Cathedral of Peace
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
CAROLYN EVANS in her early married life had parked her mind beside the highway of life. Now, in middle years, she suddenly realizes her husband
TURNER EVANS has gone on and is almost out of sight. Despairing of ever overtaking him, she has thought half-seriously of
KANE HOLLAND and divorce, thinking that would solve her problem. She sounds out her son
BOB EVANS on the subject, and he comes back with “– good grief, Mother, be your age.” She had counted on her eldest son to understand, but she was not so certain of her second-born
CARSON who, while resembling his mother in looks, had none of her quiet reserve; no one could ever predict what particular note he would strike at any given time.
On the morning the story opens, Turner had refused to take Carolyn with him to a convention at Crystal springs. Hurt and bewildered, she had fled to her Cathedral of peace, a cottonwood grove in the lower pasture of the ranch. To her there comes Kane Holland, indignant for her and offering her a way out. Shocked, she leaves quickly. On the way back to the house she meets Bob. Bob is in love with June Straughn but will make no advances to her because of the condition of their home.
Bob’s inference that his mother is a doormat arouses Carolyn’s determination to do something about her situation. divorce or not, Bob would never have occasion to speak to her in such a manner again. She will accept the opportunity recently offered by Mrs. Straughn and asks Bob to drive over to the Elkhorn to tell her as much.
Turner Evans, irritated by the ever widening breach between himself and Carolyn and baffled over a solution, releases his feelings by a curt manner toward Bob. He orders him to locate Carson who had been sent hours before to repair the east-line fence. Carson is in ill humor and confides in Bob that he is tired of conditions at home and is leaving. “Watch your step,” warns Bob and turns his horse toward the Elkhorn to deliver his mother’s message. As he crosses the river, he notices a figure sitting astride her horse, watching.
As Bob’s horse splashed noisily out of the stream, he noticed a girl on the bank. She also was astride a horse.
“I am glad you came across there,” she called gaily. “I have been wanting to cross there but wasn’t sure of the depth.”
“It’s safe,” he answered, embarrassed by the unexpectedness of her. “Earlier,” he added, “it is dangerous if you don’t know the stream, but not for long.”
The girl was watching him closely. “You are Bob Evans, aren’t you? I am June Straughn. We live here.” She indicated the meadows and fields.
As if he didn’t know. As if every boy in the valley didn’t know June Straughn by sight. As if in spite of the few times he had seen her, there hadn’t already been a bond forged between them. Yet, he was surprised that she knew him.
“How – how did you know me?”
She laughed, unaffectedly. “Who could miss a man your size? I often see you working or riding. You know our place is slightly higher, so I can look down on you – literally, I mean.”
A quick fear checked the warm glow that was rapidly engulfing Bob. He opened his lips to speak again, but his tongue was tied. He thought angrily, “Why can’t I be free and easy as she is? Why don’t I tell her I have been living for this minute, that having had this minute I shall never be the same.”
She noticed the warm color that spread over his face and neck. “He is perfectly lovable when he blushes,” she thought. Aloud she said, “I’ve ridden over most of the ranch, but I haven’t crossed the river. Is that the only ford?”
In some ways she was like Garden Semple. Garden could quickly put one at his ease, as this girl could; but there was such a difference. This girl’s gray eyes were frank and shining. There was no deviousness in them. She spoke naturally and not for effect. The clearness of her countenance came from lack of clouding experiences. Life to her was clean and sweet and fine. Bob’s chest swelled.
“I have asked you three times if this was the only ford?” she was frankly puzzled.
“I – I was thinking of something,” he offered as an apology. “Did you want to cross?
“Perhaps. The land over there doesn’t belong to the Elkhorn, does it?”
“No. That is ours, except farther up.”
“I was just riding,” she volunteered when he did not go on. “It is a little lonesome here. I have never lived where distances were so magnificent. It sort of destroys the feeling that you have neighbors. People seem,” she hesitated slightly, “well, they seem a little unfriendly.”
“They are afraid of you.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. She started to laugh, but the laugh ended in a sigh. “Am I that awful?”
“You are perfect.” The moment the words left his lips he blushed again at his own boldness. Who was he to say such things to her!
“Thank you. I hope I have not been snooty. I had no intention of it. am I keeping you?”
“No. This isn’t the only ford. In fact, it isn’t a ford at all, any more than a dozen other places. There is one farther down. Want to see it?”
“I’d love to, if you have time.”
Just then, he had all the time there was. He had quite forgotten the yearlings that were to be moved. Blissfully conscious of the moment, he turned his horse east. They crossed a field belonging to the Elkhorn, and opening a gate, went through it onto a narrow dirt road. They followed it south as it rambled along near the foothills; then it turned sharply to the west and toward the river. “Who lives here?” she asked indicating two small ranches, one on either side of the road.
“On the left is Dave Gorton. He is a young fellow only a year or two older than I. He is trying hard to get on his feet.”
“And on the right?”
“That’s Semple’s. The ranch belongs to Jed Taylor. Mrs. Semple is his sister.” His tone closed the subject.
Then the road twisted through trees and willows and met the river only a short distance below where he and Carson had gone swimming.
“It crosses here and goes over to meet the highway. The road, I mean,” he explained. “Here’s the ford. The water isn’t deep, but the bottom of the stream is quite rocky. Don’t you go this way to town?” he asked.
“No. We go north over the bridge.”
She pulled sharply at her horse’s reins to turn him close to Bob’s horse. As she did so, the pony stepped on a loose rock and slipped. Instantly, Bob reached out and caught her with one arm. At once the horse regained his footing, but the touch of her body stayed with Bob. Emotions, new and exciting, surged through him, blinding him to everything except one fact – here was his world, here was the sum of his hours and his days, the reason for effort.
“What a beautiful lane,” she said, breathing quickly, alive to the tantalizing odors and sounds of a virgin spot. The road pushed back the undergrowth for them to pass. “I love the fragrance of wild roses, don’t you?”
For answer he turned his horse and, leaning, broke a spray that had on it four large blossoms. He handed it to her without speaking, and without speaking she accepted it.
“This is our line,” he said a moment later, pointing to where he and Carson had been fixing the fence. He was trying to think coherently. “See the cottonwood grove up there? The big one? We call that Mother’s. She goes there often.”
Her voice dropped to such a flat note Bob’s eyes turned from her. Just getting on his horse after fastening the gate was Carson; near, already in the saddle, was Turner Evans. He was watching their approach.
Instantly, Bob squared his shoulders. He had forgotten about the steers. This was a choice chance for Dad to show off. If he even as much as tried to get nasty – miserably the boy realized he could do nothing about it. He could not even turn about and avoid an encounter. It was too late for that.
“Hi, June,” Carson called with easy familiarity as he caught sight of them.
“Hello.” She waved in answer as they neared the gate.
“This,” Carson indicated the man on the horse, “is Dad. Know him?”
Bob swallowed. How did Carson get that way. Nothing daunted him. Then his father spoke, and warm drops of moisture rolled down Bob’s face in relief.
“Miss Straughn.” Turner had raised his hat. “I believe I met you one day, in town. You were with your father.”
“I remember now. For the moment I had forgotten. Bob didn’t tell me you were his father. I might have known. You look so much alike.”
Bob was so relieved he failed to hear what else was said. He glowed with pride in his father. No wonder he went over so big with people. And here he had been expecting to be told off about the yearlings. Half in a daze, he watched the two ride off through the pasture.
“Don’t forget the errand,” Carson called back.
“What did he mean?” June asked when the two had disappeared in the trees.
“Huh? Oh, I had a message for your mother.”
“Shall we go back?”
Reluctantly, Bob turned his horse. They started back the way they had come.
“Your father is very capable, isn’t he,” June stated rather than asked. “Daddy thinks so. He is going to talk at the Convention isn’t he? Are you going to hear him? I think I shall go up for the second day’s meetings. Dad thinks it will do me good to get in on some of the discussions. The idea is to win more sympathy for some of his problems. I suppose you will go?”
Bob did not answer. For a moment he was happy in the thought of his father; then immediately he was conscious of sharp resentment. Why wasn’t he going to hear his father? Come to think of it, he could if he wanted, except that he was supposed to look after the place. But Mother should be going. More to turn his own thoughts than for any other reason, he said, “I didn’t know you knew Carson.”
They were emerging from the shadows of the trees, and he could see her face. Some of the light had gone from it.
“Didn’t he tell you? I met him several weeks ago, one day after church when we were waiting for our fathers. He’s charming.”
When they were again above the river, she looked about at the valley that now lay in shadow, at the hills where the light still lingered.
“Some time before the hills get dry we will ride through them,” the boy said, after a prolonged silence. “In the winter we ski down that slope.” He pointed.
“Grand! But then I shan’t be here, very likely.”
“No here!” he echoed in alarm. “Why?”
“School. However, Dad says I can’t go unless Mother gets better help. There are so many of us and so much to be done.”
“Do you want to go?” How could she want to leave now that they had met?
“Well, you see, I just have one more year. Besides there is – there are my friends.”
“One in particular?”
She nodded, slowly.
The magic of the evening had gone. They left their horses in the yard, and as they went up the walk to the Elkhorn ranch house Bob felt, as he had earlier in the evening, the power of strength and humility. An absent friend needn’t count. When people were meant for each other nothing else counted. The door ahead was open, and there was a light on in the room. Mrs. Straughn was in a low rocker with her baby on her lap. As they approached, Bob saw Mr. Straughn stoop to take the child. In the act of lifting him, he turned and placed a lingering kiss on his wife’s upturned face.
Bob stopped short. He glanced at June, but she was composedly opening the screen. To her there was nothing unusual about the scene. Bob was profoundly moved, not by the act alone but what it stood for – the connotation of love and peace and unity within.
The magic of it stayed with the boy – the magic and the tragedy. For he vowed in his idealistic but short-sighted way that he would never ask a girl from such a home to marry him. Her disappointment in his people would be too great for him to bear, and it would not be fair to her. She was one kind, and he was another. Instead of bringing finality and peace with it the decision set him apart in world by himself, a world of aching indefinable longing and unrest. Instead of going home he turned his horse to the hills. He wanted to be alone with his bitter-sweet ecstasy. Once there came to him the vision of his father there by the gate. Nothing was lacking there. Dad had been all one could hope for. There was less difference in their fathers than in their mothers. Mothers were the ones who made homes and dealt with – with sons’ wives.
On returning home, he went in through the kitchen door. He turned on the light and explored the ice box.
“Is that you, Bob?”
“Yeah.” Then he thought suddenly, “What is Dad doing in that room?”
The living room ran the width of the house across the front. Back of it, on the north side, were the dining room and kitchen. The south part was divided into two bedrooms, with a connecting door. The larger one was the parents’ room. The smaller one opened off the kitchen; in it all the boys had slept until they were old enough to be moved upstairs. Startled, Bob looked up and saw his father standing in the door of that room.
“Where have you been?”
Turner seemed to be hunting for words. “I want you to watch the timothy in the upper field. You might have to start mowing before I get back.”
“You going tomorrow?”
“No, the day after.” He turned, then hesitated. “I like to see you with such girls.” He closed the door behind him.
Bob considered. Dad stayed awake to let him know he approved. Good old Dad! Then abruptly, he lost his taste for food. Why was he sleeping in that room? He went upstairs and with each step he grew more angry. Such people! Was this a result of the fuss they’d had this morning? Little things, unnoticed before, came to his remembrance. This might have been going on for years for all he knew. The scrap that morning hadn’t been anything unusual. Mother was pretty stubborn when she made up her mind.
He undressed and in bed tried to sleep, but his eyes refused to close. Mother’s talk to him this morning began to take on sinister meaning. Perhaps she was justified in wanting to leave. Maybe it was too late to remedy the situation. Maybe she was in love with Kane. He groaned aloud.
“For cripes sake,” Denis called from the next room. “Quit threshing around and go to sleep. You’d wake the dead.”
Denis was the thirteen-year-old. He was small and puny and a light sleeper. Bob forced himself to lie quiet. After interminable hours, he fell into a fitful sleep.
The next day Bob watched his parents furtively. There was nothing different about their attitudes toward each other. The knowledge brought a follow feeling into the pit of his stomach. So it was serious, serious enough that a fellow wouldn’t dare ask a girl to go steady, even. Marriage was inconceivable. One had to give something in return. A girl like June would expect a great deal in return, not a background of divorce.
When his father drove away to the annual Stock Growers Convention, Bob watched him with a bitterness of spirit that took many months and many events to completely eradicate. Why should he be going alone when other men were taking their families – anyway their wives. As on the previous morning, he watched his mother, and now he saw a fine, white line about her mouth. So, she did care. She could be caring about a whole flock of things of which he knew nothing. He looked at her in sudden comparison with other women he knew would be there. Not so good! Dad was proud, and he looked plenty good.
“What has come over me?” he thought. “Mother is top line.” Then again he thought, boldly this time, “She could still be Mother and be a little different.” It was confusing and discouraging.
The second day of the convention the Evans family sat at their noon-day meal. the radio was on, for Denis wanted to hear the news. Suddenly Bob was galvanized into instant attention.
“– special announcement of local interest. Yesterday we told you of the splendid address given by T.L. Evans before the State Stock Growers Association. This morning Mr. Evans was elected president of the association by an overwhelming majority. Mr. Evans, who is a very successful stock grower, is here; we are going to ask him to say a few words.”
“That’s my Daddy,” Jerry cried, as her father’s voice came into the room.
“I want to hear him. I want to hear him.” With a clatter, Judy thrust her dinner aside and with hands against the table pushed her chair back. But Jerry was at the radio before her.
“Quiet,” Denis demanded. “I want to hear what he says.”
“President, eh?” Carson beamed. “That’s my Dad. I’ll tell the world he is going places.”
Carolyn had picked up a dish and hurried to the kitchen. Bob kept his eyes on his plate. He didn’t want anyone to see the misery in them.