Rev. Jackdaw still wrote at the table. “Two thousand five hundred prostitutes,” he was saying as Bridget entered. Effie had risen to sit pale and frightened on the bed ropes. “No way to get a real count of the sinners,” Rev. Jackdaw said. “That’s just an estimate.”
Bridget had heard him say before that prostitutes were evil, yet the number in Omaha clearly thrilled him. She couldn’t imagine two thousand five hundred. If they all stretched out holding hands, how long would the line be? Was the number so many it included all the unmarried and all the poor women in the West? If something had happened to Pappy, would Mum have to be a prostitute? Nera, Nera, Bridget chanted for courage. “Are some of the women Irish?”
Rev. Jackdaw looked up, his face pinched. “They swarm to America. Dirty, infected whores.”
Bridget was confused. Mum wasn’t a bad woman, no matter what name Rev. Jackdaw called her. And she and Grandma Teegan hadn’t been dirty. They washed every day. She and Effie were dirty now, but they’d been traveling in dust for days. Rev. Jackdaw was dirty too.
“How do they get so dirty and infected?”
His twitching eye focused on her. “Come here.”
She went to stand close; he had an answer she needed to know.
He grabbed her arm, shook her. “Ain’t you had a biscuit to eat?” A long finger pointed around at the lodge. “Ain’t you got a roof over your head? What makes you think whores are any of your business?”
Despite his grip, she wished she could ask him to look for Mum in Omaha. She has hair the color of mine. But she couldn’t sic him on Mum. One day, she’d find a way to get to Omaha and look herself. She’d walk up and down the streets yelling, “Mum, Mum.”
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