Working bent over in the low space between the loft floor and the roof, Slade cleared the area behind the chimney pipe. He stuffed the furs and a few bundles in the narrow space at the eaves to block any cold that might seep in. He spread a huge buffalo hide, fur side up, on the floor close to the chimney. At either end of the hide, he piled boxes to stop any drafts. Going back to the main floor, he found a light weight blanket and a clean empty flour sack. Draping them over his shoulder he went back to the loft. Two heavy blankets from the boxes stored in the loft completed his pile of bedding.
He spread the light blanket over the wooly buffalo pelt tucking the edges in to cover the itchy fur. He folded a several rabbit furs into the flour sack for a pillow. Last of all, he spread the blankets for a covering and stepped back across the room. If a stranger had occasion to look into the loft from the top of the ladder, it would seem a partially empty loft with the stores piled halfway across.
He returned to waken the sleeping woman.
Ellen looked up at the source of all her new security as Slade gently touched her shoulder. She woke with a sense of relief. Her story was told and she was safe for the first time many long months. She had a warm meal still filling her stomach and no part of her was cold.
“Come and see your bed then. I have it all fixed. No one would ever guess you were up there.
“Wait. Maybe you need this.” He picked up an ivory comb from the table. “I found it for you.”
Tears welled in her eyes and this time fell freely down her cheeks
“I’ve not had a real comb or brush since one of the men took my ivory set. It had gold edging and he thought he could make some money selling it. Or maybe it bought some woman’s favors… I don’t know.” A few more tears flowed. “You cannot comprehend what this means to me. On top of everything else, . .” Words failed her.
He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. She walked slowly but steadily across to the ladder. Pulling the overly long skirt into a handful in front of her she slowly climbed the ladder. When she stepped off at the top, Slade quickly climbed up behind her.
Ducking his head, he motioned toward the small stone chimney, “Can you see your bed? Right there behind the chimney.” He urged her forward until from the end, she could see her bed on the buffalo hide.
Ellen giggled out loud. “I’ll feel like a little girl playing house! Thank you, thank you.” She grabbed his hand and swung it happily. Then embarrassed by her forwardness she let go.
Self-conscious, Slade stepped back from her. “Will you be needing anything else that you can think of… I forgot your little pack in the barn. I’ll bring it in this morning. Will you need water during the night? I’ll bring you a cup.
“I’m afraid I don’t have another lamp, but the fireplace light will reflect for a while. The fire there doesn’t go out but it does die down. I usually keep the stove hot all night so you will stay warm here.”
Not waiting for a response he hurried down the ladder and in just seconds returned with a cup of water for her.
“Good night now. Just sleep until you are rested tomorrow. No need to jump out of bed. I’ll see if I can find you a clean dress to wear until you can get yours washed. Good night. A-a- again..”
And he ducked down below the floor as her “good night” echoed in the loft.
Ellen walked to the cozy bed he had prepared on such short notice. It truly was almost invisible from the ladder. She untied the shawl at her back and sitting cross legged on her bed close to the warmth of the chimney she began the task of untangling her long, drying hair. As she combed each lock she was pleased at how smooth it felt once more. It had once seemed her hair would never be clean again. When the tangled curls were combed through they fell longer and longer across her shoulders. It had grown during her months of servitude and hardship.
As she combed she could hear Slade rattling around below and splashing water. Before long the lamp was extinguished and only the flicker of the flames in the fireplace lit the cabin. Ellen plaited her hair into a thick braid. Folding her shawl to the side of the bed, she removed the night dress and laid it aside also. It was all she had to wear and she would rather not have it crumpled from being slept in. In only her shift she snuggled down on the soft fur bed and pulled the heavy blankets over her.
Warmth surrounded her and for the first time in many months she slept with no fear or thought of tomorrow.