Western Short Story
Her father, Adolph Newt, told her that when she was due to be born she was going to be either Andrew or Abigail. So Abigail Newt became Abby Newt in one big hurry, and stayed Abby Newt right up through her 18th birthday, for that’s the day she married Tom Chisholm of the San Antonio, Texas Chisholms.
But between those two significant events in the Newt family, Abby could well have been Andy, so well did she ride, shoot, handle a rope and a branding iron, and keep boys at bay. For almost half a dozen years Abby Newt was in the eye of half the boys of due in and around San Antonio, with her platinum blonde hair, elegant features, lithesome carriage, and the eternal fire of enthusiasm in her eyes.
Some of her grandeur, above and beyond her family’s large ranch and large herds, started the day that her father sat at the same table in The Double Brace Saloon in San Antonio with Haggard Chisholm, Foster Williams and a few other ranchers. Their poker game was second hand as they talked about famous shooters and marksmen they knew or had seen in action. Names of famous and near famous and yet-to-be known shooters flew around the table with abandon, often accompanied by bombastic or hyperbolic descriptions of shooting accuracy.
All of it went round and round as usual, all knowing what was taking place at a card table over a few pints, and no holds barred, until Haggard Chisholm broke up the swing of things by saying, “On my spread I have the best shooter in all the west, now or ever will be.” His 50-year old eyes sparkled as he expressed his conviction. Chisholm was well known as a cowman, hustler, dreamer, do-er, bar none. Each of his companions knew he was a man of the future, had his eyes clear as ever on new targets, though he could manage a boast or two, it being part of the saloon game of talk.
But Chisholm’s statement begged for challenge and dare.
Dolph Newt, not the noisiest one at the table, waited for both challenge and explanations. When none came, some of it in deference to Chisholm himself, some of it to the notoriety of shooters on his spread, he could not let it pass without a fight. Newt was a worker all his life, from the day he landed in New York from the Bavarian Alps and headed west to make his fortune and bring his sweetheart from home. His arms were like axle trees, his grip that of a stone mason, his thick German accent saying he had most likely fought a lot to protect his roots and heritage.
“Hag, you never said dat t’ing before like dat, dat you gut the best shooter on dat ranch of yours.” His German-English spilled out on the table as clear as ever to each man.”
Chisholm said, “I got the best man, now or ever to come. No one will beat him in a shoot of any kind.”
Newt slipped the knife in his words. “I gut shooter beat dat one of yours.”
Chisholm, never worried but concerned, said, “On your spread? You sure, Dolph?”
“Yes,” Newt said.
“That’s a challenge then, on neutral ground.” He turned to Foster Williams and said, “At your spread, next Saturday, Foster? You handle the arrangements?”
“You got it, Hag, Dolph. At my place, noon, next Saturday. I’ll have the tables spread for you and all the hands you want to bring. Tell ‘em all to bring their musical toys. We’ll make a full day of it.” In a moment of pure joy, he wrung his hands in front of all of them. “A day of days we’ll have.”
When Abby Newt stepped up to the firing line, in all her beauty, Tommy Chisholm practically melted at her sight, and she shot the pants off him. Abby was just 15 and he had last seen her over two years earlier. Some folks there said he could not have outshot her in a hundred years he was so smitten.
Abby Newt’s fame was off and running from San Antonio clear up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene and Newton and Wichita and Caldwell in Kansas. It sparked talk in Red River Station and Waco and back down around the Rio Grande to other places where cow folk gathered. The talk had two basic grounds for discussion; how well Abby Newt could shoot a pistol or a rifle, from a variety of positions, at many types of targets sitting still or on the move. And the beauty that was hers, not flounced about but how it sat in her features at every turn of her head, in any kind of light.
One man was heard to say, “Tommy Chisholm can have 50 years of dying coming to him and it ain’t gonna get any better than this.”
Abby Newt’s fame leaped up another level barely a year later, her now 17, when she and her kid brother Andy took on a gang of rustlers and shot three of them right out of their saddles as they tried to head a couple of hundred head of Newt cattle into a small canyon with a backside outlet. One rustler’s bullet came so close to Abby that it shattered a rock and a flint-like piece of rock ripped a slice into her forehead.
One acquaintance, a long-time friend of Abby’s, talking about Abby’s wound, said, “She won’t wear it proud like a flag, but she won’t hide it either thinking it will ruin her beauty. It will be part of her from now on. You take that girl as she comes, with or without scars. It doesn’t bother her one bit.”
As her friend said it, she carried the scar as it was, a part of her for life.
And young cowboys of due, and many without that promise, made their way as close to Abby Newt as possible on every type of occasion. Including Tommy Chisholm, like a regular on the hunt.
When robbers hit the Elder Bank in San Antonio, her still 17, they broke from the bank and hit the saddles at the side of the bank. Abby and a dear friend, Alice Gately, shot one man from his horse and a second man, wounded, dropped a bag of money.
Tommy Chisholm, in the saloon with friends, upon hearing of the escapade, wondered what kind of children Abby and he could bring into the world. He was all for having as many as possible, even though he had not proposed to her as yet.
It was evident to Tommy Chisholm, as well as most people in San Antonio, that Abby’s star would rarely dim. She was born a star and would stay that way all her life. He was awed by the prospects and wondered what he’d ever do in life if she turned him down when he asked her to be his wife. He was 20 years old, had his due in the world but worked hard at its promise, and could not imagine himself getting married to any other woman.
Came the day when Alice Gately, her best chum, said to Abby, “That Tommy Chisholm is all over himself getting as near to you as he can, Abby. What are you going to do? You can’t wait forever. What if he gets disgusted and forgets the whole thing, forgets how much he wants to marry you. He’s been saying it for a couple of years now. Maybe more. You have to admit, he’s hooked on you. I don’t see where there’s another boy for you, Abby.”
“If he can’t wait until I’m ready for him, Alice, it will have to be somebody who is. I’m just not ready.” There was a look of distance in her eyes that Alice had not seen before. It caused her some disturbance, but she kept her mouth shut about that feeling.
Less than a month later, Abby almost 18 at the time, she came from Alice’s home outside San Antonio, and heard gunfire, rapid gunfire, out further on the plains. It was in the direction of the Chisholm ranch. She could feel the ball of fear wrap itself in a fist in her gut and punch at her from the inside.
She galloped in that direction.
The shots stopped.
Overhead the moon was behind dark clouds barely lit at the edges. Wind appeared to be moving clouds in huge chunks, and all around her, in the tall prairie grass that was fenced off for selective feeding, an element of that wind rustled up minor sounds of windy music.
She stopped, dropped the reins on her horse, grabbed her rifle and moved silently forward, toward a man’s voice and heard him say, “All right, Mister Rich Kid, we got you where we want you. We’re gonna ask your rich pappy for a fifty thousand or we’ll blow your knees off one at a time. We’ll let him see some of our handiwork. “
She heard Tommy’s voice, a strange sound in it. “He won’t give,” Tommy said. “Not a penny. Nothing. Try him.” He coughed and coughed again. Abby knew he must have been wounded. It was in the tone of his voice, in his selection of quick words, in his coughing which came with each phrase.”
Oh, man,” said the strange voice, “that’s a lot of blood you’re losing there from that wound. I must have hit something rich. Your arm’s soaked with blood. It’s all over your shirt, too.”
The last couple of years rushed through Abby Newt as she remembered all the favors that Tommy Chisholm had thrown her way, openly, in secret, via friends or relatives, a constant message of his feelings. She wondered what it would be like if they did not exist. It all made her perplexed for a short time, and then the possible loss hit her. The dimple on one of his cheeks rushed at her, and the sly smile he could exhibit when he wanted to say something he wouldn’t or couldn’t say out loud. The pain came in her chest. It was an anxious pain. It ran down one arm, then down both legs. She felt it in her boots and in her hands that grasped the rifle.
She had forgotten the rifle in her hands.
She stood up in the grass from the crouch she’d been in, and began walking toward the voices. The rifle was leveled at her right hip. Her hand was firm.
“Who’s that?” the strange voice said. “Who’s out there?”
Abby felt the fear in the voice, and the desperation and the momentary doubt that rises when one measures an unknown opponent.
Another voice said, “I told you this was stupid, Alfie. We’re too near the ranch house. Somebody will hear us. We’ll be surrounded. If old man Chisholm gets a hold of us, he’ll hang us from the nearest tree. He don’t fool around none at all. I hope that ain’t him out there.”
The strange voice came back toward Abby and said, “I’ll put a round in Mister Handsome here quicker than you can shoot, mister. Might be a pal of yours here who gets dead awful quick. So you best put down your gun else you’re gonna make me kill him.
Abby heard the click of a weapon.
The possible loss of what she didn’t have yet, leaped up through her. She couldn’t dally. Everything was in front of them, in front for her and Tommy Chisholm.
She snap fired her rifle right from the hip. The man stepped backward, dropped a weapon onto a hard surface on the ground.
He fell backward, his breath caught in gagging and spasms, and then he went silent as he hit the ground. The other man held up his arms just as a piece of moon slipped through clouds. Abby saw him with his arms raised and Tommy Chisholm on the ground.
“You get him up on that horse, mister, and in a hurry. If you don’t, I’ll put a round where it’s going to hurt you most all the rest of your days.
The clouds broke then and ran with a high wind. She swore she could hear the high wind working on the clouds. The light, the rich moonlight, fell on the scene and Abby saw the stranger lift her future husband up on his horse and start toward the nearest ranch house, where a bare light shone in a window. The moon, now the full moon of August, lit their way, as full as Abby had ever seen it, bathing Tommy and her and the dreadful stranger in its glow. The warmth of that glow fell with a swoop upon her. Important events and ideas surged to their proper place, as did important decisions.
“He better not die, mister, or you’ll hang for murder. That’s a promise.” She stabbed the rifle bore into his backside.
Nearer the ranch house she fired a shot in the air. Commotion broke out, and she yelled across the grass, “Abby Newt out here, Henry. I got Tommy Chisholm with me. He’s been shot. Send for the doctor in a hurry.”
Two months later, his wound healed, one more criminal in jail, Thomas Richard Chisholm married Abigail Clara Newt in a wedding as grand as any ever seen down San Antonio way , and the San Antonio boys of due went looking for a replacement for Abby Newt.