As Alejandro said, the men of Camp Grant might be dangerous, but they were also ready for a diversion.
Esther May suspected the arrival of fresh beef would have been enough to trigger a carnival atmosphere in the camp. Still, her modesty couldn’t deny the attention she received.
The men gathered around her horse, stumbling over each other in haste to help her do something … anything.
“You can pull the buckboard over there.”
“Need help unloading?”
“Hey, I bet we can have a dance tonight. Would you like that?”
“She wouldn’t dance with you slobs. She’d want a man like me.”
As the talk swirled around and toward her, Esther May had to smile. What would these men do if a clean, sweet-smelling woman in a dress showed up? She had washed in Aravaipa Creek, but still, she smelled like cattle, sweat, and dirty clothes.
She wasn’t sure she could dance after all these weeks in a saddle. Charming.
The hubbub died at the approach of a square-shouldered man of average height.
He was dressed no different from the other men—a shirt that once was white, gallus straps, and blue woolen breeches.
He needed a shave, his hair cut and washed, but he had clear eyes, a thick chevron mustache, and a commanding demeanor.
He tipped his head up, shading his eyes with his hand, like a salute. “How do you do, ma’am? I’m Lieutenant Bodkin, Charles Bodkin. Welcome to Camp Grant. If you would care to dismount, I’d like to offer you the comfort of the Officer’s Mess.”
The formality tickled Esther May. She was no longer an eyelash-fluttering maiden, and she couldn’t help poking a little fun.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Bodkin, Charles Bodkin, but if it’s a mess, why don’t you clean it?”
Her reply caused a ripple of laughter among the men, and Lt. Bodkin smiled.
“It’s a military phrase, ma’am. The mess hall is a dining room, although I can see how it got the name.”
Esther May decided she liked his smile. “Speaking of names, Bodkin seems unusual. I don’t think I’ve heard it before. Is it French?”
“My grandfather said it came from the Anglo-Saxons, so it could be from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, or Ireland.”
“You Bodkins got around, didn’t you?”
The laughter was more muffled this time since the joke was directed at an officer.
Esther May realized her blunder. “I’m sorry, Lt. Bodkin. I’ve been so long on the trail that my manners have suffered. As an apology, how about beef for dinner tonight, and I’ll see if Alejandro will offer his cooking skills as well?”
Cheers and exclamations burst from the soldiers.
“Something Cookie can’t ruin.”
“I hope my gullet won’t fergit how to swaller a steak.”
Esther May laughed as the comments and merry prattle continued. She glanced around to see if her companions enjoyed the moment and saw Abuela staring past one of the buildings.
Esther May followed her gaze and saw several Indian women. She leaned over from her saddle and asked the lieutenant, “What are those women doing in the camp?”
“Oh,” he said, “don’t pay them any attention. They stay nearby and do chores for the men—laundry, and such.”
Is This Moral?
“And such,” Esther May said as she straightened up.
Abuela had been watching and listening. She spoke in Apache. “Riding Woman! Don’t argue with the soldier.”
“He wants me to eat with him while he uses women. I can’t do it,” Esther May said.
“Go and eat,” Abuela said. “We’ll find out more. Things are working here.”
Lt. Bodkin’s head swiveled between Esther May and Abuela. “You speak Apache?”
What’s going on at Camp Grant? Leave your thoughts here.
Little Nitis, who rode with Esther May, would have known another boy his age, Haskaybaynayntayl, better known to whites as The Apache Kid. See his picture and read his article here.
Manta in the picture? Here’s an explanation.
To read the series, click here for the first post. This will be Tales Old Roy Told. Tap the down arrow in the Archive box to open the list. After Tales Old Roy Told, work upward.
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