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. A few months later, while Paul, restored to health, is absent on a roundup, an Indian, Mike, threatens to kill Janet. She seeks refuge in the Devil’s Corridor where she becomes unconscious.
The minute Dr. Potsworth’s old Ford rattled into the yard at El Toro he was out of it, his short legs pushing through the sand and up the flagstone path to the house. He panted to a stop as Paul threw open the door, flung his hat aside and grumbled nervously: “Can’t a respectable doctor turn his back on a patient but there’s mischief to pay? Janet was laughing and well only a few hours ago!”
“You saw her? You were here?”
“Of course. I come as often as the weather and roads will let me. Why, the place looks like the leavings of a tornado! What’s been going on here?”
“I wish I knew,” Paul gritted. “Hurry, doctor, please!”
“What a mess.” Dr. Potsworth examined the room professionally. “Quite an operation. An amputation or two; a few broken joints – ”
“Never mind the room,” Paul begged. “Janet’s in here, Doc. Hurry!” He threw open the bedroom door. “I found her unconscious in the Devil’s Corridor.”
“I can’t tell. Something pretty bad must have happened. I came home to find Taos knifed in the throat, Juanee gone, and the place smashed to bits.”
One look at Janet, lying inert, beads of perspiration along her hairline, and Dr. Potsworth became absorbed. At the sound of their voices, Janet stirred restlessly. Paul took her hand and began to chafe her fingers gently.
“Will you be able to handle this, Doc? You’ll know a specialist – It was all my fault – I – ”
“Take it easy, Paul. Of course I can handle it. We’ll get help when we need it.”
“Then do something. Don’t just stand there looking at her!”
“There isn’t anything to do. Not now. Tomorrow, maybe.”
“I can’t stand it till tomorrow. It’s all my fault, I tell you; I left her alone. I don’t even know what happened!”
‘Whatever it was, it happened after I left here. Evidently it had something to do with Janet’s collapse. But I’m inclined to think this might have happened anyway. Janet’s lived with fear too long.”
“Fear. Janet afraid? Doc, you’re all wrong. Janet isn’t afraid of anything! Why, she stands up to this country like a veteran! This was no ordinary fear.”
“No. It’s evident that Janet had cause to hide in the Corridor. But that’s not what I mean. You’ve sold yourself on the idea that this country belonged to the gods before they turned it over to you. Well, it didn’t. It’s cold and hard and exacting; only you’re too absorbed to see it. Janet’s been afraid since the day she came to El Toro to live!”
Paul groaned. “Then let’s get her out of here!”
“Her only chance lies in rest and quiet. She must not be moved.”
“But what is it? What causes such things? If it wasn’t fear, then what was it?”
“We don’t know. Such cases are not uncommon, however.”
Dr. Potsworth turned from his long contemplation of Janet and went to the window.
“Why don’t you do something?” Paul implored. “Take her pulse; do anything except just stand there!”
“Her pulse is all right. I counted the one in her throat. She’s tired; she wants to rest.”
“And I thought mustangs couldn’t break her spirit.”
“She may sleep this off.”
“But Janet isn’t asleep. Even I can tell that!”
“No. she isn’t asleep, now, but she soon will be. She may sleep for days.” Potsworth turned from the window. “Don’t worry too much, Paul. I have the feeling that what might happen in this case, won’t happen. I’ll send for Mark Groneman if it’ll make you feel better. He’s the latest authority on – this sort of thing.”
Paul noted the break in Potsworth’s sentence, and his heart sank. He wanted to ask, “Authority on what?” but shrank from the clarity of professional terms. if he could believe that Janet was all right, that she was going to be all right, then he could keep sane, and wait. but did Potsworth know? After all, he was getting on in years –
“I’ll send the telegram to Groneman,” Paul said. “There’s no one else to go, and the phone is wrecked.”
Potsworth scribbled the message. Paul looked long at Janet, then he turned and went hurriedly out.
He was back before Potsworth expected him, even in his state of mind. “Possibly a dead horse on the ranch tonight, as well as a dead dog,” he reproved. “There’s no use going off the deep end, Paul. I’ve told you that, for the present at least, Janet is all right.”
Paul nodded miserably. “I’d like a clue – There’s something unhealthy in store for someone. I wish Joe would come. And what do you suppose happened to that measly squaw?”
“Juanee is probably on her way here now. I fancy her leaving, and the fracas here, originated from the same source. Juanee’s faithful as only a squaw can be. I’ll warrant she’s in trouble, too.”
Janet sighed deeply, but not a muscle of her body moved.
“We’re talking too much. Suppose you go out and straighten up a bit; pick up the pieces. I’ll hold clinic in here.”
“You’ll stay all night?”
“Yes. But don’t you go stirring up trouble. Janet needs you here.” Potsworth followed Paul out.
“I’ll be here, Doc, but that’s no insurance for the Indian that started this.”
Potsworth looked at him shrewdly. “You’ve got a posse out?”
“Within an hour every man in Grayson will be out after the Indians.”
“It’s an Indian, all right. Mike. And possibly that brat of his.”
“Mike! How do you know?”
“Mike’s blind in one eye, and can’t shoot straight. See that bullet hole above your head?”
Paul glanced at the casing of the door against which he leaned. Potsworth indicated a gouge in the wood. “It glanced off. I’ll bet every bullet that was fired took the same angle.”
Paul picked up the empty shell. “That came out of my own gun!”
“There’ll be a straight bullet for Mike, and it won’t glance off!”
“Now look here, Paul. The whole Indian nation isn’t responsible for this. I’ll hold you accountable if there’s a feud stirred up. Those hotheads will grab the first Indian they meet. You’ve got to stop them. Now get out and fix that telephone wire so we can call off the dogs!”
“Why didn’t I have you do that instead of sending you to town, anyway?” he grumbled as Paul went. “For a bright man, I haven’t much sense!”
* * *
“There’s the plane!” Paul raced from the patio toward the desert pasture.
“That’s Groneman, all right!”
“That’s a soft landing field.”
“He’ll make it! He doesn’t like things too regular!”
“That’s a perfect landing if I ever saw one!” Paul cried. “Look at the cowboys scatter; they expected the plane to bounce all over the country and end up in a bed of prickly pears.”
Paul was already halfway to the pasture; Dr. Potsworth hurried after him as far as his shorter legs would take him, puffing and wheezing like his old car in a sand rut. Fifteen minutes later the two doctors were in Janet’s room, holding a consultation.
“Why did you send for me, Potsworth? You had this catalogued.” Dr. Groneman had been watching Janet intently for several minutes. Exactly the same expression was on his face that Potsworth’s had worn when he first saw her.
“I’m gettin’ old and seedy, Mark. Been out here so long I can’t tell mumps from whooping cough.”
“You’re as good an authority as we have on this sort of thing, Potsworth, I may as well go back, for any good I’ll be. But I’d like to stick around and watch you work. How could anybody get nerve exhaustion in a place like this? It’s the top of the world!”
“Let’s turn the patient over to your nurse and take a little of it in,” Potsworth said. “I’ve been glued to this spot for two days. I’m mighty thankful to have a nurse on the scene. Even our Indian woman was gone when I got here.”
There followed days of waiting. Paul worked tirelessly at insignificant things, saying little. Janet roused occasionally to a state that bordered consciousness, but most of the time she slept a detached, feather-like sleep. The household lived on tiptoe.
On the fifth morning, Paul followed Dr. Potsworth into the yard. Dawn was breaking, rose-hued over the desert. Wind brushed against his face with sympathetic coolness. Paul neither saw nor heard.
“I can’t stand this any longer, Doc,” he said. “I thought I’d feel better if I didn’t know the worst, but I don’t. Nothing could be worse than the things I conjure up. What is it both you and Groneman imply, yet do not say, even between yourselves? What is it you fear?”
The word cut the air like hawk wings. Paul felt the pressure of blood in every vein of his body. Potsworth took his arm and they went back to the house. At the door Paul said doggedly: “If we could get her to a hospital –”
“We’ve discussed that endlessly, Groneman and I. We both agree that her chance is still in perfect quiet. If labor will hold off a few more days, the odds will be on her side. The shock of childbirth now might be too much.”
“And the baby?” Paul asked it, dreading the answer.
“Several days overdue. That’s the chance we have to take. Nature’s pretty sensible, we can but help her out.”
Paul pressed the doctor’s hand and went slowly toward the store. “It’s awful – this waiting – this uselessness,” he muttered. “My fingers itch to clutch the hair of a redskin, any one of them, just so I’ll feel like a man again!” But he’d given Doc his word not to go gunning for Mike, and he’d keep it. To the disgust of the cowboys, he’d called off the posse. Only Indian Joe was left to dog Mike’s trail. And Joe would do it. If only Juanee would talk! But until Joe came back she would not do that. She had been to her father’s hogan and found them gone, hide and baggage, that’s all Juanee would say. She cried silently by day and chanted from her hogan by night.
Paul awoke to a gray day. By noon a storm broke over the desert. Trees turned somersaults. Rocks shivered and broke loose from the cliffs as thunder rocked the clouds into a downpour of rain. Burnt-eyed, Paul watched it come; watched Janet, too.
Groneman stood looking out of the window. “Will this be a shock?” he asked Dr. Potsworth, indicating Janet.
“On the contrary. This is something she can understand. She’s heard the roar of surf against rocks; rain dripping from the roof; rivers on the rampage. This will be home to Janet.”
“There’s never been a rain like this since Janet came here,” Paul said. “I – I hope you’re right.”
At the height of the storm Janet’s baby came, living barely an hour, then Janet fell into a restful, natural sleep.
“She’ll be all right now, Paul,” Groneman said. “She’ll remember little of this.”
Grief overshadowed Paul’s eyes. “Then – then Janet will never sense her loss – nor know the glory of motherhood?”
Potsworth sighed. “She may or may not have another child.”
Paul dug the tiny grave on a knoll overlooking El Toro, where it would catch the first and last rays of every sun. Alone, he carried the tiny casket to the little cemetery he had made.
Janet knew that in the dim hours of the dawn she had held her baby in her arms; then they had taken it away …
When she was able to go out into the living room again it was May. The spring was full of golden days, the desert sweet with them.