For Such A Time As This by Lydia Anne Klima by Lydia Anne Klima - Read Online

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For Such A Time As This - Lydia Anne Klima

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Chapter One


Get down from the wagon, Rev.

The young man in the bowler blocked the dirt road out of the hotel. Gloved hands on hips, he pushed aside his high-buttoned sack coat to reveal a pair of pearl-handled Smith and Wessons.

Grasping the reins, Reverend Goodman heard the mission team in the wagon bed behind him start to pray. For their sake, he had to be strong, so he squared his shoulders; then he addressed the young man in a firm voice.

Now see here. We’ve nothing against you, but if you don’t move, I’ll run you over.

The young man cleared his throat and spat in the red dust. You can’t run me over, Rev. You’re a preach.

We must get to California. Now kindly step aside.

A wicked grin split the young man’s face. His straight teeth were as white as the sun-bleached cow skull along the road. He held up a gloved hand and said, I’ll step aside under two conditions. Number one. He extended an index finger. I want your mission money. Number two: One of you must stay behind; the rest can leave. The young man’s eyes fell upon the young women in the wagon bed.

Innocent teenaged girls, the Kilroy twins resembled children in their wide-brimmed straw hats and muslin print dresses. They shielded their breasts, and then they faced Doc Townsend with wide pleading eyes, but eighteen-year-old Jill McKendrick was not as coy. She was their newest convert, a beautiful girl with raven-black hair and an ivory complexion that hinted at an Irish ancestry. Jill gave the young man a baleful stare.

Reverend Goodman felt hot blood course through his veins. Your demands are out of the question. Now step aside!

Snapping the reins, Reverend Goodman urged the bays forward, but the young man grabbed a horse by its bridle and made the bays stop. Then drawing a Smith and Wesson, he thrust his gun in Reverend Goodman’s face. Get down from the wagon, Rev, or I’ll blow your head off.

With sighs of frustration and groans of disgust, the small band of missionaries returned to the Sunset Hotel after having checked out ten minutes ago. Dressed in a secondhand maternity gown, Mrs. Goodman laid a hand on her swollen abdomen wishing she could be free of the corset that bound her. Who is this young man? she asked. Why does he bully us?

His name’s Kennedy. Jill stepped out of the shadows wearing a striped polonaise with pleated sleeves. He’s been watching us since we arrived.

Amy Kilroy sneered at Jill. How do you know?

He’s a guest, I observe things.

A small man, Doc Townsend adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, knowing someone would rescue them. Don’t worry, ladies. Señora Oñate will help us.

Mrs. Goodman rolled her eyes. How can she help? She doesn’t speak English.

Tombstone’s over the next hill, Doc replied. Someone’s bound to rescue us.

Rescue us? Amelia Kilroy gave a caustic laugh. Look around you. The lobby’s empty. This place is a dump.

Reverend Goodman had remained silent until now. Clasping the lapels of his double-breasted frock coat, he cleared his throat to draw their attention. If God brought us this far, He’ll bring us the rest of the way. Ladies, take Mrs. Goodman back to her room. Doc and I must talk.

After the women left, the gentlemen sat down at a wobbly spindle-legged table. Reverend Goodman could still feel the hot sun on his neck and taste dust in his mouth. The trouble with young men like Kennedy was they had no respect for authority. In this year alone, two great men had been assassinated: President Garfield and Alexander II of Russia. The former had joined the Union Army because of his antislavery views; the latter had emancipated the serfs. Today, rebellious young men were on every corner. As a result, God poured out His judgment, allowing severe drought to strike the eastern United Sates. New York City had run out of water and people in many cities were dying from heat exhaustion.

Reverend Goodman faced Doc, wondering if God was displeased with them. Kennedy knows we have money, he said. How is that possible?

He must have overheard us talking.

But we need that money for the Mission Indians.

When in doubt, pray.

Always one for eloquent prayers, Reverend Goodman removed his worn top hat, and then he bowed his head, but his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth.

Doc opened his eyes. What’s wrong?

A man shows his true character at times like this.

What are you saying? You’re a good man.

Am I? Reverend Goodman wagged his head. Kennedy wants a hostage. As head of the mission team, I should volunteer.

Nonsense. This trip took a great deal of planning. We won’t let Kennedy spoil it. Doc removed his derby, then sleeved sweet off his brow. Have you forgotten what we gave up to come here?"

Reverend Goodman shook his head, but Doc felt obliged to remind him. We sold all our possessions. We left behind family and friends. That takes a great deal of courage, doesn’t it?

Smiling ruefully, Reverend Goodman thumped his friend’s back, and then he bowed his head to pray, but his prayer lacked its usual boldness and a little voice kept telling him they would never reach California.

Chapter Two

Four days later, the little band of missionaries sat down to lunch in the hotel’s musty dining room with the cracked adobe walls that let dust seep in. They ate the same food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: pork and beans heavily seasoned with mouth-scorching chilies. Mrs. Goodman could scarcely lift her eyes, the Kilroy twins wore dour faces, and the men examined their bowls to see if anything squirmed inside. Only Jill McKendrick made the best of it: she smiled, knowing everything would work out. After all, this was better than working at the Road to Hell Saloon and Brothel.

At last, Mrs. Goodman stood, placing a hand on her swollen abdomen. I’ve reached a decision, she said. I’ll go away with Mr. Kennedy.

Her husband scoffed, Don’t be ridiculous.

Gazing over his wire-rimmed glasses, Doc said, No, no. I’ll go. It’s only October. I’ll meet you in California by Thanksgiving.

Amelia Kilroy, a golden-haired lovely with red bows in her hair, faced Doc and cried, If you go, I’ll die!

She’s right, Mrs. Goodman said. We can’t stay here forever. I’m going to speak to Señora Oñate.

She doesn’t speak English, her husband reminded her.

Then I shall attempt nonverbal communication.

Mrs. Goodman marched into the kitchen, her fists clenched with determination, her lips thinned in fury. I’ll tell Señora Oñate just what I think of her, whether she understands me or not!

To Mrs. Goodman’s surprise, the kitchen was bright and friendly. Small opaque windows in the top of the adobe wall shed light on red chili and garlic ristras. A bronze woman with blue-black hair stirred a kettle in the fireplace, her back toward Mrs. Goodman.

Stomping one foot, Mrs. Goodman spoke in a voice that rang with authority. I demand to see Señora Oñate.

When the cook turned, Mrs. Goodman screamed.

The cook had a triangular hole in the center of her face. Someone had cut off her nose!

Mrs. Goodman kept screaming until the cook ran out of the kitchen flailing her arms.

A second later, Reverend Goodman ran in, followed by Doc Townsend.

Mrs. Goodman fell against her husband, gasping for breath. The cook….Someone cut off…her nose.

A harsh voice interrupted them.

You no belong here. Morning Dove work for me, not you.

An obese Mexican woman appeared in a doorway tacked with dried herbs, her pockmarked face pinched with anger. It was Señora Oñate, their innkeeper.

Mrs. Goodman straightened herself to her full height, and then she smoothed down her draped overskirt. I’m tired of staying here, eating the same food day after day. Your rooms have bugs, the heat’s insufferable.

You no like, you leave.

We can’t leave, Reverend Goodman moaned. Mr. Kennedy wants a hostage.

He, I like. You, I no like.

Doc stared at Señora Oñate as if she had three heads. You speak English?


You never spoke it before.

I never wanted to speak to you. All you do is complain. You no like this, you no like that. Bueno. I no like you either. Get out.

Doc! Mrs. Goodman felt a sharp pain stab her groin.

Doc ran beside her. What is it?

The baby.

You must lie down immediately.

Her face gray with pain, Mrs. Goodman grabbed her husband’s arm. Find Kennedy. Give him what he wants, but do it quickly.

* *

That night, Mrs. Goodman’s screams could be heard throughout the ramshackle hotel, screams that echoed in the surrounding hills and sent a child down one’s spine.

Doc attended Mrs. Goodman while Reverend Goodman conducted a Bible study in the lobby in order to preserve his sanity. Seated before a kiva fireplace, he read the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis. The Kilroy twins, who heard it all before, merely yawned and slouched in their chairs while Jill McKendrick sat erect, her heart pounding. The story fascinated Jill: how Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and then he was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The story had a happy ending, however. After all his suffering, Joseph ruled Egypt, only second in command to Pharaoh, and he saved millions of people from starvation after a famine struck the Ancient World.

When Reverend Goodman finished reading, he set his Bible aside and said, Before Joseph served Pharaoh, he was enslaved for eleven years, then imprisoned for two. Imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He looked at each young woman severely. Is God just?

Jill’s heart fluttered. She clenched the folds of her ruffled underskirt. In retrospect, God didn’t seem just at all, but since the Kilroy twins didn’t offer an explanation, she meekly raised a hand.


I think God allowed Joseph to suffer.


Jill felt her cheeks burn. The Kilroy twins glared at her; they probably knew the answer, so she spoke slowly, as thoughts formed in her mind.

If Joseph wasn’t imprisoned,…he wouldn’t have come to Pharaoh’s attention….If he didn’t meet Pharaoh, he wouldn’t have ruled Egypt and stored grain for the famine, so millions of people would have perished.

Impressed, Reverend Goodman nodded with approval. So what do you conclude?

Sometimes God puts us through tests and trials…for a greater good.

You’re a smart young woman, Jill McKendrick. God has plans for you.

Inside her Spartan bedroom, Jill paced the dirt floor, stepping over the yucca mat that served as her bed. As she pondered the story of Joseph, she knew that God allowed her to meet the Goodmans, for these were the facts: The Goodmans had rescued her from a life of prostitution. She had new friends, who overlooked her past, friends who needed her help. So when the sun touched the low tan hills, she entered the U-shaped courtyard and saw Kennedy standing beneath the portico in a high-buttoned sack coat and checked trousers, his bowler cocked at a rakish angle.

She smiled with derision because she met Kennedy’s kind before, and they always came to a bad