by DiVoran Lites
Chapter Fifty One
Lastus had an arm across Ellie’s throat so she couldn’t move and could hardly breathe. She heard someone speak from above.
“Let go, Lastus Slater,” the voice said, “or we’ll shoot.”
Lastus let go, dropping to the ground and whimpering. Aldon moved swiftly toward where Ellie had collapsed. As she looked up she saw two guns sticking out of an upstairs window. One was real, the other, obviously, a toy.
“Shoot that man, Mommy,” piped a child’s voice.
“Get up, man, don’t cower.” Aldon jerked Lastus to his feet and grabbed the front of his jacket. He marched him into the sheriff’s office, and Ellie followed. Aldon threw Lastus into a cell and closed the door with a clang. He stood watching the young man until a woman carrying a baby in her arms came down the stairs with a tiny-boned girl clutching her apron. Without a word, the woman handed Aldon a big key. He locked the cell door, touched the brim of his hat and handed the key back to the woman.
“Ellie, this is Phil Oate’s wife, Cathy.” Aldon smiled in a way that told Ellie he liked the plain looking young woman standing there.
“How do, ma’am,” the mother wore a flowered wash-dress. “This here is Calvin,” she offered the baby, and Ellie took him, not knowing what else to do. She’d never held a baby before, but in a moment he melted into the crook of her elbow and she relaxed.
“This here’s our Constance,” the mother nudged the child forward. “Say, how do, Ma’am.” The child stuck three fingers in her mouth and lowered her head.
“Hello, Cathy. What beautiful children you have, Cathy!” Thank you for rescuing us.” Ellie said.
“You’re most welcome,” said Cathy. “I’m sure you’d do the same for us.” She turned to Aldon. “Where’s Phillip?”
“He’s looking for this fellow’s brother.” Aldon said. “I heard you call his name, you must have seen him before.”
“Yah! The two of them have spent a night or two on our cots. They like their likker a bit too much. Did you eat?” Cathy asked sweeping her gaze from Aldon to Ellie and running it lightly over her son.
“Yes’m, and so did that bushwhacker there, don’t let him tell you any different,” said Aldon.
“I’ll have to cook his supper later, anyhow, but he’s not too picky, at least at breakfast time.” Cathy tilted her head and looked into the cell at Lastus who sat with his head down and his hands hanging between his knees.
Aldon turned to leave saying, “I’ve got to get gasoline for the automobile.” Aldon said, then he turned back. “Ellie would you like to come or would you rather stay here with Cathy and the kids?”
“You’re welcome to come up to the living quarters over the jail, but you’ll have to excuse the mess. I never get caught up.” Cathy’s voice was wistful.
“You don’t have any help?” Ellie asked.
“I do all right.” Cathy shifted the child to her shoulder and patted his back.
“Is there something I could do while I wait for Aldon?”
“Well, I am running out of diapers and I happen to have the laundry water heating out back. If you could do some washing I could red up the dishes, nurse the baby and get him down for a nap, then I’d come outside and help you. That’s a lot, though, isn’t it?” A blush crept into Cathy’s cheeks, as she looked shyly into Ellie’s eyes.
Vera had taught Ellie how to use the washing machine at home. It would be no trouble at all. Aldon walked her through the jail to the back door and opened it for her.
“Where do you suppose the washing machine is,” she asked him.
“We need to see that the county gets them one,” he said. “We just never thought about it.”
Ellie heard the window upstairs slide open. Cathy barely had to raise her voice to be heard. “Take the stick and fish the diapers out of that big galvanized tub where they’re soaking and throw them in the pot, hanging from the tripod. I already put in the soap flakes. Stir them around then take them back out so you rinse them in that other tub. That’s cold water, so you can wring them out before you hang them on the line.
By the time Ellie finished the difficult chore, she almost wished she hadn’t offered to help. She sat down on a rock and rested against the rough bark of a tree. When she woke she was being gently shaken by Aldon who leaned over her.
As he straightened up, she came out of a dream about him and as he pulled her to himself she slid her arms around his waist holding him tight. He held her too. In that moment, there was no past, no future, no diapers and no criminals. The ranch and their jobs no longer existed –only Aldon and Ellie. He lowered his head so that his lips could touch her waiting mouth and when he kissed her, one of them began to tremble, she couldn’t tell which one. Moving her head so that she could look into his eyes, she received his love as freely as he gave it.
Neither moved until the back door to the jail house opened and the sheriff came out.
“Hey, what’s going on!” he said in a mock gruff voice. You can get arrested for that.” His laugh boomed over the yard.
“Can’t you see we’re doing the washing?” Aldon said. He threw back his head and laughed with joy.
“The wife appreciates it,” said Phillip Oates with a chuckle.
“Thanks so much for washing them diapers,” Cathy said coming out with the little girl. “Calvin’s asleep