Many of you, who read my "Prairie Schooner Days..." story, will no doubt remember Frank Hardin's friend, the gunfighter, Emmett Lacey. This is his Story...
Emmett Herron stood by the new-made grave heartbroken. She's gone... , he thought, as tears streamed unashamed down his craggy weather beaten face.
Talking low, his voice a mournful whisper he said, "Aw, Emma, Darlin'... , you and I have already been through our hard times. All that's left down the trail is the good times we should have enjoyed together," he said, still unable accept his devastating loss.
Yet, he took comfort as he looked around him at the quiet group of Mourners, his own cowhands, and some of his neighbors who owned ranches nearby. He felt a certain sense of belonging.
The entire ranch community had joined him in his grief. He appreciated their desire to express their sympathy and was grateful they had come to share his deep sadness.
The short Service over, everyone started moving silently down the lonely hillside away from the gravesite. Silently he reached down, picked up one of the shovels lying nearby and started to fill in the grave.
"Here, Boss... ," one of his cowboys said, gently removing the shovel from his grasp. "You don't have to do that. We'll take care of it."
Still numb with grief, he stepped aside, and watched as several of his cowhands silently shoveled the loose dirt back into Emma's grave. At first, he could hear the dirt hitting her coffin. After a few moments the dreadful sounds stopped. All was silent...
At least, I'm glad I didn't tell her the truth. She wanted so badly to give me a boy, he thought, as a bittersweet surge of love and affection for her gripped his heart.
Emma had died within minutes of giving birth. The doctor had looked over at Emmett and sadly shook his head, telling Emmett Herron in unspoken words, his wife wasn't going to live.
As Emmett watched, Emma's beautiful eyelashes had fluttered open for a few moments. Weak and faint, she had looked up at him lovingly. Using her last weak breath, she had asked her husband, "Was it a boy?"
"Yes... ," he had said, squeezing her limp little fingers. "We have a beautiful baby boy," he had lied, smiling down into her beautiful face. A few minutes later without ever regaining consciousness, she slipped quietly away into the good night.
Emmett Herron would forever be glad he hadn't told his wife the truth—because the newborn child wasn't a boy. His Spanish maid, Rosalie was holding the baby in her arms when he walked through the doorway of his large ranch house a few minutes later.
Crossing over he quietly took a seat in Emma's old rocking chair. Rosalie understood. Walking over, she carefully placed his baby daughter in his arms.
He would in days to come often refer to her as his little Sweetheart of the Prairie. He bestowed upon her the name her mother had picked out for her. He named her Abigail.
Two years later...
She's only two years old, but that little girl means more to me than all the world, he thought, as he watched her running and playing in the large yard.
He was grateful for Rosalie who fussed over her as if she was her own child. When Rosalie had tried to keep her from getting her dresses dirty, Emmett had just laughed.
"Rosalie... , it won't hurt her to get a little dirty. Let her enjoy herself. You can always give her a bath later," he had said. The two of them couldn't keep from laughing as they watched Abigail scampering about out in the yard playing with her little dog.
My little Angel, with a dirty face, he thought affectionately as he watched her at play. How could I have ever thought I wanted a boy?
Precocious little Abigail blossomed like an early spring flower. And as she started to get older, she quickly became everyone's little Sweetheart. Often, some of the rough rowdy cowboys would almost come to blows with each other as they tried to decide who would get to entertain her.
Emmett Herron and his men had developed a close bond and were like a family. It's as if she has 35 fathers to look out for her, he thought, laughing at the absurdity of one little girl having that many fathers.
Rosalie also couldn't resist teasing him. "Boss... ," she would say, "That little Senorita has you wrapped around her tiny finger."
Emmett Herron would never take offence. Instead, he would just look at Rosalie and smile. He knew that she cared for Abigail almost as much as he did.
As she grew older, Emmett was secretly proud that Abigail had turned out to be a bit of a tomboy. He had taken her with him fishing down on the Pecos River when she was 5 years old. To his surprise, she had enjoyed it.
Being independent, once they got there, little Abigail had insisted on learning how to bait her own hook. When she caught her first fish, —the fish wasn't the only one that was hooked. From then on, she never stopped pestering him.
"Daddy, can we go fishing today?" she would ask excited and always full of hope.
"Not today, but maybe real soon though," he would promise her.
If that little girl had her way, she'd be down on the Pecos River fishing every day. What am I supposed to be raising here, a tomboy? he thought.
When Abigail turned fifteen, he started allowing her to ride her horse down to the river. Many times, he would have the occasion to watch her unobserved. Sitting on his horse behind some cottonwood trees unseen, he would watch his now fifteen-year-old daughter as she fished. My... ! Does that little girl ever love to go fishing... ! She'll be a woman soon enough, he thought. She's the one person who makes my life worthwhile.
Abigail's first dance...
At eighteen years old, Abigail was the talk of the range. A dark haired beauty, with a sweet delicate face, and a slender almost boyish figure, she was lusted and sought after by almost every lovesick cowboy in that part of West Texas. Her sunny disposition and quiet demeanor coupled with her alluring good looks now turned heads wherever she went.
Emmett Herron, who had never been able to deny his daughter anything, found himself reluctantly agreeing that Abigail could go with his cowboys to the Saturday night dance being held at the town hall in nearby Five Forks.
"She's got a level head on her shoulders, Boss," his foreman, Ben had said. "She'll be alright. Don't you worry. The boys will look after her."
Emmett had to laugh at how she had handled Randy, one of his cowboys a few minutes earlier, when he had decided to have a little fun and tease her.
"You know, Abigail," he said, with a sly grin, "Every time I look at you these days, you remind me more and more of my guitar."
Not to be outdone, Abigail had only laughed at him. "Maybe that's 'cause all I'm ever going to do for you is string you along."
The other cowboys lounging around under the big shade tree had laughed. "Give up, Randy," one grizzled old ranch hand said. "Don't you realize, a woman as pretty as Miss Abigail is always entitled to the last word?"
One of the other cowhands not to be outdone had chimed in. "Boss, if this girl gets any prettier you're gonna have to hire someone to guard her with a shotgun."
Emmett Herron, sitting off to the side, smoking his pipe, couldn't help smiling. He loved the camaraderie that existed between himself, Abigail and their cowboys.
That evening at sunset, he watched as his daughter and her escort of over twenty of his cowboys rode off toward the town of Five Forks to attend the town dance. The Princess and her Escort, he thought, laughing to himself as he watched them ride away.
Putting his arm affectionately around Rosalie's waist, he said, "Rosalie, I'm afraid our little Senorita is almost a woman."
"Si, Mr. Herron," Rosalie had said. "It make me very sad."
"Me too, Rosalie," Emmett said, feeling a touch of melancholy, "Me too."
The coming of Amos Lacey...
Amos Lacey had ridden through the town of Five Forks several times in the last several years, always on his way to somewhere else; but six months back, while riding through, he had spotted a sign. "Ranch for Sale."
Being in a very secretive and dangerous business, he had long been looking for a secluded out-of-the-way place to hang his hat between jobs. When he had enquired, he realized he had come upon the perfect spot.
The little ranch he was interested in was located right on the Pecos River in West Texas. It was in a wild and isolated area, but still near enough to the bustling town of Five Forks for him to keep in touch with civilization, buy his supplies, and pick up his mail.
Furthermore, he liked it that the town folks seemed to mostly be interested in minding their own business. His comings and goings would go almost unnoticed. Considering the risky business he was in, —he preferred it that way.
He met the Owners, an elderly couple, one day later, and bought the place lock, stock, and barrel. He decided to name his little Spread, the Circle X Ranch.
Amos Lacey had started out back in the East as a School Teacher but had quickly tired of the tedious, boring routine. Always restless, he made the decision to go West. He decided to head for the still mostly unsettled territory known as West Texas.
Upon arrival, Amos had two strokes of good luck. First, he met and formed, what would turn out to be, a life long friendship with a younger man who went by the name of Jim Hatfield.
When Jim Hatfield realizing how vulnerable the Eastern Tenderfoot was, he had taken it upon himself to teach Amos the skills he would need to survive in the Texas of the 1800's. Among the other things he taught him was how to use firearms.
Amos proved to be a very apt and eager pupil. Practicing incessantly, he even perfected a strange under handed way of drawing a pistol, like throwing a ball underhanded. Before long, he was shading even his friend, Jim Hatfield when they would draw on each other in practice.
"Don't you ever get mad at me, okay, Pard," Jim had teased.
The second stroke of luck—also through Jim's recommendation, he took a job doing dangerous work for an Eastern Syndicate. His job was mostly to travel to remote spots and clean up in whatever manner was required—situations that not only required a man of his education, but also sometimes his newly acquired skill with a gun.
So... , Amos Lacey gradually earned the reputation as a gunslinger. And not just any gunslinger—but one recognized by a special breed of men as one of their own. The quiet deadly man was beginning to be whispered about in the innermost circles of the lawless gangs that inhabited the Wilds of West Texas during that period. Rumors had circulated that he worked for a shadowy group of men back East who were known only as the Syndicate.
As for his friend, Jim Hatfield, after a few months, he drifted off to other parts. Amos heard later that he had joined the Texas Rangers. Still best friends, they continued to occasionally keep in touch by letter. Jim Hatfield never saw his protégé, Amos Lacey again.
Life on the Circle X...
Amos fell madly in love with the place he had named the Circle X. Although he was traveling most of the time, he always found himself longing to get back to the peaceful solitude of his ranch.
There he found a refuge, and peace of mind from the sometimes-violent life he was forced to lead. Of an evening, he loved to sit out on his veranda, his boots on the banister, and watch the colors of the Sunset fade into night as he gazed off across the Pecos River into wilds of Mexico.
During those peaceful days, the warm fragrant summer breeze often lulled him to sleep. In his most optimistic times, he found himself longing, almost yearning for the day he could break free from his Syndicate connections and go his own way.
As time went on, not being a gambler nor a drinker, all his earnings went to buy still more of the surrounding land when it would occasionally come up for sale. For the first time in his life, —Amos Lacey actually belonged somewhere. He finally had a place to hang his hat. The Circle X was home. His home...
He began taking a pass on several assignments offered to him by the Eastern Syndicate. He made the decision to settle down for a brief sojourn on his Ranch. Lazy day after lazy day drifted by languidly.
He found the fishing along the Pecos River quite good and often caught enough to have catfish for supper many evenings. Life for Amos Lacey was rich and good.
Going into Five Forks for supplies one Saturday morning, he noticed a sign advertising a Dance at the Town Hall that night.
Maybe I'll go, he thought. Been a long time since I attended a dance of any kind. That afternoon, he went swimming in the warm waters of the Pecos River. Going back to the ranch house, along about evening, he got dressed, saddled his horse, and headed for the town of Five Forks.
That evening Amos met the girl that would change his life forever for the better. She would complete him. Her name was Abigail Herron. She was eighteen years old, and was the daughter of one of the richest ranchers in that part of the country.
At The Dance...
"Randy," Abigail had whispered to the cowhand who was standing nearby—as she tried to make herself heard over the loud sounds of the lively dance music.
"Who is that tall lanky fellow over there dancing with Patricia Longmire? Is he someone new—I don't remember ever seeing him in town before?" she said.
"Someone told me he's the fellow that bought that little ranch down near the Pecos River. I think it's called the Circle X ranch. Why... , you want me to go over and ask him if you can come over and go fishing?" Randy said, teasing her.
"No... ! Silly. I was just wondering who he is."
"Would you like him to ask you to dance?" Randy asked, sensing her interest, and trying to be helpful. "Why don't I go over and drop him a hint?" he suggested.
"Only if you promise to be discreet," Abigail said, feeling a little bashful about it.
She watched Randy winding his way through the dancing couples toward the Stranger.
He has a kind face, she thought. I hope this isn't going to be embarrassing to either of us.
Then she saw Randy start talking to him. After a few moments, he looked across the dance floor and smiled in her direction. A few moments later, she was in his arms, where she took secret delight in staying for almost every dance the whole evening.
"Howdy, ma'am," he had said, when he had first approached her. "That cowboy I was talking to over there insisted I was to come right over here and ask you to dance with me," he said, his brown eyes twinkling with merriment.
"My name is Emmett Lacey. I own the Circle X ranch down near the Pecos River."
"I'm Abigail Herron. My father owns a ranch near the river also," she said.
It seemed the most natural thing Abigail had ever done in her life. As he led her out on to the crowded dance floor, —she slipped easily into his strong arms. Oh, what is happening to me? Please God! Don't let anyone else ask me to dance, she thought, dreamily.
Enthralled with each other, Amos and Abigail ended up dancing almost every dance together throughout—what was for them—a magical evening. By the time the dance broke up around 1:00 PM, both knew neither of them wanted it to end.
Now... , Amos Lacey, had long ago been realistic and had acknowledged that in his dangerous line of work he should remain single. In addition, his life was further complicated by long absences. Things that were definitely obstacles to even considering what he dared to hope might happen.
However, that Saturday night, with Abigail in his arms, he realized he had been smitten. He only knew if she would have him, against his better judgment, he was going to give in to the love he felt for this young vibrant little cowgirl of the range with the innocent face and sweet smile.
As for Abigail, even as young as she was, barely 18 years old, she instinctively knew in her own heart that this man, Amos Lacey was the right man for her. Almost as if it had been preordained, they had gravitated toward each other.
Long before the evening was over, Abigail admitted to herself, she would be content to bask forever in those warm brown eyes smiling down at her. Every time he looked into her blue eyes, she felt her heart flutter with happiness.
He has such a gentle way about him, she thought. Over the course of that magical evening, she came to admire his quiet pleasant demeanor and courtly manners—the quiet way he had of making her feel so special.
I know nothing about him, she thought. What is father going to say when I tell him I think I've met the man I want to marry?
Sunday Morning at the Bar X...
"So, Honey, did you have a good time at the dance last night?"
Emmett Herron asked as he looked over at his daughter, Abigail, who was busy eating her breakfast. The look on her pretty face told him she was preoccupied with other thoughts.
"Yes, I did. I really did," she replied. "I met a real nice fellow. He owns the Circle X ranch. You know... , the one down by the Pecos River."
"Daddy... ," she said, "I think he likes me."
"Do you like him?"
"Yes," she replied. "Very much." Then she broke the startling news.
"In fact... , I think that he's the man I want to marry."
"What... ! You only just met him last night," her father said, a look of skepticism and doubt written all over his face.
"I know Daddy, but when you meet him, I'm sure you're going to like him," she said, trying to reassure him.
"Oh, so now I'm supposed to meet him," he laughed.
"Yes, Daddy. I've invited him for dinner next Sunday."