The Preacher's Daughters by Lydia Anne Klima by Lydia Anne Klima - Read Online

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The Preacher's Daughters - Lydia Anne Klima

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ONE

Chapter One

ALBURQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO TERRITORY

JUNE 1890

Two sisters in straw boaters stood on the boardwalk passing out tracts to pedestrians. They were beautiful girls in striped blouses with puffed sleeves and red bowties. Long skirts, tightly belted at their waists, showed off their good figures, but discarded tracts littered the boardwalk and sweat trickled down their bosoms. They felt grimy and tired, and they wanted to go home. Then Kathleen McDade saw a paint can on the boardwalk and got a brilliant idea. She dipped a brush in the can and set to work. In less than two minutes, she completed her sign and showed it to her sister Keeley.

To Keeley’s mortification, there were only two words on the sign, but Keeley balked and said, We cain’t do that. We’ll go to hell.

Do you want to go home?

Yes, but—

Then follow my lead.

A dark-haired beauty of seventeen, Kathleen removed her bowtie and unbuttoned the top of her blouse to show some cleavage. Then she went in the street full of horseshit and whistled to every two-bit cowboy, dusty miner, and soldier that passed them on horseback.

Before long, the girls were surrounded by men, who eagerly took their tracts.

Fifteen minutes later, all their tracts were gone, and the girls drove back to the parsonage in their one-horse shay.

The following Sunday, the Upper Room Church in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains had a parking lot full of wagonettes, buggies, tethered mules, horses, and ponies. The sanctuary was filled beyond capacity. Rowdy cowboys looked like they just left the Road to Hell Saloon and Brothel. Long-bearded miners in muddy denims and waterproof boots reeked of body odor and sat beside respectable churchwomen in high-necked, lace dresses. A quartermaster sergeant of the infantry in a white summer helmet made eyes at Mary Lou Penwright, a girl of twelve with a generous bosom. Mrs. Penwright, wedged in between two coolies, was about to lose her mind.

Suddenly, a cross-eyed cowboy shot off his Smith & Wesson and demanded to see Kathleen and Keeley.

When the sisters appeared, the men cheered.

Pastor McDade, new pastor at the Upper Room, stood in between his daughters and raised his hands to silence everyone.

Brothers, sisters, ladies and gentlemen, I’m Pastor Owen McDade, former missionary to China. It gives me great pleasure to present my daughters Kathleen and Keeley. They’ll begin our service by leading praise and worship.

As the sisters came forward, they received wolf whistles and cheers.

Before pandemonium broke out, the sisters sang in perfect harmony, but it wasn’t a traditional hymn. They sang new music, strange to people’s ears. They started a cappella, singing lyrics that contained the words sin, grace, and mercy. After repeating the first two stanzas, Tate Hampton, the drummer, delivered a lively beat, and Kathleen belted out a solo center stage in her strong Southern accent. Conceit and self-confidence oozed out of her. Her infectious smile melted hearts. She swayed, she danced. Her tight bodice and form-fitting skirt showed off her amazing figure.

Soon the cowboys, miners, and soldiers grabbed the teenaged girls and started dancing.

Mabel Weatherbee and her respectable lady friends promptly shot up and marched out of church.

Undeterred, Kathleen sang two more songs while Keeley did backup vocals. Rake Brightman, the nineteen-year-old fiddler, grew wilder and wilder. Ching Ho banged the ivories while Tate Hampton twirled drumsticks over his head.

Kathleen’s last song was a slow, mournful ballade about an unrepentant sinner going straight to hell. The song was so convicting, the cowboys, miners, and soldiers stopped dancing to wipe their misty eyes.

When Kathleen finished, Pastor McDade gave the invitation and men swarmed the altar while the McDade sisters quietly exited the church through a side door.

The rest of the men followed the sisters outside, as did the stunningly beautiful Dovile Gibson and her Amazon secretary Miss Mary Alice Hayes.

In the church parking lot, Kathleen and Keeley stood in the blazing sun while two lines of men formed before them. Trent and Casey Brightman kept time on their pocket watches. The sisters kissed each soldier, miner, cowboy, Mexican, and coolie for thirty seconds. When time was up, the Brightman Twins tapped the men’s shoulders and told them to get lost. Old men and boys under thirteen were given a peck on the cheek.

Dressed in white, holding a parasol, Dovile watched Wayne Sanderson, a forty-nine-year-old rancher, approach Kathleen with his arms extended for a bear hug.

Short, fat, and balding, Wayne had a bushy red beard full of breakfast crumbs. He puckered his lips for a big slobbering kiss, but Kathleen held him at bay and wrinkled her nose.

You repulse me, Mr. Sanderson. Spewing whiskey breath all over me and on a Sunday morning.

Shucks, I rode a long way to see ya.

So did a hundred other fellers. She nodded to the long line of men. You’re just a number, Mr. Sanderson. She pecked his cheek, then shoved him aside.

The next man in line was Tate Hampton, the band’s drummer, a handsome cowboy of nineteen and a rodeo champion. Tate took Kathleen in his arms, dipped her down and gave her a long steamy kiss that almost suffocated her.

When Tate went past the thirty seconds, Kathleen beat his chest. Tate released her, threw his Stetson in the air and gave a whoop of victory.

Wiping her mouth, Kathleen scoffed, You disgust me, Tate Hampton!

Well, get used to it ‘cause you’re my girl!

Meanwhile, over in Keeley’s line, Ching Ho, the glitzy piano player, stood before Keeley with twinkling eyes. Tall for a Chinaman with a toothy grin, Ching had fallen in love with Keeley at first sight. It was the same with Keeley. She fell into Ching’s arms and kissed him ever so sweetly. Why, their kiss went on and on until the men in Keeley’s line complained about it.

Time’s up! Stop kissing that flat-faced, yeller-skinned varmint. The soldier in a white summer helmet punched Ching.

Ching fell to the ground, stunned. When he recovered, he jumped to his feet and assumed an attack stance: his hands resembled swirling knives.

The soldiers raised their fists, but Ching kicked them in face and knocked them out cold.

After that, all the men started fighting.

Alonzo Brightman, distinguished church elder, came outside and fired his six-guns in the air, but it made no difference: the men kept fighting.

Dovile Gibson and her Amazon secretary drove home in their horse and buggy, quietly contemplating this morning's service. After a while, Dovile asked, What do you think of the new preacher’s daughters?

Mary Alice, dressed in a black riding habit, responded in her whispering voice. Such beautiful girls. So divinely talented. I believe everyone's in love with them.

Dovile wore an all-knowing smile. Kathleen McDade was indeed gorgeous, and by the way she handled men, she was certainly no virgin.

The next morning, Mabel Weatherbee and her respectable lady friends stood before Pastor McDade in the church office demanding justice.

Alonzo Brightman, distinguished church elder, was there to lend support. He stood behind Pastor McDade, who was seated at his desk while the tightly corseted churchwomen glowered at them in high-crowned hats and high-necked dresses, the picture of small-town respectability.

Mrs. Weatherbee came forward and spoke in behalf of her lady friends, her voice charged with emotion.

"Never in all my borne days have I witnessed such a circus atmosphere as yesterday. We don’t come to church to be entertained, Pastor. That was the worst praise and worship ever."

Ladies, we had no idea so many folks would show up. No doubt the packed sanctuary left many people uncomfortable.

"Well," Mrs. Weatherbee said, her voice hardening, we want that old pump organ and ladies’ choir back.

The churchwomen gave ferocious nods.

Pastor McDade understood their distress. "Ladies, ladies, please. Not everyone likes my daughter’s music, but we’ve had more compliments than complaints. Right, Alonzo?"

Alonzo Brightman nodded. Being handsome and the richest man in the county, women magnetized to him, and Alonzo loved it.

That’s right, Alonzo said. People love Miss Kathleen’s music and have requested it for next Sunday.

A put-upon sigh, Mrs. Weatherbee: Then you won’t be seeing us, Pastor. No girl of seventeen should be up on that altar, swinging her hips. It was an abomination.

Pastor McDade nodded with commiseration. Be that as it may, twelve men got saved yesterday.

Incensed, Mrs. Weatherbee was at a loss for words. Then another distressing thought crossed her mind. By the by, why were so many Chinamen in church?

As you know, my wife and I are former missionaries to China. It’s only natural for the Chinese to be here.

Good heavens, Pastor. Who will be welcomed next?... Coloreds? Mrs. Weatherbee spun around and left, accompanied by her respectable lady friends. They stopped attending the Upper Room and spread vicious gossip about it to make sure no one attended the Upper Room again. Their gossip backfired, however. More folks showed up the following Sunday. Kathleen’s singing and legendary beauty excited the imaginations of people, but to silence people's prejudice, the elders had two morning services for Anglos and one afternoon service for the Chinese. Not only did church membership explode, but Kathleen and Keeley became the most popular girls in town.

The girls’ unconventional evangelism had to be dealt with, however. Their parents addressed them in the parsonage after dinner one evening.

Kathleen stood before them, trying to explain why so many men attended their church.

Well Daddy, Keeley and I got tired of standing in the hot sun passin’ out tracts, so I painted a sign that read FREE KISSES. We promised to kiss each fella who showed up on Sunday.

A small, gray-haired woman with a flat chest, Mrs. McDade rolled her eyes. Really, child. What will people think of us?

Kathleen shrugged. It worked, Momma. Our church is filled beyond capacity, and since our well-being depends on membership, the more people who attend, the better.

Pastor McDade knew his daughter made light of this, so he would reason with her. We’ve also lost people, Kathleen. Regardless, you and Keeley were wrong, so the elders have decided to make an example out of you.

Kathleen’s face fell, Keeley stifled a sob.

Like a county judge, Pastor McDade announced their sentence. You and Keeley will make food baskets for the poor and the needy at Dovile Gibson’s house in Old Town. You will report to her house tomorrow afternoon and do exactly as she tells you.

After the girls left, Pastor McDade addressed his wife with his hands clasped behind his back, his face profoundly serious.

I didn’t want to punish them, Abby, but it had to be done.

That Kathleen’s a wild one.

It’s just a phase; she’ll grow out of it. Besides, Alonzo just tallied the Sunday collections.

And?

Our donations have tripled!

Mrs. McDade praised God for His generosity, but worried about Kathleen’s rebellious spirit. Still, Pastor McDade knew his daughter had talent. The bottom line?

That old pump organ and ladies’ choir were history.

Chapter Two

Their jaws hanging, Kathleen and Keeley stood before Dovile Gibson’s fifty-four room Second Empire mansion on the outskirts of Old Town. An ornate horseshoe staircase led to the second-floor visitors’ entrance. Mansard roofs. A gray stone façade. Striped awnings covered oblong windows that led to a wrap-around porch with wicker furniture.

Nobody knew much about Miss Gibson other than she was twenty-one years old, gorgeous, and filthy rich. It was rumored that she had shot her lover and left him to die in the Mojave Desert; that she preferred women; and that her mother married a hard-drinking Irishman after he struck gold in California. Miss Gibson helped anyone in need, no questions asked. Originally from San Francisco, she spent her summers in Albuquerque writing poetry and baking for friends. For reasons of purity, she always dressed in white. The doors of her mansion were covered by a flat roof supported by Corinthian columns.

An Apache woman with a sliced off nose answered the door, eyeing Kathleen and Keeley with suspicion. Kathleen stared at the Apache, slack-jawed. Then coming to her senses, she curtsied and said, I’m Kathleen McDade. This is my sister Keeley. We’re here for the I Care Ministry.

I’m Tall Willows, Miss Gibson's housekeeper. Follow me. Tall Willows brought them in an office near the double front doors.

Why, the girls never saw such opulence, except at the imperial palace in Peking. An oak desk was positioned before a mirrored fireplace, and a bookshelf made of inlaid wood had tree and leaf motifs. An Amazon woman stood before the desk and greeted them with a firm handshake. She stood around six feet tall. She was wide, but not fat. She wore a black dress with leg-o’-mutton sleeves and a ruffled collar. Her fierce disposition vanished with a smile, and her voice seemed to come from another body because she spoke above a whisper.

Hello. I’m Mary Alice Hayes, Miss Gibson’s secretary. How do you do?

We’re fine, the girls replied in unison.

You sound like you don’t want to be here.

We don’t mind, Kathleen replied.

Then come with me.

Mary Alice brought them in a dining room with a bay window and a built-in China buffet made of bird’s eye maple. Numerous mirrors reflected the light in the room to make the room even brighter. A six-arm chandelier hung over a twenty-foot-long dining table that contained boxes of dried fruit, canned goods, medicine, sausages, loaves of bread, and stick candy.

Mary Alice gestured to a pile of baskets on the floor. Each basket gets a different numbers of items. Here’s the list telling you how much goes in each basket. When you’re done, place the baskets on the floor in neat rows. We need one hundred twenty-five of them.

Good heavens! Keeley exclaimed. Who gets ‘em?

Widows, orphans, struggling families. Mary Alice winked at them, then started to leave. If you need me, I’ll be in my office. She left, shutting the pocket doors with the etched glass.

Back inside the office, the flawless beauty Dovile dictated notes to Mary Alice, but when the sound of angelic singing filled the house, Dovile lost her train of thought.

What’s that? Dovile asked.

Pastor McDade’s daughters are here.

The girls singing grew louder and louder until Mary Alice stood. Should I silence them?

Heavens no. I’m enjoying every moment.

The following week, Dovile put Kathleen and Keeley in the formal parlor across the hall from her office. Tall Willows shut the portiere to give them privacy.

Before long, the girls started singing and playing the Steinway grand.

Dovile and Mary Alice listened from their office.

At length, Mary Alice cupped her chin in a hand and sighed. Kathleen McDade’s not only gorgeous, but I believe she could turn professional.

So do I, Dovile said musingly. So do I.

Of course it took the sisters twice as long to make the baskets, but the sound of heaven filled the house, convincing Dovile that Kathleen had a promising future.

* *

The next afternoon, Dovile ate lunch at Miss Ruta’s Tearoom in the Old Town Plaza, named after her departed mother. Seated at a café table, Dovile read a collection of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her customers were mild-mannered old ladies in large plumed hats and high-necked dresses, who talked about their grandkids and the latest town gossip. So when a woman in a tattered dress walked in, the tearoom fell silent.

The destitute woman wore an old dress with striped trim at least ten years old. She had a hard, weathered look. She was Naomi Watkins, the mother of ten, whose husband had died recently. She approached Dovile and curtsied.

Good afternoon, Miss Gibson. May I set down?

By all means. Would you like a cup of tea?

No thanks.

Naomi sat, admiring Dovile’s grace and beauty. Then she came straight to the point.

Miss Gibson, I know you’re a generous soul, who never turns away anyone in need.

How may I help you?

If I don’t come up with tax money, I’ll lose my farm. A desperate voice: Please help me, Miss Gibson. I’ll cook and clean for you. My children can do odd jobs around your house. We’ll do anything as long as it’s respectable.

Opening her reticule, Dovile pulled out a check and gave it to Naomi. I was in prayer this morning, Mrs. Watkins. I believe this should cover your taxes.

Naomi looked at the check and gaped. It’s the exact amount of tax money I owe! Naomi burst into tears and could not be consoled.

Dovile gave Naomi a hanky, then poured her a cup of tea.

After Naomi calmed down, she dabbed her eyes and spoke in a broken voice. I don’t know how to repay you, Miss Gibson.

No need. It gives me joy to help people. Now I want you to go to New Creations Dress Shop and order two dresses. Send me the bill. If your children are hungry, they may eat here for free. I only ask that they display good manners out of respect for my patrons.

Thank you, Miss Gibson. Bless you.

After Naomi left, the old ladies in the tearoom applauded, but Dovile shook it off and ordered everyone dessert.

Meanwhile, outside the tearoom stood a drop-dead handsome cowboy dressed in black and leather. He was a god among men, who brought out the carnal instincts in women that made them lose their minds. He was Lex Bradshaw, the no-account nephew of Alonzo Brightman, distinguished church elder. Lex had watched Dovile enter the tearoom a while ago.

Throwing back his shoulders, he entered the tearoom with supreme arrogance.

The old ladies tittered when they saw Lex, but he ignored them and went toward Dovile. He walked in between round tables in a slow stride, with that sexy cowboy swagger. His tight Levi’s showed off his shapely behind. His dusty boots were caked with cow shit, but what the hell. He stopped before Dovile and stood with his legs spread, his fists bunched at his sides, the epitome of male aggression, but for some reason Dovile ignored him.

Confident as ever, Lex turned a café chair around and sat down, resting his muscular arms on the back of his chair. He stared at Dovile, unable to take his eyes off her.

Dovile wore a delicate tea gown with large sleeves and a high-boned collar, the picture of saintly womanhood. Her breasts were extremely noticeable through her Basque bodice. In fact, he had to hold back from grabbing her. Since Dovile kept reading, he spoke in a deep voice that drove women crazy.

You’re lucky day is here, darlin’. Your days of sexual frustration are over. Old Lex will keep you screamin’.

Dovile kept reading.

Lex began to sweat. After all, he had that Town Stud reputation to uphold, so he