The Apache women finished their chores at Camp Grant. As was their custom, they gathered at the laundry pots before going back to their village. The women were not given to idle chatter, but today they were quieter than usual and kept glancing at Abuela.
The old woman understood. What would she do if Esther May didn’t return? And it was possible, even likely, that the young white woman wouldn’t come back. Not many men could go into Apache country after a warrior and hope to return victorious. The girl’s chances were less.
Tesahay saw the image first and pointed. “Here comes Riding Woman.”
A rider, silhouette shimmering in the late afternoon heat, appeared across the parade ground.
Abuela shielded her eyes against the low sun in the western sky that haloed Esther May, a long groan her only utterance.
The old woman jumped to her feet as Esther May came closer. “I thought you were a chĭdn. Are you well?”
Esther May drew a knife from her belt. Holding it by the tip, she threw it in a perfect twirl. It stabbed a log in the firewood pile.
Abuela looked from the quivering knife to Esther May. “You have a new weapon. Can we say the name of the man you took it from?”
“No,” Esther May said. “He is no longer alive.”
Abuela took the knife and turned to the women. “When you go back to your camp, tell the Black Rock People they can’t mention the name of the one Riding Woman went after. Tell them to remember how Riding Woman gave them beef and horses and how she gave Nitis a ride. Tell them they can have no greater friend than Riding Woman,” she held up the blade, “or no greater enemy if their heart is evil. She was gone only one night to kill the man who wronged her.”
The women gathered their bags and left, except for Liluye. She was a twenty-something child of the Arizona desert whose silky black hair, sun-burnished skin, and moccasined feet were as natural to the land as cactus.
Liluye stood with a hand pressed to her stomach, lips parted, and stared at Esther May. Abuela finally told her, “Go.”
Esther May dismounted and said, “That was quite a speech you gave, Abuela. I don’t know why I threw the knife as I did.” She half-laughed. “I didn’t even know it would stick. I guess between us, we put on a show.”
Abuela handed the knife back to Esther May. “You now have three of these from two men who tried to take you. Any others will leave you alone now, I think.”
“Well, I don’t want to give anyone another chance. I want to round up the herd and head out tomorrow. Will you come or stay?”
“I go. You are my daughter.”
It was a simple sentence, but it struck Esther May hard and unexpectedly. “Abuela—I—” All she could do was hug the Apache woman.
What A River Is For
“Now is the time for me to tell you important news,” Abuela said.
Esther May drew a sleeve across her nose and dabbed at her eyes. “Yes?”
“There is a good creek there. Go wash.”
Esther May laughed. “I have a better idea.”
Good Old Sergeant Laurey
“Sergeant Laurey, do you think it’d be all right if I used the lieutenant’s bathtub one more time?” Esther May tucked in her lips and hoped she hadn’t breached some military protocol.
“I think he’d be right proud, Miss Cooper. I’ll send Private Franks to tend it right now.”
“Thanks, Sergeant. It’ll be the last time. I expect to get the cattle on the trail tomorrow.”
“Already, eh? Um, may I ask, ma’am? Did you take care of the Apache problems that were bothering you?”
The Reason I Asked
When Esther May paused, Laurey hurried on. “Because, if you’re going to Tucson, I can send a man or two with you. See, we don’t have an officer now with Lieutenant Bodkin—well, you know. Anyway, I sent a rider to the fort to ask for a replacement commander, but that leaves me in charge until one gets here. I can send an escort with you, and if you meet up with the officer, they can return with him.” Sergeant Laurey grinned. “It’d make it look like they were meant to show him the courtesy of a guide.”
Esther May’s sight blurred as her eyes brimmed. The rough soldiers of Camp Grant, devoid of most things civilized, had shown her kindness, consideration, and tolerance. “Thank you, sergeant,” she had to stop to swallow the lump in her throat. “But I plan on heading north.”
“Well, then,” he said. “I’ll have K Company help you round up the cattle. Getting them out of the river bottom will be a good exercise for the infantry, won’t it?”
Sergeant Laurey laughed at his joke and said, “After Franks pours your hot water, he’ll fix your supper. A cleaned-up lady ought to eat a proper meal at a table.”
What lies ahead for Esther May? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts. We want to know.
A view of the San Pedro River where Esther May will drive her herd.
Chĭdn – Spirit
Liluye – Hawk Singing
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