Laramie, Wyoming Territory, mid 1880’s
“You look beautiful, Lacy. I daresay no bride ever looked more so,” Amelia Hardy said to her daughter as she adjusted her veil. She kissed Lacy’s forehead just before she lowered the sheer fabric.
“Thank you, Mother.” There was no joy in her voice, only resignation.
“Oh, Lacy, you might as well accept it. We’re just lucky Carl stepped up and agreed to marry you. You would have been ruined.”
“But I wasn’t ruined, Mother. Carl didn’t compromise me at all. It isn’t fair and you know it.”
Amelia sat down and sighed. “Fair has nothing to do with it and you know it. You two were out all night and he didn’t bring you home until morning. Perhaps it might have been different if we hadn’t had guests, but you know how people are. We didn’t have any choice but to insist that he protect your reputation.”
“My reputation was spotless. So is Carl’s. He’s a good man, an honorable one, or I wouldn’t have been with him in the first place. We shouldn’t be held responsible for a violent thunderstorm. You and Father ought to be grateful that Carl got me safely to a shelter.”
“Or should we be irate that he took advantage of an opportunity to be improperly intimate with you?”
“The fact is that we can’t know for sure, and neither can anyone else.”
“Carl and I know, and our word should be good enough.”
Amelia stood and put her arms on Lacy’s shoulders in a sympathetic gesture. “Lacy, honey, you said yourself, Carl’s a good man. He’s certainly an attractive one. He is quite a catch, my dear. Several disappointed mothers of single daughters are lamenting right now that he’s off the market. Try to be happy. You like each other, and that’s more than some married couples can say. Love will grow between you, and I’m sure it’ll happen soon.” She hugged her. “And we know Carl is interested in you, or he wouldn’t have invited you on a picnic in the first place. You’re a smart, sweet, funny, clever girl. Just give him even half a chance to fall in love with you, and he’ll be head over heels before the honeymoon’s over.”
Lacy took a deep breath. “I suppose so. I do enjoy his company. I just wish all these small-minded people wouldn’t jump to the worst conclusion. He was a gentleman!”
“That’s just how it is, dear. It isn’t your fault. It isn’t his, either. If anyone’s at fault, the blame is mine. I shouldn’t have begun allowing you to go out unescorted. But we can’t undo that now. As your father would say, we have to play the hand we’re dealt. You can turn it into a winning hand with your attitude. Now, put a smile on that pretty face. It’s almost time for your father to walk you down the aisle.”
“Unescorted, my hind foot. I would have gone with him anyway. I’m an adult now, Mother. I’m nineteen, in case you’ve forgotten. I’m old enough to make my own decisions.”
“Oh, Lacy. That independent streak will cost you one day. I wish you would work on being more, well, obedient. More yielding.”
“Apparently, I already am, or I wouldn’t let myself be forced into this marriage.” She gave Amelia a look that bordered on a defiant dare to be argued with. “Will Father come up to get me when they’re ready?”
“Yes. I believe we’re just waiting for the groom and best man. It’s such a pity their parents couldn’t attend. I hate that they’re sick.”
Lacy let out a mirthless chuckle. “Do you think it’s a bad omen that the groom is late?”
“He’ll kick himself when he sees how beautiful you are.”
“Thank you, Mother.” Lacy managed a smile.
“Are your bags all completely packed for your honeymoon in Cheyenne?”
“Yes. I have one bag packed for tonight at the hotel, then we catch the train east tomorrow. I’m glad it’s a short trip from here to Cheyenne. You know how I don’t like being cooped up for a long time on a moving train.”
“Yes.” Amelia laughed. “I’ll never forget that regrettable train ride when we went to Chicago.”
Lacy laughed at the memory. “Neither will the other passengers.”
“I wonder what could be keeping your father. I’ll go check.” Amelia closed the door behind her as she left to go downstairs.
Their parlor had been transformed into a floral wonderland. The pianist, a family friend, kept the attendees entertained with a wide assortment of songs. Even though it was a few minutes past time for the ceremony to start, people still had smiles on their faces and some even sang along to the music.
Amelia found her husband, George, waiting at the door. “What’s the holdup?”
“Carl’s nowhere to be found. I’ll kill that scoundrel if he backs out now.”
“That’s not like him, I don’t think. Surely, there’s a good reason. I’ll go back up to wait with Lacy. He’ll be along soon; you’ll see.”
Upstairs, Lacy paced. “What could be keeping him? They don’t live that far away.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing, Lacy,” Amelia said, worry creeping into her voice.
“It’s not like him, Mother.”
“All we can do is wait, dear. I’m sure he’ll be here soon, and I’ll bet he’ll have a good reason. Years from now when you tell your children about your wedding day, you’ll both laugh about it.”
Lacy thought about having children with Carl. Would she love him by then?
“Did you and Carl talk about whether or not you’d continue to work at the store with us after you’re married?”
“We did. He decided to let me choose for myself. He said that should I become with child he’d prefer that I stay home. I agreed to that. Until then, I’m not sure yet. I’ll probably work short days with you so I can take care of him and the house.”
“That sounds like the perfect solution. We’ll have time to find someone to work with us, and you can help us interview people. You see? He’s a good man, to let you decide.”
Lacy smiled ruefully. “We knew that already.”
They heard sounds at the front door. Getting excited again, Amelia pinched Lacy’s cheeks for color and told her to purse her lips a few times. Lacy stood in front of the full-length mirror, making sure everything was fine with the dress and veil.
The door opened and George appeared in the doorway along with a deputy sheriff. Gerald, Carl’s brother, stood behind him in the hall.
“Carl’s been found. Dead. Shot in the back.”
Big Rock, Wyoming Territory
The Big Rock Ladies’ Aid Society was brought to order by the president, Harriet Smithers.
It was a specially scheduled meeting, called at the request of the minister’s wife, Mrs. Charlotte Copperfield. Harriet turned the podium over to her.
“Thank you, Harriet. I know some of you have friends and relatives who are eager to move here to become brides and have been patiently waiting to be matched. Indeed, I know some are already in the process of corresponding with some of our townsmen.” She paused for emphasis as she’d often seen her husband do during a sermon. “Ladies, I have what I consider to be an urgent need. The young woman in question, Lacy Hardy, attends the church in Laramie where Willis pastored before we came here. She was even in my Sunday School class. I know her and her family very well.”
“How old is she?” Amy Larkin asked. Society meetings were very informal; the only adherence to their version of parliamentary procedure was Harriet’s use of her gavel.
Charlotte stepped out from behind the podium, giving the audience the impression that her next words would be of greater import. She’d seen Willis use the technique many times.
“She’s nineteen. Mind you, she’s a good girl, but there was a scandal of sorts and it would be better if Lacy could start over in a new location. She’s found herself ostracized since the incident.”
“What was the incident?” Evie Glover asked.
“Yes, tell us about the scandal,” Amy said.
“Well,” Charlotte went on, “I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea. The people in Laramie have scorned her. I don’t want that happening here.”
“Charlotte,” Harriet said, “you know we aren’t judgmental types in here. We won’t think ill of Lacy.”
“You might do well to remember that our last bride was about to be sent to prison for repeated thefts,” Evie said, laughing. “That worked out fine, didn’t it? She’s one of us now.”
“Yes, yes, of course, you’re right,” Charlotte said. “And truly, I believe the girl’s word that nothing untoward happened. She and a young man had gone on an outing, a picnic, I believe. They had been seeing each other for four or five weeks, in town. Anyway, a horrible thunderstorm came out of nowhere. You know how it is in these mountains. Weather can hit in the blink of an eye. Trees were blown over and the horse spooked and ran. The young man found them shelter in an abandoned cabin just as the fiercest rains began to fall. That storm set in and stayed nearly all night. Early the next morning, they set out walking back to town. As you might expect, they looked quite haggard and unkempt when they arrived. The Hardys had guests, so soon other people knew they had spent the night together unchaperoned out in the wild. Lacy swears that she wasn’t violated, but her parents insisted they marry to protect her reputation. The young man agreed to marry her.”
“Then where’s the scandal?” It was Evie butting in again.
“The young man didn’t show up for the wedding. Lacy thought she’d been stood up until the deputy came and told them they had found the body of the groom. He’d been murdered.”
Sympathetic murmurs arose around the room.
“Who killed him?” another woman asked.
“They don’t know. Lacy herself has been suspected. It was speculated that she killed him so she wouldn’t have to marry a man she didn’t really love. To confound things, during the weeks he had been courting Lacy, he had apparently seen another young lady a time or two. She, too, fell under suspicion, but no evidence of wrongdoing on her part was found. It’s all a most unfortunate situation. Certainly a tragedy for the young man, but now Lacy can’t escape the shadow of impropriety on more than one level. The girl wasn’t in love with him and would very much like to start over. I would dearly love to give her that chance, here in Big Rock.”
There was chatter among the group. Finally Evie spoke for them. “Our own friends and relatives who are interested in coming here to marry aren’t in dire circumstances. Our hearts are going out to your Lacy. Of course, we all want to welcome her to our community, and we’re agreed that we should concentrate on finding a husband for her as soon as possible.”
Charlotte gave them a grateful smile and put a hand on her heart in gratitude.
“All right,” Harriet said, taking the podium again. “We certainly have enough bachelors to choose from. I’ve interviewed a few of them and have candidates in mind. First things first, though. Charlotte, if Lacy comes out here and isn’t to be married immediately, will she stay in your home?”
“Yes, of course, we’d be delighted to sponsor her.”
“Good,” Harriet replied. “Now you’ve told us a little about her situation, but what about the girl? What are her interests? What is her personality like?”
“Oh, all right. Well, she’s nineteen and a smart girl. Reliable. Always studied her Sunday School lessons. She has a quick wit and a clever mind. Lacy works in her parents’ store. She’s a bit of an artist as I recall. I’ve seen her drawings. And she made some beautiful… well, I don’t know what to call them,” Charlotte said with a laugh. “They’re like drawings or portraits, but she makes them out of fabric scraps on a muslin background. Up close, you can see the fabric scraps and they look a little rough and crude. But if you stand away and look at it, you can see the perfect likeness of a person or a landscape. Yes, she’s an artist, definitely. She’s basically a sweet girl at heart. Amelia, that’s her mother, says she does have an independent streak, but that can be a healthy thing, don’t you think?”
“It’s healthy unless she really means to say the girl is rebellious. Or even unself-disciplined,” Amy commented.
Evie and Harriet both chuckled aloud. Evie spoke up. “I don’t think being unself-disciplined will be a problem for the men in this town. Most of them would be fully willing and prepared to apply some discipline to her self until she acquires some of her own.”
The other women agreed with their own guffaws and giggles.
“All right, then,” Harriet continued with her thoughts. “I have the names of a few men I’ve interviewed recently, but honestly, with the description Charlotte gave of Lacy, I have to believe Emmett Burke is our best candidate.”
A chorus of oh went up from the ladies, drawn out and spoken with something akin to reverence.
“He is definitely an artist,” Nessa Kelly said. “He made us a copper weathervane that’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen another like it.”
“He repaired our plow,” Sandra Kinney said. “All right, that’s not artistic, but he did a good job.”
“Have you been in his blacksmith shop? He has all kinds of things he’s made on display. Everything from horseshoes to belt buckles to copper pots. I swear, he can make anything made of metal.” Lilac Indigo Reed nodded up and down, wide-eyed, as she looked around.
“And look mighty good while he’s doing it, too,” Shirley said.
“All right, I’ll say it,” Bethie Hickam said. “Let’s face it, the man himself is a work of art.” Bethie was perhaps the most free-spoken of the group.
“Oh my word, yes,” Shirley Keller agreed. “The only good thing about the hot summer is seeing that man work over those smithy fires with no shirt on, only that leather apron covering him.” Perhaps Shirley and Bethie were both the most outspoken.
Or maybe the honor belonged to Harriet. “I’ll tell you a secret. I’ve requested special-made metal gifts from Arthur just so I can go with him to describe what I want to Emmett in person. I swear, he’s almost as big and strong as Angus Kelly.”
Nessa grinned with pride at that mention of her husband. At six foot eight, he was a giant in their town, a gentle, helpful, extremely strong giant of a man.
“Ladies,” Charlotte cleared her throat, not so comfortable with the carnal direction their discussion had taken, “let’s get back to business, please. What’s the next step, Harriet?”
“I’ll go immediately after this meeting, to see Emmett. If he’s agreeable, then you know what we usually recommend is for Emmett to write to her and tell her about himself. Then she can write in return and they’ll decide to pursue a union or not. Is there a reason you think that won’t work?”
Charlotte looked anxious. “I just wish the process was quicker. I’d like to get Lacy out of that situation tomorrow if I could.”
“I suppose there’s no reason why she can’t go ahead and come to town and stay with you until they decide to marry. If they ultimately decide not to proceed, there are plenty of other men in town who would be interested. If he does want to marry her, I suspect he won’t want to wait long. I tell you what. Let’s see what Emmett says.”
“I want to go with you to see him,” Charlotte said.
“I do, too,” several others said.
Harriet clicked her tongue and gave them a shaming look. “Ladies,” she said scornfully, with a big, wicked grin on her face, “we don’t want to overwhelm him. Charlotte and I will go.”
“I’m ready,” Charlotte said. The other ladies were too polite to say anything when they noticed the pastor’s wife smooth down her hair and straighten her collar. They knew. They’d all seen Emmett.
* * *
Harriet and Charlotte approached the blacksmith shop. Most of the people in town called it the blacksmith shop even though the official name of the business was Burke’s Metal Works. That day, Emmett wore a shirt and Harriet was disappointed. It was hot in the front room even though all the windows were open for ventilation. There was some soot on his cheek and Harriet thought it might make him even more appealing. There was just such a masculine quality about him.
“Hello, Harriet, Mrs. Copperfield,” Emmett said, flashing them a broad, toothy smile that had been known to, or at least thought to, melt the bloomers right off a woman.
“Emmett, you’ve been asking me to match you up with one of our brides for a time now. Your wait paid off. We have the perfect woman for you,” Harriet said.
Emmett put down the heavy tongs and picked up a towel to wipe his hands. “You have my full attention, ladies.”
“The girl’s name is Lacy Hardy and she’s from Laramie. Charlotte knows her through their former church, where her husband pastored.”
“A lovely girl,” Charlotte said. “She was even in my Sunday School class.”
Emmett nodded. “Tell me more,” he said. “Tell me everything.”
“Well,” Harriet began, “there is a situation the poor girl is in. We want to get her away from there as quickly as we can.”
“Is she in trouble? Or in danger?”
“Oh, no, Emmett, nothing like that. No danger. No trouble, exactly,” Charlotte said, wavering on the last word.
“Well, what is it, exactly?” he asked.
Harriet took a deep breath and big leap of faith. “There was a young man who had begun to court her for a few weeks. They weren’t in love but enjoyed talking and such. They went on a picnic out to a picturesque place near the river. An awful storm came up and frightened the horse and it ran away with the buggy. The storm intensified and the young man was forced to find them temporary shelter from the horrific winds and rains. It didn’t let up until morning. I don’t suppose I have to tell you that rumors tend to spread. It quickly came to the point where Lacy’s father demanded the young man marry her. He agreed, even though neither of them wanted to marry. Then on the day of the wedding, he didn’t show up. She thought she was being stood up, but it was much worse. He’d been murdered.”
“Oh, no, that’s terrible.”
“It was, and it got worse. When authorities learned the two didn’t want to get married, they tried to blame Lacy for the murder. Of course, there was no evidence, and she had a houseful of alibi witnesses, but the authorities kept investigating her. She was plagued by even more gossip. She became a pariah, and quickly. The cold accusing stares, the whispers, the turning away to avoid her. That’s no way for a young woman to live. She just needs a fresh start. I believe you can give it to her.”
“I could,” he said. “But why me? Why did you pair her with me when I know there are other men in line before me?”
Charlotte smiled at him. “The girl is an artist in her own right. She draws and creates beautiful textile portraits. We all think of you as an artist, too. Your work is beautiful. We thought that would add a delightful dimension to your relationship.”
Emmett laughed. “Ma’am, that’s fanciful talk. I’m just a smithy.”
“Now you’re just being modest. Granted, there may not be much beauty to a horseshoe, but just look at some of these other pieces. It’s a different kind of artistry, but it’s still creative and beautiful.”
“All right, maybe I can see that. I do enjoy making things. Tell me about her personality.”
Charlotte beamed. “She’s a good girl at heart. Sweet tempered, as I remember, and smart. Clever and witty, too.”
“At heart? A good girl at heart?” he asked. “That sounds like it needs some explanation.”
“Her mother tells me she’s grown to have a mind of her own. Perhaps an independent streak. A small one.” Charlotte held up her thumb and forefinger to illustrate a small amount.
Emmett nodded and stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I want a woman who has a mind of her own. Opinions of her own. Some spirit and a backbone. I’m not afraid of an independent streak. I can rein that in if I need to. All right, then, yes.”
“Yes?” both ladies asked at the same time.
“Let’s get her here as soon as we can. I’d like to marry her.” He smiled. “As soon as we can.”
“Wonderful!” Charlotte said. “And I promise you, she’s still a virtuous girl. I believe her when she says she wasn’t compromised.”
“That’s a wonderful thing and something to be treasured, but really, I’d marry her either way. What she did before me doesn’t matter. After all, I haven’t exactly led a celibate life. What matters is what happens from now on.”
Charlotte colored a little bit and Harriet tittered at the thought of the possible number of women he hadn’t been celibate with.
“Emmett, you haven’t even asked what she looks like. Don’t you wonder?” Harriet asked.
Emmett laughed and it was a deep, hearty sound. “Yes, ma’am, I do, more than you can imagine. But Miz Charlotte said she’s lovely and I was afraid I’d seem shallow if I asked about her looks.”
Harriet joined him in the laugh. “Tell him everything you know, Charlotte.”
“Lacy is indeed a lovely young woman. Her coloring is much like your own; she has dark wavy hair and hazel eyes. Such a nice smile, it lights up a room, as they say.”
“Tell him what he wants to know, Charlotte. What kind of figure does she have?”
“I haven’t seen her since we moved here, but she had a, um, nice figure, as I recall.” Charlotte’s hands went up in front of her, then fell, then went up again before she doubled them up in fists and frowned.
“Are you trying to say she’s a buxom girl?” Harriet asked.
“I’m trying my best not to say it,” Charlotte said, looking down in embarrassment. “Oh! Amelia, that’s Lacy’s mother, did mention Lacy would wear the wedding gown she had been married in. They didn’t even have to make alterations. Her mother always had a fine figure. What they call an hourglass figure.”
Emmett stroked his chin again, a smile spreading across his face.
“I’ll definitely marry her. Give me the information I need, and I’ll wire money for her fare tomorrow. Find out how soon she can get here. I see no reason to delay, do you?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to get to know her first?”
He grinned that grin again. “I’ll get to know her pretty well after we’re married. Of course, there’s always the possibility she won’t want to marry me.”
Harriet chuckled. “No, there’s not. I can’t imagine a woman not wanting to marry you, Emmett.”
“Harriet,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder, “you are a shameless flirt. Does Arthur know you talk to men like this?”
“Yes, he does. And he’s very appreciative once I get home, if you know what I mean.”
Emmett laughed again and Charlotte buried her face in her hands.
“I forgot to ask one thing. How old is Lacy?”
“Nineteen,” Harriet answered. “Is that too young for you?”
“I’m twenty-eight. Do you think I’m too old for her?”
“Not a bit. All right, Emmett, I’ll bring you the information you need tomorrow, to send money to her. We’re about to head over to Caleb’s and send her a wire about you. Anything you want us to say on your behalf?”
“Yes, ma’am. Tell her I want to marry her the day she arrives. And I look forward to it very much.”
* * *
Harriet and Charlotte hurried to Caleb Carter’s telegraph and newspaper office. On the way, they discussed what to say in the wire. How do you tell a woman about a man like Emmett and convey everything you really want to say? Charlotte composed the message.
Come to Big Rock as soon as you can get here STOP Found husband for you STOP Emmett Burke STOP He will wire fare money tomorrow STOP He asks you to marry him STOP He looks forward to it STOP Get here STOP He is amazing STOP Handsome STOP Emmett wants to marry the day you arrive STOP Trust me STOP Do it STOP My goodness make haste STOP If you never do anything else I say do this STOP Marry the man STOP Wire back as soon as possible STOP Charlotte Copperfield
“Charlotte,” Harriet said. “That’s going to be an expensive wire to send.”
“I’ll take money out of the collection plate if I have to.”