by DiVoran Lites
When supper was over and the clean up finished, Aldon decided to hike up to the beaver pond for a bath. He grabbed a bar of Molly’s homemade soap, and an old towel from his saddlebag and joined Joe and Dieter on the trail. At the pond, the men raced to see who could get into the water first. Joe had to stop and help Dieter get his boots off, so Aldon made the big splash. He started swimming as fast as he could in the icy water, all the time wishing for the hot and cold spring so it would be more comfortable. He was half way across by the time Joe jumped in, and Dieter came next. The three of them wrestled over the soap like dogs over a bone, and when Aldon finally got hold of it, he washed quickly and then threw the soap to Joe. He got out and while the two of them continued to struggle, he dried off and put on fresh jeans and a flannel shirt. For a while, he sat on the large, flat boulder that was like a ramp extending into the water. The top part of the rock was still warm from the sun shining on it all day. It felt so good that he wanted to lie down and sleep right then. He took a deep breath of clean, pine-scented air, held it and breathed out the weariness of the trail with a sigh of satisfaction. They had arrived safely with all the men, the woman, the horses, dogs, and cattle. His cousins quieted as they came out of the water as if they two had started to relax after the long day on the trail.
When they arrived back at camp, Aldon found Ellie sitting on the chuck wagon tailgate with her head against a post that supported the canopy. She looked so bedraggled, he felt sorry for her.
“No more travel until tomorrow when we leave the cattle and ride back down to the ranch,” he said.
“Any chance of my getting a bath, too?” Ellie slid off the tailgate and stood looking up at him in the gathering dusk.
“Sure.” Aldon swallowed hard at the thought of Ellie taking a bath anywhere, but this was practically out in public. He’d need to go with her and keep her safe, but who would keep her safe with him? He shook the thoughts away. After all, bringing Ellie along was his idea and that made her his responsiblity.
“You sure it’s okay? I don’t want to be any trouble.” Her eyebrows went up in consternation.
“Come with me.” Aldon felt heat in his face and chastised himself. Blushing was for women and children, but he hadn’t been able to break himself of it yet. He found another towel and they were on their way. Ellie carried a bundle of clothes clutched to her chest.
“You need a packhorse?” he quipped.
“I have to have clean clothes; I can’t stand these another minute.” As they ascended the trail with Aldon in the lead, he stopped, turned, and took the clothing from her.
“I am perfectly capable of being my own pack horse, thank you.” She tugged at the shirt in his arms but he held on to it until she let go.
“The trail is rocky. Since it’s new to you, maybe I’d better be the pack horse, in case you need to grab a bush to steady yourself.” He moved on.
As they arrived, they heard a splash and saw several beavers glide away toward a mound of brush. Aldon helped Ellie step up onto the boulder, and then he pointed out the sights.
“The beavers live over there,” he explained, indicating the far side of the pond where a pile of sticks stuck up at the edge of the water.
“Yes?” Ellie waited for more.
“It’s called a beaver lodge,” he continued. “They swim under the woven branches and into a warm, dry den. See the pointed stumps over there?” She nodded and he went on. “Beavers cut the saplings down with their teeth in order to use them for making the lodge. They also eat the spongy wood beneath the bark.”
“No wonder people say, busy as a beaver,” she said. “Imagine having to chew down a tree before you can eat breakfast.” They chuckled.
“Beavers mate for life,” he looked at her then cast his gaze out over the pond.
“Do they? That’s good, like people.”
“I’ll sit at the top of this rock. You go down there and get in the water. Here’s the soap.” He handed it to her. “The water is so cold; you won’t want to stay in long. I promise I won’t look.” Aldon listened to the faint sounds Ellie made as she undressed. He heard a squeal of outrage, evidence that she had dipped into the freezing water. After a few minutes, he stretched out on the warm rock and listened to a series of whimpers, feeling like a lout for not heating water on the campfire and letting her bathe inside the cabin.
“Coming out,” she said waking him from a short nap. He took the warm towel and her clothes down to her at the water’s edge. Without looking, he laid the towel across her shoulders. She was shivering so badly that he wanted to take her in his arms and warm her body with his, but knowing it would be the action of a cad, he hoped his hands alone might help.
“It’s okay, I’m decent,” she said. When he looked at her, he had to reckon that her idea of decent was different from his. The towel covered her top, but he could see that high on her bare legs were edges of something pink and silky. What he could see of the garment looked like a cross between fancy underwear and a racy bathing suit. He hadn’t seen anything like it since the war when a fellow flier insisted he look at a picture in a French catalog.
“Let me go, you big lug,” Ellie said between clenched teeth. “You’re squashing me so I can hardly breathe.” Realizing that he had been tightening his grip, he released her so quickly she almost fell.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “Let’s hurry now; I don’t want you to catch pneumonia.”
He handed her the bundle of clean clothes and stepped once again to the top of the rock to wait for her.