What Will She Do?
Esther May held her breath and gripped her rifle to keep her hands from trembling. She couldn’t believe the old Apache woman was an enemy.
Doña Maria waited until her foreman untied this last member of the attacking tribe then silently pointed to the three partially covered bodies.
No tears or emotion showed on her face, but the woman rubbed her wrists as she walked toward the fallen men. Her stride measured sure and steady as if she hadn’t been dragged and towed. She gazed at the lifeless feet sticking out from under serapes: a pair in boots pointed up and sideways like branches forked from a trunk, next to them, two more feet in moccasins stood stiffly at attention. She fell to her knees beside the third pair. Deerskin footwear tilted to the late owner’s left as if he wanted to leave in that direction.
A long wail, carrying all the mourning of a mother for a child, left the older woman’s throat. She rocked on her knees and wrapped her arms across her stomach.
A voice with a Spanish accent, soft but urgent, spoke into the cluster around Esther May. “Watch her!”
One of the men who had been on patrol leaped forward and caught the woman’s hand as she pulled a knife from under a fold at her waist. She had her other arm stretched out as if she meant to cut it.
The woman who had nothing left to give meant to suffer along with her son.
The realization turned Esther May’s insides sour and pushed bile into her mouth. She swallowed and struggled to calm down when she noticed where the woman knelt. The old mother’s son was Red Tails: the man Esther May killed.
Esther May’s sight faded as her vision went gray. Her head might have floated away it was so light. She felt a rough arm around her.
“Tea or wine?” Doña Maria said.
Esther May opened her eyes to find herself on a bed. “How long …?”
Maria shrugged. “Only a few minutes. Fortunately, there were men nearby to carry you right in.” She held up a cup, indicating tea.
Esther May nodded and swung her legs off the bed.
Maria cocked an eyebrow and set the cup on a small stand where her guest could reach it. “You’re not familiar with Indian ways?”
Esther May sipped the aromatic brew. “Some, but I’ve never seen it in person before.” She took several deep breaths and another sip. “What will happen to her now? Will she keep trying to hurt herself?”
Maria lifted and dropped her shoulders. “I don’t know. If she stays here, she might, and I think the choice she made to stay behind when her tribe left was a permanent decision.” She puckered her lips. “She has life left. It shouldn’t end like this.”
“I’ll take her.” The words came out before Esther May thought about them. “I’ve got a packhorse she can ride. I’d like her to go with me.”
“Do you know what you’re saying?”
“Not really. But I’m ready for Arizona. Perhaps I can catch up with C.J., and this woman—I killed her son. She should be in the country, not in a hacienda.” Esther May put her cup down and took a breath to keep from rambling. “I’ll split the load, and she can ride the other horse as I said.”
“That won’t do.” Maria had her hands on her hips. “You’ll take your rig as you intended, but for your help, you get a buggy and driver. She can ride to your new ranch.”
Whether it was the tea or Maria’s offer she didn’t know, but Esther May felt like a tight belt had loosened. “Thank you, Doña Maria. Your generosity is boundless. By the way, do you know the woman’s name?”
“No, but you can call her Grandmother. It’s a respected form of address. In Spanish it’s Abuela.”
“Great. I’ll finish packing up, then I’ll take Grandmother to Arizona Territory.”
Maria lowered her eyelids. “If she doesn’t slit your throat.”
Has Esther May made a mistake? I’d like to know what you think.
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