Cathedral of Peace
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
When the storm was over, the sun rose on a cold, white earth. As soon as the chores were done, Bob put on his overshoes and turned his face toward the Elkhorn.
“Where is he going?” Turner asked, as standing by the window he saw him start away.
Carolyn came to stand by him.
“I think I know,” she said softly.
Turner sighed in deep satisfaction. With a wife like June, Bob would go a long way. Carolyn also sighed, but her sigh was a little envious. She half turned to her husband. Since its resuscitation, her love was growing rapidly in strength and wisdom. Nevertheless, she sighed again, this time with impatience. Her husband turned and went out.
There was a hard crust frozen over the snow. It met Bob’s eyes like a thousand shattered jewels. The wind that had carried the snow had whipped it into distorted hills and hollows. He took them in his stride as effortlessly as a bird skims through the air. He crossed the fences as if there were none. He reached the Elkhorn and approached the house by the doorway through which he had, once upon a time, seen a startling canvas.
Mrs. Straughn opened the door in answer to his knock. Hiding her astonishment, she said:
“Come in, Bob. You must be frozen. How could you cross the fields?”
“It wasn’t bad.” His glance went about the room. “May I see June?”
“I’ll call her. Have a chair and take off your wraps.”
Bob preferred to wait as he was. There was no time for amenities. He glanced impatiently at the partition door, and Mrs. Straughn left. It was only a moment until June came. Her mother closed the door after her.
“Bob,” she came swiftly across the room to him, “has something happened? What is wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong.” His eyes feasted on her loveliness. She wore a simple dress of print. Her hair was held back by a narrow band of ribbon. She had been baking, and there was a smear of flour on one cheek; but to the eager boy, she was all the beauty and graciousness that existed. His heart began a heavy pounding. She watched him, puzzled, yet knowing what had brought him there so early.
“I came to tell you …” he said at length.
“Tell me? shall I take your coat?” Then she wondered if she were ready for him to tell her.
Mechanically, he slipped the heavy blazer from his shoulders.
“… to tell you everything is all right again. Now we can …” He reached out and gathered her hungrily into his strong arms. With a little sigh of acquiescence, she gave him her lips. She had always been ready.
It was a week before the telephone line was repaired. Before that, the news spread on the radio. Mr. Taylor had been found beside his stalled truck. The animals in the back of it were frozen. When the officials searched the Cross Line, they found nothing. So the dead man carried the sole blame. Carolyn was besieged with calls: How was Carson? Wasn’t it wonderful that he had escaped? As for that, it was a marvel that any of the men had lived through the storm. Wasn’t it terrible for poor Mrs. Semple to lose her brother in such a manner? Since she was his heir, she was going to sell out in the spring and move from the valley. No wonder she had been so unfriendly.
There had been a small bone broken in Carson’s ankle; and even after he could put his foot to the floor, it took several weeks longer to completely heal. Since coming home, through often in pain, he had had no outbursts of temper. His eyes often followed his mother as she went about her work. One day he said:
“Mother, what is different here? I used to feel that I was sitting on a volcano. Now there is, well, there is something different.”
That alone, she thought, was pay for all her efforts. She was so thankful to have him safe under the home roof, no price was too great to pay. His words indicated, took that she was slowly winning. She could still use all the help she could get. It was a gigantic task to lift her home from the rut into which it had fallen. It was a long, long way yet from being on firm ground.
Once she had said she hadn’t time for study, but now she found herself making time. The more she persisted, the easier it became. She not only studied lessons, she became alive to things about her. She considered her husband in all things. She knew she must have him back, not alone for the sake of the children, nor just for the home. Necessary as he was to them, that alone had a hollow sound. She knew she had to have him back because he was hers, because life without him had become unthinkable. Turner noticed her attentions; he accepted them kindly but with an inner indifference. At least, that was the way Carolyn explained it to herself at night when tears could not be stayed and hopes were low. She would almost rather have him impatient and rudely aggressive than to have this indifference, which she could not reach. That must have been the way he had felt when she used to go to the grove.
The children were quick to sense her attitude. To all intents and purposes the family was again united, with the father at the head. One day, he asked her why she did not drive. It was Tuesday, and she had asked for someone to take her to her meeting. She looked up quickly. Her face flushed. “Oh, I couldn’t.”
“Why not? We shall soon be in the fields, and then no one will have time to take you.”
“I would rather have you drive me,” she said, and waited for the pleased expression that should follow the implied compliment. Turner looked out of the window for a moment. The snow was nearly gone on the fields. In a week, at least, the roads would be free of hindering mud. That Carolyn was trying to recover what they had lost, he was well aware. He was not sure that he wanted it. He was not sure there was any desire left in him. But for her own sake, the reformation should go all the way, to be effective. There were so many things the modern woman had that could be of use to her.
“No,” he said shortly. “You learn. I have wished for years that you could handle the car. There are so many times when it would be convenient. I’ll have Carson teach you. He isn’t able to do much yet.” With this new attitude, she was in danger of becoming too much of a leaner.
So Carson drove her to meeting and on the way initiated her into the rudiments of driving. She did not want to learn. She thought back, a little wistfully, of her old life when she had had only herself to think about. Immediately the mood passed.
“Atta girl,” Carson praised, when she had successfully passed another car. “You will soon gain confidence. I can’t see why you haven’t been doing this for years.”
She couldn’t either. She could not understand now how she had ever allowed herself to get so bogged in a slough of inertia. She had so little time to think of herself now; even some of the old hurts that had gone so deep seemed a little silly. It was hard to understand why she had worked herself up to such a passion over them.
This was a work meeting. A bulb-and-seed exchange was being held, and the talk ran to house cleaning and new things. Always before, spring, for Carolyn, had meant nothing but a renewal of hard work, cooking for me, gardening, chickens, turkeys. The fever of planning and planting caught her. She decided she would like to have the house done over. She would like to make it presentable, so Turner could invite business associates up over the week-ends or for fishing trips. Her fingers moved rapidly over the work given her, but her thoughts went faster. With all the added work involved, she would need help; she could not do it alone. In the past, she had given too much time to routine labor.
“This is a flower I brought with me,” she heard little Durnin say, and then she had her answer. She was a widow who had to support herself. Why not have her? It could be worked out to the advantage of both. On the way home, she told Carson her plan.
“Gee, Mom, that would be great. You could use some help.” Then in a burst of confidence, he added, “Gee, I must have gone a long way off the deep end. I didn’t realize that home could be so … so comfortable. I don’t even remember you talking much to us until this winter. I must have changed.”
One day Turner was at the foot-bridge across West Fork. He was strengthening its braces in preparation for high water that would come later when they were in the fields. The driver of a car coming up the lane saw him and stopped to talk. When he was gone, Turner realized his apathy of the last few months was giving way before a new interest. The driver was the stake president. Turner was wanted for a counselor. For the first time in years he wanted to accept. It might be worked out this time. He was going to try to talk it over with Carolyn.
Then he turned, and there was Carolyn at his elbow, wanting to talk about something of her own.
“What is it?” he asked.
Watching him work, she explained little by little. She wanted Mrs. Durnin to work for her. She wanted the house papered and painted from roof to basement. Did he think they could afford it?
Listening, it came over Turner that this was an almost forgotten pattern, a pattern that had once brought them great joy and satisfaction. He turned slowly. She waited expectantly; it did not occur to her that she no longer waited fearfully.
“Why do you want to do this?” he asked.
Without hesitation, without guile, she answered, “To make a happier home for you, Turner.”
His glance came back from the distant hills. His hands clutched hard over the hammer he held. Then he smiled, and his smile was like none other in the world.
“Then I, too, shall be satisfied.”
“Does it mean so much?”
“Oh, Turner.” Then she saw his eyes which were turned full upon her, and a wild, sweet hope sprang to life. Had the time come? Beneath the hope, she was suddenly very, very frightened. “Nothing else in all the world means so much. I have been trying.”
He dropped the hammer and held out his arms. She went into the safety, the sanctity of their shelter. This simple little incident had done what a near tragedy had failed to do; and since life is made up so largely of simple little things, they felt their feet were on solid ground. Turner bent his head and laid his cheek against hers.
“I know you have, my darling. I know you have. Can you ever forgive me?”
She was crying softly, as if she would never cease. Forgive? What was there to forgive? she could not remember. There was much to forget, but together they could do it.
“Love us, too,” the twins cried, drawn from their play in the sand by this strange sight.
“Scram, you angels,” Turner laughed – such a throaty, satisfied laugh as they had never heard. “Your mother and I have things to talk about.”
They refused to scram; and when Carolyn had ceased to weep, Turner took out his handkerchief and wiped her tears away, though he could scarcely see them because of his own. They clung to each other. It was as if one had been gone on a lonely, perilous journey and had returned. He took a twin by one hand, and she took the other, but neither was allowed to come between them.
Turner’s shoulders were straighter. There was a lilt to his voice, a sparkle to his eye, a great humility in his soul. She had come all the way. he must see that she never regretted. he must give and give from his great store of affection. they were once more secure, and in that security lay the power for growth and action.
As they neared the yard gate, Bob and June came riding up and stopped.
“The young hound,” Turner said, “he thinks he owns the earth.”
He looked down at her. “Not my part of it.”
Bob stared at them. When before had he seen his parents walking hand in hand? When before had he seen that look of complete understanding between them? He was glad June was seeing it. His strength was suddenly without bounds. Putting an arm about her, he lifted her bodily from the saddle. Unblushingly, he kept his arm about her while they waited for his parents to come up. Here then was another power born of the same security. Never again would he be afraid to bring June to his home. that something which had given him being was there again to bring grace and beauty and meaning to all their lives.
Carolyn was getting the back room ready for Mrs. Durnin when Turner said, “Sit here with me. I want to talk this thing out.” Disregarding the spread, he sat down on the bed and pulled her down beside him. His face was grave.
“I assume,” he began, “that we are entering a new life, but that entails a great deal more than just the wish. We have formed habits that will work against us. We must know what we are facing.”
She did not answer. It was like Turner to think the thing through. She had trusted to her feeling, and her feeling had brought with it a long view of this thing called lover that she had never seen before. It was not appearances. It was not impassioned words or thrilling glances. It was not physical excitation. it was not mental intercourse. It was an integration of all these, welded and buoyed by spiritual unity. It was laughter and song. It was sadness and prostration. It was giving and receiving. It was sacrificing and demanding. It was growth and habit. It was challenge and quiet understanding. It was a way of life that took two people and made them one, yet demanded they remain two distinct entities. It was the factor that raised life above mere existence. It was flavor and hope eternal. Each ingredient was necessary to the perfection and full expression of the whole.
“If we recognize what brought about this condition, we shall know what to avoid in the future,” Turner was saying.
“It was my fault,” Carolyn answered, quickly. “I let myself become a mere machine.”
He stopped the words on her lips. “The fault lay partly with us and partly with conditions. When a family is young, a woman has little time for outside interests; her great effort should be given to her home. Unless she struggles, she is soon absorbed. Man’s nature, his love for his wife, his pride in his children demand that he be a good provider. In being one, he is likely to overemphasize the importance of money. Each resents mental or physical inertia on the part of the other. Boredom is fatal. Interest covers a multitude of sins. Are you listening?” he demanded suddenly.
“Yes. Only I love to look at you.”
“I want you to listen.” He caught her in his arms and laid his face against her hair. Its whiteness caught at his heart. “Oh, Caro, Caro,” he cried. “I don’t know after all. I just want you and me and the children against the world.” Later he added, “Lest we be disappointed, we must remember we cannot take a flying leap back to our old footing. Years such as we have experienced leave their scars. We shall have to recognize them as scars and build from there.”
During the night, Carolyn awoke. A bright spring moon full of promise was shining through the unblinded window. This was the kind of night she had loved to go to her Cottonwood Cathedral. She wondered now how she could have found comfort there. Nature should be comforting; but she had made of the silence, the peace, a mental sedative dulling her senses to conditions and problems. It had been an avenue by which she had become ingrown.
She turned and looked at the face of her sleeping husband. The bond between them that had been so nearly severed would grow strong again. It would be her pleasure to foster its growth.
“This is my Cathedral of Peace,” she whispered, snuggling into arms that though heavy with sleep yet reached out to draw her within their protecting strength.