By Anna Prince Redd
Synopsis: Janet, reared in the East, married to a western rancher, finds life all but unendurable in her San Juan desert home because of her torturing fears of the country and the Indians. After the birth and death of her first child she is unable to be happy enough with the man she loves to endure her surroundings. After a temporary reconciliation, she goes to Washington, D.C. for a visit with her father … three years go by in which neither Janet nor Paul finds happiness. They alternate between the East and the West, content with neither. When Janet learns she is to have another child, she stays on in Washington.
Paul, overjoyed, plants a “swing-tree” for his son. While he is at work, Dr. Potsworth brings him a telegram informing him that Janet has twins. Paul’s joy is tempered by the fear that Janet will never want to return to El Toro again, afraid for her children now. Dr. Potsworth gives her a month and a half to come home to show off her babies. Paul learns that Dr. Groneman, the specialist who attended Janet in the strange illness that preceded the birth of her first child, has lost his eyesight. Paul can but offer sanctuary to so true a friend, but he fears what the presence of a blind man in their home may do to Janet.
Janet’s hand shook until she could hardly hold the receiver to her ear. The thought of hearing Paul’s voice again had all but unnerved her. Then the call went through. “Hello. hello, Paul!” she cried.
“Janet! Darling, where are you? Is – Is anything wrong?”
“Of course not. I’m tired but otherwise perfectly all right. I can hardly wait for you to get here to help me home.”
“Get to Washington? Janet, I – I can’t come. I – ”
“I’m in Grayson, Paul. Didn’t you get my telegram?”
“Grayson! Janet, I’ll be right up there. How are the babies? Janet, I’m as excited as a schoolboy!”
“Paul, they’re grand. You’d never –”
“Janet, Let’s not stop to talk. I’ll almost fly there. Good-by. No … don’t hang up! Where are you? Are you where you can rest till I get there? Oh, of course. I forgot about Doc. Sure. Sure, he’ll make you comfortable. Good-by, Janet. I’ll burn up the road – boulders, sand and dugways … Good-by!”
Janet leaned against the wall for support, laughing, half crying. Dr. Potsworth beamed approval.
“He didn’t get my telegram, Doctor. Whatever could have happened to it?”
“Seems to me I saw something that might have been a telegram. Thought I’d saunter over to El Toro this afternoon with it. Paul’ll save me a trip.”
“You old conniver! You kept that telegram on purpose!” Janet didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. She had counted so on Paul’s being there to meet her.
Doctor Potsworth chuckled. “I must be getting old. To forget a thing like that!”
“You didn’t forget. You figured a little waiting would whet our appetites. I know you.” She began to laugh. “Oh, it was good to hear Paul’s voice! I can hardly wait to see his eyes when I stack the twins in his arms.”
“Aren’t they a little young for such a trip?” Potsworth innocently asked.
“Dr. Eldred was quite upset about it. He thought they were far too young. But even Rhae agreed that I owe Paul a sight of his own children.”
“Paul owes me twelve heifer calves!” the doctor said with seeming irrelevance.
That night riding home in the car with Paul, excited and tired from her long trip from Washington, Janet listened to Paul’s recital of all that had happened in her absence. He told her of the birth of Juanee’s baby girl; of the death of the trapper’s wife down on the river; about Warren Newsbaum’s new dude ranch; Mike’s periodic jail sentences.
“Did you ever find out how Mike got the turquoise cross from Juanee’s mother?” Janet asked. “I think about that more than anything else.”
“He tied her up and searched the lodge, but he didn’t hurt her. That is, not bodily; Mike’s too big a coward for that. He knew Chief Dodge would kill him if he harmed her in any way, so he kidnapped her.”
“That wouldn’t be an easy matter; she’s a determined woman, Paul.”
“Which accounts for the condition the lodge was in. She put up a pretty big fight. They hid her in a cave, leaving her to get home the best way she could, while they came straight to El Toro.”
“If Chief Dodge had come and found her gone, Mike would have had plenty to worry about, the old renegade. Much has happened, of course, since I left, Paul, but couldn’t you really have come to Washington?”
“You can’t possibly know how much I wanted to come, Janet. I’d worked day and night to get things in shape so I could – and then Dr. Groneman came.”
“Mark Groneman?” Janet was surprised at this casual tone, a tone that sounded as if he were telling her something she already knew. He seemed nervous and apologetic, choosing his words with unnecessary care. “You mean our Dr. Groneman? What are you saying, Paul?” Janet was bewildered.
“Yes, Janet, our Dr. Groneman. He is blind. He – Well, he’s come to El Toro to spend the summer. Will you mind, Janet?”
“Blind! Paul, that’s incredible. You actually sound serious.”
At the mention of Mark Groneman’s name, Janet had the feeling that she was still in that painfully semi-conscious state that had first brought Groneman to El Toro.
“I am serious, Janet. I wish with all my heart it weren’t so.”
Janet steeled herself against the plea for understanding in his eyes,. “But Paul, even if what you say is true, why should he choose El Toro as his retreat from the world? What could his coming be but a wounded flight, like that of a maimed animal to its lair?” Every fiber of her body cried out against it. El Toro had done enough to her! She wanted to be alone with Paul and her children. She had brought them back to El Toro because they were Paul’s as well as hers; she had not expected to share them with a stranger.
“I should have written to you about him,” Paul apologized. “I thought – Is his coming an annoyance, Janet?” There was grave disappointment in Paul’s voice. Janet would have given anything to say she didn’t mind, but her emotion was too great. A blind man groping from room to room, needing more care than a child. Helpless, despondent – to come home to that!
She tried to look at Paul, to say something commonplace, but couldn’t. The desert had risen to strike her again. Not as a snake. not as an Indian. In the guise of a friend! She forced herself to look at her husband. His face was white, his lips still. Paul expected her approval and she couldn’t give it. Again she had not measured up.
“I’m sorry, Janet,” he said, avoiding her eyes. “Groneman will have to go.”
“No, Paul. I’ll – I’ll do my best not to let it make any difference. Just give me time to – to get used to the idea.” She glued her eyes to the distant peaks. Paul had told her once that sometime something would make her belong to El Toro. Something kindly and welcoming, she supposed he meant. When? When? Would she ever need it more than now?
“Thanks, Janet,” Paul said. “If it proves too much for you, we’ll work out something later.”
Janet laid her hand over his. Somewhere in the blue distance elephants marched along gray Mesa; stars gleamed above Hotel Collins, and a night owl called. She had not been afraid that night on the Mesa; she would not be afraid now. “I feel better already,” she said, and laughed. With relief.
The months to come were to show her that Dr. Groneman had not come to El Toro as a wounded animal to lick its wounds, but as a man in search of a spiritual haven. His acceptance of the inevitable was an inspiration to her. His superb senses, his sensitive hands, the perfect coordination of his muscles made it possible for him to act independently, even in his blindness. Not once had she seen him stumble, and he never asked for help. He and Paul talked together hours on end and she often joined them in the patio when her work was done, and the babies were asleep for the night.
They were strangely alike, these two men of such widely different paths. both had an amazing capacity for the enjoyment of simple things – sand lilies, the smell of rain, the sound of wind in a canyon. Both had keen insight into the ways of plants and animals, wisdom concerning men. In their diversities they found stimulation. Dr. Potsworth often drove over during the evenings, and they’d talk far into the night. When Paul had to ride the range, Groneman turned to his typewriter and worked tirelessly. From the evenings’ talks Janet knew much of what would go into those typewritten pages. Somehow it made El Toro seem to the safest, happiest place in the world. Through his sightless eyes she was finding sight for her own. Unconsciously she’d fallen into the habit of close scrutiny of everything around her, for Dr. Groneman was sure to ask what she did and what she saw.
Of all the things on the desert the yucca seemed to fascinate him most. One evening she remarked that the screen was white with tiny moths. “Yucca moths, no doubt,” he said. Janet waited, knowing there was a story to follow. Presently he began:
“It’s strange how the yucca achieves fertilization … Seeing the white moths on the screen made me think of it.”
That was one of the delightful things about him. He always ‘saw’ the things they talked about. “Tell me,” she said. “It must be significant, you are so thoughtful about it.”
“It shows how utterly dependent we are, plants upon insects, people upon each other.” There was a pause while he measured the length of his cane against his chest. “The manner in which the yucca is fertilized,” he went on, “is one of the wonders of plant life. In the bell-shaped, pendulous blossom of our beautiful desert plant, the anthers containing the pollen dust are nowhere near the stigma cup that should receive it. So the plant depends upon certain little white moths to pollinate it, otherwise it couldn’t survive.”
“How interesting,” Janet said enviously. “I’ve been so absorbed with – with other phases of the country – less pleasant ones – that I have failed to notice things like that.”
“We all have to become initiated. And not all of the things around us are as interesting as yucca moths. During the day they rest with folded wings, singly or in pairs, within the half-closed blossoms. But at night the female sets to work scraping pollen from the anthers. When she has secured enough for her needs, she shapes it into a pellet two or three times the size of her head, then flits away to another flower and deposits an egg in the soft tissue of the pistil. Then she runs to the top of the pistil, turns around and thrusts the pollen ball into its little funnel, poking it down with her head, unconsciously pollinating the plant. The seed that forms after pollination is the food for her young.”
Janet remained silent, seeing the desert forested with tall blossoming yucca plants. A white moth would never again be meaningless to her. “I’m afraid I’ve thought too much about the spikes to appreciate the blossoms,” she said. “I read a story once of a Spanish native who tried to gain his freedom from slavery by attempting a passage through a thicket of ‘Spanish bayonets.’”
“Yucca Gloriosa,” Groneman interrupted. “Their stiff dagger-like leaves stand as high as a man’s head. No wonder they are called bayonets. No flesh and blood creature could survive such an ordeal as trying to penetrate their thicket.”
“No. the poor fellow didn’t have a chance.”
“But the spikes have a reason for their existence, Janet. They guard the most beautiful of all the yucca blossoms.”
Groneman got up and walked toward the door. “Shall we brush the moths from the screen and sit in the patio?” he asked. “I heard the weird beat of the tom-0toms.”
“The Indians are making ready for the ceremonial dances. Juanee’s boys can hardly wait till they are called to participate.”
“Aren’t they too young?”
“That’s left to the discretion of the chief.”
“How old are they?”
“Nine, and almost as resourceful as men. So perfectly one that they rarely act independently of each other,” Janet said. “I have watched them grow with almost as much pride as Juanee.”
“Here they come now, riding like wild Comanches.”
Janet looked in all directions but could see no one. “Why, how do you know that, doctor Groneman?” Then seeing his slow smile and his listening attitude, she understood. “Your ears! I marvel at you more every day. I can hear the boys now, too.”
“They ride fearlessly, don’t they?”
“That’s the way they do everything. I’d be scared to death if they were my boys, but Juanee accepts that just as she does everything else. She’s waiting in her doorway now, I’ll wager, waiting to decide the winner.”
“I’ll hate to leave El Toro,” the young doctor said unexpectedly. Janet hardly realized the significance of his words. “Leave?” she questioned.
“I shall go at the week end, Janet. I must get to a library and to a secretary. I’ve been lazy long enough.”
Janet didn’t protest. She knew his fight was hardly begun; but also that he was equal to it. So she said quietly: “Then we must do something special tomorrow.”
Paul came home soon after dark, and as soon as he had bathed and changed clothes he joined them in the patio. He relaxed into his favorite chair, stretching out his long frame and sighing with contentment. Janet asked after the affairs of the day.
“Oh, there’s something I must tell you,” Paul said. “I went to the jail to see Mike as I promised you I would, Janet. The lazy old scamp is really enjoying himself. His latest sentence was up a month ago but he doesn’t want to leave. Except for the matter of firewater he has everything he desires.”
“Did you take him the grape juice I made?”
“Sure thing. I took it to him on my way out to the range. I stopped again on the way back tonight. he thanked me civilly for your offering, but he was plainly mystified. ‘What’s matter?” he asked, rubbing his stomach in perplexity. ‘No hot! Me drinkum one. Me drinkum two. Still me no sing!’”
Groneman roared with laughter. “What a story to tell my colleagues,” he cried. “I’ll be the center of attraction as long as my San Juan yarns hold out. That’s one compensation for being a bachelor – there’s always an audience.”
“For escape literature?” Janet laughed. “I don’t know whether that’s complimentary or not.” She rose to go in. “Poor old Mike, I forgave him long ago,” she said. “You two talk all night if you want to. I have a couple of live issues to settle all by myself – Jerry and Paulette. They’ve been fussing for some time.”
Long after she had gone to bed Janet could hear the drone of the men’s voices. Mark had told Paul, no doubt, that he was leaving to take up life again. What would they all be doing when they saw him again? The thought brought back a little of her old restlessness. With Dr. Groneman gone, Paul would be away more and more to catch up the tag ends of his neglected business. “Remember the yucca moths,” she said to cheer herself. “The blossoms and not the spikes!”
She went to sleep thinking of her father and Rhae, and she was lonely for the first time since she had come back from Washington.
Paul left again at daylight. Janet woke with the determination that Mark Groneman’s last day at El Toro must be something to remember. Something that would carry over to the hours of solitude that must come once he left the peace and security of El Toro. Traffic and frantic rush would replace the leisurely days and scented desert nights he’d spent here. If he had married, there might have been children to make all the difference, now that he so desperately needed something to anchor him.
She dressed hurriedly, planning a special breakfast to begin the day.
“Know what I’d like to do?” Groneman asked, coming to the kitchen door. “Um-mm- that smells good. Hot maple syrup! Mind if I taste?” He filled a spoon and sipped the syrup with boyish enjoyment.
“What would you like to do?” Janet asked, understanding for the first time that this man was not unhappy, and that she and Paul had helped to make it so, and the twins, Jerry and Paulette. how unprofessionally he had rocked them to sleep! She knew, too, that in the years to come El Toro would claim this famous man again and again.
“Paulette is to be my special charge,” Dr. Groneman said, almost as if he had read her thoughts. “I have a big house and an aunt to manage it. when Paulette is six, I shall come for her.”
Janet laughed good-naturedly. “She’ll be engaged to Paul by that time; they are already inseparable. In the meantime we have a day to celebrate. what shall it be? What do you want to see?”
“The San Juan River at the bridge; the Goosenecks; and if possible a storm on the desert!”
The river! Janet steeled herself against her old instinctive fear. A dozen excuses clamored in her mind. Apparently inattentive, Dr. Groneman sipped another spoonful of syrup. You couldn’t explain unreasoning fear to a man like that! And besides, this was his day – perhaps his last day – at El Toro. She broke an egg into a bowl.
“Yes. Yes, we’ll go to the river! We’ll do all the sights – and come home – ”
“Ravenously hungry,” Dr. Groneman finished sagely.