The maid came out of the bedroom to say that the fire was burning and the room getting warm. Slade picked Ellen up and carried them into the other room. When he got her in the peace and quiet, he laid her on the little chaise lounge by the fire. She was beginning to be more aware of what was going on around her now. She pulled the sticky gown away from her chest and shuddered.
“I need a bath. I can’t sleep with his blood all over me. I can’t.”
“I’ll get your new night dress from the other room and bring all your things over here. Just sit. Here’s the little maid from the hotel. She’ll stay with you.” Slade motioned the maid closer.
“Help her, please.”
The maid brought a screen and placed it between the door and the fire so Ellen could bathe. Then she brought the basin full of warm water and a washcloth with the sweet smelling white soap. When Slade brought her trunk he stood it inside the door. He carried the bundles Mrs. Coulter had left and pulled them open to find the new night gown in them. He told her he would be just outside.
Ellen scrubbed herself several times to get the feel of the man’s hands off her and remove the blood from her skin. When her skin was rosy and stinging from the scrubbing she allowed the maid to bring her the gown. The soft warm nightdress was comforting. She put it on and went to the fresh bed. The sheet and blanket had been turned back in readiness for her to climb in.
Once covered and warm she called for Slade.
Leaving the door open he went in to her; sitting in a chair beside the bed, holding her hand, he listened to her account of the minutes preceding the shots.
“It was him,” she told him. “It was el Viejo! He must have had a key to the door because I didn’t hear anything until he was standing by the bed. He had a knife and was threatening me, telling me what all he would do to me before he killed me.
“And then he began touching me. When he leaned over the bed to tear at my gown I pulled the gun around under the blanket and put it against his chest. He was so interested in what he intended to do to me that he had no idea what happening until I pulled the trigger. Then it was too late. And all the time I was screaming and screaming!
“And then you came! I knew you would come, Eli! I knew you would come. And you did. And you pulled me out from those bloody blankets.” Ellen sat up in bed and clasped his hand in both of hers. “Please don’t leave me. Stay here close by.
“I’ll be okay in the morning. I promise. Just tonight I don’t want to be alone.”
“I won’t leave, Ellie. I’ll be right there in the room where you can see me, but I have to talk to these people and get your other room cleaned up and that body moved. And then the Sherriff will come and I need to talk with him.
“You just rest. I’ll leave the door open so you can see.” Ellie nodded and lay back on the pillow.
Slade left and then went back to her. “Maybe you should put on your dressing robe. There will be a lot of people coming and going.” He went to the clothes draped over a chair and found the dressing gown for her to put on. She stood up on trembling legs while he helped her into the robe. When she was back in bed with the blankets across her lap, Slade went into the sitting room to talk with the manager.
“As soon as the Sherriff sees the body I want that whole room cleaned. I don’t want anything left for her to see tomorrow. I want the bedding gone and the rug and every drop of blood scrubbed up tonight!
“And while you’re waiting for the sheriff you can bring my things from across the hall and stack them here by the window. I won’t be leaving this room again until daylight.”
The hotel manager snapped his fingers at the clerk and another hotel worker who were standing just outside the door. As they moved across the hall to collect the luggage, the sheriff walked down the hall.
“I’m Hudson Cisneros, sheriff. What’s this I hear about someone shooting Jose Aguilar?”
“Jose Aguilar?!” Ellen cried from her bed. “Jose Aguilar! That wasn’t any member of the Aguilar family! That was
Viejo, the bandit! He kept me hostage for nearly six months!” Reardon Miramontes, del
The sheriff spun around and looked at the woman in the other room.
“Elena? Elena Aguilar?” The sheriff rushed to her side. “They said you were dead. And when Jose Aguilar came he said he had seen your body!”
“That was no kin to Don Francisco!” Ellen shouted. “That was el Viejo! Reardon del Viejo! He killed my father and I think my husband too. He murdered half of my good vaqueros and drove the rest off with their families. By the time he and his men came to the ranch I had five young men without families who had stayed to defend me and Tia Margarita! They died that night! And el Viejo made Margarita and me captive.
“Jose Aguilar! No! That was the man who starved and abused and raped me and murdered Margarita!
“And that foolish deputy took ME to task for killing him! He was standing over my bed, threatening all manner of things and holding that knife to my throat while he fondled my body. Of course, I shot him!” Ellen verged on hysteria.
Hudson Cisneros was appalled at her story. He had known Ellen McPherson when her father was looking for work in
before he had gone to the Aguilar Ranch. He
accepted her word implicitly. Santa
“My dear, I am so sorry. We had no idea. None at all! We had been searching for you until he arrived. And he brought papers showing that he was connected to your father-in-law!” Socorro was abject in his apology. “We will make this right. I promise you.”
Ellen dropped her head back to the pillow. “There is nothing more to be made right. I didn’t set out to kill el Viejo, but when he attacked me I did kill him. Because another man cared enough for me to teach me to shoot. There is nothing more to be done.
“Just get rid of that body and be thankful one less evil is gone from your country.
“Eli, make them leave.”
Slade went into the bedroom and rolled the body in a blanket.
“Take him out.
“And Murphy,” he spoke to the hotel manager, “Get your staff in here and clean the mess up.” He walked to the boxes and his luggage the clerk had brought across the hall. He was checking for the case of silver and the other valuables among the pile. His suit and shirt had been brought over still hanging on the chair rack.
“Get someone to make us a pot of tea and some bread with butter and jam or honey. Mrs. Aguilar is going to need something to calm her down.
“The rest of this all we will sort out in the morning.”
The body was carried out. Two women took the bloody blankets and rug away then returned to scrub the tiles. The maid who had been sitting with Ellen took her bloody night dress away to soak in cold water. By the time the tray with tea and bread arrived the scrubbing was done, the women had taken their things away and the room was quiet. The night clerk brought clean blankets for the bed where Ellen had slept a short while before.