“I had no defense against his club-like hands except to throw the tray of crockery at his head. It hit him on the bridge of his nose and the blood began to pour out.
“He swung around and grabbed my skirt, yanking me back so violently that I hit my head on the swinging door.
“I had no defense!
“Flinging my hands wide to catch myself, I found the heavy bar that we used to fasten the pantry door. As my weight over balanced him, he tripped over his own feet and fell back into the pantry. I spun around swinging the bar with the full weight of my body behind it. Had I not been so desperate I might not have swung so hard. I was weak from weeks of eating only the bits he left of his meals and the beatings I had received at his hands! I had little strength and only good fortune aided me.
“The bar struck him on the side of his head and dropped him to the floor of the pantry. The bar was jarred from my hands and flew to the back corner.
“For a few seconds I could only hold onto the door and gasp. I had no breath or strength for those few moments.”
Breathing heavily, Ellen shuddered, reliving the brutality.
“I could not make myself go past him to retrieve the bar or I might have barred him into the pantry from the outside. That would have guaranteed his death by starvation because when I left I did not mean to go back any time soon.
He lay unmoving on the floor. As it was I pushed the door shut and blocked it with the heavy table.
“I scrambled together the scattered bread and meat and stuffed it back into the bag. Then I ran down the hall to my room and grabbed my precious bundle. I was already wearing all of my clothes except the sweater. I pulled it on.
“I rushed to the laundry that held my Roja. She came obediently to my call and I hurried her to the courtyard. I pulled Viejo’s saddle and bridle from his gelding and put them on Roja. It was my good fortune that the pack horse was ready to go. I collected the lead rope and loosed the gelding in the courtyard to stay or go as it chose.
“I was about to leave when a cold blast of wind swept down from the hills. I shivered through my sweater and knew I could not survive a night in the open with only its protection.
“Casting my mind about the house for anything to help me, I remembered the blankets Viejo had used on his bed and determined to get them. Dirty though they were, they might mean the difference between living and dying in the cold before Santa Fe.
“As quickly as possible, I led the horses along the front of the house to the main door. Tying them loosely and listening every instant for Viejo’s awakening, I tiptoed across the vestibule and into the room he used for sleeping. There were the blankets! I folded them quickly. As I was leaving I spotted his long heavy coat thrown across a chair, still lying there from the last time he had worn it in spring. It was lined leather and an answer to prayer! I didn’t give a thought to what he would do when I was taking his coat and his blankets. His hat was on the chair under the coat. I simply grabbed everything and ran.
“I struggled into the coat. I tied the blankets and my bundle of possessions on either side of the saddle. I managed to get myself in my bulky clothing onto Roja. Leading the pack horse I started off in the face of the storm toward the north, I thought.
“Before I had gone far the light faded with the coming storm and I lost the road. I had been trying to follow it from the side where I wouldn’t be seen so easily if someone followed.When the dead of night set in I rode into a thick stand of trees and wrapped the blankets tightly around me to sleep for a while. The next morning I started off again into the face of the wind. I had no wilderness skills but Santa Fe was to the north and I reasoned the cold wind came from the north.
It was so cold during the gray dark day that I fell asleep on Roja. When I woke up the horses were standing in the dark shelter of a rock wall. There was so much snow I gave up looking for an indication of the road. I urged Roja back out into the wind and soon fell asleep again.
The next time I awoke the gray dawn had come and we were standing again with our backs to the wind. I nudged the horses into moving against the blowing snow again. I had no idea where I was.
Pretty soon, the horses seemed to feel they were going someplace so I simply let them go as long as they were facing the storm. I was getting colder by the second and losing my concern for where I was headed. I twisted around to get a blanket. I managed to get one loose and the other secured again without losing anything to the raging wind. Once I was draped in the blanket, I tied my hands to the saddle horn with the ends of the reins. That’s all I knew until I awoke to you brushing the snow off me in your barn.
“I have no idea how many days I spent on the horse.”
Ellen sighed from the depths of her being.
“So now you know… You may be harboring a murderess and at the very least you are helping a woman who surely has a vicious wicked man chasing her.
“That's why I can’t sleep in the bed. I would rather sleep in the loft or in the barn under the hay where any visitor can see no evidence of me. I only want to hide until the weather will let me get to Santa Fe or even Albuquerque and report this man to some authorities. I want to reclaim the land that my father and husband worked so hard to keep secure. I want safety again.” Her head fell back against the sheepskin. She sat without speaking for long minutes until Slade realized she slept.