The One That Started it All

An excerpt from Riders of the Tides

“Armstrong, I want to introduce you to Mr. William Walker.” The captain looked pleased as he introduced Ben. “He commands the Caroline and is looking for some good men for a mission he is about to set out on. He needs men with some military experience and so I offered to talk with Mr. Billings and to look through our log to see whether we had any men that could be spared. Your name came up along with a few others. I believe you volunteered with the Oregon Militia for a time? You know horses, too, and can handle a rifle. Mr. Walker is offering good pay and a chance for adventure. If you are interested, Mr. Walker has offered to pay off your debt if you would join him.”

William Walker’s face revealed nothing by its calm expression, but his gray eyes burned with the intensity of a campfire. Ben had removed his hat and he slapped it against his pants as though it were dusty. He needed a moment to think and wasn’t sure how to respond. On the one hand, he would be rid of his obligation to remain on the whaling vessel and endure its long trip back to Boston. On the other, he would be signing on with someone he didn’t know, for a mission of adventure that wasn’t clear. Whichever way, his plans for settling down and starting a lumbering venture would have to wait a while longer.

Without letting on as to the true reason for his hesitation, Ben responded, “Well, sir, I’ve seen enough of whaling, lost my best friend to cannibals, and I am ready for a change. If I might inquire, what kind of adventure might this be?”

Walker’s lips formed a slight smile and he responded with the fervor of a fire-and-brimstone preacher. “Armstrong, a Mr. Bishop Berkeley once wrote, ‘Westward the course of empire takes its way.’ In three months’ time, the Caroline and forty-five men are going to establish the Republic of Lower California, and I am going to be its first president.”