Slade blew out the extra lamps in the old bedroom. He closed the door and carried two of the lamps to the room where Ellen lay in bed. The room brightened. He went back to the sitting room. He closed the ruined door and blocked it with the heavy blanket chest that had set opposite the windows. Slade left one dim lamp burning in the sitting room and carried the tea tray in to Ellen. He put it on the table in front of the fire.
“If you can wait for a few minutes I want to wash the blood off before we eat.
“Then, do you think you can sit over here by the fire and have some tea with me? It would be better to talk of other things for a while. Maybe we can read the Bible for a bit. It will help you rest after you’ve had some tea.
“I’ll be quick.” He left the room to go opposite bedroom to cleanup. Now he put on the only other shirt he had, the clean white one. His everyday shirt was so stained with blood he doubted that it could ever be completely cleaned. He laid it aside to give the maid in the morning.
When he was once more presentable he went back to the tray with the tea and bread.
“Look,” he said. Without knowing it he awakened Ellen from a light sleep, “they sent us honey for our bread.”
Ellen slid out of bed. She shivered in the warmth of her robe, buttoning the lacy front up to her chin She went over to the chaise lounge by the fire. It was warm there and Slade pulled a chair close to make her a cup of tea.
She chuckled at him as she took the tea. “You have me drinking milk and sugar in my coffee and now you have polluted my tea. And I find I like it!”
“Of course, you do. You are just finding out what is good.” He buttered one of the slices of bread and dribbled honey across it. “Now keep your napkin under it or you’ll have your pretty robe all sticky.”
Ellen took the bread and ate it greedily. Before he had his own bread buttered she was ready for more. He handed his own to her and took a drink of tea. Then he buttered himself another slice of bread. This one he actually got to his mouth before she finished her second slice. Ellen sat in the warmth sipping her tea.
In a few minutes she leaned forward and made herself another slice of bread with butter and honey. Slade smiled to see her acting more like herself. The hot tea and the powerful sweetness of the honey had revived her a bit.
“Better now?” He asked.
Ellen sighed. “Yes. I’m sorry I carried on so. I was sound asleep when I heard him there by my bed! I was so frightened! For so many months I’d felt safe. It was a shock to have him back looming over me. I lost control there for a while, didn’t I?”
“You did fine. Lots of men couldn’t have survived that calmly.” Slade told her.
“Are you finished gobbling your bread and butter?
Let’s get you back in bed.” He took her cup. “Will you read the Bible with me before you go to sleep?” He asked her.
“I will,” she answered. “But I don’t promise to stay awake during prayer.” She returned to the bed.
Slade took her dressing robe from her shoulders and laid it across the foot board. Ellen sat down and slid her feet under the covers. Slade pulled the blanket up to her chin.
The Bible was in his knapsack. When he had picked it up, he sat beside the bed again. “I know a perfect place to read tonight. Are you ready?”
At Ellen’s nod, he began: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Ellen sighed. “I guess I really did walk through a valley like that tonight, didn’t I. And now I am sitting beside still waters.” She held Slade’s hand more tightly and closed her eyes. “Thank you, Lord. Thank you. I didn’t even have time to pray, but you took care of me anyway. Thank you.”
Slade stood up. He replaced the Bible in his pack then went across to the other bedroom and wedged a chair firmly under the doorknob. He blew out all the lamps but one. When he went to the chaise lounge to lie down Ellen called him. “Don’t sleep over there. If I wake up I want you close enough to touch. Can you sleep here beside me? Please? I’ll scoot over and you can lay here on top of the blanket. I won’t wonder where you are then.”
Slade pulled the covers around her and lay down beside her. “Are you cold," she asked?
“No, I’m fine,” he told her. She raised her head and pulled his arm under her head. She turned closer to face him. Within in minutes they were asleep.
SLADE WOKE TO a feeling of disorientation. The sunlight shining outside the windows beside the bed was coming from the wrong direction and he was lying on top of the blanket in his clothes. The weight on his arm was Ellen’s head!
Memory snapped into place. And just as quickly the horrors of the night seemed to be chased away by the morning sun. He slid out of the bed, leaving Ellen sleeping soundly. He carried the tray from the little table and closed the door behind him.
He took his things into the bedroom Ellen had been in the night before. Slade stacked the traveling supplies behind the door and his own pack on the low bench at the foot of the bed. Without really planning to do so, he established the appearance of having spent the night in a separate room from her. There he used the last of the water in the urn to wash and straightened his shirt as best he could. He found his boots piled with the wagon supplies. His socks were blood stained from the night before so he dug through his things for another pair and folded the others away with the shirt for laundering later.
When he had again washed all remnants of sleep from his face and the memory of last night from his mind Slade pulled the bell rope to bring a hotel waiter to the room. The tea things needed to be removed and breakfast ordered.
Before anyone arrived for the tea things, there was a knock on the door. Slade slid the chest aside to open it. There stood Mrs. Coulter and two of her shop helpers. The one had dresses draped over her arms and the other carried two large packages. Mrs. Coulter herself had a long drape of material over her own arm. She swept in speaking as she came.
“I have brought Mrs. Aguilar’s things that she ordered yesterday. I do hope….’
Slade was shushing her furtively. “Mrs. Aguilar has not yet awakened. She had a very difficult night and I am standing guard to make sure no one disturbs her.
“Put the dresses over the back of the settee and the packages on the table. I’m sure she will deal with them when she wakes up.
“What is this?” He asked when Mrs. Coulter swept a length of dark green material across the chair.
“This is a cape that I found. It is heavy and warm. I thought perhaps since I don’t have a coat for her and it would take several days to make one that the cape would serve.”
“And these…” she went to the table to open the packages.
Slade was becoming more and more concerned that she would wake Ellen. “I’m sure Mrs. Aguilar will be pleased with everything. Now I must ask you to let her rest.
“I will convey your wishes to her; I’m sure she will want to stop by later today to thank you in person and to settle her accounts with you.”
Slade ushered the chatty lady and her helpers to the door as he spoke. Before they knew it they found themselves standing outside the closed and broken door. Mrs. Coulter wondered whatever could have happened to leave such a solid door in splinters. She and her ladies proceeded on down the hall determined to find out everything that had happened.
Slade leaned his back against the door feeling as though he had just survived a whirlwind.
Ellen turned over at the sound of voices from the other room.
She opened her eyes to the bright warmth of a strange bedroom. The events of the previous night ran through her mind and flowed away like water. With the sound of Slade’s voice from the other room and the sight of a new morning’s sun, they lost their menace.
She stretched and stood up, smoothing her hand over the impression left in the blanket where Slade had lain earlier. Her dressing robe was still hanging over the bed rail; she slipped it on, reveling in the softness of the ivory fabric. Her hair was in its usual wild morning array so she had to spend a few minutes bringing it back into a semblance of order. Instead of twisting it into a braid or knot on her head, she pulled it back and looped a strand tightly around its mass at the base of her head. The tight curl held it in place. Lacking slippers she went barefooted to see what the day had in store.
To her surprise three new dresses were draped across the back of the sofa and a pretty cape folded beside them. Slade was in the process of removing other packages from the table.
“Ahh. It was Mrs. Coulter I heard! I should have guessed!” She exclaimed as she went to give him a hard hug.
“I tried to keep our conversation to a minimum, but that isn’t easy,” he returning her embrace. “At least she got gone before the maid came for the tea things from last night.
“How did you sleep? And how do you feel this morning?” He stroked the dark circles under her eyes and still held her close.
“I feel fine,” Ellen told him. “Those are only from a short night,” she referred to the dark marks below her eyes, “not because I’m fretting over el Viejo. I did the only thing I could do and you were there to keep me safe afterwards. I’m not frightened anymore.
“I think maybe it was for the best. His threat will never hang over my head again. I can go on with my life without being frightened or worried every time you have to leave me.” She leaned back to look up into his face. There seemed to be more lines there than before--crinkles at the corners of his eyes and between his brows.
“And don’t you worry about me either.” She wiped her hand across his cheek and rubbed the new wrinkles on his forehead. “Our lives are going to straighten themselves out now although we will have some things to decide in the days to come.
“Right now, did you order some breakfast? In spite of our midnight tea and bread, I’m starving!”
“I did order breakfast,” Slade answered, “but I had no idea what to do with these things Mrs. Coulter brought.” He waved his hand in dismay indicating all of the clothes.
“I will take care of them in short order.” Ellen swept the clothes up into her arms and carried them into the bedroom. There, taking a minute to admire a dark green dress that Mrs. Coulter had added to the order, she quickly folded the dresses to limit creasing and placed them in the chest under the window. She opened the packages of underthings and folded them into the bureau drawers—happy to find two pairs of stockings. In another package she found a pretty shawl woven in deep burgundy wool to match her skirt and shirtwaist, with white flowers embroidered in a wide strip across each end. How pretty it would be to wear today. And she had a cape to put over everything for warmth instead of that ugly coat!
When all the things were stored safely she dressed herself in last evening’s clothes. She wore her new stockings but could not find her shoes. She twisted her hair as high on her head as she could and fastened it with the pins that Jessie had produced magically the night before. And again with no shoes she went to the sitting room to see if their breakfast had arrived yet.
The maid had laid the table and placed covered plates at each setting. Slade had just poured their coffee. Under the covers Ellen found bacon and eggs. On another plate between the two place settings there were slices of toasted bread.
“Oh how I have yearned for eggs.” She exclaimed. “I wonder how the hotel gets eggs at this time of year!”
When they finished eating and Ellen had replaced the dishes on the cart she pushed it outside the door. There on the floor were her much abused shoes-cleaned and shined and refurbished as much as possible. Evidently the maid from the night before had taken them away for cleaning! She slid her feet into the shabby but now shining slippers.