Chastity knew he was coming that day. Her mother foretold his visit.
“A man is coming to see you. He is on a mission, and requires your assistance.” She disappeared, “thock.”
Forking the last of her fried potatoes to her mouth, “That’s unusual. Usually she just goes back to her chair.”
Cousin George was hovering in the corner of her room, sunning himself and gazing out the window at the endless sea of Prairie.
Smiling gaily at him, “it is a beautiful morning, is it not general?”
Cool air tickled her ear. “It is a beautiful day. So different from Virginia. So very dry.”
Massaging her stumps, “it is the altitude I am told. We will have snow again soon. I feel it in my legs. I will have Mrs. Laine rub them with tincture of arnica before I dress. I am to have a guest today.”
Cousin George appeared by her side. “Be wary of this man you are to meet. He is in deadly earnest and will brook no nonsense. You must be absolutely straight with him. I knew his kind during the war. Extraordinarily ruthless in battle, they possess a vast capacity for kindness and empathy when they choose.” He faded from sight.
Chastity absently wiped a smudge of egg yolk from the corner of her mouth. Mrs. Laine would be coming to help her dress soon. She wished her legs did not ache so. “Damn Yankees.”
Using her legs today would be a great distraction. She must be herself, with no affectations. Abraxas would carry her. The big man was her legs a great deal of the time. Chastity wondered for the hundred thousandth time, what life would be like if her mother and father had survived the Siege of Richmond, and she had not lost her legs.
The Siege of Richmond; Chastity’s attention wandered in the horrific memory. The windows rattled from the concussion of distant artillery fire. The floor shook constantly from the bombardment. A terrified little girl and her mother huddled in a basement corner. Tears of grief etched the dust covering their faces. Father was dead, killed at the James River in the brutal fighting with Grant’s Eighteenth Corps. An insistent rhythmic vibration of great steam engines pressed down on the house. Intermittent flashes of bright blue flame emanating from gas jets of Yankee dirigibles lit the night sky. Three great Hamilton-class airships drifted over Church Hill. Bright, sparkling fuses traced lines from the gondolas of the aerial battlewagons to fiery blossoms on the neighborhood below. A grizzled Chief Gunners Mate pounded a ten second detonator into a thirty two pound exploding shell and dropped it through the cargo hatch. He watched the tremendous bomb crash through the roof of a house. A gigantic flaming fist punched down through the upstairs hallway, pierced the floor in the front sitting room and detonated in the cellar. Mother died instantly. White hot shrapnel filled five year old Chastity’s calves.
Chastity nearly bled to death from over a dozen wounds. An army surgeon removed her legs just above the knees. Like an odd dream, she remembered floating above the makeshift operating table, watching the doctor work. “He is cutting my legs off.”
Momma hovered next to her. “He must remove your legs, sweetness, else you perish.”
A brilliant white light enveloped them. Far away Papa called, “bring her home. Anna.”
Momma frowned, “it is not her time, Richard. She has much to achieve in this life. Important tasks to achieve and many suffering people to comfort.”
When Chastity woke up her legs were gone. She lay in a narrow bed in a strange house. A nursing sister was applying a cool compress to her forehead. “Hello, little one. You gave us a fright. Can you speak?”
Licking her dry lips, “yes’m”.
Sister stroked her hair. “What is your name Lamb?”
Her fever-ravaged eyes took in the room. “Chastity Corbell, ma’am. Why are Momma and Papa here with that Yankee?” Pointing.
Sister changed the compress on her forehead. “There is no one here but us child.”
Turning her head toward the window. “Momma is right next to you. Papa and the Yankee are over by the window.”
Sister felt a chill on her arm. She looked about the room. She and the child were alone. Chastity remained adamant.
“I will just get the doctor.” She hurried from the room.
Moments later Sister returned with the surgeon. He bent over Chastity, looking into her eyes, checking her pulse and temperature. “Sister Ruth tells me you have some visitors.”
Smiling weakly. “I do. Momma is there next to you. Papa and the Yankee are by the window.”
The doctor felt a chill on his left arm. “I see. Chastity, sometimes when a person is badly injured. They see things that are not there.”
The chill moved past the doctor’s neck.
“Do not go! You hurt their feelings. They are leaving. Momma and Papa are gone.” She looked at the window. “Why are you here?”
The union officer stared at her. Sadness lined his face. The doctor drew the cover lit up to her chin. “There is nothing to fear. No need to upset yourself. I am here to help you Chastity.”
Pointing toward the window. “I am talking to that Yankee.”
The union officer walked through the door.
“Oh! He is gone.”
The doctor motioned the nurse toward the door. “Sister Ruth and I will be right back.”
Outside in the hallway, “Sister Ruth give her a dose of laudnum with tincture of valerian. Mix it with a dollop of honey and camomile tea. She needs rest. I nearly lost her in surgery. She is in shock. When she awakens, feed her some meat in a strong broth. Anything you can lay your hands on.”
“Yes doctor.” Sister Ruth hurried to carry out his orders.
The surgeon peeked in on the child once more. She was smiling, nodding her head, and murmuring to the oil lamp on the bed table.
Chastity recovered quickly. She learned not to talk with her visitors when Sister Ruth was about. She did not care for the special tea she had to drink when Sister Ruth caught her talking to the lamp. Her incisions healed, Chastity went to live with her aunt in Lynchburg. Her aunt soon grew weary of the child, unnerved by her conversations with dead parents and imaginary visitors. Chastity next went to live with her father’s relations in Fredericksburg.
At fourteen, after being shuffled through a succession of relations, Chastity came to live with her father’s cousin, LaSalle (Sally) Corbell-Pickett. The wife of Major General George Pickett, whom Chastity would come to call Cousin George. Chastity, Sally and Cousin George got along famously. Arriving soon after the loss of their son David, the Picketts doted on Chastity, showering her with affection. They loved her as their own. Sally and Cousin George ignored her eccentricity. The child showed uncommon good sense not to notice her imaginary visitors in mixed company or when George Junior was about.
A year after receiving a full pardon for his service to the Confederacy, Cousin George died of a liver abscess in July 1875. Sally, George Junior, and Chastity grieved his loss deeply. Cousin George’s spirit would not rest. He paid nearly daily visits to Chastity. He compounded her grief with pleas to write letters begging forgiveness from families of the men lost at Gettysburg. Not knowing what to do and unable to cope with the burden, she finally revealed the General’s visits to Cousin Sally. Another move was arranged. Chastity was 16 when she went to live with Arthur and Portia Reese, her elderly distant cousins in Denver, Colorado. They were childless and saw it as their Christian duty to take in the poor, crippled waif.
At first, the little ad hoc family got on well. The Reeses were a comfortable well-to-do couple, her mother’s cousins twice removed. Arthur Reese sold mining equipment, provisions and possibles to prospectors traveling to the numerous Colorado diggings or headed for the burgeoning Black Hills Gold Rush at Deadwood Gulch. Good Christians, they were members of Trinity United Methodist Church.
The months passed. The Reeses noticed Chastity was quiet, reserved and spiritual. Late in the evenings, they could hear the child murmuring in her room. Assuming she was deep in prayer, they let her be. Portia believed she was lonely and in need of company her own age. Chastity had a pair of ill-fitting prosthetic legs. Portia took her to see a specialist at St. Joseph’s, Denver’s modern new hospital. Soon Chastity was learning to walk on new legs without the aid of crutches.
Portia made great efforts to be supportive. “We want to look normal and whole, don’t we? We will never land a husband hobbling about on sticks.”
“You already have a husband!” Chastity swallowed the offense. “Yes, cousin Portia.”
Try as she might Chastity did not fit into Denver society. She felt too old for school and awkward around the other congregants at the Sunday afternoon church socials. The inability to dance made her a wallflower at the seasonal Cotillion’s. Cousin Portia, ever helpful, started inviting the eligible sons in her circle of friends to dine with the family.
Two weeks before her eighteenth birthday, Mrs. Reese invited another ‘nice young man’ to dinner. Chastity was never adept with small talk. She was self conscious and dreadfully shy around young men. That evening, distracted by her mother’s apparition glowering at the youth from across the room, she barely spoke a dozen words during the meal. Afterwards, Cousin Arthur allowed the young people to sit on the veranda in the moonlight. Failing at conversation, the boy clumsily tried to steal a kiss. His innocent advance garnered a sharp slap to the face and he left in a huff, “see if I ever come to dinner again. My friends were right about you!”
Chastity swallowed the lump in her throat.
“He really was a nice-looking lad.”
Limping to a side door off the veranda, she let herself into the library. Poking up the coals in the grate to revive the fire, she threw herself on the settee and began to cry silently.
A cool breeze caressed her cheek.
Choking off a sob. “Oh Momma. I am so useless and tongue-tied. I don’t know what to say to men. Why were you glaring at him so?”
The coolness smoothed her hair.
“He was a charlatan, dearest. He accepted Portia’s invitation as a wager with his friends to win a kiss from you.”
Tears flowing in a torrent now. “No, Momma! How could he? I had never met him until tonight. Cousin Portia said he was a nice young man of good family, studying law back East.”
The coolness moved away from her. Mother materialized in the wingback chair next to the fire.
“He is of good family sweetness. Portia’s efforts, bless her heart, are the subject of much speculation in Denver society. Your shyness and reserve have become legend. Your beauty combined with being crippled have given you quite a mysterious air.”
Drawing a stunned breath, halting both tears and sobbing. “Oh Momma! What a ridiculous notion.”
Chuckling. “Nevertheless, dear. You are a popular topic of conversation among the eligible bachelors of Denver.”
Chastity blushed. “Now, Momma –”
The library door burst open. Arthur Reese stormed into the room. He held a cocked shotgun. “What’s going on here? Have you no shame? What will people say? I am ruined! I’ll –”
“She’s alone Arthur.” Portia interrupted.
“have you horsewhipped! I’ll – what did you say?” Noting Chastity’s solitude at last.
“She’s alone Arthur.” Portia repeated.
After many tears and a great deal of confusion with quite a few angry words, the truth emerged. A telegram to Cousin Sally demanded the return of “…this deranged crippled baggage to Norfolk.”
Chastity sat in the foyer of the Reeses house waiting for a hackney. The coach pulled up in front of the house. Arthur seized Chastity by the arm, grabbed her carpetbag and jerked her to her feet. A freezing wind swept into the foyer from all directions of the house. Arthur drug Chastity out the door. She stumbled down the steps and fell. Her cousin pulled her roughly to her feet. The freezing wind swirled about them, whipping leaves into the air. The gale abruptly halted when they reached the sidewalk. The horse watched them his ears pricked forward. The coachman feigned disinterest.
Arthur opened the coach door, lifted Chastity and tossed her in, along with her carpetbag, then slammed the door. He handed up a five-dollar gold piece and a train ticket to the coachman. “Take her to the Denver Pacific Depot. See her on the next train to Cheyenne. Come back when you have finished and I will pay you another five dollars.”
Pocketing the gold piece. The driver whipped up his horse. “Yes, sir.”
Chastity got herself off the floor of the coach and comfortably seated. After a while the coach slowed and came to a stop. A little window opened in front of her. “Are you hurt Miss?”
“No. A bit mussed. I am not injured.” She sniffled.
The driver was unconvinced. “Excuse me for saying so, Miss. I wouldn’t treat a rabid dog that way. Do you want to go to Cheyenne?”
Disobedience never occurred to her. “No. No I don’t.”
Laughing heartily. “Where would you have me take you then Miss? I’m well-paid and at your disposal.”
A new state of defiance took hold of her. She found the feeling rather heady, like a good Port. “22nd St. Depot Square. The Clifton Hotel. Thank you, umm…”
“Seamus, Miss.” The driver provided.
“Thank you Seamus. You’re very kind.”
“Not at all, think nothing of it Miss.” Brushing the gratitude side.
“Why are you doing this Seamus?” Wondering.
The whip cracked. They were off. “I had a daughter once.”
Chastity was not without means. She had the train fare to Cheyenne. Seamus cashed in her ticket and brought her the money. Cousin Sally sent her five dollars a month allowance. Mad money she called it. She had not spent a cent of it. Along with the money she had been saving through the years, there was $167.53 in her reticule.
Thirty two days later Chastity was nearly penniless. Soon after moving into the Clifton she started spending her days in the hotel’s solarium. She would peruse the Denver Post, take her morning tea and idle away the hours reading the latest books. She was particularly fond of Mr. Jules Verne’s writing. One day, out of sheer boredom she took out her tarot deck and began a hand of Patience. A shadow fell across the table.
“Excuse me. Do you read the cards, dear?”
Looking up at an exquisitly dressed woman and her equally well turned out teenage daughter. “I dabble Madame.”
The young lady took hold of her mother’s arm, pleading, “Ask her Mother. Tell her we will pay.”
The pair wheedled at her until Chastity gave in. The women sat down and ordered tea. Chastity shuffled the cards thrice and laid out six. Thirty minutes later after many oohs, ahhs and a bit of laughter, the two women pronounced Chastity better than any gypsy woman at the circus. She thanked them, neglecting to reveal that the girl’s lately deceased grandmother provided all of the answers to their questions and the details of their personal lives. Chastity went to dinner five dollars richer.
Word soon spread. In the solarium of the Clifton could be found a young lady who is very talented with the cards. Hotel management ignored her activity. She was good for business. Ladies playing cards over a cup of tea were harmless. While playing cards was harmless, fortune telling was not. Revealing the marital indiscretions of Denver’s leading financier to his wife based on the turn of a card proved illegal. Upon learning the source of his wife’s outrage regarding his amorous indiscretions, the socially embarrassed banker paid a visit to the owner of the Clifton Hotel. The owner was informed that the payments on the hotel’s mortgage would increase unless he put a stop to this fortune-telling activity. Summoning the police, they arrested Chastity for accepting payment for services under false pretenses, unlicensed palmistry and slander. She spent a week in jail. The payment of a ruinous fine and her back rent to the Clifton in order to regain her belongings left her with six dollars to her name. Worse, the hotel evicted her. The manager warned her not to come back, nor to seek shelter at any of the other hostelries in town. She had no place to live.
Chastity sat with her carpetbag on a bench in front of the hotel wondering what to do. A coach stopped at the curb and a cheery voice, greeted her. “Going somewhere Miss Chastity?”
Giggling. Incredulous. “Seamus! How wonderful to see a friendly face.”
“Heard about your trouble. Thought you might need a bit of a hand.” Smiling down at her.
Sighing. “You have no idea. I don’t know what to do. The hotel threw me out and I’ve nowhere to go.”
Rubbing the side of his nose with his forefinger. “I have an idea, Miss. I know a woman who employs southern girls of gentle breeding. Her name is Margaret McGillicuddy. She runs an exclusive place called The Adventurers Club. She might could use a new hostess.”
Appalled. “I couldn’t do that! Mother would spin in her grave!”
Seamus wrung his hands. “Calm yourself Miss. It is not that sort of place.”
Mother appeared on the seat next to Seamus. “Chastity Corbell, you get in the coach this minute. Listen to Seamus.”
She got to her feet, took up her carpetbag and climbed in. “All right, Seamus. Let’s go.”
Shaking his head, Seamus whipped up the big bay gelding and set off at a high trot.
In the privacy of the coach, she quickly changed into her best visiting dress. Deep blue silk skirt with a matching jacketed bodice and high collar. She changed her walking shoes, putting on her best boots. She shoved everything back in her carpetbag. Chastity was finishing her hair when the coach stopped in front of a huge three-story mansion.
Seamus dropped to the street and put his face in the window. Her transformation was treated to a good-humored laugh. “Pretty as a picture. You just finish having your primp and I’ll see if I can get you in the front door.”
The scent of lavender filled the interior of the coach. Coolness caressed her cheek. “Well, Mother – am I presentable?”
The cool draft swirled about her. “You are beautiful darling. Just be yourself. Be honest and answer all of this woman’s inquiries with the truth.”
Biting her lip and clasping her hands to stop their trembling. “What if she won’t see me?”
Cool lavender scented air snuggled against her side. “She will see you sweetling. Stop fretting so.”
Seamus opened the door. “Step out Miss Corbell. You’ve an angel on your shoulder today. Give your valise to the gentleman.”
Chastity took Seamus’s hand and stepped down from the coach. A tall middle-aged man in burgundy and gold livery greeted her. “Allow me to take your bag, Miss –“
Passing him the valise. “Corbell. Chastity Corbell of Norfolk, Virginia.”
Cool lips pressed her ear. “Use my name.”
Taking a breath. “Cousin to LaSalle Corbell-Pickett, widow to the late Major General George Pickett of the Army of Northern Virginia.”
The butler came to a position of attention. “Very good Miss. Follow me please.” He started up a steep set of steps to the front door.
Waving a hand to Seamus in farewell, she turned after the butler. Her boots made her unsteady. She stumbled on the first step. “Oh bother!”
Turning at the top step the butler looked down at her. Chastity gripped the banister, pulling herself up to the next step.
Hurrying down to her. “Are you unwell, Miss?”
Swallowing her pride. “I have artificial legs. I’m afraid my boots make me rather clumsy.”
Gallantly offering his arm. “You must then allow me to assist you, Miss Corbell.”
Chastity looked up into a pair of kind steel gray eyes set in an impassive face. “Thank you. Er –“
“Longstreet. My name is Longstreet, Miss.”
Sighing with relief. “Thank you Longstreet.”
Taking the butler’s arm, she allowed him to help her up the steps to the massive mahogany doors. Slowing his step allowing for Chastity’s halting gait they entered the house. She took in the foyer. A young man in burgundy and gold sat in a small alcove hunched over a telegraph key sending a message. They processed to the right through a well-appointed sitting room. Two well-dressed gentlemen were quietly conversing over whiskey and cigars. They came at last to the library. Longstreet placed the carpetbag discreetly near the door. Ushering her into the room. “Miss Chastity Corbell of Norfolk, Virginia. Cousin to the late Major General George Pickett of the Army of Northern Virginia to see Mrs. McGillicuddy.”
A handsome woman rose from a silk divan, offering her hand. “Hello Miss Corbell. I am Mrs. Margaret McGillicuddy, proprietress of The Adventurers Club. How may I be of service to Arthur Reese’s distant cousin?”
Taken aback, Chastity shook the woman’s hand. “Forgive me for coming to you like this without sending a card or an appointment. I have heard you employ southern ladies of quality at this establishment in various capacities.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy looked her up and down. She felt like a prize beef up for auction. “Would you please sit down Miss Corbell?”
Smiling at the offer, she sat. “Thank you for seeing me.”
The two women settled themselves. “Longstreet. Please bring us some nice Annam, and a selection of petit fours.”
Longstreet bowed. “Very good Mrs. M.” The door clicked shut, leaving them alone.
The older woman smoothed her dress, folding her hands in her lap. “May I call you Chastity?”
A cold steel edge crept into the woman’s sweet Savannah drawl. “Chastity I am going to be blunt. How do you expect to be of use to me? You are very young. Your lack of worldliness shines like a beacon from those lovely brown eyes. To put a sharp point to it, our members are men and women with very discerning tastes. They are specific about their needs. They pay a premium for the unique services offered by the house. The advice, discretion and company of the Muses is well known. The less than chivalrous or genteel in their number might find the condition of your legs a challenge to their senses.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy’s brutal honesty made her lip begin to tremble. Shaking her head and making an impatient gesture with her hand. “I am young. I have little experience with men. I am not worldly but I have skills. Surely you could use a hostess to greet the members. Perhaps someone available to entertain and provide pleasant diversion in the parlor?”
Mrs. McGillicuddy studied the young woman. The child’s demeanor while outwardly poised belied an undercurrent of quiet desperation. Her intuition began to tingle, she recalled a tidbit of gossip. In her mind’s eye, she saw a deck of tarot cards.
Longstreet entered with the tea and sweets placing them on a small table between women. He retreated to a position near the door.
Mrs. McGillicuddy poured out two cups of tea. “Milk and sugar, dear?”
She shook her head. “No thank you.” Pursing her lips. “She’s going to serve me tea. Make her apologies and dismiss me.” She took a sip of the strong black tea.
Mrs. McGillicuddy swallowed a sip of tea and cocked her head. “Do you by any chance have any skills with a tarot deck Chastity?”
Paling with a sideways glance. “I don’t know what you may have heard. I am not a fraud. I tell exactly what the cards reveal to me.”
her head. “I believe you, my dear. So you have some skill with the cards, then?”
“Yes, ma’am. I do.” Bowing her head.
She met Mrs. McGillicuddy’s eyes. Behind the older woman stood her mother and a tall man she did not know.
Mrs. McGillicuddy shook off a sudden chill. “I would like you to read for me.”
Mother looked triumphant. The stranger bore a malicious grin. “Hello, Chastity. I am Henry McGillicuddy, Madge’s husband.”
Turning in her seat. “Longstreet would you be so kind as to bring my valise please.”
“Yes, Miss Corbell.” The butler retrieved it, placing the carpetbag at her feet.
“Thank you.” She removed a small mother-of-pearl inlaid box from her bag. “May we sit at the reading table?”
“Of course.” Her hostess rose and moved to the reading table, taking a seat.
Longstreet appeared at her side, offering his arm. “Allow me to assist you, Miss Corbell.” He guided her to a comfortable chair across from his mistress.
Chastity’s mother and Mister McGillicuddy hovered near the older woman. Chastity laid a square of red silk brocade with a Persian cloud motif upon the table. Shuffling the cards thrice she dealt eight cards face down in an octagonal star. She gazed into Mrs. McGillicuddy’s eyes. “Please try to clear your mind and we will see what the cards reveal.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy shivered violently. “Oh dear. Someone just trod on my grave.”
Her husband chuckled evilly removing his finger from her back. Smiling, Chastity revealed the cards, “let’s begin.”
The spread of cards resembled the points of a compass. Chastity indicated first card – West. “The Moon. This is you. It encompasses both sides of your nature. Light and dark. Your Angels and Demons. Intellect and basic instincts.” Mrs. McGillicuddy nodded her understanding.
Chastity pointed to the second card – North. “The Empress – inverted. She represents your hopes and dreams, initiative and success. She is inverted, which suggests you have an inner conflict between what you see is your spiritual goal with your more material wants.”
Moving clockwise to the next card – East. “Justice – inverted. This represents truth and reason. It suggests a period of adjustment. You are having an issue with someone trying to influence you. You believe this person to be ignorant and bigoted. That perception is coloring your decision.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy thoughtfully chewed her lower lip, watching Chastity move her hand clockwise to the next card – South. “Ace of Coins. This has to do with your material and practical side. There are bright prospects for you and fulfillment of your desires, but you place too much emphasis on material gains.”
Chastity moved her hand clockwise up around the spread – North Northwest. “The Magician. A part of you is seeking balance between spiritual and material aspects of a continuing situation you are not ready to settle.”
Her hand swung counterclockwise back around the spread – South, Southwest. “Nine of Coins. Hmm – duality again. We have accomplishment and success on one hand, bad faith and undeserved wealth on the other. A misused inheritance perhaps…”
Moving counterclockwise again – South Southeast. “Oh my! The Devil. This is never a pleasant draw. Old Nick wants you to deal with some serious unresolved issues that will come back to haunt you if they are left wanting.”
Chastity moved to the last card – North, Northeast. “The Sun, how wonderful! This portends success in all of your endeavors. Darkness will come into the light. All dangers disappear. You and those dependent upon you, will enjoy the warmth of your prosperity.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy heaved a heavy sigh.
Chastity took a sip of tea, studying the spread, “that was the easy part.” Cocking her head as if listening to a faraway voice, whispered, “now tell me her secrets.”
The older woman’s hair stood up on her neck. She had a vision of the cards and strangers cloaked in mist all around them. Shaking her head to clear the unwelcome vision, Mrs. McGillicuddy noticed Chastity looking toward the bookcase, and then close her eyes.
Mister McGillicuddy held the Empress in his hand. “She loved this house when she bought it before we went to Deadwood. It was not good enough as it was. She renovated it, according to some plan she had.”
The Empress disappeared, replaced by Justice. Chuckling, “she refused membership to Horace Tabor, despite 100% membership approval. She thinks he’s sanctimonious, pompous ignorant prig.”
Justice whirled away. The Ace of Coins hovered before him. “Madge always had rich tastes. She paid for this place with money she made on her back. Whored from Dodge City to Deadwood. She always wanted a house.”
He held the Magician. “Bless her heart. She recruits her girls, the Muses she calls them, from all over the West. Mostly in mining camps. To a one, they are all southern girls fallen on hard times. She has the sight you know. She can see a person’s gifts. She promises the girls if they work for her they won’t have to make their money whoring anymore. She takes that big black buck Abraxas along with her in case there’s trouble.”
Mister McGillicuddy studied the Nine of Coins. Sighing apologetically, “I was an inveterate gambler and speculator. We never had a permanent home. I drug her along all over the West. Saloons, riverboats, cattle towns and mining camps. Wherever there was money and fools to part with it. That’s why she whored all those years. In ‘75. During the renovations on the house, she went with me to the Black Hills. I gambled some but mostly I prospected. I hit it big on Deadwood Gulch. We were set for life.”
Mister McGillicuddy held the Devil. Righteous anger and fury emanated from his spirit. “Madge had a lover in Deadwood. A saloon keeper with whom she had a business arrangement. God! He was a bloodthirsty rogue. Not long after I struck gold he killed me over a hand of cards. Best game of my life. I was on a winning streak. It was him, me, two miners and Bill Hickok. We were playing a long contentious hand. The pot was huge. I was so sure I would win I bet my claim. He jumped up and accused me of bottom dealing. He convinced Hickok and the miners I was cheating. I didn’t see the danger. I laughed at him and reached into my vest for a cigar. He shot me through the heart. I was dead before I hit the floor. Him and the others split the pot. He kept my claim. He told Madge what he did and gave her $25,000. Told her to get out of Deadwood before folks got suspicious. People might think they murdered me for my gold. He owns the best brothel and saloon in Deadwood. Madge lit out for Denver. She was gone before the grave digger could lift his spade.”
Chastity drew a deep breath, exhaled and opened her eyes. She locked eyes thoughtfully with Mrs. McGillicuddy. “This is an odd set of cards. You love this house, but it wasn’t quite perfect. Didn’t quite fit your plans so you renovated it.”
The older woman unimpressed. “Anyone could’ve told you that.”
Chastity nodded. “You’ve had problems with a potential member. All of the membership wants you to admit him. You consider him somewhat puritanical. I’m getting the name Horace.” Mrs. McGillicuddy’s eyes went wide.
“You are very extravagant with many expensive tastes. Your wants were not always been met honestly. For many years. You were a – became a –“
Mister McGillicuddy leaned over the table. “Tell it girl. Tell it true.”
Chastity swallowed. “You paid for this place by whoring all over the West from Dodge City to San Francisco and back again.”
The older woman turned beet red. “Who do you think you are?”
The girl continued. “You have traveled all over the West recruiting your Muses. You find them living in brothels and promise them a way out if they come work for you. Every one of them is a southern girl down on her luck. Desperate. You understand them. You’re good to them. They aren’t whores anymore.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy smiled, satisfied with this part of the reading. “I love my girls.”
Chastity shook her head and shut her eyes tight. “Do you know Henry?
Shocked, the older woman whispered. “My husband.”
Nodding, sure of herself. “Your husband was a gambler and a speculator. He wasn’t very good at either, which is why you sold yourself. He dragged you all over the West. You bought this house to have a place of your own. Henry hit it big after you bought the house. He found gold in the Black Hills and you were both set.” Mrs. McGillicuddy sat up straight giving Chastity her full attention.
“You had a lover in the Black Hills. A saloon keep.”
The older woman stood up so fast her chair toppled over. “Longstreet. Remove the tea setting please. Move anyone from the sitting room to the parlor and lock that door.”
Longstreet quickly gathered the tea setting and left the library closing the doors behind him. They could hear muffled voices as he cleared the sitting room.
Mrs. McGillicuddy righted her chair. She sat down, crossed her arms and fixed Chastity with an angry glare. A violent chill wracked her body. An icy hand gripped her heart.
Mister McGillicuddy pulled his hand from his wife’s chest. “That got her attention.”
Her second sight flashed. She saw Chastity surrounded by a legion of misty figures. Mrs. McGillicuddy gazed at her with fear and suspicion, this child was no mere fortuneteller. “Please, Ms. Corbell, finish the reading.”
Chastity sensed the other woman’s fear and anger. She knew this woman was quite capable of having her killed and the resources to make her disappear.
Coolness kissed her forehead. “Proceed, dearest. No harm will come to you.”
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, continuing with an even tone, “As I said, your lover is a saloon keeper. There was a business arrangement. He killed your husband. A poker game gone bad. Henry was winning, so sure of his luck that he bet his claim. Your saloon keep accused him of cheating. He wasn’t, was he? It was a wonderful run of luck. He was shot down like a dog. The other players divided the pot and your lover kept his claim. He gave you a large sum of cash and made you get out of Deadwood.”
Tears were streaming down Mrs. McGillicuddy’s face. “Please stop.”
Mister McGillicuddy surged through the table. “Finish it Chastity.”
Chastity pitied the older woman. “You did just that. You left Deadwood before your husband’s body was cold, didn’t you Madge?”
Mrs. McGillicuddy jerked. “What did you call me?”
Chastity opened her eyes and cocked her head. “Madge. Your nickname perhaps?”
Mrs. McGillicuddy broke, sobbing. “No. It is not. Madge was Henry’s petname for me. He only used it when he was angry.”
Chastity blushed. “That is all I have for you, Mrs. McGillicuddy. I apologize for taking up your valuable time and if I have hurt you or gave any offense. I’ll take my leave now.”
“No. Stay.” Mrs. McGillicuddy took up a napkin and dried her eyes. She rose, went to the library doors and pulled a bell rope. A moment later, the Butler appeared. “Longstreet, bring us some more tea, please. Then take Ms. Corbell’s belongings up to Polyhymnia’s room. She will be staying on for quite a while to come. We have a new Muse.”
Chastity’s reverie was broken. Mrs. Alice (Hallie) Laine bustled into the room, finding her mistress deep in thought. “Good morning, Miss Chastity. How are you today?” She noticed Chastity, rubbing her stumps. “Oh dear. Are they hurting this morning?”
Chastity nodded her head. “Yes. Could I trouble you to rub some tincture of arnica into them? I won’t require my prosthetics today. Please notify Abraxas that I will need his services. I have an important appointment today.”
Hallie raised her eyebrows. “Oh? With whom?”
Chastity, eyes sparkling. “I don’t know. Mother told me a man was coming to see me today. He needs my help. She was very mysterious. Popped right out. Haven’t seen her since.”
Hallie quickly crossed herself. Chastity was a powerful medium. The spirits of her mother and cousin George were constant companions. She couldn’t see them, but she was constantly walking into cold spots. Her mistress’ unseen visitors took getting used to. Their presence no longer alarmed her. “That’s odd. She didn’t go back to her chair?”
Chastity looked up at her, smiling. “No, she just disappeared. Cousin George is being mysterious today too, acting all fatherly. You would think I had a new beau.”
Hallie cleared the breakfast setting and moved to take them to the kitchen. She stopped at the door and turned toward her young charge. “Well, Miss Chastity, maybe you do.”
Pandelirious Malifecto Posted from WordPress for Android