The Gambler and the Preacher's Daughter - 5
A few weeks had passed since Letty started spending her days at the Burke home. The home sat on a hill above the town and was fancier than most. It spoke of William Burke’s wealth with its polished wood and brocade drapes. Little David was learning quickly and some days they sat in the small garden with the primers and the small blackboard. Today was one of those days and the sun shone brightly, warming the skin of her face. David was reading to her from the primer and would occasionally wander off to chase butterflies or the scrawny cat that wandered around the house frequently.
She knew Mr. Burke imbibed from the crystal decanter in the study as she had watched him on occasion. Her father would not approve, but she was not going to complain about Mr. Burke, as it did no good. Her father held the man in high regard
and nothing she could say would change his mind about him. She had also caught a glimpse of him sneaking up one of the stairwells by the saloon across the street from their rooms, and Letty knew he was probably taking advantage of one of the young prostitutes.
The housekeeper kept busy around the house when Letty was there, eying her on occasion with what was either distaste or pity. She wondered if Mr. Burke also took liberties with the woman but brushed the thought aside. It was unkind to brand someone with her imagination when she had no proof. Today, she heard the woman rattling off in her own language in the pantry, and when she went to see what the problem was, the woman had brushed past her with another string of words she didn’t understand.
She had seen Rusty a couple of times when her father had escorted her to the Burke home, but other than a lift of his hand, she had not been able to speak with him. Letty felt he was a kind man with his laughing eyes and broad smile. Unlike Mr. Burke with his smarmy smirk. Alas, he was probably already betrothed or married to some beautiful woman who waited patiently for him at their home. Wherever that might be.
David jumped up from his perch by the cat and shouted. “Daddy! Daddy! Miss Letty taught me to write my name! Come see.”
She cringed as she felt the man approach from behind and his long shadow fell across the lawn. From the sound of his steps on the grass, she knew something was amiss. He stumbled a little as he came to stand beside her. “Good afternoon, Leticia. It is a beautiful day for a stroll.” His words were slurred, and she could smell whiskey permeating the air around him.
Standing, she stepped away from him and nodded. “Good afternoon, Mr. Burke. Since you are home so early, I will leave young David with you and walk down to the church on my own.” When he tried to block her path, she stepped around him. “Excuse me, sir.”
“Don’t rush off, young lady. I would like to have a chat with you.” His hand snaked out to take her arm, and she jumped out of his reach.
“I need to go. It is still daylight and I can safely find my way to my father on my own.” She walked rapidly across the lawn toward the side of the house and felt him catch up with her. It made her nervous.
“I have a proposition for you. I need a wife and you need a husband to protect you. My son needs a mother.” He caught the fabric of her dress. “I am sure your father would be amenable to marrying us this coming weekend.”
She turned and slapped his hand away. “Take your hand off me! I have no interest in marrying you or anyone else!”
His eyes narrowed, and he gripped the soft flesh of her upper arm. “You will marry me. I have already spoken to your father and he felt I would make a suitable husband for you.” He leered at her and pulled her to him, his lips assaulting hers.
Letty lifted her hand and it cracked against the side of his head. He stumbled back, tripping over his feet, landing on the ground beside the house. She took the opportunity to run. Lifting her skirts, she ran down the hill and zigzagged across the ground between the house and the town below. She fell once, stumbling over a jutting rock, and felt her petticoat rip. But she righted herself and continued
running. She just didn’t know where she was going to go. How could her father tell his friend he could marry her without even consulting her? She was angry. Furious.
She reached the back of one of the saloons and ran headlong into a young woman dressed in her undergarments and washing a dress in a tub of soapy water. The girl’s eyes widened, and she caught her against her breast. “Whoa, there. Where are you headed in such a rush?”
Letty caught her breath and brushed the hair from her face. It had come loose in her escape from Mr. Burke. “I don’t know. Away. Far away from this damned town and that horrible man!”