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.