by DiVoran Lites
“All the guys seem to be down for the night, but I’m not ready to sleep, yet, are you?” Ellie asked when they got back to camp.
“No, let’s play some music,” he said.
“Could we play softly enough not to disturb the men?” Ellie’s brow wrinkled.
“Once they prop their heads on their saddles, nothing short of a stampede could wake them. We’ll go get the instruments.” He took her to the chuck wagon and found her violin case.
“I’ll get the chairs from the cabin and we can sit out here and look at the moon while we play.” Ellie wrapped a scarf around her head, and Aldon left his Stetson on.
“We haven’t played together before.” Ellie arranged herself in the chair with her violin at the ready. “What songs do you know?”
“Turkey in the Straw.” He concentrated on tuning his mandolin and then struck up a chord.
They played together fast, faster, fastest, until their fingers tripped over the strings and the two of them broke down laughing.
Aldon strummed the chords to, “Springtime in the Rockies,” and Ellie sang along. Afterward, she told him that her grandfather had sung the song every morning when she drove him and her grandmother work. A loud snore came from the circle around the campfire, and Aldon and Ellie snickered.
“At least our music is good enough to keep folks sleeping,” Aldon said.
Ellie’s violin bow slowed as she began to play something soft and haunting. Aldon rested his mandolin against the leg of his chair and closed his eyes so he could listen with all his mind and heart. What richness Aldon heard, what depth. At first, it was like an ancient Irish melody exploring every corner of his soul. Later, it danced between joy and sadness, putting him in a place where he felt fully contented with an occasional edge of yearning that pierced him to the soles of his feet.
The high peaks against the evening sky, the shimmer of moon, and the soft flap of a white owl put the cream on his happiness. He surveyed his mountains, his cabin, his neighbors around the fire, and his woman playing the violin like a master. But no, Ellie was not his woman, she was only the most beautiful and exciting woman he had known.
Finally, the music recalled to mind a child gamboling down a hill, full of energy and glee. When the piece ended, the night was silent except for snores and the lowing of a cow grazing in the meadow.
Ellie sighed. She rose and putting her violin away, she walked with it across the clearing, past the men, and up onto the wooden porch of the cabin.
Ellie entered a room bathed in moonlight. The tang of vinegar assailed her sense of smell, and she wondered if someone, such as Kenny, had cleaned with it while she and Aldon were at the pond. Looking around, she spotted a kerosene lamp with a Prince Albert can lying beside it. Grandad had told her how you had to keep Lucifer sticks dry, so she took a chance that instead of tobacco, the tin contained matches. She removed the lamp’s shining glass chimney, and turned up the wick so she could light it.
The extra illumination showed a single bed in one corner. She walked over to it and sat down on a star-pattern quilt that covered it. What a work of art! Grandmother could sell a quilt like this for an excellent price.
Ellie heard a gentle tap on the cabin door, and when she opened it, Aldon stood there with the chairs from outside.
“Let me put these where they belong and light the fire. Will you be okay?” he asked his voice gentle. “Is the cabin clean?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. Thank you for taking such good care of me.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he said. When Aldon finished his small chores, Ellie closed the door behind him and went to the four-paned window to watch him walk away. It’s too bad I couldn’t have asked him to stay so we could talk, she thought. But what would the men have thought?
When she turned down the bed, intending to get in with all her clothes on, she felt three more quilts. They knew they must be exquisite too, but she didn’t have the energy to examine them.
At the edge of sleep, Ellie found herself drifting over a misty pond. Then she was no longer alone. She was pounding the arm that held her, Aldon’s arm. She felt no sense of panic or fear, though. There was nothing to fear from him. Soon she was in his arms soaking up love and heat. She drifted into a dream about a white owl flying through the night making a whooshing sound with its big wings.
The next morning when Aldon rapped on the door again, Ellie felt as if she’d only slept for an hour. She snuggled down and put the heavy goose-down pillow over her head. But somehow, she could still hear his voice when he called to her.
“Ellie, I’ve brought you some warmer clothes.” Aldon said opening the door slightly, “I’ll lay them here.
“It’s not morning yet,” she called. There was no answer. He had gone away, and knowing it was her duty to get up and help Kenny cook breakfast for the men, she forced her feet onto the cold floor. For a moment, her mind went back to France during the war where everyone suffered cold and hunger. The sounds of men getting up brought back the cold and snow crisp on her cape and face as she tied bandages and comforted dying men. She hadn’t shirked then, and she wouldn’t shirk now.
With her arms wrapped around herself, she hurried to the pile of folded clothes and put on long-johns, stockings, trousers, a too large, hand-knit sweater, and boots. She added Aldon’s sheepskin jacket, which had become her favorite item of clothing.
When she got to the main campfire, she and Kenny prepared bacon, eggs, flapjacks, and left-over beans. When the cattle had all been seen to, Aldon joined her in on the chuck wagon seat, but insisted she drive.