Calming Esther May’s Frettin’
Easterly aimed his pole in the river upstream of his path and jabbed the bottom. It struck firm riverbed. No holes or rocks. He lifted the branch enough for the slow current to float it in front of him and he prodded again. Once more on the downstream side. He crossed the Rio Grande making three exploratory plunges every few steps. One on each side and where he meant to step. His arms grew tired from pulling the crude pole back upstream, but the fifty-yard-wide crossing let the river spread out to move slower, shallower.
The depth of the main channel only came up to his waist.
On the far side, he leaned on the branch to rest a moment. He thought to throw it away and wade back until he saw Esther May watching, her hands clasped at her throat.
A realization sure as lightning shot across the river to him. The willowy young woman depended on him. A weird, hollow sensation filled his chest at the idea. The new, unusual feeling confused him but fixed him with the resolve not to let her down.
No sense emptying out his boots. As he did with the chestnut stallion, he moved to the other side of the extended road through the river to poke his way back.
River Bottom’s Good
“It looks passable, Esther May. I reckon the wagons are heavy enough to keep from floating. But just in case, I’ll ride the stud in the uphill current with a dally rope.”
“Thanks, Easterly. It was straight-out silly of me, I guess. I figured the dream for a warning, but it was just a dream.”
Easterly was about to agree with her when she added, “You made me feel a heap better.”
She could have said she saw him tackle the whole Apache nation for the effect on his vanity. He felt powerful, large, and invincible. He’d carry those wagons across the river himself, one in each arm.
For Every Unimpressed Girl, an Embarrassed Boy
Before he got carried away with his newly perceived status, Easterly was reminded of the sin of pride.
“Hand over your britches and I’ll dry them by the fire. You’ll chafe too bad to ride from wearing wet clothes.”
Easterly felt his ears burn. They felt like they were sticking out past his hat brim. He couldn’t give Esther May his britches. And what was she doing talking about chafing?
The only spot on him that could chafe bad enough to keep him from riding was inside his legs and on his rear. She oughtn’t to be alluding to his privacy like that. Like a woman talking to a child.
Easterly couldn’t keep the heat from his face. “I reckon I’ll be fine.” He ducked his head and glanced sidelong where she stood with her hands on hips.
“Are you embarrassed? You’re wearing johnnies, ain’t ya?”
When she stood rooted Easterly gritted his teeth, climbed into a wagon and scrounged for his other pants. After verifying Esther May’s location where she couldn’t see, he changed and put on dry socks. He felt his face burn again when he handed her the wet pair.
Neither teen mentioned Easterly’s wet long johns.
Esther May built a rope clothesline between a wagon wheel and tree and strung it to pass near the fire. She spread out Easterly’s pants on the line careful to keep the cuffs out of the dirt.
That chore done, she collected chuck from a basket, returned to sit beside Easterly and handed him a hoecake.
“I am grateful you took me serious, Easterly, and not like a silly girl.”
He didn’t know what to say. He shrugged rubbed Hund’s ears.
Easterly broke off a bit of the mishmash bread and offered it to Hund who refused to acknowledge the morsel.
Esther May picked at her fried corn cake to nibble a crumb. “I’ve only had powerful dreams like that a couple of times before.” She ducked her head, clutching her cornmeal bread hard enough to break it in pieces.
“They’ve always come true.”
It looks like Esther May is wrong. The river bottom is good. What do you think? Leave a comment.
An idea where long johns got their name here in the weird history of long johns.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
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