Obedience can overcome ruinous choices, and with the repentance of wicked ways, God’s faithful forgiveness and mercies never fail.
Set in the afterglow of the Azusa Street Revival, this epic addition to the Texas Romance family saga sweeps through three decades of triumphs and tragedies—from the Texas Hill Country to the beaches of Normandy and beyond.
The faithful flock to his father’s revival tent where Buddy Nightingale leads praise and worship, but like King David, the young psalmist battles a generational curse, lust. On his first night back in Marble Falls, Texas—the place he heard the angels sing fifteen years prior—he beholds Sandra Harris, a beauty attending strictly for the entertainment of the Spirit-filled meeting. Love strikes both, but her Church of Christ father wants no part of any holy roller—not for his daughter.
Sometimes choices we make take us places we never intend to go, but God . . .
Chief of Sinners
by Caryl McAdoo
God always tests His sons.
From Adam on, He’s required absolute obedience from those He calls to greatness.
Such a man, Broderick Eversole Nightingale, known to all as Buddy, came into the world in the afterglow of the Azusa Street Revival. From his earliest memories, his father preached and practiced the power of the Holy Ghost while his saintly mother led the singing under the canvas canopy of the family’s traveling Gospel meetings.
Buddy’s first test came at the age of ten when his mother fell deathly ill. He never dreamed to blame God when she went home. But his father did. And for that first year after she left, the Reverend Nathaniel Nightingale drowned his sorrow in moonshine.
Broke of heart and pocketbook, the boy’s father returned to the only solace he knew, preaching the Good News. Though he no longer invited people to come be healed, reports of past miracles and his fiery oratories always kept the revival tent full.
The second test came fourteen months later in a small Texas Hill Country community. That fateful day started like so many others.
After obtaining their permit, the Nightingales pulled into the fairgrounds, unloaded their tent, and began work. By midmorning, they had the canvas spread and the poles up.
Buddy held the first peg while his father tap-started it. He stood back. Five whacks later, he tied off the guy rope then scooted to the next peg. A second passed before he squinted against the sun and looked up at his dad.
For October, the day heated unseasonably warm, and the old reverend’s face glistened with sweat as he leaned on the double-headed mallet.
“What’s the matter, old man? Not getting tired, are you?”
“Who you calling old?”
Buddy smiled. “Here, let me have that thing. I wouldn’t want the great Nathaniel Nightingale too tuckered to preach tonight.”
“Have at it.”
Finding his spot, Buddy tap-started another peg then stood back and eyeballed the alignment. Perfect. Slowly he raised the oversized wooden hammer, held it a second over his head, then pulled down hard.
The hickory head hit the peg a glancing blow, and the mallet slipped from his hands. The stake flew one direction, the hammer another.
His dad laughed. “You practice a while, Little Man. I need a drink.”
Buddy restarted the peg and a dozen blows later had it in place. He tied off the rope then stepped back. Another fifteen pegs and the tent would be finished. Sure hoped coming to this one-horse town would be worth it.
The Lord knew they needed the money. He worked steadily setting the pegs.
“You not finished yet?”
He glanced up at his father. “Mine are all done, but some of yours need a little attention.”
The elder nodded. “Oh, I see how you are. Give me that mallet, boy. We’re burning daylight.”
An hour later, the wooden hammer slammed down on the last peg. Mopping his brow with his handkerchief, the old man flipped him a half-dollar. “Get you some dinner, Son. I'm going to catch some shut-eye.”
He pocketed the coin then tied off the last rope. Hands on his hips, he admired their work. The patch-on-patch tent didn't look half bad. It’d last until they could afford a new one—maybe Mama’s next royalty check—provided the old man stopped giving away the tent money.
Working his way toward the square, Buddy nailed up flyers, then blew a dime of his dinner money on a Moon Pie and Coca-Cola. Marble Falls looked like a dozen other towns where his father had pitched the tent in the last year.
Figured if expenses got covered, it'd be a miracle.
A brand new ’26 Ford Coupe bouncing down Main Street caught his eye. Maybe there was some money to be had there after all. He decided to forget lunch and finish passing out the flyers.
The nicest homes surrounded the center of the Texas town, as in most rural communities. Buddy skipped the first two streets, walking outward, since the well-to-do usually didn't truck with Holiness folks.
Episcopalians and Presbyterians looked down their noses at Pentecostals, while the more rigid Baptists and Methodists didn't look at all, preferring to pretend holy rollers simply didn't exist, not as a real church anyway.
Experience taught him the farther away from the square, the more receptive the people.
He gave away his last flyer and headed to the campgrounds where he busied himself arranging crates and two-by-twelve planks used for pews. The setup wasn't fancy, but that wasn't what God’s children came for.
The old man claimed they came for more reasons than Buddy understood.
A bit before dusk, he lit the Coleman lanterns that hung from every other tentpole.
His stomach reminded him he’d only had a Moon Pie for lunch. He’d check the larder in the trailer. Judging by changes of hues in the orange and golden sky, should be time to fix something before he woke the old man.
Buddy ignored the snores and rummaged through the cupboard. A can of sardines, almost a whole line of crackers, and a fried pie later, he peeked out the curtain. Half a dozen cars and two wagons littered the gravel lot beyond the tent.
The faithful were coming. Hopefully, they brought some folding money in their bib overalls.
The rhythmic snorting and huffing echoed across the little trailer. A good long nap always meant a fiery sermon, and nothing touched a believer's purse like hell fire and brimstone. He peeked again.
A car's headlights illuminated a fair amount of foot traffic.
Better get the reverend up and at it. Time was a wasting. He poked his father. “Hey, sleepyhead, time for church.”
The elder Nightingale turned to the wall. “Leave me alone.”
“Come on, Dad. The tent’s getting full.”
The reverend rolled over. “Tell ’em I'm sick.”
“Get up.” He shook him. “They’re coming to see you, the great Nathaniel Nightingale, renowned miracle worker and faith healer.”
And mocking always got a rise.
Buddy sniffed then held his nose close to his father's mouth. “Oh, good grief.”
He rolled him over. An empty Mason jar wedged between the bed and the wall slipped a notch.
“What am I supposed to do now?” He grabbed his father's shoulders and shook hard. “What have you gone and done? Get up.”
Twice more he shook and shouted, but didn't even get an ‘I'm sick’ from his dad. Buddy checked out the little window again. The tent was full, and folks were milling about. He had to face them, tell them something.
Faith healers weren't supposed to get sick.
Slowly, he changed into his meeting clothes, letting his mind run through a list of possible excuses.
If he'd only known.
Of course he should have figured it out.
Mercy! He straightened his string tie, threw his shoulders back like his mother had taught him, and sallied forth to meet the throng. His stomach growled.
The tent, overflowing, buzzed with a quiet chatter.
Oh, how he wanted to take his usual place in the back and wait for his cue to throw down the hat, which really was an old Stetson. The old man claimed some rancher left it in one of his first tent meetings. Put it to good use ever since.
But he couldn't go to the back this time.
They came expecting a show, some maybe to hear God's Word preached. Buddy hated to tell them otherwise.
So much for breaking even.
All that work for nothing.
Slipping through the tent's back flap, he jumped up on the small platform—no more than three two-by-four frames with more planks on top. The crowd noise abated then finally died. Every eye in the house looked stuck on him.
Oh Lord, what am I gonna do?
Hesitating only a second, with his heart about to beat right out of his chest, he swallowed hard. “Folks?” His voice cracked. He cleared his throat and spoke louder. “Evening, folks.” He walked to the edge of the well-worn boards.
“Just over two years ago, my mama died birthing my little sister.”
What could he say to make them understand?
Overwhelmed, he wiped a real tear off his cheek. Buddy never asked to be up there in front. “Today.” He swallowed, but it took great effort. “It would’ve been my parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.”
To swallow kept getting harder. It amazed him that he was telling all those strangers private family business. “My dad . . . he thought he could preach tonight, but—” His lip quivered, and a lump clogged his throat.
Stepping back, he looked out over the tops of people's heads and hats.
What came next?
A strange, pleasant tingling began in the small of his back then spread up his spine. Before he figured out what the sensation might be, it filled him, encompassed him.
A golden mist fell from the tent's roof like a heavy fog.
Mesmerized him. He’d never seen such a thing.
It covered the congregation, then a peace settled over his heart, slowing its pounding.
One crystal clear note sounded in his head.
A thousand voices in perfect harmony followed. The song danced through his soul until he became one with it. Almost unaware, he tried to hold back the music, wanting to listen longer.
But it bubbled forth. And he sang.
Not one of the tired old hymns his father loved so much.
A new song. One like his mother used to sing.
The mist lifted while he sang, but he couldn't quit. Didn't want to stop. At first, the people only sat and watched, wide-eyed—like a treed ringtail caught in a spotlight. Then a young girl in the back caught the chorus and joined in.
Soon the whole tent erupted with the song.
When that tune finished, another sprang from that secret place the mist had opened.
Oblivious to everything but the melody in his soul, he sang, and the congregation followed. Hours later, must have sung three dozen songs, the floodgate finally closed.
What had happened? He couldn’t believe it.
Never in his twelve years had he heard the likes of such music. And it’d come out of his mouth.
Buddy let the last note drift away, not knowing what to say or do next, so . . . he only stared at the people. They stared back. Amazement etched most faces, but it soon disappeared. A few folks in the back drifted into the night.
One man with a little girl draped over his shoulder, sound asleep, eased forward. When the farmer reached the little platform, he shifted his daughter, fumbled in his pocket, then tossed several bills at Buddy's feet.
Before he knew it, others followed the man’s example, and a small pile of greenbacks covered his boots.
When the last person left the tent, the peace left Buddy's soul. Doubt and self-loathing took its place. Somehow, he tricked those folks. Not on purpose. But he definitely hadn't given them what they came for.
All he’d done was sing a few songs. In the morning, when the town folk realized what happened, they’d want their money back.
Quickly, he crammed the bills into his shirt and ran to the trailer.
“Hey, old man.” Buddy shook his father's shoulder. “We gotta get out of here.”
“What?” The elder Nightingale opened one eye. “Give me another forty winks. I'm sick, Son.”
Buddy tried twice more to rouse him then gave up. He would have to do it by himself.
Methodically, he went about gathering the planks and crates and disassembling the platform, loading it as he went. He packed the Coleman lanterns and arranged the wood along the bottom of the truck like he had done a hundred times before.
Though never by himself.
The urgency to get away increased with each task he completed. Every few minutes, he glanced around expecting to see an angry mob descending on him, demanding their money back.
The sun broke over the eastern horizon just as he untied the first support rope. Using the wooden mallet, he hit the tent peg to the side then yanked on it. Thing wouldn't budge. He whopped it again and pulled with all his might. Nothing.
Stepping back, he swung full force against the peg.
The mallet struck a glancing blow, slipped out of his hands, and sailed toward the trailer. Slamming into the sheet metal, it missed the window but put a good-sized dent right between it and the door.
Frustration boiled over. He kicked the immovable peg then hopped a circle on one foot. Pain racked his big toe.
What should he do? He had to get out of there.
Tears welled, but he stubbornly wiped them away. Crying sure wouldn't help any. He had to get those blasted pegs up and the tent down before the people came back—be gone before his deceit became known.
Buddy wheeled around. His father stood in the trailer's door. “What in Heaven's name are you doing?”
“Please, Dad. Help me get this tent down. We've got to get out of here.”
Rumpled and needing a shave, the elder lumbered toward him. “What are you talking about? We just got here. Why would we want to leave so soon?”
Between glances over his shoulder, Buddy explained what had happened the night before. When he finished, he grabbed the tent peg again and pulled. “We've got to hurry. It's daylight, and they'll be here any minute.”
The old man grabbed him and pulled him to his chest. “No one's coming after their money, Son.” His voice cracked.
Was he going to cry?
“Everything's fine.” He cleared his throat. “Sounds like God gave you a gift last night. Confirmed it with this cash. Lord, I wish I could have seen it.”
Buddy pulled away.
If only he could believe what the old man said. “Nuh-uh. You're the one with the gift. Even Mama said so. They'll be here any minute, wanting it all back.” Did his dad know for sure? “Won’t they?”
“Nope. Listen to me, Son. You didn't trick anyone. When folks give their money to the Lord, they never ask for it back.”
“You mean all that cash . . . is ours?”
“Sure is. Ain't the Lord good?”
Visions of new shoes and store-bought shirts danced through Buddy's head. All that money, and all he did was sing a few songs.
“Wow, Dad. You think maybe they'll come back tonight? I could sing some more.”
“Absolutely.” His father wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “I'm sure of it, Son.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caryl McAdoo prays her story brings God glory, and a quick scroll through her novels’ rankings by Christian readers attests to the Father’s faithfulness. She loves writing almost as much as singing the new songs He gives her—look her up on YouTube to hear a few. Her high school sweetheart husband won her heart fifty-one years ago, and now they share four children and seventeen grandsugars. Ron and Caryl live in the woods south of Clarksville, seat of Red River County in far Northeast Texas, waiting expectantly for God to open the next door.
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