The two of them were up with the sun the next morning making plans for the day. Ellen folded their dirty clothes into a stack and sent them to be laundered before she even ordered breakfast. Slade went out first thing to check on Joseph who was ready to leave when his friend arrived. The man had his things packed in his blanket roll and tied to the back of his saddle. He took food for one day, planning to be home by evening, but no later than the next day.
Once they had seen Joseph off, they planned to see the Commandante to find out what had been happening in town and the hacienda. They were especially anxious to discover how
with the repairs and finding any scattered livestock, Santos
Thinking the old Spaniard might not be as early a riser as they were Slade and Ellen left Raven in the room and went down the dining room for breakfast before setting out.
After finishing their breakfast, they ordered a plate of gravy and biscuits for Raven. He ate it greedily. Then he followed at Ellen’s side as they strolled around the plaza and eventually arrived at the Commandante’s. He was just leaving the breakfast table so he personally escorted them into his office. There they discovered that he was holding a letter for them from Alejandro Aguilar.
The Aguilar letter had been sent in early summer and arrived only a few weeks before. The gentleman must have responded as quickly as he had received Ellen’s letter. His letter must have been sent on the very next ship leaving for
New Spain for it to have
arrived so promptly.
Don Alejandro thanked her sincerely for her offer. He declined her generous offer citing his failing health and the fact that his only son was content to remain in
with their extensive property there. He
included a legal document ceding all interest in the American property to his
nephew’s widow. Spain
Ellen handed the legal document back to Ortega-Garcia. Her Spanish was sufficient for everyday things but she had difficulties with the legal terminology. He assured her that the document was as the letter indicated. The property was hers completely.
Senor Ortega-Garcia, when they arrived at his office a while later, was also delighted to see them, not only because Ellen was one of his favorite people, but also because of the events that had followed their departure in early spring. A great deal had happened.
With the apparently dishonest circumstances surrounding the Aguilar money and property, Senor Gutierrez and Sheriff Cisneros had quietly initiated an investigation into Mr. Ellington’s background. Especially questionable was his connection with el Viejo. As the sheriff sent telegrams and made trips to various towns in the territory he discovered that similar conditions had occurred in three other places. Well-to-do but isolated property holders had met with accidents and their heirs or families disappeared leaving all of the property and any financial considerations to a member of the family who had just arrived from
Mexico City or Denver or . In
each case a bank manager, bearing a resemblance to Ellington, had verified the
family member’s identity and surrendered all property and other considerations
to the newly arrived heir. A few months
later there had been a family illness or emergency that demanded the banker’s
When the presumed heir had control of all the livestock and property he promptly began liquidating them and soon after disappeared with the money. Of course, he always gave rational explanations for having to leave the property and since it was legally his no serious questions were asked. Only later did local people begin to wonder that the house and outbuildings, with no immediate buyer to be found, had been abandoned. When eventually a local law enforcement officer had actually visited the property there was evidence that led them to suspect the family members and some of the workers on the ranch had been killed. Because the two men had carried out their exploits in widely separated and isolated sites no one connected the undertakings to similar events elsewhere, even when local citizens questioned the happenings.
If it had not been for Ellen’s escape from Viejo, the scheme would have been successful again. The two were mid-way through their plan when she had shown up with positive proof of her identity and several reputable men to support her claim. The strategy might still have gone un-noticed had el Viejo simply yielded gracefully to the overwhelming evidence that there was another heir whose claim would supersede his. Ellington could have transferred Ellen’s inheritance into her name then he and el Viejo could have moved on to gather another gang of disreputable followers and work their subterfuge elsewhere.
Instead Ellington had refused to recognize Ellen’s claim until she had presented not just witnesses but very influential ones thus calling very definite attention to himself and consequently the presumed heir. Then Viejo who had already established himself in the good graces of the deputy sheriff and others in the community had foolishly decided to kill Ellen, foolishly assuming that that as an American in a Spanish society she would not be known or widely recognized. He supposed he, as a Spaniard, could claim that she was the imposter.
Ellington, who was so anxious to dissociate himself from the outlaw, had either not shared his all of newly acquired information with el Viejo. Or Viejo hadn’t bothered to listen. Consequently, he didn’t know she was too well established for his plan to work.
The last link in the chain of circumstances that exposed their scheme was that instead of meekly submitting to Viejo and her own murder, Ellen had shot him. Then when the deputy came in to play his part, he discovered that the woman was not a counterfeit heir but had very good references and identification.
With Viejo dead, Ellington had discretely begun organizing his affairs to allow him to leave quietly claiming a family emergency. No one suspected his involvement at that time. He had merely been duped by the outlaw. But he lingered a bit too long in
. Cisneros completed his investigation and
Ellington was arrested before he could leave.
When the bank examiner was called it became obvious that Ellington had deliberately concealed funds to make them immediately available when his plans were complete to leave. The Aguilar accounts, although because of their size they had been the most easily misappropriated, were not the only ones from which he had embezzled random bits of cash.
As it stood, Ellington was in prison; a new bank manager had been installed and the Aguilar capital and deeds were secure.
The second bit of news concerned
’ progress in
repairing the hacienda. He had consulted
with either Gutierrez or Ortega-Garcia on several occasions, reporting the
numbers of livestock he had found, requesting their advice on hiring additional
laborers and cowboys and asking for their input on a few major repairs that he
thought necessary. Both men had been
pleased with his sense or responsibility and honesty. Santos
When Ortega-Garcia heard that they planned to visit the ranch for several days, he was emphatic in saying that their input was unquestionably needed, especially in light of the fact that the Aguilar brother in
had declined the property. Although
Santos Ramirez was responsible and dependable, he needed their support and
direction if the ranch was to again become a working property. Spain
Even though Ortega-Garcia understood that they would only be able to stay a few days he suggested that they take a few things with them to insure their comfort. Manuela Ramirez was not a housekeeper or accustomed to cooking for others. The Commandante suggested that they ask a local widow who was living on a very slim income to accompany them she could help with the house while Ellen and Slade were occupied with the affairs outside.
He also recommended they buy bedding and household items to take with them. The few blankets Manuela had found had been very tattered and dirty. She had enlisted the help of her oldest daughter and her cousin to scrub the dirt from them. After they had dried she had shaken and beaten them back into some softness. They were clean but possibly not very comfortable.
The dishes in the house had all been shattered before and during Viejo’s fit of anger when he escaped his pantry prison and found Ellen gone with his supplies and packhorse. Only the iron cookware remained scattered everywhere and some of that had been taken earlier by the other men in Viejo’s band as they scattered with their ill gotten gains.
Ellen and Slade agreed to his sending a note around to Senora Constantia Della Cruz alerting her to their arrival and need. When they left the Ortega-Garcia residence a while later they again borrowed Ortega-Garcia’s buggy and followed his directions to her tiny house. She was a vigorous lady in her fifties and regarded the job as not only a bit of income but also an adventure. They came highly recommended by the Commandante so she had no qualms about accompanying them. They made arrangements to pick her up early the following morning.
As Ellen and Slade walked along the busy streets they discussed what they needed and how they would go about getting Senora della Cruz transported comfortably. Ellen wanted to take supplies for their stay and to provide a special dinner as thanks for everyone on the hacienda who had worked so diligently in their absence. Anything remaining when they were ready to leave could be given to Manuela for use with the workers.
They made their way back to the hotel to rest a bit and then have a late lunch. Afterward they made a trip to the general store for the household things they would need. Ellen had an additional item on her list. She wanted to get herself a hat that would protect her hair and face from the bright sun. The old one she had taken from Viejo was beyond redemption and nearly useless. One like Slade’s would be perfect. He had other ideas however and looked first at the ladies’ hats at Mrs. Coulters’. They were too elaborate and bulky for Ellen’s need, but when she pressured him to continue on to the general store. There they found one made in the same style as his but with the wide brim slightly curled on the sides with a small fluffy feather lying close to the crown on the left side. It was a substantial brown felt, made to be perched on the side of an elaborate hair do, but Ellen plopped it squarely on her head.
Slade shook his head and reached out to angle it slightly over one eye and tilt it forward. Ellen insisted on one more adjustment. She purchased a yard of grosgrain ribbon which she intended to attach to the inner band of the hat so it could be tied firmly on her head. The old tattered hat had only stayed with her because of it’s leather cords fastening under her chin. She had too much experience with the desert winds.
When they had purchased food, bedding, candles, two oil lamps with the necessary coal oil and a set of dishes they asked that everything be ready for pick first thing the following day. After that they had a long afternoon and evening to rest and have dinner together. It was pleasant to have nothing to do except sit close together by the small fire while Ellen attached her ribbon to the new hat. Afterwards they used the time to simply chat, snuggled together on the settee with a stool at their feet. At dusk they walked in the courtyard outside their windows with Raven. While he explored the bushes and trees they talked of whether they could make a courtyard at their little house and prompt some growth of a couple trees and bushes. When it was fully dark they returned to their rooms and asked for dinner to be sent to them.
Bed time was welcomed.
Slade was up early the next day concerned about Senora della Cruz’s comfort in the wagon. He went out to attach one of the larger boxes to the wagon bed. By the simple expedient of screwing cleats to both sides and securing them to the bottom of the wagon bed, he fastened it to one side in the back. He padded it well with one of the blankets they had used for their overnight camps. The senora could hold to the side of the wagon for support if necessary and she could sit facing forward, sideways or backward. There was room between the box and the tailgate for her feet or a box of food supplies. The remainder of the wagon, with plenty of space left over, would hold new supplies and the things Ortega Garcia had recommended they buy.
Because they planned to go back to Flat Rock as soon as they left Los Llanos Ellen had suggested that when the buy supplies for Flat Rock they buy presents for Joseph and his family. That way there would be no time wasted when they were ready to return. Everything was chosen and paid for in advance.
Although she had tried to provide clothes for them, they were wearing hand me downs from Raven’s people, re-cut dresses of Madeline’s and coats cut from a blanket. She wanted them to have a couple new things—especially in the face of the coming winter. While Slade was buying their supplies, Ellen looked over the clothes for sale in the store. She chose two warm flannel shirts for
A heavy denim jacket lined with wool for
Joseph and a pretty shirtwaist for One Who Laughs. They would make a quick stop at Mrs.
Coulter’s on the way out of town to order two skirts for her, too. When they were ready to go home the new
things could go with them. Slim
When the supplies for the ranch had been packed, Ellen thought perhaps they should purchase an additional set of bedding for the Senora, since it was reasonable to believe she wouldn’t bring any with her. It also occurred to her that writing paper and a couple pen nibs and ink would be handy since they might be leaving written instructions and a letter such as the one they left with Joseph authorizing
Finally they were finished. Slade motioned Raven into the back of the wagon and they drove away from the store.