By Anna Prince Redd
Janet stood irresolute, anger shaking her. Why had Paul done such a thing? It couldn’t be so wrong, the way she had packed the panniers. And it was not like Paul to deliberately offend or humiliate anyone. Yet there didn’t seem to be a single reason for his actions.
She tried to quit shaking, to control the wild impulses that were taking possession of her. She wanted to run and run and never stop running. her face burned with shame at her own reaction to such a simple offense. What if Paul had thrown things around? What if he had acted childishly? Was it important? Perhaps she hadn’t packed the panniers correctly.
She dipped the gourds into the water barrel and dashed a spray over her face. If only he had explained! If there were anything really wrong he could have told her so, even have laughed at her, and she wouldn’t have cared. The way it was he had shut her out. There could be only one answer. Paul was tired of trying to initiate her into his world. And if so, what then? Wouldn’t it make her own decision easier? Certainly she could leave with more grace.
Yet, now strangely, she didn’t want to leave. Her fighting spirit was up. She’d sworn never to yield an inch to her surroundings. Then why mind if Paul, or anyone else, thought she couldn’t fit?
“Ready, Janet?” Paul called, blissfully unconscious of the turmoil he had stirred up.
Janet forced a smile and came back to the porch. Paul picked up the panniers. He weighed them judicially, balancing them in either hand, then, satisfied, carried them around the house to the cliff. Janet followed without a word. Paul tied the bundle of bedding and the panniers to the rope that still dangled from the cliff, gave Taos instructions for guarding the place, and assured Janet that Juanee and Joe would be back by night. Then he took a crowbar from a nearby shed, pried up a large flat stone from the rear patio and motioned Janet to precede him down the steps that were concealed beneath the stone. He followed, and juggled the stone into place again by balancing it on the flat of his hands above his head. Janet went on through the dim, smelly corridor without waiting for Paul.
“Hey! This is a honeymoon! You act like you’re trying to give me the air,” Paul shouted after her.
“A little air might not be a bad idea in here,” Janet answered, pausing evasively.
“Say, you know this is not a bad idea, this corridor. I made it for fun to begin with. Something to do the long winter evenings here alone. Since all the cattle and sheep stealings of the Indians have gone unpunished for so long, the Utes and Piutes think they are above the law. If one of them should ever try to get funny with you, Janet, you just remember this crack. You can get to it from the kitchen, too, do you remember? There’s a trap door under that big cupboard in the corner behind the middle door … And don’t ever get the bottom of the cupboard so full that you can’t crawl into it!”
Paul was delighted with the picture he was conjuring up. He couldn’t know what terror he had added to Janet’s fears, and she would not tell him shew as afraid. He didn’t know she hated Indians, didn’t know that every mummy in his collection haunted her. During the nights when he was gone and she was alone, those shriveled, dusty bones walked the patio. They lent their voices to the wind. They stalked behind her on a path at night. But Paul didn’t know. Paul would never know.
Once well into the cliff, the assent was marked, the air dusty and dry. Janet climbed up the passage with reckless speed, her heart pounding, a wave of blindness threatening to topple her over in her angry defiance.
“Steady, girl,” Paul warned. “You’re climbing too fast. Here, let me get in the lead.” Paul crowded past her in the narrow passage.
His nearness drove fear from Janet’s mind. She’d have given anything to laugh and say she didn’t need any help, but she was too dizzy to go on. Perhaps she shouldn’t have come. But she was glad she had. Here in this dim, man-enlarged corridor there was nothing but Paul and two close walls, which broke occasionally, letting in the sun. There was nothing frightening to stretch away forever and forever. Here was the warmth of his body, his arms to keep her safe, to dissolve her anger.
“Better, Jan? You had me stumped for a minute. You looked scared, or something.”
“I’m fit as a juniper tree.” Janet tried to be convincing.
Paul scrambled up the ledge, reached down for her hand and helped her up beside him, holding her there a while to rest. And so, climbing and resting, they came out on top of beautiful Douglas Mesa.
At any other time it would have been a breath-taking experience for Janet; now she felt nothing but relief. The sun setting on the buttes across the mesa, blazing against the red rocks, the green junipers, and the blue of an incredulously near sky, was lost to her. There was a sharp pain around her heart and her breath was hot in her throat. All of which Paul was too excited to notice.
“Look at it! See why I swear by this country? No place like it on earth! Look at the elephants marching along the face of the cliffs over there! Headed for their burial grounds, marching, marching. They’ve been marching thousands of years. And see that break over there to the south? If we could walk over there and look down, there would be the San Juan moving along her green banks to the Colorado. Colorado’s her bridegroom. I’ve seen ‘em meet many a time. She eddies around and coquettes a bit and then goes straight to his bosom. Nice gal, the San Juan. Unpredictable, treacherous, but a bride to love, once you get her tamed!”
Seeing him standing there, his sombrero held reverently at his side, Janet knew the strength of her rival. Paul would never be hers as she wanted her husband to be. This country would claim him body and soul, alive and dead. She’d be a precious part of it, oh, a very precious part, but always secondary. And there was nothing she could do about it. She had never seen a face so lighted up, so passionately proud. Mere grandeur could not account for it. For the first time she realized that Paul’s emotion was spiritual. Her fear had been against a physical rival. Now she needed to know more; to understand this new Paul. Perhaps if she tried as determinedly to like his country as she had fostered her hate for it, it might come to be her country, too. For the moment at least, it didn’t crowd and push.
“Guess I’d better get those things pulled up over the cliff and stop orating,” Paul said apologetically. “You’re shivering!” Solicitously he wrapped his own warm leather jacket around her shoulders. He said, “The days are warm but the nights are still to be reckoned with.”
A bell tinkled in the distance. Paul put his fingers to his lips and blew a long shrill whistle. A pinto mare neighed answer and came loping from a distant clump of cedars, straight for Paul’s outstretched hand. “Hello there!” Paul chuckled. “Smart as a whip, aren’t you!” He patted her nose and let her nuzzle against him.
“I’ve work for you to do, lady,” he confided. “Pull my bed and board up the cliff. Will you?”
The mare stamped and threw her head nervously. “She’s as smart as they come,” Paul told Janet. “Watch her.”
He took a short rope from her saddle. “I don’t often leave a horse saddled up like this (I’d fire a cow hand that did it), but I knew we’d be back soon and the saddle would be safer on her back than on the ground for a thieving Indian.” He tied the piece of rope to the lasso that hung over the cliff, moved the pinto out a few paces and then gave her the word to stop. She obeyed instantly, one foot still poised. Paul untied the long rope from the projection that had held it; the pack was now in her care.
“Pull ‘er up, Lady Bird!” The pinto paced carefully forward, pulling the dangling pack up the cliff behind her.
“Hold!” The mare stopped instantly, not a muscle moving. Paul pulled the pack over the side of the cliff and away from the edge. The minute she felt the slack rope behind her, the mare trotted back to Paul. He patted her nose and looked to Janet for approval.
“She’s a beauty, Paul, I’ve never seen her in action before.” The admission was embarrassing. Other women, she knew, rode range with their husbands, knew as much about cattle as the best of them. Some women even managed their own outfits. She’d been so occupied with her rebellion and her personal schemes that she had missed what might have made this country endurable. But it was all so foreign to her! Those women were born to the range just as their men were!
“I wish I’d been born here, Paul,” she said. This morning she’d hated the place; now she almost loved it. If only she could be with Paul all the time she might conquer her fear.
“You don’t have to be born in a place to love it. You and I have always been together here in spirit. I recognized that instantly.” He smiled a whimsical, endearing smile. “Sometime you’ll recognize it, too.”
They camped that night in a big cave clinging to the mesa. “Hotel Collins!” Paul announced. They had come down to the cave on foot, along a trail that wound down from the top, and now stood looking out over the canyon to the other side, their eyes tracing the trail to the canyon floor. Green against red, red deepening to purple where the shadows fell, fading to pink and then to white in the path of the sun. Janet took a long, shivering breath.
“Steady, girl!” Paul urged her back from the edge. “The sight makes me heady at times. You’re tired. A good bacon and eggs supper will set you up.”
In the center of the cave under an opening in the roof, he built a small fire; he carried the bags down from the top, and while he waited for the fire to burn to coals he made a bed of boughs, topped by a heavy sheepskin robe that he found hanging from a point of rock in the cave; on that he spread the blankets from their pack.
He patted the bed. “You’ll sleep like a dead Injun till I call you to breakfast,” he laughed.
Janet was startled at the sudden recurrence of fear. Just when you had the thing licked it sprang out of you again. in the form of a word – Indian, a rattlesnake in a bush, the howl of a wolf at night, or just in no form at all. She shivered. A bat flew from the cave into a darker crevice. Paul stirred the fire.
“The robe is hotel property,” he said to make conversation. “It’s been here for years. It’s worth fifty dollars. If it had been a salt and pepper shaker it’d have disappeared the first night.” He settled the frying pan over the coals. “Funny about people!”
Janet had never tasted such good food. They sat in the door after supper and watched the stars. Paul talked earnestly, reassuringly, and again Janet’s fears slipped away. An owl greeted the dark night, leaving a velvet silence. Janet slipped her hand into Paul’s.
“Afraid?” he teased, putting his arms around her.
“Of course not, silly. I’m just shiveringly happy.”
“I hoped you’d say that. It’s we two together for always, isn’t it?”
“We three,” Janet corrected involuntarily.
Paul caught his breath and Janet could hear his heart. “You mean – a baby? Oh, Janet, girl, don’t speak. not yet for a minute. I’ve got to see heaven a bit at a time!”
Wholly possessive of him, the world shut out, Janet was happier than she had ever been in her life.
“Are you – all right?” Paul asked after a time. “You seemed faint back there in the corridor. I thought it was from climbing too fast. Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought you here?”
“Nonsense, Paul. I’m as well as anything.”
“How long have you known, Janet?”
“Only a short time.”
“Were you … glad?”
“Of course. Only I felt for a while the way I felt the first time I looked at the San Juan Goosenecks, 1200 feet below me, I wanted to clutch something solid and hang on for dear life!”
“I wish I’d been there. Janet, you’re wonderful!”
They went to bed then, talking little. The cave, the silence, the closeness of the stars made Janet feel that she and Paul were primitively alone, beginning a world together.
“What a country!” Paul said softly. “A little new cow hand. A pardner all my own!” And he went to sleep.
Janet’s mind sprang to attention. Cow hand! Yes. She’d forgotten. Her baby would grow up to be a cow hand. He’d fight and die for this all-forsaken country just as Paul was doing. There’d be no Harvard, no football, no cultural existence. Indians and cowboys and cows!
She sat up, struggling for breath. “Not if I can help it!” she stated audibly. “I’ll fight you, Paul. You and your country. Fight you till the day I die. I’ll not bring my child up in this place!”
Paul sighed contentedly in his sleep. The night owl communed with himself in the darkness outside. Janet slid terrified down into the warm bed.