"Return Of The Lost Cub" by Joyce Walker
|Joyce lives in Tennessee.|
© 2004 Joyce Walker
Return Of The Lost Club
It was peculiarly hot for the time of the year. Janie had begun hoeing at daybreak but, even though the sun hadn't yet topped the mountain, sweat was already running down her back. Her mother had impressed on her the importance of covering her skin before going out in the sun, but lately she found herself violating many of her mother's admonitions. Her dress gaped open in the front, exposing the camisole that barely covered her swollen breasts.
Janie stopped work and began fanning with her bonnet, once a pretty shade of blue, but now yellowed with sweat stains. When she reached back to dry the sweat from between her buttocks with a fold of bloomers, she noticed her husband standing at the garden's edge, dressed up for a trip into town. She was already mad about Calvin leaving her home, and the sight of him in his wedding coat made her furious.
"You're dressed awfully fine for buying barn lumber," she said.
"I'd think you'd be proud to see your husband looking nice when he's out doing business," he replied.
She stared at Calvin, wondering what could have caused such a change in her husband.
"Aren't you afraid somebody will come visiting and see you like that?" he asked.
"We haven't had visitors since fall," she responded.
"Do you need me to pick anything up for you?"
"I need fabric for a work bonnet, but I'll have to pick it out. It'll just take me a minute to get ready," she said, and hurried toward the cabin.
"I thought you planned to wash today," he exclaimed as she rushed past.
Excited by Janie's flurry, Calvin's dog tried to break his chain by making a powerful lunge. But the chain held, and Boomer stopped with a convulsive jerk. She didn't like the dog, but thought it pitiful the way he had struggled all morning trying to get loose.
Janie went directly to her trousseau chest and retrieved a letter she had hidden there. Calvin stepped in the room just as she tucked it inside her camisole, and from the expression on his face, she thought he must have seen what she did.
"I don't have time to wait on you," he said, as he went back out the door.
Janie wanted desperately to send the letter but didn't trust Calvin to post it.
He mounted his horse and yelled back at her, "I heard a big cat crying last night. You'd better stay close to the house."
Janie hadn't heard anything, and after recalling the story about the last cougar hunt, she decided he was trying to scare her to make sure she stayed home. She felt like joining Boomer when he began howling mournfully at Calvin's departure.
During the year she had been with Calvin, she had come to appreciate his special qualities. She looked around the cabin at the things he had built with his own hands, and was grieved at the thought of losing what they had together. Thinking back on their courtship, she wondered if she would have married Calvin had she known the test of her will that lay ahead.
Janie's father had to get permission from the Cherokee tribe to marry Janie's mother. Because he was well liked by her family, his proposal was readily accepted. After their marriage, her mother came to prefer the white peoples' ways and quit practicing the ancient customs.
Janie was allowed to visit her native grandmother periodically, and those times gave her the most treasured memories of her childhood. Saria was a farmer and a medicine woman, and taught Janie much about Cherokee beliefs.
Saria died shortly before the mass removal of her people from their land, and her farm was taken by the government. Janie's mother, however, was saved from the exile by her marriage to a white man. Janie was small, and was left with an overwhelming sadness at the unexplained disappearance of native relatives she had known. But, at her mother's command, talk on any subject related to the Cherokee people was forbidden. Long after her death, Saria visited Janie in dreams to sing the Cherokee songs and compel her to remember the ancient ways.
With the success of her father's hardware store, Janie's family became prominent in their community. Her mother had become so assimilated into white culture that no one seemed to notice her native features. Janie had light skin like her father, and didn't experience the taunting that some children with native lineage did. When it came time to court, it was her outspokenness that got in the way of matrimony.
Her mother prompted her to adopt a more deferential manner with men, but her father said she only needed to polish her diplomatic skills. In private, he said, "An accomplished man will appreciate your special qualities," and cautioned her not to marry until she found the right person. It looked as if she was never going to find that person, and Janie had resigned herself to living out her life in her parents' home until she met Calvin Rose. His father, Donnelly, a minister, had lived in her home town until he heeded the call to witness to the natives in the West.
It wasn't long before Calvin began receiving invitations from parents with eligible daughters at home. Talk was that half the single women in town were vying for the privilege of being carried off by him to his homestead in the wilderness.
Somehow Janie knew who he was when he came into her father's store. She didn't think much of him on first sight and moved behind the counter when she felt his eyes on her. She liked his broad shoulders, but thought his slicked down hairdo made him look austere.
Janie's father introduced himself to Calvin and told him he had been friends with Donnelly . They talked a while, then Calvin paid for the items he got and left. While at the register, her father mentioned that Calvin would be joining them for dinner.
News of the visit put Janie's mother in a cheerful mood. She hurried to prepare dinner and had Janie cut roses for the table. She convinced her to wear her hair down, but Janie refused to let her curl it. "I don't know what the fuss is all about," she told her mother. "From what I can tell, he and I are as different as night and day."
Calvin wasn't the coarse backwoodsman she had expected. In fact, she found him to be extremely gracious. She was fascinated by his eyes, which were as blue as the bluest sky she had ever seen. She noticed with certain topics, though, like the building of the cabin, that he directed his conversation to her father, overtly excluding herself and her mother.
At the time, Janie didn't realize the magnitude of his achievement when he talked about what he had done on the farm. "Out of a hundred acres of woodland, I've cleared an acre and built a cabin that's finished except for the chimney," he said deliberately. Impressed, her father praised his accomplishment. Calvin added, "The cabin is temporary. I plan to replace it with a proper house later, after the barn's built."
Janie's father asked how his friend, Donnelly, had fared in his ministry. "He had built a sizable congregation among the Indians, but they scattered when the government started rounding them up for the big march. He took it hard and didn't live long after that," he answered.
Janie's mother was moved, and said, "How sad. What happened to your mother?"
"She died when I was small," he replied.
Janie had heard he was living on land that had once been part of the Cherokee nation and asked him if it was true. He said, "From what I've been told, Indians don't look at land as something you own. But the tribe living there gave up their rights to its possession and moved away."
The white government's use of deceptive tactics to cheat the natives out of their land was a sensitive one for Janie, but she tried to make a civil response. "You're right about the Cherokee not believing a person can own the land, but they loved their homes and cherished the land that sustained them."
Calvin responded, "Then why did they give it away?"
"They were pushed into it," Janie said.
"If that's how it happened, then it was wrong. But I didn't know those Indians, and they were long gone before I ever moved onto the land."
Her mother interrupted to say, "Mr. Rose should know more about the subject than we do, after all, it's his country that we're talking about."
Her father said, "It's good to look at both sides of an issue." Then he directed the topic back to Calvin's homestead. "Now tell us exactly where your place is located, Calvin."
Janie realized that the natives' secession of their rights to the land where he lived must have happened long before he was born, and she didn't know why she had put him on the spot. Even while they were arguing, though, she had felt a tingle in her stomach when he looked into her eyes. She realized she wanted to get to know him better but felt that, after their confrontation, there was little chance of that happening. She was surprised when he asked permission to see her again.
She learned that Calvin was a man of few words, except when it came to his farm. After several visits she knew all the details of his plans, down to the pattern of the rug he intended to use in the parlor. She loved listening to him as he revealed his dreams, and found herself wanting very much to share them.
But there were things that bothered her about the relationship. For instance, he didn't pay much attention when she expressed her opinion on a matter. But, more importantly, he hadn't yet shown any clear indication that he felt a romantic attraction toward her.
Janie was determined to find out how Calvin felt about her. To ensure that he would feel at ease, she set their meeting at a time that everyone would be away and greeted him wearing her prettiest dress. With her arm wrapped in his, she led him to a private corner of the yard. Then, with her hands rested on his chest, she said, "Calvin, I need to find out something," and kissed him softly on the lips.
She leaned her body lightly against his and watched for a response. His face became flushed, giving her the first recognizable sign of passion. "What were you looking for in a woman when you decided to take a wife?" she asked, her gaze locked with his.
She could tell he was proceeding cautiously by his deliberate manner. "Living so far out, I thought it was important for my wife to be smart enough to educate our children. And I knew that she would have to be strong to stand up to homesteading."
"Is that all?" she asked.
He smiled and said, "I thought it would make the long winter nights more tolerable if she was nice to look at." Her expectant look made him ask, "What is it that I'm missing, Janie?"
"What about affection, Calvin. Don't you think it's important for people to be in love when they marry?"
He looked thoughtful, then responded, "If you mean they ought to feel something special when they kiss, then I agree."
She kissed him again, and waited for his response.
"Janie," he said, looking serious. "If we don't sit down, I think my knees are going to buckle."
Janie realized that this was the closest thing to an avowal of love that she would get from Calvin. But with everything else she saw in him, she decided that it was good enough.
They were soon married, and Janie went through the ordeal of parting with her parents. After her mother stopped crying, she gave her some last minute advice. "You need to try to avoid arguing. With you living in the middle of nowhere, you can't run home every time you and Calvin have a disagreement."
Her father gave her a parting gift of a purse with some gold coins in it and said, "A woman ought to have a little money of her own."
Everything about the first few days of their trek seemed wonderful to Janie -- the sun, the rain, the rough roads, and even their bed of quilts on the ground. In the evening they ate the small game that Calvin shot along the way, and sat under the stars cuddling.
Janie was apprehensive about the lovemaking, however, and each time Calvin tried to become intimate, she put him off. One evening he was especially attentive, and Janie knew from his manner that he expected her to finally succumb. It wasn't at all like what she had imagined. Calvin persisted even though she let him know it was painful, and their encounter ended with her pushing him away.
He seemed angry after that, and wouldn't talk to her about what happened. Everything was different. She had not seen that broody side of him before and wondered if he was really the person she thought he was when she married him.
As the terrain became more challenging, Janie realized the trip would be more difficult than she thought. At the end of the day her clothes were covered with foul-smelling mud from the ruts in the road, and she hurt all over. She spent the evening huddled in a blanket with her and Calvin not talking, then spent a sleepless night trying to get comfortable on the rocky ground.
When they topped the hill the next day, she was awed at the sight of what lay ahead. A range of mountains stretched as far as she could see, and she knew they would have to cross them to get to the homestead. Suddenly she felt unable to go on and slumped to the ground.
Calvin left her in that state, disappearing into the gullied road that snaked down the mountain. When he came back, he approached her looking as if he had something important to say. "You've been acting like you don't really want to be with me, and if that's how it is, I'm ready to take you back right now. "
Janie's heart dropped. He continued, "Things get even harder from here on, and I need you to tell me now what you really want."
Angrily she said, "I'll tell you what I want. I want to know what happened to the Calvin Rose that I married!" She cried awhile, then lashed out at him. "I know this is about my pushing you away when you wanted loving. If that's all I mean to you, then you might as well take me back."
"I have to say I thought that would be part of the bargain. But I offered to take you back because you act like you regret coming with me in the first place."
"How do you expect me to act with you treating me like a stranger?"
"I couldn't help it, Janie. It just seemed like things weren't working out the way they were supposed to, and I didn't know what to do."
Calvin's honesty helped dispel her anger. "Don't you think all that will work itself out naturally if we give it a chance?" she said, then stood silent, waiting for Calvin's response.
Calvin ambled around a while than approached her again. "What do you think we ought to do?" he asked.
Janie thought about the life she had left, then imagined herself with Calvin in the half-wild country where they were headed. "Let's go on," she said.
Calvin said, "All right then," and motioned Janie on ahead, and started leading the horse down the hill.
Calvin became more patient, and when they consummated their union, Janie was moved to tears by his gentleness. They fell asleep in an embrace and were unable to unlock their arms when they woke. Laughing at each other's misery, they rubbed until the feeling came back. That day Janie noticed that every time she looked at Calvin he was smiling.
Getting the cart over the mountains was exhausting, and Janie never got rested sleeping on the ground. Before the trip was over, she began seeing dream images even while she was walking. She freshened up for her first appearance at New Hope, the crossroad community near their home, but told Calvin she cared nothing about socializing. He stopped at the general store to pick up supplies, and Janie watched from the cart as he gave his order to the female grocer inside.
People who had seen them approaching came out to get a look at Calvin's new bride. A man sitting in front of the store said hello, but most just stared. Janie wondered if some women among the onlookers didn't despise her for cheating them out of the chance to be in her place. When she saw the familiar manner of the grocer toward Calvin, she wondered if she might not be one of them.
The woman wore her hair twisted into a tight bun and held her lips tightly pursed. But something under that constrained look made Janie imagine her in a private setting with Calvin, her hair falling on bare shoulders.
The grocer helped carry the supplies to the cart and greeted her as Mrs. Rose. Janie's suspicions were heightened when Calvin failed to introduce her to the woman. Once out of town, Janie was about to seize the opportunity to lie down in the cart when Calvin told her they had one more stop. "I've got to pick up my dog and introduce you to Aunt Verda. But we won't stay long," he said.
She heard a big hound bellow as they approached the log house. Calvin's aunt, who was picking wild flowers on the edge of the yard, gave them a friendly wave. She presented a girlish appearance in her dainty blue dress, her coppery hair pinned back and hanging in ringlets on her neck. Verda and Calvin exchanged polite kisses, then she gave Janie a hug.
"She's lovely, Calvin," his aunt remarked, and led Janie onto the porch where a table was set for tea.
Calvin said, "We can't stay. We need to get home to rest." But Aunt Verda fetched more cups anyway.
Calvin aroused her curiosity by telling her not to say anything to get his aunt started talking.
Dusk was falling and the only sound was the crickets' song. Janie's comment on the peacefulness of the setting drew a disapproving look from Calvin. She knew why after Verda got into her lengthy discourse. "It didn't used to be this way," she began. "When my family first arrived, we could still hear the cry of the cougar when sitting out like this."
She told about the cougar being the last big predator in the area, after the early eradication of the bear and wolf, then recounted a story about a local legend being tormented by the big cat. "The first settlers' homes weren't very sturdy. Esther Murphy had to sit up at night with a loaded firearm to ward off the cougar that would climb on the roof and start clawing at the timbers and crying for her baby."
Janie had heard tales like it before, still the frightful images made her shiver. Verda ignored Calvin's request that she postpone the story to another time and went on to tell Janie that she had lost her own baby to the big cat. Janie said, "How awful Aunt Verda. How did it happen?"
Verda told how she and her sister were hanging out laundry, with the baby lying in a basket nearby, when they heard him cry. Her voice trembled as she said, "When I looked, a big cat held him in its jaws, running with him into the forest."
Janie felt a lump come to her throat.
"I felt I would surely lose my mind. I used to go through the baby's things and curse the creature that took him," she said as she dabbed at her eyes. "Then I heard they had put a bounty on the cougar, and my heart rejoiced. I thought that my baby would finally be avenged."
Calvin excused himself then to collect his dog and get the horse ready to travel. Aunt Verda told about the mass killings of the cougar, prompting Janie to say, "I don't think I can bear any more."
But that didn't deter Verda. "Yes, It was awful, Dear," she said. "I found no satisfaction in the sight of the animal corpses, and actually began to feel sorry for the beast."
By this time Janie was beginning to feel light-headed, but she couldn't bring herself to stop Aunt Verda once she began telling about the last big cat hunt, and the female cougar that was cornered near her den of cubs. "They were the last ones left. It was told that the mother put up a brave fight, but in the end she was killed, along with her cubs."
Janie was overcome with pity and began to sob. She was embarrassed when she became aware of Calvin nearby, tying his dog to the wagon. Aunt Verda apologized, saying, "If I'd known you were so sensitive, I never would have told you the story."
"Is that all of it?" Janie asked, trying to appear composed.
"Except for the visit from the mother and one of her cubs. I was sitting where you are, when I heard a low rumble and saw a female cougar with big teats come into the yard. I knew it must be a vision, so I wasn't afraid." Aunt Verda pointed to a spot in the yard and said, "She lay down there, and called for her cub. It was a pretty sight, the two of them stretched out like house cats. Then she gave me a look, like she understood my misery, and walked back into the woods."
Janie began to cry uncontrollably, prompting Calvin to usher her to the wagon. "She's tired," he explained, and crawled onto the seat with Janie.
"Be patient with her, Calvin," Aunt Verda said. "It might take a while for a genteel woman like her to toughen up to homesteading."
"Don't worry about Janie. She's tougher than you'd think."
"Bring her back soon," Aunt Verda yelled as they rode off.
Janie felt there was something other than just her being overtired that caused the emotional response to Aunt Verda's story. She knew there had to be an element of truth in the account for it to have struck such a chord with her. "Was any of what Aunt Verda said true?" she asked.
"Some of it," Calvin said.
"Did she have a baby that was carried off by a cougar?"
Calvin said she didn't, and told Janie he didn't want her to talk about it anymore. She wasn't aware of much during the trip home, except the jolts from the bumpy ride and the impression of giant trees passing overhead, then their arrival at the moonlit clearing where their cabin stood. Calvin carried her inside and laid her on a hard bed, then went back to take care of the horse and cart.
Janie raised up once, and was puzzled by the sight of woods showing through a large hole in the wall. She fell soundly asleep then, and didn't move until she had to get up to pee. She sat on the bed a while, staring at the curious opening until she figured out that it had been cut for the fireplace. She walked through it into the yard and was pulling down her pants when she saw several large figures in the shadows of the trees.
While she was peeing, she made out the mighty forms of the bear, the wolf, and the bison. She felt glad, because she had thought she would never get a chance to see them. While fixing her clothes, she realized that the cougar was missing and wondered where the big cat had gone.
Janie was beginning to think the fireplace wouldn't be finished before cold weather. Calvin had hauled plenty of rock for the job, but then became overly occupied with sorting it by size. He stood staring at the opening in the cabin and ignored her call to eat.
She removed the stew from the fire and went to where Calvin was working. She asked, "How long do you think it's going to take?"
"Not long, once I fix a rig for raising the stones."
She heard a woman yelling and, when she looked up the road, saw her running toward their house with a pursuer close behind. "Some woman's in trouble, Calvin. Hurry and get your firearm!"
"It's okay. They're married," he said.
"Who are they?" she asked.
"That's Toby and Lily. They're just some people I know," he answered.
Boomer greeted them and ran alongside of Toby as he came in. He was a big man, and Calvin seemed helpless to stop him from giving him a bear hug. Lily was a short woman with a full figure and native features. Janie had never seen a heavy person run as fast as she had. "If I wasn't expecting, you couldn't do that," Janie said.
"Expecting!" Janie exclaimed. "Aren't you afraid to exert yourself like that?"
"I told her she needs to slow down," Toby said, and put his arm around her.
As the four of them ate off their laps, Toby and Lily recounted how they had become friends with Calvin. Toby said, "I asked Lily to marry me when I was six, and she said yes. But we were separated when she and her mother went to live with Miss Verda. My family kept me from seeing her until I was grown. Then I almost lost her to Calvin."
Janie tried not to act too interested in knowing what followed.
Lily started telling about Toby and Calvin's contest for her hand in marriage. "Toby grabbed Calvin and asked him if he loved me. Calvin said, 'I like her but I don't love her.' Then he asked me if I loved Calvin. I said, 'I love you, Toby. But I thought you couldn't marry me.'"
Toby finished the story. "I told her I wouldn't let anybody stop me from marrying her if she would have me. That's how I won Lily's hand and became friends with Calvin."
Calvin didn't seem to be enjoying the discussion and excused himself to return to work. Toby asked if he could help and followed Calvin to the rock pile.
Something about Toby's company prodded Calvin along. Calvin stirred a batch of mortar, then the two of them rolled the first stones into place and chinked the joints. Calvin seemed to enjoy Toby's company, and at one point Janie stopped what she was doing to watch Calvin laughing at something Toby said.
Lily anticipated the baby's being born in June and was concerned because there was no one to help with the delivery. Janie had seen her grandmother deliver a baby once, but said she didn't remember much about it. Still, she said she would help if Toby let her know when it was time. Lily was interested to learn that Janie's parents were native and white.
Janie told about her special relations with her Cherokee grandmother. "She revered the whole of creation. The way she talked about the earth as mother made everything seem sacred. After she died, everything seemed dull, like the sun had gone behind a dark cloud." Then she expressed her bewilderment at the mistreatment of her native relatives. "The thing that bothered me most was the fact that no one I knew stood up for them. Not even my parents."
Lily said she and her mother had it better than most natives at the time, being shielded by a white woman. "At night we could see the light of campfires in the woods, where people we knew were hiding out from the law. It made me feel sad, and I wondered what we had done to deserve being treated so badly."
Suddenly Janie became concerned about her and Calvin's right to the land they were homesteading. "Is this some of those peoples' land?" she asked.
Lily confirmed what Calvin had said, explaining that the land trade had occurred when her mother was a girl. "She told me that game was becoming scarce because of all the white hunters and settlers moving in, and that their government was pressuring the chiefs to sell off their land. When they were offered unsettled land further West, many accepted the trade."
Her grandmother's family stayed, but the land where her home was located was later confiscated, forcing her family to leave the place where countless generations had been raised. Lily said, "When the land was opened for homesteading, Toby and I claimed the acreage that my grandmother's house is on." Then she pointed up the river, and said, "You just follow that ridge to our cabin."
Janie thought that Lily might tell her something about the story of her having a baby. But Lily didn't know whether the story was factual or not. She said, "I remember Miss Verda telling her story, but I got the impression that nobody believed her. She became like a mother to Calvin, though. Every time I saw Verda, Calvin was hanging to her skirt tail."
When Lily said that her sister's death put Calvin completely in Verda's care, Janie asked why his father didn't assume the parental role.
"He was always busy with his church work and didn't spend much time with Calvin. But it was Calvin that took care of him, with Verda's help, when he became ill."
Janie wondered if the responsibility for care of his dying father might be the cause of his inclination toward being too serious.
Boomer didn't come home when Calvin called that night, and it seemed to bother him when Janie suggested he might have followed Toby. When Toby rode in with Boomer the next morning, Calvin gave him a cool welcome and put Boomer on a chain. The friends didn't laugh as much as they had the previous day. But they made good progress on the fireplace, and Janie felt more confident that they would be prepared when cold weather hit.
Janie had enjoyed Lily's visit and told Toby to bring her with him next time. Later Calvin told her he didn't think it was a good idea. "We've got just about enough supplies to last till Spring, and not much more," he said.
"You mean we can't buy food if we run out?" she asked, and looked at him incredulously.
He didn't answer, and she was left wondering if his lack of hospitality was due to meager resources or resentment over his dog's infidelity.
Janie and Lily enjoyed several visits while the men were working on the fireplace. Calvin wouldn't allow Toby to help with the wood pile, but accepted his offer to accompany him on a deer hunt. Janie knew that Calvin was counting on getting a deer to help see them through the winter.
Lily invited Janie to visit while Toby and Calvin were on their hunt. "There's a large hickory grove near our place where we can gather nuts," she said.
When Janie told Calvin about their plans, Calvin forbade her to go. "I never thought you'd ever do me this way, Calvin," she said. "You know I love this place, but I need to get out every now and then."
"A woman has no business roaming around in the woods, and I don't mean for you to go," he said, ending the discussion.
Janie didn't say any more about the visit, but when Calvin left to meet Toby for the hunt, she began hiking to Lily's place. She felt guilty at first, but soon began to feel a sense of exhilaration. A frost had turned the leaves brilliant shades of red and gold, and they spun around in a lively dance as they fell to the ground.
Lily gave her an enthusiastic welcome and seemed anxious to show her the place. Toby had a whittling corner on the porch, with several carved creations on display, among them a believable representation of a big cat.
"Is that the mighty cougar I've heard about?" she asked.
"That's Toby's impression of one. Can't you just see the power in its form?"
Janie agreed, and said she was impressed with his artistic ability. She asked Lily, "Did you ever see a cougar?"
"When I was small, a boy showed me a cub he had found. But I never saw one fully grown."
When they viewed the kitchen, Lily made the comment that she could still picture her grandmother and mother there, preparing meals for the family. "I enjoy cooking the traditional dishes, but I'd give up my tiny waist to be able to make white bread like Miss Verda used to bake," she said, and laughed.
Not long after they started their hike, Lily broke into a trot. "If I can't run anymore, at least I'm going to skip," she said.
Seeing Lily being so playful put Janie in a spirited mood, and she fell in with her step, adding a song from a child's game. Janie couldn't remember when she had felt so carefree.
When they arrived back at the house, Toby and Calvin were coming in, Toby with a deer draped over his horse and Calvin with none. She expected him to react badly at finding her there and resolved not to let that ruin her happy mood. But when Calvin said, "I thought you were at home," Janie couldn't help but feel guilty.
Then he snapped at Lily. "She wouldn't have thought of doing this if it hadn't been for you."
That made Toby mad. "You ought not talk to Lily like that. You know she'd not purposely do a thing to harm you," he said.
Janie was embarrassed by Calvin's rudeness. Instead of getting on the horse with him like he said, she took off in the direction of their home, swinging the sack of nuts she had gathered. Once there, she waited for Calvin, ready to have her say about visiting Lily. But he didn't return, and she spent the evening mulling over what had happened.
When he didn't return that night, she thought he must have gone back to hunting and didn't worry too much. She didn't really expect him back for breakfast, but when he missed the noon meal, she began to wonder if something had happened to him. She turned Boomer loose, thinking he might find Calvin and usher him home, then spent the afternoon listening for a signal from the dog.
Janie didn't quit worrying until she heard the dog trampling around outside, then the sound of Calvin's horse riding in. She waited by the fire and watched him come in the door carrying a smoked ham, which he lay in front of her on the hearth. "Well I guess you're not dead," she said, and put the bean pot over the fire.
She supposed the ham must be a trade-off for the deer he didn't get. When he pulled a bag of candy from his pocket and laid it in her lap, Janie didn't know whether to take it as a peace offering or a bribe. "I intend to visit Lily every now and then, and I'm going to stay with her a few days when she has her baby," she said.
"You already proved there's no stopping you once you decide to do something," he said, picking up a bowl and filling it with beans.
She took a piece of candy from the bag then and ate it.
The next day, she began thinking he had given in too easily on the visiting and decided to test his sincerity. "I'm afraid Lily's feelings might be hurt, and I want to go see her," she said.
He responded coolly, "I don't guess you'd be interested in hearing my opinion on the matter."
Janie hadn't expected Calvin to actually have an argument against the visit. "What reason could there be for my not seeing her?" she asked.
"I don't think Lily and Toby take their vows very seriously," he said.
Lily was shocked. "Are you saying they aren't faithful?"
"I don't know that. But with the casual way they mingle, people could get that idea."
Then he said that Lily had visited him by herself after he moved onto the homestead. "That gave me the impression that Toby didn't care what Lily did."
Calvin had raised questions in Janie's mind which she found disturbing. Was it possible that Lily had been unfaithful to Toby? And if she was willing, how far could Calvin be trusted to respect their marriage? "Have you been with Lily?" she asked.
"No, I would never do that," he said. She had not known Calvin to lie and wanted to believe him.
"Then I don't see why you would care for my visiting her."
Calvin seemed a little flustered and said, "The way Toby is by Lily, I wonder if he might not try something with you."
"Surely you trust me, Calvin," she said.
There was a slight pause before he answered. "Of course I do."
It was the pause that Janie heard. She felt shamed and couldn't talk to Calvin for a while. She saw no way to set things straight, and decided to concentrate on getting ready for the winter ahead. But her husband's remarks stayed with her, preventing her from getting close to him after that.
Janie insisted that Calvin install a glass window before winter. Still, with everything closed up, the cabin became dark. They used lamp oil sparingly, and the fireplace became their main source of light and the center of their activities. They ate and worked by the fire, then sat and watched the play of the flames before they retired at night.
The reticent manner Janie had assumed seemed to bother Calvin. She became aware of his asking questions to get a response and making announcements about what he was doing. She realized it must be tiresome being cooped up with her and them not getting along, but the way he had treated her kept her from feeling sorry for him.
Sometimes, though, he made a special effort to be thoughtful, making it hard for her to stay mad. One day after watching Janie work stooped over the fireplace, Calvin began making a table from wood scraps. After he finished it, she found it greatly eased the difficulty of her work and made mealtime seem more important. She could tell her expression of gratitude was important to him.
Lily had given Janie winter squash and cornmeal, which made their winter fare more interesting and helped stretch their rations. With food enough to last till Spring and plenty of firewood piled in, she felt secure in the prospect of their making it through the winter with little difficulty.
Everything was uneventful for a while, then a winter storm hit. The next morning, they woke to find snow on the table where the wind had blown it under the door. When they looked out, Boomer was no where to be seen, and Calvin had to dig him out of the snow. Boomer looked like he was dead when Calvin carried him in, but he kept rubbing him until he finally stirred.
"You'd better let him sleep inside for a while," Janie suggested.
Calvin said, "Animals belong outside." But come bedtime, Boomer was inside, sleeping by the fire.
Janie caught a chill during that storm and couldn't get warm. Even in bed, under layers of quilts, the chill persisted. One night after falling asleep shivering, a feeling of warmth came over her and she began to feel totally at ease. When she heard her grandmother singing, she began to hum the tune. But the pleasant sensations were interrupted by the sound of Calvin calling her name.
Suddenly she was awakened by Calvin's slapping her on the cheeks. With her fighting him, he pulled her out of bed and led her around the room. The awful cold had returned, and she could tell by Calvin's scared expression that something was wrong. "You've got to stay awake," he said, then sat her by the fire and wrapped her in a quilt.
While feeding her warm coffee, he told her the fire had gone out. "If Boomer hadn't barked, I might not have woke up in time."
"But I was just getting warm," she said.
Calvin stayed up to feed the fire after Janie went back to bed. At various times during the night, she felt him hovering nearby. When he came to bed, she huddled closely against him, and slept that way from then on.
When Janie was better, Calvin went to check on Aunt Verda. He said she was glad to see him and was sorry to hear Janie had been sick. She sent a tin of tea with instructions for her to drink it several times a day to keep the chill off. Calvin didn't say, but Janie was sure she must have chastised him for not bringing her back to visit.
It was a relief to have the severe weather past, but the ensuing days were gloomy. One morning Janie told Calvin she was going to stay in bed, and that he could eat leftovers when he got hungry. He fed the horse and dog, then crawled into bed beside her. They snuggled like they had the first days after their wedding, but this time, Janie was the one that initiated the lovemaking.
For a time, Calvin couldn't walk past her without getting a smack on the butt. With nothing pressing, the chores took second place to pleasure, and the last weeks of winter were spent with them lounging around the cabin in various states of undress.
When things got back to normal, Calvin walked around with a hurt look on his face, acting like a man betrayed.
Come Spring, it rained and rained and rained. A walk outside required heavy boots and a stick, then a change of clothes upon return. Tired of having the cabin dark, Janie propped the door open and left it that way, no matter what the weather. With no opportunity for airing everything, the house smelled like muddy boots and damp clothes.
"I want to visit my folks," Janie announced, as she sat watching the rain. Thoughts of her mother's tidy house with its big glass windows had made her homesick. She wanted to sleep on clean sheets and wear a starched and ironed dress. She wanted to eat biscuits baked in a real oven.
"The roads won't be passable for another month," Calvin said.
"We could go by horseback," she replied.
"Janie, be realistic. We couldn't both travel on one horse and carry your belongings. Besides, it's almost time to plant the early garden."
Janie could see that Calvin had no intention of taking her for the visit, and decided to wait for a more opportune time to raise the issue again.
But Calvin seemed to think they had settled the matter for good and became high-handed in his treatment of her. Despite her complaints, he left her home during his trips to town, which became more frequent. She couldn't even accompany him on his visits with his aunt, because he said he didn't want to get stuck listening to her tales.
Janie came to the conclusion that Calvin was involved with another woman. It was at that point that she wrote the letter to her parents. Realizing that she might alienate Calvin for good, still she saw the visit as her only option for breaking out of her impasse. She hoped that by leaving, she could bring him back to his senses.
The sight of Calvin in his wedding coat spurred her to action. She could wait no longer. She decided to use the coins her father gave her to make the trip back home.
Janie picked out a few things for the trip and threw them in with the rest of their laundry. As she stirred the boiling pot, she tried unsuccessfully to conjure a plan for getting to the coach station. She thought about calling on Toby for help, but knew that would finish his friendship with Calvin for good. Still, she was determined to make her escape.
After the laundry dried, Janie picked out the things she needed for the trip and laid them on the bed, along with the bag she planned to use.
Boomer hadn't stopped barking, and it was beginning to make Janie nervous. But it was time to cook, and she ventured to the spring for water. As she filled the pails, she felt as if someone was watching and stopped to look around.
At that moment, she saw Calvin's horse come riding in, the saddle empty. Frightened for him, she ran toward the sound of his voice when he yelled.
"Janie, get to the house!" He came flying down the hill with a frightened look on his face, and when he reached her, he grabbed her by the arm and began pulling her toward the cabin. Hardly able to stay on her feet, Janie pleaded for Calvin to let her go, but he didn't stop until they were in the door. Boomer broke loose, and they heard him yelping as he charged into the forest.
Janie was frantic and asked, "What is it, Calvin?"
"The cougar got after me," he said breathlessly.
Janie looked skeptical and Calvin began telling what happened.
"I know this is hard to believe, but I saw her. She squalled, and when the horse threw me, she took out after me. Didn't you see her?"
"I didn't see anything," Janie answered.
"Well Boomer saw her, and there's no telling where she'll lead him."
When Calvin mounted to go after Boomer, Janie asked if he was going to take his firearm. She was puzzled when he answered, "That wouldn't do a lot of good," and rode off.
Calvin was such a rational man. Janie didn't know what to make of his claim. Her first thought was that a guilty conscience made him imagine the incident, but then there was Boomer's erratic behavior to consider.
Calvin returned without his dog, but told Janie he planned to go out again in the morning. He went in for a chair and upon seeing the bag and clothes on the bed, he gave her a hard look. He sat by the door a long time, his expression becoming tense each time he heard a sound.
After supper, Janie questioned Calvin about the cougar chase. "I thought the last cougar was killed in the big hunt," she said.
"What people don't know is that one cub escaped," he said.
"Do you think the cougar you just saw is that cub?"
"No. I think it was the cub's mama, the cougar that was killed in the hunt."
Janie couldn't believe what Calvin was saying. "You mean, you think you saw a ghost?"
Calvin was silent for a while, then said, "I think there's two cougars out there - the old cougar that I fed as a cub and the one that protects him."
Janie listened in amazement as Calvin went on to tell about finding a cub when he was small and secretly carrying food to him. He knew if he petted it, it would follow him home, so he always kept his distance. He said that one day when he was on the way to feed the cub, he walked up on a grown cougar, poised to attack. "She let out a scream that stood my hair on end. She didn't come after me, but I took it as a warning, and never visited the cub again." Calvin didn't think the cub had survived, until he saw prints of a lame cougar on their property. He told Janie he figured the cat had come back to die.
Calvin's kindness toward the cub made a strong impression on her. She thought about the vigilance he showed during her illness and told herself that such acts proved his true nature. That was the Calvin she wanted to be father to her children, not the man that left her alone to cavort with another woman. She knew she would have to postpone her plan for leaving, but more than ever, she was determined to do what was necessary to set things right.
Neither of them slept much that night. When Janie finally fell off, she dreamed she saw the mother cougar outside their door, nursing her cubs.
Toby came riding in as Calvin prepared to leave on his search. He said when he was awakened by the sound of Boomer on a chase, he got up and followed the sound of his barking. "Last time I heard him, he was in Sarvis Hollow, coming this way," he said.
Calvin thanked him, and headed out in the direction Toby indicated, this time with his firearm.
"Has Lily had her baby?" Janie asked.
"Not yet, but she thinks it will be here soon."
Janie felt like saying she would help, but knew she couldn't, with Calvin feeling the way he did. As Toby rode away, Janie thought how sad it would be if her's and Lily's children never had a chance to play together.
She put the bag away and directed her attention to the house. After stripping the sheets and putting the mattress out to sun, she went after wash water. At the spring, she spied a patch of blue on a ledge above and recognized her silk bonnet. She thought she must have dropped it during the excitement of the previous day, but wondered how it ended up where it did.
She had just recovered the bonnet and tied it on when she heard Boomer's frantic bray. She could tell he was getting close, and she looked for cover, but too late. Boomer came streaking down the hill, with nothing visible ahead of him. Then came the flash of wild eyes and large fangs, and a charge passed through her.
She heard Calvin yell for her to drop down, then a shot, and the dog fell. Dazed, she stared at the lifeless form in front of her, then watched Calvin walk over to his dog. He put his gun down and began to stroke Boomer's fur, then sat on the ground beside him.
Janie said, "I'm sorry you had to shoot Boomer, Calvin."
"I couldn't shoot him. You were in the line of fire, so I shot into the air. His heart must have given out," he said, looking stricken.
Janie sat down near him, neither of them speaking. Finally Calvin lay his dog across the horse, then took him to a grove of pine trees near the cabin and buried him.
Janie was removing bed linens from the clothesline when he returned. As he walked past her, he said, "I'll take you to your parents if that's what you want."
She followed him to the cabin and said, "Calvin, we need to talk." After coaxing him to the table, she poured him a cup of coffee. "I only wanted to visit my parents. I didn't plan to stay," she explained.
"Once your parents heard what a hard time you've been having, you know they would prevent you from coming back."
She insisted they wouldn't do that. "I love our home and would hate to lose it. But I want to stay as your companion, not as your prisoner," she said, and waited for his response.
Calvin took a sip of coffee, then asked, "Are you pregnant?"
Janie said she was.
"I thought you looked like you were," he said.
He sat at the table watching as she spread the fresh linens, then change into her bed clothes. When she invited him to come to bed, Calvin said he wanted to take some scraps to the spring, because he thought the old cub was hiding there. Janie told about finding her bonnet on the ledge and asked if he thought the cougar might have carried it there.
"It's possible. If he did, his scent would have been on it."
"And that might explain Boomer's strange behavior," Janie said. Then she asked, "Aren't you afraid you'll run into the mother?"
He said, "What can she do to me?"
Calvin never saw the mother cougar again. He carried food to the spring every day for a while, and when he stopped, Janie assumed the cat was dead or near his end. She was touched by Calvin's act of compassion, but was relieved to be able to walk to the spring without wondering whether the old cub might be in the shadows, watching.
Lily named the baby Chloey. She was born with a thick head of hair and feet that seemed big for a girl. Janie assisted in the delivery, then returned in a few days to help out. She found Lily sitting outdoors with the child, looking like an earthy "Madonna"; her prodigious breasts somewhat concealed by one of Toby's big shirts, a full skirt billowing around her lower body, and bare feet protruding from underneath.
During Janie's visit, she and Lily did laundry while Toby watched the baby. Listening to Lily tell about the cute things that Chloey did made Janie look forward to her own child's arrival.
"What does Aunt Verda say about the baby?" Lily asked.
"She says she couldn't be happier if it was her own grandchild. But she's concerned that the baby might be marked by the scare I got from the vision of the cougar."
Lily said she had never known of that really happening.
Janie shared her concerns about Calvin's trips into town and asked Lily about his former relations with the female grocer. Lily's advice was simple. "If you think Calvin is seeing another woman, you need to set things straight. I don't think Calvin would do anything that might cause him to lose you, especially now."
The way Lily said it made it sound like the logical thing to do. But Janie was afraid of what might come out of her raising that issue.
"Do you think you will have a boy or a girl?" Lily asked.
"I'll be glad for either, but it would be nice to have a little boy that takes after Calvin." she answered.
"But wouldn't it be fun to have a little Janie running around the house?" Lily asked.
Toby was listening, and made a teasing comment. "But what if it's a boy that takes after Janie or a girl that takes after Calvin?"
Lily laughed at Toby's joke, but Janie got goose bumps when she heard the remark.
"What would you name her if it's a girl?" Lily asked.
"I would call her Saria, after my grandmother."
Lily was moved to tears by the announcement. Toby said, "You'll have to overlook her weepiness. She's been like this since the baby came."
But Janie appreciated Lily's response.
Calvin came after Janie, and the four of them sat down to supper. Janie and Lily's unflagging chatter caused Toby to remark to Calvin, "It's been that way all day. A man couldn't get a word in edgewise."
Janie was having trouble picturing Calvin doting on their child like Toby did Chloey, and she looked at Calvin for a clue concerning his feelings about having a baby around. She caught his gaze, and something in his eyes told her everything would work out all right.
Then she got a picture of Calvin holding a child on his knees, and him smiling.
All poems are copyrighted property of Joyce Walker.
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