Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Meeting the Hands Chapter 46

With less than a week to take care of everything needing to be done, Slade and Ellen took time at breakfast the next morning to make plans and divide up the labor.  They agreed that Slade would accompany Santos to the southern grazing land to see the cattle and make some decisions regarding their care and pasturing.  Ellen would stay at the ranch house to meet with Diego Santiago and record the yearlings and the new foals in Don Francisco’s stud book.  They also needed to make plans for the young colts and collaborate on names for the babies.  Diego would have ideas on that.  Senora della Cruz freed Ellen from the necessity of taking care of the house chores.

One of the children in the courtyard was sent to find Ramon Santiago who would bring his father to the house before setting out to tend to the horses. Slade went to Santos’ house to find out what time they were leaving.  Used to preparing for Slade’s cattle trips, Ellen began wrapping the leftover bacon in tortillas and rinsing the coffee pot to make more coffee for the canteens.  When she realized what Ellen was doing, the Senora added two apples from their supply of fresh fruit to the bag of food.   By the time Slade returned to tell them he and Santos were leaving one canteen had been filled with coffee and the other with water.  Ellen thought that Raven could go with Slade while she would be house bound for most of the day. Not only would he enjoy the exercise, but he might contribute to collecting a few more cows.

Manuela had cleaned the house and straightened things as well as she could.  The furniture in each of the rooms had been arranged neatly and cleaned as well as the good woman knew how.  The room Don Francisco had used for his office had been in shambles.  His books had been torn from the shelves and thrown to the floor.  None of the bandits could read and had no knowledge of the value of some of the books so they had been riffled through for any paper money they might have between their pages and then discarded. 

Manuela had no idea of what the titles were or how they might be shelved.  She had simply picked them up and stacked them neatly but in random order on the shelves.  The ones that had been torn apart she collected and stacked on the desk with their loose pages.  Ellen sorted through them as she waited for Ramon and his father.  Most of the pages for each book were there.  Ellen simply sorted them by volume without trying for organize the pages in order.. 

When the desk was clear she began a determined search for the stud book that had the bloodlines of the horses recorded.  She found it finally stacked backward among several history books. Manuela had gone for neatness rather than organization.  Possibly she couldn’t read to know how the titles should be arranged.

Ellen sat down and began reading the bloodlines of the horses.  She had no idea of which horses they followed, but she enjoyed reading the elaborate names that seemed to follow a pattern of sorts. Horses from a certain stud each carried names related to the wind.  Others had names referring to bravery or colors or water or other exceptional traits.  She wondered where the young horses and foals would fit into the lines.

When Senor Diego Santiago arrived, she not only had the book opened on the desk but comfortable chair arranged for him.  Knowing that he would be in pain from the ride over and then the walk into the house she had asked the Senora to see if there was any wine left in the cellar.  Of course, it had been emptied entirely before el Viejo left, either he had drunk it all or taken it with him.

Then, out of the blue, Ellen remembered a tiny cupboard hidden somewhere in the bottom of the Don’s built in shelves and cabinets. She stood for several minutes thinking of the times Don Francisco had casually opened the cupboard and taken a bottle from it.  It couldn’t be that difficult to open.  She went to the slender decorative posts that divided the cabinet from the shelves.  She pulled them carefully one after another, turning it as she pulled.  One of them served as the handle for the door of a little wine cabinet and moved easily.  The door looked like a portion of the shelves and hid the cupboard. 

In side she found two tightly stoppered decanter bottles.  She sniffed each one and chose the one which smelled most like the whisky Slade had used for pain when the steer had stomped him.  There were tiny glasses in the cupboard also.  She carefully poured one for when Diego arrived.  It would help relax the cramped muscles and twisted bones. She placed it on the small table between the two office chairs.

When Ramon helped the old man into the office, Diego sank gratefully onto the thick cushions of the chair.  The whisky was welcomed relief for his cramping muscles. Ellen also offered the two coffee and the sugared tortillas cut into small wedges that the Senora had prepared.  The old man sipped his coffee and munched on the tortillas while his son described each mare and her two young.

Ellen had originally thought that Ramon could return to his work while she and his father sorted out the lineage of the mares and their off spring.  But it soon became evident that although Diego knew the blood lines and could tell the names of the mares and their descriptions he did not know which baby went with which mama.  So Ramon sent messages to Cecil and the older boys to turn the mares out and be sure they had water in their tubs.  He was ready to stay until the books were complete. 

As Ellen tracked each mare according to the name and blood line that Diego recited for her, Ramon gave her an exact description of each yearling which was duly recorded with his dam’s name and the approximate date of their birth. Ellen listened to the names of the dams and asked for Diego’s help in assigning names that reflected their breeding and their dispositions. When the yearlings were recorded each was assigned a number according to their generation and the mother’s number.  Then the same was done for the new foals. 

The name she was most excited about was the name of the gray colt and his brother. One came from a mother whose bloodline was a ‘wind’ extraction.  That was the gray.  The named him Viento de Medianoche  “Midnight Wind’ in English relating it to the Wind lineage and to the Black parentage.  The bay colt was a Blood colt from his mother.  He was called simply “Black Blood”- Sangre Negro.  Diego approved heartily.  Ellen wondered if they would use the English or Spanish renditions oftener.

Since none of the offspring had been branded, Ramon said he would make arrangements to do that as soon as possible, including a Roman numeral brand on their hip below the Aguilar brand.   Since two of the men had gone with Slade and Santos and only one was left with Ramon, the young horses were left to be marked the next day. 

Ellen set out to tour the household property by herself and determine what more needed to be done.  Behind the back wall of the courtyard just to the left of the gate, there was a huge mound of randomly piled wood collected while the men were cleaning up the area around the house.  That needed to be cut up and stacked neatly. 

The clay ovens that stood to the side of the kitchen door needed to be swept and have a new layer of mud plastered over their surface to make them usable again. 

The well and its pump were in good working order, but the cover needed replacing and the wall around its outside needed repair.  There was a long water trough along the courtyard side of the well, but it needed a trough built to allow it to be filled more easily than with a bucket.  The old trough had been broken down.  The trough had been filled with water but needed serious attention given to the rough ground and the windblown debris at its base.

As Ellen walked along the arbor in front of the house she remembered the plants that Tia Margarita had tended so lovingly along its outer curb.  They were scraggly and sprawled sadly in the last winds of summer.  To the best of her memory, they had come up every spring on their own.  Perhaps she could ask someone to water them and then tend them again in the spring so they could again be bright and cheerful.  The vines that grew at the base of each post had fared better than the ground plants but could still benefit from some pruning and regular watering. They would need shallow basins dug around the base of each plant to retain moisture until it soaked into the ground.

 Ellen wove random stray shoots and trailing branches back amid the trellis over the top.  She wondered what had become of Margarita’s pruning shears and little tools that she used to work among her plants.  She supposed she would never know.

She glanced in the windows along the front of the house, two in the dining room, one long one in the main sitting area and two more narrow ones on each end. 

Through the windows the rooms looked barren and sad without their rich drapes and table coverings  that gave the rooms character.  The bandits had left only the heavy furniture scattered randomly. The graceful ornaments and statuettes that had stood here and there were gone. Manuela had straightened the furniture, but the rooms still looked like storerooms rather than places where people had lived comfortably.  Ellen doubted if they would ever be so gracious and welcoming again.

She opened the heavy front door and stepped inside.  The sitting room lay to her right and a  straight ahead an open space extended back to a door into the courtyard.  On her left was an arch way that framed an area of shelves and a table, used once for reading or writing or to hold various finds Alejandro brought in from the desert.  Down another hall doors opened onto bedrooms and other rooms whose purpose had varied according to the number of people living in the house. Ellen left them for another time and walked to the door at the back that she and Slade had used the night before.

The inner courtyard was deserted.  Manuela had either not considered that it needed her attention or had simply run out of time.  This inner courtyard had been one of Ellen’s favorite places when she lived here. The house embraced it on most of three sides.   There was a tiny gate in the left wall at the back that allowed access to the privy area on the other side of the wall. Ellen and Slade had walked there in the moonlight.  Now she looked at it in the light of day.

She peered through a larger gate in the center of the back wall that opened into a pasture area.  It was here Ellen had kept Roja and various other horses.  There was a sturdy stable to one side that had once held her saddle and tack as well as grain for Roja.  It had room inside also to allow a horse or two to be protected from bad weather.

Ellen shook her head as she walked around the courtyard.  The flagstones along the house wall were littered and dusty.  The leaves on the clusters of trees had already begun to turn yellow from the dryness and coming winter. This year there had been no flowers planted in the raised planters that bordered the flagstones and surrounded a second small well or fountain beside the gate.  There were still three benches along the wall but they and the two little tables between them needed scrubbing.  There was a wrought iron table near the inner corner of the house where they had eaten there meals from time to time.  It had been pleasant in the evenings after a long hot day.  The matching chairs had been reduced to only three.  Ellen supposed the others had been broken and Manuela or someone had taken them away.

It needed so much attention. One more thing was added to her list.

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