Visiting The Doctor
Esther May tied her gelding to Doctor Kroker’s hitching post. A swaybacked gray mare harnessed to a wagon was already there.
The clean odor of antiseptic drifted from an open window as Esther May crossed the porch. The scent shocked Esther May into an awareness of her lack of hygiene. Had she ever been this dirty? No wonder the good people of Florence wanted her to move on. She promised herself a dip in the Gila River.
Inside patients waited in the parlor.
A short, wispy man who looked like he could hide behind a corn stalk, except for his bushy gray beard, sat on a homemade mesquite chair. His hand wrapped in a bandana with deep red spots of blood. He eyed two women across the room on the only padded settee in the place.
Actually, it was a woman and a girl—probably in her teens. The woman shrank back into the cushions when she saw Esther May.
The girl’s eyes widened. Her gaze traveled over Esther May, lingering on the Colt .44. She grinned.
Esther May crossed in front of them and opened the door to the doctor’s office and surgery.
It looked like the doctor had just lanced a boil on a man bent over a chair and was strapping adhesive across the cut.
“Hey, Doctor,” Esther May said loud enough to ensure everyone heard.
Doc Kroker looked up, startled and in disbelief as if the view was worse than what he had just been observing.
The expression on the patient included embarrassment and made Doc Kroker’s appearance seem serene. The man struggled to pull up his britches.
Esther May couldn’t help grinning. “I came to pay you for your trip to our camp last night, but the Apache woman, Liluye, says she changed her mind. She’ll go buggy riding with you and pay you herself. Better hurry, though. We’re gonna move the herd soon.”
The woman in the waiting room grabbed the girl’s wrist, sprang from the couch, and headed for the door. “Come on! We’re getting out of here.”
The girl’s arm stretched as she dragged her feet. “But, Mama—”
The woman shot through the door, her daughter taking hops to keep up. “Mama, our bonnets,” the girl said and pointed with her free arm. “We forgot them.”
“Let the left-handed ill-bred libertine have them.”
The bearded stick of a man rose. “You go ahead consorting with Apaches, Doc. I’ll just put some turpentine on my hand.”
The doctor’s patient buckled his belt and looked at the scalpel Doctor Kroker had used. “Well, Doc, given the way your interest leans, I guess I’m lucky to have both my upper and lower scalps. How much do I owe you?”
Doctor Kroker’s veins stood out on his reddened forehead. When his lips turned white from pressing them together, Esther May laughed aloud and followed the others out the door.
Esther May sat in the shade with her back against an elm tree. She could see the rear of Koch’s Eating House across a dirt field of creosote brush and clumps of desert grass.
She sipped water and counted the passing time by watching the tail swishes and shoulder muscle shudders of her horse. Where did flies come from out here? Why would they leave the town’s garbage dump to pester a lone horse’s eyes, ears, nose, and rear?
Esther May was contemplating the mysteries of animal behavior when Cricket stepped out and waved Esther May over.
“Come in. I’ve got your supplies in two burlap bags,” Cricket said when Esther May joined her.
“You sure you want me in there?” Esther May asked. “You may have customers that won’t like it. I can take the bags and leave.”
“I’ve got your meal ready on a table here in the back. I heard—the whole town’s heard—what you did at the Doc’s office. That Kroker had it coming. He never did treat Karl right for a burned hand once. A little eye-for-an-eye deserves pork chops and beets. Sorry, it’s not steak. We only got our delivery this morning, and we haven’t butchered.”
Esther May laughed and slapped the dust off her hat against her leg. “Pork chops it is.”
From Florence To The Salt River
Two days after leaving the Gila near Florence, the herd watered in the Salt River. They had traveled well and were near enough to Fort McDowell that Esther May thought of riding on ahead. She could find out where to pasture the cattle and perhaps arrange to sell a few.
Esther May angled toward Abuela’s buckboard to discuss the idea when Liluye rode up.
From The Backtrail
“Someone comes, Riding Woman. I think it’s the white medicine man who looked at my head.”
Abuela pulled a rifle from the wagon and held it in the crook of her arm.
Doctor Kroker had a couple of trunks tied behind the buggy seat and his medical bag beside him. He stopped and glared at Esther May, spittle foaming at the corners of his lips.
“You and your big mouth! You told lies about me, and now no one will have anything to do with me.”
Kroker used a few unprofessional words rising in volume until Abuela casually swung the rifle his way. He saw the movement and finished with a yelled, “You ruined my practice!”
Giving and Getting
Esther May crossed her forearms, rested them on the saddle horn, and bit her lip.
“I did that, Doc, and I’ve thought about it. I’m sorry. But you treated us more like cattle than human. I didn’t think a good doctor would do that.”
She unlooped her canteen strap and offered it to Kroker. “Wet your whistle, Doc. You can park your rig and have lunch with us if you want.”
Kroker’s shoulders relaxed, and he waved away the drink. “You headed to McDowell?”
“I thought I’d try it first. It’s closer than Tucson.” He shifted his gaze to Liluye. “How’s her eyesight?”
Esther May translated and got the reply. “She says it’s fine. She thanks you.”
That’s Bygones, Now Advice
Kroker rubbed his mouth and looked at his feet before replying. “Let me tell you something. The people at Florence are hateful to Indians, but the military at McDowell won’t tolerate them. If you go there, you’ll put their lives in danger.”
Esther May sighed. “I suppose I should’ve thought of that. Thank you, Doctor Kroker. I’ll have to find another way to the Mogollon Rim.”
“I plan on homesteading there.”
“Well,” Kroker looked upstream. “you could go up this river to Tonto Basin, then north there.” He picked up the reins and prepared to continue on his way. “They say the Army has an outpost where you’ll turn, but it’s smaller, and the soldiers probably won’t do anything to aggravate the Indians. There are Apaches in the basin.”
Is avoiding Fort McDowell and heading for Tonto Basin a wise choice? Don’t forget to leave your comment.
When Esther May moved her herd up the Salt River, the so-called Apache Wars were far from over. The battle at Turret Peak took place six years later. Here’s a short article.
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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