Cathedral of Peace
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
Staggering slightly, Carolyn went out of the yard, over the uncertain footbridge across West Fork, into the shadows of the bottoms. Oblivious to brush and undergrowth she walked woodenly on, her body one dull point of pain. At the Cathedral she stopped. stiffly, she sat down upon the fallen log. The shadows deepened. Still she did not move. Then an orange moon rose and tried to pierce the gloom that surrounded her.
“There is only one thing left to do.”
The words spoken into the night startled her with their boldness. Rising, she went out of the field and across the highway to the home of Kane Holland. At last she was ready to listen to him.
Coming toward the house from a field, Kane saw her. He saw her coming up the walk, and even in the moonlight her face was a white spot. His heart leaped. For one moment he stopped and drew a deep breath. Then he hurried to meet her at his front door steps.
“Carolyn. What is it?” He took her arm and steered her to a seat on the wide porch.
“I – I’ve left.” The words struggled past stiff lips.
“No, Carolyn. You are upset.”
“I have left,” she reiterated. “I have come to you.”
Presently, out of a long silence, he asked, “What happened? Tell me if you can. It will help you.”
She turned and looked at him. “Did you ask me something?”
“What happened? Why did you leave?”
“Carson. He drove him away. He is gone – forever.”
“Where did he go?”
“To the Cross Line, on Cow Creek.”
Again there was a long silence. Kane sat upon the step below her. He looked out over the valley. The Cathedral was spectral in the moonlight.
“Carolyn,” he said at length, “you cannot come to me. You still love Turner.”
“I hate him.” Her voice was low and flat.
“Are you sure?”
“I am very sure.”
Again Kane looked away. His hands, between his knees, were clinched to grayness. For years he had waited and hoped for this chance, and now that it had come it was empty. It had to be empty, for last night he had seen something.
“I watched you last night,” he said slowly. “I saw Turner hold you in his arms. I saw the light that flooded your face. Then I knew.”
“Knew that divorce is not your answer; knew that in your secret heart you are happy to belong to him. That is as it should be. You like me. I am comfortable. I am soothing. I have helped to sustain your ego.”
“Kane! What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, except that you belong to Turner and your place is with him. Was he much concerned over the boy leaving?”
“He was stunned, but still he made no move to call him back.”
“Did you try to help him, to comfort him?”
“Comfort him! No. He is a man. Carson is his son.”
“Come sit by me.”
When she was sitting on the step, he took one of her hands in both of his and looked at it a long time. When he spoke, the words came slowly but firmly.
“For years I have watched you and your family. I have dreamed of doing the things for you that Turner doesn’t do. I have been deeply grateful for the confidence of your boys. But what I want is impossible. You cannot turn back the pages of time, nor can you tear them from your life. The things I have wanted most belong to another man and always will, even though I reach out and take them. A comfortable substitute is the best I could ever be.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Turner is still the man in your life. Without him you would be lost.”
“No. that isn’t so.”
“But it is. You are both on strange paths, and it will be hard to find your way back. A great deal of this is your fault.”
“Yes. You haven’t kept up with him. He is progressive and proud. There is no excuse for you, his wife, being as you are. You create a sense of futility and failure within him.”
“I am the same woman he married.” Bitterly.
“No, I think not. I heard him say once that a man marries a woman not alone for what she is but for what she may become. If that part of the dream isn’t realized, something is lost, especially for a man of Turner’s ability. He was so proud of you last night. So proud – No,” as she would have spoken, “it wasn’t just the clothes. It was what the clothes and attention did to you. His love is still there. If you are willing to work you will find it.”
“It isn’t worth the effort.”
“You thought so once. The future of your children depends on it. I suspect that to hold Carson you must conquer the condition in your home.”
“The future of my children is already ruined, just as their past has been.”
“You are unforgiving, aren’t you?”
“Kane, how can you talk so to me?” Long repressed sobs burst through her wall of restraint – quiet, hopeless sobs that tore at the heart of the man beside her. He stared unseeing before him. He had to do this. All day he had been facing it. If she came to him, she must come wholeheartedly, leaving nothing behind.
“You are mild,” he continued, at length. “You have no idea how hard it is to control a temper like Turner’s. You haven’t helped him control it.”
“In other words I have been a failure.”
“To that extent, yes. Yet, you have loved the very quality in him that shows itself in temper. You are slow to make decisions, but once having decided you do not change. Your job now is to pick up the pieces of the home that the two of you have wrecked.”
“Suppose I don’t want to pick them up.”
For a moment hope flared. “When you know certainly, come back. The decision rests with you. When you have decided, you will know what to do about Carson. Come.”
He stood up. Taking her hand, he led her back through the gate, through the cottonwoods to where they could see the ranch. He pointed to the light that shone from a window.
“Turner is there. Go to him – but remember it will not be easy.”
He was gone, back the way they had come, but only to the shadow of the trees. There he stopped and watched.
Bewildered, frightened, Carolyn walked slowly toward the house. She could not go to Turner. She couldn’t! She was nearly home when she turned and suddenly started back. Before long her feet lagged uncertainly. What should she do? She went on until she reached the grove.
Kane was gone from her life – if he had ever had any part in it. Or was he? that was what she must decide. Did she want to go back to Turner?
On the fallen log she waited for peace to home. But Peace was coy; she wanted to be wooed. the leaves were going now, and more of the sky showed through. From where she sat she could see many stars that out in the open would be hidden by the light of the moon.
“What must I do?” she mourned. “What do I want to do? Turner has failed me. Kane has failed me.” Turner had been proud of her last night. So that was what it took – a few clothes, a little popularity. Were all men that way?
To ease her tired muscles she lay back upon the log and looked up. The grandeur of the night awed her. How could so many, many heavenly bodies pattern celestial windows without bringing chaos and destruction? She had heard it was because they obeyed law. Only when one ran counter to law did it fall into oblivion. She had heard someone say all things went that way.
Something tugged at her consciousness, and she stirred restlessly.
Once as a child she had gone with her father to the hills for wood. They had slept under the stars. She vividly recalled the night and the questions she had asked him. “Which star is Heaven? How do we get there when we die? Did we come from the same star we shall go back to? If we were in heaven before we were born, why didn’t we stay there?” All these things she remembered asking, but she remembered only one answer: “We came into this existence to progress. All the heaven we need worry about is the one we create here and now, for ourselves.”
A great heaven she had created! She had – she had created. She sat up suddenly; then more suddenly, thoughts and feelings that before had been refused life rushed through her. Harmony in the universe came in obedience to law.
Gradually out of a multitude of thoughts and memories some returned again and again: Turner trying to get her to read, Turner urging her to go with him, her vague and shifting interest when he tried to discuss his affairs with her, her constantly increasing absorption in details of housekeeping, her “I don’t know” or “I haven’t noticed” when Turner called her attention to things of current interest, less and less conversation, more and more hurts, less thinking through and less effort to adjust, more coming here.
“Why,” she cried in self-revelation, “I have been coming here not for peace but to escape reality. While I have been hiding here, Turner has been going on.”
The spot, secluded and quiet, was a symbol of what had been going on in her mind. Here, within a few hundred yards of a state highway, she had been completely alone, completely isolated. In the midst of life she had walked unseeing. In the midst of battle she had refused the good fight. With her mind entirely on herself she had not for many years given a passing thought to Turner’s ambitions. The doors of her inner Cathedral were at last thrown open, and she could see only a void within.
With no clearly conceived plan, with only the feeling that somehow she must do differently, she rose and left behind her Cathedral of Peace.
As she crossed the bridge and saw the light still shining from the window, fear clutched at her. Turner hadn’t changed. He was still a stranger. Could she with her new clothes get his attention? It was one thing to make a decision back in the grove; it was quite another to put that decision into action. With great effort she squared her shoulders. Opening the door, she went in.
Turner was still in a chair, sitting just as he had been. The children were in bed.
He did not answer. With leaden steps she went to stand beside him.
He raised his eyes that were dull with pain. They sharpened.
“Go away,” he said thickly.
“But, Turner. I’m sorry – I – ”
“Go away. I don’t want you around.”
Slowly she turned and went to her own room. As she hesitated at the door, he said, his voice hoarse with grief, “Two more steers disappeared last night while we were away.”
Not until she stood by the unblinded window of her bedroom did the implication of his words reach her. Had he meant Carson had had something to do with their disappearance? “Oh, Turner, how could you?” She stared unseeing into the night. She had failed with her first attempt, but she must try again. Perhaps clothes weren’t going to be so important after all. She had been attractive last night, but Turner was as far from her as ever. Perhaps this – this reformation must come from within. Clothes do not change the inner woman. Maybe, just maybe, she could change her. She would need help, oh, so much help, and all the courage there was; but she knew now that she wanted to go all the way.
She grew restless as the light continued to burn. She undressed and went to bed, but still no sound from the other room. Once she got up and started for the door. She would try again; but with her hand on the knob, she turned back.