Tuesday, July 31, 2012

After Christmas chapter 21

IN SPITE OF THE heavy blowing snow the night before, the morning broke bright and clear.  Slade was awake but lying very still. His leg was not hurting and he didn’t want to do anything to make it begin again.

Instead he lay quietly, thinking of Ellen’s salvation the night before.  It had been an incredible blessing to him.   Without intending it, he was caring for her more and more. His intention had always been to only find a wife who loved His Lord and although he perhaps wasn’t fully aware of his own feelings, God had provided that for him. 

Slade thought of how she had cared for him, coming through the night to find him as he lay beside the cut in the hillside.  His hand unconsciously rubbed his broken ribs under the snug binding. He counted on his fingers.  It had been a couple days more than three weeks, if he was counting right, since she had brought him home through the falling snow. That trip was a blur in his mind.  He only remembered her hands tying the bands around his broken bones and her shoulder under his arm as she lifted and pulled him up the bank.  His ride home was one long blur of following her back above Roja’s rump so close ahead of him in the darkness

Then he had been in his house on his bed without his shirt or pants and she was strapping his ribs. Slade grinned at her embarrassment when she asked about checking his leg and how she had settled for leaving his underwear on.  The leg had been healing well until he had abused it last night. The thought brought a frown to his face.  He hoped he hadn’t damaged it seriously.

He had been selfish in not following up her suggestion of a staff or cane.  He knew exactly where she could find a suitable staff.  There was a nice stack of them leaning against the side of the barn.  They were straight and slender.  One of them would make a perfect staff.  If he had been using one of those last night he would not have hurt his healing leg.   Instead he had preferred to use her close and willing shoulder. 

And with that thought he was sidetracked into musings of what it would be like to need no excuse for putting his arm around her and pulling her against his side. What would it be like-- having her as a constant companion with no prospect of her leaving in the spring when he would be able to return her to Santa Fe and her old life and friends? 

Somewhere in that happy reverie, he fell back asleep.

Ellen awoke with a feeling of well being and deep joy.  It was something she had never known in her life.  And suddenly she remembered why.  She had begun a bond with the Lord last night.  Ellen sat up and just as quickly flopped back down.

“Lord God,” unconsciously she adopted Eli’s favorite address to His God.  “Thank you thank you!  If you don’t do anything else for me, thank you for this feeling of joy and this, this…security.”  She jumped up.  In a whirlwind of activity she dressed in her everyday clothes, collected the skillets, made her bed and straightened up her loft.  She hurried down her ladder with the skillets under one arm.

She tiptoed toward Slade’s bed. He was asleep.  She put the skillets on the table, folded her quilt back across the chair.  The first thing to do was take care of the animals and the milking… The milk!  She hurried to the door and there was her bucket, still full of milk with a layer of cream formed on the top.  As Fetcher rushed out, Ellen brought the milk in the house.  It didn’t appear to have been bothered during the night.  She stirred the cream down and strained the milk just as she would have done the night before. She left the cold fresh milk on the table for breakfast.  She washed the bucket to use in a few minutes.

When the fragrance of fresh coffee began floating across the room, Slade woke up. He moaned softly and tried to sit up.  Before he could strain his ribs or move his leg, Ellen was at his side to support his shoulders and stuff the extra pillow and folded blanket behind his back.

Then she burst out, “Do you know how happy I am this morning!  I can’t believe how I feel.  I don’t think I have felt so much joy in months—years maybe.”  And she laughed out loud.

Slade could hardly stop grinning at her.  “It’s wonderful isn’t it?  I remember when I gave my heart to the Lord.  The whole world seemed brighter.  You feel like you can walk on air. 

“It will not always be that, but you will always have the deep peace of knowing you have the Lord on your side. And you always have an advocate with the Lord.  That is a real blessing!

‘Now could you help me sit up?”

Ellen giggled.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t laugh at your difficulty, but it just keeps bubbling out! 

“No you can’t sit up.  You are going to stay put all day!

“What is this?  All of a sudden you are coddling me?”  Slade wanted to know. “I’m able to take care of myself.”

“Yes,” Ellen responded.  “I saw how able you were last night. You could hardly put any weight on that leg at all and you were pale and sweaty.  You were asleep before I got your leg wrapped up.

“Today, you are going to stay off it and it will stay immobilized until I think you can put some weight on it.” 

Slade groaned at her mandate, but when he tried to move the leg he was satisfied to stay put.

Ellen hurried around the room getting ready to go to the barn, glad for the sunshine that would allow her to release the animals and eliminate her need to carry water.  When she was ready she poured a cup of coffee for Slade and carried it along with his Bible to him.

“This will warm you up for a while until I get back.”  She smiled at him.  “And here is your Bible to keep you company.”   Once more Ellen tucked the blanket around him.

“Wait,” he called to her as she hurried toward the door.  “What you said a while back, about a finding a stick I could use for walking.  I think you might find one around beside the barn.  There is a stack of poles I saved to use for a pole fence.  Maybe you can find one there for me. “

“I’ll look.”  Ellen answered him as she hurried out the door.

The milking went quickly and the animals were glad to run in the bright sun.  Sarah began picking at the sparse grass near the barn, but the rest of them raced along the fence and turned at the row of rocks that bounded the southern side of the field.  Even the calf ran with the horses.

Ellen stood watching them for a minute and then walked around the barn to find the poles Slade was talking about.  Sure enough, there were a lot of long straight poles that had dried in a cradle along the barn.  She took quite a while choosing one that she thought would work.

When she returned to the house Ellen carried the milk in one hand and the pole in the other.  She set the milk on the table and took a minute to pull off her boots and heavy outdoor clothes.  Then she proudly brought the pole to Slade. 

It was slightly longer than five feet and tapered from one end to the other.  If the smaller end was placed on the floor and the wider one held up, Slade could easily grasp it for support. 

“Yes!” he said.  “That should work!  Let me try it!”  And he rotated around in the bed so that his one foot was on the floor and the other rested at an angle before him.  He realized suddenly that he had no pants on. 

“Maybe you could help me with my trousers first.” But there was no embarrassment in his voice.  He was used to her help.

Ellen hurried to bring him his trousers and helped slide the leg over his bulky soft bandages.  The other she simply held for him to put his own foot into and let him pull it up himself.  As always her shoulder held him while he manipulated his buttons and belt.  Then she handed him the stick. 

He grasped it firmly in his right hand, but she refused to release his left side.

“You will still need to hold on to me until this leg is well.  And I’ll say when that is!” 

Slade felt a deeper joy than he could have expected when he realized that using a staff would not mean foregoing the closeness of her support.

Even though he could not bend his injured leg they made their way across to the table with a minimum of pain to it.  Slade sat down on the side of the table where she usually sat, with his back to the room.  That allowed Ellen to bring the stool for supporting his leg.  That arrangement made it possible for her to work on the other side of the table.

It wasn’t until then that she realized that she had not even thought of anything for breakfast.  Her heart was light.  She made Slade another cup of coffee.  The morning milk was strained and set aside for cooling.  Ellen sliced some leftover Christmas roast to heat and put on tortillas for breakfast.     They sat down to a quiet and happy breakfast, talking of the cows and the weather and inconsequential things that filled them both with delight.

Ellen existed in a state of exultation.  She had never had an understanding of any God or any relationship with God.  The discussions with Slade opened new doors for her and she leapt through them with enthusiasm.  And Slade was drawn deeper into his love for her.

As Slade used his staff and stayed off his leg it improved quickly. His ribs healed so well that Ellen agreed to remove the binding completely.  Because he tended to over-use his leg, she insisted that he keep the bulky soft blanket around it to limit his exercise.

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