Esther May enjoyed pleasant surprises served with charm during supper with Lieutenant Charles Bodkin.
Not only did she discover that the Apache women around camp were protected and valued, but the lieutenant—“Call me Charles” was educated and refined.
“I didn’t expect to find a real table out here,” Esther May said, running her hands along the top. “Or, such conversation. This is the most civilization I’ve seen since leaving Doña Maria’s hacienda in New Mexico Territory.”
Social Graces and Apache Beer
Charles laughed. “Despite the songs the men sing when they’ve sampled the local tizwin, we’ve been known to wash our ears and comb our hair occasionally.”
Esther May’s fingertips turned her pewter cup of cool, olla water in slow circles.
“Abuela’s told me about tizwin. It’s a beer made from local plants, isn’t it?”
“It’s alcoholic cactus juice. The Indians use a Spanish dagger, which is really a yucca plant, or sometimes corn. It depends on the tribe’s custom and inclination. We try to put a stop to its manufacture, but it’s more prevalent than kerosene.”
Charles waved a hand at the lamps with their unlighted wicks. “Which is why we’re using candles.”
Better Than A Campfire
Esther May licked her lips. In the soft, yellow glow, the Lieutenant’s stained teeth no longer mattered. His eyes told the story of determination, leadership—firm but fair, kindness, and knowledge.
She cleared her throat and swallowed. “There’s nothing wrong with candlelight. Some prefer it while dining.”
Charles dabbed at his mustache with a checkered napkin. “Ah, yes. Candlelight, charming company, and good food. Thanks for the beef. Steaks tonight and stew for tomorrow. The men and I thank you.”
A Cowgirl Or Lady?
Before Esther May could respond, Charles continued. “I heard you say New Mexico. Did you drive that herd all the way? Just you, an Indian woman, and a Mexican cook?”
Esther May shook her head. “That’s a long story, and I’m ready to turn in. I think after dessert, I’ll go make camp.”
“Of course,” Charles said. “I’ve enjoyed your company so much, I’m afraid I kept talking too long. Let me see if I can get Cookie to scrounge up some bread pudding.” He slid his chair back and stood.
“That’s not necessary. Alejandro made an apple pie.” Esther May ducked her head. “He didn’t have enough apples to make any for the men, though. Just one.”
On Officer’s Row
Charles took his seat. “It’s what we call Officer’s Privilege,” he said. “I don’t mind accepting it on occasion, but I try not to flaunt special benefits before the men.”
Esther May cocked an eyebrow at him. In the dim light, she couldn’t tell if he blushed.
Charles fidgeted and shrugged one shoulder. “Uhm … I don’t know why I said that. I guess I want you to think well of me.”
The steward arrived with pie on porcelain saucers. They ate in silence while Esther May wondered how to re-engage the conversation.
The lieutenant took the initiative and moved the talk back to general topics. “Where will you set your tent?”
Sky For A Tent
Esther May smiled, relieved to keep things casual, and because she’d been making her way west facing as much struggle as any man.
“I don’t have a tent. I have a bedroll that I usually put under the buckboard.”
“But that won’t do!” Charles waved for the steward. “Ask Sergeant Laurey to come in.”
Esther May started to explain that she was capable of spending nights in a bedroll near her pistol and horse, but the sergeant arrived.
Hodgepodge uniforms and a certain familiarity among the ranks didn’t seem to dull military discipline that Esther May could tell. Although Sergeant Laurey didn’t snap to fiddle-string rigidity, he was prompt and attentive.
Quarters Military Style
“Sergeant,” Charles said, “erect a tent down by the large sycamore for Miss Cooper. She’d like to retire and needs privacy.”
“Yes, sir.” Laurey left to complete the order.
Where You’ll Stay
“The sycamore’s close to the river, but far enough from the water that the mosquitos are thinned out,” Charles said. It should be satisfactory.”
“How long before it’s ready?”
“By the time you walk down there, it should be set up. May I escort you?”
“Yes, that would be welcome.”
“You know, I think I have a bottle of tizwin around here somewhere. You can have it to help you sleep.” Charles waited before moving. When Esther May didn’t object, he went to a sideboard and withdrew a jug.
“Spare soap, if you have it, would even be better,” Esther May said.
“I happen to have some in the next room. I’ll fetch it, and we’ll be on our way.”
The night wasn’t so dark that Esther May couldn’t see as she made her way across the parade ground. At the far end, the silhouette of a tent stood underneath a spreading tree.
A Privileged Officer
Esther May swallowed the lump in her throat. “Would you care to go inside and make sure the tent is set up properly? I’ll be in as soon as the soap and I are done at the creek.”
What is Esther May thinking? Remember to leave your comment below.
Here’s an interesting article covering what Esther May, Lieutenant Bodkin, and others may have eaten.
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