Rejoining The Garrison
The cooks were rousing at four-thirty in the morning.
Lieutenant Charles Bodkin held the tent flap open for Esther May, and she stepped through the doorway into the quiet pre-dawn.
“I have to check the dispatches,” Charles said, “but I suspect I’ll take a patrol to check on the Apache population. Just to make sure no hostiles are trying to stir things up, you know.”
“Their camp isn’t that far up the creek.” Esther May cast a sidelong glance at him, but it was still too dark to see his expression. “Will you be back in time for lunch?”
She heard his soft chuckle. “Patrols aren’t whirlwinds. They can last for days.”
“Oh.” She tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“But in this case, I’m going to try very hard to be back for supper.”
Esther May’s spirit lifted. “That’ll do.”
You May Want To …
They strolled, close but not touching, toward the buildings. Charles cleared his throat. “I have a tub in my quarters. If you want, you may use it while I’m gone.”
She felt the warmth of a blush spread across her cheeks. What was the Lieutenant implying? Did she not get clean enough last evening, or was it merely for her comfort that he offered?
“I take a tub daily,” he said. “If you wish, I’ll have my striker bring more water for you too.”
Esther May relaxed. He was merely inquiring after her preferences. “Perhaps, if the offer still stands later today. It seems a shame to waste a bath before a sweaty ride to check on the cattle.” Esther May stopped.
Charles straightened. “What’s wrong?”
Not The Belle of the Ball
“It just dawned on me, Lieutenant Bodkin, Charles Bodkin,” Esther May said using his introductory phrase, “I sound nothing like a lady. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I’m a Texican raised by my daddy. You won’t find me in a high-necked gown in the kitchen or on a tufted chair with a sewing basket on my lap.”
Once the words started, she couldn’t stop them. “I had pretty hair at one time, and I don’t mind brushing it, and I don’t mind dresses—as a matter of fact, I really like ’em. But I don’t even own a brush anymore, and if I had a needle, I’d probably use it to sew up a gash in one of us.”
Esther May lifted her arms and dropped them, slapping her legs. “I’ve killed men. So, if you’re thinking of supper with a lady, Lieutenant, now you know better.”
One quick step and Lieutenant Bodkin, Charles Bodkin had her in his arms for a long, promising kiss.
Evidently, he approved of her as she was.
A Breathtaking Sunrise
Morning at an army camp was a new experience for Esther May, and she loved it.
A bugle sounded for reveille, breakfast, roll call, and assembly. It was a high-energy activity far different from a cowboy camp where a cup of hot coffee and a biscuit with no butter often started the day.
With Old Friends
Esther May went to breakfast with Alejandro at his wagon and looked around. “Where’s Abuela? Do you think she went back to the Apache camp?”
“Unlike me, I don’t think she would leave you,” he said. “She is probably close by.”
“Yes. I’m going to Tucson. I know people there, and with the contents of the flour kegs, I should live well.”
“I’ll miss you, Alejandro. You’ve been a good friend. When are you leaving?”
“Today, with the dispatch rider. It’s nice to have company.”
“Do you think it’s wise to take off with renegades on the loose?”
“You remember, senorita, that I was almost killed by my employer? This is Arizona—you are never safe.”
Esther May stood and hugged him. “Be careful, Alejandro. If I ever get to Tucson, I’ll look for you in the biggest hacienda.”
Esther May found Abuela at the laundry pots talking with the Apache women.
“There you are, Abuela. Do you want to go with me to make sure the herd isn’t scattered?”
“I will go.”
“Oh, Abuela. You don’t have to. It wasn’t an order. I thought you might want to get out in nature and enjoy this beautiful morning. Isn’t it grand?” Esther May spun with her arms outstretched.
And The Reason
The older woman said, “You like today because you had a man last night. And I will go to keep an eye on you.”
Esther May again felt the burn in her cheeks. “Abuela! Don’t say such things. I’m not going with a man—not today—not in daylight—you know what I mean.”
What You Don’t Know
Abuela raised a finger. “Both Snake Bite and Chews Loud wanted you but didn’t dare do anything because you’re Riding Woman. Now that you’ve had a man, you are worthy of stealing. They will try. It would bring them great honor to steal Riding Woman.”
Esther May lowered her voice to a whisper. “Would you quit talking about me and a man? Besides, how would they even find out that I … spent time in a gentleman’s company?”
“They already know.”
Will Esther May be safe at Camp Grant? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments.
In those days, officers and their families could pay enlisted personnel as servants. Here’s an article that includes strikers.
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