Cathedral of Peace
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
After leaving June, Bob swung down the slope and passed close by the Elkhorn feeding lot. He gave it no more than a passing glance, for he had no knowledge of the number of stock supposed to be there. At the river, he followed it south to the bluff. A theory that had been teasing at his consciousness began to take form. Somewhere along here, cattle were being loaded and taken away. The water in the river always dwindled to a mere trickle in the winter time, and that would be frozen over. A truck could be backed up against the bluff for loading. Then, if the truck belonged to some reputable rancher, it could pass up the highway with impunity. Was Carson helping that rancher? Tim had seen him. It didn’t make sense, but he had to know.
As he hurried along he again opened his jacket. The air was definitely warmer. The sky was rapidly darkening with the cloud bank. It was going to snow – a quick blizzard. He could tell by the force of the wind. He was thankful now for the small flashlight he had dropped into his pocket when leaving. By its light, he found fresh droppings on the bluff and fresh tire tracks in the snow of the river-bed. He followed them down to the lane and had started back when he heard the sound of a motor. Quickly he stopped behind a tree and listened. At once headlights blazed in the lane, and a car stopped at the crossing. Then he saw flashlights and heard voices. He recognized one as belonging to Mr. Straughn. Bob slipped quietly from shadow to shadow until he was well away. The thief had blundered this time, and men were on his trail. Bob cut directly across the field toward home. The time to tell his suspicions had come. Carson might be in that truck, and the men following might be able to pick up the trail on the highway – unless the storm beat them. Flakes were already beginning to sting Bob’s face.
“What is it?” Turner asked as the light flashed in his face. “What’s up?”
“Is Carson here?”
“No. Why?” Turner threw the covers from him and reached for his clothes. Before Bob was through with his story he was dressed. As the boy realized his father’s intention, he drew himself to his full height.
“I am going after him, Father,” he said, “I’m younger.”
“Don’t bother me.” Turner was pulling on his overshoes. “You are tired from …”
They faced each other. “I drove him away, and now I am bringing him back – or staying with him.”
“But I could …”
“If we are not here by morning, follow with a sleigh.”
“Dad, it would be suicide to go in the car. There is a blizzard on the way.”
Turner was already striding through the kitchen. Neither noticed that Carolyn had come to the partition doorway and was listening with white, set face.
Turner had difficulty reaching the highway. The snow softened a little, but it was a sinister thaw waiting to catch unwary victims. The highway was slippery, but better. He could make faster time, but he was not deceived. He knew that the snow, now beating so relentlessly against his windshield, was an implacable enemy, and that it had a hundred-to-one chance of winning. Time was the essence of success. If he could reach the Cross Line before the storm stopped his car, he would be safe.
If Gray of the Cross Line were in this, he would not take the stolen animals to town, but to his ranch, where he would hold them until such time that they could be butchered and sold at the mining camps across the border. If he could reach Carson before the law did, if he could keep between Carson and the men that were hunting him! He had no way of knowing whether the other car was ahead of him or behind, or whether it had gone the other way.
Speeding along with the rear end lurching drunkenly, Turner Evans thought bitter thoughts. Life had caught up with him at last. Carson was his. If he had done something for which the law would exact payment, they would all pay; but the fault was his. As head of the family, he should have avoided this situation. He should have been able to work out this problem.
He remembered suddenly the lesson on emotions. Was it fate that had brought it to his attention? He realized as never before the blind, dangerous course they had been pursuing. Emotions must have a legitimate, constructive avenue of expression; deprived of that, they were dynamite. He wondered what was back of Carolyn’s right-about-face. Was she trying to get back upon their old footing? If she were, and were sincere in her efforts, then what? He faced the question honestly, and he did not know. If they could go back to where they had been fifteen years ago, what a heaven that would be! But to go back was impossible. Could they capture enough of the old spirit to make a future together worthwhile – to satisfy this terrible hunger that gnawed so persistently? Again he honestly did not know. A face passed fleetingly before his mind’s eye, but he brushed it aside.
The storm increased. He had not passed anyone, nor had he been overtaken. The road would not be open much longer. The windshield wiper was having more and more trouble keeping the glass clear. His lights cut the swirling darkness just ahead.
Out of the storm curtain a figure loomed suddenly, head bent to the wind. Turner swung desperately at the wheel. The car skidded, swayed, tottered for a breath, and then as if tired from the wild rush, collapsed on its side in a snow bank. There was a moment of oblivion, then Turner became conscious that someone was dragging frantically at him.
“Are you alive? Are you hurt?” The voice brought him back quickly to the present.
“Dad! Dad! Is it you? Dad, speak to me. Are you all right?”
“I – I think so. If you can lift these cushions.”
Very quickly he was out, and they were standing before each other trying to see through the dark and storm.
“Are you hurt?” the boy asked again.
“No, just shaken; but you – how did you get here? Why are you walking?”
For a moment there was no answer; then with a quickly drawn breath that was part sob, the boy reached out and clutched his father.
“Dad, will you believe me?”
“Have I ever doubted your word? I’ve done enough, goodness knows, but that isn’t one of the things.”
“No, you haven’t doubted, but –” then he plunged on, “I didn’t know what I was getting into at first. Yesterday – that is, today, or was it yesterday? – I asked one question too many and was fired.”
“Yes, and then it came over me why Bob had questioned me so closely. I was under suspicion. I had to prove who it was to clear myself. I rode to Semple’s.”
“Semple. Jed Taylor. I might have known.”
“Yes. he has been selling to the Cross Line all winter. Said he had bought the stuff up over the country. Then I remembered a number of things. I waited at the bluff on the river. I told him, when he came, that Gray was afraid of the storm and had sent me to help. He only half believed me, but he had to take me along.”
“And you went with them?”
“Him. What else could I do? I had rushed into the thing without thinking it through. Now all I could do was watch for a chance. Above here, I realized I couldn’t go back to the Cross Line. The truck stuck, and I got out to push. Then, I made a quick duck into the storm.”
“Huh! Any chance of him following you?”
“No, not now. He will be too busy getting rid of evidence.”
After some work, they found a flashlight in the pocket of the car. A hasty but thorough examination showed the impossibility of moving the car.
“We will have to walk.”
Without further words they turned and started back in the direction of home.
“We will have to stick to the highway,” the father said, “it is our only chance of being picked up.” Then as they were trudging along, keeping close together, Turner stopped and spoke sharply, “What is wrong with you?”
“It is my ankle. We – we had a tussle, and I guess I must have turned it.” His voice faded on a note of pain.
Turner shortened his long strides, and set his lips grimly.
“Put your hand on my shoulder,” he said. “It will help take your weight from your foot.”
There was a struggle ahead. The blackness and the storm closed in about them. By feeling, more than by the feeble ray of the flashlight, they kept to the highway. Turner’s head didn’t feel too well, but the hand on his shoulder gave him strength in spite of its heaviness. They would make it somehow. Soon, Carson was slowing perceptibly. Unless they walked fast, they could not keep warm.
At home, after seeing the car roar out of the driveway, Bob turned back to the stable. Taking the most trusty team, he harnessed the horses and hooked them to the bobsleigh. Driving into the yard, he tied them while he went in.
“I have heated some bricks,” his mother told him, when he came into the kitchen. She had known what he would do. “I want you to eat this warm soup while I fill the thermos bottle.”
“I haven’t time. This is a blizzard, and it is getting worse every minu7te.”
“You must eat.” There was no relenting in her voice. “You have been on the go all evening.”
When all was ready, she went with him to the sleigh and watched him gather the reins.
“There will be three of you gone.”
“We will be back. If they reach the ranch, they will stay there.”
“And if …” she stopped. He finished her thoughts in his own mind, “they have been caught.” Aloud he said, “Go in, Mother, before I leave.”
She obeyed. He turned the team into the face of the storm and tucked the blankets closely about him.
Back in the warmth of the kitchen, Carolyn wondered what she would do now. She would keep a fire, yes, but what else? She went to the twins and made a pretense of covering them. She went upstairs to tuck Denis in; as if by covering these children, she could keep the storm and cold away from the others.
They were gone – her three men. She tried not to watch the clock. She knew it would be a long time, probably another day before they could return, if they ever – No! No, they would be back!
“It is my fault,” she mourned aloud. “There was nothing in the house to hold him.”
Another time: “Turner, if you will come back, I will get on my knees to you. I will ask you to forgive and forget.”
Morning came after an eternity of blind watching. It was a gray, anemic light struggling through a curtain of driving snow.
She went upstairs to call Denis but decided against it. The snow was beating against the windows in heavy gusts. There would be no school bus today. The stock would have to wait. She went to a west window and stood looking out. Once the curtain of storm parted, and she caught a glimpse of an unbroken expanse of snow. It would take endless hours for a team to get through. A car would have been abandoned hours ago. Several times she tried to call the Cross Line, but the line was reported down. She walked the floor trying to assure herself that all would be well. Once she stopped, and a cold sweat broke out on her face. What if Kane Holland had been less decent? What if he had encouraged her discouragement, or urged her to get a divorce? She would now be living with him. Horrible! But it could so easily have happened. That was why so many women and men were not happy after divorce. It wasn’t what they wanted at all.
Suddenly the silence was shattered by the ringing of the telephone. Carolyn rushed down the stairs and clutched the receiver in a shaking hand. She had to speak twice before her voice carried over the wire. It was June.
“May I speak to Bob?”
“Bob isn’t here.”
“Oh, Mrs. Evans, did he go with the men? We have been nearly wild. Mother is sure Dad is frozen somewhere.”
After she had replaced the receiver, Carolyn let a ray of thankfulness warm her hopes. June had called Bob in her hour of anxiety. They were the men Bob had said were after the thief! Later, June called again.
“Did Bob call you? Daddy did. They are all safe in town. They will be back as soon as the snowplow gets through.”
But Turner and Bob hadn’t gone to town. They had gone north to the Cross Line. Which group was Carson with, if either? Later she tried to get June, but the line was dead.
Denis was up, and they had fought their way to the barn to feed the horses and milk cows. When that was over, another fear caught Carolyn and chilled her already cold heart. Would any of them return? Could the team hold out? Could anyone be out in this storm and live?
“Please,” she prayed, “let him come home, so I can tell him I love him.”
“Listen!” Denis held up a warning hand. They were standing by a window trying to look toward the barn. Instantly he reached for jacket and overshoes, but Carolyn was through the door and fighting to reach the gate. Indistinctly, through the storm, she could see the outline of the sleigh. Bob was standing by the wagon-box, and Turner was climbing stiffly to the ground. In that moment Carolyn lived an eternity. They were alone.
At the cry of pain, Bob turned. “He is here, Mother. Open the gate. We will have to carry him in.”
From the sleighbox they lifted the inert boy, and while she held the door open, they went through to lay him on the dining room couch. Denis went out to look after the team.
“What is it?” Carolyn cried as she tore at his frozen wraps. “What happened to him?”
“Exhaustion. Sprained ankle. We hope it isn’t frozen.”
Together they worked over him. Once Carolyn’s hand touched Turner’s. It was stiff with cold. Instantly she took it in both of hers.
“Turner, you’re frozen. Take those things off and get into bed at once.”
Just then Carson opened his eyes. He looked around vacantly until his glance found his mother’s face.
“Mother!” he cried, and Carolyn dropped beside him sobbing with relief and thankfulness.
“Mother.” His hand reached out to find hers. “Mother, I didn’t …”
“Sh-h. You are back, and that is all that counts.”
He clung to her, weakly. “I wanted to come home every day I was there, but I would not give in. I didn’t want to go in the first place. That wasn’t what I wanted at all.”
After he had eaten warm food, he fell asleep. Carolyn shooed the twins out of the room and closed the door. It was not until then that she realized she had not done what she had promised herself she would do. She looked about. Bob and Turner were both gone.
“Bobby went to help Denis,” Judy told her, “and Daddy is asleep.”
In the kitchen she found his half-cleaned plate. He had been too weary to finish. She went to his room. He lay on his bed, where he had fallen in the act of removing his shoes.
Carolyn removed them without waking him. She could not move him, so she covered him with blankets. He was breathing heavily, and his wind- and frost-burned face was haggard with weariness.
Something broke within her. Some last reserve gave way. This was the boy she had married. The boy by whose side she had worked and slept, planned and failed, wept and rejoiced. How could she have thought for one instant that life could go on without him? Dropping to her knees, she laid her cheek against his. With a deep sigh he relaxed, as if he, in his sleep, sensed the gesture.
“Mother. Where are you?”
Before she could rise, Bob was there, looking down at her. His face, too, was burned, and his eyes were bloodshot. Softly she went out and closed the door behind her.
“Where did you find them?” she asked.
“They were fighting the storm, trying to walk home. Dad was half carrying Carson. I think Carson has broken a bone in his ankle.” His tired eyes searched her. Finally, he said, “You do love him, don’t you?”
“More than life. My task now shall be to prove it.”
A rare smile broke the weariness of his face. He squared his shoulders. “Now I can face the universe.”
But when Turner awoke the next morning, Carolyn went sick with a dark wave of disappointment. He was as far from her as ever. He was kind to her, solicitous over Carson, but that was all. A peace seemed to have settled over him, but the spark for which Carolyn watched and longed was not there. Bravely she smiled, and resolutely she raised her head. She was not defeated yet.