By Anna Prince Redd
Synopsis: Following Indian Mike’s raid on El Toro, Janet’s desert home, which in a measure was responsible for the death of her baby, Janet draws more and more within herself. Crowded with new fears, she does not realize that she and her husband, Paul Morgan, are growing further and further apart. Dr. Potsworth, friend and mentor, intervenes. Janet, overhearing his talk with Paul and Paul’s bitter answers, wakes to the realization of her selfish absorption. Paul’s determination to bring Indian Mike to trial, at any cost, adds to Janet’s fears, driving out, for the time at least, the old ones that have obsessed her since the day she married Paul and came to live in San Juan. There is a renewal of their old love and companionship; Paul promises to give up the fight against Mike, and Janet is happy again. They decide that she shall leave soon for Washington and spend the winter in her old home. Paul is to join her when the fall work is done. But the respite is brief. Janet learns that Juanee, her Indian woman, the mother of twins, is to have another child, and all her old grief returns. Juanee tells Janet to pray to the God of her people, and she, too, will have a child.
“No place, anywhere, is equal to Washington in the Spring!” Paul Morgan tamped the earth solidly around a small cottonwood tree he was planting. Every youngster had to have a swing tree. He hoped this one wasn’t being planted too late in the year. He dropped to his knees and smoothed the earth lovingly, Janet’s last letter repeating itself in his mind.
“I wish you could see the cherry blossoms, Paul,” she’d written. “Better still, I wish you could smell them and feel them against your face as I’m doing now, and sit here beside me on this bench and look out across the Potomac. The water is scarcely ruffled, yet petals are blowing. Sand is probably pelting your face, in San Juan …”
Paul straightened up and looked out over the desert, shading his eyes from the sun. before it was an hour hotter there’d be sand all right.
“You say things are looking well. I can just see them – red, where green should be, copper, where there should be blue, and no water anywhere!”
Paul regarded the little tree doubtfully. What did it matter if trees grew or not? Things were precious only by association, only by being shared with someone you loved. What did it matter where houses stood or whether the earth were red or green or rivers placid or not? An unyielding cliff became a refuge when a home was built against it! A penthouse empty if …
“And the Potomac, Paul!” (Janet’s letter intruded again.) “How different it is from the San Juan. No cliffs frown from dizzy heights along its limpid edges. Boats drift on its sun-jeweled surface. People dream along its banks – Sunday-morning people, people from offices and homes, hundreds of them, out to see the cherry blossoms fall! And in all this beauty I am lonely. I guess my cherry blossoms must be shared with one I love or they bloom for me in vain …”
Paul tamped the roots of the little tree carefully. “Cherry blossoms must be shared with one you love …” he repeated softly, and as he arose a song left his lips; the little tree stood straight and firmly packed into the sand at the corner of the patio between El Toro and its warm red cliffs. Paul pushed his hat back from his forehead and let the morning wind cool his face, then he turned and went in. He took Janet’s letter from the arm of his chair where it had lain within easy reach during the five days since its arrival. He spread the pages out carefully on his knee as he sat down tor est. After a while he picked them up and began to read them again, though he knew the lines by heart …
“What a contrary person I am, Paul. When I’m there, I want to be here; and when I’m here, I want to be there. For three years now we’ve been seesawing back and forth between the east and the west, no nearer contentment than we were before. Three months each winter with you here, three months each summer with me there. And neither of us … Paul, when the baby comes, I’m sure everything will be different. I wish you had taken me back with you. I’ve been sitting here for hours thinking things over. How is Juanee? Did she bake potatoes in the ashes for me when she knew about the baby? I dreamed last night that old Mike came here and stole everything I had, that the baby was born and he took it too. I woke up, limp from fear. All the old hatreds rushed in with strangling force. This beauty, this hum of human endeavor is life, Paul. Yet only half of me is here to enjoy it.
“We have only a little while to wait, now. Doctor Eldred says I’m ‘bonny.’ He’s a Scotchy old dear – as near like Doctor Potsworth as I could find. I’ve been thinking of Doctor Groneman all day. He and Doc should be working together in a big hospital – yet what would San Juan do without Doc …? Here’s the cabman; I had no idea my three hours were up. I’ll post this on my way home.
“I love you …
Paul sighed deeply. He folded the contents of the letter away in his thoughts, as carefully as one presses a flower between the pages of a loved book. “If I should spend my winters here … never go to Washington again … Janet would sometime forget El Toro. A person has to be happy. Life can’t forever deny that,” he thought, knowing he could never give Janet up, and that somehow he must find a way to win. He went to the water barrel, dipped a bucket in, and carried it brimming to the little tree he had planted. As he splashed it recklessly over the loose soil, a car rattled into the front yard. Doc Potsworth. He’d know the sound of that wheezy old tub anywhere. But today it was an unwelcome sound. He wanted no company.
“Can’t you come to meet a person?” Potsworth searched around in his pockets, knowing perfectly well that Paul knew he had the weekly mail. “Not very anxious, seems to me! Got a telegram here someplace …!”
“Telegram?” Three strides brought Paul from the corner of the house to the car.
“Sure. Any law against that?” Potsworth thrust a yellow envelope into Paul’s outstretched hand.
Paul took one look at the sheet he had all but torn in two in his eagerness, gulped, and sank to the running board of the old car. Potsworth waited impatiently, but when Paul continued to gulp, unable to utter a sound, he clutched the telegram. “Keep a privileged old friend waiting all day, will you!” He read the telegram, and his own jaw dropped. “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!” he cried, “Janet has twins!”
“Twins?” Paul questioned. “Two?”
“Two!” Potsworth exclaimed.
Paul repeated the word weakly. “Two.”
“Yes, Paul, two! You’re a family man now. One boy, One girl.”
“Two,” Paul said again, as incredulous as a child at Christmas, his face blank from astonishment.
“You no savvy, Paul?” Potsworth explained patiently, shaking with inward laughter. “One begay! One mechacha!” Then he added soberly: “What I wouldn’t have given to have brought those babies into the world.”
“But what of Janet?” Paul demanded, scarcely hearing him. “She’ll be more afraid of San Juan than ever.”
“This’ll do wonders for her, Paul. She’ll have an interest now as consuming as her fear of the country. She’ll come through. Just give her time.”
“Time! She’s had little else. For years you’ve been telling me what to do about it. I suppose you think she’ll just love coming back with a couple of babies to worry about!”
“I suppose you’re right. But just the same, she’ll be back. No woman can resist the desire to show off a new baby. And twins … well!”
“I’ll have to go to her and help her bring them home. That’s a terrible responsibility – twins!”
“I’m glad you sense it. Janet will come back if you go for her, but she’ll bring back the same fears, the same prejudices. She’s got to want to be here on her own.”
“But doc …”
“I know. I know. You want to see those kids. Sure, but you’ve got to let Janet bring them to you.”
“But it might be months!”
“I’ll give her exactly one and a half. And don’t you go writing to her every day either.”
“And when I do, talk about something besides cows?”
Paul’s eyes twinkled. “If it works I’ll give you a heifer calf – a dozen heifer calves!” Paul began to pace the floor in his excitement. “I’ll probably wake up and find myself asleep in my saddle, dreaming.”
“That’s good. Wake up and find yourself asleep!”
“Well, you know what I mean. Honestly, Doc,” Paul said seriously. “I’ve about given up hope of winning Janet over. She’s so set against this country that she won’t give it a chance.”
“Let the country take care of itself, man. Quit trying to make Janet like it. Just you get ready to enjoy those kids. The country complex will take care of itself.”
“And remember, you’re just a bystander now. I’ll be the important male around here – next to young Paul.”
“Shouldn’t you have included Paulette?”
“Say, that’s not bad! Paul and Paulette! Not bad at all!”
“Doc, where’s your imagination? The boy’s been named Jerry for years.”
“Then the names won’t match for I insist upon Paulette for the girl.”
“And we’re both reckoning without Janet. She’ll probably choose Cactus and Cacti!” Paul spoke sarcastically, Janet’s dislike of the country rankling as it had never done before.
“Cactus and Cacti!” Doctor Potsworth chuckled, refusing to take Paul seriously. “Let’s wire that to Janet.”
Paul looked at him, trying to suppress his mood. “Why not?” he laughed. “She might even see the joke herself …”
Janet, lying in her hospital bed, surrounded by flowers and gifts, read the telegram with delight. “How perfectly adorable,” she laughed. “Cactus and Cacti!” She lay back on her pillows, hands behind her head, her eyes dreamy. Paul was happy now. The little grave on the hill would never seem lonely again. Brothers and sisters make a family. What would Juanee think? Janet smiled, remembering the Indian woman’s appraisal of twins: “You give me one dollar or two dollars, I take two dollars!”
Janet reread her telegram from Paul with increasing delight. She’d long ago decided on Paulette for her daughter’s name, and Paul would have nothing but Jerry for his son. Any children could be named that, but only born-to-the-range twins could be Cactus and Cacti – even in fun.
“Born to the range!” Suddenly the hospital faded; the flame of setting sun through the windows became a glowing bed of coals in the center of a cave high up on Blue Mesa. Hotel Collins. Very, very far from nurses and doctors; far from the ordered loveliness that surrounded her here. She was not lying in a high white bed, but on a bed of fragrant cedar boughs in the cave; not laughing, but saying fiercely into the dark: “I’ll fight you, Paul, you and your country! I’ll fight you till the day I die! I’ll not bring a child up a million miles from nowhere!”
Then as suddenly the cave faded and she was back in the hospital, for a nurse had brought her babies to be fed. Her momentary rebellion was drowned in happiness. These were Paul’s babies. They belonged back there with their father. She was suddenly inexpressibly lonely for Paul …
Daily, Paul carried water to nourish the little cottonwood tree he had planted near the patio. “Kids need a swing tree,” he told everyone who would listen. All the cowboys had brought gifts – lariats of miniature size, saddles, bridles, mounted silver spurs with extravagant burnt designs. But the thing that touched him most of all was a gift from Indian Joe – his own twins’ first moccasins. Other Indians came with their whole families to offer a ‘shake,’ solemnly proffering their hands, leaving rich presents for the paleface twins. There were so many gifts he’d have to build a new wing at El Toro to accommodate them all.
“If only Janet would hurry and come,” he thought dejectedly. But from the tone of her last letter the swing tree would be full grown before that happened. He sat on the back step of the patio and read the letter again.
“Why don’t you hurry the spring work along and come? Our babies are nearly a month old, and you haven’t seen them. I’d come home if I could, but Doctor Eldred says the babies must be at least six months old before they can face the wilds. Anyway, I’d be scared to travel with them, even if you were here to help me. So you see you’ll just have to come to us. I love you very much, dear. Please understand. I’d come home this minute if I could!”
There was much more; but news of Washington didn’t interest Paul. One word only stood out like a star – “home.” Janet had said “home.” She could have said … well, just “back” if she had wanted to. But she’d said “home!”
A wheezy pfpht pfpht and an extra cloud of dust in the wind, told Paul he had company. It was Potsworth again. Just the person he wanted to see.
“I’m going to D.C., Doc,” he shouted, racing around the corner of the patio. “And you can like it or go jump in the lake!”
“And where would I get a lake, young man?”
“Well, the river then!”
“Practically dry. Same as your humor.”
“I’m not trying to be funny, Doc, I’ve got to see Janet and those babies. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t go. And besides I’ve run out of excuses.”
“Suppose I dump one in your lap?”
“You couldn’t invent one big enough.”
“Try it and see.”
“You like Doctor Groneman, don’t you, Paul?”
“Yes. Yes, of course. But what’s that got to do with …”
“He’s coming here, Paul.”
“Here? What for? And if he is, what of it? He doesn’t need a nursemaid, does he?”
“That’s just what he does need. He’s blind.”
“Bli… Doc, say that again.”
“Groneman is blind.”
“That’s … That’s not possible. Why would the Lord let a thing like that happen?”
“Don’t we blame too much onto the Lord? It was T.B., Paul – tuberculosis of the eyes; a sudden rupture, and the light went out.”
There was stark incredulity in Paul’s eyes. “But he was a doctor! he worked with doctors constantly!” he cried.
“And none of them knew. They didn’t even suspect. Sometimes the blood vessels break one at a time, over long intervals, and the blindness is gradual. Rarely does it come as this did.”
“How awful! What’ll he do now? I can’t picture him a useless, helpless invalid.”
“He’s not an invalid. And men of Groneman’s caliber are never useless. He’ll find other things to do to help the world.”
“But what can he do here if he can’t see?”
“He can rest – and feed his soul. It’s inner vision he needs now. That’s why he’s coming here. Remember he said this was the top of the world?”
Paul nodded. “Yes, El Toro could be perfect, even to the blind.”
“Will you still go gallivantin’ off to Washington?”
“No, of course not. If it hadn’t been for him and you, Janet wouldn’t be here today, Doc.”
“There you go again, you blame God for natural consequences and leave Him out when He plays the big part.”
“Most of the time I feel that He is pretty near, here on the desert.” Paul picked up a wire and began fastening it to the little tree. “But at times He seems pretty remote.”
“Here, I’ll give you a hand with that tree,” Doctor Potsworth said, breaking the tension in his own shrewd, kindly way. “Groneman knows about the twins, Paul.”
“When will he come?”
“By the end of the week.”
“I’ll be ready. Joe and the foreman can take over. I’ll stick around here.”
“To the north a little, Paul.” Potsworth straightened the tree’s small trunk. “A tree has to be braced against the wind.”
They worked in silence, making a boot for the trunk from an old piece of garden hose, fastening it by a guy-wire to a peg in the ground, so it could not give against the strong north winds.
When Paul spoke again, his voice was low and unsteady. “I’m scared, Doc. What if I do and say the wrong things?”
“You will, sometimes. Who wouldn’t? But you’ll manage. Good-by.”
“What will Janet think?” Paul said to himself, and went inside.