By Anna Prince Redd
Synopsis: At the river – where Janet has taken Dr. Groneman on a last trip over the country before his return to New York – she has a terrifying experience which involves Juanee’s twins. But again her fears are not confirmed although she realizes they are still deep rooted. From the river they go to the San Juan Goosenecks. Here, in describing a sunset of unusual splendor, she comes to realize the spiritual grandeur of the scene … Five years elapse – years filled with drought, loneliness, and dread, interspersed with pleasurable visits from the Newsbaums, Janet’s sister and her husband. While on their latest visit, Paul is injured during a stampede.
Paul and Doctor Potsworth sat in the patio berating each other and the weather. Paul’s right leg, still in its cast, was comfortably propped up on a bench. “But for a mindful Providence and convenient boulder, I’d still be headin’ that stampede,” he commented pleasantly. “Possibly in Heaven.”
“And I’d be about my business instead of playing nursemaid to you. I wish this blasted heat would shove along and make room for a breeze!”
Janet came out to the patio with cookies and a cool drink.
“How are the cactus twins?’ the doctor asked.
“Juanee has taken them to town. Joe drives his new car expertly. Paul says he’s a wonder at it. But just the same, I’ll be glad when they are home under my wing again.”
“Here are the other twins,” Paul laughed. “They’ll console you.”
Tugi-Chee and Maneto rode pell-mell into the yard heading for the river to swim, they announced loudly.
“Joe should be firm about that river,” Potsworth commented. “It’s certainly not safe.”
Janet filled her hands with cookies to give them and went to the steps. “Tugi-Chee,” she said to the dark-eyed boy on the nearest horse, “don’t go to the river while the water is so low. Mr. Paul has warned you that it’s too shallow for diving.”
Tugi-Chee looked at her in surprise but Janet continued earnestly: “Many moons have passed since there was rain, Tugi-Chee. Don’t go.” Turning to the other boy, she renewed her plea: “Say you’ll not go today, Maneto.”
“The grandsons of Chief Dodge are not afraid,” Maneto said proudly.
“Our mother not weep when we get hurt,” Tugi-Chee scorned. “Do you want to stay, my brother?”
“Do’ta!” Maneto’s denial was emphatic. “Since we were five we have been diving five times higher than our own heads!”
How well Janet remembered standing by the river with Dr. Groneman and seeing two little naked boys dive like bullets into its muddy depth. Though she had done much to overcome the fear she had felt for other things in the country, she still harbored a deep distrust of the river.
“What would you do if anything happened and you couldn’t come to the top?” she asked.
“We do not dive together,” Tugi-Chee said. “Always Maneto dives first. I count. If he is too long I dive downstream after him.”
Maneto said: “When Tugi-Chee dives he always comes up. He is strong like my father. I am the swift one in the race.”
“But you’ll stay home this time?” Janet coaxed.
“Do’ta,” Maneto said. His manner was respectful but unyielding.
‘No!” Tugi-Chee echoed, and turning, they galloped at a wild pace over the ridge and out of sight.
Just before sundown, Juanee came running from her hogan, quite unlike herself with importance and worry. “My father, Chief Dodge, sends for his grandsons and they are not here. They are to be taught the dance for rain,” she said excitedly.
Janet looked her surprise but said nothing. Juanee’s eyes begged for understanding: “Many moons the earth has thirsted,” she cried. “My people will bring the rains.” The conflict between her white teaching and her traditional faith was never more in evidence.
“That is good.” Janet assured her. “We pray for rain, too. Have the boys gone to their grandfather?”
“Too long they have been at the river!” Juanee exclaimed. “My father will be offended if they are not soon at his hogan.”
“We’ll go for them in the car,” Janet answered. “Myrrup can stay with Jerry and Paulette.”
They drove as fast as the wind-pocked roads would let them. Juanee was plainly anxious; she looked often at the setting sun.
“I hope we don’t miss them,” Janet said, as she swung the car around the turn at the head of the dugway. It was her first trip to the river since that day five years ago when she had watched in terror while the water broke over two bronzed little bodies that swam proudly ashore. Nothing had changed since then. A thousand years could pass over this slow-moving river without denting one of its solid ledges. Time had surely stood still! The same “Hello-o-o-” was echoing along the walls. Nothing had changed, but the place from which the call was coming … now the boys were on the bridge, much higher above the river than five times their own height, and Juanee was calling angrily: “Tugi-Chee, you bad one! Maneto, you come! For diving there is not time!”
Fascinated, wholly without volition, almost as if she were under Dr. Groneman’s insistent orders still, Janet raised her arms and waved. “We see you, Maneto,” she cried. Maneto waved joyously, stretched his brown young arms out over the river and dived like a young hawk to its prey – straight into the dark depth forty feet below. Tugi-Chee stood with folded arms, waiting.
“Ethli, noki, ta, tee, ostha,” Janet counted, knowing that Tugi-Chee was counting, too. “Usti …” Maneto’s head did not appear. “Seven, eight – ”
Tugi-Chee had turned. He was gone – across the bridge to the down-stream side.
“Ten-n-n,” Janet swallowed hard. Juanee’s eyes had never left the spot in the river where Maneto had disappeared. her body swayed. Not a sound escaped her. Tugi-Chee dived.
“Dear Lord,” Janet prayed. “Break the water above their heads.”
Tugi-Chee had dived on the downstream side of the bridge. He came up, holding Maneto’s inert head above the water. Janet cried out: “Tugi-Chee! Tugi-Chee!” But her elation was brief, for a sudden current had pulled the boys under again. Ethli, noki, ta, tee …” she could count no more. Juanee had begun the death song, rocking. Rocking to the weird, beautiful wailing song of the Navajo. Janet could only wait, praying. And the river was calm. It seemed to Janet that her own life was flowing out with the river. Juanee’s twins were dead. No …, There was Tugi-Chee … clutching Maneto. But the current was bearing them downward! Tugi-Chee would miss the only landing point above the rapids! Janet could hear the water roar, exultant, triumphant, sucking down and down into the rocks below.
As if loosed by a spring, fear engulfed her. Wild unreasoning fear. She ran along the ledge. Further and further down the San Juan dropped – dropped towards the rapids. She screamed: “Maneto! Ethli, noki …’ It was no use! She sank to her knees, crying softly.
Suddenly the river was calm; the current had subsided. Janet leaned over the bank. There – on a sand bar that had not been there before – lay the Navajo twins, tossed up from the cold, gray current into the sun. As she watched, Tugi-Chee pulled himself to his knees and laid his ear against his brother’s heart. He shook the water from his black hair, stood a moment, then taking Maneto in his arms again, he waded ashore. Janet rose. The sand bar and the only landing above the rapids had merged into one. Tugi-Chee would take Maneto to his mother. Maneto was dead.
Janet stood on the ledge above the river, the sun streaming its last rays over her chilled body, and knew that the river had been kind. No little boys were clutched to its cold bosom. Benign and undisturbed, the San Juan bore on to its destination – west into the setting sun, and Janet was no longer afraid … had not death come proudly to Maneto? Come when there was a smile on his red lips, a triumphant cry in his heart?
At the bridge, Tugi-Chee stood with folded arms beside his mother, tears washing his face like rain. Juanee’s song was softly tender, infinitely sweet. A moment, and Tugi-Chee was singing, too … A strange peace came over Janet. A peace that only she could understand. The river had been kind. Maneto – the swift one – had gone on before. Tugi-Chee – the strong one – would comfort Juanee.
Paul saw them coming – Janet driving the car slowly, Tugi-Chee leading Maneto’s horse, his own reins slack upon his horse’s neck.
“I’ll go into the desert for his father,” Dr. Potsworth said after a hasty examination, and looked away from the grief in Juanee’s eyes.
“It is well,” Juanee assented. Tugi-Chee had not stopped singing. At the door of his father’s hogan, he slid from his horse and followed his mother inside.
That night the rains fell … Life came back to the desert.
For October, the desert air was unusually chill; but to the four men in the patio at El Toro, it was merely bracing. Paul Morgan, Warren Newsbaum, Doctor Potsworth, and Dr. Mark Groneman, dim figures in the shadows that fell across the floor from the cliff, talked over old times. On a cushion in front of them so he could see the features of each one sat Jerry Morgan, knees hunched comfortably under his folded arms.
Paul showed scarcely a year’s added age, though ten had gone by! How proud Jerry was of him. His father. Always at school the last and first thought of every day had concerned El Toro. El Toro typified his father – unchanging, secure, steadfast against life. White yuccas blooming all about the place! They were like his mother – lovely, serene. They filled his dreams … Dr. Potsworth – almost like a grandfather. Dr. Groneman – a little strange in his blind efficiency – Paulette’s pet enthusiasm. And last of all Uncle Warren – affectionately rough, generous, as loyal to San Juan as he himself or as his father. It was good to be home again.
Inside, Janet and her sister, Rhae Newsbaum, sat before the fire absorbed in what sixteen-year-old Paulette Morgan was saying.
“It’s been a wonderful year, Mother,” Paulette confided, studying the fire with grown-up wisdom in her eyes. “Dr. Groneman is the most wonderful man in New York, Aunt Rhea. Mother, that’s not just my opinion!” she defended, seeing the amused smile in her mother’s eyes. “Everyone says he is. The papers are full of reviews about his books. They say the world is indebted to him …” her voice trailed off dreamily. “And he writes things that are not scientific, too. Things that are – well – sort of elusive. Like that one he calls “The White Moth.” It makes me think of you, Mother. I don’t know why, but it does.”
“Being his protegee has done wonders for you, Paulette,” Janet said, and there was a tremor in her voice that Paulette couldn’t understand.
“Except for Jerry, Father, Uncle Warren, and Doctor Potsworth, there’s no man in the world I like better!” she stated.
“Then your mother has nothing to worry about,” Rhae Newsbaum laughed openly at Paulette. “Just you keep on liking those four men the best for four more years!”
“I’ll always like him in a very special way. he needs me, Aunt Rhae. His sister is a wonderful person, but not cheerful enough. He needs someone to – to understand him!”
Janet laughed gaily. Paulette, piqued for a minute, jumped up and hugged her mother impulsively. “Do you know what, Mother? He says I’m to grow up like you – worthy of El Toro!”
Janet’s eyes shone. “That’s a very great compliment,” she said.
“Is it? I thought it rather strange. El Toro’s not a very pretentious place. It’s just something you love and want to come back to.”
“And what more could be said of any place?” Rhae Newsbaum said.
Janet looked at her sister in surprise. “Rhae, I didn’t know you were sentimental about the place!”
“It’s fun to keep Paul defending it so hotly all the time; but I’m really for it. Now, Paulette – Don’t you go and spoil everything by telling him that!”
But thought she was interested in their banter, Paulette was not to be turned from her theme. She smoothed her mother’s hair, twisted a curl here, put a pin there, and resumed her subject.
“There’s something else he said, Mother. I don’t get it. He says only those who can see the blossoms and not the spikes, are worthy of El Toro. He’s sort of queer about this place, do you know that?”
Janet reached up and caught her daughter’s hand. “Darling, we all are!” she said softly.
“Have you always been, Mother? You used to make me afraid sometimes.”
Janet patted Paulette’s hand; she looked into the fire, weighing her thoughts before she spoke. Then she said: “It took a husband, two very wise doctors and two pairs of twins to make me love El Toro.” Then softly, almost under her breath, she added: “And the death of a little Indian boy to make me love San Juan.”
“Maneto.” Paulette’s voice was dreamy. “Yes, I remember him. He used to bring me flints and pretty rocks. Jerry liked Tugi-Chee the best.”
“Where is Jerry?” Janet asked. “He ought to be in, out of the cold.”
“He says he’s going cave-dweller tomorrow. Can you beat that? With all the fun things there are to do on the ranch, he goes off browsing around in dusty old ruins!”
Janet and Rhae exchanged looks of understanding. “He has a grandfather to thank for that,” Rhae said.
“Our father loved this country, Paulette,” Janet added. “He came here every year until his health failed. Your father contributed a fine mummy collection to the museum where my father was curator. Jerry could well be like them.”
“It’s too musty, fusty, dusty for me,” Paulette laughed. “I’ll take a penthouse in New York!”
Janet sighed. “That’s exactly what I thought when I was sixteen, Paulette. I’m not worrying.”
The men came in from the patio, rubbing their hands with satisfaction before the open fire. Jerry put on a fresh log. He plumped up his cushion, putting it on the floor by his mother’s chair and his head on her knee.
“I’m tired, Mom. Think I’ll turn in. Don’t let these fellows keep you and Aunt Rhae up all night.”
Janet smoothed his dark head, glancing over at Paulette significantly.
“I get it.” Paulette outed charmingly. “Time to go to bed, dear.” Her voice was exactly like Janet’s motherliest tone.
Everyone laughed with pleasure, and one by one the guests went to their rooms, Jerry and Paulette last so they could say goodnight in their childhood way. Then, at last, Paul and Janet were alone.
The last, bright log fell apart, flamed anew, and burned steadily. Paul sighed contentedly: “Let’s sit here ‘till the fire goes out.” He stowed his long frame into a corner of the big couch and drew Janet into the circle of his arm. “Know what tomorrow is, Jan?” he asked.
“Tomorrow?’ Jerry called from his bedroom, overhearing him. “What’s tomorrow, Dad?”
“It’s the cup you fill today,” Paul Morgan answered, smiling into Janet’s eyes.
“It’s what?” Jerry was plainly puzzled.
“Skip it, Goof!” Paulette called bluntly from her room across from Jerry’s. “Mom and Dad are dating. Where’s your finesse?”
“Think you’re smart!” from Jerry. “So what!” from Paulette, and the house was still.
“About tomorrow, Paul.” Janet brought the conversation back. “It’s twenty-three years ago tomorrow since we came to El Toro – together.” She looked into the fire, saw the years ahead in swift review, then she laughed dubiously. “Twins are a responsibility, Paul. I feel perfectly antiquated beside my amazing daughter. Does Jerry dwarf you?”
“I’ll say he does. I have to stand on tiptoe all the time to keep abreast of him. We must be getting old!”
“Not until they’re as old as we are, Paul!” Janet protested.
“Twenty-three years,” Paul mused. “We sat alone by the fire then, too. Remember, Jan?”
“And the embers glowed long after the flame was gone …”