Esther May squinted her eyes and scanned the field before ducking below the top of the five-foot wall surrounding the hacienda. “Shouldn’t they be coming along?”
“Who?” Doña Maria asked. She sat cross-legged on the ground where she could see her vaqueros at their positions. “The Apaches or the patrol?”
“The men you sent to see if the Indians are gone.”
“Well, we haven’t heard any shooting, so maybe they’re tracking farther out.” Maria pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “Either that, or they were jumped before they could put up a fight.”
What Will They Do?
Esther May took another quick look and dropped back to rub a cloth along her rifle barrel. “How long do the Indians usually keep on coming?”
Maria emitted an unladylike grunt. “There’s no usually when dealing with Apaches. They fight when they think they have a chance of winning.” She waved at her maid. “Frida, bring us water and something to eat. Maybe burritos.”
“So,” Esther May said, “if we showed ‘em we’re not going to roll over, they may have cleared out?”
“For now, yes.”
“How long is for now?”
Maria laughed. “I’ve never seen an Apache clock. Have you?”
A shout down the wall caused them to jump up.
“Here they come!”
The words felt like a punch to Esther May’s gut. She steadied her rifle on top of the wall. Seeing the riders were Doña Maria’s men, she exhaled and breathed hard.
The six men rode in a loose group. Several of them kept turning their heads to look to their rear. Behind his horse, one rider led an Indian woman tied by her wrists. When she stumbled, he dragged her until she regained her feet.
Some men of the patrol pumped their rifles in the air at their compadres in the hacienda. One swung his hat and yelled.
The Fight’s Over
“The Indians are gone,” Maria said.
Esther May’s legs had gone hollow. She had to sit. The ordeal was over. And what was the gain?
Near her were the partially covered bodies of Mustache and two Apaches. The Indian she thought of as Red Tails was spread out because of her. She could still see what he looked like when her bullet struck him.
She was grateful Frida hadn’t returned with the food. Now was not the time to test her stomach.
The gate was swung open and the riders entered. Esther May thought their smiles seemed more from relief than victory. The capataz leading the group searched until he saw Doña Maria. As she stood, he dismounted and removed his sombrero.
He tilted his head toward the Apache woman covered with trail dirt. “They are gone. She said they decided we had too much firepower for them.” He pointed at Esther May. “It was your repeating rifle, senorita.”
Maria tipped her head looking at the quiet figure of the erect Indian woman and spoke to her in Spanish. [Why didn’t you go with your people?]
Esther May didn’t understand the exchange but took an immediate interest. The woman was slim and much older than her posture and mobility indicated.
She Stayed Because …
She answered Maria. [My son is here.]
In English, Maria passed the word to Esther May. “One of these dead Apaches is her son.”
Esther May saw the white hair, smudges of ash under the dust on the woman’s face, and raw wrists where her hands were tied.
“Cut her loose!” It was a scream filled with fury Esther May didn’t realize she had left. Her rifle pointed at the foreman. “Cut her loose!”
What’s going on with Esther May? Leave a comment now.
Here’s a short article about Apache funeral customs.
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