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Authors: Deeanne Gist

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The Measure of a Lady

The

MEASURE

of a
LADY

Books by Deeanne Gist

A Bride Most Begrudging

The Measure of a Lady

Courting Trouble

Deep in the Heart of Trouble

The

MEASURE

of a
LADY

  
A Novel  

DEEANNE

GIST

The Measure of a Lady
Copyright © 2006
Deeanne Gist

Cover design by Brand Navigation—Bill Chiaravalle
Cover photograph by Steve Gardner, PixelWorks Studios, Inc.
Interior design by Eric Walljasper

Unless otherwise identified, Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible. Copyright
1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN 978-0-7642-0073-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gist, Deeanne.
    The measure of a lady / Deeanne Gist.
         p. cm.
    ISBN 0-7642-0285-5 (alk. paper) — ISBN 0-7642-0073-9 (pbk.) 1. Brothers and sisters—Fiction. 2. San Francisco (Calif.)—History—19th century—Fiction. I. Title.

    PS3607.I55M43             2006
    813'.6—dc22                                                     2006007823

To my parents,
Harold and Veranne Graham,
who have given tirelessly
of their time, their wisdom, and their love.
Thank you so very, very much.
I love you. Dee

DEEANNE GIST has a background in education and journalism. Her credits include
People, Parents, Parenting, Family Fun,
and the
Houston Chronicle
. She has a line of parenting products called I Did It!
Productions and a degree from Texas A&M. She lives with her husband, four teenagers, and two dogs in Houston, Texas, and loves to hear from her readers at her website.

acknowledgments

I
cannot seem to complete a manuscript without first visiting the actual locale in which the story takes place. Many thanks to Richard and Linda Alvarez for opening their home to me, for taxiing me around San Francisco and the surrounding area, for giving me the skinny that only the locals are privy to, and for enriching not just this novel but also my life. May God bless you tenfold to how you have blessed me.

My first novel,
A Bride Most Begrudging,
took me three years to write. Once I sold it to Bethany House, I was given one year to finish writing
The Measure of a Lady
. Nothing like a little pressure to send one into a complete panic. My saving grace throughout this project was my critique partner, Meg Moseley, whose input was invaluable. She encouraged me, prompted me, taught me, and prayed for me. I do not know what I would have done without her. Thank you, Meg. I am looking forward to many more years as professional colleagues and dearest friends.

I could not possibly close without thanking my team at Bethany House. What an incredibly talented group of folks they are, not to mention a good deal of fun. Special thanks to David Long for going above and beyond, and to Paul Higdon and his creative team. As far as cover art for books goes, the buck stops with Paul. And you must agree that the cover of
Lady
is one of the most incredible covers of all time. Thank you. I am truly blessed.

Love, Dee

chapter
1

T
his Street Is Impassable, Not Even Jackassable
. Rachel Van Buren reread the sloppily painted, dripping red letters splattered across the rickety sign. Even as she watched, its supporting post tilted forward, better exposing an endless blanket of mud stretching up behind it and beyond.

Where are the trees, Lord? Why, it’s nothing but mud and scrub brush
.

With the Pacific at her back and a sea of mud before her, she hadn’t even a dry spot to drop the valises she held in each hand.

‘‘What are we going to do?’’ her sister asked, swiping a strand of golden hair from her face.

‘‘I’m not sure, Lissa.’’

Her fifteen-year-old sister, fourteen-year-old brother and she were all exhausted from their two-month voyage. And all newly orphaned by the unexpected passing of their father, Jacob Van Buren.

The promise of easy gold in the California territory had seemed like an answer to her father’s woes. So, he had scrounged up what little capital they had and bought the family tickets on the
Oregon
with high hopes. Hopes lost in grief and stranding the three of them in a foreign territory with no guardian, no money to speak of, and no means of support.

‘‘We can’t go back to the ship,’’ Michael said. ‘‘The crew has abandoned us.’’

Not only the crew, Rachel thought, but their fellow passengers as well. She’d never seen that many men move so fast. Glancing at the now-empty rowboat secured to the rustic wharf, Rachel decided they had no choice but to leave behind their traveling trunks which sat forlornly on the pier like little caskets destined for the graveyard.

Fog whipped in from the waterfront, swirling onward to the slopes of San Francisco peppered with rambling tents and shacks. Twilight had begun its final curtain call, ushering in the deeper shadows of nightfall. One-by-one, lanterns inside the distant canvas dwellings came to light, transforming the hills into fiery nuggets.

Rachel tightened her grip on the leather valises. ‘‘I’ll tell you what we are going to do, Lissa.’’ She took a deep, fortifying breath. ‘‘We’re going to get muddy. We’re going to get quite muddy.’’

‘‘But look how steep it is,’’ Lissa said.

Rachel eyed the extreme incline they must traverse to get to what she assumed was the town square. Even if the road were packed hard, it would be a strenuous hike. But soggy mud? Near impossible.

Michael yowled with delight and raced right into the thick of it, slipping, sliding, and coating the bags he carried with the clinging goop. His feet way too big for his scrawny fourteen-year-old body, he landed on his backside before he was even a third of the way up. ‘‘Ho, it’s slippery, girls. And deep.’’

He twisted around, flashing them a full-sized grin barely discernible in the fading light. ‘‘If you’ll wait for me, I’ll come back and give you piggybacks.’’

‘‘What do you think, Lissa?’’ Rachel asked, quirking a brow.

Lissa worried her bottom lip. ‘‘I will if you will.’’

Rachel hesitated, then shook her head. ‘‘No, I think I’ll try it on my own.’’

Her shoulders drooped at this introduction to San Francisco. She had donned her best dress for this momentous occasion, its skirt peeking out from beneath her three-quarter-length coat. She stepped into the murky ankle-deep mess, caking herself with wet, malodorous mud, and trudged up the incline.

Panting from exertion and shivering from the biting wind, she crested the hill and stood with her siblings in mute fascination. But
fascination
didn’t cover the half of it. More like consternation. Disbelief. Shock.

Light poured from the open doors of the huge tents that lined San Francisco’s plaza, crisscrossing the square like a swath of gingham. Signs tacked to the canvas shacks greeted them with that now familiar red paint, but with unfamiliar words in a variety of languages.

The muddy streets teemed with people. No, not people.
Men
. Oriental men with long braided pigtails. Dark-skinned men with colorful sombreros. Men with so much facial hair one couldn’t even begin to guess from whence they came.

And with them a swelling of voices. Yelling. Laughing. Cursing. In more languages then she could count and set to a lively musical score made up of banjos, bugles, fiddles, and jig-time ballads.

This
was San Francisco? The Golden Gate? The Mother Lode?
Oh, Papa. You were thinking to strike gold in this mess?

She placed one foot in front of the other, crossing the plaza, until she stood in front of a wooden building sporting a large projecting verandah and a sign that read ‘‘City Hotel.’’

A huge man weaved into the doorway, blocking the path of light from within, then stumbled into the street. Face first.

‘‘Oh my,’’ Lissa breathed.

The man lay still and unmoving.

‘‘What if he drowns in this muck before he can get up?’’ Michael whispered.

Handing her valises to him, Rachel moved forward. ‘‘Sir? Are you all right?’’

No response. She slanted the others a glance. ‘‘Maybe we better help him.’’ But before they could, the man rose onto all fours with a roar.

She squeaked and jumped back. The man pushed himself to his feet and stumbled past, never even acknowledging them.

‘‘Oh my,’’ Lissa breathed again.

Rachel smoothed down the front of her coat with her hands. ‘‘Stay here. At least until I can be assured that this is a, um, proper hotel.’’

Michael frowned. ‘‘Maybe I better go instead.’’

She shook her head. ‘‘No. I’ll go. Besides, I need you to wait here with Lissa.’’

Mud oozed beneath her skirt, her pantalets, clear up to her shins as she hoisted herself onto the large verandah. The interior could not be determined from the murky view beyond the open doorway. Straightening her coat sleeves, she stomped her feet in an effort to dislodge the clinging mess and proceeded into the City Hotel.

Nothing could have prepared her. Smoke stung her eyes, curses seared her ears, and rancid smells assaulted her nose. She hesitated, trying to adjust, and scanned the room—squinting to see through a haze almost as thick as the mist outside.

The interior was one huge area that functioned as bar, gambling house, and sleeping quarters. With a border of four-tiered bunks running along three of the walls, men alternately read by candlelight, lay asleep in their bunks, or hung off the edges watching card players at the various tables.

To the side was a dressing table and mirror. One man used a hairbrush chained to the mirror rack while another rinsed out a toothbrush and handed it to the next gent waiting in line.

Along the fourth wall ran a plank bar with patrons in suspect condition draped along its edge. Above it, a large ornamental gilt mirror duplicated the scene before her. A chalky white life-size statue of a nude woman caused Rachel’s gaze to skitter elsewhere.

Strewn throughout the rest of the room were green baize tables with hoards of tobacco-spitting men, shoulder-to-shoulder, flinging down nuggets and calling out their bets. Some tables offered chairs with respectable looking gentlemen giving the patrons a choice of ‘‘the red’’ or ‘‘the black.’’

Behind one such chair was a dark, beautiful woman. Her full shimmery skirt and bespangled shawl of every color dipped and swelled over voluptuous curves. Leaning over, she whispered something into a gambler’s ear, freely exposing her bosom, as there was no boning to her camisole.

Rachel barely swallowed her shock. And that’s when she saw it. The cigarette. Plain as day, poised between the woman’s rouged pouting lips.

Rachel squeezed the neck of her coat together. Never, ever had she seen a woman smoke before. She didn’t even know it was done.

Yet no one seemed shocked. Why, the men at the table looked to be as dignified as any you’d see back in New Jersey, and all were acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

A resounding cheer on the opposite side of the room drew her attention. A wall of backs garbed in blue flannel shirts surrounded whatever it was that held their interest. As if drawn by an invisible cord, she moved to the circle and wove through the press of bodies until she could see.

‘‘How much is in the sack, boy?’’

‘‘Ten thousand.’’

‘‘And you wish to stake it on one card?’’

‘‘Yes, sir.’’

The dealer, dressed in a fine dark jacket and matching vest, leaned back in his chair, drawing deeply on his cigar. ‘‘Why?’’

‘‘I was heading home, sir, and thunk to myself, ‘This may be my last chance to play monte. Why not bet it all and go home with pockets not just full, but bulgin’.’ ”

She held her breath. Surely the dealer would tell him no. The boy’s face was as smooth as a baby’s. He shouldn’t be allowed in here, much less allowed to gamble. And ten thousand—on one card!

‘‘You’ve been mining quite some time for this?’’

‘‘Almost a year.’’

Not a sound issued forth from this corner of the room.
No. Please, say no
.

The dealer didn’t look to be a hardened man, though he was up in years—thirty-five at least. Still, he was clean, combed, and shaven. He would most certainly tell the boy no.

The man’s face split with a rakish grin as he clapped his hands together. ‘‘Ten thousand it is.’’

The roar of the crowd was deafening, absorbing her cry of denial.

Then silence. Total, complete, and fraught with tension. The dealer turned over a queen of diamonds, then a five of clubs. The boy plopped his heavy leather sack atop the queen.

‘‘Queens?’’ the dealer asked.

‘‘Queens,’’ the boy replied.

The dealer set the deck of cards face down on the table, then slowly, very slowly, turned over card after card. Eight of spades. Ten of clubs. Ten of hearts. Six of diamonds.

On and on it went until a five of hearts was turned over. The dealer didn’t reach for another card but rested his hand on the table, his blue eyes lifting to meet those of the boy.

What has happened? What does it mean?
She glanced from one man in the crowd to another, but all were focused on the card. The boy fell back against his chair, his face white.

The dealer reached for the bag, opened it, took out a handful of dust, then let it sift into a small pile in front of the boy. ‘‘This should be enough to either get you home or get you started here again. Your drinks are on me tonight.’’

Johnnie Parker tensed as a low murmur raced through the crowd.

Young Rattlesnake was a favorite amongst the miners, but business was business. The five came up in the deck first, and winner takes all.

He carefully tied the leather pouch closed, then allowed his gaze to roam over the other miners. But it wasn’t Rattlesnake who held their attention.

‘‘Give him his money back,’’ the woman snapped.

Johnnie was halfway out of his chair before he realized it had been well over a year since he’d stood up for a lady. But lady she was.

Standing amongst these disreputable miners in her coat, skirt, and sunbonnet. Caked in mud and looking so blasted pretty he could scarcely catch his breath.

Every eye in the place was on her. Even Rattlesnake appeared to have forgotten he’d just lost his fortune. And the lady? The lady’s attention was fully and completely focused on Johnnie.

And she was none too pleased.

‘‘Give it back to him,’’ she repeated.

‘‘I won fair and square.’’

‘‘He’s nothing but a boy.’’

‘‘He’s older than you, I’d wager.’’

Her back stiffened. ‘‘I believe there has been enough wagering for one night.’’ She pulled off her glove, one finger at a time, having no idea, he was sure, how long it had been since these men had seen a female perform such a simple task. ‘‘Where’s the owner?’’

He took a pull on his cigar. ‘‘That’d be me.’’ He offered her a slight bow. ‘‘Johnnie Parker. At your service.’’

She pursed her lips. ‘‘Tell me, Mr. Parker, do you make a habit of stripping hard-earned fortunes from the hands of babes?’’

He narrowed his eyes. ‘‘I’ve stripped no one of anything. I run a clean, honest house here.’’

‘‘Really? Why, I didn’t know there was such a thing as an
honest
gambling house.’’

‘‘So now you know.’’ He swept her with his gaze. She was of average height, and though her rust-colored coat hid the contours of her shape, he would guess there wasn’t much meat on her bones. Her heart-shaped face held high cheekbones, soft-looking lips, and dark brows that arched slightly above coffee-colored eyes. Eyes that simmered with disapproval.

‘‘Is there something I can do for you?’’ he asked, snuffing out his cigar.

She slapped the glove into her hand. ‘‘The sign outside says ‘City Hotel.’ ’’

‘‘Yes, it surely does.’’

‘‘Then where is the registration desk?’’

Another murmur from the men. ‘‘Well, miss, I’ve never really needed a desk just to rent out a few bunks.’’

Her eyes widened. ‘‘You’ve no rooms?’’

Flipping his coattails back, he slipped his hands into his pockets. ‘‘No. Can’t say that I do.’’

‘‘For heaven’s sake. A hotel without rooms.’’ She pulled her glove through her palm then slapped it back again. The simple movement enthralled every man in the hotel.

‘‘I have a room, ma’am,’’ a voice offered. ‘‘You can hitch up with me.’’

Johnnie swung his attention to ol’ Harry and scowled, but the words on his lips died as the lady turned fiery red at Harry’s proposal.

Take the deuce, but he’d forgotten the power of a woman’s blush.

‘‘Well. I . . . I . . . oh. Thank you, but I really just wanted to rent a room.’’

A hundred offers poured forth. She held up her hand for silence.

‘‘A
hotel
room.’’ She turned again to him. ‘‘Is there a hotel in town that has
rooms
for rent?’’

‘‘I’m afraid hotels in San-Fran-cisco only offer bunks, not rooms.’’

‘‘Then would you be so kind as to direct me to a woman who might put me up for the night?’’

He rubbed his jaw. ‘‘I’m afraid all the respectable women are up in the mining camps with their husbands.’’

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