The Mining Camp
Esther May had been in cattle towns before. She expected the mining camp to have the same familiar layout and activity and didn’t want to ride down the main street at dusk. She stopped on a rise outside of town to search for a route to her destination.
There was no sameness about it.
The largest three buildings proclaimed their offerings through the noise they generated and the foot traffic they drew. The path worn in the dirt between the honkytonk triplex defined the “street.”
Separate buildings: a hotel, a general store, and a smithy with stables, were situated where it suited the builder. The town was a random cluster of civilization surrounded by tents and lean-tos.
Esther May glanced at C.J. He was barely clinging to the saddle. They had to stop here, but she could see no doctor’s shingle or apothecary’s.
In the fading light she saw, on the far side of the settlement, a graveyard. It covered almost as much area as the business part of town. Beyond that was a mission.
The priest helped Esther May take C.J. to a rope-tied cot in the adobe adjoining the mission. “There is a doctor who can help if he is sober. I’ll send a boy to fetch him.”
Esther May grinned. The old saying was right, she felt a lot lighter now that someone was helping her. “Thanks, Father.”
“Not Father. Brother. I took my vows, but I haven’t been ordained yet. I’m Brother Pablo. Is that an arrow wound?”
“I should have the boy buy some whiskey, then.” He flicked his eyes down before returning his gaze to Esther May. “It’s the best medicine we have to kill infection.” He continued to hold Esther May’s expectant stare.
She got it. “Oh. Let me get you something.” She retrieved her saddlebags from the gelding. “Here’s folding money. I believe it’s a good currency. There are over three hundred dollars.”
Brother Pablo gasped and crossed himself. “We do not need so much for helping. Even if you’re not Catholic.”
In a reaction she didn’t anticipate, Esther May shoved the bills into Brother Pablo’s hands and burst into tears. She took a crude chair and put her head down on her forearm at an equally refined table and sobbed.
Through her choking breaths, Esther May heard the Brother giving instructions to some of the boys that were peeking in the door.
Brother Pablo drew up another chair and placed a pottery cup in front of his undone guest, and kept one for himself. He poured red wine into both cups.
“Sip on this. The boy Julio went for the doctor, and Roberto will bring you tortillas or fry bread. Your husband will be well tended.”
Esther May dragged a sleeve across her runny nose and wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Father—”
“—I killed two men.”
Brother Pablo paused in the motion of raising his cup. “Did you kill them to steal this money?”
“No. I killed them because they were shooting at me. The money came from a man already dead.”
Should Esther May receive help from the mission? Leave a comment now.
Establishing missions was an energetic endeavor of the first western explorers. Here’s an interesting article covering New Mexico.
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