Esther May should have given it more thought. Trouble was, she hadn’t been thinking at all.
Dinner at a real table with Lieutenant Bodkin, whose eyes turned her insides fluttery, made the decision for her.
Prolong the evening.
A quick bath in Aravaipa Creek with aromatic soap did wonders setting the rest of the evening—and night—off on the best possible course.
Then, lack of planning caught up with her.
Esther May didn’t mind not having a washcloth, but neither did she have a towel.
Worse, her clean clothes were in the buckboard, and Abuela took the wagon to spend the night with the Apache women.
What’s A Lady To Do?
She was going to have to crawl, soaking wet, back into her dirty garments. Perhaps the Lieutenant … make that, Charles, would go, or send someone, to fetch the buckboard. It was worth a try.
Gritting her teeth, Esther May pulled her britches on. Sweat-stained and dirty, they felt stiff enough to break.
As she picked up the rest of her clothing, the stench hit her. How filthy was she? People weren’t supposed to detect their own body odor. But she could certainly smell the over-ripe, unwashed trail hand who wore this shirt.
He Was A Gentleman
Wow! Charles must have been away from civilization for quite a spell to allow her to sit at his table.
At least she wouldn’t have to keep the dirty clothes on too long. In fact, while waiting for the wagon, she could slip back into the water and rinse off.
She finger-combed her shoulder-length hair, stripping water from the strands in the process as she walked in the shadows back to the tent. She’d get close enough to call out softly so no one but Charles could hear.
Esther May saw a silhouette coming from the garrison. The man wasn’t trying to be subtle. In fact, he stomped his feet as he walked. He went to the tent flap and did an about-face. “Lieutenant Bodkin?”
Behind him, Charles stuck his head out. “What is it, Laurey?”
Sergeant Laurey faced outward into the dark in deference to his officer’s privacy. Though lacking spit and polish, the men of Camp Grant had essential military discipline.
“A Dispatch Rider from Tucson, sir. Apache raiders have come north from Mexico. They’ve hit several ranches, mostly burned barns and run off with horses. But in the last report, they killed a miner and his four-year-old daughter on the Peloncillo Mountain road.”
“How long ago?”
“The dead were found two days ago by a rancher and his cowboys. They’re chasing the Apaches.”
Lieutenant Bodkin sighed. “Well, we had a few days of peace. Did the rider bring orders?”
“Only an alert—with a suggestion from Camp Lowell that we increase guard duty and watch our friendlies to make sure they don’t run off to join the hostiles.”
Could They Be Here?
A tingle went up Esther May’s spine. Staying coyly in the dark didn’t seem so appealing now. She left the charcoal black of the trees to join the men. If the sergeant was surprised to see her emerge from a direction other than the tent, he didn’t show it.
“I heard you talking,” she said. “Are we in danger?”
“Probably not,” the shadow that was Charles said. “The hostiles normally wouldn’t attack an army encampment, but your cattle may lure them in. You certainly can’t stay here by yourself.”
He turned to the outward-facing shadow. “Sergeant, post extra guards and have that chuck wagon driver pull his rig close to the barracks. Then ask the steward to prepare a guest room for Miss Esther May Cooper.”
“I need to get the buckboard closer too,” Esther May said. “It’s got my weapons in it.”
“Very well,” Charles said. “Got all that, Laurey?”
“Yes, sir. Do you want me to strike the tent as well?”
Esther May couldn’t see Charles Bodkin’s eyes in the dark, but she visualized them. She had no protest when he replied, “In the morning will be soon enough.”
What is the greatest risk to Esther May? Don’t forget to leave your comment now.
Eight years after Esther May was at Camp Grant, Martha Summerhayes accompanied her Lieutenant husband across Arizona. Here is her brief account of one small part of the journey where her infant’s life was at the end of a cocked derringer. Click To Read More for the final few paragraphs. (On this trip, Martha started out from Fort Apache—close to where C.J. is currently keeping watch over Eb and his donkey.)
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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