By Anna Prince Redd
Synopsis: Janet, still fearful of San Juan, returns to El Toro with her twins to find that the country has risen to strike at her again, this time in the guise of a friend, now blind and helpless. it is almost more than she can face; but seeing the pain and disappointment in her husband’s eyes, she determines to conquer her fears and accept the inevitable for his sake.
In being “eyes and ears” for Dr. Groneman, Janet comes to an understanding of the strength and grandeur of San Juan, and above all, of the beauty around her. When it comes time for the famous doctor to return to his home in New York, she decides that his last day in the country shall be one to be remembered through all his dark and lonely days to come. this high resolve is all but shattered when the doctor announces that he wants to spend the day at the river. At once, and with renewed force, Janet’s fears return, for the river above all else holds the most dread for her. But she courageously accepts the challenge – for she feels that it is one – and says they will go to the river.
“Here’s where we chute the chutes down the dugway,” Janet warned. They rounded a curve, hung suspended above the river for a terrifying moment, and then shot downward with a speed that took Groneman’s breath. He held onto his hat, whistled with satisfaction and measured their descent in seconds as they careened down the narrow dugway toward the bottom of the gorge.
Groneman chuckled. “You drive as though you want to get there before you change your mind.”
“Sorry,” Janet apologized. “We’ll approach the monster with caution!” She jammed on the brakes and skidded to a snail’s pace. Groneman leaning back leisurely gave a short, teasing laugh.
“Monster?” he questioned. “prehistoric or current?”
“Please!” Janet’s voice was tense. “I try not to fear this country. Most of the time I can divert my unreasoning attitude – ” She laughed shakily. “Silly, isn’t it? And the funny part is that the river isn’t at all concerned about my fear. It is concerned only with its relentless destination – just as I am with mine. Sometime our paths will cross. One of us will have to yield the right of way, and from the looks of that gorge down there, it won’t be the river!”
Janet proceeded down the dugway at a pace that was very safe and sane, but Groneman knew she was trembling. Potsworth had told him that much of Janet’s illness was the result of her instinctive fears. But he had discredited the extent of that, or he would not have insisted upon this trip to the river. He’d hoped vaguely that in some way he could help her. Now he knew that only the river itself could do that. And the country itself. Janet would never be happy in San Juan unless it took her to its heart by its own strength and beauty, its spiritual grandeur.
“Shall we walk to the edge?” Janet asked, seemingly controlled.
“If you’ll promise not to look down and get dizzy,” he agreed lightly, glad to be rid of his unprofitable speculations.
They left the car with its engine pointing down hill, stalled against a boulder, and walked to the edge of the gorge just above the bridge that spanned it.
“Um-m-m-, I can smell the water!” Groneman sniffed appreciatively. “Wonderful smell, isn’t it?”
“I like wood smoke,” Janet evaded. “I can smell fire.”
From across the river, close to the bridge, came a long, thin “Hello-o-!”
Janet’s eyes traced to the source of the call. On a jut of rock twenty feet or more above the water level stood two naked little figures, wraith-like against a spiral of smoke.
“Juanee’s twins!” Groneman exclaimed. “Tugi-Chee and Maneto!”
“Yes.” Janet clutched his arm. “They’re – That’s too high! It’s half-way up to the bridge. They can’t dive from there!”
“How high is it?”
“I don’t know. Only tell them not to dive; they’ll listen to you!”
“If I know those kids, they’ll make it!”
“Nine-year-old boys! How can they know what the river will do to them?”
The call came again. Friendly. Urgent. “Hello-o- Miss Janet!”
“They’re – waiting for us to signal … They want me to see them … Please, Dr. Mark, tell them it’s too high!”
“Wave to them, Janet. It’s the only way to conquer your fear.”
“No! How can you ask such a thing?”
Groneman raised his own arm as if to wave for her. Janet thrust it sharply aside, said nervously: “I – I didn’t realize they are so tall … They’re exactly the same height … And their hair wet from the last dive – gleams like anthracite. Did you ever see such perfect bodies?”
“You’re evading, Janet. Wave to them.”
“I – I can’t! It would kill them to dive from there. The river’s a devil!”
“Wave, Janet. They’ll come up. You’ll see that they will.”
“I can’t, I tell you!” Janet sprang back. “The current! Listen to it, snarling as if it were alive! It is alive!” She took a step forward. “I’ll wave,” she said slowly, and raised one arm. “You’re cruel! Cruel when I thought you were kind.”
“We see you, Maneto!” Groneman shouted, pretending not to hear. There was not a sound … Then a single splash, a moment later an exultant, long cry. Janet tried to shut her eyes but her lids were frozen with fear. Then she saw them – two black heads bobbing like corks on the water, four copper arms rising and falling in unison.
Groneman, listening intently, said: “They swim with almost no effort. It’s beautiful.”
Under his slow, cool voice, Janet began to relax. Juanee’s boys were safe. No! She couldn’t see them at all! There was nothing where they had been but a deep trough where a current had cut through! She gave a terrified scream. “They’ve gone under!”
“They’ll come up. Keep your eyes open, Janet.”
“Yes. Yes, I will. But isn’t it – Shouldn’t we do something?”
“There they are,” Groneman said with assurance, touching her arm.
“How could you tell?”
“I heard the water, placid after the current, break above their heads. I could hear them gulp new breath.”
Tears coursed down Janet’s face. “You do not need eyes,” she said humbly.
“Can you see them, Janet? Have they come ashore?”
“They’ll pop up pretty quickly.” Janet was surprised at her own assurance. “They must have a trail that leads up and down to the water – and there they are, heads bashfully peeking around a boulder, their bodies out of sight.”
‘How you like that?” the boys asked proudly.
“Fine!” Groneman answered. “That was a pretty swell dive! How do you judge your distance?”
“We measure us. Every six moons we measure us,” Maneto said.
“Five times we measure us. Ethli, noki, ta, tee, ostha,” counted Tugi-Chee. “Five times higher than our own heads we dive!” And they scurried away to dress.
Janet turned toward the car. “We’ll have to hurry if we get to the Goosenecks,” she said.
The sun was setting when they reached the plateau and crossed to Lookout Point. They left the car and walked to the brink. Twelve hundred feet below lay the Great San Juan Goosenecks. Janet sighed raptly. She began, hesitantly: “The gorge is gray-pink; misty, yet shot with spikes of gold from the sun. Far below us the Goosenecks build up. Layer upon layer, like pyramids. Each crusted stratum is smaller than the one before, until at the very top, hundreds of feet above, the mammoth lobes end in giant, tilted pancakes ready to slide from their dizzy height.”
Groneman’s face lighted up. He said: “Yes, I see it plainly.”
Janet’s pulse quickened, her eyes shone, her voice deepened. “There is nothing else like it in all the world!” she breathed. “Each meander, interlocking on alternate sides of the gorge, is connected to its parent wall by the thinnest of partitions. Mere necks that shape the river into gleaming platters for the stacks to rest upon.”
Her voice caught, tears glistened in her eyes, but she went on, after a deep, steadying breath. “The river goes in and out around each curve, undercutting on the outside, building sand bars on the inside. Smooth. Relentless. Three miles to achieve a hundred yards. We’re – From down there, we’re but dots against the sky!”
Her voice took on new meaning, became the voice of a scriptural reader, hushed with reverence. “Sunlight. Vastness. Strength. Blended into such spiritual grandeur that I can’[t breathe …”
Groneman’s hand brushed across his sightless eyes. “So shall the lame be made to walk and the blind to see,” he said reverently.
They drove back through the scented desert night, and it was five years before Dr. Groneman returned to El Toro. Five years in which Janet turned steadfastly from the river, hoarding his last sentence there at the Goosenecks, wondering when she, the lame, would be made to walk, by faith and without fear.
The sun hung in its place in the hot dome of sky above El Toro with blistering intensity. Day after day through the long dry summer, Janet had watched it curl the leaves and sear the earth. Sand drifted across the paths and around the house, ankle deep, hotter than the sun and dryer than the wind that blew it there. Floors wore a constant film of dust and grit in spite of her efforts to keep them clean. Nothing escaped the ravages of the drought. sand drifted through every crevice, sifted between the sheets of the beds, and lodged in the pockets and seams of clothing. Insects multiplied into a plague. water stood hot in the barrels, and there was no ice to cool it for a drink.
Five years! Janet poured the dishwater from her pan onto the few plants in the yard that she had stubbornly kept alive. Most of it went to the swing tree. Jerry and Paulette’s swing tree – planted the day they were born … Five years! Years in which Paul had seen his herds dwindle to half their number. Cattle, crazy from thirst, plunged over canyons at the smell of water they couldn’t reach. Another year of this and Paul would be penniless, robbed of all he had so stubbornly achieved. … But what was the good of thinking about that? She took her empty pan and went in out of the sun.
As she came in, Paulette began to cry. “I’m too hot,” she moaned, “and Jerry broke my fan.”
Janet smiled encouragement. “Daddy will be home tonight, and he’ll fan you with his big hat.”
Paulette was a lovely, golden-haired child, as different from her brother as day from night. Jerry was dark like Paul, tempestuous like his mother. Paulette, usually all smiles, was like neither of them. Rhae and Warren Newsbaum claimed her, spoiling her as much as Paul would let them. Every summer, regardless of rain or drought the Newsbaums came to their ranch in the desert. Paul, scoffing at first, had long ago added them to the list of his country’s converts. Janet had never ceased to wonder at her sister’s swift acceptance of everything and everyone in the whole country. One more year of this, however, and the stoutest enthusiasm would wane.
Summer after summer as the drought had persisted she had taken the children and gone East for a brief stay, merely to please Paul. It was too hot anywhere for comfort. This time she had refused to go. A few years from even the dearest place and one became a stranger. The noise of Washington frightened Paulette, and Jerry was restless and dissatisfied there.
“Kids in this town don’t know how to play,” he’d scoffed. “They’ve never even shot a bow and arrow!”
When her father had died, the last tie was broken and this year she had stayed in San Juan.
Jerry’s excited tone brought Janet back to the present. “There comes a strange car. I betcha it’s coming here!”
“Betcha?” Janet reproved. “Is that the way to talk?”
“Bet your boots! Daddy says those words ‘riginated right here in San Juan, and anything that ‘riginates here is okay by me!”
Janet smiled above the clean dress she was holding over Paulette’s head. Already this five-year-old son was fierce with loyalty. The little dress fell, crooked, over Paulette’s head.
“Mother, you smother me!” Paulette gasped. Janet straightened the dress absently. Jerry tugged at her sleeve. “Aren’t you the least bit excited?” he questioned. “Let’s go out on the porch!”
Paulette had already dashed out to see who was coming. Jerry had waited for his mother. He always did, and it never failed to make Janet’s heart leap, and to tighten her throat. She took his hard little hand and they ran to make up for lost time.
The car swung into the yard, sending a shower of sand into the air. “They’ll be drenched,” Janet thought, and smiled at the incongruity of the term. She said: “Jerry, I’ll bet that’s Uncle Warren’s car!”
“It is, Mother!”
Paulette was already dancing up the path between Rhae and Warren Newsbaum.
“Only this minute I was thinking of you!” Janet cried. “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come. But to what a place!”
“Best country in the world!” Jerry quoted. “How do you do, Uncle Warren?”
Warren Newsbaum shook hands with his young nephew soberly. “I’m fine, Jerry. And you’re right about the country, son.”
“Then we’re glad you’ve come to El Toro,” Jerry said, and led them grandly into the house.
“Jerry makes the most of company,” Janet smiled behind his straight little back. Warren tossed her an assenting nod, and there was a tender twinkle in his eyes.
“Did you bring the house that’s to look like El Toro?” Paulette asked her Aunt Rhae.
“We did, Sweet,” Rhae hugged her happily. “It’s in our pocket books.”
“Then it isn’t nearly as large as El Toro!” Paulette said proudly.
“Where’s Paul?” Rhae asked, her arm affectionately around Janet. “I’m ready for a little sparring again!”
Janet laughed appreciatively. “Every time you come I expect it to be your last, the way you two fight. Paul will be here tonight.”
“We’ll stage a celebration,” Rhae suggested.
“I hope Daddy’ll like it,” Jerry said.”
Janet flushed with embarrassment. Rhae and Warren laughed good naturedly. “From the mouths of babes,” Rhae quoted.
“I’m not a baby,” Jerry said angrily. “I’m five years old!”
Warren Newsbaum slapped him on the back. “Right you are, old man,” he said. “Right you are.” Jerry flinched, but his dignity was fully restored.
After dinner Janet put the children to bed. Her head throbbed after the long day of heat and the excitement of seeing her own folks again. Rhae had retired early, leaving Warren to sit on the porch with Janet, to wait for Paul.
“She wants to be fresh for the encounter,” Warren laughed. “Right now this heat has dulled even my enthusiasm.”
For a while the two on the porch were silent. Finally Janet spoke: “I can’t think what’s keeping Paul. He sent the foreman ahead to tell me he’d be home early this afternoon. The cattle are jumpy and dry. Anything can happen at a time like this!”
“Here he comes, now,” Newsbaum said cheerfully. “Hear that horse?”
Janet was on her feet. “That isn’t Paul; he wouldn’t be riding that hard. It’s a runner! Something’s happened!”
Warren Newsbaum’s hand reached out in the dark to steady her.
“Miss Janet!” Indian Joe’s voice penetrated Janet’s consciousness before she realized the riding had cased.
“Tell me …” Janet’s voice was steady. “There’s been –”
“A stampede,” Joe answered,.
“Yes. I know there would be. Will Mr. Paul come home?”
“Yes, Miss Janet.”
“Thanks, Joe. Goodnight. Goodnight, Warren.”
Warren understood Janet’s need. “Goodnight,” he said, and left her to wait alone.