The Lieutenant Returns

Bugle Call: Bugle call / painted by Wm. M. Hunt; lith by D.C. Fabronius Library of Congress

Gossip At The Laundry Pots

Esther May enjoyed spending time behind the enlisted men’s mess with Abuela and the laundry women. Even though the women were shy, Esther May coaxed them enough to learn about life in the Aravaipa village. When she asked about Nitis, an Apache boy, Abuela laughed.

“Riding Woman sounds like she’s ready to become Wickiup Woman with a little Aiyana (blooming flower) of her own.”


From the heat in her cheeks, Esther May knew she blushed. Firstly, by using Esther May’s Indian name, Abuela had invoked the image of a powerful, almost magical woman.

Secondly, Abuela was right. Esther May had indeed been thinking what life would hold for her as a military wife.


Lieutenant Charles Bodkin had a grip on her heart that left her breathless and excited.

True. They had never talked about the future, and in fact, had only spent two nights together, but that was enough.

Wasn’t it?

Esther May was eager to spend more time with Charles and find out—if he’d only get back from that darned patrol.

He’d led K Company away from Camp Grant three days ago, searching for hostile Apaches.
When Esther May asked Private Franks, the lieutenant’s striker, how long the patrols usually lasted, he said the company had taken rations for a week.

Esther May started counting the hours.

Here They Come

She was about to give Abuela a lighthearted reply to the Wickiup Woman tease when the bugler sounded Assembly.

K Company was returning to camp.

Esther May ran to the edge of the parade grounds and searched for Charles.

He wasn’t on either wagon, but Sergeant Laurey hopped down from one and came toward her. He doffed his hat, and when Esther May saw his expression, she turned cold and shivered.

Bad News

“Ma’am,” he said, “the lieutenant is no longer with us.”

Esther May heard the words, but they weren’t making sense. “How—what do you mean?”

“Yesterday afternoon, he … uh … stepped aside for a privy call. He must’ve tripped and hit his head on a rock.”

Laurey slowly rotated the hat brim through his fingertips while searching Esther May’s face with worried eyes. “When we found him, it was too late. We thought he should be buried in the post cemetery instead of under a pile of caliche in the hills. We marched all night to get him here.” The sergeant cleared his throat. “He won’t—begging your pardon, ma’am—last long in this heat. We’ve gotta get him under the ground today.”

This Is All Wrong

The world had faded to a pale haze. Esther May’s throat was too dry for a reply; she could merely nod.

Sergeant Laurey grabbed her elbow and led her to a bench on the porch. “Sit here in the shade a minute. I’ll fetch you some water.” He gazed at her until she weakly waved him away.


All Esther May remembered about the funeral was the bugler played Taps.

It tore her heart out, and the tears flowed.

Sergeant Laurey conducted her to Lieutenant Bodkin’s quarters, where Private Franks said something about “clean bedding.”

A Little Help

Laurey set a brown bottle on a stand near the cot. “It ain’t laudanum, ma’am, but it’s pretty darn good for putting all thoughts outta your head.”

The sergeant’s elixir worked, and Esther May didn’t wake until nine o’clock the next morning. She rolled over and threw up in a conveniently placed bucket. Private Franks was indeed a worthy striker.

Biscuits and beans were covered by a cloth where the bottle of whiskey sat the previous evening. Esther May caught the aroma and heaved again.

After she used the washbasin, she dragged herself to the porch bench, squinting in the daylight.


Abuela joined her with a fist-sized deerskin pouch. She untied it and offered the contents to Esther May. “Chew this.”

“Don’t want anything.”

“It will chase the bad níłchʼi from your head. The stink of your breath won’t leave until they do.” She thrust the pouch forward.

Esther May sighed heavily, then ducked her head, remembering what Abuela said about bad breath. “What is it?”

“Medicine. This is water.” Abuela handed over an army canteen. “Riding Woman needs a clear head to listen.”

More News

Esther May chewed on a ground-up concoction tasting of venison, corn, grass, and something else. Possibly dirt or worms. She didn’t care. “I’m listening.”

Abuela stood in front of Esther May until they made eye contact. Abuela nodded, apparently satisfied she had the younger woman’s attention.

“Warriors get glory for killing their enemies. The closer they get, the braver they are. All Apache children learn to throw rocks; they kill birds and rabbits this way. Braves can throw stones, too, but for the fierce warrior, to show honor is to hold the rock and hit the enemy with it.”

Esther May washed the dry mix down with a slug from the canteen. “Are you telling me the raiders are out there?”

“Just the one whose manhood you stole and banished. Chews Loud.”

What will Esther May do now? Don’t forget to leave your comment.

Here’s a neat site for bugle calls. Underneath the bar music is an audio file where you can listen to Assembly. In the left-hand menu are others.

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.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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