Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Sad and Lonely Camp Chapter 37, Part 2

The dog bounded in and out of the shadows.  It came running toward them with its tongue lolling and its teeth gleaming in the darkness.  Ellen laughed.

“It looks like some sort of ravenous beast coming out of the dark like that. Those teeth are scary! We really need to give it a name, I think’

Slade cocked an eyebrow at her.  “I think you already named it. “Ravenous Beast” suits it.  Think of the shock that head gave you last night when you touched it in the darkness.”

“Yes.  I did think it was ravenous!  And I thought it was going to eat ME at first.  But it’s a sweetheart.  We don’t need to call it ‘ravenous.’  I think we can call it ‘Raven.’ ” 

So Raven, it became and it responded immediately to the name.  Although, really, it may have been the scraps of tortilla and potato that were attracting his attention.

They wrapped themselves in their blankets and slept by the fire.  The constant breeze from the north and northwest had slackened and the desert was quiet.  Raven slept close to the fire and the couple beside him slumbered peacefully.

Ellen was happy to have the warm morning sun on her face when she awoke. Slade lay on his back with one arm flung out on the ground beside them.  He looked tired even in his sleep.  Ellen felt guilty for riding the day before while he walked after he had done so much to bury the poor woman and take care of all the animals.  She determined to walk beside the oxen herself and make him drive the wagon for a while at least.

She slid carefully out of their blankets.  The morning air, while not quite warm, was still milder than it had been on past days. The best part of the morning air was that it was still. The breeze from yesterday had died.   

Ellen put her coat on and only hung the scarf around her neck, tucking the ends inside her buttons to keep the out of the way.  She took a couple minutes to build up the fire before she went off behind the wagons for her morning toilet. 

She returned and scooped water from their barrel to wash in then began heating water in the coffee pot for Slade so he would have it warm to wash in.  She smiled to herself anticipating his surprise.  The little iron kettle hadn’t been used while they traveled since she had chosen the quicker meals of fried bacon and beans or potatoes.   Now she pulled it out and put enough water in it for some hot mush.  While it boiled she collected the scattered parts of their quick camp the night before.  By the time it boiled she had everything put away except for the plates and spoons for their breakfast and the things she was using to cook.  She knelt on the blankets beside her husband.

Bending down Ellen kissed Slade and patted his face.  He opened his eyes with a huge smile crossing his face.

“What is this?  Are you already awake?” He looked around at the straightened camp and the blazing fire with their kettle and coffee pot situated in the hot coals at the side.  “What time is it?  Why didn’t you wake me?” 

Slade sat up and wrapped his arms around Ellen as she snuggled against him. 

“I have everything under control. You looked so tired that I wanted you to rest a little longer.  But now I have everything straightened up and the water ready for mush. If you will get up, I even have warm water for you to wash your stubbly face!”  Ellen rubbed her cheek against his very prickly chin and grinned into his eyes.

‘Mmmm.” He said, “Do you suppose we could stay just a little bit longer?”  And he pretended to lay down again.

Ellen smacked his shoulder and scrambled up.  “No, move your long bones and let me fold our bed!”  She pulled the blanket off him and he was forced to get up and hurry into his coat. 

When he came back from checking the livestock she had a pan of warm water sitting on the box they used for a table and was topping off the water in the coffee pot to make coffee.  The moistened cornmeal for mush was sitting close at hand and she began stirring it into the boiling water.  As it thickened she added a bit of salt and a generous scoop of sugar. 

Slade emptied his wash pan and put it back in their wagon.  Then instead of going after the horses and oxen to hitch the wagons, he sat down close to the fire and leaned his arm on their ‘table’ watching her make their breakfast.

A jay scolded from the top of a juniper close by and down the slope a meadowlark sang from among the sagebrush.  In their little shelter provided by the wagons the sun warmed them.  It was quiet all across the wide land.  He simply sat and enjoyed the whole scene.

“Where is that dog?” He asked in surprise.                                                                          

Ellen looked up and all around.  “I don’t know.  In fact, now that you mention it, he was gone when I woke up.”  She raised her voice to call across the landscape. “Raven!  Here boy!  Raaaaven!” 

A yip answered her from quite a ways off.  “Hmph,” Slade grunted.  “Guess he’s busy with something.”  And he stretched his feet toward the fire, moving to lean his back against the box.  Ellen added coffee to the boiling pot and scooted it aside a bit from the hottest coals.  She checked the mush and stirred it a bit. 

“We’ll have to let that cook a bit more,” she told Slade and then sat down close beside him.   For a few minutes they occupied themselves the way most newly married couples would four days after their wedding.

As Ellen leaned forward to lift the mush from the coals, Raven appeared from among the sagebrush.  His tail was up and a tuft of rabbit fur clung to the corner of his mouth!  

She laughed as she saw him.  “Look Eli!  Our new dog is as good as Fetcher at feeding himself when he doesn’t have a helpless human to protect!”  Raven flopped down opposite them on the other side of the fire and licked his chops vigorously.  The tuft of fur disappeared.

When the mush had been consumed and most of the pot of coffee had disappeared, Slade got up and went to bring the horses and oxen in to hitch to the wagons.   By the time he had them ready, Ellen had everything packed back into the wagon. 

Ellen, true to her intentions, insisted in walking by the oxen while Slade rode the wagon.  “You were exhausted this morning!  I can walk beside Jacob and Esau as easily as you can.”

“Jacob and Esau!  The oxen?  What in the world?”  Slade was dumfounded. 

“I named them for the brothers in the Bible.  It says that Esau was red and hairy.  Look at our Esau.  He is a beautiful red color.  And Jacob, is fairer, more blonde than red.

“They like their names.  Watch.  Jacob!”  The lighter colored ox turned his head and looked at her.

“When did this happen?” Slade shook his head.

“Oh, in between times.  I gave them old cornbread with salt on it and scratched their heads with rough sticks and told them what good oxen they were.”  She walked over to the oxen and slapped their necks.

“I’m pretty sure I can walk beside them as well as you can.”

Slade stepped up onto their wagon.  “Lead on, madam wife.”  He waved his hand toward the track that led across the emptiness. 

“Get up, Jacob!  Let’s go Esau, Get up!”  And the oxen moved out calmly, straightening the big wagon.  “Haw up, boys!”  Ellen called and the oxen obediently moved to their left and intersected the track.

 “Where did you learn that?  Eli called to her.  “You might want to carry the whip to keep them going straight. They tend to veer off one way or another.” 

“We’re fine,” she answered.  “I listened to you yesterday.  That’s where I learned to say ‘Haw.’  You just tend to your horses.”  She laughed at him and called to the oxen, stepping out ahead of them.  “Come along, boys.  I want to be home by dark.”  And the big animals actually picked up their pace slightly.

Slade flipped the reins on the horses’ backs.  “That woman never ceases to amaze me,” he told them.

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