Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hacienda Update Chater 44

When they rounded the clump of old cottonwood trees in the curve of the road the hacienda became visible; Slade stopped the team and sat in wonder.  He knew that Ellen had inherited a ‘hacienda.’  He had expected it to be large and, to a certain extent, grand.  What met his eyes exceeded his imagination.

The compound was surrounded by an adobe wall, perhaps six or seven feet tall.  In approximately the center of the wall was a tall arch.  On either side of the opening the wide iron gates were spread wide to the outside. There were tall desert locust trees on either side of the gate, with their feathery branches reaching above the wall.  Along the base of the trees and the wall were privets, glowing in their autumn gold. They had suffered from neglect over the months and sprawled a bit, but their golden beauty extended for twenty feet or more along the wall on either side. Roof tops, chimneys and tree tops were visible above the wall and Slade hardly dared envision the buildings below them. 

Off to the right of the road about a quarter mile stood a sprawl of barns and corrals, seemingly empty.  With the exception of long fences near the barns, open land extended beyond them.  On the opposite side of the road grass and sage land extended into the distance where a row of jagged hills stood against the sky.  He could glimpse more buildings and fences beyond the walls. Slade could hardly believe the panorama.  This belonged to his wife!

Taking his courage in his hands, he clicked to the team, flipped the reins over their backs and drove through the gate.  

Inside the grounds were as striking as the entrance.  There wooden gates folded back against the wall. They could be closed to make a solid front to any attack.   To the left stood the house, it had a long row of arches enclosing a patio along the front and the courtyard on the side.  The front of the building was one story and the back part rose to another level.  The windows were gracefully barred, top and bottom with wrought iron rails that matched the gates inside the heavy wooden ones at the front and back walls. The double gates were the remnant of early days when the house had to withstand attacks from Indians and even later American troops upon occasion. 

Between the house and the outer wall was what appeared to be a small garden.  Even in the bright sun of early afternoon, the house looked cool and shaded.   Along the front of the wall, in the corner was a clump of trees that had dropped many of their leaves and were surrounded by a carpet of tiny yellow leaves.  Some small evergreen bushes ran along the base of the wall.

Closer beside the house along the side there were several cottonwood trees still holding their gold heart-shaped leaves.  The trees stood between rock planters filled with dry dead plants and some sort of graceful evergreen bushes.  Slade could imagine the shade and probably fragrance in the springtime and summer.   Off to the east there were more trees waving a few golden leaves and shading that side of the house. It seemed to be embraced by gold.

Past the trees back by the corner of the house on the courtyard side was a well with a wooden channel running from a pump to a long water trough.  On the right side of the gate there were random bushes along the wall and another clump of trees in the corner.   The long stretch of wall was broken by a passage way that went through between two long buildings.  The right hand wall was formed by the back of the buildings facing out toward the barns Slade had seen to the west.  The space was broken irregularly by adobe benches and small tables that would provide a shaded resting place in the heat of summer afternoons. There were smooth sandstone flags under the benches and all along the wall. 

For lack of any place else to stop Slade pulled the wagon to a halt between the passage way and the corner of the house.

Someone must have seen them coming far up the road for there were two women and several children in the courtyard to greet them. Ellen recognized Manuela, Santos’ wife.  Senora della Cruz recognized the same woman from town.  Before the flurry of greetings was over Santos himself came riding in from the stable Slade had noticed off to the west.

There were questions and news exchanged from town and, on senora della Cruz’s part, a vast amount of gossip was passed on in short order. 

Slade stood in amazement at every one treating the ranch and the courtyard so casually.  He was taken up with marvel at it.  He had seen similar courtyards and architecture in Santa Fe but had assumed it was simply a showy way of building to impress Americans coming into the town.  He had never guessed it was a regular way of living.

The women and two men who seemed to appear out of nowhere began unloading the wagon and things were quickly distributed to the kitchen and bedrooms.  Proudly Manuela and Santos conducted a tour of the house, bringing them up to date on the repairs that had been made and the refurbishing needed.  Slade followed along trying to keep his jaw from sagging as he looked at the tiled floors and whitewashed walls with the big dark beams across the ceilings.  The kitchen had pretty ceramic tiles framing the windows and covering the surface of counters. 

Manuela showed them how she had cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the few utensils left.  They were arranged neatly on shelves behind the work area. The lovely ceramic tiles had been encrusted with splashed food and blown in dirt, but cleaning them had been only a matter of water and soap applied with a sturdy brush.  The big kitchen table was scrubbed, then sanded and oiled to a smooth golden glow and the tiled floor was so clean it shimmered in the dimness of the big kitchen. The iron stove had been sanded and rubbed with grease until it shone blackly.   Even the pantry, bare of any stores except those just brought, had been scrubbed.  Its walls had been whitewashed with the rest of the house and its tile counters cleaned of all grime.

A round the corner in the dining room a long gleaming table and sideboard stood in solitary splendor against gleaming white walls and burnished floor tile. The beautiful dining table with its heavy timbers and gleaming top, had been scarred with knives and water marks, but Manuela scrubbed and polished the top until the scars became character across the restored shine. 

 Doors opened on the right and Slade could see into a large empty space the size of his adobe cabin on the bench.  Looking out and up on his right, Slade saw a balcony running the breadth of the room above them.  Behind the balcony he could see a series of doors to more rooms.  He could only see the ceilings through the open doors. He supposed they were bedrooms or for whatever the family might have needed them.  The size of the house was incredible to a farmboy from Indiana.  In its center was a waist high wall surrounding the basin of a tall fountain, dry now, but sumptuous in its elaborate carving and scrolling.

Through the empty space, Slade had no idea what it could be called, was the entrance to the sitting room. Heavy furniture with big leather cushions grouped around a  fireplace on the left.  Again the floor was scrubbed and burnished tile.  Snowy white walls led to a ceiling crossed by huge beams. 

Before Slade was able to take in the tall windows along the front and the big carved door Ellen hurried to the table at the other end of the room to exclaim how happy she was that it was still there.  The room was barren of any decorations or curtains, but its original sumptuousness showed through.   Manuela led them across the room to a door that opened into a room full of shelves with a desk as large as their table at home.   Books and random pages were stacked across the bottom shelves on one side. Slade didn’t even have words to comment.   Opposite the desk were two chairs and a library table.  The shelves were empty except for piles of books and random pages stacked behind and on the desk.

As they walked, Manuela explained what she had done and how long it had taken to simply sweep down the walls and ceiling to prepare it for whitewashing.  Then she had gone on from there.  

The heavy furniture that had been too cumbersome to haul off to sell was still in place, but Manuela had scrubbed it and polished the wood.  She had cleaned and oiled the scuffed leather upholstery on the cushions of the chairs and sofa in the main room.   

She led them back into the big empty space and indicated the set of stairs that mounted up to the balcony on the left side.  It started at the door to one of the bedrooms and coiled around until it met the balcony above.  On the outer side of the steps there ran a graceful black iron railing, oddly delicate and graceful against the solidity of the adobe wall.  Ellen shook her head. 

“Senora, I don’t think we will be using the upper story for a long time.  I’m content with your efforts down here.”

There were several bedrooms whose doors were thrown open briefly as she led them down a long hall to a big bright room with windows along the eastern wall and a big fireplace that extended out into the room under a massive chimney piece.  It seemed to be a friendly pleasant room but again, Slade had no idea how it could have been used.  The house seemed to have a separate room for every conceivable activity!

Back once more in the kitchen, Manuela commented again on how she had cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the few utensils left.  The walls had been whitewashed with the rest of the house and its pretty tile counters shown against it.  She apologized that there were so few and said that she was sorry they hadn’t had time to make chairs for the table.  Ellen explained that the benches were fine because they had always been there.  The outlaws had been less anxious to burn the chairs and benches for fire wood since those contributed to their own comfort at meals.  The smaller tables and decorative things had been handier for burning.  The fact that there was little furniture and that some of the chairs were broken was not something they had expected.     

Ellen knew the woman was anxious to know that her work had been approved and was lavish in her praise. 

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