(Didn’t get this up yesterday as scheduled, so here it is today, with Chapter 3 to follow tomorrow.)
Cathedral of Peace
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
CAROLYN EVANS thought she was being a good wife by working hard and saving consistently without complaint. She became so absorbed in petty details of work and saving that she could see nothing else. She had even forgotten how to neighbor with other ranch wives. Then with cruel bluntness her husband had refused to take her with him to a Stock Growers Convention. Hurt beyond words and sick with disappointment, she rushed away from the house to her
CATHEDRAL OF PEACE. This was a cottonwood grove in the “bottoms” pasture of the Idaho ranch that was her home. In the grove she could always find peace and quiet from the conflicting pressures of a discordant home and overbearing husband. Weeping there and asking herself “why?” she is accosted by
KANE HOLLAND, who is a rancher neighbor. He is a bachelor who in the past has been kind and considerate to Carolyn and her boys. Highly indignant over the treatment she receives from her husband, he offers her a way out via the divorce court. Carolyn is confused more than incensed. Realizing this, Kane leaves her to think things out alone. She is soon interrupted by
BOB EVANS, her first-born son. He is large and strong like his father but with much of his mother’s shyness. Secretly, he thinks, he is in love with a newcomer to the valley. He refuses, however, to make any advances to her because of the condition of his home. In sympathizing with his mother over his father’s neglect of her, he speaks highly of Kane Holland. That brings a warm glow to Carolyn’s heart. She feels if she does leave her husband, she will have Bob’s support. She lets him know, in a timid, indirect way, that Kane is in love with her. Bob startles her by exclaiming, “Good grief, Mother, be your age.”
The grim humor of her son’s abrupt change in viewpoint struck Carolyn like a dash of ice water. She laughed, lightly at first, then wildly, hysterically. Tears, so much a stranger to her, rolled down her cheeks. Bob’s discomfort sharpened to alarm. He started to put an arm over her shoulder, then drew back.
“Mother, please, I didn’t – I don’t mean – confound it, I don’t know what I mean, but don’t cry.”
Like many reserved people, when Carolyn lost control she lost completely. Great racking sobs shook her.
“Mother, listen. If you don’t’ stop crying I am going for Dad. You’ll ruin yourself. Please, Mother.”
Carolyn fought for control, but the long delayed storm was slow in passing. She missed with keen appreciation a loving arm about her, a shoulder to cry on. She was alone, completely alone. When she showed signs of control, Bob grew irritated again.
“That sounded as if I were running out on you, but I’m not, Mother. after all, you don’t need to take what he’s giving you.”
“What can I do?”
“How do I know? That is your problem.” His voice softened. “After all, it’s your life and you can do what you please with it; but think of the mess. Breaking up a family is no small affair.” He looked toward the Elkhorn and voiced a sudden thought. “He would not leave her home alone while he went to the Convention. No one would make a doormat of her.”
Carolyn tried to think. In that brief period when she had considered leaving she had counted on Bob to understand. She must have counted on all the children understanding and going with her. Carson, her second born, had always been resentful and sharp. He had never left doubts as to his likes and aversions. She had never felt entirely sure of him, but she had thought she was so certain of Bob. If she couldn’t depend on Bob, would she dare mention such a thing to Carson? Bob had inferred she was a doormat. That hurt worse than his father’s neglect. One crystal clear thought took possession of her. Divorce or not, Bob would never have occasion to speak of her in such a manner again.
“Okay.” She borrowed his expression, and although he did not know it, the word, unfamiliar on her lips, was her whistle in the dark. “Do you want to go to the Elkhorn with me?”
“To tell her I am going to learn not to be a doormat.”
“You mean you are going to work in the Relief Society?” Then as she nodded, “but you know what Dad said about it last night.”
“I know, but after all – ” something of her crushed pride, her terrible uncertainty, her groping determination, her need for love was transmitted to him. he caught her in his arms.
“Gee, Mom, you are grand. I’ll go with you – all the way.”
Reaching for his discarded shovel, he threw it over his shoulder, and they moved on to cross the narrow footbridge over West Fork, and on to the house.
“I’ll drive you over,” Bob offered, “or saddle a horse.”
In the pasture back of the corrals a man was watching their approach. Turner Evans was an older, heavier edition of his son Robert. Time had dealt kindly with him. He was straight and his muscles hard. Black hair, where it showed beneath his hat, was only lightly sprinkled with gray. His eyes had lost none of their alertness. As he watched the two, the muscles of his mouth settled into grim lines, but a great weariness battled irritatingly within him.
“She’s been to that grove again. I’ve a mind to burn it down. Why doesn’t she face things instead of always running away?”
The thought of the cottonwood grove was, to him, the waving of a red flag. Why didn’t she develop a little spine instead of withdrawing. When she returned from the grove, she had a reserve an axe couldn’t cut – and where did that leave him?
The inconsistency of the question added to his irritation. Perhaps he was harsh. Perhaps he was trying with his harshness to force her to – what was he trying to do? What was wrong with him? With her? he hadn’t meant to hurt her so. No, he really hadn’t. He set his lips grimly. He was leaving her home to keep her from experiencing a deeper hurt and a more devastating one. A mental picture of Carolyn dressed in what she called her “best” rose to plague him. Once he had tried to explain to her. Once, for a period, he had gone to extremes in his attentions to her, hoping to hold fast something that was rapidly slipping away from him. But that, too, had been ineffective. Carolyn was just where she had been fifteen years ago. No, she was not – she was not that woman at all. The futility of it, the hopelessness of achieving any change, soured his vitals and sharpened his tongue. Imagine her beside the other wives. Imagine her beside – and long ago she had forgotten how to talk. Weariness won the battle temporarily. What was the use of it all? Where was the satisfaction life had once promised so abundantly? Where had they drifted? Carolyn, Carolyn, what has happened to us?
“I’ll stay home myself.” Then, immediately he thought, “No. I shan’t do it. I won’t stagnate.”
A quick, clear vision of another woman came to him – a warm sympathetic woman, thoroughly feminine, yet who could give him the intellectual companionship for which he was so hungry. If only – but he thrust the thought aside. That thought was too dangerous to play with. Carolyn was his wife; he loved her, or once had, and a man didn’t do such things to the mother of his children.
He looked at Bob, and his face softened. What a man he could be if only he didn’t grow inward. He was so much like Carolyn there was more than a chance of it. He must be stern with him. He must whip him into shape. He left the pasture and met them in the yard. He meant to control himself, but habit was strong.
“It is time someone was getting here,” he barked. “Where have you been?”
He was looking at Carolyn, but the son answered:
“Irrigating, as I was commanded.”
“Get on a horse and ride to the east-line fence and see what is keeping Carson. I sent him down there six hours ago. He can kill more time when he rides in that direction than any two men I ever saw. Take another hammer and pliers along. He has the other stuff with him, or should have, but you can never tell.”
Bob hesitated. “I was going to drive Mother over to the Elkhorn.”
“That can wait.” He glanced sharply at his wife. “Why does she want to go? You get that fence fixed. I want those yearlings in there before dark.” Taking the shovel from the boy, he turned and left.
“Go on,” Carolyn said, as Bob still hesitated. “Carson is probably at Semples, or Garden is with him. I wish he would stay away from her.”
“What about telling Mrs. Straughn? You are not going to back down?”
Carolyn hesitated. This was a sample of the way she so easily lost control of a situation. Why try to fight? There was comfort, of a sort, in a beaten path. She glanced at her boy, and her resolution stiffened. No, she would not retreat.
“You ride by and tell her for me. Find Carson first; then you needn’t hurry.”
Seeing them still standing, the father called, “Did you hear me say I wanted that done in a hurry?”
“Go on,” Carolyn urged. “Let’s not have any more fussing.” She turned toward the house.
“Give in. That is always your solution,” the boy accused; she went on without answering.
“Where have you been so long?” her five-year-old Judy greeted her as she entered the house. “Us twins looked and looked.”
At the window Carolyn watched Bob prepare to ride away.
“Where is Bobby going?” Jerry, the more active of the twins demanded.
“I want to go with him,” Judy announced suddenly and began calling, “Bobby, Bobby, wait for me.”
They were both out of the house and after him in a flash. He stopped. Ordinarily, he would have put them in the saddle, and he would have ridden behind. This time he sent them back.
Carolyn’s heart caught as he rode away. Horse and boy were a symphony of movement. All she had endured was as nothing to the joy of being the mother of this child-man. Was peace worth his disapproval? But of what did he disapprove? Definitely, he resented any connection between her and Kane. Just as definitely he disapproved of her going on as she was. Did he have the right to prescribe the bounds of her existence? In one, two or three years at the most he would be gone. He could build his own life as he pleased, but what of her? Life would not last forever. In the too few years left hadn’t she a right to some degree of happiness? Was it the fact that you had a master that counted, or who the master was?
Meanwhile, Bob had gone back the way they had come. Half a mile south through the trees he turned east to the fence. This was the “bottoms” land that during high water was a marsh and sometimes a lake. After the water receded, it made good pasture. The undergrowth and scattered clumps of trees kept the ground moist and cool. The grass grew rank and succulent.
Almost opposite Carolyn’s Cathedral Bob found the break. A rush of water earlier in the season had loosened the fence. Carson had reset the posts but had not touched the wire. His horse, still saddled, was cropping near by, but the boy was not to be seen. Bob called once or twice but received no answer, so he went to work. This was like Carson to stop in the middle of a job. It was to be hoped he would show up soon. Bob must get through in time to go by the Elkhorn.
A hot sweet ecstasy flooded Bob at the thought of the Elkhorn. From an inner secret shrine he brought to remembrance The Girl, and strangely, she was the flesh and bone, the sparkle and wit, the intellect and gracious femininity of June Straughn. That was queer, he thought, for he had known The Girl for several years, and two months ago he hadn’t heard of June Straughn. He still hadn’t been introduced to her. He knew with the certainty of youth that no other girl would ever enter his shrine.
“Girls like her don’t marry men like me,” he thought, bitterly.
If things were different. If Dad treated his family as he did his neighbors. If Mother – he gave the staple he was placing a vicious blow. Confound Kane Holland, falling for a woman like Mother. Didn’t any of them know their ages? One would think they were – he dropped his hammer with the suddenness of thought. Did Kane feel toward Mother as he felt toward June? Absurd! They were old. They had had their day. Irritably, he stooped to recover his hammer. Poised to strike another blow at the staple, he stopped with another thought.
Would his day with June end when they became older? Suppose he should marry her, would he in years to come treat her as Dad treated Mother? This time the blows of the hammer threatened to dislodge the post. Heaven forbid! Better to have an unspoiled dream than a tarnished reality.
June’s parents were still having their day. Even the most casual observer could be sure of that. It was that quality which made them so attractive. Maybe Mom missed that. Now, maybe she did. As for that, maybe Dad did. Once in a while, with Dad, you caught a glimpse of something. Could it be he had once felt as Bob felt now, strong as an ox with protectiveness, yet quivering with humility? Dad was a mighty decent person, too. He was good looking and popular. Some fellows in his shoes would have been chasers. Vaguely, he wondered if that had anything to do with Dad’s irritation. When he thought of June – he groaned aloud. Why, why did some people, heads of families, get themselves in such messes? One thing was certain, they were messing up his life as well as their own.
“What are you groaning about?” Bob looked around. Carson was standing beside him, and he was in an ill humor. Carson was shorter than Bob and slighter. While resembling his mother in looks, there was none of her quiet reserve about him. Every day he played through the entire emotional scale, and no one could predict what particular note he would strike at any given time.
“It’s time you were showing up,” Bob told him. “Dad is on the war path. Where have you been?”
“None of your business,” Carson answered shortly. “I am old enough to take care of myself.”
Bob sniffed. “It doesn’t smell like it.”
“And what are you going to do about it? If I want to smoke, I will. Semples are top people, I’ll have you know.”
“Yeah.” Picking up his discarded hammer, Carson banged furiously at an unoffending post. “And I mean yes. At least the atmosphere in their home doesn’t pickle you. They are fun.”
“Catch hold with your pliers. Now, pull. If they are such fun, why are you always cross after you have been there?”
Carson didn’t answer, but when they were picking up their tools preparatory to leaving, he said:
“I can’t stand an undercurrent nagging at me all the time. Why don’t they fight and get it out of their systems? If I am ever crazy enough to marry – ”
“Better get a strong willed gal,” Bob interrupted, “or you will be worse than Dad. At that, you will probably fight.”
“How about a sweet one who can twist me to her will?”
Bob, in the act of swinging into his saddle, stopped in alarm. “Listen, Kid, you stay away from that outfit. They are fun but –”
“Horsefeathers,” Carson snorted, “and don’t kid me. I am only two years younger than you. Let’s have a swim.”
Leaving their horses, they walked to the bank of the river two or three hundred yards away. The river, at the point they chose, was completely curtained with cottonwood and willows. It was shallow except about a bare, overhanging bluff where, in making a turn, the water had swept a hole. The slightly musty odor of the meadows, mingled with the fragrance of wild roses and tangy willows, was a challenge to their youth. Stripping quickly, they plunged in. The water was cold and slapped at their skin with an invigorating sting.
Later, as they were dressing, Carson said, “This is certainly a secluded spot. I believe you and I are the only ones to know about it. If I wanted to do any skullduggery, I’d come here for it.”
“The cattle know about it,” Bob indicated. “They probably use this bluff to shade up on. So you can depend on humans knowing it, too.”
Through the quiet came a clear call. “That is Mrs. Semple,” Carson said, in a burst of confidence. “You know, sometimes I think she isn’t so keen about being her brother’s housekeeper. He is a sort of jolly fellow; yet, I notice they all jump to his tune. This spot is on his land. I hope they haven’t discovered it.”
Later, as they walked their horses along the line fence, Carson returned to his original subject. “You needn’t worry about me and Garden. I’m leaving.
“Leaving? Where are you going?”
“Anywhere I can get a job. I am going to try the Cross Line outfit. They hire new men, now and again.”
“Dad would not let you go.”
“Until I get a job I shan’t tell him, and neither will you,” he added emphatically. “If I get it, he can whistle.”
“What about school?”
“Yeah, I know; but I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to be on my own.”
Bob did not answer. He knew without putting it in words that Carson was growing up. He was full of contradictory desires and emotions. He had to do something or go some place to test his own powers. What he needed was something strong to tie to. If he had that, going to school would probably satisfy him.
“Watch your step,” he warned, “you don’t want to live with regrets.” Then as they crossed West Fork above its junction with the river, he added, “I am going to the Elkhorn on an errand for Mother.”
“For Mother, huh? That’s a new one. Watch your step, Little Boy. You are inexperienced.”
“Go to grass.”
Bob turned his horse, and as he loped easily along the grass-covered road he found himself keenly anticipating what lay ahead. He had been wanting to do this ever since the Elkhorn had changed hands. The Straughns were the type of people he and his were going to be – if there ever were any “his” – the kind his own Dad and Mother should be.
The river was low where he crossed, but it reached the bay’s knees at that. Only then did Bob notice the figure, sitting astride her horse, watching.