Thursday, August 2, 2012

To Santa Fe Chapter 26

The wind that whistled down the slope that night brought a patter of cold rain drops, but the two in the little house slept the sleep of happy innocents.  And when morning came Ellen sat up with a sense of something she had wanted to ask Slade.  Then she remembered—she needed something to pack her little pile of belongings in.  She folded the night dress and laid it on the bed.  She put on her old petticoats under Madeline’s soft green dress.  She folded the magenta dress and one of Madeline’s pretty petticoats.  They went on top of the night dress.  Not knowing what would happen at the end of their journey, she also chose her best old skirt and one of Madeline’s shirt waists.   Everything was clean in spite of several stains.  The stack was slightly larger than she had anticipated, but it still came no where near the chest of clothes she would have taken to Santa Fe for a brief holiday while she was married to Alejandro.

Ellen pulled on her black stockings and secured them around her knees.  Then considering the patter of rain she heard above her head, she added a pair of Madeline’s knitted wool stockings.  The wagon was open, not a covered coach or buggy. The wind would blow around her feet and down her neck.

As a final step before she went down her ladder she combed her wild hair.  Somehow she had never gotten it thoroughly restrained yesterday.  When she had gone out on the porch to move the big kettle she had only had it twisted into a coil over one shoulder.  Moving the kettle had loosened it.

When she saw Slade and Joseph coming down the slope she had stepped to the edge of the porch and the wind had whipped it wildly around her head.  From there on her hair had been the last thing on her mind.  She smiled. Slade hadn’t seemed to mind. 

Ellen twisted her hair into a long coil and wound it into a figure eight on the back of her head.  The long smooth stick with its cluster of vines and flowers that Slade had carved for her weeks before went through the coil and held it to her head.  The short wisps still came loose and frizzed out, but she had no pins to hold them down so she had stopped worrying about them. 

She added her comb to the top of the stack and carried the whole thing to the top of the ladder. In a moment of common sense she ran back to the bedside and pulled the other of her old skirts from the stack there.  She put it on over the green dress to protect it around the house and on the road.  Traveling generated splashes of mud and sometimes greasy spots or other things to mar a light colored dress. She went back to climb down the ladder, leaving her things for the journey there beside it.  There was a pot of coffee steaming gently on the stove.  She heard the horses stomping out in front and the jingle of the harness as Slade hooked them up. 

Ellen hurried to the pantry.  She had been trying to keep the leftovers to a minimum.  During the course of a week she always planned on using a leftover the second day out to provide a little more variety without so much time spent in preparation, but if they were going to be gone for two or three days no one would use up the left over beans or meat. 

Two weeks before they had let poor Sarah go dry and all of their milk supply was gone.  She had made the last of the cream into butter.  There was a good sized roll of it left.  Ellen smiled to herself.  Butter was one of One Who Laughs’ favorite foods.  She had learned how to make the sourdough bread that Ellen had babied along from the surprise find in Madeline’s box.  The yeast sealed in the jar had lost much of its potency, but a few spores had remained, enough to start a batch of sourdough that she had fed and babied and guarded with her life to keep it growing.  Now she had a good supply and with Joseph’s help, she had taught One Who Laughs how to care for it as well as make bread. 

At any rate, she glanced around the pantry.  The shelves were still well stocked with things that would either keep easily or were not perishable.  She took the plate with last night’s roast on it and the butter into the kitchen.  She had a wrapped round of cornbread that she had made for their trip.  There was also a pitcher of canned milk to which she had added enough water that it was equal to regular milk.  She wrinkled her nose.  It was all right, but she still liked ‘real’ milk better. 

She set everything on the table in the kitchen and started her water for breakfast mush.  While that was coming to a boil she sliced the roast and wrapped several pieces in each tortilla for lunch.  She folded all of the tortillas into a flour sack and set it aside.  From the shelf above the cupboard she took down several biscuits that she had made a couple days before.  She split each one and put a pat of butter inside.  Then she stacked all of them in the baking pan.  She covered them with a damp clothe and set them in the dying coals at the side of the fire.  By the time breakfast was they would be warm and the butter melted. 

Ellen opened the peaches and set them on the hot stove to begin boiling.  As soon as they came to a boil she thickened the juice with flour and turned them into heavy syrup with extra sugar.  They could have some on their biscuits for breakfast and take what was left along for something sweet at lunch. The heavy syrup would soon be congealed into a jam like consistency. 

By the time Ellen had stirred the cornmeal into the boiling water she heard Slade’s boots on the porch.  He came in with a big grin on his face.

“Good morning, Future Mrs. Slade!” he greeted.  “Are you ready to go?  What’re we eating this morning?”  Then he came across the room with open arms. Ellen turned to meet them as naturally as if she had been doing it for years.

He held her close. 

“Did you sleep good?”  He wanted to know.  “I was so exhausted I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  But I did think of you as soon as I woke up this morning!”

Ellen’s voice caught in her throat.  She was delighted that he would walk in the door, hold his arms out to her and she could simply walk into them to be held close to his heart.  It left her speechless.  She couldn’t answer but buried her face in his chest.  Slade leaned back and raised her face with his hand. 

“Don’t cry now.” He told her.  “Things are good, there’s no need for tears.”  He wiped her face with his hands and kissed her tears away.  “Come along now and let’s eat.  We’ve got a ways to go today.”   He kissed each eyelid and wiped her face again.

“I have mush ready and hot biscuits!  Oh my!”  She deserted his arms and ran for the fireplace.  Using her skirt tail she grabbed the biscuit tin from the coals and turned it upside down on the table.  When she picked it up the biscuits steamed fragrantly on the cloth.

“Breakfast is ready!  And I didn’t burn part of it.”  She turned to the stove and stirred the mush there. “Yes! It’s ready. Wash up and sit down.” 

Slade loved it when she rushed around to get things together for his meals.  He hurried to wash his hands.

The mush was seasoned with sugar and generous pats of butter.  Ellen had added additional canned milk to the pitcher to make it richer.  Any that was left could be used in their coffee canteens.  So the mush was good, but the buttered biscuits and peach sauce were a greater success. 

As they chatted over breakfast Ellen asked for something to pack her things in and Slade’s suggestions for transporting the meat filled tortillas and the cornbread.  She put the remaining peach sauce in a small jar with a glass lid sealed in place with a rubber circle and a wire bail. 

“I want to take the Dutch oven with us in case we are caught over night and have to cook,” he told her.  “You can store the tortillas and cornbread in there. I have a box already on the wagon for the remains of the beef.  I have a bag of flour with a can of baking powder and a bag of coffee.  That should get us through an over night camp if necessary.  You can put the peaches in there.”  He stopped to grin and wink at her.  “The coffee canteens can be filled with sweet coffee and then the pot added to the box. I’ll take those things out as soon as I’ve got you a chest for your clothes.”  He climbed to the loft and she could hear him thumping around while she put the things in the Dutch oven. 

He came down with a little trunk over his shoulder.  “I put those things at the top of the ladder in here, but there is still extra room.  Maybe fold this little quilt and put it in on top.  Extra warmth is always good to take along.”  He set the trunk on the seat of the chair and added the quilt.  

The Dutch oven was ready and the jar of peaches sat beside it with the coffee pot.  She had the canteens filled and the milk jug emptied. There was little left to do.  Ellen picked up her shoes from their place by the fireplace and squeezed her feet with two pairs of stockings into them.  The green shawl looked very nice with the pale dress; she wrapped it around herself and tied it in the back as she had worn it so often.  She could wish for a more appropriate coat than the big old stained and decrepit leather one she had taken from Viejo, but there was nothing better so she put it on. At least it was warm. She still had the long scarf she had worn so many months before.  It too, was tattered, but she wrapped it around her neck and head anyway. She would need its warmth on the wagon trip. 

As she walked out the door she stopped and went back for Madeline’s heavy boots.  She couldn’t conceive of why she might need them but it would be better to have them if she needed them.  She slid her feet in them and put her slippers in the top of the trunk.

Slade turned around as she came out the door.  He was still in a daze that she had actually agreed to marry him.  The trip to Santa Fe had changed from being a dismal task to being a joyful journey to a shining goal. 

“Don’t step off the porch, just stretch right across to the wagon.”  Instead of letting her step to the wagon, he took her around the waist and swung her from the porch to the seat.  Ellen squealed in surprise.  “Stay there.  I’ll take care of everything else.”  He left her sitting on the blanket covered seat and carried her trunk and the last things to the wagon. 

Slade re-tied the tarp over the wagon bed then turned and went back inside.  When he came back he had the heavy quilt from the foot of his bed.  He took one long step across the empty space between the porch and the wagon and sat down beside her.  Very carefully he wrapped the quilt around her legs tucking it in snuggly between her hips and the seat back.

Slade released the brake on the wagon and flipped the reins over the horses’ backs.  As the drove past the corner of the house Ellen saw Joseph and his family gathering at their door.  Slade pulled the wagon up beside them.

“We are leaving you in charge, Joseph.  Here is a letter to show anyone who may come by and challenge your right to be here.”  He handed Joseph two triple folded sheets, the inner one was the letter, the outer for protecting it.  “Put them away in a safe place.  They tell the reader what your name is and that I have left you in charge during my absence.  I say it’s been necessary for me to go to Santa Fe and I will be gone several days.  If it is necessary they can contact me there through the Sheriff’s office there.  And if you need me, you can find me the same way. 

“One Who Laughs,” Slade turned toward her, “there is food in the pantry you can get whatever you want from there.  Ellie has left a big piece of butter there.  You don’t have to share it with your menfolks if you don’t want to.”  The old lady laughed loudly when her grandson translated for her. 

“Be careful all of you.  Joseph, you know what has to be done while I’m gone.”

“Adios!”  He clicked to the horses again and swung them into the two-track road leading away from the house and eventually off to the east where they would meet road to Santa Fe.

Ellen turned and looked over her shoulder to wave one last time as the buildings got smaller in the morning light. 

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