Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eli Chapter4 pt.1

Slade stood briefly at the bottom of the ladder leaning his head against the rail.  He was shaken by the necessity of dealing with the needs of a strange woman.  Even in her last days, he had not had to be so intimately associated with his sister-in-law.  His brother had carried the load of her care, only calling Eli in the greatest need.  

Eli Slade and his brother Jacob had carved their ranch from the foothills of the looming mountains north west of Albuquerque and a little south and west of Santa Fe when they were eighteen and twenty respectively.  Shortly before they had followed their dream of moving to the southwest, Jacob had fallen in love with and married Madeline.  She was infected with their dream of a ranch.  After only few months of marriage, Jacob had left her in the security of her father’s house and gone with his brother to build a home for her in a land they had as yet only heard of in books and from men who had ‘been there.’   

Their property lay in a gap northwest the provincial centers of Albuquerque (1706) and Santa Fe (1608), both established while the fledgling United States was birthing.  The Slades were fortunate to find a strip of land in the predominantly Spanish occupied areas.  They were largely surrounded by men of Spanish descent raising cattle and horses in the semi-arid land.  By the grace of God, Eli and Jacob had found one irregular section of land that contained not only good grazing grounds bounded on one side by a small river and extending up a couple mountainsides with a spring that provided year round water-a tremendous benefit in this land of sage and desert grasses. 

They had built the cabin with an eye to Madeline’s comfort.  Not that she expected luxury, but Jacob wanted life to be as convenient as he could make it in the barren land.  The logs for its walls had been laboriously hauled from the mountains and placed with care to create a large single-roomed home while the brothers lived in a three-sided rock shelter that eventually became the barn.  It was the work of several months to prepare the cabin and fence the small corral and outbuilding. 

Jacob’s mind had been focused on having a safe home to which he could bring his wife. To him went the credit for the idea of building the cabin on the rocky hillside over the spring and contriving the little spillway that allowed them to have water inside.  To his credit was the idea of the iron tank built into the fireplace wall to provide warm water in winter.  Eli, lacking any other ties, had willingly shared the labor with his brother and the ranch had been a joint holding. 

In the second spring of their work, Jacob had departed to fetch his wife and her things from Indiana.  Eli had worked in peace through the months until their return, keeping their small herd of livestock safe and building a second small house of stone and adobe behind the main cabin for himself, proving that one man with much time on his hands could accomplish a great deal.

With his own small house completed, he had moved his things from the three-sided shelter and finished the walls for a good sized barn.  A trip to Santa Fe—an undertaking of several days—had provided the necessary lumber to frame the windows and the doors for the house and the barn. The precious panes of glass had been packed in straw with wooden framework to hold safe them on the rough trip back. All else he had shaped with their woodworking tools and his own hard labor.  When he had stood in the ranch yard and surveyed the work he and Jacob had accomplished he thought that it was a good place for the new wife. 

The buildings formed a rough semi circle with the cabin and the barn facing each other across the yard backed against the low cliff of the hill.  On either side of the barn the corral fence stretched in a lopsided rectangle.  Down slope from the house and behind it stood Eli’s small house.  Over beyond the house against the corral fence stood the ‘necessary,’ the outhouse. 

A cozy and inviting property, it was not large but certainly better that the scrabbling homesteads of many American settlers coming into the area from the east.  It was a far cry from the ranchos of the Spanish grandees who had been granted property by the king of Spain and arrived with wealth and men to carve out and establish their vast holdings.  Eli was pleased and he knew Jacob would be too.  The Lord had prospered them.

As summer had rolled into fall and on into winter, Eli had left the ranch holding for a few days at a time to return with loads of saplings from the mountains and loads of fire wood gathered from the multitudes of dead wood scattered across the hill sides.  Their cattle grew fat on the grass of the highlands and the easy access to water there.  The water caught from the spring spillway into a small pond below the house and barn drew wildlife to its bounty and Eli judiciously took game as the cold weather set in with earnestness.  He travelled again to town to lay in stores of food staples for the coming winter. 

For those cold months he had watched over their herd, kept them contained in areas of forage and natural shelters, checking their location regularly.  The days were short but he spent the time in his little cabin turning the saplings into basic rustic furniture for both his house and what he came to think of as Madeline’s house.  As a special wedding present he built two large chairs with higher backs and wide arms to sit on either side of the fire place of the newlyweds’ cabin. He built accompanying chairs to match the tables, a stool and two beds.  As yet there was no mattress, but the bed was done and waiting for the finishing touches when Jacob returned with Madeline.  

And return they had.  As soon as the snows melted and the tracks became passable, Joshua and Madeline had set out from her father’s Indiana home along with several other families traveling in their general direction.  One by one the travelers had dropped off at junctions or stops along the way and early one fall day the two wagons carrying Madeline’s treasures and other supplies had toiled up the long slopes to the southeast of their home.  Behind them a couple days came a small herd, driven by Jacob’s and Eli’s cousins, to add fresh bloodlines to their cattle. 

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