June Richardson, sitting in her kitchen surrounded by the tantalizing smells of the food she was cooking, smiled in fond remembrance. Although it had been over a decade ago, —she still recalled the evening Frank Hardin had rode into the wagon train encampment.
She, her young husband, Jack, and their two young children Sarah and Jimmy, like so many others had been a part of that wagon train making its way West across the vast prairies.
She and Jack had watched him ride into their circle of Conestoga wagons along about sunset on his horse, leading a pack animal.
"I wonder what he's doing out here all alone on this prairie. Doesn't he know how dangerous this country has become with all the Indian unrest?" Jack had said.
"Look Jack, I think Jeb Baxter just invited him stay for supper," June said, as the two of them watch the Stranger dismount.
They watched the Stranger shake hands with several of the men then make his way over to where the women were serving the evening food. Accepting a plate of food, he made his way over to a grassy knoll overlooking the wagon train encampment.
"Jack, why don't you go over and ask him to join us?" June said.
A few moments later Jack was back with the Stranger in tow.
"June, this here's Frank Hardin," Jack said. "Frank... , this is my wife June and these are our two youngsters, Jimmy and Sarah." To the delight of her, and her husband, Jack—that very evening, Frank Hardin had agreed to join the wagon train for the rest of the perilous journey westward.
The next morning dawned bright and clear under a cloudless blue sky. The wagon train had been underway for only a few hours when Frank Hardin rode up alongside the Richardson's wagon.
"Hey, Jimmy, want to ride up here in the saddle with me for awhile?" he called. "I'll take good care of him," he said, grinning at Jack and June.
"Yes... ," the little boy said—at once both eager and excited.
For the next couple of hours June watched as he galloped slowly up and down the line of moving wagons. She could see her son, Jimmy was in his element. A couple hours later, he rode slowly alongside the wagon and handed the sleeping boy off to his father.
Shortly after lunch, he again rode up alongside the Richardson's wagon.
"Come on, Sarah," he grinned. "Your turn. Wouldn't you like to climb up here in the saddle and ride Blaze with me?"
"Yes... , can I Daddy?" she asked.
"Jack Richardson laughed. "Yes, but don't talk Mr. Hardin's ear off now, Okay?" he laughed.
"Okay," a delighted Sarah replied.
Both Jack and June laughed to see Sarah so excited and happy.
"Well, at least we know one thing about Frank Hardin," June laughed. "He doesn't play favorites."
As the weeks went by the Richardson family took great pleasure in practically adopting Frank. He was at once a good friend, and soon became like a favorite Uncle to Jimmy and Sarah.
"I've never seen anyone who loved children the way Frank does," June said to her husband one evening.
"Look Jack, what's he doing over there? He's got the children all sitting around him in a circle. He must be telling them something funny—look at the way they're all laughing." she remarked.
"Come on, Honey, let's stroll over and see what he's got them all laughing about," Jack said, curiosity getting the better of him.
As Jack and June walked up to the little circle of children—little Sarah saw them approaching. She quickly said to Frank, "I bet you can't rhyme my daddy's name?"
Giving Jack and June a little grin, he winked at them and said, "Okay, that may be a hard one, but I'll try...
"Jack, come a Tack, come a ram-stick hack, come a two-legged, eye-legged, bow-legged Jack."
The two delighted parents joined the children as peals of laughter filled the air.
"Do Mommie... ," Jimmy insisted hardly able to stand the suspense...
"Yeah... , do Mommie," Sarah said, joining the chorus of excited little voices.
"Okay... ," Frank laughed, "June, come a tune, come a ram-stick Hune, come a two-legged, eye-legged, bow-legged June."
After all the children had stopped laughing, Frank looked over at Sarah and said, "Sarah, are you going to give me part of your supper tomorrow night?"
"Why do you want my supper," she asked, becoming curious.
"Because after calling your mother bowlegged, she may decide not to feed me," he replied, grinning in the direction of Jack and June, who had obviously been enjoying it just as much as the children.
As darkness approached, the little crowd of merry-makers broke up. Frank was over putting his bedroll down, preparing to turn in, when June Richardson appeared out of the gathering darkness and quietly approached him.
"That was nice, what you did for the children tonight, Frank," she said. "I'm sure the other parents appreciated your doing it also."
"We all had fun," Frank, laughed. "It was sort of nice to be doing that little old nonsensical rhyme again. My little daughter Lorrie used to make me sit and do that for an hour sometimes," he said, no longer laughing.
Seeing the look of sadness, cross his face, June smiled and patted him lightly on the shoulder. "Will you be sending for your family later, Frank?" she asked.
"No, my wife and little daughter were taken in the cholera epidemic that hit the Ohio River Valley before I left."
Suddenly everything became clear to June Richardson. That's why he loves Jimmy, Sarah, and all the other children so much, she thought, sadly.
"Well," she said quietly. "Sleep well." Starting to walk away, she turned back once more. "Frank, I hope you know how much we all enjoy your wonderful company. You're a part of our family now."
The River Incident...
The day had been scorching hot. The sweat and dust from the wagon train covered the men and women as they struggled on through the heat. In late afternoon off in the distance, through the shimmering heat, the weary travelers could make out a stand of trees. Just beyond the trees, they could see the outline of a smooth flowing river meandering its way across the prairie.
Once the wagon train had set up camp for the night, and the horses and livestock watered, —the women took advantage of the chance to do their washing. Some of the braver females found a place where bushes covered the riverbank and proceeded to enter the warm water to enjoy the luxury of a leisurely bath.
After washing her clothes, June came back to their wagon and begin fixing the evening meal.
"June, Honey," Jack had said, "You should have stayed down there a while longer and enjoyed the water with the other women."
"Well, I knew all of you would be getting hungry so I came back. Maybe before we leave in the morning, I'll find the time and privacy to enjoy the river."
Next morning, getting up early, June slipped down to the stretch of riverbank covered with thick brush and trees. Being fairly sure no one else would be up that early in the morning, thinking she had complete privacy, she slipped out of her shoes. Then taking off her clothes, she carefully folded them neatly and lay them on the bank near the river.
A few moments later she slipped completely nude into the still warm soothing waters of the lazy flowing stream. The cool water felt delicious on her skin so she lingered far longer than planned.
Frank had risen early. Unable to sleep, he decided he would take a walk down along the river before the wagon train got underway. Unaware, he stumbled on the secluded hidden cove where June was bathing.
Meanwhile, her bathing completed, June was wading through the shallow water toward the nearest bank.
They saw each other at the same time. Frank, deeply embarrassed, quickly started to turn away.
June, startled, with nothing on to cover herself—at first—gasped with surprise. Then she saw the stricken look of surprise on his face and realized it was completely unintentional, an unfortunate accident.
Before he turned away, Frank enjoyed one long bittersweet look. For the briefest moment of time, he drank in the forbidden sight of her breathtaking naked loveliness. His hungry yearning eyes, for that brief moment, devoured the feminine beauty that was June Richardson.
June quickly recovered her composure. Looking up she saw not only his deep embarrassment, but also his longing and desire for her—for a long moment she stood quietly—facing him, giving him a special gift of allowing him to silently look at her nakedness. He looks like a man dying of thirst, she thought.
Frank feeling very upset to have interrupted her private moment finally started to turn away. However, before he had completely turned away, he saw a sweet gentle smile of intimate understanding on her face.
The souls of June Richardson and Frank Hardin touch one another in that magic moment. The fleeting moment was made more special because both realized it would never be repeated.
Nothing was ever mentioned between them about the early morning bathing incident. They went on to the end of the trail with no words ever spoken about that forbidden early morning intimate experience.
Each aware the other had hidden that wonderful moment of yearning and desire, deep within their heart. Being both decent and honorable, each person knew the desire they had for one other must never be allowed to surface. They finally ended up thinking—perhaps in another place—maybe in another time.
Wagon wheels movin'...
During the Sioux Indian attack that occurred a couple days later, the wagon train gained another new member. A young man of questionable reputation, but skilled with a gun. For Jeb Baxter, necessity won out over discretion, and Emmett Lacey, a gunslinger from down Texas way, was invited to join the wagon train.
He and Frank Hardin soon become fast friends. One more member was added to the Richardson's evening campfire. It's like we're a real family, June often thought as she watched Frank and Emmett playing with the children.
One evening Frank approached June and Jack Richardson with an unusual suggestion.
"You know," he said, "you two don't have much room in your wagon. Why not let Sarah and Jimmy sleep out on the grass with us? We'll put them in the middle, between Emmett and me?" he said. "We'll take real good care of them."
"What do you think June?" Jack had asked. "I'm sure Jimmy and Sarah would be wild for that idea," he said.
"'Okay," she said. "If you're sure they won't be too much trouble."
About this time Emmett Lacey sauntered up. "They won't be any trouble at all, Mrs. Richardson. Besides, maybe this way I can put some distance between me and Frank's snoring."
June Richardson though—knew the real reason. Frank Hardin in his kind sweet way was trying to make it up to her for his little blunder at the river a few days back.
He's doing this so Jack and I can have some private time. It's just his way of being considerate. I will always be glad I allowed him to look at me that morning, she thought.
Although June knew she would never be unfaithful to her husband, —she did find her affection for this quiet man growing.
Bringing her wandering thoughts back to the present—her cooking now almost completed—June started setting the table. Jimmy and Faye will be getting home soon, she thought.
June knew Frank Hardin had gone to Leadville to help his old friend, Emmett Lacey. There had been a large article in the San Francisco paper about the big shoot-out in Leadville, Nevada. The paper said Mr. Hardin had survived, and was expected back any day now.
She had been thrilled when her daughter Sarah told her that Frank had asked to call on her. I wonder if he still has feelings for me, she thought, because even after all these years, I have never been able to forget him.
Leadville, Nevada - The Sheriff's office has a Visitor...
Five days after the big Leadville shoot-out the two happily reunited cowboys were sitting in the sheriff's office discussing plans at ease.
"Emmett, old Pard', you should chuck this sheriff job and come on back to San Francisco with me. We could go into business together—be just like old times."
"That's mighty kind of you, Frank but I've already made my plans. I'm not a big city kind of feller. I have a hankering to be back astride a horse riding across the prairie. I want to feel that West Texas wind in my face. A few days from now, I'm planning on giving up this job and hittin' the trail back to Texas."
"What's back there?" Frank asked.
"Well, in all the time we've known each other I never felt a need to tell you—I guess you might say that I'm sort of a bad bad boy from a good good family," Emmett said, laughing at his own little joke.
"Shucks, old Pard," Frank said, grinning mischievously at his oldest friend, "That 'bad bad' part, I've known about since the first day I met you."