Esther May picked out C.J. from across the parade ground. He sat in a straight-backed chair in the shade of the sutler’s porch, escaping the increasing heat of the morning sun.
He rose and shoved his hands in his pockets as Esther May looped her gelding’s reins around the hitching post. She hoped he wouldn’t question her in detail. She hadn’t yet made up her mind what to do or how to go about it.
“Where were you?” he said. “I thought we’d have dinner—or something.”
“Oh, I thought I’d find a camp along the river while you were finishing your business here. I strayed so far it didn’t make sense to come back for the evening.”
There was that look of hurt on his face. The same one he had when he left in New Mexico Territory. Damn it! Hadn’t he grown any confidence during all these months?
“Look, C.J., dinner and digging up bones is fine with me. I look forward to it, but right now, I need some information.”
At that moment, Esther May committed to action.
Mind’s Made Up
“Who’s the post commander?”
“Well,” C.J. moved back to his chair, indicating a second one for her, “I understand it’s a Major Winslow.”
Esther May squinted at the buildings. “Which one’s his office?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do,” said a youthful voice.
She’s Here Again
Esther May turned her head and grinned at the conversation interloper. “Good morning, Sally. Will you take me to the Major’s office?”
“Okay. But I can’t go in. Mama says she’ll skin my hide if I was to get near officer’s country. My daddy’s an officer, and it’d unbarrass him, she says.”
Esther May rose and held out her hand. “Lead on, intrepid guide.”
C.J. stood too. “Esther May, you can’t just go barging in there. You’ll get us booted out of the fort.”
Sally turned big eyes to Esther May. “Ooh. Does this have to do with those Apaches in the stockade? Cowgirls are a lot more fun than cowboys. Wait’ll Kelly hears about this. He won’t think kissing Jeanette is so important.”
“Hold on!” C.J. grabbed Esther May’s arm. “It’s one thing to have ’em work for you out in the sticks, but here among—”
He stopped and glared at the girl holding Esther May’s hand. “Sally, leave us alone. Go play somewhere else.”
The anger in his voice moved Sally back a step, but Esther May held on. She started walking toward the long row of buildings dragging Sally with her. “C’mon, Darling. Let’s talk to the Brass Hat.”
Pick The Right Side
C.J. scuffed the dirt and followed muttering oaths in cowboy language.
Esther May cast a downward side-eye at the girl. Sally’s face said she was taking it all in with the exuberance of a merry-go-round. Yessiree, riding with cowboys and cowgirls would expose the child to a different education than she would get from an officer and a gentleman.
“He’s in there,” Sally said, pointing to a door. “But I can’t go in.”
“That’s fine, Honey,” Esther May said. “I’ll take it from here.”
She went in, followed by C.J. “I’ll wait for you,” came the childish assurance floating after them.
The Major’s Office
“So, you’re telling me that I’ve got three innocent Indians locked up? There’s no such thing as an innocent Indian, Miss Cooper.”
“All men are created equal, Major Winslow.”
A slight grin played around the corner of the major’s lips under his mustache. Was he enjoying the debate?
“There are those who would argue that Indians, especially Apaches, aren’t civilized enough to appreciate, or abide by, equal jurisprudence,” he said.
“There are those who would argue that Lee would never surrender to Grant,” Esther May countered. “I was one of them.”
“I thought I detected a southern accent.” The major nibbled his bottom lip. “Not real deep, though.”
Esther May waved the musing away, but the major continued.
“You say your name’s Cooper? Do you have relatives around Fort Concho?”
“Maybe, but that’s not why I’m here—”
Major Winslow rested his chin in hand and tapped the desk with his other. “There was a Ruth Cooper—she ran a saloon outside the fort. Had to put her place off-limits. The men were losing their pay at her Faro tables.” He chuckled. “I lost at three-card monte.”
Back To The Point
“Look, Major. I intend on homesteading in Tonto Basin. I could be a supplier of beef for your fort as well as an information source, but I need the goodwill of the Apaches. Now, you’ve got three of ’em locked up for something they didn’t do, and one’s been shot.”
“Shot? They didn’t tell me that.”
“And he’s received no medical attention. Come with me and see.”
What will Esther May’s interference accomplish? Drop your thoughts below.
Here’s a picture essay of old forts. It’s fun to see some that you may not have known about.
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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