Friday, August 3, 2012

Much to Do Chapter 30 part 1

Felipe carried the leather packet and the heavy case of coins. With the advent of a brisk afternoon wind, Ellen had donned her old coat before Slade drove off in the wagon, but when the Commandant escorted her in to the hotel desk, clerks and waiters popped up at their elbows.  The lady might look like a beggar in her old coat, but Ortega-Garcia was recognized instantly and accorded the proper respect.

“You may not recognize the Senora Aguilar,” he told the clerk, “but she is the widow of Alejandro Aguilar who was murdered last year in the street before the plaza as he was exiting your hotel.  I expect you to take better care of his widow.  She has had a very harsh and difficult life these past months.

“Her escort and body guard will be arriving within a short while.  You will recognize him instantly—a tall American with a dark blue jacket, gray trousers and a very large rifle.  He is to be escorted to the senora’s room and she will direct his lodgings.  I would imagine she will want him directly across the hall from her rooms.  See to it.

“I assume she has been assigned the same rooms the Aguilar family has always occupied?  Yes? 

“I will take her there.  Send Mr. Slade to us immediately.  I will stay with her until then. ”

He led Ellen across the lobby and down the side corridor.  The Aguilar rooms were at the end facing the courtyard on one side.  Ortega-Garcia thought that there would be plenty of room for Mr. Slade in the family suite except for the Spanish insistence on a woman being chaperoned and not sharing any kind of quarters with a male not of her own family.  Then he laughed to himself.  Necessity had mandated that the two spend the entire winter alone in an isolated cabin.  If morality was a question it had long since been answered.  He would leave the arrangements up to Ellen.

He took her into her sitting room and she collapsed gladly onto a large velvet settee.
“Finally, peace and quiet. 

“Oh, Felipe! Yes, put those on the table and I’ll think what to do with them later.”  She exclaimed realizing the Felipe stood respectfully waiting for instructions.   

“Commandante,” she said shuddering with exhaustion.  “I still have much to accomplish this afternoon.  I am going to need a boy to run some errands, do you suppose there is one standing around in front somewhere that Felipe could bring me?”

“Of course!”  He told her then spoke to his assistant, “I think I saw a youngster playing at the end of the street. See if he would like to be a messenger for the senora.”

Felipe left on his errand.

“I am going to order us something to drink until your Mr. Slade returns. What should I call for you?”

“You know,” Ellen answered.  “I would appreciate a cup of tea so much.  And some of those little square cakes… you know the ones I mean?  I have been wanting some for the longest time.  And I’m sure Mr. Slade will like some too.”   It seemed as though her good lunch had disappeared, although it had been hardly an hour before.

Ortega-Garcia went to the side of the fireplace and tugged the heavy blue cord hanging there.  Within minutes a maid appeared and he ordered tea and cakes—many of them—for three. 

Felipe returned with a boy of about 12 years old. Ellen first asked him if he spoke English or Spanish.  He responded that he spoke both.

“Great.” Ellen said.  “What is your name?”

“Gilbert, senora. Gilbert Estevez.  My mother is American. She calls me Gillie if you would like that.”  He told her.

“Excellent!  Gilbert, it is.  I have a note for you to take to Mrs. Coulter.  Do you know her?   The dressmaker in Via Ruiz?   Good.  Just a minute.” 

Ellen went to the desk and wrote a note to Mrs. Coulter telling her she was in town and in need of clothing as soon as possible.  Dresses, underthings and night wear.   Since she needed clothes immediately she asked if the lady could bring any ready-made things she might have on hand as well as samples and material to the hotel within the next hour.  She signed her name: Elena Aguilar. 

Ortega-Garcia watched her as she returned to the settee.  She had lost weight he thought, but all in all she carried herself with much more confidence.  She is no longer the demure wife of Alejandro Aguilar, he thought, but an individual who had faced adversity and come out with a dignity of her own.  At the moment she was obviously weary. 

He smiled to himself.  And yet, he reflected, not too weary to realize the advantage of asking him and Hernando to deal with Ellington.  Elena was a very intelligent woman and he was sure her father had instructed her in financial matters; but he knew that, had she been reviewing the financial accounts,  Ellington would have argued each point, doing his best to put her in a poor light and by doing so, retaining a portion of the funds himself.  Ortega-Garcia remembered the discreet handkerchief that had blotted the man’s forehead from time to time.  Oh yes, weary she might be, but his Elena was an astute woman. 

The knock on their door admitted a maid and her cart loaded with a large teapot, cups, saucers and a large plate piled with cakes. As she left the room, Slade held the door for her.

“Look at this!  Cakes!”  He sounded like a greedy boy. “Do I have a room where I can clean up a bit? I have road dirt and horse all over me.”

Ortega-Garcia directed him to the room directly across the hall where the door was standing open.  Slade hurried in and tossed his pack on the bed.  When the door closed they could hear splashing and various subdued clatters.  He emerged a few minutes later, just as Felipe had begun pouring the tea, with clean face and combed hair, wearing a clean shirt.

“Look at you!”  Ellen exclaimed. “You put me to shame.  I haven’t even washed my hands!  I should do that at least.  I’ve not washed since I splashed water on myself before daylight!”  She put her cup on the low table beside her and hurried into the other room to wash.  Thanks to the big coat and heavy skirt she had worn for the trip, her dress was presentably clean even though it was rumpled. 

“Now, I can eat!”  Ellen sat on the little sofa and picked up her tea.  “I am spoiled, Commandante.  Mr. Slade uses sugar and lots of milk in his coffee.  I learned to like that and now my tea seems to need it too.”   Felipe materialized at her side with the little tray of milk and sugar.  When she had finished he carried the tray to Slade. 

The big tray of cakes was placed in front of Ellen who immediately took one. 

“He knows who the cakes are for at least,” the Commandante said, but Slade reached across and helped himself to one ignoring the napkins as Ellen had.

“Felipe, it appears as though I will have to be quick if I’m to have any cake.”  And the Commandante took a cake with pink swirls for himself. “But I still have work to do and I will be leaving as soon as the crumbs are gone.”  He took a bite of the cake and decided it was so good he would need another immediately.  The cake disappeared in four bites.

He finished his tea and stood.  “I need to be going. I will give you until tomorrow to get settled. Then I must warn you that Beatriz will want you both to dinner in the evening!  So be prepared.”  He motioned Felipe to gather the tea things and then giving them a quick salute, turned to leave the room.

As Felipe prepared to follow him, Ellen called the servant back.  “I cannot have cakes and keep them to my self.  Please take two for yourself.  Wrap them in a napkin.  The hotel will never miss it and I’m paying for them anyway.  Take two.  Go on!”

Felipe looked at her in amazement. No lady had ever offered him cakes before. Elena Aguilar herself had never before thought to offer cakes to a servant. When he hesitated, Ellen rose from the sofa and wrapped two cakes in a napkin and pressed them into his hands.  Felipe accepted them automatically, thinking of the treat they would provide for his wife late this evening.  In somewhat of a daze, he thanked her and left the room.

Slade shook his head. “You just made his world tilt, you know.  Did it ever occur to you when you lived in the hacienda to give a servant cakes off the family’s serving tray?”

The question gave Ellen a pause.  “No,” she answered.  “I guess it never did. But then I had never suffered privation like the months before I escaped and I’d never eaten beans and meat and a few canned vegetables happily for days on end.  Now I think what his life might be like and I feel selfish eating sweets in front of someone who cannot have any.

“You’ve taught me that.  You and your God.”  She smiled.  “Bring your chair closer and let me tell you about Mr. Ellington’s face when the Commandante asked him why he had refused me!  He was so frightened I almost –almost, mind you—felt sorry for him! 

“And when the Commandante was finished with him, Senor Gutierrez walked in!  Without the first knock or invitation!!  Oh it was funny. But I didn’t dare laugh.

“And, Eli, guess what!  I am the sole heir in Alejandro’s will!  Something had happened that made him fear for his life and he wanted to be sure I was provided for! He didn’t tell Senor Gutierrez what it was, but he safeguarded the property for me!

“I thought the property would probably fall to me as his wife, but that he made me his lawful heir is beyond any dispute!  He visited town the day he died to make his will.  He even insisted that four people witness it because he feared that with his death the witnesses might disappear.  Some might accept two accidental deaths but not four!  As it was only Mr. Woodrow the banker was killed.

“But Alejandro was killed in the crossfire of that gun fight just hours after he signed his will! 

“Senor Gutierrez came in and tossed his folder on Mr. Ellington’s desk!  On top of all of his documents!  My heart stopped.  He was very angry with Ellington! 

“After he had hugged me and welcomed me home and apologized for all of my hard times he turned back to the desk and began pulling papers from the folder!  I suppose it held all of the Aguilar legal records for the last fifty years. 

First, he showed us Don Francisco’s will naming Alejandro his heir. It seemed that Don Francisco wanted to make it clear it was his right to allocate all parts of the estate.  He outlined the status of other Aguilar relatives.  He mentioned his brothers still in Spain because they had already declined any part in the Aguilar grant due to the fact they felt they were too old to make the journey and had no surviving heirs.  The property was clear and could be distributed as he saw fit.

“When that was finished, he pulled out Alejandro’s will and outlined the details of it.  It was all indisputable, ‘ironclad,’ as Senor Gutierrez said.  The property is mine to do with as I wish.

“If you could only have seen Mr. Ellington’s face!  It got whiter and whiter and little beads of sweat kept popping up on his forehead.

“I still feel that I must notify Don Francisco’s brother of Alejandro’s death, although I believe one of them has passed away since the old don died; they already knew of that.  I feel that I need to offer the remaining brother any interest in the land that he might have. And ask if he wishes to come and claim it.  After all it was granted to the Aguilar family. I’m not really an Aguilar and not even of Spanish blood.

“Don’t you think that is the only right thing to do?”  Ellen looked at him anxiously.  A flood of expressions had chased themselves across his face.

Slade was finding himself at odds’ end in discovering that the homeless penniless woman he had come to love was in fact a Spanish heiress.  He was offering her a one room house on the bench of the Jemez Mountains and she already had a fine house on the plain between the mountains south of Santa Fe.

No comments:

Post a Comment