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  • Teresa Keefer

The Gambler and the Preacher's Daughter - 3

When Letty stepped outside, the rickety boards of the walkway creaked under her slight weight. In Pittsburgh, they had cobblestones and bricks to stroll upon. Here, the wooden boards lined both sides of the muddy street and were just high enough to keep one’s skirts from dragging in the dirt. Their rooms above the general store were at the opposite end of the main street which was peppered with saloons built to join each other by the rooms above. In her eavesdropping, she had heard those rooms were where the prostitutes lived. Occasionally, she would get a glimpse of one of them skittering along in their low-cut dresses. Once, she even saw one—naked except for her bloomers and chemise—climb out of an upstairs window and slide down the metal awning that sheltered the saloon entrance below.


Remembering her father’s warning about the fever running rampant in the town, she put a kerchief to her mouth and nose. It was better to smell the lavender of the sachet in her trunk than to smell the odor of feces, rotting garbage, or whiskey. So much for fresh air. As she approached Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon, she heard piano music playing a lively jig. She longed for her piano which sat in the parlor of their home back east where she could sit and play a lovely sonata. Letty


leaned against the building, just clear of the swinging saloon doors so she could listen to the music for a bit.


“Well now, what have we here?” A male’s voice, slurred from the whiskey, spoke close to her ear. Much too close. “Such a pretty little thing.”


She turned to face the man. He was dirty. His clothing was caked with mud, as was his boots. He hadn’t shaven, nor had he made any attempt to groom himself, and when he grinned, the teeth he did have were stained brown with tobacco. “Excuse me.” Letty tried to move away, but he was much quicker than she and he blocked her efforts.


Taking her by the arm, he tried to pull her inside the saloon. “Come on, let’s go in here and have a drink and do a little dancing. Ain’t no harm in having a little bit of fun during the day.”


“Please, sir. Let me be on my way.” She tried to free herself of his grip, but the dirty hand tightened on her upper arm. She closed her eyes and prayed he would leave her be.


A shot rang out, and she jumped. The man released his hold on her arm. Boots thudded on the wooden walkway, and a tall man came into sight as he pointed the smoking gun toward the dirty little man. “Get along now, Moses. Go on back to camp where you belong.” He stepped closer to where she was now plastered against the wall of the saloon.


He was tall and lean wearing a cattle duster coat, a knife sheathed on one hip and a holster on the other. A rifle was strapped on his back and the most magnificent black stallion moved impatiently behind him. He had a clean-shaven face except for a neatly trimmed moustache above his lip. When he removed his hat, it revealed dark auburn hair. He smiled and bowed. “Rusty McGraw at your service, Ma’am.”


Letty dipped her head shyly. “Thank you, sir. I’m grateful you came along when you did.”


“Where were you going on this fine, spring day?” He put his gun back in his holster. “And usually, when someone introduces themselves, they expect an introduction in return.”


Flustered, she put her hand to her breast. “Leticia Chasteen. I was going to see my father over at the new church.”


“Well then, I shall just accompany you so that I can assure no harm comes to you.” He motioned for her to proceed on her way and fell into step alongside her. “It was a smart move for good old Seth Bullock to call in favors and get a reverend out here in this lawless excuse for a town.”


He was referring to the new sheriff in town. Mr. Bullock himself had greeted them when their stage arrived in Deadwood. A kind man who promised he was going to do everything in his power to ensure the town became more of a civilized place for people to live. She had overheard her father speak of how Mr. Bullock had a wife and daughter that he would not bring here until the lawlessness had ended. Why her own father brought here, she had no idea.


They did not speak for most of the walk to the church, which was no more than a one room frame building with a roof overhead. Her father would move around the territory, preaching his sermons at different places throughout this Godless land, but his base would be here. Men on ladders and on the ground were hammering and sawing, her father sat in the center of it all with another group of men clustered around while he read the Bible. When he saw his daughter, he closed the book and stood.


Rusty closed the gap between them and held a hand out for the reverend to shake. “Sir, I escorted your daughter to you. Usually, during the day it is safe to walk the streets. Today, one of the miners was out of his head on the whiskey and attempted to accost her as she was taking an afternoon stroll.”


Her father’s brow wrinkled with concern as he shook Rusty’s hand then looked over at his daughter. “Are you alright? I’ll see you back to our rooms myself shortly.”


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