Monday, August 20, 2012

Back in Santa Fe on the Way Home Chapter 49 Part 2

Back in the room, he found that Ellen had been as good as her word. The lamps were lit in the center room and a fire was burning in the bedroom that they had used before. There had been wood in all of the cradles but she saw no sense in heating two rooms. The clerk had already delivered a pot of coffee and the fixings for it along with a loaf of bread, a piece of cold roast and pots of butter and jam.  He promised hot water as soon as it was heated.

Slade didn’t wait for the hot water, but he did go and fetch his own pitchers of water from the pump out in the barn yard.  Then he hung his hat and coat on the hook and took his shirt off.  The stale water from the pitcher in the center room felt good on his dusty skin so he went ahead and scrubbed the rest of his torso. When he came back to the fire there were goose bumps across his shoulders.

Ellen laughed at him.  “If you hadn’t been in such a rush we could have carried the bowl in here and you could have at least had a warm place to wash.”

“I’ve had lots of colder baths in my day and besides, now you’ll have a whole pail of hot water for your own bath.” He told her as pulled on the shirt she handed him.  

“Let’s eat!”  He moved the table closer to the fire and began slicing the meat.  In a second of inspiration he held a slice on a fork over the heat until the fat sizzled onto the fire. He put it on the plate and covered it with a slice of bread.  He continued with the next several pieces until they had a plate full of hot meat surrounded by a small puddle of melted fat covered with slices of bread..  They sat down to a jolly meal of hot roast beef sandwiches and hot coffee, by slices of bread and jam while Raven gazed at each bite they put in their mouths.  Ellen sliced him a sandwich of bread and meat.  It disappeared in a flash.  As they were finishing up there was a knock at the door.  The clerk had brought their hot water. 

Ellen considered just washing her hands and face but the hot water felt so heavenly that she continued until she had taken her whole bath in a wash bowl.  The bed was as soft as ever and they fell asleep in its pillows with hardly saying good night.

Good intentions fell by the wayside the next morning.  The long day before had begun at sun up and most of it had been spent in the sun and wind.  Slade and Ellen slumbered long after their usual rising time.   They had left no directions to be wakened in the morning so the efficient and courteous clerk had told his manager they were to be left to sleep until they rang for water or breakfast.  In consequence, it was nearly nine o’clock when Ellen opened her eyes to bright sunlight. 

“Slade! Look how late it is!  We need to be up and moving!”  She rolled over and poked Slade’s shoulder.  He groaned and opened his eyes.

“It seems I must be getting old, Ellie.  This is the second time in one day that I’ve woke up groaning.”  He sat up and rubbed his face with both hands.  “Is there hot water yet?  Maybe if I wash my face, it will make my back feel better.”

Ellen got out of bed and went over to the pitcher she had carried into the warmer room for her bath.  “There’s only cold now to wash in.   But if you wait, I’ll ring for the maid for hot. I just woke up, too, you know!”  She hurried into the center room to ring the bell.

“Well, would you look at this,” she exclaimed.  “There’s a sign.  ‘For water ring twice quickly.  For assistance ring once, pause and ring again.’  Someone came up with a good idea! 

“Do you still  want hot water or shall I call the maid for breakfast?”

“No, I finished washing while you were standing around reading signs.  Just call the lady to bring us breakfast.”

Ellen carefully followed directions to call for assistance and a pert young woman in a dark blue dress with a white apron soon knocked at the door. Ellen’s face was clean and she was dressed.  Slade had started a fire in the center room and had moved the table closer to it.  The maid took their breakfast order and hurried off to get it for them, promising them it shouldn’t be long at all because the other guests were still being served in the dining room and all the food was prepared.

Slade had been folding their things back into the trunk.  He left Ellen’s traveling clothes in a neat stack in the very top of the trunk so she could change into them the first night out.  Forbid that she should visit Mrs. Coulter in her split skirt and tattered coat and man’s hat!  She was wearing her green dress and the heavy cloak over her shawl.  He had dressed in clean clothes with his neat jacket over the cream colored shirt and pants, but he kept his heavy coat with Ellen’s long one. By the time their breakfast had arrived they were ready to leave.

Slade asked the housekeeping maid who delivered their food to please send a message to the barn to have their horses harnessed and hitched to the wagon.  They would be out for them in about a half hour. 

They sat down for a good breakfast of fried ham and potatoes with stewed apples and fresh toast covered with butter.  Slade ate until he declared he wouldn’t need more until supper time. Raven gobbled his bread and ham with a side of potatoes before they knew it was gone.  Ellen wasn’t quite so greedy but she did enjoy the food as much as they did. 

Just before they left the room she thought to wrap the remainder of the bread loaf in a napkin.  Slade had gobbled all of the potatoes and onions but she made two sandwiches of the last two slices of ham.  Slade carried their trunk while Ellen brought the coats and her little bundle of bread and ham. 

They put their things in the wagon and with Raven standing grandly in the back, drove around to the front of the hotel where Slade stopped for a minute to go tell the manager they were leaving and pay their bill.

Their first stop was at Mrs. Coulter’s where Ellen picked up the two skirts she had ordered for One Who Laughs.  Then they went to the store for their supplies.  Ellen ordered things for their trip while Slade gave Senor Montalvo a list to fill out their winter supplies.  He drove the wagon with Raven guarding it around to the back loading area and came back to Ellen in the store.

“I think I should go around to the saddler’s shop.  Santos is making do with only two saddles and three bridles. Saddles are expensive for poor men with families. The men who are actually working the cattle use the saddles; the others are riding bareback.  Ramon, especially, needs good tack to train the yearlings.  And there’s other work to be done that requires a good saddle.   If we order two more and the bridles to go with them, we can have them delivered to Santos when they are finished.

“We have left him with a great deal of responsibility; the least we can do is make life a little simpler for him.  He and Manuela are good people.”

“You’re the rancher, Eli.” Ellen said.  “I’m depending on you to point out what needs to be done.  I would never have noticed the shortage of saddles—in fact, I didn’t.   I could tell you what is needed in the house if someone were to live there full time, but outside of that I have no idea about it.

“We can order the saddles while the supplies are being loaded. Where is the saddler’s shop anyway?”  Ellen grinned at him as she took his arm.

‘Wait,” she stopped suddenly.  “We had better go to the bank first and get some cash.  I see no reason to keep using our cattle money for Los Llanos.  In fact, my father would be pulling his hair at how loose and easy we’ve been with our “management of funds” so far.  When we get back to the store I’d better see if Mr. Montalvo happens to have a ledger book of some kind.”

They made their way across the street and turned up the way to go to the bank.  Once there they found the new manager to be a pleasant and efficient man.  He introduced himself as Howard Burton and offered to show them the records for the Aguilar accounts.  It turned out that the balance in the account somewhat more that the previous records had shown due to Ellington’s manipulations.  Ellen was pleased and so was Slade. 

They made their withdrawal and Slade was silent about the total until they were out of the bank when he protested the amount.  “The saddles aren’t going to cost that much, Ellie.  We didn’t need the extra three hundred dollars.  We are fine with money for operating expenses and for living on.”

“But, honey,” Ellen answered.  “Think about it.  I know we are far from broke, but it just isn’t right that we use the cattle money from our home ranch to buy supplies and equipment for Los Llanos.  And what we paid Senora della Cruz—that was paid from cattle money and it was entirely for the benefit of Los Llanos.   And all of the supplies we took with us—the bedding and dishes and household goods.  That was all from the cattle money.”  A little frown wrinkled the bridge of her nose.  “My father would have serious things to say to me when he worked so hard to teach me how to manage money and keep good books.  You make sure I remember to keep the finances sorted out.  I don’t think it will ever make a difference to anyone, but it is just good practice!”

“Ellie, you beat all I’ve ever seen.  You say it’s all our money but you want to keep close track of it.  I guess it is only good sense, but I never kept a book in my life, so all the number-keeping is up to you. 

“Now let’s go order those saddles.”

With the saddles and tack ordered and paid for they made their way back to the store.  The wagon was loaded but Ellen hurried inside to find a ledger to begin her bookkeeping in. While she was there she dealt with Eliza Montalvo who was a quiet person, very devoted to making sure Ellen had everything she needed.

She commented on the long trip they were beginning and asked if she was sure she was dressed warmly enough for two nights on the trail.  Ellen told her she had more appropriate clothes in the wagon but, to spare Mrs. Coulter’s feelings, was waiting until they left town to change. Upon hearing that, the kind lady suggested that since they were leaving very shortly afterward that Ellen use their quarters above the store to change. That, she said, would be much better than trying to change in the cold wind at their first camp. “You can cover the traveling clothes with your cloak and button it up until you are beyond where Senora Coulter will see you!” She said.

Ellen had to bow to her good sense and thanked her profusely. She asked if it would be all right for them to return to do that after they had a quick bite to eat. Both were please with their plan.

It was very nearly noon.  Ellen and Slade checked over the contents of the wagon and went to the little café for what ever was on the menu for lunch.  Just before they walked away from the wagon, Ellen stretched up and over the side to reach the canteens under the seat. 

“I’ll ask the waitress to fill them with coffee for us just before we leave.  Then we will have it to warm us and hold off hunger till we stop for the night.”

The menu consisted of the everyday standby, beans and cornbread.  The beans were flavored with ham pieces and onions.  With the cornbread and sweet coffee their meal was delicious. When Ellen asked to have the canteen filled she also requested several pieces of cornbread to be wrapped for them.   The lady brought them a huge slab of cornbread wrapped securely in a cloth and then brown paper, ‘to help it from being crushed.’  Ellen sweetened and added milk to the coffee herself while Slade paid their bill.

They returned to the back of the store for their wagon and Ellen was ushered upstairs with her old cotton dress and the heavy skirt she wore as much for warmth as protection of the finer dress material.  She wrapped the shawl around her shoulders and tied it securely then folded the cloak around her and fastened the loops at the neckline.  With her hands through the slits, the cloak covered her old traveling clothes completely.  If Mrs. Coulter did catch a glimpse of her leaving town she would only see the beautiful cloak.

She handed Slade her folded dress while she climbed in into the wagon herself. He put them in her trunk and buckled the straps.  He shrugged into his heavy coat and stepped up beside her.  They were finally on their way.  Senora Montalvo and her husband stood on the dock and waved them off.

The road from town was busy, but other than a few friendly waves and passing remarks on the wolf in their wagon, they met no obstructions.  Within a short while they came to the turn of that would take them across the many miles of empty country to home.

Back in Santa Fe on the Way Home Chapter 49

In the dim light she had difficulty fitting her key into the padlock on the door.  Slade had to take it from her and use his younger eyes to find the keyhole.  They went in to a house that had been left neat and tidy.  There was a faint staleness in the air but everything was as she left it.   Ellen quickly lit the lamp on the table and hurried to the fat round stove to lay a fire.  Within a few seconds more she had a blaze going.  There was still wood in the box beside it, but Slade went outside and brought in some more.  

Not knowing if the lady had left grocery supplies for her return, Ellen asked her husband to go and bring in their food supply box.  They would have to shop tomorrow before starting for the Slade ranch anyway.  

When he returned he brought not only the food, but also the fee they had agreed to pay her for the week.  He stacked the supplies on the table and gave the money to Senora della Cruz.

“We have enjoyed having you with us very much, Senora!  I hope that when we return you will be able to help us again.  You’ve become a friend, almost another mother to us.”  He looked a little self-conscious at his affectionate words.

Ellen had no reserves about demonstrating her fondness.  She stepped forward and hugged the lady. “You are the best, Senora.  I wish we could keep you with us, but perhaps our fee for you will help keep you secure here in your little house for a while longer.”  She took the money from Slade’s hand and pressed it into the lady’s.

On the verge of tears Ellen turned and hurried outside.  Slade, too, hugged her briefly and said good-bye.

They were in the wagon and Slade had flipped the reins when Senora della Cruz hurried down her short walk.  “Wait,” she called quietly in the darkness. “I think you gave me too much.” 

“No, ma’am” Slade answered.  “We didn’t give you near enough!  You take care, now. And God bless you!”

They drove up the slumbering street.  Ellen glanced back over her shoulder to see the lady still standing in the dimly lit doorway.

The hotel was shut down for the night, but two lamps were burning outside the door and the lobby was dimly lit.  The night clerk dozed in a comfortable chair behind his counter.  The clock on the wall indicated that it was midnight, not as late as they had anticipated.  Slade tapped gently on the bell, not enough to startle him, but enough to wake him.  He leapt to his feet.

“Senor Slade and Senora!  It is good to see you.”  Even late at night he was courteous.  He turned the book around to allow Slade to sign in.  He slipped their key from the hook behind the desk.

Slade lifted their trunk casually with one hand and took the key from the man’s grasp.  “I’ll be back to take care of the horses as soon as I have my wife settled in our room.  “Would it be possible for us to get some coffee and some bread and butter?  We haven’t eaten.  If necessary we could make our own coffee if you would let us use your kitchen.  You can let me know when I come back.” 

Ellen went ahead of him down the familiar corridor.  When Slade opened the door she sighed with relief.

“It’s almost like coming home.”  She smiled up at him and raised on tiptoe to kiss his cheek as he se the trunk on the floor.  “Go ahead, now.  Take care of the horses and I’ll get us situated here.  Do you want me to unlock the back door so you won’t need to walk all the way around?”

When he grinned his appreciation, she kissed his cheek and gave him a gentle shove toward the door.

Slade ran lightly down the hall and through the deserted lobby.  The clerk had evidently gone to start the coffee himself. He made a mental note to collect water for them when he returned.

The horses were glad to get to the barn and into stalls. The trip had been long but they weren’t at all sweaty since the last leg of their journey had been at their own pace.  Slade forked down a rack full of hay for each one and carried water to their stalls.  He took a generous scoop of grain for each horse and left four quarters on the desk for the liveryman in payment.  When he was finished he left the barn and went to the door opening into the stable yard.  Raven had stayed with the wagon earlier but now he abandoned it and poked ahead of Slade along the gravel path.  Slade watched him and hoped Ellen had remembered to unlock it.  Sure enough, it standing open just a crack.. 

Almost Finished Chapter 48 Part 2

The warm sun soon shone on them.  The team had had a nice rest with only a couple jaunts under a saddle to view the cattle.  They were ready to move at a quick ground covering walk until late afternoon when Slade pulled them over into a sheltered place behind some rocks.  He took the harness from them and rubbed their backs and legs with a piece of sacking.  He attached a lead rope to each and gave them each a wide circle to graze or just stand in the sun.  While they nosed around and Ellen made a quick pot of coffee Slade gave each of them a pail of water, which the politely sipped but didn’t seem to crave.

He returned to the wagon and stretched out on the ground with his back against a wheel. Ellen gave him a cup of coffee and the Senora presented him with two of her delectable galletas.

“Mmmm!  I thought those were all gone!”  One of the sweet Spanish biscuits disappeared into his mouth.  When it was chomped enough for him to close his lips he took a sip of coffee. 

The Senora raised her eyebrow as she looked at Ellen.  “I think we had better take our own right now or we won’t get any.  He doesn’t look like he is ready to be polite!”

She set the plate on the tail of the wagon and took her own cookies.  She too sat on the ground against the other wheel.  Ellen took the only rock and crossed her legs primly.

“At least one of us knows how to act properly during tea—I mean, ‘coffee.’ Mmmm.” 

They rested for a few more minutes while the horses nibbled the tips of plants and one of them rolled vigorously in the dust.  Raven slumbered under the wagon.  Slade snoozed with his chin on his chest. 

Ellen stood up and prodded Slade’s ribs with her toe.  “C’mon, lazy boy!  Let’s get going or we will have to spend the night on the road.”

The Senora was busy putting things away.  She had rinsed the coffee pot and replaced it.  The bucket was back in its place on the side of the wagon.  Slade sighed and heaved himself to his feet.  Ellen had already brought the one horse to the front of the wagon.  He proceeded to hitch it up while she returned for the other. 

Both ropes were coiled and in place when he was finished.  He picked Ellen up and put her in the wagon while she squealed in surprise.  He offered his hand to the Senora who looked at him doubtfully but let him boost her gently into the wagon.  She seemed a little worried he would swing her into the air, too.  The horses nodded their heads and started out with renewed enthusiasm.  Raven trotted along beside them

The sun sank below the western horizon but before it could get too dark to travel the three quarter moon shone its brightness over the road.  The horses’ enthusiasm had faded but they were no where being too tired and Slade allowed them to continue at their own pace.  Raven paced close to the wagon and looked up at Ellen so hopefully that she had Slade pause for the dog to scramble up beside her. The Senora moved from her seat to pillow her head on the pile of bedding and was napping off and on.  Slade wrapped an arm around Ellen and they leaned on each other in the dimness.  There were no sounds except the occasional cry of a night bird. 

Ellen lost track of time and Slade simply leaned his cheek against the top of her head.  He remembered the nights he had spent alone with only Fetcher for company.  He thought of the night he found her frozen on her horse and how tiny she had looked in the oversized shawl with her hair in wild waves around her head.  Then the night he was stomped by the steer came to mind.  The picture of her materializing on Roja out of the darkness with Fetcher leading the way floated before his eyes.  She had been willing to stay there in the middle of the rocks and brush as long as he needed her.  Instead she had struggled to get him on the horse and they had followed Fetcher back home in the blowing snow.  In all of the dramatic events he had fallen in love with her.  It was still an amazing thing to him.  He hugged her tightly.

At some point Ellen realized that Slade, with his cheek on her head had fallen asleep.  He still held the reins but they were simply threaded loosely through his hand limp between his knees.  She stretched one hand, being careful not to disturb his balance against her and retrieved the reins.  Her hands were not big enough to hold all of them together but she took them gently and flipped them over the horses’ backs.  They blew through their nostrils and nodded their heads.  She hadn’t intended to hurry them, but they picked up their pace slightly. 

Ellen reviewed the last few days in her mind.  As horrible as her premonitions had been, Slade’s presence as they walked through the rooms of the house erased them.  Now her memories were of his strong arm around her shoulders when she looked at the table where Viejo had pounded his gun hilt demanding wine, food, meat what ever.  She remembered his gentle kisses on her head when she stood in the doorway of the room where she had first been raped and his presence beside her at every other site that reduced her to trembling weakness.  And she remembered how he had praised her as they stood in the door of the pantry where she had swung the bar hard enough to knock the man unconscious.  That single event had most haunted her.  As evil as the man had been, until she woke to see his face in the hotel, she thought she had killed him.  But that made her remember Slade’s anger at the foolish deputy when he had maligned her for shooting the impostor, “Jose Aguilar.”  His loud justification warmed her heart and she could still hear him demanding that the sheriff himself be summoned.

Only one short year, not even a full year yet, and she marveled at how much had happened.   Here she found herself, a wife, secure under her husband’s love and protection.  And still there were decisions to be made.  How were they to oversee two separate pieces of land both of which were valuable and needed the owner there full time?  She deliberated their options as the horses continued their constant pace. 

The moon travelled its path up the sky until it was very nearly directly over head.  Slade roused to the frightening realization that he was no longer holding the reins of the team.  He jerked up with a start and looked around.  Ellen laughed at him.

“Don’t worry.  I have the horses.  You’ve been sleeping a long time.  I’m not sure but I think we are almost to town.  I was about to wake you!” 

“Ohh,oooh.”  Slade groaned.  “My neck is stiff and my back hurts.  I’m not sure my knees will work.”  He sat up straight and stretched his arms and shoulders.  He groaned again.  “You are going to have to stop.  I have to get down for a minute…”

Ellen pulled the horses up in the center of the road.  There had been no traffic for their entire trip.  At first they had been off the well traveled road and by the time they had reached what would have been the busier stretch, it was too late for regular travelers.  Slade jumped down and then turned to help her.  They made a quick trip to the bushes and rocks to relieve themselves and then walked back and forth on the road for a couple minutes restoring the circulation in their legs and feet.

“You’re right.  We are nearly in town.  If it wasn’t so dark we could see the outer buildings.  Let’s hurry.  I’m anxious for a bed!”  He laughed as the climbed back in the wagon.

Sure enough the outskirts of town were right ahead of them and the buildings began to show up through the dimness.  At corner of the short street where Senora della Cruz’s house was located, Slade turned the horses and Ellen called to the lady.

“Senora!  We are here.  You are home!”

The Senora roused and sat up, stretching.  “I’ve slept so long?  I’m sorry.  I should have stayed awake.  Where are we?”  She looked out at her own neighborhood and Slade pulled the horses up before her small house.

She stood up and swayed until Slade’s strong arm reached up to support her.  “Be careful, ma’am.  Let me help.”  He steadied her while she stepped to the back of the wagon and slid down.  When she was steady on her feet he released her and reached in for her things.

Almost Finished Chapter 48 Part 1

They had taken a quick trip around the water hole by the spring and found cougar tracks on the upper side.  They had walked around over the area and saw only the one set of tracks.  Santos was hopeful that the human scent would discourage the cat from coming back. Both regretted that Raven had been snoozing by the fire and showed no inclination to leave.  The big dog’s scent around the water hole might have gone further toward warding off the cat. Slade said he hated to do it but that the cat would probably have to be shot if it didn’t return to higher ground. 

He described the stable to the women saying that it was in good repair and any animals closed in there would be very secure from predators.  The fence around the corral needed a few new rails and some nails to make it solid.  He thought the south camp would be a good way to keep track of the herd there.

Ellen related her afternoon’s work and wished he had gotten home in time to see the horses ID numbers.  She was pleased with them.

As they were talking Senora della Cruz got up and began slicing meat and packing  potatoes in a deep plate.  She laid a large tortilla over top of the plate and added two galletas.   She filled a jar with milky coffee and closed it tightly.  When Slade had finished his meal, she brought the covered plate and coffee to him and asked that he would carry it to Jefe Muñoz since his mother wasn’t at home to cook his meal.   Ellen ran and got her own coat and shawl for her head. 

With Slade carrying the plate and Ellen the jar of coffee they walked through the passage way and turned to the left out across the open space to the small house the Muñoz family lived in beside the barn.  Jefe was happy to have the food and promised to return the Senora’s plate the next morning. 

Ellen and Slade held hands and walked around the courtyard and the walls of the houses, enjoying the crisp air and one another’s company.

When they returned to the kitchen, Senora della Cruz had cleaned everything up and had already retired.  A plate of galletas was sitting in the center of the table.  Ellen smiled. 

“I guess she forgot to show you her surprise. See if there is coffee left.”

Slade picked up the coffee pot. “There is and it’s very hot.  I’d say it was just made.’  He carried it to the cupboard and took two cups to set on the counter. He poured coffee in each and added canned milk and sugar. With a big grin he followed her to their room. 

The work that needed their immediate direction and oversight was nearly done. The final thing, due to a suggestion from Diego, was that the two colts be moved from El Niño Negro’s immediate vicinity.  He thought that stallion would be easier to handle since he wouldn’t be worried about competition for his mares and the colts would be less anxious to prove their own virility.  It would be a while after his months of freedom before he remembered his stable manners.  They moved the colts to the large fenced area directly behind the courtyard where shelter could be provided into the larger barns. Various kinds of feed had been stored there as well as some cattle housed.  Since no one was living in the house, the large barn would be more convenient for Ramon than a small shelter in the corner of the field by the house.

Slade agreed and they planned that Slade would finish that bit of work the following day while Ellen prepared to leave the next morning. If they started early, with a little push they could be in Santa Fe late that night. 

At sunrise, moving the colts was a simple matter.  Ramon had them broken to lead and they were excited to leave their corrals and explore new territory.  The morning air was crisp and cold; fall was on its way.  Sunlight was streaming over the horizon and the two youngsters followed Ramon and Santos with their heads up and a brisk step.  They were released into the new field through the gate at the corner by the house.  While they tossed their heads and explored the confines of the field, Slade and the men began the installation a short fence from the field to each corner of the barn.   It was only about 30 feet and when the current fence was removed, it would leave a wide passage for the colts to reach the barn.  The last thing was to separate an area for them in the end of the barn.  Slade pulled out two old pens and moved the partitions across the entire end of the barn.  The colts were used to sharing space and were good buddies.  They would be fine in one large stall area.  Once the work was begun, since the men knew their business, Slade left them to their job and returned to the house to help with their preparations to leave.

While Slade sat at the table with Santos going over the final long range plans, Ellen put together a box of supplies for the possibility that they might have to spend a night on the road.  Everything else was still folded and covered tightly on the wagon.  The Senora had all of her things ready to return to her home in town. The kitchen was sparkling and Manuela had been told to pack all the food stuff to send for the Muñoz family when Jefe left later in the afternoon.  That would leave the kitchen and pantry clear of anything to attract rodents until someone returned to live in the house.

Ellen and Slade had only their night things to put in the trunk and they would be ready to leave the next morning. .

It was only shortly dawn the next morning when they left the gate of the courtyard.  Manuela and Santos, Cecil and the other two children stood in the opening waving.  As they passed the distant horse corrals, Ramon, already up and working his horses, waved the them from el Nino Negro’s back as he danced around the field.  It made Ellen happy to see him being ridden by someone who enjoyed him and appreciated his beauty.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Much to Do Chapter 47 Part 3

She put the Bible on the chair beside the lamp and blew out the flame.  She scooted down under the blankets and gently pushed Slade far enough that there was room for her on the edge of the bed.  He moaned and moved a bit until they were huddled together in the center.  She held him in her arms and prayed, thanking the Lord for one more time that her husband had returned to her.

Feeling pressured by limited time, they hurried the next morning to sort the separate tasks.  Slade and Santos took Carlos and his wife to work at the southern house.  Carlos’ son and the other man remained to help Ramon with marking the horses.

They ate the Senora’s hearty breakfast and went their separate ways.  Santos had already prepared a pack horse with the necessary tools to repair the walls and cleaning things for the inside.  He had Slade’s horse saddled and ready.

Ellen met Ramon and Diego at the colts corral with Raven at her heels.  She described the Senora’s idea of marking the yearlings’ ears.  They both understood immediately and thought the markings could be done small enough to be legible but still effective. After all this year they were working with single digits.

The work of catching and throwing the yearlings was hard.  Ramon and his helper had to call on Cecil and a couple of the other boys to help.  The colts, of course, were the most difficult; but they only needed to be branded since they were easily told apart.  It was accomplished finally. The fillies were much easier to handle and their marking went quickly.

Following their ordeal, Ramon spent a few minutes with the yearlings, feeding them the grain balls and scratching their heads and manes, brushing their coats to soothe them.  They quickly settled down and came to the fence to see what Ellen and Diego might have for them. Success! They even tossed their heads and chased Raven when he ran across their field.

The new foals were easily subdued and branded.  It was fortunate they were quieter because the tattoos had to be much more carefully done on their tiny ears. But the clipping and marking were soon finished.  They were quickly comforted by their mothers, but they enjoyed being scratched in their favorite itchy places.  The job was finished by shortly after noon.

Taking advantage of the extra men and the boys who had been helping with the horses, Ellen led the way back to the main house where the Senora had reheated the beans left from the night before.  She fed the men and refused to allow Ellen to eat in the kitchen with them.  Ellen was sent to her own room to have her lunch in solitary splendor.  The Senora had specific ideas regarding the place of the lady of the house and the workers.

Following lunch Ellen took her work crew, Carlos’ son, Cecil and his younger brother,  to the front of the house where they cleaned the dead grass and weeds from the flower beds and the base of the vines.  The young men used shovels to scoop out shallow depressions at the foot of each vine on the arbor and then carried buckets of water to fill each depression.  Water now would help strengthen the plants in the spring.  Ellen swept the stones of the walkway and raked the litter from the area in front of the house.

As the sun sank lower they moved to the inner courtyard and began with working beside the patio where they cleaned the containers and pots from last year’s plants.  Slade had been right in thinking the courtyard wouldn’t look so magical in the day light; but it looked neater just having the dried stalks and leaves removed.  Her work crew moved to the area around the well and cleaned there, re-building the wall around the base of a low wall that had once contained a garden of decorative cactus.  The bandits had used them for target practice throwing their knives into them.  They were scarred but not broken.

It was too dark to continue working.  Ellen set her helpers to carrying the refuse out of the courtyard into the pasture behind the courtyard to the trash pile.  Then she sent them home.  She was pleased with everything she had accomplished.  Slowly the house and courtyard was beginning to look like itself.

She stood at the gate facing south and watched out across the long slope. There was no sign of riders. Thinking that there was probably time for a quick bath after her hard day’s work, Ellen went to the kitchen. 

The Senora had taken note of Ellen’s stories of the tank in the fire place that provided constant hot water at Flat Rock.  She compensated by keeping a huge kettle of water on the stove at all times.  So there was a good supply of warm water for Ellen’s bath.  The only thing missing, she thought as she bathed in the wash bowl was a huge tub she could slide down in and soak the weariness away. Instead she settled for scrubbing herself all over with sweet smelling soap and brushing her hair until it crackled under her fingers.

Slade’s dirty clothes from the night before had disappeared and were now stacked, clean and nicely folded on the bed.  She left her own dirty things draped over the back of the chair beside the wash stand.  Ellen moved the chair from beside her bed and replaced it with the trunk that Tia Margarita had used for bedding.  She put the chair beside the washstand where it was now handy to stack clean clothes on or drape a damp towel over.  The trunk served as a place to put her lamp at night and for her brush or the Bible when she read at night.

She sat on the side of the bed and looked around for something more to do.  Nothing.  Their room was quiet and warm, but empty without Slade.  She stood up and went across the room to pick up her clothes, taking them with her to the kitchen.  She wondered how she had been content to wander through these rooms, without any more purpose than to discuss menus with the lady who kept their house or sit embroidering or sewing before the fire or in a patch of sunlight.  For the last year her life had been filled with terror, lonely flight, hard work, happy times, travel and an infinite variety of joy.  The old idle ways left her dissatisfied. 

When she went into the kitchen the Senora came to take the dirty clothes from her.  “Senora Ellen, you didn’t have to bring these to me.  I could have gotten them when I straightened you room tomorrow, but thank you.  I’ll give them to Manuela first thing in the morning.  You come sit down. 

“Are you hungry?  I’ve been making galletas to surprise Senor Slade, but I will get you some.” 

“No, Senora.  I’ll wait for Eli.  I just came to see if I can help with something for dinner.  I need something to distract me for a while so I won’t worry again.  I know it is a long ways to where they are keeping the cattle.  I refuse to worry.

“If there is nothing to be done maybe I could just sit with you and drink some coffee.” 

Senora della Cruz chuckled.  “I do have dinner all prepared for when the men return.  I have roasted a piece of meat all afternoon in the oven outside.  In the other I’ve made the Senor’s cornbread and also baked some small loaves of bread.  These little galletas are almost ready, but I’m putting them in the Dutch oven to cook in here.  It is getting cold to be going in and out to the ovens.”

The lady brought the coffee pot to the table where Ellen was sitting and then gave her sugar, milk and a cup.

So Ellen and the elderly Spanish widow chatted as the galletas baked and were stacked on plates for later.  Before it was entirely black outside they heard the riders returning.  Santos again took the horses and left Slade to come inside with his wife. 

Ellen brought warm water and towels for Slade to wash and this time kept her peace about the day while they sliced the juicy roast and poured the juices inside the Senora’s baked potatoes.  Tonight Slade insisted that the lady sit and eat with them while he told them about the house repairs and how Tina Munoz, Carlos’ wife, had enthusiastically surveyed the house and jumped into the cleaning.  The interior of the house was sparkling clean by the time the men had finished cleaning up and repairing outside.  The two of them had chosen to remain overnight rather than make the trip home.  They had packed bedding and camping equipment with other food supplies on a pack horse when they set out that morning, wanting to get things in order and moved before bad weather set in. 

Santos had promised to send other supplies with Jefe the following day, but the couple felt they would be well situated over night in the house. Tina especially was excited because the house was larger than the one they lived in now.  She only requested some whitewash to coat the walls and lighten the interior.  Santos had a partial bag that he could give her the next day. As soon as the outer walls dried thoroughly they would be whitewashed also to protect the adobe mud from weather.

Much to Do Chapter 47, Part 2

Slade dropped onto the chair. “It feels so good to sit down on a flat chair!  Been straddling that horse for too many hours!”

He extended his hand across the table and they said grace. 

“So tell me about the cattle,” Ellen commanded.  “How many are there and are they in good shape?  What is the grazing like; will it last the winter?”

Slade scooped a spoonful of bean soup into his mouth and took a bite of the green chili.  “Woman,” he laughed, “I promise to tell you all about it as soon as I have some hot food in me!  There’s too much to say in one sentence!”  He poured milk in his coffee and spooned in the sugar. 

“I suppose I can wait,” Ellen told him. “I’ve waited all afternoon.  A little longer won’t matter.”  She began eating with him.  “I had a profitable day, too really.  We got the horses all sorted and I figured out a way to tell them apart.  I don’t know what you’ll think about it but I thought it was a good idea.

“Then I did a more thorough check for what needed to be done as far as clean up and fixing around the house here. That took up most of my day.

“When I was finished with all of that I visited with Senora della Cruz for a while but I couldn’t sit still so I went and organized the don’s office.  Some of the books were ripped apart with pages loose and scattered all around.  I sorted them and then put them in order.  I don’t know what I’ll do with them now, but at least they are all together in individual books. . .”  She tapered off, watching Slade eat with a focused intensity.

“I’ve never seen you so hungry!”

Slade ducked his head and looked across at her from under his eyebrows. 

“Well, Santos and I shared our lunch with the men who went with us.  They hadn’t brought a nooning and we couldn’t eat in front of them, so we split our tortillas and bacon.  None of us had very much.  I’m used to eating more than they are, maybe because I’m bigger.”  He scooped the last spoonful of beans from his bowl.

“Now, the cows.” He ladled  more beans from the serving bowl and picked up the coffee pot to refill his cup.    “There is a good sized herd, nothing like what the Aguilar herd used to be I’m sure, but a lot considering the ravages of Viejo and his men. There are probably about a hundred or hundred and fifty.  They were gathered out of the brush and the canyons in the wilder country down there.”  He took another bite of his beans.  

“There are also quite a few horses.  Some of them bear a strong resemblance to El Nino Negro.  You may have to ask the old trainer how they fit in.  Probably some of them are pure bred.  The others just seem to be cow horses. Unless Santos needs some working horses I think they will probably be all right out there.  He might want to sort them out.  If he brought them all back here, Diego Santiago would most likely know which ones are pure bred and which are half blood.  I don’t think the pure bred horses should be used too hard--just enough to keep them sound.  They would be better kept for breeding.   But the others could be used for cow work or whatever else.

“Otherwise, I think it’s a good place to keep stock all winter.  Santos thinks it would be a good idea to put two men in an old adobe house that sits near the spring.  I guess there are quite a few wolves and a couple cougars which run down there.  Any thoughts?”  He dunked a piece of tortilla in his coffee cup and waited for her answer while he chewed..

“I suppose, Eli, that it would depend on how weather proof the house is.  Is the roof solid?  It is getting late in the year.  If it’s going to take weeks to repair the building we probably don’t have time. 

“But it would be good to have someone there close by to patrol for predators, I suppose.  That really isn’t within my experience, honey.  

“What do you think?”  Ellen was going to depend on Slade’s experience to direct this ranch.  She hadn’t had enough time with the foreman to have learned enough to even give a good opinion. She would be able to keep the books for the ranch but not take care of the management of cattle and horses or crops of any kind.

“I think,” Slade returned, “that it would only take a few days to re-plaster the adobe walls and put a coat of white wash on them.  I went inside; the roof is sound.  There were no signs of water damage; the shutters had been tightly closed and the door barred on the outside.  So even though it was dusty and dirty, putting it in god order would not be much work.

Santos has a man, Carlos somebody—I can’t remember—who has a teen-aged son.  He thinks the two of them would be a good choice to put there.  They are both good cattle men and dependable.  Carlos’ wife would go with them to look after them.”  He grinned.  “I never knew how handy a wife was!

“If you agree, we can take him and his family down there the tomorrow and re-daub the stucco on the house and the wife can clean the inside however she wants. Santos probably has some whitewash stored here someplace from repairing the house and his lodgings.”  Slade stopped to eat again, then he continued.

“--Did you know that there are rooms on the other side of the courtyard wall?  I realized that this morning.  Santos lives in the section right at the front of the courtyard!--

“There is no cookware or living utensils in the house on the south range but Santos says that Carlos can take his own things.  We will need to send food supplies and later help cut wood. 

“There’s a corral there with a barn of sorts.  Some grain for the horses can be stored there and the animals can be closed in safely at night.  There’s good big pasture in a corral area for the horses and plenty of forage all over the range for the cattle.

‘I think it’s a good idea.”  Slade stopped talking and concentrated on his last few bites of tortilla and soup.

“Well, Good!”  Ellen stood up and took their dishes to the dish pan on the counter.  She scooped all of the remaining beans into a pan on the floor for Raven.  He sniffed it politely and ate it, but not with any enthusiasm.

“He ate on the way home.”  Slade told her. “A nice fat prairie dog.  I don’t know how he managed to catch it.  They always disappear as fast as I see them!”

Ellen laughed at the dog politely licking the last of the beans from his pan. 

The she added a bit of hot water to what was already in the dish pan and quickly washed their few dishes.  She simply poured a bit of clear water over them to rinse them and stacked them on a towel to dry by morning.

Slade banked the fire and took up the lamp from the end of table where they had eaten. He wrapped his free arm around Ellen’s shoulders and led the way to their room.

Once again the Senora had placed a burning lamp on the dresser and lit the fire. The room was warm and inviting.      

Slade removed his dirty shirt and pants dropping them beside the wash stand.  There was warm water in the pitcher for him to wash in.  Ellen pulled clean clothes from his drawer for him and he put on clean underthings before crawling into bed.  His wife rinsed the bowl and washed her own face and hands.

Slade turned to her as she sat down on the side of the bed.  “Would you mind reading for us tonight?  I’m too tired to see straight.” He motioned toward the Bible on the altar table. 

Ellen went and took it up, bringing a lamp with her to the chair beside her pillow.  She turned the lamp on the dresser to its lowest level and went back to the bed. Slade slid under the blankets reached over to wrap his arms around her hips as she opened the Bible and began reading where they had stopped the night before.   She had read only a few verses when she realized his arm had relaxed and he was breathing deeply.

Much to Do Chapter 47, Part 1

Ellen went back inside and sat in one of the big chairs beside the empty fire place.  She remembered, not Viejo and his brutality, but Alejandro and his father joking in front of the fire and calling to her father to bring the chessboard with its noble playing pieces or the more humble checkers.  She remembered Don Francisco demanding benignly that she read to them from one of his many books while Tia sat close to one of the lamps with her embroidery.  The church had fine altar cloths and other table coverings that she had worked over many years.   Ellen had been the recipient of several beautifully embroidered shawls worked in heavy silk and soft wool. All gone now.

She sighed and thought of the tour she and Slade had taken together, not to assess any damage or repair, but to lay to rest the ghosts of her past.  As she had recounted events to him within the shelter of his arm, the fears had receded until they had no more power over her.  Now only happy memories remained.

After a few minutes, Ellen stood and went back into the wide inner court and through the wide doorways to the dining room. In spite of la Senora’s efforts the night before, by morning light the room looked desolate.  Ellen could recall fine dinners with happy visitors and good food.  She wondered where those visitors had been during her ordeal.  Three of the chairs had been set aside along one wall.  They needed mending.  The other six were in place around the table.  One was completely missing. 

Standing with her hands on the back of one chair, Ellen consciously shook her shoulders to dispel thoughts that were verging into melancholy. She wished fleetingly that she had kept Raven with her for comfort instead of sending him off with Slade.   Finally she went through the door at the end of the room and around the corner into the kitchen. 

Senora della Cruz was kneading bread on the floured table.  She looked up in delight.

“Welcome, senora!  I have been wondering what you were doing—not that I would presume to tell you, but only wondering.  

“Have you finished with the horses?  I saw young Ramon putting his father back into the small cart.”

“Yes,” Ellen answered.  “We have the blood lines figured out and recorded.  And all of the babies have been named. Now all that is left is to get the brands on them.  We will have to brand an identification number on them for this year, until we are working with them on a regular basis.  After that we will recognize them on sight.  I hate to scar those beautiful coats, but for this year it cannot be helped.”  Ellen walked around to sit on the opposite side of the table.

“Why are you putting the number on them?  And how?” the lady asked Ellen.

“We need to be sure we can tell them apart.  Especially the fillies have no distinctive markings.   I don’t know how the old don told them apart, but I can’t. I suppose when one is with them daily and working with them you become familiar with them the way you recognize people.

I thought if I assigned each one a number it would be easier to keep them sorted, but then I didn’t know any way to put the number on the horse except to brand it on their hip under the Aguilar brand.  It will make an ugly scar, I’m afraid.” Ellen shook her head in regret.

The Senora continued thumping and stretching her bread.  “When I was following my husband up from Mexico, I saw Indios there who had blue markings on their face and body.  When I asked about them someone told me that they cut their skin and rubbed dye or ashes into the cuts.  When it healed it left the dark marks and designs. 

“Why couldn’t you do that with the horses—maybe in their ear?  We have powdered dye for the cloth or charcoal from the fires.  You could make small cuts for the numbers and then rub the color into them.  When it healed the marks for the number would still be there and there would be no scar.”

“That sounds like it might work!”  Ellen exclaimed.  “I’ll have to talk with Eli and see how we can arrange it. 

“I wonder how his cattle trip is going.  It is getting on toward dark….”  She trailed off and peered across and out the window.  There was nothing to be seen from the kitchen windows except the high wall of the courtyard.   

Senora della Cruz continued kneading in silence.  Ellen stood and went to pour some coffee and take a piece of tortilla from the cloth covered bowl.  It was long past lunch time and nearing dinner; she just remembered she hadn’t eaten anything at noon.

After she ate her tortilla she inquired if there was anything she could do toward preparing dinner, but the Senora replied that she had started cooking a large pot of beans early in the day to have food ready when ever the men returned.  She had put a lot of bacon and onion in the pot and had chilies roasted on a plate beside the fireplace.  Dinner was ready except for fresh coffee. 

The sun sank lower out to the west far off behind the trees along the river. Ellen paced along the front walkway until it became too chilly.  She finally went in to sit with Senora della Cruz, but was too restless to stay quiet. 

At last, she collected the extra lamp from their bedroom and took herself along to the old don’s office.  In there she took the first stack of pages from a ripped book and sat down at the desk where she concentrated on stacking the pages in order.  It took her mind off thoughts of Slade still riding somewhere to the south.  She worked through a second book and a third. 

With no idea of how late it was she laid the completed books on the shelf and abandoned her page sorting to begin standing the books on the shelves in a semblance of order—history books together, scientific volumes on another shelf, religious writings together. Ellen indulged herself for a few minutes glancing through some volumes of poetry and one of Shakespeare’s plays.  For the time and the place the old don had an extensive collection of books both in Spanish and English, but it didn’t take long until she had them all organized.  The books stood straight on their shelves looking almost as tidy as they had before ignorant men had swept through them looking for cash.  Only the torn ones were shabby in their covers.

Ellen had just returned to sorting the pages of another book when she heard horses in the courtyard.  Slade and Santos had returned.  She rushed out of the office down to the kitchen door.  The men had just stepped off their horses and Santos had taken the reins.  He led the horses through the walk way in the western wall between the houses backing onto it.

Ellen leapt through the door and threw herself into Slade’s arms as he stepped beneath the arbor over the walkway.  “I have been frantic!” She told him.  “I couldn’t imagine…well, I did imagine, all sorts of things that might have happened.  It kept getting later and later !”

“Sweetheart!  I was with three other men!   It was much safer than checking cattle alone in the mountains.  You never worried about me at home.  Not after Joseph began going with me at least.”  He teased the worried look from her face. “Come on, do you have supper ready for me?”

They went inside the house where the Senora had hot water in the wash basin beside the door and a clean towel on the hook.  

Bien venido, senor!  You were worrying your little wife, you know; but here you are back safely!”

She hurried around ladling beans from the pot into a serving bowl putting the deep plates  across from each other at the table.  She placed a plate of tortillas between them with a smaller stack of roasted chilies beside that. As she finished she set the pot of coffee at Ellen’s right hand with two cups beside it. The rest of the beans were stored in a large crock and taken to the pantry. Then the Senora bid them good night before going into her own room.