Monday, July 30, 2012

Christmas and A New Birth chapter 20 part 2

“Yes!” Slade answered.  He considered that he had achieved one major point in teaching her about the Lord.

“Now, we need to look at those gifts!”  He struggled to stand alone, but Ellen hurried to help him. 

“I think you just need to tell me where those gifts are.  I can get them.  I promise I won’t try to figure out what they are.”

Ruefully, considering his aching leg and ribs, Slade said, “They’re in the bottom of the closet.  Hmph!” He stopped to grunt with effort as he sat back down.  “The top shelf of the closet in the back… you know about that!  And now you know about the bottom of the closet!  I’ll never be able hide anything from you again.”

Ellen laughed as she hurried and dug on the floor in the back of the closet.

“How did you get these out and then back in with broken ribs and a probably-broken leg?”  She wanted to know.

“It wasn’t easy,” Slade told her.  “You notice my leg isn’t working very well today?  Enough said.”

Ellen put his gifts on the table in front of him and hurried to the shelf to get hers.  She placed them in front of her chair.

“Who’s first?” she asked, nearly wiggling in excitement.

“I’ll solve that question.”  And Slade pushed one of her gifts across the table.  It was flat on the bottom and had a lump on top.

Ellen squealed and pulled the string that secured the cloth wrapping the contents.  Inside were a bag and a flat board.  When she pulled the board free, it was covered with small black and white squares inside a red border. 

“A checkerboard!” she exclaimed.  “And these must be—Checkers!”   She pulled the drawstring at the top of the pouch and dumped out a pile of red and black checkers all carefully carved with a little crown on the top of each one.  “How wonderful!  Now we can play checkers while you have to stay of your leg!!

“My gifts aren’t so exciting.  Here do this one first.”  She handed him the small thin package.

Slade pulled the red ribbon loose on the gift.  When he pulled apart the brown wrapping he found the long red muffler. 

“You noticed how thin my old one was, didn’t you!” he exclaimed.  “When did you find time to make this?!”  He wrapped the muffler once around his neck and let the long ends dangle in front of him.

“You’ve slept a lot,” She told him.  “I had plenty of time!”

“Okay now, your other one!”  He handed her the larger oddly shaped package.  “It was hard to wrap. Sorry it isn’t as neat as yours.”

Ellen looked at the intensity in his eyes as she took the gift.  Evidently it meant something special to him.  She held it carefully as the pieces inside seemed loose.  Afraid she might drop something important she laid the bulky package on the table and pulled the folds of cloth free. Three figures fell out. 

“Oh!  Oh!  They are beautiful!”  Tears filled her eyes as she righted the figures of her drooping self on Roja, huddled and cold, then the pack horse, with its hanging head and tucked tail.  Finally there was the figure of Fetcher bouncing around barking.  She laughed out loud.  “How can I hear him barking?”  She exclaimed.

“These are the most fantastic gift I’ve ever gotten! You have such a talent for carving.  I can tell exactly who they are!  Poor pack horse!  She was so brave!  And Roja found your horses and the warm barn for me!”  She jumped up from her seat and rushed around the table to give him a hard hug.

Slade was so surprised that it took him a second to twist in his chair and return the hug with enthusiasm.  Still holding his shoulders, Ellen leaned back and looked into his eyes.

“How did I ever find you?  You are such a wonderful man!”  She leaned her forehead against his for an instant then released him to run back to her chair.

“I have another gift for you but it isn’t nearly as amazing as these you made.”  She held out her second gift.  “I don’t have such a talent as you do, but maybe you will like it.”

Slade pulled apart the wrapping of flour sack and lifted the shirt.  “A new shirt!  Did you make this?  It looks like it came from a store someplace!  You may not be able to carve, but you can certainly sew!  I’ll bet it even fits!”  He pulled his shirt free from his pants and unbuttoned it.  Within seconds he had his old shirt off and the new one on. 

It fit perfectly across the shoulders and in the arms.  Even Ellen could hardly believe how good it looked on him.  Every part of it!  The collar folded smoothly and stood up perfectly when he left the band button free and fastened the others.  The pockets were perfectly placed.  The sleeves were a good length and left just the right amount of freedom when they buttoned at the wrist.  The band down the front for the button holes was straight and the buttons lined up properly.  Slade stood up and tucked the long tails in his waist band.

“You even made it longer!”  He said.  “Now I won’t worry about a cold draft at my waist.”  Ellen had noticed before how his shirts refused to stay tucked snuggly in his pants.

He shook his head.  “How did you do this?  And when?!” 

“I did it while you went after the cattle the day you got stomped. Then I finished the buttons and the scarf while you slept the days away.”  She smiled at him, proud of herself.

“Well, I would say we have had a marvelous Christmas.”  Slade said.  “And I can smell our dinner cooking over there!  I can’t wait!” 

“Now who is acting like a ten year-old.  Only with you, it’s food!”  She set the carved figures to the side and laid out her checker board.

“You’ll have to wait a while though.  It won’t be done for quite a bit.  Now,  red or black?”

They whiled away the afternoon playing checkers while the roast steamed quietly in the coals on the side of the fire.

WHEN SLADE was so hungry he could wait no longer he began pestering Ellen to have dinner.  She laughed at him and finally agreed.  The Dutch oven was pulled out of the fire and swept free of ashes.  Ellen set it in the center of the table and brought a large platter.

“We have to let it sit here and rest a bit now.  Keep your greedy fingers off the lid!  You will make it tough!

“I’ll make our dumplings while it is resting.”

So while Slade complained of starvation, Ellen put the stewed apples back on the stove building up a nice hot fire under them.  Then she mixed her dough for dumplings and when the apples were boiling briskly she added a bit more sugar and a dash of salt. Then she began dropping the little spoonfuls of dumpling into the hot kettle.  It took about fifteen minutes.

She left the dumplings on the stove and gave Slade the plates and eating utensils to arrange on the table while she removed the roast from the Dutch oven and placed it on the platter.  Then she scooped out the onions and turnips to arrange around and over the roast. She poured the juices from the pan into a large cup and put the Dutch oven on the cupboard counter.  The biscuits came out of their wrapping in the cupboard and went beside the roast while Slade poured their coffee.

“And,” Ellen announced, “There is Christmas dinner!”

Slade clapped in appreciation.  “Finally!” 

He stretched his hand across the table for grace.  Ellen put her hand in his and then extended her other hand out toward him.  He took it and they sat for a minute looking across the table. 

Then Slade spoke, “Last summer my life was filled with hard work and loneliness.  And now look at it!  Christmas!”

He bowed his head. “Our dear Father God in Heaven, what wonderful blessings you have given us.  I thank you for company in this empty house and the shelter from life’s storms.  I thank you for bringing Ellie safely to my barn yard and allowing her to be here safe from the horrors she has passed through.  And I thank you for her strength when I was helpless.  Thank you Lord, that she came looking for me and brought me safely home.  You’ve blessed us. Lord.

“And  Father God, I thank you for this  appetizing meal.  I don’t know how she did it, but it certainly looks and smells good!

“Thank you Lord for all of your blessings.   Amen”

“Amen.”  Ellen echoed.  And as he released her hand she handed him the big carving knife to slice the roast. 

They ate the simple meal enjoying the company as much as the food.  Slade’s heart overflowed with the sight and the sound of her.  Ellen seemed to bloom under his fond gaze and gratifying words.   Long after they had both eaten their fill they lingered talking of small things, hesitant to break the bond of closeness.

THEN FETCHER came barking at the door.  When Ellen looked up she realized it was getting dark quickly.  Fetcher was calling her to the barn! 

“I’ll clean this up.” Slade said.  “You go ahead to the barn. I can lean on the table and the cupboard if you will only get me hot water.” 

Ellen quickly scooped hot water for him and put her work skirt on over her pretty dress.  She tucked the skirt up high under the waist band of the skirt. It looked foolish, but it kept the dress clean.  In minutes she was heading to the barn.  As she walked across the yard it became evident that the darkness was partly the fault of heavy clouds dropping a thick layer of fat snowflakes. 

In the barn she picked up the pan she used to call the animals and put a bit of corn in the bottom.  Going to the back door she whistled loudly and shook the pan, rattling the corn in the bottom.  Roja had learned to come to the whistles and rattle when she was a baby.  The others had quickly picked up the response

In seconds she heard the thundering pound of horses’ hooves coming up from the lower field.  She stepped aside and let them go to their respective stalls.  She waited for Sarah and the calf.  By the time she had the horses settled they should be coming in the door.  Ellen gave each horse a handful of corn as a reward for their prompt arrival and looked out the door for Sarah.

Slade scraped the dishes clean into Fetcher’s pan.  He reached a long arm across for the soap and stretched a little further for the dish cloth and a couple towels.  He poured a little of the warm water in a pan and began washing the dishes with a soapy cloth.  He rinsed each dish by pouring clear water over them from a cup, then stood them on a towel beside the washpan.  When all the dishes and silver ware were clean he dried everything and leaned backwards to stack them on the cupboard. 

The dumpling bowl he simply laid a plate over and left it sit.  The turnips and onions were nearly all gone, except for a few pieces.  Those went in Fetcher’s pan. He transferred the remaining roast to a clean bowl and scraped the platter clean before washing it.

When everything was clean except the Dutch oven, Slade washed the table then poured the water into it and scrubbed it clean, too, before pouring the water into the bucket for waste water that sat by Fetcher’s dish. 

He sat for a little while and decided to stand up to put the dishes away.  The table and chair served to support him as he contrived to put everything away and tidy the area.

Ellen had been gone a little longer than he expected and he began to worry a bit about her.

From the table to the chair to the big arm chair, he made his way to the door and looked out.  The snow was coming down so hard that he could hardly see the shape of the barn. He closed the door and went back to the big chair.  He laid his head back for few minutes and the next thing he knew he was waking up with a vague feeling that more than a few minutes had passed. 

Slade struggled to his feet and again went to peer out the door.  The snow continued to fall and there was no sign of Ellen.  There was a smooth expanse where her feet had left a small impression in the snow on her trip to the barn.  He returned to the chair and then thought better of it.  Instead he sat down on the harder and higher kitchen chair.  He sat and thought a while then stood again.  Still using the furniture to support himself he moved to the stove and picked up the nearly empty coffee pot.  He poured the dregs in the end of the fireplace and bumped the grounds off on the fire. A little scoop of from the hot tank rinsed the clinging bits of grounds. 

Slade proceeded to get ready for a pot of coffee and then put the enameled bowl of dumplings on the end of the stove to heat slowly. 

In spite of the intensifying pain in his leg, he continued to make his way from table to chair to door and back again.  The water in the coffee pot boiled and he added the ground coffee to it.  He thought how cold Ellen would be when she did come back so he put the two iron skillets on the stove to heat. The fire in the fireplace was burning down so he hobbled to the wood box and threw several pieces across to the fireplace.  He staggered to the fireplace and added the wood to the fire.  Then he opened the door again to peer into the darkness. 

Finally the leg simply wouldn’t support him any more and he was forced to sit down.  By this time he had begun to get exceedingly worried.  The milking and other work in the barn should have been finished long ago. He couldn’t conceive of what was taking so long.  Visions of falls from the hay loft or some other accident began to circle through his head.  When the thoughts became darker and darker he dropped his head in prayer.

When he raised it, he could hear Fetcher barking in the distance.  Again he stood and struggled to the door.  Nothing was to be seen.  He returned to the chair.  It wasn’t much longer then until he heard the sound of stomping on the porch. 

As quickly as he could he pulled himself up and made his painful way to the door.  He pulled it open and found Ellen leaning against the wall, kicking the snow from her boots.  When she saw him she stopped and flung her arms around him.  With no thought about his leg, Slade stood firmly and caught her in a hard embrace.

“Eli!  Why are you standing here?  Come back inside!”  She tried to put her shoulder under his arm to support him back inside.  He could feel how cold she was even through her coat and gloved hands.  In a series of swift moves, he pulled her scarf free and threw it on a peg, he pulled the coat off and it went on the same peg.  Then he wrapped her in his arms again.  He pulled her head against his chest and whispered her name in her hair.  He kissed the top of her head and repeated her name over and over in her ears. 

“Where have you been, Ellie?  Where have you been?  I was frantic.  And I couldn’t do one thing to help you!  Don’t ever do that again!”

Ellen pulled back slightly and looked up into his face.  “I’m so sorry!  Eli! You have a very stupid cow!”  She put a hand on either side of his face and kissed his chin, which was as tall as she could stretch.  “Come on.  Sit down.” 

Together they made their way to the table, Eli trying to help her and Ellen trying to help him.  With one more kiss to the top of her head, Slade lowered himself into the chair. Ellen started back for the milk.

“Leave it,” Slade told her.  “It’s cold enough that it’ll be fine there and if something comes to drink it, we have gallons in the spring tank.  Come, get warm.”  He tried to stand up to help her sit but his leg simply wouldn’t hold him, instead he motioned toward the stove.  “I made fresh coffee and heated the dumplings.  I thought you would need something warm when you came in.” 

Ellen started to sit down across the table but he motioned for her to sit in front of the fire.

“No,” Ellen said, “I’d rather sit close to you.”

“You need to be closer to the heat.”  Slade told her.  “Take your coffee and dumplings over there.”  He tried again to stand.

Ellen caught him before he fell.

All right; we’ll sit over there.” She pulled his arm across her shoulders.  He had used his leg so much that it was nearly as useless at that moment as it had been the day he had hurt it. Ellen lowered him into the arm chair.

She stood by the fire and pulled her work skirt off and hung it by the fire.  She kicked her boots off in a heap by the wall and held her cold feet out to the fire for a moment before she went to the stove to bring across the coffee and dumplings.  She placed them on a chair beside the two big ones.  She brought coffee cups with the milk and sugar to the chair too. 

Before sitting down, Ellen pulled her arm chair closer to the fire and closer to Slade’s chair.  Then she sat down.  She filled the coffee cups and handed him one. She tried to give him some dumplings but he refused them.  His leg was hurting so badly that he felt as though they would make him sick. 

Ellen pulled her chair closer to the fire and sat down.  The warm dumplings and hot coffee warmed her inside as the cheerful fire warmed her cold feet and shoulders.

“Where were you?”  Slade asked again.  “I was frantic!  And there was nothing I could do!”

“You have one stupid cow.”  Ellen told him again.  “The horses came when I called them but Sarah and her calf didn’t. And they didn’t come.  And they didn’t come!

“I sent Fetcher to find her, but he came back barking and spinning around.  Evidently Sarah wouldn’t come.  So…I saddled Roja and followed him into the snow.  We found Sarah all right.  She was hiding in the shelter of that big upthrust of rock out to the south east. 

“And she wasn’t about to leave!   Fetcher nipped her heels and I whapped her with the rope.  Roja finally crowded her out from behind the rocks and the calf followed.  He is smarter than she is.  He started for that warm barn as soon as his mama was out from behind the rock.  She was a little more cooperative when the calf started but still had to be crowded and smacked to keep her moving.  A couple times she still tried to turn around and go back!

“We got her about half way or a little farther to the barn and suddenly she realized where we were going!  And took off like someone lit a fire under her tail! 

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