Saturday, August 18, 2012

Much to Do Chapter 47, Part 2

Slade dropped onto the chair. “It feels so good to sit down on a flat chair!  Been straddling that horse for too many hours!”

He extended his hand across the table and they said grace. 

“So tell me about the cattle,” Ellen commanded.  “How many are there and are they in good shape?  What is the grazing like; will it last the winter?”

Slade scooped a spoonful of bean soup into his mouth and took a bite of the green chili.  “Woman,” he laughed, “I promise to tell you all about it as soon as I have some hot food in me!  There’s too much to say in one sentence!”  He poured milk in his coffee and spooned in the sugar. 

“I suppose I can wait,” Ellen told him. “I’ve waited all afternoon.  A little longer won’t matter.”  She began eating with him.  “I had a profitable day, too really.  We got the horses all sorted and I figured out a way to tell them apart.  I don’t know what you’ll think about it but I thought it was a good idea.

“Then I did a more thorough check for what needed to be done as far as clean up and fixing around the house here. That took up most of my day.

“When I was finished with all of that I visited with Senora della Cruz for a while but I couldn’t sit still so I went and organized the don’s office.  Some of the books were ripped apart with pages loose and scattered all around.  I sorted them and then put them in order.  I don’t know what I’ll do with them now, but at least they are all together in individual books. . .”  She tapered off, watching Slade eat with a focused intensity.

“I’ve never seen you so hungry!”

Slade ducked his head and looked across at her from under his eyebrows. 

“Well, Santos and I shared our lunch with the men who went with us.  They hadn’t brought a nooning and we couldn’t eat in front of them, so we split our tortillas and bacon.  None of us had very much.  I’m used to eating more than they are, maybe because I’m bigger.”  He scooped the last spoonful of beans from his bowl.

“Now, the cows.” He ladled  more beans from the serving bowl and picked up the coffee pot to refill his cup.    “There is a good sized herd, nothing like what the Aguilar herd used to be I’m sure, but a lot considering the ravages of Viejo and his men. There are probably about a hundred or hundred and fifty.  They were gathered out of the brush and the canyons in the wilder country down there.”  He took another bite of his beans.  

“There are also quite a few horses.  Some of them bear a strong resemblance to El Nino Negro.  You may have to ask the old trainer how they fit in.  Probably some of them are pure bred.  The others just seem to be cow horses. Unless Santos needs some working horses I think they will probably be all right out there.  He might want to sort them out.  If he brought them all back here, Diego Santiago would most likely know which ones are pure bred and which are half blood.  I don’t think the pure bred horses should be used too hard--just enough to keep them sound.  They would be better kept for breeding.   But the others could be used for cow work or whatever else.

“Otherwise, I think it’s a good place to keep stock all winter.  Santos thinks it would be a good idea to put two men in an old adobe house that sits near the spring.  I guess there are quite a few wolves and a couple cougars which run down there.  Any thoughts?”  He dunked a piece of tortilla in his coffee cup and waited for her answer while he chewed..

“I suppose, Eli, that it would depend on how weather proof the house is.  Is the roof solid?  It is getting late in the year.  If it’s going to take weeks to repair the building we probably don’t have time. 

“But it would be good to have someone there close by to patrol for predators, I suppose.  That really isn’t within my experience, honey.  

“What do you think?”  Ellen was going to depend on Slade’s experience to direct this ranch.  She hadn’t had enough time with the foreman to have learned enough to even give a good opinion. She would be able to keep the books for the ranch but not take care of the management of cattle and horses or crops of any kind.

“I think,” Slade returned, “that it would only take a few days to re-plaster the adobe walls and put a coat of white wash on them.  I went inside; the roof is sound.  There were no signs of water damage; the shutters had been tightly closed and the door barred on the outside.  So even though it was dusty and dirty, putting it in god order would not be much work.

Santos has a man, Carlos somebody—I can’t remember—who has a teen-aged son.  He thinks the two of them would be a good choice to put there.  They are both good cattle men and dependable.  Carlos’ wife would go with them to look after them.”  He grinned.  “I never knew how handy a wife was!

“If you agree, we can take him and his family down there the tomorrow and re-daub the stucco on the house and the wife can clean the inside however she wants. Santos probably has some whitewash stored here someplace from repairing the house and his lodgings.”  Slade stopped to eat again, then he continued.

“--Did you know that there are rooms on the other side of the courtyard wall?  I realized that this morning.  Santos lives in the section right at the front of the courtyard!--

“There is no cookware or living utensils in the house on the south range but Santos says that Carlos can take his own things.  We will need to send food supplies and later help cut wood. 

“There’s a corral there with a barn of sorts.  Some grain for the horses can be stored there and the animals can be closed in safely at night.  There’s good big pasture in a corral area for the horses and plenty of forage all over the range for the cattle.

‘I think it’s a good idea.”  Slade stopped talking and concentrated on his last few bites of tortilla and soup.

“Well, Good!”  Ellen stood up and took their dishes to the dish pan on the counter.  She scooped all of the remaining beans into a pan on the floor for Raven.  He sniffed it politely and ate it, but not with any enthusiasm.

“He ate on the way home.”  Slade told her. “A nice fat prairie dog.  I don’t know how he managed to catch it.  They always disappear as fast as I see them!”

Ellen laughed at the dog politely licking the last of the beans from his pan. 

The she added a bit of hot water to what was already in the dish pan and quickly washed their few dishes.  She simply poured a bit of clear water over them to rinse them and stacked them on a towel to dry by morning.

Slade banked the fire and took up the lamp from the end of table where they had eaten. He wrapped his free arm around Ellen’s shoulders and led the way to their room.

Once again the Senora had placed a burning lamp on the dresser and lit the fire. The room was warm and inviting.      

Slade removed his dirty shirt and pants dropping them beside the wash stand.  There was warm water in the pitcher for him to wash in.  Ellen pulled clean clothes from his drawer for him and he put on clean underthings before crawling into bed.  His wife rinsed the bowl and washed her own face and hands.

Slade turned to her as she sat down on the side of the bed.  “Would you mind reading for us tonight?  I’m too tired to see straight.” He motioned toward the Bible on the altar table. 

Ellen went and took it up, bringing a lamp with her to the chair beside her pillow.  She turned the lamp on the dresser to its lowest level and went back to the bed. Slade slid under the blankets reached over to wrap his arms around her hips as she opened the Bible and began reading where they had stopped the night before.   She had read only a few verses when she realized his arm had relaxed and he was breathing deeply.

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