Miriam pressed her hands to her breast and focused her wet eyes on Esther May. “I lost two children back there to the Mimbreño. The older woman’s breath caught. “It’s dangerous country where you’re headed. Think about coming back with us. At least to the Rio Grande.”
Esther May reached for Miriam’s hands. “I know it’s risky, but C.J. and I talked it over. We’re only passing through. We’ll stay vigilant until we get to Arizona and past Apache land.”
Miriam slumped and groaned. Silas barked a, “HA!”
Esther May’s brows arched. She glanced at one, then the other of the older couple. “What is it?”
Silas spat and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “It’s all Apache land. Almost all of New Mexico and Arizona Territories. You think it’s a wide, open country but it ain’t. Just ‘cause there ain’t a hostile behind, beside, or in front of you today don’t mean one won’t be skin close to you tomorrow.”
He scuffed a toe in the dirt and shrugged. “You can ride to the mountaintop and see for miles. No smoke, no dust, no movement, nothing. You’d swear not another living soul was a hundred miles near about. Then, before you get back to your camp, your horse is shot out from under you.” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “They spring up out of the dirt and disappear in the shadows.” He pinned Esther May and C.J. with a glare. “It’s up to you, but you’d be wise to heed the warning. We’re not staying here another hour.”
The Sound of Aloneness
Harold and Eugene mounted, and each touched the brim of his hat to Esther May before riding off. Like a military patrol, they took up outrider positions for Silas and Miriam.
Their creaking wagon disappeared down the mountain road, dragging silence behind. For C.J. it was unnaturally quiet. After an afternoon and evening with company, the lack of the extra voices and animal noises left him hearing the breeze in the pine trees and the occasional scuffings and shufflings of his companion and critters.
“Did you want to turn back, Esther May?”
She frowned and shook her head. “No. I’m not rightly eager to meet any Indians, but any chance for a ranch is ahead, not behind.”
“Well, then, I reckon I’d best hitch up the team so we can get on with it.”
She chewed the inside of her jaw. “C.J.? Do you mind holding one more day? It’s been a climb, and the mules could rest longer. I’m going to rig up more harness to hook up two horses, so we’ll have them and the two mules pulling. I also want to hook up rump straps to the back horses so instead of just leading them we can use them for brakes. Miriam said we’d see a lot of uphill and downhill ahead.”
C.J. considered the proposal. “That sounds smart, but I’m gonna keep Skewy for riding. You can use the stud for the drag horse.”
“All right. I’ll work on the harness.”
“If you don’t need me, I’m going on up the road to see what it’s like and maybe shoot a deer.”
Esther May bobbed her head in agreement, and C.J. saddled the little mare.
There’s Been A Change
He was happily anticipating showing Esther May the turkey he’d bagged, but as C.J. returned to the camp, he knew something was wrong.
There! A strange horse. It looked familiar, but—
Esther May bent over an object at the far edge of the clearing. Nothing else seemed out of place. She straightened and turned to face him, tears washing trails on her dusty face.
“They’re gone, C.J. All gone.”
C.J. dismounted, his gun in hand. He turned a complete circle and saw at Esther May’s feet the body of Harold.
“He had an arrow in his kidney, C.J. He said Apaches jumped the wagon. He was hit and almost fell off his horse. Eugene went rushing in to save his folks but was too late. They were all killed. He said that he clubbed the Indian that shot him and got away.”
She wrung her hands. “He didn’t look that bad, C.J. He didn’t. But he died as he was talking to me.”
What will the youngsters do? Leave a comment now.
Here is a brief article of acquaintance to the Apaches.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
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