When Ellen woke for the second time that morning the sun was shining and the view through the window was nearly spring-like. To keep herself occupied, she decided to give the house a good cleaning. She chuckled to herself. Slade had already remarked at the small things she had scrubbed and dusted, but the house was by no means clean according her mother’s standards. To achieve that standard she took down the curtains at each window. Lacking a tub large enough to wash them, she settled for shaking them outside (where she found the sunshine was betrayed by a freezing breeze) and hanging them over the rope at the end of the porch.
She took the broom and swept down the log walls from the ceiling to the floor. She removed the books from the shelves above the desk table and swept them clear of accumulated sand. Even the books benefited from a brisk swipe of her cleaning cloth. The stones of the fireplace had accumulated their own share of sandy dust in every crevasse and seam. It soon yielded to her determined broom that brightened the golden sandstone. Her outdoor things as well as another jacket were removed from their pegs to the chair and that section of wall received the attention of her broom before the things were shaken outside and replaced. When she came to the wood box moving it was out of the question, but she still swept the walls above it and reached her broom as far into the space between it and the walls to sweep out accumulated dirt.
Fetcher’s bed blanket was folded carefully in on itself and carried out doors. The blanket was matted with white fur and dirt. To shake it Ellen went far out off the porch along the shoveled path and made sure the wind was blowing across from her shoulder to the wide open spaces beyond the barn. She didn’t want a face full of dog dirt! The first flip sent a cloud of dust and hair into the air and the successive ones produced even more. When she was finished the flat matted blanket was fluffy, if not clean
Leaving the blanket on the steps, Ellen went back in the house. She chuckled at the pile of treasures Fetcher had stashed under his bed. There were a couple well gnawed bones, some small dried looking things and a large piece of rawhide with cow hair still attached in places. Those all went on the fire. The floor and wall were thoroughly swept.
Ellen continued around the walls of the cabin, moving what she could, sweeping around or down what was not movable. She cleaned around Slade’s big bed in the corner and swept two years worth of piled dusty sand from as far as she could reach underneath it. Finally every wall had been brushed free of dust, sand and cobwebs. Ellen looked with satisfaction at the pile of dirt she scooped up on her little shovel to carry outside.
After everything was thoroughly swept, Ellen took the wash tub they used for dishes and filled it with hot water and soap to scrub the shelves and tables and other furniture. She didn’t scrub the floors but she did use the wet soapy broom on Fetcher’s corner. She tried washing the windows with clear water but the smoky film would not yield to plain water no matter how hot it was. It required soapy water to take the smoky, black film off but the clouded soap residue had to be removed with another washing of clear hot water. Finally the sunshine shone through shining windows.
When at last the room was cleaned to Ellen’s satisfaction she began reassembling the pieces carried outside to air or piled on the table for cleaning. With everything back in place, including a few rearrangements, the room looked lighter and to Ellen’s eyes, more welcoming than it had a few days before.
She walked out on the porch and gazed around the buildings. The day was sliding into late afternoon, but she put on her coat and boots to walk around the house, noting where the wood pile was on the south side with its leanto to protect the chopped wood from weather. She found where, on the north, the water from the spring was led off down the slope in its stone channel. There was a little adobe house off the south west a few steps behind the big house. Feeling a little like a burglar but still curious, she went to the door and opened it cautiously.
Inside the little house were bits of furniture similar to the bigger house. A table and a chair in the middle of the room, a bed in the corner and a large chair like the ones in the other house. A small rough cupboard held some dishes, an iron cook pot and a coffee pot. Some eating and cooking utensils stood in a crock by the big iron pot. There were some personal items stacked here and there in the little adobe house. There was another box-like chest positioned against the wall by the head of the bed. One item that surprised her was an onion shaped fireplace in the far corner opposite the bed. It was built out from the wall in a bulging shape and the chimney led up through the roof. The entire thing was put together of adobe, stone and mud plaster. The base was raised about a foot off the floor so cooking would require less bending.
Ellen stood looking around just inside the door, taking in the life components of the man whose very existence had suddenly become so important to her. Then she closed the door and went back to the big house.
Now the day stretched out empty before her. There was nothing else to do. The house was clean. Her ‘bedroom’ was as neat and tidy as it had been when Slade had first prepared it for her. Even the porch was swept clear of the mud from before the storm. Her supply of firewood had been replenished from the pile beside the house. Her toes were cold from the walk in the snow and she needed something hot to drink.
Ellen put on a small pot of coffee and decided to start some stewed beef for supper when Slade returned. For herself, she took the last piece of their cornbread from the day before and poured hot sweet coffee over it. She sat at the table and brought Slade’s Bible beside it. Whatever it was, the book had made Slade a kind and compassionate man. Ellen determined to find what was so important in its pages that he made time to read it every day.
Scooping a spoonful of the soupy coffee into her mouth, Ellen opened the Bible randomly and paged through it reading a verse here and there. Nothing particular caught her eye until she came to several verses underlined in black ink: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not
The words impressed themselves into her mind and she re-read them several times wondering at the phrasing of a Word being in the beginning and being with God. Words were spoken, but this made it seem like an object or a person or a being. It was with God and yet part of God. How could that be? She would have to ask Mr. Slade because it made no sense to her. Maybe that was what the last part of the underlining meant about light being the life and the darkness not comprehending something. She didn’t understand it at all.
As she ate her coffee and cornbread she continued reading the chapter. That seemed to make a little more sense since it was talking about the things a man named John said and did.
She read until the words began to blur on the page and the late afternoon had become evening. The cubes of beef had simmered themselves into softness so she added a small onion to send its flavor through the pot while it sat on the table cooling enough to eat. She went back to the pantry to see if there was something more she could add to the meal. There were several cans of peaches so she took one to open for desert.
Anticipating Slade’s return any time, Ellen set the dishes on the table as darkness settled. The minutes stretched out longer and longer.
Anxiety set in as she looked for things to do. Thinking a pan of cornbread would be good for tomorrow morning or even later that evening she assembled the batter and poured it into the greased spider. The lid was placed on the spider and it was nestled amid the coals to the side of the fire with its long handle turned to the side so she wouldn’t trip over it.
She went to the door repeatedly to peer off toward the eastern horizon in hopes of seeing a figure emerging from the gloom. In the course of one day Ellen had gone from fearing the thought of el Viejo riding up the road to longing for a dim glimpse of another man in the darkness.
Slade didn’t materialize.
As it became later and later, Ellen decided that she could at least prepare things for the work in the barn. She collected the buckets and filled them with as much water as she could carry. When that was done and he still wasn’t home, she put on outdoor clothes and heavy boots to take the buckets to the barn.
Still no Slade.
She carried the buckets across the yard. She poured them into the tubs for the cows and the horses and returned for two more. And two more yet again.
Still no Slade!
Carefully climbing into the hay loft she forked a pile of hay onto the floor in the middle of the barn then distributed it to the animals as she had seen Slade do in the past couple of days. The horses showed no sign of hearing their fellow cow pony returning.
As the animals picked at their hay, Ellen took the manure fork and carefully lifted the droppings that had accumulated during the day. She made careful separate piles outside the door and stacked the frozen ones to the side as she had watched Slade do. Eyeing the neat stacks she wondered what exactly Slade planned to do with them. Never mind. Ellen returned to the stalls and scattered the hay litter from below the racks over the wet spots on the floor. Then she stepped back to view her handiwork. Good job she decided. Now if only she knew how to milk the cow.
Leaving the milk bucket upside down on the feed box, she went back through the blowing bits of icy snow to the house. How quickly had the storm had started! How glad she was to be going back to the house before visibility had decreased!
There was nothing to do! The house was clean. Supper was ready. She paced from door to window, back and forth across the small cabin from window to window. There was simply nothing to be seen.
She checked the cornbread and removed it from the coals. Remembering that she had not started any coffee she got the pot filled and ground the beans.
Ellen stood beside the stove peering at the coffee pot waiting for the water to boil. It seemed to take twice as long as usual. Finally she was able to add the ground coffee and then wait again for it to return to a boil and be ready to remove to build its strength.
Again she went to the door to peer out. Nothing.
Gathering her determination she sat down and made up her mind to stay seated until Slade returned, but within a short while she was up looking out again. Ellen wished for a clock so she could see exactly how late it was.
And then out of the darkness she heard Fetcher’s excited yipping.