Cathedral of Peace
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
CAROLYN EVANS in her early married life had parked her mind by the highway of Life. Now in middle years, she suddenly realizes her husband,
TURNER EVANS, has gone ahead and is almost out of sight. Despairing of ever overtaking him, she has thought half seriously of divorce as a solution to her problem. She sounds out her son,
BOB EVANS, who comes back with, “Good grief, Mother, be your age.” She had counted on him to understand; but she was not sure of her second-born,
CARSON EVANS, who is fiery and hard to handle and who is ready to leave home because of unpleasant conditions.
On the morning the story opens, Turner has refused to take Carolyn with him to a convention at Crystal Springs. Hurt and bewildered, she flees to her CATHEDRAL OF PEACE, a cottonwood grove in the lower pasture of the ranch. To her comes Kane Holland, indignant for her and offering her a way out. On the way back to the ranch house she meets Bob, who infers she is a doormat because she allows Turner to treat her as he does. Determined to do something about the situation, she accepts a position in Relief Society and resolves to use every opportunity it offers both for social and mental development.
Chapter four opens with her telling Turner she wants the horse and buggy to make some calls. He tries to frighten her into submitting to his will. For the first time in years she stands pat.
With his twin daughters clinging to his arms, he presumably goes to harness the horse. Watching, Carolyn wonders why she has been afraid of him. The fear, she decides, is entirely within herself. When her work is done and she is dressed to make her calls, she discovers Turner, the twins and the buggy are gone. Goaded to bitter resentment, she walks to make her calls. “From now on, Turner Evans,” she tells herself bitterly, “I am making a life of my own. You have hurt me for the last time.”
Coming through the lower pasture, Bob discovers two calves are gone. He suspects Carson has sold them. He tells his father they are gone but does not tell him his suspicions. Turner thinks the gate has been left open through carelessness, so he wires it closed. When she returns, Carolyn has to crawl through the fence. Thinking Turner has done it for spite, she decides on drastic action.
Bob was worried, more than he dared admit to anyone. He could not tell his father his suspicions lest he precipitate a crisis. He dared not question Carson too closely for fear of putting him on his guard. After work one evening he saddled his horse.
“Where are you going?” Carson asked, as he passed him on his way to the house.
“I suspicioned that. Want me to go along?”
“No.” Bob hesitated, then turned and faced him. “Those calves couldn’t go through that gate unless someone opened it for them. It was closed when I found it.”
“I beat you to that conclusion,” Carson answered, readily enough. “I’ve been wondering how Dad is taking it; he doesn’t say anything. Is he hunting thief or girl?”
“I thought so.”
As Bob rode away he thought, “If Carson is in this, he hides it mighty well. But a stranger couldn’t do it alone. Oh, it is possible but highly improbably. That lane is crooked, and there are no houses about.”
Instead of turning his horse toward the bottoms, he headed east toward the Elkhorn. Even if he knew he could never be intimate with June Straughn, he reasoned inconsistently, that didn’t mean he had to avoid her.
As the horse splashed through the river, he looked toward the Straughn home. Should he go up? It was never amiss to be neighborly. Mother never neighbored, so someone should do it. As he hesitated, he caught a glimpse of a horse and rider out on the road. His pulse quickened, and he lifted the reins. They took the field in a high hope. Near where the road turned west, he overtook her. At the sound of his approach, she turned in the saddle.
“Hello,” she called, and the unrest that was on her face was instantly dispelled.
“Are you going my way?”
“That depends.” Then she laughed. “It seems we are headed in the same direction.”
“I am riding fence.”
At his embarrassment she laughed outright. “You are not good at subterfuge. Confess now. You came out here hoping to meet me. It is written all over you.”
He stammered, trying to find words.
She laughed again, softly this time, and reining close said, “Never mind. I did the same.”
The distant gurgling of water, the droning of insects became a refrain that sang through his blood.
“You are honest and clear-sighted,” were the simple words he answered, but they carried a meaning wide and inclusive. After that they talked a great deal and said little. Their laughter came easily.
At the ford in the river he remembered the fence and the calves, and the remembering was like a plunge in cold water. He’d forgotten who he was and who she was, and the miserable business that was dictating his movements.
“I should ride up this fence,” he said, frowning at the quivering ribbon of water.
She was quick to catch the change in him, and her hopes fell. “It seems to me you have plenty of trouble with that strip of fence.”
“We are not sure it is the fence. It might be the gate.” Then he asked, “Why did you say that? Has someone said something to you about it?”
“I was riding this way not long ago when I met Carson. He was driving a calf. He said it must have crawled through the fence. I helped him drive it back.”
Bob’s face was impassive. What she had just said could be proof of either one of two things. He had to find which one. He made no answer.
“I suppose your family is going to the ward reunion?” June ventured at length, trying to break his abstraction.
“Huh? yes, I suppose so. Oh, certainly. Mother is building great hopes on it. She hasn’t been to anything similar for a long time.”
She waited for him to go on. There was to be a program with a dance following. All the girls were going with dates. Every effort was being made to make it an outstanding event in order to set the pace for the season’s work. When he did not pursue the subject, she tossed her head.
“I’ll ride on.” She lifted her reins. Her horse whirled.
“But I thought we were riding through the hills?” His horse sprang to catch up with hers.
“I’m afraid not tonight.”
“Wait. I’m riding home with you, at least.”
After he had left her and turned into his own field, he wondered bitterly if this was the way life had come to him. She had expected him to ask her to go to the dance. “I can’t start it,” he groaned miserably, not realizing he had already done that.
On a particular morning not long after Carolyn had torn her dress on the fence, she sat at the breakfast table and listened to the men’s discussion of the day’s work. Someone had to go to town, and she hoped it would be Bob. What she was going to do would be easier with him than with Turner; but her husband decided to go.
“I am going to town with you,” she said, when she saw him making preparations to leave.
“Going to town?” he demanded in surprise. “Why?”
“I need to,” she answered shortly, then added, “Don’t go without me.” The last was to fortify her own resolution.
“Oh, goody,” Judy cried, “we are going to town.”
“Goody,” Jerry echoed, “we are going to town.”
Carolyn stopped short in dismay. “But you can’t, babies, Mother isn’t going to have time for you.”
“Just what,” her husband wanted to know, “are you doing of such importance that you haven’t time for them?”
“Any number of things. I haven’t time to explain. They can stay with Denis.”
The twins fled to their father for comfort. “I don’t see –,” he began, but Carolyn cut him short.
“I am not taking them.” She went to dress.
“Whew,” Denis whistled. “What has happened to Mom?”
“Wash them,” his father told him, indicating the girls, “and get them dressed. I will take them with me.”
Denis wanted to protest, but he thought better of it. Since he was not strong, he often was left to help his mother, so he was familiar with the procedure.
“Come on,” he commanded them. “Old tease cats. Always get your own way. Dad always spoils you.”
“You be nice to us,” Judy demanded. Her twin added, “We shan’t go with you ‘til you are nice.”
“Oh, for cripe sake.” He made a dive and caught one in each hand. The girls howled on general principles.
“Do you want to go with me?” their father demanded sternly.
“Yes,” they weakened.
“Better be ready when Mother is. She might decide you are to stay here.”
That settled it. They romped away, each determined to be first. Denis walked after them a little slowly. What was happening around here? Dad didn’t usually quote Mother.
When Carolyn came from her room ready to go, she was met by the twins, clean and resplendent in their best. She looked from them to Turner and decided a protest was not worth the effort.
All the way to town she had to reinforce her courage with memories. Hope and indignation, that had burned so brightly yesterday, had dimmed to a barely perceptible glimmer. It would be so much easier to ignore issues – so much easier, but there would never again be any satisfaction or content that way. For Bob’s sake as well as her own she had to try.
When they stopped in the parking lot, she got out of the car, then hesitated. Turner, pretending not to notice, helped the twins out.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked, when he had locked the car and she was still there.
“Money.” Never was a word born of such reluctance.
“What are you going to buy?”
“Mighty secretive all of a sudden, aren’t you?”
She set her lips stubbornly. Instead of walking away as he would formerly have done, he waited.
“Tell me what you want to do with it, and I will give you some.”
Carolyn did not answer. Her eyes narrowed. With quickening breath she turned away.
“Wait, I want to go with you,” Jerry cried.
“You are not going with me.”
At their mother’s harsh tone, the twins turned to their father. Turner whistled softly. Something was happening to her lately. He should go after her and give her some money. She didn’t ask very often. He couldn’t see her now; if she wanted some very badly she would come back. With a twinge of remorse, he remembered she would not.
Meanwhile Carolyn had hurried down the street. She was no longer afraid. Anger, humiliation and determination had completely submerged her fear. She made her way quickly to the general mercantile store where Turner did his business. It was the best the small town afforded. She knew she must work quickly before her anger left her. She went to the second floor and made her way to the women’s ready-to-wear. To the clerk’s inquiry, she said, “I want a number of things, but first I want to know if I may have my purchases put on an account. Mr. Evans will pay for them later.” (He will have to.)
“I think that will be all right,” the clerk answered, “but I will ask the manager. Just a moment, please.”
Carolyn’s heart pounded suffocatingly while she waited. If they refused her, she would die of humiliation, and she would never try again. Night after night she had lain awake thinking, searching, planning. If Turner were through with her, she had to make a life of her own. Bob had said she hadn’t kept up. They had pushed her past her limit. She had helped Turner get what he had. Getting some clothes out of it was her first cry for freedom. The first must be good, too, for there might not be a second.
“What as it you wanted?’ The manager was at her side, smiling encouragement.
“Clothes.” She tried to control the panic in her voice. “I haven’t any money.”
“That is easily remedied,” the man smiled broadly. “Mr. Evans’ credit is good for anything you want. We are happy to serve you, Mrs. Evans.”
It was that easy. Carolyn almost slumped in relief. She must have known, subconsciously, that it would be. Turner had always been very careful of his credit. Without that fact her battle would have been harder. But in any case there would have been a battle, and she wasn’t going to do anything they could not well afford. If Turner could stay at expensive hotels when he went away, she could do this.
No dress pleased her. She tried on any number of styles. The effect was not what she wanted. She was still drab Carolyn Evans. Sensing her desire, the clerk decided to say something she had always wanted to say every time she looked at Mrs. Evans.
“Don’t you think if you selected the other things first you would be better satisfied?”
“Shoes, for one thing. They always do something for a dress. Then there is your hair.”
Carolyn turned to the mirror. She looked at herself full length. For the first time in years she really saw herself. She had one thing in her favor – that was her figure. She was trim and slender. “From outdoor work,” she whispered mentally. Her hair hung long on her neck, the ends rough and broken. A bobby-pin or two held it back from her face.
“Tell me,” she said, “anything you like.”
The clerk told her plenty. They consulted a beauty operator on the same floor. She advised against a permanent. “Your hair has a little natural wave,” she said, after various things had been discussed. “Let me shampoo it, and then we shall see.”
When Carolyn next looked at herself in the mirror, she caught her breath in fright, which turned quickly to elation. Surely, surely this was not Carolyn Evans. Her hair had been shampooed and brushed into a shining crown. It lay back from her face in soft, fluffy waves and was caught into a loose knot at the back. It lifted her features from commonplace to distinction. Her figure was straight and trim. To the clerk’s intense disappointment, she refused to wear the new clothes.
“Send them all to the transfer desk,” Carolyn told her. “I will pick them up later. I want a few other things.” She went away to look at house dresses.
“It is time she decided to do something about herself,” the clerk told the cashier. “She has always looked like her husband’s step-sister, or something.”
“I have heard he is close with his family,” the cashier said.
“Close nothing. It is her carelessness. I wonder how she avoids bulges.”
When Carolyn finally called for her packages, the girl at the desk said, “Your husband took them, Mrs. Evans. He said he would wait in the car.”
“Now I am in for it,” she thought, as she started for the parking lot. Turner hated to be kept waiting. The day had slipped by so quickly. To her astonishment, she found she didn’t care what he thought. This act of freedom had done something to her.
As she approached the car, Judy called, “What made you so long? We had dinner.”
“An’ we had ice cream, and a man Daddy knows gave us some candy.”
Carolyn glanced at the back seat. Surely all those bundles were not hers. Her glance went over the twins. They had eaten, but they were immaculate. Turner would see to that.
“Get in the back,” she said, in answer to their questions.
“No,” Jerry answered with assurance, “we always ride with Daddy.”
But for once their beloved Daddy failed to grant their wish. He watched in silence as Carolyn transferred them and took her place beside him. She hadn’t done that for a long time.
Carolyn wasn’t conscious that she had done it. She had simply reverted to an old habit. In her absorption, she had failed to remember she was an unwanted wife. She even failed to wonder what her husband was thinking about it all. She had no way of knowing it, but her attitude had won her first bout.
They were on the highway headed toward home before Turner spoke. Then he indicated the back of the car.
“Who’s wild idea was that?”
“Isn’t it possible for me to have an idea?”
“I wouldn’t know.” He borrowed a phrase from the boys. That was all – no recriminations, no sarcasm.
“He is sorry about the money,” she thought, jarred back to the present. “He wouldn’t want anyone to know that about him. But I know, and I am through. He will never hurt me again.”
She found to her secret alarm that she wasn’t concerned over hurts. She felt good. She felt at peace. How could that be when one of the biggest battles of her life was in the process of being fought? Had the new clothes done it, or, the thought came suddenly, was it that she had again become a person? Three times today clerks had praised her looks and her figure. She straightened her shoulders. By the time they had turned into the valley her spirits had risen to the point where she could ask casually:
“Are you going to the party tomorrow night?”
“What party?” he asked, as if glad of an excuse to talk.
“The ward reunion. You know very well. We have discussed nothing else for a month.”
“What would be the use?” he wanted to know. “We haven’t been to a dance for so long we would not know how to act.”
A wry smile twisted Carolyn’s mouth. “I wouldn’t know how, you mean. I’ll learn.” Then she remembered Bob was taking Lucile Semple. She sighed.
“Why are you sighing?” He was finding this ride stimulating. Carolyn was different. She looked the same, except she had done something to her hair; and yet she was wholly different. He smothered an impulse to reach out and touch her.
“Bob is taking Lucile Semple.”
The twins, worn out by their day, were asleep. Turner’s brows drew together in anger. Then disappointment took the edge off it, and he drove for some distance in silence.
“I’ve been seeing him with the Straughn girl. I thought he liked her pretty well.”
“He does, but Joe Colts is taking her.”
“Joe Colts! What is the matter with that boy? I didn’t think he was that slow.”
Carolyn did not answer, but in the silence her spirit and his met on common ground. A comforting unity welded them again into husband and wife, concerned in a common cause. She wondered what would happen to that common cause when they were separated. Turner spoke again.
“He had better stay clear of that bunch. They are not the type for him. Lucile Semple! When any girl in the valley would be happy to go with him! Where’s his backbone?”
That destroyed completely the peace that had enfolded her. He was so harsh with Bob. He kept driving, driving at him all the time over everything.
“Please, Turner,” she pleaded, “don’t say anything to him about it.”
“Certainly I shall,” he exploded. “The idea of him shaming June by going with a girl like Lucile. If he hadn’t been paying her attentions it would be different.”
When she arrived home, Carolyn refused to let her family see her purchases. “You will see them later,” was all the satisfaction she gave them.