“Excellent,” Mrs. Coulter replied. “All right Jessie, let’s pack these up.” She went to the window and rapped briskly on the window at the boy, who hurried around to come in.
“I need for you to run to the shop and bring my staff back to help carry all of this.” She directed him.
“Senora, I will leave these underthings here—oh yes, I have a nice nightdress here too. It will be long but that won’t matter if you are sleeping in it.
‘Here, boy, run along!” Gilbert ran out the door.
“Shall I help you put on the pretty skirt before I leave?” Mrs. Coulter wanted to know.
“No, thank you, Mrs. Coulter. I will change myself. If you would only step across the hall and tell Mr. Slade I will be ready in fifteen or twenty minutes.”
“Of course, ma’am. I will send you a note around tomorrow with the other things.” As the door swung shut behind her Ellen saw Mrs. Coulter raising her hand to knock on Slade’s door.
Ellen took her new clothes and went into the bedroom. She quickly dressed in the shirtwaist and skirt. She went to the mirror to fix her hair and gasped in surprise when she saw what Jessie had done with her hair. The sides had been swept up into a cluster of curls on top of her head and the rest of it left fall into waves and curls at the back. She liked it and thought that with a few pins she might duplicate the work.
She turned away and walked back into the sitting room leaving it as it was. She was thankful that they didn’t have to leave the building as the dusk fell. She had nothing except her old coat and it would be a shame to put the ugly thing on over her pretty outfit. There was a knock on the door and when she opened it expecting George, there stood Slade.
The shock on each face was reflected by that in the other’s. Slade could not believe the change in Ellen. He had always thought her beautiful but her hair and the dress took his breath away!
Ellen saw a new Slade. She had never seen him in anything but his everyday clothes rough and baggy. The Slade standing before her now was a different man. First he had gone to have a haircut and a shave. Now his hair was clipped smooth and lay lightly above his collar. But what surprised her most was his clothing. He wore a black suit that had been pressed and fit smoothly across his broad shoulders. The pants hung crisply in a sharp crease at the front. He looked every inch the grandee that her husband had when he took occasion to dress up, except Slade dressed in the American style instead of the Spanish.
Tears filled Ellen’s eyes.
Slade stepped into the room and stood looking at her.
“I’m sorry. I know the amount of wealth doesn’t matter to you. You have always come from those circumstances. Yet you lived in my house like anyone would. You cooked, you cleaned and never once did I hear about the Aguilar wealth. It made no difference to you.
“It only made a difference to me.
“I’m sorry, Ellie. Forgive me. I love you. I brought these clothes along to surprise you for our wedding, but I thought I’d get them out now. The hotel laundry pressed them for me. Let me take a bath there, too. I wanted you to be proud of me.”
Ellen slid her arms around his neck and looked up into his face. “I was already proud of you. Now I’m astounded at how handsome you are! And there is nothing to forgive. Not at all.” She pulled his head down to kiss him.
Slade laughed. “I can be a foolish man sometimes.”
Ellen led him to the little sofa. “Let’s sit a little while and I’ll tell you about my new clothes.”
For a short half hour they sat and, between shared endearments and caresses, talked about Mrs. Coulter and her new clothes and what had to be done tomorrow and where they should go to be married. Then they made their way to the dining room to have their dinner. Before they left, Ellen walked to the table and took several silver coins from the box. She put them in Slade’s reluctant hand.
“In about 24 hours I will be your wife. Everything I have will be yours. This is just part of that.”
“I’m not marrying you for your money, lady!” he exclaimed. “And we have money already. I may not be as rich as the Aguilars but we lived frugally for a lot of years--me ‘n’ Jacob ‘n’ Madeline. We have a nice nest egg and I don’t know if Jacob is ever coming back. So ‘we’ can afford it.”
“But we had better not let this,” he picked up the box, “sit on the table all out in the open. I think maybe we should put it across the hall. Who would look for the lady’s money in the bodyguard’s room?”
He picked up his coat and draped it over the box cradled in his arm. With his other hand he took his Ellie’s elbow and led her out into the empty hall. He left her standing there for a minute while he took the box into his room and put it amid the stack of blankets and boxes he’d moved there from the wagon while she was with Mrs. Coulter. When he was sure it was hidden safely, he returned to Ellen putting on his jacket. They went down to dinner.
The dining room was pleasant and quiet. There was even music playing, two men in the corner with guitars. When they sat down, Slade placed Ellen with her back to the room so he could watch the room.
He was uncomfortable with the proceedings at the bank. How would anyone know that Ellen was ‘deceased?’ Who would even know that the ranch would be up for grabs? Why should the bank president be so reluctant to even consider Ellen’s offer to provide identification? There were too many inconsistencies in the picture to let Slade be comfortable with the situation. He was anxious for Ellen’s safety. As they ate the pleasant dinner Slade watched those who came and went in the room and in the lobby beyond them.
By the time they were ready to return to their rooms Ellen was dragging. She had been through a lot during the day. The ride and the cold from the day before, the night camping, the early morning drive and then all of the turmoil involved in proving her identity, even Mrs. Coulter’s voluble kindness, all had worn her out.
Slade insisted on checking her rooms before he left her. There were two bedrooms and a sitting room. All of them had doors connecting to the hall. Slade made sure the outer doors were all locked. Without telling her, he placed a chair firmly under the doorknob of the empty room. He also checked the lock on the servant door in Ellen’s bedroom. He would have been happier if he could have bolted the doors but they only had simple key locks.
He started to leave her but at the last minute said, “Wait. I’ll be right back.”
When Slade returned he brought with him the shotgun she had practiced with when he had to leave her alone to check his cattle. He broke it open and showed her that it was loaded.
“Put it by you on the bed, will you? I am worried that someone will try to hurt you. The Aguilar lands and the bank deposits are worth killing for. And there have been too many questionable dealings involved with it.”
“Eli, this is the hotel I’ve always stayed in! I’ll be all right. You checked the doors. They’re all locked. Don’t worry about me.”
“Just keep it beside you. Please? If I could I’d stay in here with you,” he stopped. “This is the first night I’ve not been close to you since you came to the house…It makes me nervous.” He grinned sheepishly. “Please. Keep the shotgun.”
“I’ll sleep with it.” Ellen promised. Slade hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head as he had so many times. He hated to leave her alone. “Be safe.” He gave her a quick kiss and left her. He waited until he heard the key turn in the lock before he went to his own bed.
Slade took his good clothes off and hung them neatly on the rack provided for suits. He started to lie down in his underwear but then got up again. He put on his everyday pants and a shirt. He lay down on top of the spread and left his stocking feet propped on the footboard of the bed. He was too long to fit comfortably.