She put the Bible on the chair beside the lamp and blew out the flame. She scooted down under the blankets and gently pushed Slade far enough that there was room for her on the edge of the bed. He moaned and moved a bit until they were huddled together in the center. She held him in her arms and prayed, thanking the Lord for one more time that her husband had returned to her.
Feeling pressured by limited time, they hurried the next morning to sort the separate tasks. Slade and
took Carlos and his wife to work at
the southern house. Carlos’ son and the
other man remained to help Ramon with marking the horses. Santos
They ate the Senora’s hearty breakfast and went their separate ways.
prepared a pack horse with the necessary tools to repair the walls and cleaning
things for the inside. He had Slade’s
horse saddled and ready. Santos
Ellen met Ramon and Diego at the colts corral with Raven at her heels. She described the Senora’s idea of marking the yearlings’ ears. They both understood immediately and thought the markings could be done small enough to be legible but still effective. After all this year they were working with single digits.
The work of catching and throwing the yearlings was hard. Ramon and his helper had to call on Cecil and a couple of the other boys to help. The colts, of course, were the most difficult; but they only needed to be branded since they were easily told apart. It was accomplished finally. The fillies were much easier to handle and their marking went quickly.
Following their ordeal, Ramon spent a few minutes with the yearlings, feeding them the grain balls and scratching their heads and manes, brushing their coats to soothe them. They quickly settled down and came to the fence to see what Ellen and Diego might have for them. Success! They even tossed their heads and chased Raven when he ran across their field.
The new foals were easily subdued and branded. It was fortunate they were quieter because the tattoos had to be much more carefully done on their tiny ears. But the clipping and marking were soon finished. They were quickly comforted by their mothers, but they enjoyed being scratched in their favorite itchy places. The job was finished by shortly after noon.
Taking advantage of the extra men and the boys who had been helping with the horses, Ellen led the way back to the main house where the Senora had reheated the beans left from the night before. She fed the men and refused to allow Ellen to eat in the kitchen with them. Ellen was sent to her own room to have her lunch in solitary splendor. The Senora had specific ideas regarding the place of the lady of the house and the workers.
Following lunch Ellen took her work crew, Carlos’ son, Cecil and his younger brother, to the front of the house where they cleaned the dead grass and weeds from the flower beds and the base of the vines. The young men used shovels to scoop out shallow depressions at the foot of each vine on the arbor and then carried buckets of water to fill each depression. Water now would help strengthen the plants in the spring. Ellen swept the stones of the walkway and raked the litter from the area in front of the house.
As the sun sank lower they moved to the inner courtyard and began with working beside the patio where they cleaned the containers and pots from last year’s plants. Slade had been right in thinking the courtyard wouldn’t look so magical in the day light; but it looked neater just having the dried stalks and leaves removed. Her work crew moved to the area around the well and cleaned there, re-building the wall around the base of a low wall that had once contained a garden of decorative cactus. The bandits had used them for target practice throwing their knives into them. They were scarred but not broken.
It was too dark to continue working. Ellen set her helpers to carrying the refuse out of the courtyard into the pasture behind the courtyard to the trash pile. Then she sent them home. She was pleased with everything she had accomplished. Slowly the house and courtyard was beginning to look like itself.
She stood at the gate facing south and watched out across the long slope. There was no sign of riders. Thinking that there was probably time for a quick bath after her hard day’s work, Ellen went to the kitchen.
The Senora had taken note of Ellen’s stories of the tank in the fire place that provided constant hot water at Flat Rock. She compensated by keeping a huge kettle of water on the stove at all times. So there was a good supply of warm water for Ellen’s bath. The only thing missing, she thought as she bathed in the wash bowl was a huge tub she could slide down in and soak the weariness away. Instead she settled for scrubbing herself all over with sweet smelling soap and brushing her hair until it crackled under her fingers.
Slade’s dirty clothes from the night before had disappeared and were now stacked, clean and nicely folded on the bed. She left her own dirty things draped over the back of the chair beside the wash stand. Ellen moved the chair from beside her bed and replaced it with the trunk that Tia Margarita had used for bedding. She put the chair beside the washstand where it was now handy to stack clean clothes on or drape a damp towel over. The trunk served as a place to put her lamp at night and for her brush or the Bible when she read at night.
She sat on the side of the bed and looked around for something more to do. Nothing. Their room was quiet and warm, but empty without Slade. She stood up and went across the room to pick up her clothes, taking them with her to the kitchen. She wondered how she had been content to wander through these rooms, without any more purpose than to discuss menus with the lady who kept their house or sit embroidering or sewing before the fire or in a patch of sunlight. For the last year her life had been filled with terror, lonely flight, hard work, happy times, travel and an infinite variety of joy. The old idle ways left her dissatisfied.
When she went into the kitchen the Senora came to take the dirty clothes from her. “Senora Ellen, you didn’t have to bring these to me. I could have gotten them when I straightened you room tomorrow, but thank you. I’ll give them to Manuela first thing in the morning. You come sit down.
“Are you hungry? I’ve been making galletas to surprise Senor Slade, but I will get you some.”
“No, Senora. I’ll wait for Eli. I just came to see if I can help with something for dinner. I need something to distract me for a while so I won’t worry again. I know it is a long ways to where they are keeping the cattle. I refuse to worry.
“If there is nothing to be done maybe I could just sit with you and drink some coffee.”
Senora della Cruz chuckled. “I do have dinner all prepared for when the men return. I have roasted a piece of meat all afternoon in the oven outside. In the other I’ve made the Senor’s cornbread and also baked some small loaves of bread. These little galletas are almost ready, but I’m putting them in the Dutch oven to cook in here. It is getting cold to be going in and out to the ovens.”
The lady brought the coffee pot to the table where Ellen was sitting and then gave her sugar, milk and a cup.
So Ellen and the elderly Spanish widow chatted as the galletas baked and were stacked on plates for later. Before it was entirely black outside they heard the riders returning.
again took the horses and left Slade
to come inside with his wife. Santos
Ellen brought warm water and towels for Slade to wash and this time kept her peace about the day while they sliced the juicy roast and poured the juices inside the Senora’s baked potatoes. Tonight Slade insisted that the lady sit and eat with them while he told them about the house repairs and how Tina Munoz, Carlos’ wife, had enthusiastically surveyed the house and jumped into the cleaning. The interior of the house was sparkling clean by the time the men had finished cleaning up and repairing outside. The two of them had chosen to remain overnight rather than make the trip home. They had packed bedding and camping equipment with other food supplies on a pack horse when they set out that morning, wanting to get things in order and moved before bad weather set in.