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Chapter 23

The Healing Tabernacle; Deadly Betrayal.

Reverend Travis had his own little church in an unsavory section of Rochester that Jack and I had not visited. It appeared to be an old dry goods store with the name of the church—The Healing Tabernacle—painted on the front window. The door opened into a room filled with rows of chairs facing a wooden table covered by a purple table cloth, meant to be an altar holding candlesticks and brass plates. Prints depicting biblical scenes were tacked onto the walls, and a wooden cross hung behind the altar. A streetlamp outside threw flickering shadows across the floor, and in the dim light, the room looked profoundly sad to me.

I had reluctantly agreed to follow Mirabile back to the church when we met at Mr. Bennet's gate. After spending the day searching unsuccessfully for any sign of Reverend Travis’s ministry, I had finally resolved to give it up and leave Mirabile behind—just a distant memory. But as so often happened, once I decided to go in one direction, circumstances pushed me in another.

“Where have you been, Jonathan? You promised you would be here two months ago.” She said, standing at the gate, dressed in the same white dress she was wearing when I first saw her. “My situation has become intolerable.”

She told me that the Reverend had become obsessed with the power of divine healing that he believed he possessed. He now had a following who believed as well, and he was able to fill the church on Sunday, and several nights a week as well. But the Reverend no longer cared about money and was spending more on his church than he was bringing in. When Mirabile tried to discuss matters with him, he would beat her.

“I’m not sure how I can help, Mirabile,” I said.

Just stand by my side, Jonathan. Make sure he pauses long enough to hear what I have to say. Make him listen to reason. Please, Jonathan, I have no one else.”

Mirabile was in tears, and I had promised I would help her, so I agreed, at last, to go with her and support her as she talked with her father. But, of course, when we got to the church, she revealed that there was more to the story. She led me through the front room of the church and into a small room in the back. In it were just a bed and their trunk and a curtained doorway on the left wall leading into another room. She lit a lamp on the trunk and explained her true intention; she planned to leave him, but could not go without her share of the money they had made. She wanted me to make sure he gave her what she was owed. He always carried the money with him in a leather valise; we would wait until he returned, then confront him.

I knew from experience that this was not the kind of situation that would end peacefully. I had no intention of fighting with Reverend Travis, and I told Mirabile so.

“You said you would help me, Jonathan. You said you would take me away from this life.”

“I can’t take you away, Mirabile. Not now.”

“You said you had feelings for me, Jonathon,” she began crying again. “Was it all a lie?”

It wasn’t a lie. As hard as I tried to resist it, Mirabile still had a hold over me that I could not fight. I took her in my arms then, and we kissed, long and hard. Our passionate kissing and caressing kept on until at last, Mirabile stepped back, undid her white dress and let it fall to her feet. As she continued to undress, I took of my shirt and pants, carefully placing the pistol atop the trunk. I made no attempt to hide it. When I turned around, she was already in the bed, and I quickly joined her.

Judge me as you will, dear reader, but I had, at long last, attained object of my deepest desire and right or wrong, I could not have acted differently. I was in heaven, but even bringing to bear all the skills I had learned from Mother Sarah, the ecstasy lasted for just the briefest of moments. And nothing could have prepared me for the hell that followed.

A voice bellowed from the doorway, “What’s this?”

I rolled over to see Reverend Travis standing there, holding his leather valise. And he was seething with anger.

“Mirabile, what goes on here? And Jonathan, is that you? Have you no shame?”

Mirabile jumped up and stood, stark naked, before him. “I’m leaving you, Isaiah. Give me the bag, I’m taking what’s mine.”

“In a pig’s ass you are,” he said and started towards her with violent intent.

Mirabile seized my pistol from the trunk, cocked it and fired just as the Reverend was about to grab her. The sound of the explosion echoed through the building as the ball pierced his chest. With a mournful groan, Reverend Travis fell forward and died on the floor.

“Mirabile, you’ve murdered your father!”

“He’s not my father,” she said, “he’s my husband. And this has been a long time coming.”

She started to dress, then turned to the leather valise, now wedged under the body, straining to pull it loose and finally succeeding. As I started to rise, she opened the bag and withdrew a mean looking dagger.

She stood over me then, wearing just her drawers, teeth bared, blade in hand and said, “Stay where you are Jonathan, or I will stick you like a pig. I’ve killed one man tonight; I’ll not hesitate to kill another.”

I stayed in bed and watched for an opportunity that never came.

“I’m sorry it had to be this way, Jonathan.” she said, as she rummaged through the bag assessing its contents. Satisfied with the bag, she continued to dress, talking as she did so.

“You may wonder how I came to be married to an old man like that. I was a young girl in Pennsylvania and Travis came through town selling patent medicine. He heard me singing, liked my voice and asked if I wanted to join his traveling show. Unhappy at home, I was quick to say yes.

I was the whole show, singing to draw a crowd, that he then sold medicine. It was just whiskey and red pepper—and opium when we could get it. I didn’t cure anybody, but it made them feel better.

Within a month we were married. What I didn’t know then, but soon learned, is that to a man like Isaiah Travis, a wife is little more than a slave. He went with other women wherever we went, but kept a tight rein on me. When he learned he could make more money in religion with even less work, everything got worse. And, well, you know the rest.”

Fully dressed, she brushed herself off, picked up the bag and said, “Thank you, Jonathan, you’ve been a great help to me, not in the way I expected, but maybe this way is better.”

Then she was out the door and gone. I lay there in bed, trying to gather my wits. I was shocked and stunned; wounded as if I were the one who had been shot. But there was yet another shock; someone came into the room, then, through the curtained doorway.

“Jack! What are you doing here?”

She just looked at me and shook her head. “If you know what’s good for ya, Pratt, you’ll get dressed and get out of here now.”

Then she ran out the front door too.