Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Vote Of Confidence - Chapter 1

A Vote Of Confidence

Zondervan (April 2009)

Chapter 1

Idaho, May 1915

The Torpedo Runabout cut the corner from Shenandoah Street onto Wallula Street, driving over two of the boarding house’s rose bushes in the process. The automobile then weaved dangerously close to Guinevere Arlington’s white picket fence.

With a gasp, Gwen jumped up from the porch swing.

In the nick of time, the Model T Ford veered away from her fence, avoiding disaster.

“Hello, ladies.” The driver tipped his hat to Gwen and her sister as if nothing was amiss.

“And there goes our next mayor.” Cleo shook her head and cast a look of despair at Gwen. “Ten o’clock in the morning and drunk as a skunk. Can you imagine him holding the reins of government?”

“No, I can’t.” Gwen sank onto the porch swing again. “Hiram Tattersall is a fool, not to mention his penchant for strong spirits.”

Cleo crossed one booted foot over another as she leaned against the porch railing. “Why don’t you run for office, Gwennie? Not a reason in the world you couldn’t do it.”

“Me?” Gwen looked at her twin in disbelief.

“Of course you. There’s nothing in the law that says a woman can’t be the mayor of our fair town. You’re a nicer person than Mayor Hopkins, the old coot?”

“Cleo. Don’t be unkind.”

“I’m sorry. I know he’s sick or we wouldn’t be having this special election. But he hasn’t done a single, solitary thing of worth while he’s been mayor, and everybody knows Tattersall will be an even worse mayor than Hopkins.”

“I have no qualifications for political office.”

“And Tattersall does? You’d do a better job than Hopkins and Tattersall put together. Folks like you.” Cleo winked. “Especially the men, pretty as you are.”

Gwen wasn’t amused. “If I were to run, I wouldn’t want to be elected for my appearance.”

“So don’t let that be why. You got that fancy education burning to be put to use. Why not let folks see you’re as full of information as a mail-order catalog?”

It was a ridiculous idea. Gwen had no intention of running for mayor. She was content giving piano lessons to the children of Bethlehem Springs and writing her columns for the local newspaper.

Cleo drank the last of her iced tea, set the glass on the porch floor, and pushed off from the railing. “I’d best get back to the ranch. I’ve got a load of chores still to be done.” She slapped her floppy-brimmed hat onto her head, covering her mop of short, strawberry-blonde curls. “You’d be doing this town a favor if you were its mayor. We could use a little forward thinking, if you ask me.”

Gwen smiled as she rose from the swing. “Darling Cleo, I could never be as forward thinking as you.”


Gwen followed her sister off the porch and around to the back of the house where Cleo’s pinto was tethered to a post. Cleo stopped long enough to give Gwen a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then untied her horse, grasped the saddle horn, and swung into the seat. “You think about it, Gwennie. I’m telling you. It’s the right thing to do. You pray and see if the Lord doesn’t agree with me.” With a tug on the brim of her hat, she twirled her horse away and cantered down the street.

Gwen shook her head. Cleo could come up with the most outlandish ideas. Imagine: Gwen Arlington, mayor of Bethlehem Springs. It was preposterous. Not that she didn’t believe women should serve in public office. She did, and she was glad she lived in a state where women had the right to vote. But she had no political ambitions.

With a sigh, she returned to the front porch and settled onto the cushioned seat of the swing, giving a little push with her feet to start it in motion.

The air smelled of fresh-turned earth, green grass, and flowers in bloom. The mountains of southern Idaho were enjoying warm weather, although snow could be seen on the highest peaks to the north and east of Bethlehem Springs.

Gwen loved this small town. She loved her neighbors, the children who came for lessons, the women in her church sewing circle. She loved the long, narrow valley, the river that flowed through it, and the tree-covered mountains that overlooked it all. She loved the sense of the old West and the new century that surrounded her, horses and automobiles, outhouses and indoor plumbing, wood-burning stoves and electric lights.

Her mother, Elizabeth Arlington, hadn’t felt the same about Idaho. She despised everything about it, so much so that after four years of marriage, she’d left her husband and returned to her parents’ home in Hoboken, New Jersey, taking two-year-old Gwen with her.

“Be thankful, Guinevere,” her mother said on many an occasion over the years, “that your father allowed you to come with me. We’re alike, you and I. We need society and fine culture. Think of the advantages you’ve had that poor Cleopatra has gone without. The opera and the theater. Fine schooling. You would never be suited to live in that backwater town where your father chose to settle.”

But her mother was wrong. Bethlehem Springs did suit Gwen — a truth she discovered soon after her arrival in Idaho seven years before. At the age of twenty-one, and with the reluctant blessing of her mother, she had come to Idaho to meet the father and sister she couldn’t remember. She hadn’t intended to stay, but in a few short weeks she’d fallen in love with the area. Her heart felt at home here as it never had in New Jersey.

A frown puckered her forehead. What would happen to Bethlehem Springs if Hiram Tattersall became its mayor? He wouldn’t try to better their schools or improve roads or help those who had lost jobs due to mine closings. And if the governor of the state succeeded in passing prohibition in Idaho, as many thought he would, Tattersall wouldn’t enforce it in Bethlehem Springs. She was convinced of that.

I would do a better job than he would.

But of course she had no intention of running for mayor.

No intention whatsoever.


Morgan McKinley wanted nothing more than to punch that artificial smile off Harrison Carter’s face.

“You’ll have to wait until after the election, Mr. McKinley. I’m sorry. The new mayor and the county commissioners must be in agreement on these matters.”

Before Morgan did something he would regret—something that would get him tossed into the jail one floor below — he bid a hasty farewell and left the commissioner’s chambers. When he exited the municipal building, he paused on the sidewalk long enough to draw a calming breath.

Harrison Carter had delayed this decision for personal reasons, not for anything to do with an election. Several times over the past year, the commissioner had offered to buy the land where New Hope was being built. If he thought these delays would change Morgan’s mind about selling, he was in for a big disappointment.

With a grunt of frustration, he turned and headed for his automobile, parked on the west side of the sandstone building. Fagan Doyle, Morgan’s business manager and good friend, leaned against the back of the car, his pipe clenched between his teeth.

“Well?” Fagan cocked an eyebrow.

Morgan shook his head.

“Then I’ll be asking what it is you mean to do about it?”

“I don’t know yet.”

Morgan got behind the wheel of the Model T while Fagan moved to the crank. Once the engine started, Fagan slid into the passenger seat and closed the door. Morgan turned the automobile around and followed Main Street out to the main road, thankful his friend didn’t ask more questions. He needed to think.

Occasional complications and delays were expected when a man undertook a large building project, but this felt different. Morgan had half expected Harrison to ask for money under the table, but that hadn’t happened. Just as well since Morgan wasn’t the sort who bribed public officials. Nor allowed himself to be blackmailed by them. Not under any circumstance.

Twenty minutes later, the Touring Car arrived on the grounds of what would one day be a unique resort—the New Hope Health Spa. The main lodge had taken shape at the upper end of the compound. Morgan no longer needed to study the architectural renderings to imagine what it would look like when finished.

He wished his mother had lived to see it. This spa had been her dream before it became his.

Before the automobile rolled to a stop, the site foreman, Christopher Vance, ran toward them. “Morgan, we’ve got a problem”

Another one? “What is it?”

“The dam on Crow’s Creek. It’s leaking. I’m not sure it’ll hold. I’ve got a crew up there now working on it.”

Morgan’s gaze shifted toward the narrow road at the east end of the compound. About a mile up they’d built the dam that would provide and control the cold water used in conjunction with the natural hot water from the springs.

“I’d better see it for myself. Hop in,” he said to the two men, “and we’ll drive up there.”

If that dam broke, a good portion of the resort compound could end up covered in several inches of water. Not the end of the world, but it would stop construction until things dried out. Another delay.

“Somebody did this, Morgan,” Christopher added. “It’s no accident.”

He frowned at his foreman. “Are you sure?”

“Sure enough.”

Why would anyone want to sabotage the dam? It was deep into his property, and he hadn’t diverted water that was needed by anyone else. No farmers or ranchers were dependent upon the flow of Crow’s Creek. He’d made sure of that.

Could Harrison Carter be behind it?

On her way to the Daily Herald with her latest article, Gwen stopped by the mercantile to inquire about Helen Humphrey. The poor woman had suffered with severe back pain for more than two months, and nothing she’d tried had relieved it.

“The doctors say rest is the only thing that’ll help,” Bert Humphrey told Gwen. “And even then they’re not sure she’ll ever be without pain. Maybe the health spa that fellow’s building will do her some good. Nothing else has. Not that we could afford it. Something that fancy’s bound to cost more than we could come up with.”

“I’m so sorry to hear you don’t have better news, Mr. Humphrey.
But, no matter what it costs, do you really believe taking the
waters would help her? I’m afraid I’m somewhat skeptical.”

“I don’t know. I’d try just about anything at this point.”

Gwen offered a sympathetic smile. “Please tell Helen I’ll make
some of my chicken and dumplings and bring it over.”

He swept a hand over his balding head. “She hasn’t had much
appetite, but I know we’ll be glad for it, all the same.”

“I’ll keep her in my prayers.”

“We’d appreciate it.”

Gwen bid the proprietor a good day, then left the store. As
she walked along Wallula Street toward the newspaper office, her
thoughts remained on the resort. There were varying feelings in
Bethlehem Springs about the construction of the spa ten miles to
the north. Many people thought it would be good for the town;
quite a few local men were already employed as carpenters and
general laborers. Other townsfolk thought the resort would change
Bethlehem Springs for the worse, bringing in too many outsiders.
Of course, there were a few in town who thought the spa would
fail, so what did it matter?

Gwen didn’t know what to believe. She’d never frequented a spa, although she had gone with Cleo a few times to sit in one of the
natural hot springs on their father’s ranch. Enjoyable, to be sure,
but was it a cure for physical ailments? For all she knew, McKinley
was a snake oil salesman of the worst kind, offering a cure to the
hopeless — a cure that didn’t exist.

There was also the matter of McKinley being a newcomer to
the area. No local had heard of him until he arrived in the area a
year ago. And although the wealthy Easterner had purchased the
old Hampstead home on Skyview Street, it sat empty. Folks said
the new owner was at the resort site every day of the week, coming
into town only long enough to send a telegram, pick up his mail,
and purchase supplies. Not once had he spent the night in town.

“The time I met him, he was genial enough,” Nathan Patterson,
owner and editor of the Daily Herald, had said once. “A
newspaper friend of mine from Boston says the McKinley family
is among the wealthiest in America. Doesn’t it seem odd that he
would end up here, of all places?”

“Thinks himself too good for the likes of us, I gather.” That
had been Edna Updike’s opinion — something Gwen’s neighbor
never hesitated to share. “He doesn’t even go to church. A heathen, no doubt.”

“Not much mail ever,” Dedrik Finster, the postmaster, had said
in Gwen’s presence just a week ago. “He is mystery, ja?”

Arriving at the newspaper office, Gwen shook off thoughts of
the resort and the mysterious Morgan McKinley. “Hello, Mr. Patterson,” she said as she stepped through the doorway.

“Ah, there you are, Miss Arlington. I was wondering when
you would have your column for me. What’s your story about this

“The expansion of educational opportunities for women in the
past fifty years and the importance of women taking advantage of them. Did you know, Mr. Patterson, that there were only five women lawyers or notaries in 1870 but almost fifteen thousand by 1910?”

Nathan shook his head. “Not sure I think women should be

“Why not? A woman doesn’t have an inferior mind. She is as
able to grasp the written law as any man. Deborah was a judge in
Israel, if you’ll recall. And if a woman is widowed, isn’t it better
that she have an education and a profession that will allow her to
support herself and her children rather than to be dependent upon
the generosity of relatives or her church?”

“Well, of course. But — ”

“But not in a man’s profession?” She offered a smile, taking the bite out of her question.

“You have me there, Miss Arlington.” He chuckled. “There is certainly nothing inferior about your mind.”

“Thank you.” She held out the carefully penned pages.

Nathan took them. As he glanced down at some other papers
on his desk, he muttered, “Wish I could say the same for our one
and only candidate for mayor. Tattersall.” He growled in disgust.
“I can’t figure why no one else has stepped forward to run against
him. The election will be here before we know it.”

Cleo’s words echoed in Gwen’s thoughts: “Why don’t you run
for office, Gwennie?”
She ignored the shiver of excitement that raced up her spine and posed her sister’s question to the newspaperman. “Why don’t you run for office, Mr. Patterson?”

“Politics wouldn’t suit me. I’m better reporting the news than
making it.”

“Not a reason in the world you couldn’t do it,” Cleo’s voice whispered in her head.

Gwen glanced at the pages in the editor’s hands. She’d written the article to encourage women to step forward, to better themselves, to make a difference in the society in which they lived. Was it possible God had been speaking to her even as she wrote those words to other women?

Softly, she said, “My sister thinks I should run.”

Nathan stared at her.

“It’s a silly notion, of course.” Her heart hammered and her
pulse raced. “I told Cleo it was.”

Wordlessly, he leaned back in his chair, rubbing his chin with
his right hand. “Silly?” A long pause, then, “I’m not so sure it is.”

“You’re not?” Her throat felt parched.

“Isn’t a woman mayor a little like a woman judge?” He shot
up from his chair, knuckles resting on the top of the desk. “Do it,
Miss Arlington. Run for mayor. The newspaper will put its support
behind your candidacy.”

“But Mr. Patterson, I’ve never held public office before. Why would you support me?”

“My gut tells me you would do what needs to be done. You’re articulate and well educated. You obviously aren’t afraid to speak out when you see a problem the community needs to address. You’ve done so often enough in your columns.”

She wished she hadn’t spoken. She wished she’d kept her thoughts to herself.

“Do it, Miss Arlington. The town will be grateful. And I must
admit it would give me plenty of interesting things to write about in the coming weeks. Never been a woman mayor that I know of.” He jotted a note on a slip of paper. “I’ll have to look that up. Wouldn’t it be something if we were the first?”

“I haven’t said I’ll do it yet.”

“Think about what it’ll be like here if Tattersall’s elected.”

Gwen took a step back from his desk. “I . . . I’ll want to pray
about it and . . . and talk to my father.”

“Of course. Of course. You do that. But I’m telling you, Miss
Arlington, you should do this.”


Fortunately, Christopher Vance’s worst fears weren’t realized. The
damage appeared less serious than first perceived. By late afternoon, the crew of men had stabilized the dam on Crow’s Creek. More permanent repairs would be undertaken in the morning.

Later that evening, after the camp cook had served dinner and
the men were settling in for the night, Morgan walked up the draw
at the north end of the compound and sat on a log where he was
afforded a view of the resort site. Behind him and across from him,
ponderosa and lodgepole pines blanketed the steep mountainsides. Wondrous. Awesome. God’s handiwork revealed for all to see. Morgan had traveled many places around the world, seen many beautiful things, but few had come close to stirring his heart the
way this place did.

His gaze was drawn to the lodge. Four stories tall, the exterior
was made of logs, giving it a rugged, western look. But the interior
would be anything but austere. The plans called for fine wall coverings, elegant carpets, original artwork to satisfy the senses, and large, comfortable guest rooms. The kitchen would have all the latest innovations, a place where the resort’s chef would create meals for lodgers that were both healthy and delicious.

On the opposite side of the clearing from the lodge, work had
begun on the bathhouse and the two pools that would be fed by
the natural hot springs on the property. The bathhouse was fashioned after some of the European spas Morgan had visited with his mother — private bathing rooms with large, porcelain tubs and two steam rooms, one for men and one for women. But there would be one major difference between New Hope and those European resorts. Morgan’s spa would be a place for prayer as well as for relaxation, a place for both spiritual and physical healing. In fact, he was sitting near where the resort’s Danielle McKinley Prayer Chapel would stand.

“What good is physical health,” his mother had often said to him, “if one’s soul is sick?”

iGod, I believe You gave the vision for this place to my mother. Help me make it become all that You desire.

On the heels of his prayer, he thought of Harrison Carter. Why was the man set against him, against this resort? Was it all because Morgan had refused to sell the land? Surely Carter saw how the resort would benefit Bethlehem Springs. The railroad. Telephone lines and electrical power. All of which would benefit the people
who lived here. Morgan knew he’d find a way to get what he needed, but it would be difficult if the town and county tied up the lands where the railroad needed to come through.

“If I had a hand in making the laws, things would be easier for honest businessmen.”

If I had a hand in making the laws . . .

He stiffened.

If I had a hand in making the laws.

No, that couldn’t be the answer.

And yet . . .

If I had a hand in making the laws.

Bethlehem Springs was gearing up for a mayoral election. From what little he’d heard, there was only one candidate — and not one people were happy about. Morgan was a citizen of the town. He must be eligible to declare for office.

“The new mayor and the county commissioners must be in agreement on these matters.”

What better way to make certain the new mayor supported Morgan’s plans than for Morgan to be the mayor. Still, that was a bit drastic. There had to be a better way. Besides, he had no desire to run for office. God had brought him to Idaho for a different purpose. He didn’t have time to devote to the day-to-day administration of a town like Bethlehem Springs. Governmental bodies were a necessary evil, but not one he need be part of.

And yet . . .

He cast a glance toward the sky. “Father, is this what You’re telling me to do?”

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