An Officer and Gentleman
Lieutenant Bodkin’s grin revealed yellowing teeth under his mustache, reminding Esther May to take better care of her own chompers.
The Lt. seemed too young to have an old man’s teeth. The stains were probably caused by time spent in these mountains that had so many minerals in the drinking water; and he was waiting for an answer. “Miss—you know, I never caught your name—did I hear you agree to dinner tonight?”
Esther May dragged up her wandering mind. “Yes, Lieutenant, thank you. Dining at a table would be nice for a change. Would you have your men fetch the steers you need? Make sure you get enough for all,” she tipped her head toward the Indian women clustered near a building, “including the help.”
“Certainly, miss … ?”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant Bodkin. I’m Esther May Cooper. As you can see, my social graces have been packed in my saddlebags.”
“That’s perfectly understandable, Miss Cooper. I don’t believe a New York debutante could drive a herd down Aravaipa Canyon.”
Lt. Bodkin blushed under his tan. “That is—I didn’t mean you’re not a lady. It’s just that a lace curtain couldn’t do what you did—not that you don’t enjoy lace. I’m sure you appreciate, and wear it when … .”
His shoulders slumped, and he blew his breath out. “I’m going to shut up now.”
Is That How She Appeared
Esther May heard the words, and they bothered her. She’d prided herself on matching what any man could do, but she wasn’t ready to face the loss of her femaleness.
“Tell me about the debutantes of New York, Lieutenant.”
Once more, Lt. Bodkin blushed. “Well, I’ve never been there myself. I joined up in California. The Major’s wife there was always serving tea for the officer’s spouses, and the scuttlebutt was that she was a New York debutante.”
Bodkin shrugged. “Compared to you, with her big skirts and highfalutin’ airs—”
“I look nothing like a lady,” Esther May finished the sentence for him.
The Lt. dug a toe in the dirt. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s unbecoming of an officer to prattle on like that.”
Let’s Talk About Dinner
“It’s fine, Lieutenant Bodkin, Charles Bodkin,” Esther May said, making fun of the way he had introduced himself. “I’m going to set up camp down by the river. Will you ring a bell when dinner’s ready? I don’t have a watch.”
“Why, don’t you dismount and come on now, Miss Cooper? I can provide you with a room for privacy and a wash basin.” He leaned in with a grin that held the aces. “We have soap.”
Esther May swung a leg down. “Lead the way.”
A Festive Evening
Harmonica and fiddle music filled the night air at Camp Grant.
Esther May found it absurd that these rough-hewn, almost unkempt, soldiers could play such tender, heartwarming songs.
Some were nostalgic tunes where they blended their loneliness into notes that could bring tears.
To be sure, the men played some bawdy ballads where choruses were sung at the top of their lungs.
At such times, Esther May concentrated on her plate and conversation.
Saying It Plain
“Thank you for inviting me here tonight, Lieutenant. You’re a gracious host, but I have to tell you that when I leave in a couple of days, I’ll take those Apache women.”
Bodkin stopped chewing. “What Apache women?”
“The women I saw out back when I arrived.”
Let’s Get This Right
Lieutenant Bodkin laid his fork on the plate and dabbed at his mouth with a napkin. He placed his hands in his lap and sat straight with his shoulders squared. “Miss Cooper,” he scowled at her, “I’ll not let you take them into captivity. The days of selling Indians for slaves are over.”
“What? No!” Esther May didn’t expect this turn of conversation. “I’m trying to keep them from becoming slaves. Isn’t that the way they’re being treated?” She felt her face flush with heat.
The Way It Is
Bodkin leaned his forearms on the table edge. “Those women have no men to look after them. But not in the way you’re inferring. Without a hunter to provide for them, their life is substantially harder. For wages of food, clothing, and sundries, they do laundry, gather wood, help with the cooking, and keep the barracks clean. They also have the protection of living near the post. That’s all!”
Esther May gazed at him. Charles Bodkin really did have dreamy eyes.
Is Esther May a little conflicted? Remember to leave your comment.
Camp Follower: What does it mean? Here’s a definition from Merriam Webster online.
Pretty sleazy, right?
Here’s an article about the reality of camp followers.
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