Ellen heard Slade’s breath catch in his throat when he saw the horses. She knew which horse had elicited the gasp. El Nino Negro had a carbon copy in reverse. The largest yearling stood taller than his brother and sisters. But he was gray, almost white instead of black. His large dark eyes gleamed with intelligence and his nostrils flared at the strange scents.
His brother was a dark bay. It would have been a beautiful horse except that he was standing beside the gray. The fillies, too, showed their fine breeding in the same large eyes and pricked ears as their older brothers.
Ramon walked to the gate opening into the colts’ field. He took the halter and lead strap from the post and slid them on the inquisitive head. The light gray colt pranced with anticipation, shaking his dark mane and poking his black nose into Ramon’s shoulder. Ramon led him to the adjoining round corral where he stepped to the center and clicked his tongue at the colt. The horse danced in a widening circle as Ramon played out the line. Responding to almost silent commands the colt went from a walk to a trot back to a measured walk and finally to a stop.
Ramon’s pride was evident as he gathered the line and led the colt to the fence where Raven and the admirers were standing. “He will even accept a rider on the long line, but I’ve only put Cecil on him. That Cecil, he is like a little burr on a horse’s back.
“The mares have come along as quickly as the colts, but this boy is my special pride.” Ramon patted the horse’s neck. “They need names, senora. We have not given them names because I thought you would want to name them. My father is agitated that such beautiful animals are not named for their sire and dams… but I felt that was your responsibility.
“I’m afraid I know nothing about horses or their lineage, Ramon. I barely recognized Negro Nino. I have no idea how to trace their line. How could I give them names reflecting their parentage?”
“Never fear, senora. My father knows them by heart. He can tell you the mares’ connections back for several generations.” Ramon reassured her.
“I will have to talk with him then,” Ellen said, “to be educated about horse pedigrees.”
“He would be most happy to talk with you, senora. Perhaps tomorrow you will sit down with him and the old don’s stud books. He would be most happy to help you complete them with this new generation.”
With the dog romping along behind, they returned the gray colt to his field and spent time petting the other colt and the fillies. All of them were friendly and not at all shy. Even Raven’s friendly prancing didn’t bother them. Ramon had done good work in training them. Cecil was boosted onto the backs of them all and they accepted his weight without objection, even following Ramon back and forth led by the pressure of his hand on their neck.
By the time they finished admiring the youngsters, the sun was sinking and Ellen was weary. They made their way back to the house, making plans on the way to ride out the following morning to view the cattle gathered from the hidden ridges to the east.
The Commandante’s wisdom in sending the Senora along was evident when they arrived back at the house to a hot meal and plenty of strong rich coffee. Ellen and Slade were met with warm water to wash in and conducted to the dining room for dinner. Although the food was good and they enjoyed the meal, both were uncomfortable sitting in state while their companion by the campfire waited on them. They thanked the Senora for all her effort, but made sure she understood how much they preferred to have their meals at the big kitchen table with her.
Both Ellen and Slade carried their dishes to the kitchen where the Senora had the cooking mess cleaned up and was waiting for them. She refused any help but sent them on to their room.
“You have had a hard day and you need to rest. I left a lamp and started a fire to warm the room a bit. Go and rest.” She handed them a lamp from the kitchen shelf.
“Wait Senora.” Ellen said, “Are we leaving you without any light in your room.”
“No, no, mis hijos. I have this lamp, you see. My room is small and I have this lamp. Everything is done.” She rinsed the last dish and wiped it dry. “You go and I shall go too, in a moment.”
They took their lamp and went along the short passage way to their room. The big central court area loomed darkly on their left and Raven followed close behind Ellen. He seemed to be concerned about her safety in the big house. Perhaps some remnant of her past abuse lingered in the atmosphere and odors.
La Senora had indeed been busy in their room. There was a burning lamp sitting in the center of the long dresser between the windows. She had hung an old limp blanket at each window by the simple expedient of stitching a casing along one end and sliding a pole through it to hang over the window. The blankets were pulled to the side, framing the dresser. It gave the room a warm coziness. A fire flickered in the fireplace lending its light also. All of their clothing had been put in the drawers of the dresser and the trunk placed on the other side of the fire place from the washstand.
Ellen sighed and collapsed across the bed.
“It’s been a long day.” She sighed rubbing the dog’s ears as he braced his front feet on the bed beside her. “I will probably sleep until noon tomorrow.”
Slade walked to the dresser and opened the drawers until he found the one holding her nightgown. He tossed it to her on the bed.
On a shelf of the wash stand, Ellen found their towels and washcloths. She poured warm water into the bowl and quickly washed. She hung her shirt and skirts over the chair beside the bed and flipped the nightgown over her head.
“Ohhhh. Feels so good.´ She shivered and rubbed her upper arms briskly. Where did I put my big shawl? I think of all of Madeline’s things I have used, I probably like that the best.”
She searched around the room until she found the shawl where it had fallen beside the washstand. Ellen picked it up and wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Come on, Raven, let’s go outside for a while.”
“Where are you going, I’d like to know.” Slade asked. “You cannot go out in the courtyard in your night clothes!”
Ellen looked at him and laughed. “Who’s to see? You come, too. I’ll show you the nicest place on the ranch!”
She took his arm and led him in his stocking feet out of the room and around the corner. They had walked straight down from the kitchen and Slade had not really paid attention to either side. Now he found that the double doors opened into a private courtyard.
On two sides and part of a third the walls of the house enclosed the little area. The third side facing the north east was bound by another wall raising about waist high or a little taller. There was a gate in the wall that opened into the open field beyond. The side partially enclosed by the wall had a short section that extended to the corner. There was a very small gate in this wall by the corner.
In the dim light Slade thought perhaps he had stepped into a little fairy land. Even with approaching fall, the trees in the corners spread graceful branches across the wall and drooped to the ground. Bushes broke the harsh lines of the wall and to one side was an empty fountain. There was an arbor covering the section of the courtyard along the house and its vines thatched the top of it. Long loops of vine drooped from the edges. And pots of decorative plants were sitting at each post.
Slade suspected that in day light the courtyard would show signs of neglect and many of the plants, especially those in the pots, would be dead. But in the dim moonlight they still seemed lovely. Raven ran out into the area and raced around, smelling the pots and bushes, lifting his leg on spots here and there.
Ellen led the way across the courtyard to the small gate and opened it. When they went through, Slade discovered that amid all the stark grandeur there was an outhouse on the other side of the wall.
“You didn’t want to take the dog out! You needed to go out yourself!” And he laughed at her as she hurried ahead of him into the little building. Raven ran out across the open ground until Ellen had relieved herself and left the building. She whistled for the dog and Slade took his turn in the little building.
They went back into the courtyard. Raven romped ahead of them.
“This is the family’s private courtyard. We used to sit here in the evenings, sometimes we had dinner here.” She pointed to a table and only three chairs off to one end where doors with windows from near the ground to the top opened into the kitchen. We used to have comfortable chairs here where Tia and I would sit and sew or Alejandro would bring books and we would read.
“Or sometimes he brought his guitar. Don Francisco had one too. They would play for us.
“The fountain had water flowing then… I wonder why it doesn’t have any now.” She stepped closer to Slade and wrapped an arm around his waist. “Maybe someday . . .”
He turned her gently and snapped his fingers at Raven across the yard sniffing at the bars of the big gate.
They returned to their room. Ellen washed her hands and wiped her dusty feet with the wet cloth. She hung her green shawl on a hook of the armoire and hurried to bury herself in the blankets of the bed.
“It is chillier out there than I thought!” she exclaimed.
Slade poured clean water in the basin and washed quickly. Raven stretched on his side between the foot of the bed and the dresser. Slade took his own place beside his wife. They were both asleep almost before Slade said Amen to their prayer.