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.
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. Santos
“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.