The women held hands across a polished table in the receiving room.
“We are alike, you and I,” Doña Maria said. “I came here with my brother and started this ranch.” She tilted her head toward the door where a guard and maid waited. “Now I run it myself.” She drew her brows together to gaze at Esther May. “You came here with a companion to find your ranch. I see strength in you. You will find your place. When you do, you can buy cattle from me. I’ll give you a good price.”
Esther May ducked her tear-stained face. “I don’t feel strong. Sometimes I want to stay in bed and hide from the world.”
“But you get up, Little One, and face the day. Doing that when you’re scared, or feel beaten, takes strength. Don’t ever think otherwise.” Maria studied the younger woman. “Do you have a rosary?”
“No. Not Catholic.”
“But you pray?”
“God has forgotten me.”
“Ay!” Maria squeezed Esther May’s hands. “Impossible!”
Esther May felt the heat in her face for speaking such blasphemy. “Well, maybe He’s just ashamed of me for what I’ve done.”
“I should’ve gone with C.J. when he asked. I didn’t treat him very well.” Esther May heaved a shuddering sigh. “I’ll leave now. Thank you for all you’ve done. I’m sorry for keeping you up so late.”
“Well, the hacienda would normally be stirring in two hours anyway,” Doña Maria said. “Let’s wait ’til then, have breakfast, wash our faces, and I’ll drive you to town.” She shrugged. If you still want that.”
Esther May squinted her bloodshot eyes at the grandfather clock next to a mahogany armoire. The timepiece would soon chime 2:00 a.m. “Can we have tea instead of wine?”
Back to Town With Style
Both women rode in Maria’s carriage, a Doctor’s Phaeton. Not only was the seat built for one broad-beamed adult, but Doña Maria also insisted a large trunk full of dresses be tied on behind.
Esther May tried to politely refuse the gift, claiming the elegant wear would serve no purpose to a work-in-pants ranch woman.
Maria scoffed and waved the objection away. “Wear one of them when you apologize to that cowboy. He’ll never leave again.”
Esther May pictured herself in the lavender blue dress that barely hung on the shoulders and had a neckline that was a handbreadth below her throat. She felt the heat of a blush on her face and heard ringing in her ears.
“Isn’t that beautiful?” Maria said.
Were Esther May’s thoughts exposed? She jerked around to Maria.
The older woman pointed at the red, eastern sky where the sun was breaching the horizon. The top of the butte stood out in silhouette, but the lights of Pozo de Cobre shown in the dark valley below.
Unclasping her hands and relaxing, Esther May vowed to keep her thoughts chaste.
At the Corral
Young Julio Barros waited for the phaeton to stop and offered to help the women down.
“He’s been a big help to me,” Esther May said. “I don’t think he sleeps.”
Maria grunted as she jumped off the carriage. “Perhaps I should hire him.”
“I have been watching for you, senorita,” Julio said. “Every day.”
“Thank you, Julio. And have you taken care of the horses?”
“Si, and I combed the burrs out of their tails.”
And the Skewbald Mare?
Esther May cast a glance to the corral. “Where’s Skewy? Did C.J. move him?”
Julio turned his head down and away. “The gringo cowboy is gone, senorita.”
Esther May went cold and clammy. “Gone? Gone where?”
Julio lifted his bony shoulders and held his hands palm up.
Wake Brother Pablo
“Ah, the crisis of young love,” Brother Pablo said. He twisted his brown robe into the correct position on his body. “It would be nice if someone woke me this time of morning for sunrise mass.”
“Please, Brother.” Esther May tried to keep the whine out of her voice. “What happened?”
Pablo’s face made morning gyrations: tongue running around teeth, lips smacking, and finally rubbed into wakefulness by dragging the back of a hand across his mouth. “Julio, will you start the coffee, please?” He sighed and gestured to a chair.
Esther May remained standing, Doña Maria behind her, watching.
Brother Pablo held up a restraining hand before Esther May could ask again. “Yesterday, See Gee came back with his side bleeding. Said he’d lost a fight.” Pablo glanced to Julio and the coffee-making. “We had See Gee doctored,” Pablo rubbed his eyes, “then he left. Said he was riding for Arizona.”
Will Esther May catch C.J? Will she try? Leave a comment now.
Why was it called a Doctor’s Phaeton or Doctor’s Buggy? Find out here.
A little about Phaeton himself here.
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