Daybreak, but Old Sol hadn’t climbed over the Pinaleño Mountains to the east keeping Camp Grant in a gauzy pre-dawn shade.
Esther May, Abuela, and Sergeant Laurey met at Abuela’s buckboard.
Esther May tied her gelding to the wagon and greeted the sergeant. “I worried that your men would resent rounding up my cattle, but they seem happy enough.”
No Drill This Morning
The soldiers were in a loose formation, laughing and making bets on who would get kicked or gored first.
“I know these guys,” Laurey said. “Save the spit and polish for the officers, give ’em a day off from their regular duties, and they think they’re playing games.” He gave Esther May a wink. “Besides, they know they’re doing it for a lady.”
A hollowness shot through Esther May. She could have been a lieutenant’s lady. Charles Bodkin made her feel like the officer’s table in the mess hall was fine dining.
A nudge from the gelding’s nose on Esther May’s shoulder broke her reverie. “I appreciate it, Sergeant. It’s gonna be hard enough keeping the bunch together until they get trail broke again.”
“You’ll have help,” Abuela said and tipped her head to the other side of the wagon. “Liluye is coming with us.”
The Young Laundress?
Esther May hadn’t noticed the Apache woman. Liluye stood nearby, a blanket across her shoulders. She hugged a bundle close; a shy smile played on her lips.
“Really?” The notice caught Esther May by surprise, and she turned to Liluye. “Don’t you—” She stopped herself before admonishing an Apache on the hardships of traveling across Arizona. She finished lamely, “Don’t you have family here you’d rather stay with?”
“I want to be with Riding Woman.”
Abuela said, “Liluye has two spirits—a good sign.”
“We could sure use the help,” Esther May said. “What if we took one of the horses from the team and let her ride it? Would one be enough to pull your wagon?”
Sergeant Laurey slapped his leg. “Here’s where I come in. There’s an old mule not much good for anything but changing grass to road apples, but he can still pull if it ain’t heavy freight. In my authority as the temporary commander, I can assign him to you.”
“I don’t know, Sergeant. That sounds like you’re stretching your liberties a little too far.”
“OK, then. What if I sell him to you? The Army lets go of feeble animals to clear the stock pen for replacements. The rules don’t say what I’ve gotta sell him for.”
“How about we trade? I’ll give you a steer for him.”
“Done. Just make sure you hitch the old feller to the nearside.”
What Side And Who?
Esther May shook her head. “What’s the nearside?”
“Oh, that’s muleskinner talk for a team. The nearside is left, and the offside is right. Old Don Jenkins is blind in his right eye, so if he’s on the nearside, he’ll see the edge of the road and won’t walk off a cliff.”
Esther May couldn’t help laughing. “I don’t know how the names come about, but I suspect Don Jenkins has been put in his place.” She held up a hand. “Before we go to the trouble, though, let me ask Liluye something.”
Esther May waved the woman over to them and spoke to her in Apache. “Have you understood all that was said?”
“You talked of horses.”
“Yes. Do you know how to ride?”
Liluye didn’t answer right away, and Esther May said, “Do you want to try?”
Liluye raised her chin. “I know how.” She shrugged. “I just don’t ride much.”
Done And Done
“Well, experience will come.”
Esther May extended her hand to Sergeant Laurey, “We’ve got a deal.”
Laurey’s grin was both fatherly and full of glee. “It’s a fine day. I’ll have Old Don Jenkins fetched, and we can unhook this nearside critter for your gal to ride.”
He tipped his head toward Liluye. “You know what having two spirits means, don’t you?”
What does the addition of Liluye mean for Esther May? Don’t forget to leave your comments below.
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