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  • Teresa Keefer

The Gambler and the Preacher's Daughter - 4

They were sitting at the small table in their rooms eating a dinner of beans and cornbread when her father looked over at her and frowned. “I don’t like you spending all your time alone and after the incident today, I don’t want you wandering about town on your own.” He steepled his fingers under his chin. “I spoke to Mr. Burke. He would like someone to teach his son to read. I will escort you there each morning and walk you home in the evening when I am finished at the church.”

Her stomach fell. She didn’t like Mr. Burke for a lot of reasons. “I’m quite fine staying in our rooms until you find a more permanent place for us to live. Then I will busy myself making a home for us.”

“Nonsense. It could be several months before we have a proper home to live in.” He shook his head. “No. I think it best you go spend the days with the young Burke boy.”

“You could always send me back east to live with…”

He held up a hand. “You will do as I say. And you will steer clear of Mr. McGraw. We don’t want the townsfolk thinking ill of you.”

She liked Rusty McGraw. In the short stroll from the saloon front to the church, she found him to be intelligent and polite. And her father was going to forbid her from talking to him? Letty turned up her nose. She didn’t like to be impertinent with her father, but she wasn’t the one who decided to come to this place, leaving her friends and family behind. “Mr. McGraw was a gentleman the entire time. And had he not come along when he had, I might have been assaulted.”

“You heard me, Leticia. Steer clear of the man.” He put his bowl aside and leaned forward. “Remember, there are those who appear to be sheep in a wolf’s skin.”

She lowered her gaze to her partially empty bowl. “I am a good judge of character. And if anyone is a wolf in sheep’s skin, it is Mr. Burke.”

“Mr. Burke is a fine man. Perhaps, you could even do some of the things around his house that a woman should be doing.”

A chill went up her spine. Was her father trying to pair her off with his friend? She had heard rumors of what had happened with his wife from eavesdropping at the top of the stairs leading to the general store. The woman had been rumored to have tired of his forays into the hallways above the saloons and slipped away into the night, leaving her son behind. She had also been rumored to have been a

showgirl at one time and decided to run off to the west coast to join a troupe of dancers. Either way, she had no interest in spending any time with William Burke.

“And do you not think the people of this town would not talk if I were to spend time alone at the Burke house?” Her brown eyes flashed across the table at her father.

“He has a nanny and housekeeper. She will be there as well.”

“Perhaps, she could teach the boy to read.” Letty stood and collected their bowls to wash in the pot of water warming on the stove.

“Mr. Burke’s housekeeper is Mexican. She cannot speak English, nor can she read.” He picked up his Bible and went over to sit in the chair by the window. “It is decided. Starting tomorrow, you will go to the Burke home and work with young David on his reading and writing. You are a smart girl, it will do you no harm to share your knowledge with a little boy.”

Letty washed the dishes and dried them with the linen towel, stacking them on the dresser next to their scant collection of dishes and silver. Her father had dismissed her and was now reading his Bible in the light from the oil lamp. The room was warm from the stove, and she felt sweat gather on her brow. How she wished she could draw a nice bath in the metal tub leaning against the wall. But baths were reserved for the daytime when she could go to the well behind the building.

She stalked over to the basket next to her father’s chair to collect the book she was reading and went into the small room with the narrow, quilt covered bed. Letty closed the door, took the couple of steps to the small window raising it a few inches to allow some of the spring breeze to cool her. As she lay on the bed reading, she could hear the raucous noise coming from the saloons. Piano music with male and female laughter. She wondered what would have happened if she had snuck through the swinging doors of the Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon and sat down at the piano today. She sat up to gaze outside and saw two of the prostitutes dressed in their revealing dresses laughing with two drunk miners. One of them caught her looking and waved up at her. The girl could not have been any older than herself. Letty let the curtains drop to resume laying on the bed to try to sleep, but instead tossing and turning at the thought of being forced to spend time at the Burke home


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