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A Line in the Sand
by Al Lacy
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It was a solid, jarring punch and caught thick-bodied thirty-two-year-old Kenton Roach with his mouth open. His head snapped back, and his teeth clacked like a steel trap. He staggered backward; then forty-nine-year- old Abram Kane came after him and sent a powerful right fist to his midsection. Roach made a gagging sound as the wind blew from his mouth. Then the tall, muscular Kane smashed a left to his jaw. Roach dropped to his knees, his eyes rolling back in his head. Wind sawed out of his throat as he fell facedown on the hard wooden dock.

It was a warm spring morning in early April 1834 in Boston, Massachusetts. At this particular section of the docks in Boston Harbor, a large group of men who were employed by the Dixon Ship Lines were in the process of unloading cotton bales from a ship that had sailed from Alabama and berthed the night before.

Three of Kenton Roach’s friends rushed up to him as he lay on the dock unconscious. One of them, Hal Ripley, looked up at Abram Kane, who had now been joined by his four sons, Alex, twenty-eight years of age; Abel, twenty-six; Adam, twenty-three; and Alan, twenty. “Abram,” Ripley said grimly, “I told him not to test you, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Abram, who stood six feet four and weighed some 220 muscular pounds, said, “I wish he had listened to you, Hal.”

“Kenton had to learn the hard way, like so many others here on the docks,” responded Ripley. He ran his gaze among the dock workers. “I hope if any more of you want to try to take the title Bareknuckle Champion of the Boston Harbor Docks from Abram, you will forget it. Remember what you just saw here and what many of you have seen in days gone by. It will get the notion out of your head.”

“Yeah!” Ben Delsart, an older dock worker, spoke up. “In his twenty years on these docks, Abram has never initiated a fight, but when a fight is forced on him, he does what he has to do. So far, every dumb cluck who has tried to whip him has ended up the loser.”

Delsart paused, ran his gaze over the four Kane brothers, who were very close to the same height and muscular build as their father, then looked back at the crowd of dock workers. “Let me tell you somethin’ else, in case you don’t know it. Abram’s four sons here have also proven themselves rugged fighters when they’ve been forced to do it. Their forefathers came to this country from Ireland, and Abram and his sons are known on these docks as the Fightin’ Irishmen.”

A few of the men in the crowd smiled and nodded. Most of them showed no feelings, but there were several who scowled at Ben Delsart’s words.

Ben frowned at the scowlers and said levelly, “Some of you resent the fact that Abram and his sons are Christians. They remain aloof from those of you who use foul language and drink liquor. Just like I do, because I’m a born-again child of God too. We all know that fightin’ among dock workers, no matter where the docks are, is nothin’ new, but the Christian witness and standards upheld by the Kanes often makes them targets of both verbal and physical abuse. You’d come after me too, if I wasn’t seventy-six years old and a bit crippled. Even some of your best friends would get on you if you picked on this old man.”

There was dead silence as Ben stepped close to Abram Kane and his sons.

Finally, another of Kenton Roach’s friends, who had been kneeling beside him, stood up. “Kenton’s conscious now. We’ll have him on his feet in a couple minutes. Let’s all get back to work before Mr. Dixon comes out here from the office.”

Heads nodded, and the men began to move back to the carts they were using to transport the cotton bales from the ship to the edge of the dock some three hundred feet away.

On this particular day, Adam and Alan Kane had been working close with two brothers, Will and Jack Benson. Will was in his early thirties, and Jack was in his late twenties. Both men, along with their wives and children, had recently come to Boston from Portland, Maine, and joined the same church where the Kanes and Ben Delsart were members. It had been through Abram Kane’s influence with John Dixon that Will and Jack had been hired with the Dixon Ship Lines. They had just started with the company that morning.

Will and Jack had been standing beside Adam and Alan since the fight started.

The Kane sons turned to their father, whose sand-colored hair and sideburns were already showing a great deal of silver. Alex said, “Papa, I hate to tell you this, but I was watching that big, burly Lee Nevins while all of this was going on.”

Abram’s eyebrows arched. “Oh? What was he doing?”

“He kept looking at you with evil eyes.”

“I noticed that too, Abram,” said Ben Delsart. “I’ve heard that he’s been tryin’ to start a fight with you ever since he came to work here. That so?”

“It is,” spoke up Adam Kane. “Papa has done his best to keep it from happening, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to have to fight Nevins before too long.” Young Alan Kane, whose hair was sand-colored like his brothers’, looked at his father. “You really think you’ll have to get into it with Nevins, Papa?”

Abram sighed and nodded. “Yeah. He keeps pushing me harder every chance he gets.”

“So who is this guy?” Will Benson said.

Alan sniffed and ran a palm over his nose. “Nevins came to Boston five weeks ago and was hired by Mr. Dixon immediately because of his dock experience. Word soon spread among the rest of us workers that he had previously worked on the docks at Port Norris, New Jersey, on the Delaware Bay. He learned to fight on the Port Norris docks, and the last couple of years he apparently took on all challengers and always emerged the victor. He’s a big, husky guy, twenty-eight years old. Word is that Nevins himself usually started most of the fights he got into and always put his opponents down.”

“Yeah,” spoke up Abel, “all the Dixon Ship Lines workers know this about Nevins, and most of them steer clear.”

Alex looked at the Benson brothers. “The first day he came to work here, Nevins learned about Papa being dubbed the Bareknuckle Champion of the Boston Harbor Docks twenty years ago. He’s been trying to prod Papa into a fight ever since. Let me tell you, Abram Kane has never gone looking for a fight. So far, he has ignored Nevins and, as much as possible, has avoided him. But if the big guy keeps it up, our papa will have to take him on.”

“Well,” said Adam to his youngest brother and the Benson brothers, “we’d better get back to our job. Those cotton bales won’t move themselves.”

Abram ran his gaze to all four sons and the Benson brothers. “Ben and I need to get back to our job. See you at lunchtime.”

They scattered in three directions: Abram with Ben, Alex with Abel, and the Benson brothers, with Adam and Alan, went back to their cart. Soon Adam, Alan, and the Benson brothers were loading cotton bales together, while Will and Jack asked questions about the Kanes. They wanted to know more about their Irish roots. They were especially interested in learning about when the Abram Kane family had come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Adam informed the Bensons that the family name Kane in Ireland had been O’Kane. “We’ll explain about the change after we give you some basic information.”

“Sounds interesting,” Jack said.

While lifting the heavy bales, placing them on the cart, then running the cart across the dock to the big stack and unloading them, Adam and Alan went on to tell the Bensons some family history. Son of Abner and Elizabeth O’Kane, born February 21, 1785, in Dublin, Ireland, their father had crossed the Atlantic to the United States in late 1792 with his parents. They settled in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

As time passed, they became acquainted with their neighbors, and in March of 1793, some neighbors in Pawtucket invited the O’Kanes to a Bible-believing church. After attending the services for a few weeks, eight-year-old Abram found Jesus Christ as Saviour, as did his parents.

Within a year, Abram’s paternal grandparents, Alexander and Maureen O’Kane also moved from Dublin to Pawtucket and soon received Christ as well. Abram was brought up in that solid church and in his Christian home was taught the value of family living and hard work.

Alan paused to take a breath after the four of them had loaded the cart again. “As far back as we can trace the O’Kanes in Ireland, though they were not Christians, they were traditionally honest, hard-working people with strong family ties. At least this part of their lives has had an influence on us Kanes today.”

Will Benson smiled. “Mighty good influence, I’d say.”

“Sure is,” Jack said.

Adam grinned. “Now, about the name change. In December of 1793, our grandparents Abner and Elizabeth O’Kane and our great-grandparents Alexander and Maureen O’Kane decided to change their last name simply to Kane. We’ve never been able to learn why they decided on this change, but we love our last name.”

“We sure do,” said Alan. “Then our great-grandfather died in 1795, and our great-grandmother joined him in heaven in 1798.”

The Benson brothers nodded. “What a joy to know they are in heaven,” Jack said.

Alan grinned. “For sure. We’ll all be together again some glad day.” “Amen,” Adam said. “More of the story now. In 1804, when our father was nineteen, he married eighteen-year-old Kitty Foyle, who was a member of the church in Pawtucket and a fine, dedicated Christian. Papa and Mama moved to Boston shortly thereafter and found the good, solid church we belong to. And you Bensons now too.”

“It’s a good one, all right,” Will said.

Adam went on. “Shortly after coming to Boston, our father found employment as a dock worker here in Boston Harbor. It was a different company then. Two years later, Alex was born. He was named after our paternal great-grandfather, Alexander. Some two years later, Abel was born. Three years later, I came along. Then eighteen months after that, our parents finally had a girl. Keeping with the O’Kane tradition of always giving their children a name that started with an A....which had begun in Ireland over a hundred years earlier....they named their new little daughter Angela.”

“Then in 1814, I was born,” Alan said.

“I want to say this, fellows,” Will said. “In the short time our families have been members of the church, we certainly have come to love all the Kanes a lot. We think a lot of Alex and his wife, Libby, and Abel and his wife, Vivian.”

“And, of course, your father too,” Jack said. “We’re so sorry about your mother’s ill health and that she isn’t able to come to church. And we’ve been told that your sister, Angela, is a sweet person too. I guess she stays home with your mother all the time?”

“That’s right,” Alan said.

Will cleared his throat gently. “Ah…just when did the tuberculosis strike your mother?”

“This tragedy wormed its way into our home in 1830,” replied Adam.

“Mama is wasting away and dying a little each day before our eyes. The best doctors in Boston tell us they can do nothing for her. The disease is going to take her life.” Tears formed in Adam’s eyes.

Alan said softly, his own eyes watering, “We’re not blaming the Lord for allowing Mama to have this disease. He has a plan for every one of His bornagain children. We have prayed for her recovery, but so far she has only grown worse. One thing is for sure: when Mama goes to heaven, she will join our other loved ones there, and one day we’ll be with her again.”

The Benson brothers now had tears in their eyes. “Bless your hearts,” Will said.

“What a sweet testimony you have,” Jack said.

As the four men pushed the full cart toward the far edge of the docks once again, Adam Kane said, “Let me tell you more about our precious sister. Angela refuses to leave our ailing mother’s side. At twenty-one, she has yet to enjoy the company of young men. Though many would-be suitors in the church have sought her attention, she is so devoted to caring for our dying mother that she simply doesn’t have time for romance.”

“That’s for sure,” Alan said. “Angela tends to Mama’s every need and takes care of the house, keeping it clean and in order. She also does the marketing and the cooking for Papa and Adam and me. All of this consumes most of her day. She often works late into the night. She”....Alan choked up, swallowed hard, and went on....“she seldom gives any thought to her own needs and dreams, knowing that in God’s time she will be able to focus on her own life.”

“She’s so utterly unselfish,” Adam said. “Right now, all her thoughts and energies are centered on our dear mother and her family’s needs.”

“God bless that sweet Angela,” Will Benson said.

“Yes.” Alan nodded as he wiped tears from his cheeks.

The conversation ceased as they drew near the place where the cotton was stacked. Soon they drew their cart to a stop between two carts where other dock workers were unloading bales and paying them no mind. They paused to drink some water from the jugs that were kept aboard the cart.

When they had each devoured a sufficient amount of water and were ready to start unloading the bales, Adam Kane said, “Though we pray daily about this situation, we’re human, and Mama’s condition keeps everyone in the family on edge…especially Papa. He carries her suffering every waking hour of every day. Papa has said that he knows the Lord has allowed Mama to have this disease for a reason, and though our whole family, our pastor and his wife, and many close friends in the church have been praying for God to heal her of the disease, it becomes progressively worse. Only recently Papa told the family that he knows it is God’s will for Mama to go to heaven very soon.”

Alan nodded. “And though Papa has accepted this, as a mortal being, the knowledge that his beloved wife will die soon gnaws at his insides.”

“I can understand that,” Will Benson said.

“But let me tell you this,” Jack said. “Will and I and our wives will be praying for God’s grace on your whole family in this time of great trial.”

Adam smiled. “Thank you.”

“Yes.” Alan smiled. “This means very much to us. Thank you.”

At that moment, all four men saw Abram Kane come around the halfempty cart next to them. “Will…Jack…I want to thank you for praying for our family.”

Abram saw their surprise at seeing him appear and said, “Ben and I are working on this cart to your right, along with our other co-workers. I only noticed it was you a few minutes ago. I couldn’t help but hear your conversation.” He set his soft gaze on his sons. “Adam…Alan…I deeply appreciate your feelings toward me in the burden I carry for your dying mother. is quite difficult for me to face the fact that she will soon be going to heaven and I will not have her love and companionship here on earth in the latter years of my life.”

Adam and Alan stepped up to their father simultaneously, as if it had been rehearsed, and wrapped their arms around him. With tears in their eyes, they told him how much they loved him and that they would always stand by him when their mother was gone.

While tears spilled down his cheeks, Abram hugged them back and thanked them for being the good sons they were. As he and his sons let go of each other, Abram said, “See you at lunchtime.”

When Adam and Alan rejoined the Benson brothers at their cart, Abram was still on the edge of weeping. He decided to take a little time to gain control of his emotions before returning to Ben Delsart and the other workers at their cart. He made his way along the edge of the dock until he came to the end of it and stood staring beyond narrow Deer Island at the deep blue Atlantic Ocean.

Abram’s heart was heavy, but he was not wallowing in self-pity, nor was he bitter toward the Lord for allowing Kitty to have the dreadful disease. He did, however, have grievous feelings toward the situation. Watching his precious wife slowly dying kept him constantly on edge.

Abram Kane’s mind went back to the day when he first caught sight of the fair colleen Kitty Foyle. She was standing alone on the beach of Dublin Bay on the Irish Sea, looking out at the sunlit surface of blue. Her Irish red-gold hair glowed in the summer sunshine, and as she turned toward him and smiled, he was struck by her bright, sparkling green eyes. In that instant, his heart leaped toward the beautiful Kitty Foyle.

They began to talk and found that they had much in common, and that evening, on their first date, they fell in love.

As the years rolled by in his mind, a sad smile crossed Abram’s features as he pictured his beloved wife on the screen of his mind. Her red-gold hair was now streaked with silver, and her long illness had dulled her once brilliant locks. Her green eyes were now filled with pain, yet her smile still shone whenever she saw him enter the room. The love between them was almost a tangible thing, and in Abram’s mind she was as lovely as the first day their eyes met on the beach of Dublin Bay.

Abram raised his eyes toward the azure sky. “Lord, I don’t even pretend to understand why this dreadful thing is happening to my precious Kitty. I know that You have allowed it, and that is all that really matters. Please help me accept Your will, and give me Your peace and Your grace.

“Dear Father, You watched Your only begotten Son suffer and die on Calvary’s cross, so I know that You can feel my sorrow and pain. Help me to trust and not be afraid. Use me as Your witness to those around me. In Jesus’ name, I ask it. Amen and amen.”

Squaring his shoulders, Abram Kane turned from the sunlit sea and returned to the men, who were just taking the last bales off the cart.

By the time Abram, Ben, and their fellow workers had returned to the ship with the empty cart, it was noon. A number of cotton bales had been placed on the dock for the workers to sit on while eating lunch. All of them were carrying lunch pails and found places to sit.

Abram was just sitting down with his four sons, the Benson brothers, and Ben Delsart when Adam glanced off to his right, then turned back to his father. “Papa, here comes Lee Nevins. He’s got his eyes fixed on you.” The others in their group looked up and saw Nevins’s hulking form coming their way.

“Papa,” Alan said, “you want me to take him on? He and I are closer to the same age.”

Abram shook his head. “No, son. Even if you whipped him, it wouldn’t change his insatiable desire to take my title from me.”

As Nevins drew near, Abram’s sons and friends saw the cocky sneer on his face, a definite signal that he was going to do his best to prod Abram into a fight.

Meet the author:
Al Lacy

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