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..