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. Upon returning home with Paul after a happy week spent on the mesa, they find that Janet’s sister, Rhae, and her husband Warren Newsbaum, have arrived for a short visit with the announced intention of taking Janet back to Washington with them. The next morning Paul is hurt when he saves Warren from being dragged by a broncho.
Janet was alone at El Toro. Except for Juanee, there wasn’t a soul within fifteen miles of the trading post. Paul, Indian Joe, Juanee’s husband, and the rest of the ranch outfit were out on the winter range getting ready for the spring roundup. An open winter and months of warm rains had kept the range in good shape; cattle were rolling fat; steers would be ready for the market weeks ahead of time. Paul had little time for anything else.
But being alone had long since ceased being a terror to Janet. There was so much to be done before the coming of the baby that she had no time for worry or unpleasant thoughts. Even the country seemed less appalling. Since the day, months ago, when Caesar had almost killed Paul, she had known she could never leave El Toro unless Paul came, too. There would never again be any doubt of that, but she still clung to the thought that someday she would win him away.
But now, after the long, slow months of his recovery, Paul seemed more entrenched than ever. As soon as he was well enough to be out on the range again, he had plunged into an orgy of buying and selling that frightened her. If he became too involved, he would be less easily uprooted; less inclined to turn things over to an overseer as she meant him to do. Seeing him lying there with broken bones and helpless, idle hands, she had said over and over again that only his life mattered. Where she lived or what she did was unimportant. She smiled, now, at the thought of how Rhae and Warren – even the nurse and the specialist that Warren had imported to care for Paul – had conspired to get her to terminate what they called her self-inspired martyrdom, using her condition as the hatchet over her head.
“I’ll go to a hospital if Paul is well enough to go with me,” she had promised them, and nothing they could say had changed her mind. “I could have a specialist come here, couldn’t I? Just as you came to Paul, Dr. Meade.”
“Having a baby out of a hospital is impossible!” Rhae cried indignantly. “Father would not hear of such a thing. Mother always had the best hospitals.”
“Yet mother died.” Janet replied softly. “And Juanee was confined right here in her hogan back of El Toro and nothing happened at all.” Then brightly, “Except that she presented the reservation with its first twins in fifty years!”
“You make me sick!” Rhae scorned. “How can you talk like that? You’d think you were a common – common – ”
“Squaw? Or one of the dozens of fine women I know here in the desert?” Janet was positively delighted at the strength of her own arguments. She had almost believed them herself!
Thinking of it now it didn’t seem so funny. She’d go to a hospital of course. Paul wouldn’t hear of anything else, they’d planned that as soon as they were alone, and he was well enough to sit out in the patio and talk. But, though Paul was coming home to go to Washington with her, she didn’t want to go at all.
She sighed. El Toro was so lazy and comfortable. Facing the old life again after nearly four years of isolation was a bit terrifying. She’d probably shy from a train as range horses did from an automobile! And she didn’t even have fashionable clothes. But that, too, was easily remedied. With money to burn if she wanted it, she could buy to her heart’s content.
Juanee came in with a log for the fire. Janet held up the tiny dress she was embroidering. “How does that look, Juanee? isn’t it adorable?”
“It is too white. It is too small. My twin boys would spoil that in one minute. Mister Paul will be home tonight. He will say you should buy Levis for a boy!”
“Yes, he would. He has named the child already. It’s to be Jerry. I call him Paul.”
“You better start thinking up names in case a girl comes.”
“Juanee, don’t you go predicting a girl. Paul would be devastated.”
“But you love what comes. Huh? Mister Paul, too.”
“You’re a great comfort, Juanee. You have better sense than most women.”
Juanee smiled broadly. “Miss Janet nice woman, too!”
Janet laughed. “Thanks Juanee. How are the twins? Do they like being at the school?”
“Not now. Soon they will, just like their papa and mama did. Are we not warm and comfortable here with you because of the school? My begays will learn to like the school.”
“It must be grand to have twins!”
“Oh, yes! You like to have twins?”
Janet laughed in surprise. “Oh, no, Juanee. One is all I could manage. I’d be scared to death of two!”
“You have two big loves or one big love. You give me two dollars or one dollar, I take two dollars!” Juanee brushed the last spark from the hearth and went back to her work.
A car wheezed into the yard and Janet knew Dr. Potsworth had come to make his weekly call. He was a lovable, shrewd old man, and a valuable doctor. She knew he’d like to officiate at her child’s birth, here at El Toro, just as he’d brought hundreds of other babies into other homes, without fuss or bother. She’d a notion to take him along to Washington with her when she went to the hospital.
The thought conjured up such a picture of Rhae’s horror at sight of the fat, bewhiskered little man, that Janet laughed aloud.
“Fine, Janet, fine!” Dr. Potsworth exclaimed, coming in at the door. “I wish I had a strong, healthy girl like you to be mother to the one that’s coming in the trapper’s hut down on the river. She’s a puny little thing. No spirit. No spirit at all!”
When the doctor had gone, Janet sat thinking of what he had said. She knew that “puny little thing down on the river.” A slip of a girl who had never known hardship until she married a man of her family’s choosing, a Frenchman of many promises and good looks. They had finally, after years and years of poverty and hardship, come to this. The trapper’s wife was the one that should be going to the big hospital, the good food, and the white-clad nurses! This country had broken her spirit as it had her lovely little body. Just as it broke others, stronger than herself!
Janet’s peace was gone. The floodgates were raised, letting her emotions tumble pell-mell over each other. All the fears she had accumulated crowded in with renewed force, stronger for their enforced idleness.
“Spirit!” Janet stood up angrily. ‘Poor little trapper’s wife. She hasn’t a chance! Oh, if Paul only knew how I hate, how I – ”
Taos woke abruptly. Not, Janet could see, from anything she had done, but from uneasy intuition. He sniffed the air and went toward the door. Janet followed and opened it, letting him out. For a minute she could see nothing to be excited about, and was about to draw the dog inside and close the door, when a horseman came up over a ridge to the east.
Janet hugged herself against the damp wind, debating whether to go in or wait. Long before she could see the rider clearly, she knew it was an Indian. Only lithe, bareback riders have that motionless grace. No flapping of arms or legs, no body motion except the rhythm of balanced posture.
“See, Taos, it’s only an Indian begay – a boy.” Janet was as calm as if it had been one of Juanee’s twins. Taos continued to growl.
Juanee came to the door and stood by Janet. “That’s Mike’s begay,” she said. “He’s a no good boy!”
“What does Mike’s begay want?” Janet demanded the minute the boy slid from his horse.
“I come her.” He pointed to Juanee, and after that he talked rapidly in Navajo, ignoring Janet entirely. Janet was more piqued than she cared to admit. Why hadn’t she taken the trouble to learn Navajo? Mike’s begay had shifty eyes, and she didn’t like the way he peered into the rooms behind her. She gave Taos a tug on his collar and drew him reluctantly inside, closing the door after him.
The minute they were left alone, Juanee’s voice became suspicious, low-pitched; the Indian boy’s more persuasive. Janet listened nervously. It was silly to imagine things every time anyone came on the place. Yet why was it that as soon as Paul went away, even for a day, every renegade on the reservation seemed to know it, and to take advantage of his absence? Nowhere was there a more crafty Indian than Mike, and his boy looked equal to his breed. Perhaps she had cause to feel nervous.
Juanee came in. “My mother is very sick,” she said. “Mike’s begay says she will die. She wants me to come.” Her voice was so filled with a mixture of doubt and anguish that she could hardly speak the words.
“But you just came home from your father’s hogan, Juanee,” Janet protested. “Your mother was not sick then!”
“That is what I cannot understand. But the begay brings this to make me know.” Juanee held up an exquisite silver cross, set with turquoise. “My mother say she keep this until she die, then it is for me. That is how I know that Mike’s begay does not lie.”
“You must go at once, Juanee,” Janet said, sorry for even a moment’s doubt of the Indian woman’s faithfulness.
“But I cannot leave you, Miss Janet!”
“Of course you can. I’m perfectly well, and Mr. Paul will be home tonight.”
Juanee shook her head mournfully, looking first at the Indian boy, waiting astride his horse, then at her mistress. Janet noticed her uneasiness and it increased her own. but there was no help for it. Juanee must go to her people.
“You must go, Juanee,” she urged. “Send your cousin Myrrup back to stay with me if it will make you feel easier. now hurry!”
Juanee hesitated, clutching the silver cross. She went to a desk, took out a small pistol, held it up significantly, and placing it on the mantel above the glowing fire, said: “Mr. Paul taught you to use this, Miss Janet; he know someday you may need to shoot very straight!”
Janet laughed nervously. “I’ll scare the daylight out of anyone who bothers me,” she boasted, “so please hurry!” Under her breath she added, “Before I weaken.”
“May the Father of my people remember to walk by this house,” Juanee said, and, turning, went out. A few minutes later she rode around the corner of the house on her own horse, and was gone, one twin in her arms, the other blanketed to her back. The Indian boy rode after them across the flats. Taos strained at his collar, but Janet held him in. “It’s all right, Taos,” she assured him. Come and lie down by the fire.”
She sewed for an hour, watching Taos between times. “Why don’t you go to sleep?” she said finally. “You make me nervous with your watching.” Taos thumped his tail but remained attentively awake. In the warm silence Janet dozed, only to be suddenly awake again. Why, she didn’t know. Taos had not even raised his head, but his hair bristled and his eyes searched her face. She reached over and patted his head, thinking she’d be better off alone, he was such an old fuss-budget. The clock ticked. The fire crackled. A log fell apart and rolled out on the hearth. Janet took the tongs and put the log back on the fire. Taos whined to get out and she opened the door for him, leaving it ajar so he could come in again.
Five minutes passed. Ten. “Taos!” she called sharply. “Come in!”
“He no come in. He dead.”
Janet whirled toward the guttural voice behind her. “Mike!” she gasped. “How did you get in this room? What are you doing here?”
The Indian smiled insolently. “White squaw very nice,” he said. “Me want whiskey! You come store.”
Janet was trying desperately to hide her fear. “You know there is no whiskey in the store. Paul Morgan knows whiskey is bad medicine. He will whip you if he finds you here.”
“You come store,” the Indian said savagely.
“Me no key,” Janet said. her first panic was over. She’d show this filthy savage she wasn’t afraid of him or his country either.
“You heap key. Me no fool. White squaw get key or me shoot!”
“You haven’t a gun, Mike, or you’d have used it before this. Now get out!” She whirled to the mantel. “I have a gun, see?”
Mike backed away from the gun she whipped into his face, but his eyes lost none of their insolent assurance. “Me knife!” he said, and drew a long hunting knife from inside his shirt. “Me kill dog. Me kill you.”
A dozen guns could not have held the terror for Janet of that long sharp knife. “I’ll – I’ll get the key,” she gasped. She backed toward the kitchen door, barely managing to keep the pistol leveled at Mike’s head. If only she could get through the door and bolt it there might be time for Paul to come. She turned the knob behind her with her free hand and stepped backward through the door. A shrill laugh stopped her and a small, incredibly strong hand twisted the gun from her fingers. Mike’s begay shoved her triumphantly aside and took the gun to his father.
Janet staggered, threw her desperate weight against the door, bolting it with the strong oak latch.
“Taos! Where are you?” She shuddered. Taos was dead or he’d be tearing Mike to shreds. She could hear Mike swearing, searching for the store key. She backed along the wall. “Paul! Oh, please come now, Paul!” she prayed. “Father in heaven, what shall I do?”
Suddenly the answer came. In her backing along the wall she had bumped into the big cupboard that hid the trap door to the Devil’s Corridor. She remembered her husband’s laughing words as they had climbed up the corridor, that never-to-be-forgotten day, and out onto the mesa: “If any Indians ever try to get funny with you, Janet, just you remember this crack. You can get to it from the kitchen … trap door under the big cupboard …” she dropped to her knees, shoved a stack of magazines aside from the floor of the cupboard, and crawled in, closing the door carefully behind her.
To breathe in such a cramped position was nearly impossible. She tugged at the back panel; it slid to one side, revealing a flight of steep steps that led to a small cave at the mouth of the corridor. Once down these steps and into the corridor she’d be safe. Mike would never find her there. She descended the steps and stood listening. A splintering sound over her head told her that the door she had bolted between herself and Mike had given way. Now, he’d know she was gone.
There was a puzzled silence. Then, “chinde Clish!” in Mike’s surprised voice. “Chinde Clish!” his boy repeated, and banged his boots against the cupboard door.
Janet’s heart stopped. She had not taken time to close the back panel of the cupboard. If the front door came open they would find the corridor. Mike grunted and overturned the table in his disgust. That told Janet she was still safe. She ran along the floor of the rear cave, to where the real corridor began. There the air was better. She’d climb part way up and wait for Paul to come. Sounds from the house grew fainter, going toward the store. A shot echoed along the corridor as if it had been fired into. Shouts from the direction of the store told Janet that Mike was headed that way, that for the time at least, he had forgotten about her. If he hadn’t found the store key he would probably shoot out the windows. When he failed to find whiskey, he would set fire to the store and ride sullenly away. He might even set fire to the house.
A sob shook her. They couldn’t burn her home. Not El Toro! Paul loved El Toro. He must not come home and find it gone. She ran back along the corridor, stumbling blindly, tears drenching her face. Those renegades would find what she could do if they dared touch El Toro!
The passage narrowed until she was crouching again, fighting for breath with every step. A sharp pain made her cry out. She had forgotten her condition. The baby was more important than life. She must not go back until Paul came. And she prayed it might be soon.
“That was a labor pain!” her mind stated, waiting for a second pain as one strains to catch a faint disturbing noise in the night. It came and Janet sat down heavily. “I’m going to have a baby!” she said, “here, alone!”
Her words echoed hollowly along the corridor. Restraint snapped. “That’s what’s happening to me,” she cried. “That’s what your country is doing to me, Paul Morgan. And I just sit here babbling like an idiot!”
A longer pain choked her voice. When it was over, she became suddenly calm. She was being utterly foolish; she had to stop this nonsense. It might be hours before her husband came. Squaws often had their babies alone, and – and so could she!
She found a sand-covered ledge and curled up on it, determined to relax. Mike must be gone for she hadn’t heard a sound for ages. And she couldn’t smell smoke. Maybe he wouldn’t burn El Toro. A drowsy numbness enveloped her. “It must be sleep,” she thought. But her relief was short lived. Pains came in quick succession.
“Paul!” His name brought no answer. If only she could get back to the fire; it was cold and damp in the corridor. Paul would never find her here. She slid from the bank, dragging her feet painfully, walking was so hard. if she sat down – just for a minute – then she could get to the trap door. It was hot and close in the corridor now. What she needed was air – fresh – air!
“Paul –” The word died away in the empty distance. Janet sighed and sank quietly in the dark.