Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fall and the Return to Santa Fe Chapter 41

The days were shorter now and often it was chilly in the early mornings.  Ellen talked with One Who Laughs through Joseph and they decided since they had more corn than they could eat before it got hard that they should harvest the corn and attempt to dry the kernels.  Slade brought out his books and they looked for information on drying sweet corn.
Following the brief directions, Ellen and One Who Laughs tossed the cobs of corn into boiling water for a quick hot bath then splashed them into a chilling tub to set the milk in the kernels. Then taking her sharpest knife, Ellen sliced the juicy kernels off in thick slabs.  One Who Laughs gently broke them apart and spread them on tightly stretched frames of cloth. 

The beans on the roof of the ‘dobe had long since dried and been husked for storage.  The frames of corn kernels replaced them in the hot desert sun.  Everyday Ellen or One Who Laughs gently flipped them over so the undersides could dry evenly.   The kernels shriveled and darkened in the sunlight.  When they were thoroughly dry the women scooped them into cloth bags and stored them in the warm dry loft.

Ellen decided to pick the chilies which had turned red and subject them to the same hot sun on the roof.  Within just 24 hours they were dried and crisp.  Working only by her knowledge that the chilies she bought in the store had been tied in a long string she threaded loops around each little crooked stem and hung the resultant bright ropes on either side of the mirror in the house and beside each window.

The onions were pulled from the ground and left to dry until their outer skins were thin and brown and the tops were ropey.  Only the squash continued to swell among the dried cornstalks as Slim Man continued to water them from time to time.

Their summer had been so full that returning to Santa Fe and the Aguilar ranch had not been possible.  Now the concerns there began to weigh heavily on both Slade and Ellen.  Slade suggested that he take her to Santa Fe ahead and then return to the Flat Rock Ranch where he and Joseph had been gathering the steers they had kept to grow over the summer.  The two of them would drive their herd to the Santa Fe shipping pens.  The railroad that had reached Santa Fe and Deming 1881 made the sale of cattle much easier for the smaller ranchers, allowing them to make more frequent sales of smaller, more manageable herds of fatter cattle.

Making the trip on horseback would allow Slade and Ellen to travel faster and make them more mobile when they got there.  Both were concerned about the development of the rancho and whether any livestock had been retrieved from the back country of the ranch. Ellen was anxious about returning to the ranch where echoes of so much pain still lingered.  Slade was worried that she was not emotionally able to handle all she would face if she went alone. 

Ellen balked at the idea of making two trips.  She thought it would be better to use the wagon and the mules.  She could follow the herd and they would all travel together.  She could not face the thought of going back to the hacienda alone.   She preferred to take the extra time to have Slade with her. 

While Ellen set to work gathering supplies and packing their wagon, Slade and Joseph worked to sort out the remaining dry cows and steers which had been held over the summer to improve their weight and size.  With cattle bringing in the neighborhood of twenty dollars each, Slade thought they could realize a nice sum for their forty or fifty cows.   The herd would be small enough that he and Joseph could handle them alone.  Ellen could drive the wagon ahead and have meals ready for them at the end of the day.  It should take about a week to get the cattle and them to market.

Once in Santa Fe he could establish Ellen at the hotel, take the cattle to the holding pens and make arrangements for the sale.  Joseph could return to the ranch and he could help Ellen with the arrangements at the hacienda. 

Their 47 cows and steers were collected within two days.  Ellen had her wagon packed with enough food supplies and water to make meals for six days if necessary. They started out together but the cattle trailed out in a long line shuffling along in their own good time.  Ellen and her wagon, with Raven tagging along behind, followed the regular trail and soon outdistanced them by several miles.  She and Slade had agreed in advance upon a stopping place for the night.  Knowing that she would be there with hot food waiting allowed Slade and Joseph to press on a little longer than they might have done other wise.

The journey went smoothly.  Unlike their previous trip in the spring there was no cold wind to cut through their jackets.  Although the mornings were cool, the hot food and coffee warmed them up.  A few tortillas wrapped around slices of meat or scoops of beans sustained them while Ellen drove on ahead and prepared supper for when they arrived.  Within five days Ellen pulled her team into the stable behind the hotel.  She left the horses to be cared for by the man who oversaw the animals there.  The food supplies were nearly exhausted with only coffee and some cornmeal and beans left; only her trunk and Slade’s box were left to be delivered to her room.  She took her dog and headed for the hotel
This time when Ellen walked into the hotel, in spite of her dirt, her split skirt, her big coat hanging open in the front and the wolfish dog, she was recognized immediately by the clerk. The only explanation that was required involved the dog.

“I’ve brought my dog because for a few days.  I expect to be here alone in the evening or even a few days and the dog is my protection.  After what happened the last time I was here I won’t stay alone.  Don’t worry about him.  He is well behaved as long as no one threatens me.”

Ellen wasn’t sure if it was her explanation or the money she represented, but she was shown immediately to the rooms she had used before.  The very first thing she requested was a tub and hot water.  She wanted to be clean and beautiful when her husband arrived. 

The maids were apprehensive when they saw Raven lying at his ease under the windows across the room.  When he didn’t move and actually dropped his head to his front paws and sighed deeply, they came cautiously into the room bringing their water and tubs.  He didn’t even seem to watch them as made their trips back and forth.

When the water and tub were arranged to the maids’ satisfaction, Ellen put a chair securely under the doors in the two bedrooms.  She was taking no chances of someone walking in on her.  She locked the door to the main entrance.  She quickly washed her hair and bathed before the small fire in the left hand room where she had directed her boxes be placed.  In short order she had dressed in clean clothes- one of the pretty day dresses Mrs. Coulter had made for her.  She sent her dirty trail clothes down for washing and thought that, perhaps, the big much abused coat might be refurbished some way.  She sent it along, too.

From the time she had escaped from Viejo Ellen had worn only one pair of shoes or Madeline’s boots.  Her shoes were in sad shape and the boots were large and cumbersome.  Neither looked at all right under her pretty dress. 

She thought for a while and then decided perhaps Mrs. Coulter could help her.  She had always bought her shoes from the garrulous lady but she wasn’t sure where the shoes were made.  Mrs Coulter had simply arranged it.

With Raven close to her side, she walked to the front desk to ask that a message to be sent to Mrs. Coulter requesting her attendance that same afternoon if at all possible.  Then on second thought she asked for paper and sent a note asking what the process was for ordering shoes. 

Mrs. Coulter, true to her diligent self, appeared at Ellen’s door within a half hour.  She had brought two assistants with her.  Each one carried several boxes with shoes in them.  As usual, Josephine Coulter’s presence filled the room.  Raven watched the noisy little woman with suspicion, but surprisingly stayed quiet in his place by the window.

 Mrs. Coulter put Ellen in a comfortable chair and proceeded to display all the shoes for her inspection.  Two were elaborate creations with fancy heels and buttons on the side, a couple others were more on the style of a boot with laces up the front. There were two which had low flat heels and fit lightly around the foot.  One pair was a rich brown with tiny gold buckles on the toes.  The other was a plain black.  When Ellen slipped her feet into them, to her surprise they fit almost perfectly.  But then of course Mrs. Coulter had her sizes in everything.  She would never have brought a shoe which didn’t fit even though the selection was limited.  

Laughing at herself for being so extravagant, knowing that she could afford a tiny splurge, she bought both pairs.  It was difficult to get Mrs. Coulter to leave and after many protestations that she didn’t need any more dresses, she did end up asking for two of the shifts that Slade liked so well. Mrs. Coulter promised them with in the next couple days and finally took her leave.

As the evening wore on, Ellen became more and more restless.  She wished she knew where the stockyards were but she had no idea which direction the railroad tracks ran regardless of the stockyards.   She pulled the magic rope and when the maid came ordered dinner for two in two hours, but coffee for herself right then.  She hoped that   Slade would arrive soon.

Ellen was left, however with a dinner for two and no one to share it with.  Raven of course was more than happy to eat Slade’s share.  Ellen took him for an after dinner walk around the stable yard and down the alley for a quick run in the open land, but soon returned to the hotel.

Slade and the cattle had not arrived when she finally made herself to go to bed.  Part of her wanted to worry, but the rest of her said that he and Joseph knew exactly what they were doing and were coming along easily.  They had a coffee pot and tortillas with meat in their saddle bags.  There was a bed roll behind the cantle.

Slade had actually had little trouble with getting the cattle into town. It had only taken a little longer than he had anticipated.  They made the outskirts of town the same day as Ellen did, but the stock yards were closed and Slade decided to hold the cattle out in a dip rather than try to deal with them closer to town.  He and Joseph had their hands full getting them settled and finally lying down.  It was only then that they took time to build their little fire for coffee and take time to heat their meat on sticks to wrap in tortillas warmed on rocks close to the flames. 

Slade took the first watch and let Joseph rest. When he became so tired he felt he was going to slide out of the saddle, he called Joseph to circle the herd until daylight.  Morning came with a distinct chill and the smell of coffee on the breeze.  It brought Joseph in to the fire while the cows stood and stretched then began picking grass stalks here and there. 

They had moved out early the second morning, but it took longer than he anticipated to get the cattle penned and find the buyer.  Once contact had been made the price he received for the cattle was slightly more than he had expected; it was getting well into the afternoon.

When he paid Joseph for his work on the drive the young man asked if Slade would accompany him to the store to purchase some things for his grandparents.  He was concerned that there would be problems if an Indian took the generous sum of money from his pay into the store.  Any number of people might be suspicious of where he had obtained it.  So Slade went with him. Joseph bought a pair of boots for his grandfather and after looking around for some time he found a brush and comb for his grandmother.  He purchased some candy, raisins and coffee.  The rest of his pay he twisted into his bandana and stuffed into the crown of his hat.

With Slade he returned to the stable behind the hotel.  There Slade introduced Joseph as his hired man and gained permission for him to spend the night in their wagon  parked at the side of the corral.  Ellen had left the last of the tortillas and cooked meat stored in the food box as well as the remaining coffee, cornmeal and beans..  After making sure he would be secure for the night and that he would take food with him for the quick trip back home, Slade went into the hotel to find his wife.  Joseph would leave at day break the next morning.

Dusk was falling.  Ellen paced from one bedroom to the other and had peered from the window for probably the tenth time.  She and Raven had gone for a ride, stopped at the store to look over the things there.  She had walked past Mrs. Coulter’s shop and purchased some of the hand cream Madeline had used and a box of the sweet smelling white soap.  When she could think of nothing else to do she returned to the hotel to pace the floor.  When she at last heard feet outside the door she recognized Slade’s step.  Before he had a chance to touch the door she had thrown it open and pulled him inside to a big hug.

“Sweetheart!  I’m glad for the welcome but I’ll get your pretty dress all dirty!”  He set her away from his dirty coat and the vest under it, but then immediately pulled her back for another hug. 

When Ellen finally stood back from him, she grinned up into his face.  “No, I won’t get too dirty. I know the first thing you did when you got off that horse was beat all of the dust off your clothes!

“Come in! There is already a pot of coffee here that I ordered earlier.  I can have dinner on its way in minutes and your bath ready in the bedroom before the fire.  All you will need to do is decide which you want to do first—eat or take a bath?” 

“AAhhhh. Yeah.  I need to take Joseph some coffee.  I didn’t tell him I would but since you have a whole pot here already, I’ll take it and you can order some more for us.  Then I’ll eat as soon as I get back.”  He went across to the table and picked up the ornate coffee pot.

“Wait, wait.”  Ellen grabbed a napkin and two slices of soft white bread from the basket full on the table.  “These were left from my lunch. They sent enough piled on these platters for three people and it was only me.  It's not hot any longer but I'll send him some ham to go with the coffee.”  She stacked several slices between the two pieces of bread and wrapped it all in the napkin.

Slade took the sandwich with the coffee pot.  “I’m using the back door down here,” he said as he headed down the hall.  “If I’m not back in a couple minutes come and see if I’m locked out.

“Back door?”  Ellen followed him down the hall.  Sure enough there was a back door. 

“I never knew it was there.  How many years have I stayed here and thought everyone used the front entrance!”

“Of course you did.” Slade teased.  “Pretty Spanish ladies use the front door.  Scruffy cowboys use the back!”  He laughed as he ducked through the door. 

Ellen went back and rang for the maid.  She asked for dinner immediately and a bath as soon as possible.   Both arrived in short order, right on Slade’s returning heels.  He handed her the empty silver coffee pot on her way out.

Slade pulled off his coat and vest and toed his boots off by the door.  He loosened his belt and pulled his shirt free of his pants. “I-yi-yi-yi… think that I’ll wash up just a little and eat while the food is hot.  Then when I’ve had a good scrub I won’t have to do anything else except stretch out on a bed!
“It’s been a long week.”

Ellen wrapped her arm around his waist and walked him to the other room.  There she poured warm water into the wash bowl and brought him towels; she sat on the edge of the bed and waited while he washed.  As soon as he was satisfied that his face and hands were clean enough they went in to the dining table.  Ellen tried to get him to sit in one of the comfortable chairs opposite the settee but Slade said he didn’t want to get too comfortable until he had eaten and had his bath.  So they sat at the table and ate the good meal while Slade told her about his arrangements for Joseph and the things he had bought for his grandparents with some of his pay.

More buckets of hot water arrived just as they were finishing.  While Slade drank the last of his coffee Ellen hurried to be sure the tub had been keeping warm close to the fire.  One of the fresh hot buckets ensured that the tub water was good and warm.    

Slade stood leaning against the door frame watching her.  “Are you going to scrub my back for me too?”  He wanted to know.

“No, lazy.  I’m going to get you some clean clothes while you climb in the tub!”  She hurried away to get him fresh things from the trunk.

When she returned Slade was lounging in the tub with his knees and feet hanging over the side. He was lazily rubbing his neck and shoulders with a soapy washcloth.  Ellen did relent and scrub his back for him but refused to do the same for the long legs hanging out of the tub.

“I’m getting ready for bed. You can come when you’re clean.”  She swished her skirts at him as she left.  

Ellen was nearly asleep when Slade finished.  She scooted over in the bed and held the blankets up for her husband.  He slid his long legs in beside her and snuggled her into his arms.

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