By Anna Prince Redd
Synopsis: Janet, protectingly reared in Washington, D.C., lives in constant dread of the San Juan country of Utah where her husband, Paul Morgan, has an Indian trading post on the mesa. She plans on their moving to Washington before the birth of her baby, but does not disclose this intention to her husband during the happy week they spend together camping on the mesa.
In spite of Janet’s fears, the week was a happy one. Paul was so elated at the prospect of the baby’s coming that he could talk of little else. When they were packed and ready to leave the mesa, he said regretfully, “I hate to get back to civilization!”
Janet smiled above his head as he fitted his own long stirrups to her feet. How would he feel if he knew they were going to Washington, D.C. soon! But that revelation was something that could wait. The world was a wonderful place in spite of places you didn’t like. It was brimming with loveliness today. And happiness, too. One needed only to dip one’s cup and be filled. Tomorrow she would have less to blind her to realities. Back at El Toro there’d be no firelight in caves to hold her under a spell. In the clear light of day, things would be seen as they were. Tomorrow would be soon enough.
“How’s that?” Paul patted her boot into the stirrup.
“Fine. But you have to ride bareback all the way.”
“I’m one cowboy that can ride without a saddle. I’m so darned happy I could ride a rail and not know it!”
“How can I tell him?” Janet thought remorsefully. “What right have I to tell him where he ought to live?”
“But you’re not telling him,” her brain argued. “You’re just saying where you’re going to live.”
“Which is one and the same thing!” she reminded herself honestly.
“This week is something to remember, Janet. Something we may both wish for in the days to come.” All the lilt had gone from Paul’s voice, and it seemed to Janet that her thoughts had betrayed her. There was so much she wanted to say, so much that had to be said between them, that she couldn’t say any of it. And before she could think of a safe approach Paul began to sing.
He had a grand voice, Janet noted in surprise. She had heard him hum snatches of cowboy airs, but never really sing as he was doing now. For the first few miles he sang college and operatic songs, but as the mood deepened between them his voice softened to tender melodies she had not heard in years. When he sang “Sweet and Low,” the lump that was in Janet’s throat tightened into tears. After that Paul talked or was silent as her mood changed; but nothing could dampen the ardor in his eyes when he looked at her.
By the time they were in sight of El Toro, Janet was wearied by her own thoughts. Paul was as big and mysterious as his country. They’d been married three years, and this week alone with him had shown her how little she had known of the real person he was. The man behind the westerner. She’d known so little of him; had taken the path her heart suggested, the path she’d known always in spirit. Only a week ago she had thought there’s be no Harvard, no football for her son – only cowboys and cows. And she’d tripped herself with her own thinking,. Paul, with amazing foresight, had taken the reins.
“You know, Janet,” he said, uncannily baring her thoughts, “people are just people, fine and good, or coarse and bad, wherever they are, and very, very often a little of both. And here we are, just two people, home again.”
“Paul –” There was apology in Janet’s voice, “I’ve been happy up there on the mesa, Paul. And – And now we’re back to civilization.”
“And where we started from?”
“No. Not quite.”
“You’ve gone a little way along my road, Jan. Let me tell you that, gratefully, will you?”
Now. Now was the time, Janet’s mind urged. Not now, her heart pleaded. Not ever, please not ever. She knew that she had only to say to Paul that she could not go all the way along his road and her fight would be won. Triumphantly she knew that he was hers, against the country he loved as his life, against the world. She had only to say, “I’m afraid here, Paul,” and her cup would be full. Tomorrow’s cup would brim with all the joys she’d dreamed the world could hold. Instead she said: “Quite an elegant long blue car has taken possession in our absence, Paul.”
She would have pointed toward El Toro but could not trust her hand; its shaking would betray her. Somehow, without hurting Paul, her fight must be won. She could not, would not give up.
“So I see,” Paul said, and his eyes never left the car in question. “It’s parked almost in the front door! You’ll – You’ll be glad to have company.”
“Something we may both wish for in the days to come.” Paul’s words ringing in her ears. Paul refusing to look at her.
“Maybe it’s just cattle buyers,” she said hopefully.
“It’s too racy. It’s company all right,” Paul said, and there was a pained edge to his voice.
“Paul, could – could we slip in the back way?”
A joyous bark from Taos turned their attention to the door. Janet took one look at the beautiful woman standing there and flew into her arms.
“Rhae! What a blessed surprise!”
“Janet!” There was barely time for the embrace before the woman continued, “Janet, it’s good to see you. But in such a place! I never dreamed it would be quite this bad!”
Paul took in her words and the elegant male that stood behind her on the porch, and disliked them both cordially.
The man spoke: “I say, summer comes down in one fell swoop in this country!”
“Just as some people,” Paul thought, but – “The women seem to know each other!” is what he said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Paul,” Janet cried. “This is my sister, Rhae, and her husband, Warren Newsbaum. I’m so excited I forget you have never seen them. Get acquainted, you two, I can’t see anyone except Rhae.”
“She’s decidedly worth looking at,” Paul remarked gallantly; then belied his words by turning immediately to Warren Newsbaum.
“I begin to see, Janet.” Rhae Newsbaum sized Paul up frankly. “If you can’t have cake with icing, then, you just take cake.”
There were sparks in Paul’s eyes. Janet hurried the Newsbaums into the house. “Welcome to El Toro,” she cried, including everything in the sweep of her arms. “I’ll bet you’re starved. Dinner, Juanee. I’ll not even stop to dress.”
“Do we ever?” Paul’s frankness sent a hot flush over Janet’s face, and Paul was instantly sorry for his remark. He could see he was undoing all that the week had built up between them, but he didn’t like airs, and the sooner these people found it out the better.
“This is a cattle country,” he said in scant apology. He couldn’t believe that Janet had known her folks were coming, but the timing was too perfect to be comfortable. And long before dinner was finished he had formed a pretty clear idea of why they had come. First one Newsbaum and then the other made things very plain. It was, “poor Janet this, and poor Janet that” through three courses. The dessert was served to: “This is so foreign to all you’ve been accustomed, Janet, dear. I wonder how you endure it. I’m sure I’d die of boredom!”
That was Rhae’s contribution. Her husband added the indigestible: “Whatever do you do for amusement?”
His remark was addressed to Janet but his eyes looked to Paul for reply. It was nothing short of a challenge.
“We poke fun at tenderfeet for amusement,” Paul told him pleasantly. “Their antics are a source of never-ending enjoyment.”
Janet covered Warren’s confusion with questions of home. The real thunderbolt struck when Rhae pointedly remarked: “Poor father is quite frail; it will prolong his life to know that you are coming home, Janet.”
Paul’s heart skipped a beat. “To stay indefinitely?” his eyes inquired of Janet. Then he settled the question coolly. “As I remember it, Janet, your father loved this country. When your visit is up will you send him back to us here, Rhae?”
Completely baffled by Paul’s innocently engaging smile, Rhae had no retort.
“And it serves her right,” Janet thought. “Announcing her plans as if they were fully considered and accepted by everyone.”
Warren Newsbaum took up the uncomfortable slack. “I say,” he said, “you haven’t a broncho horse I could ride, have you?”
“Plenty of them, and they’re no trick at all to ride! You’d have the time of your life on Caesar.”
Janet looked at Paul in consternation. Caesar was the wickedest horse that ever came off a range. Tractable as a kitten in Paul’s hands, but a devil at heart. Not a man on the desert would throw a leg across his back.
“But if you’re not used to riding,” Paul began.
“Oh, I ride frequently!” Newsbaum assured him. Rhae looked at her husband in surprise; she started to speak and decided not to. Which in itself should have warned both of them.
“Shouldn’t we decide on the entertainment of our guests after they’ve had a good night’s sleep, Paul?” Janet’s eyes implored, but she managed to keep her voice light, even through a hint of tears.
Paul looked at her anxiously. How could he have forgotten that Janet was tired and excited by the day’s crowded events?
He summoned Juanee. “Are the guest rooms ready?” he asked.
Juanee nodded. Rhae and Warren rose from the table; the plurals had escaped neither of them. “Well, upon my word, are we to have a suite, then? Not so rural after all, is it Warren?”
Janet knew Rhae was deliberately baiting Paul. “You’ll find us very comfortable here,” she defended.
“Decidedly,” Warren said. “I shall not rest, however, till I’ve had a chance at your horse. Caesar, you call him?”
“Goodnight, Rhae and Warren,” Janet interposed hurriedly. “Sleep late. We’re Mexicans enough to like drowsy hours. Here at El Toro it’s an affront to stir out of bed before the sun is well up.”
The sun had never found Paul Morgan in bed in twenty years. “But,” he thought, “if it’ll keep these strangers out of sight for a few hours I’ll see what I can do.”
“Caesar never bucks before eleven o’clock, Newsbaum,” he said genially. “How’d you like to ride him at ten?”
“He should be warmed up by twelve,” Warren countered, “I’ll book him for twelve.” And Paul began to like the fellow.
“I hope you’ll be worth salvaging, Warren,” Rhae said sweetly. She kissed Janet and without a glance in Paul’s direction, took herself and her husband off to bed.
By eleven o’clock the pole fence around the corral was lined with boot heels and Stetsons. Janet could not figure it out. Paul had not left the ranch, yet every cowboy for miles around knew there was a tenderfoot spree on. Warren, dressed to the minute in purple shirt, red silk kerchief, spurs and chaps, had gone nattily to the slaughter. Rhae sat reading in the west patio, pointedly oblivious to what was going on. Janet questioned Juanee. Had Joe spread the word? Had he been gone in the night?
Juanee became all squaw and refused to talk. Janet wasn’t really worried; Paul wouldn’t let Warren get hurt. But she didn’t see how Rhae could sit there as if nothing were going on. Curiosity, if nothing else, should be strong enough to pull her to the door. Paul ought to be ashamed, letting a member of his own family make horseplay for a bunch of crude punchers! Caesar was brutal and Warren would get thrown. He’d come limping to the house apologetically and Rhae would be superior. Well, whatever happened, she hoped it would soon be over. And it was. Almost before it had begun.
From the first gleeful shout that announced the opening of the chute, there had been an ominous silence. Janet went to the porch and saw them coming, a slow procession. Warren was hurt! Dead, perhaps. Nothing less could make desert men act like that … No … Warren was leading. The cowboys were carrying someone else. Someone almost as tall as Paul!
Where was Paul? Of course! Paul had raced for a doctor. Caesar would take him to Mexican Hat in no time. Hosea Potsworth, the doctor, was there … They were nearer now. She could see the – The man’s nice … long … frame …
“Miss Janet, Juanee take you away!”
“No! No!” Janet threw off the Indian woman’s protecting hands. “It isn’t Paul! Be quiet. Go to your twins, Juanee. I hear them crying.”
“Paul.” Janet said it softly as they carried him in. “Paul,” she said again.
Warren Newsbaum came and stood beside her. “They have gone for a doctor, Janet. He isn’t dead.”
It was the assurance Janet needed. “Juanee! Juanee, come quickly.” If Paul were not dead, then life could go on for her, too. “We must keep him warm! yes … Thank you, Warren.”
Hours later Janet’s body woke from a drugged sleep. Her mind had never left Paul; yet she was unable to get up and go to him. On the porch men were talking. She heard Paul’s name. “Just like Paul Morgan,” a voice was saying. “He had that black-hearted Caesar by the bit before the rest of us knew the tenderfoot was dragging. If I’ve ever seen a killer that stallion is one!”
Yes. Janet had always known that. Caesar was one of the things she was afraid of. He had tried to stomp her once. Paul had almost killed him then. Paul wouldn’t admit that Caesar was a killer because Paul was master. But she knew … Others were talking: “The tenderfoot’s a right guy … Feels to blame … Mrs. Morgan ought to know …”
Ought to know what? Janet sat up. She must go to Paul. But she must go quietly. There was the baby to think of, Paul’s baby.