Someone Else Is Out Here
Esther May stood in the stirrups and surveyed the approaching company. “They’re moving slow and kicking up a lot of dust.” She sat and cradled her rifle in the crook of an arm. “What do you think, Abuela? A wagon train?”
She glanced behind to see the green vegetation along the Gila River several miles away. “Dang! I should’a washed up when I had a chance. The first time we meet someone in days, and I smell like coyote bait.”
A Little Fragrant
“Worse,” Abuela said. “Señor Coyote would leave you for the buzzards.” For the first time, Esther May heard Abuela laugh—a light chuckling, similar to a quail’s call. “And Señor Buzzard would fall out of the sky if he flew over you. He’d have to walk up with the wind behind him.”
Esther May felt heat rise to her cheeks. “Find a place to pull off the road. We’ll wait for them there.”
First of 75
Within an hour, a few head of hollow-flanked cattle appeared. As they topped a gentle rise, their plodding pace quickened, and they lifted their noses.
They paid no attention to anything but the distant promise of water. Bawling and mooing, more cattle arrived herded by two riders.
A third vaquero rode over the rise and into view. “Keep them moving,” he yelled in Spanish.
Esther May assumed he was instructing the herders. Although the first two men had looked her way, neither had acted as if she and Abuela existed.
The yeller came straight toward them.
He wasn’t grinning.
Trouble or Not?
Esther May loosened her pistol in the holster and positioned herself and her gelding in front of Abuela.
Like the other two, this vaquero appeared to be Mexican, but he spoke English from under a skinny but untrimmed mustache. He offered no smile or greeting. “What’re you doing here?”
Perhaps he was just a no-nonsense man who worried all the time. Esther May gave him what she hoped was a friendly grin and said, “We’re going to Camp Grant.”
He laughed then, showing brilliant, white teeth. “From here?”
His gaze traveled over Esther May, and he craned his neck to see Abuela in the wagon. “You won’t make it. I think you will die.”
He turned his horse to follow the herd.
Chuckwagon For Four Riders?
The last of the cattle went past, pushed by a final vaquero. Behind them came a four-mule chuck wagon pulling a two-wheeled cart. The driver was an older man with sun-weathered skin. A bushy mustache matched the white hair hanging from under his sombrero.
He pulled the team to a stop and set the brake. He touched the brim of his hat and said, “Hola a todos.”
“Hello there, yourself,” Esther May replied. “Are you going to tell us we’re going to die out here, too?”
“Ah, Norteamericana,” he said. “Why would you die?” He glanced at Abuela. “You have a guide, it seems.”
“We’re going to Camp Grant. Doesn’t the river go right past it?”
Observing the Niceties
“Forgive me, senorita. My manners. I’m Alejandro.” He touched the hat brim again.
Esther May shifted in the saddle to tip her head toward Abuela. “This is Abuela, not a guide but my companion. I’m Esther May. If you wish to step down I’ll get off my horse, and we can visit in the shade beside your wagon.”
Alejandro squinted his eyes at the disappearing herd and puckered his lips. “You need help.”
Why does Esther May need help? Chime in with your thoughts and leave a comment.
Here’s a little bit about a chuckwagon.
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