson next to him, his old eyes flashing fire and his gnarled hands clenched as if ready to take on Patterson himself. The sight soothed Dave’s own ruffled feathers and he chuckled.

“Well, if I can’t put up with men like that, I don’t have much business tryin’ to tell other men to walk the path of peace, now do I?”

“Wal now, I reckon that’s so, but there’s some men as would try the patience of a saint, and the way you been putting up with ol’ Bill, I reckon you’re as close as Hatton’s Gulch is gonna git.”

“I wish that were so, Carl, but I’m afraid I’m a long way from sainthood.”

“Wal, you got the patience of one, and that’s a fact.”

“Patience that’s running pretty thin, actually,” Dave admitted ruefully.

“Wal, all I’s got ta say is a man like that is someone that don’t stop til you push back at him.”

“Maybe, or maybe there’s a better way. Speakin’ of which, you comin’ to service tomorrow?”

“Wal, sure, Reverend I ain’t missed yet, have I?”

“No, you’re my most faithful attendee, and I appreciate it.” Dave clapped him on the shoulder. “See you tomorrow.”

The problem of Bill Patterson didn’t go away. It followed Dave back to his room at the hotel and settled into his thoughts as he lay back on the bed, tucked his hands behind his head and stared at the cracked plaster of the ceiling.

He had no intention of leaving until he felt his job here was finished. The church he had established was growing little by little and he was making good headway, but it was too soon to leave; the small congregation still needed him. Only Patterson was becoming a problem, and more insistent and belligerent by the day.

He knew the type; he’d faced many like him, men who liked to throw their weight around and lord it over men they considered weaker than themselves and that was the problem – he saw Dave as weak because he was a minister. It was a misconception he met a lot in his travels. He’d found that people had preconceived notions as to what that collar around his neck meant and what kind of man he was because of it. Weakness for one, absolute saintliness for another, it all depended on which side of the street the person was standing on, both equally wrong. He wasn’t weak and he wasn’t a saint – the good Lord knew he wasn’t – though he was doing his best to remedy that.

Besides, his patience with Patterson didn’t come from the collar. He’d learned that when his occupation had been very different. Then he’d needed a cool head, to be slow to react to a situation or find himself gunning down man after man set on proving what a fast gun they were. His temper had been quick enough in the beginning, but as the body count mounted and his reputation had grown, he’d learn not to be goaded into a battle he wasn’t wanting – a skill he’d found even more useful now that he’d exchanged a gun for a Bible.

Of course, none of this was bringing him any closer to solving the problem with Patterson. He had a feeling that Carl was right. Patterson would push until Dave pushed back; the only thing to figure out now was – how hard to push and when.

Dave had spent the rest of the night on his knees searching for wisdom from the only Source he knew of to find it. He arose as the dawn turned rosy outside his window, still not sure of a plan, but at least with the confidence he wouldn’t be fighting alone.

The thought made him smile as he remembered how his friend Bronco used to insist he had help whenever Dave bested him at anything. He hadn’t seen Bronco in some time, but he heard from him occasionally and he still had fond memories of the man who’d helped him start a church in Silver Flats. He found himself wishing he had Bronco by his side this morning; he had a feeling Patterson wouldn’t let the day die without challenging him once again and this time Dave didn’t intend to let it go unanswered.

In spite of the night of prayer and the quiet confidence, an edgy feeling took over as soon as he left the hotel and headed for the rented building on the outskirts of town where he held church services. He recognized the feeling – he’d had it often enough. It was the feeling he got when he knew someone was coming for him. It didn’t happen so much now that he’d put up his gun, but when it did, it made him antsy enough to make him wish he still carried one.

He answered the friendly greetings of the townspeople he passed with a calm smile, hiding the knot in the pit of his stomach as he approached the Blue Belle saloon – Patterson’s stomping ground. He breathed a quick prayer and walked on past it, sighing with relief when Patterson failed to make an appearance.

He was well on his way through his message for the morning and feeling better, the ominous cloud that had hung over him earlier dispelling in the peaceful atmosphere of a church full of worshipers, when the church door banged open and all eyes turned to the back of the church. Dave knew then it had come. Bill Patterson stood there his eyes small in his red face, a cruel smile tightening his lips, several friends lined up behind him.

“All right, Preacher. I warned you,” Patterson said as he started forward down the center aisle of the church and stopped in front of the pulpit. It didn’t take him long – it was a small church – and Dave was eye to eye with him on the short box he used as a platform. “I warned you to git outta town. Now, I’m here to make sure you do.”

A calmness settled over Dave as he stared into the man’s face. Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. “Welcome to our church, Mr. Patterson,” he said with a smile. “If you’d like to be seated, we can finish the service.” He stepped down from the box and moved to the side of the pulpit. “There’s a seat right there in the front for you,” he said pointing.

With a snarl, Patterson grabbed for him, but Dave was ready and he blocked it with his forearm before sending a right hook into Patterson’s extended belly, then a left to his jaw as he doubled over, straightening him up again in time to meet another right that laid him flat and put him out cold.

Dave took a deep breath and shook his fist to take out the sting from that last punch, then looked up at his wide-eyed congregation before motioning to Patterson’s stunned friends to come get him. He straightened his suit and collar, then calmly stepped back behind the pulpit.

He held the people’s eyes for a moment then smiled. “For our closing text, let’s look at Ecclesiastes 3:1.” He swept his congregation with his eyes again, making sure they were with him. The shocked faces of most of them were slowly calming. The peace in his heart along with the wide grins on the faces of several tough old miners and cowboys that he’d been trying to win over with little success gave him a sense that he’d done the right thing. He sent a mental prayer of thanks to the Lord for His guidance then gathering himself he began to recite, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

***The End***

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