Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Proposal, Chapter 25

Without planning it, he stood in front of Ellen looking down into her face clasping her shoulders in his hands.  She let go of the shawl and moved her small hands up over his wrists.  The confusion and surprise were evident in her eyes.
“What, Eli?  What’s wrong?”  She was beginning to be alarmed. 

“Give me a minute, Ellie.  Just a minute.”  He stopped and bent over wrapping both arms around her, holding her close, catching his breath.  He picked her up and stood her back on the step.  It brought her up almost to his level.

“Eli, you are worrying me!  Tell me what happened!”

Slade could only shake his head.  “I just came to a conclusion.  And you have to promise to listen to me.  Please?”

“Of course!  I’ll always listen to you.  What is wrong?!”  Ellen shivered and held the front of his jacket in both hands.  He hugged her to him again and this time her arms slid around his chest under his jacket.  When he released her she stayed just a little closer to him that before.

“Ellie, we’ve lived here for long months.”  That sounded foolish, he thought.  But he pushed ahead.  “And at first I only wanted to help you, but then you brightened up the house and made things so much pleasanter.  And then I began to look forward to seeing you with breakfast ready when I came in from the barn on cold mornings and I enjoyed watching you go around and clean and cook.  Then you sent me a good lunch when I went to chase those stupid cows in the winter and my coffee was still hot when I sat down to eat! 

“When I came home you had a hot stew ready that first time.  I smelled it as I came across the slope.  It was wonderful to come in the house.  And you had the work done in the barn!  All I had to do was milk the cow! 

“I began to look forward to having you here.  And then that steer stomped me and you came after me.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.  You bandaged me and nursed me and let me lean on you all the way to the outhouse. 

“Do you think I didn’t notice how hard it was for you to hold me up?  But I couldn’t help it. I had to lean heavy on you.  But you never complained. You did the barn work and kept everything going.  While I sat and watched you do it all.

“Somewhere during that time I began to fall in love with you.  And once I admitted it I looked wa-a-a-y back to that day you made up your mind to learn how to shoot.  I think it started there, but it snowballed and now I can’t think of anything else.

“You are going to Santa Fe tomorrow, Ellie.  You are leaving me and I can’t stand the thought.  I love you so much my heart breaks when I think about tomorrow.”

Slade ran out of steam and stopped.  It was then he realized that tears were brimming in her eyes.  They spilled over and down her cheeks.  She pulled her arms out of his warm jacket and cupped either side of his face. 

“And so?”  She whispered hardly daring to hope for his next words. “Now what?”

Slade comprehended that there was more that she hadn’t said and it just might be possible she could and did love him.

“Ellie, will you marry me when we get to Santa Fe?”

His Ellie laughed out loud and threw her arms around his neck.  Everything happened as though they had practiced it a hundred times.  Slade’s arms wrapped around her and their lips met with an unimagined sweetness. He lifted his face and kissed her eyes and cheeks before moving back to her lips. 

“Well,” he said, “What do you say?”

“I say,” Ellen stopped for effect, “I say that I’ve never kissed a man I did not intend to marry.  Yes, yes, yes!”

“Let me put the horse away and I’ll be right in.” Slade set her back on the ground.

“Let me go with you and we can both go right in!’  Ellen clasped his arm and swung him around toward the barn.  She pulled him with her to pick up the horse’s reins for him. 

Slade laughed and a dark cloud lifted from his head.  They hurried to the barn. He pulled his arm loose from her clasp and put it around her. She held his waist.  It was a moment Slade had dreamed of.  When his leg was healing and he needed her support he had wished that he could hold her with out the excuse of a broken leg.  Now he did it with no more excuse than that he wanted to. 

There was little barn work.  Joseph had stabled his horse while Slade was baring his heart to Ellie on the porch.  While Ellie wiped down the tired horse, now slightly sweaty from his sudden run across the slope, Slade filled the hay rack and scooped a bit of their corn into the box. 

“I’ll bring him some water later.” He said turning the horse loose in the big stall.

They went to the house in a daze.  Before Slade could hang his coat he had to kiss her quickly once more.  Ellen was not stingy with her kisses but she had his dinner ready and didn’t want him to go hungry long.  She filled a pan with warm water and handed it to him.

“I’m sorry but you will have go wash on the table in the pantry.  I have things to get ready.”  She shoved him affectionately toward the pantry. 

While he was washing, Ellen sliced bread into the bottom of the tin baking pan and poured the tomatoes over it.  She sprinkled a bit of sugar across the top and took it to the fireplace.  She raked out a level bed of coals and set the pan on it.  With the same cloth she used to carry the tomatoes she lifted the roast out of the coals.  She whisked the ashes from the top and sides then took it across to the stove.  There she lifted the roast from the kettle to the deep platter on the table and covered it with a bowl.  She stirred the broth in the bottom and tasted it for flavor. In a few seconds it returned to a boil and she began dropping the dumplings into it. When she finished them, a dash of salt topped off the pan.  By the time Slade finished washing supper would be ready. 

She hurried to the shelves where the seldom used candlesticks stood.  They still had candles from the surprise dinner she had made a few days ago.  Slade had asked about a celebration then.  Now it was time for a real celebration.   She put them on either side of the table and lit them with a splinter of wood.  Madeline’s fancy dishes were in the cupboard by Slade’s bed; she tiptoed to take them out.  The door to the pantry was open and Ellen stopped at the glimpse of her future husband’s wide bare shoulders as he scrubbed his torso.  With a secret smile she returned to the table and set it, making it look as nice as possible. 

She checked the dumplings and turned them over in the hot broth to make sure they were cooked through.  She took her hot cloth to the fireplace and lifted the tomatoes from the coals.  She carried them to the counter and used the scrub cloth hanging from a nail over Fetcher’s bed to wipe the loose ash from the bottom; then she set it on the table beside the platter.

“Supper’s getting cold.” She called to Slade.  Even common words sound like a song, she thought to herself and Slade thought the same thing.  He came out of the pantry buttoning his shirt.

“What’s this again!  I guess we are celebrating tonight, aren’t we?”  Instead of sitting down in his chair, he walked around the table and pulled her into his arms again.  “I am so happy that I don’t know what to do with myself.  Pinch me and see if I’m sleeping.  Maybe it’s a dream.” 

Ellen had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss him lightly and pinch his cheek. “If you’re dreaming I’m having the same dream!  Now sit down and eat.  Future brides don’t like their hard work to go un-appreciated.

“No, wait.  Hold this for me. And stand here.”  She gave him the platter with the roast on it. As he held it close to the stove she dipped the dumplings out of the Dutch oven base and put them around the roast.  Then she poured the thick broth, filled with bits of broken dumplings over the top of the meat.  Slade returned the platter to the center of the table and Ellen moved the Dutch oven to the floor to cool.  She put the bowl that had covered the meat on the counter behind her.

She sat down across from him and extended her hand across the table between the meat and the tomatoes.  Slade took it in his and bowed his head.

“Dear Father God, we are overwhelmed with joy right now.  We have been thankful for many things these past months, for sending Ellie here to this house and this lonely man.” Ellen tilted her head to peek at Slade across from her. “We are thankful for your care over her as she ran from Viejo.  We are thankful you brought her safely through the storm.

“We have thanked you for taking care of me as I lay pretty well helpless on the hillside in the wind and the darkness.  And thanked you for guiding Ellie and Fetcher back to me and for giving her the knowledge to take care of me and the strength to get me home. 

“We have thanked you for caring for her as she hunted that stupid cow in the snow storm and for her getting it and herself home safely. 

“We rejoiced and praised you for Ellie coming to a knowledge of Your Saving Grace and a relationship with the family of God.

“It has all been a pretty amazing string of miracles, Lord, and now we come to the most amazing one.  Thank you Lord for letting us love one another and most of all that we can be married in just a couple more days.  Thank you, Father, Thank you.”

There was a long moment of silence before Slade closed with, “In Jesus’ name, Amen”

They looked across the table with tears of gladness in their eyes.  Ellen broke the silence first.

“Let’s eat this good food that you forgot to thank the Lord for.”  She grinned at him and picked up the big knife to slice the roast.

The meal was hot and good.  Slade liked the roast and dumplings but the tomatoes were a special treat for him.  He’d never had tomatoes like them.  And when the finished eating they shared the clean up with many quick hugs and tiny kisses. 

Slade sat down at the clean table and opened his Bible in the light of the shortened candles.  He turned to Ephesians  “ Husbands love your wives,, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it…. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”

He grinned at the import of the words and with nothing more to be said he stood up and led her round the table.  “Now let’s get to bed so tomorrow and Santa Fe will come that much quicker.”  And he escorted her to her ladder. Where, with a final hard embrace, she left him to climb to her bed.

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