It was June and summer quiet when Peter Carr’s long shadow first appeared through the open door of my classroom. I still think that foreboding came with it. I said, “Come in,” without looking up, and he came in and stood in front of my desk. I could hear that he was wearing high-heeled boots.
It was over a hundred outside, and in my shirtsleeves, with my tie pulled loose, I was sweating over a pile of papers in a smell of floor oil, chalk, and dust from the quad. The Indian children, in their secret way, had all anybody has, but it didn’t get into their papers. Their papers were terrible. I made the last marks carefully, so as not to appear angry when I looked up. “Senor Gates?” he asked.
I was shocked. It was not only the “senor,” or even the deep, gentle voice in this place of arid voices. It was the accent.
“Yes,” I said.
“I am so sorry to interrupt,” he said, and the accent was confirmed. He spoke like a Boston clergyman who has taken up light satire as a defense. He implied that it was amusing to apologize for interrupting nothing. I took him in while I asked what I could do for him. He was exotic for these parts, with his new creased Levis, skin-tight, blue silk shirt with scarlet trim, and new black sombrero. His belt and hat band were made of linked silver conches, and he wore on one wrist an old silver bracelet as wide as my hand, and on a finger of the other hand a silver ring with a large matrix turquoise. His long hair was tied in a club on his neck, and bound with a scarlet band. He was thin and exceedingly-straight, and had a long, narrow face and aristocratic hands. His eyes were rather intentionally direct as he smiled at my examination, a faint, even uncertain smile, but with that same quality of light ridicule.
“The senora at the office told me I should come to you to arrange for a room and meals, and for instruction also.”
“You’re coming to the school?” I asked, I showed my surprise. We often got them as old as he was, perhaps twenty, but his voice and manner suggested something far beyond us.
“That seems at present necessary, senor,” he said, smiling again. “Oh, does it?” I thought.
“The arrangement is for personal instruction, I believe,” he said.
He didn’t miss my look. “Apart from the usual classes, senor.”
I couldn’t be sure of the contempt. Already I felt that the way he said things wasn’t his own. “You don’t come from this territory?” “Scarcely, senor.”
“We’ve never given special instruction here,” I said finally. “I doubt if we’d have what you want.”
“The arrangement has been made with Senor Cuyler,” he told me.
I stared at him while I wondered what Cuyler figured to get out of this. “You’re Navajo, aren’t you?” I asked him. “Si, senor. Navajo.” “Then why—?”
When I didn’t go on, he said gently, “I have permission, senor.”
I didn’t understand. The Navajos are a proud people, and our students were mostly Piutes, the children of pine-nut pickers and third-rate ranch hands. At that time, before the national government began asking for people who knew Indians, our job looked to me useless or worse. When they left us they went back to a degraded reservation life, or the most menial of ranch work, or nothing. There were curfew laws against them in the towns, and the white ranchers were always trying to get the rights to what little workable land they had left. The school was what you might have expected, a handful of ugly frame buildings in the middle of a barren valley, cold and windy in the winter, hot and windy in the summer, and always dusty unless there was snow down. Still, I could see we wouldn’t get anywhere on our present track. I stood up.
“What’s your name, son?” I asked him.
“I may be called Peter Carr, senor.”
“But you’re not, is that it?”
He smiled, but wouldn’t say anything.
“Well, come along, Peter Carr,” I said, “I’ll show you where you sleep.”
We walked across the quad, squinting in the light and dust. A group of the smaller boys watched us from the shadow of a building, and I felt the heartbreak I always felt when I saw them, the smallest ones, with their cropped heads and blue overalls, standing on the edge of things, watching, Never mind the new young man. Time was dying quietly here anyway, without resistance or hope, in the sunlight, in the rustle of little poplars. He wouldn’t matter in the long run.
The boys slept in a long, second-story hall with two rows of cots, a bare floor, and windows too high to see out of. I pointed out a cot to Peter Carr.
“That will be yours. I’ll show you where to get bedding.”
“Thank you, senor, but I have brought my own blankets.”
“So you’ll lie in style,” I thought. But there was no rule.
“If I might have a place to put my things, senor. Where they will be safe. I will sleep outside for the time being.”
“You’ll sleep here,” I told him. “They all do.” “But here, seflor, they must all see one another, and breathe one another’s sleep.” He wasn’t insulted. He was explaining decency to me.
“If anyone sleeps out, they’ll all want to,” I said.
“Is this rule because of the girls, senor?” he inquired with malicious gravity, “Where do the girls sleep, senor?”
I resented the kind of watch we had to keep myself. The thought made me sharp. “You’ll find that out for yourself, I imagine,” I said, and was at once ashamed. I would never have said that to one of the boys of whom it might have been true.
“Across the quad,” I apologized. “Pretty much the same as this.”
I took him down to Reilly, the master of the boys’ dormitory. I wanted to find out what the office knew about him. I couldn’t place him yet, and I was afraid he’d make trouble when the older students came back in the fall, though I couldn’t guess yet whether they’d be with him or against him. I told him I’d talk with him about his work in Reilly’s room after supper. There was another duty, though. I’d left it till the last.
“You may wear those clothes,” I told him, as if making a concession, “but you’ll have to have your hair cut like the other boys, and leave your jewelry with Mr. Reilly.”
He looked at me quietly, and then at Reilly, and then slowly took off all the silver, without looking at it, and laid it on the bare center table.
“I’ll keep them safe for you,” Reilly said. Reilly was a stocky, freckled red-head with a broken nose. He was a machine man, like Cuyler, but a good hand with the boys, strict but fair. I could tell he was stung, but knew Peter Carr wouldn’t suffer for it.
“Of course,” Peter Carr said. There was a noticeable hiatus where there should have been the “senor” he was lavishing on me. Reilly’s jaw set, and he looked at me. I didn’t say anything. I tried not to show anything either. I had a feeling we’d need independent judgments.
I went across to the office. Cuyler was away, as usual, keeping his connections warm, but his secretary, Mrs. Gray-borg, was in. He had to keep her to keep the place going, even in its rut, though she wasn’t his ideal as a secretary, being a thin, neat, middle-aged widow with spectacles. She always surprised you when she spoke.
Mrs. Grayborg’s first impression must have been much like mine. She was very dry about Peter Carr. He had entered, she told me, by special arrangement with some people Cuyler had met in Reno. There was influence somewhere, she said, banging Cuyler’s rubber stamp onto some letter he had probably never seen. What it was, she added, no one had seen fit to inform her. I knew it was true if she said so. Mrs. Grayborg and I had no secrets about the school. He was not a reservation Indian, she went on. He came from some ranch outside Albuquerque. He would stay just one year, to learn all he could, which was apparently expected to be a great deal, and if she was any judge, he was likely to receive some rather remarkable privileges. I knew she was only too good a judge.
“Which is going to make it nice for you and Tom,” she said, rolling paper and carbon vigorously into the typewriter. Tom was Reilly.
“Isn’t it,” I said.
The typewriter began to rattle. “Personal tutoring,” she said.
“So Mr. Carr informed me,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “Seflor Carr,” she said.
I sat down on the bench against the wall. “You don’t have any idea what it’s all about,” I asked, “what the boy’s going to do, that begets this cultural urge?”
“Not the slightest,” she said. “Not even,” she said, whanging the carriage back, “a dependable suspicion.”
“It must be a state matter,” I said.
“It must,” she agreed.
“But as for what he’s going to do here—” she said, ripping the paper off the roller and at once inserting another sheet.
“I imagine Mr. Carr will tell me himself,” I said. “Senor Carr,” she corrected again. “I imagine he will.” I’d have to find him out gradually and accidentally, I judged. I finished my cigarette and went back to my papers.
Peter Carr came to Reilly’s room at exactly the time I had set, with his hair still uncut. He wouldn’t sit down. I believe he felt that such informality would seem premature. I took a chair by the window, and lit my pipe.
“What do you want to study?” I asked him.
He had it by rote: “I wish to read and write English, to know what a gentleman should about music, literature, art, and the histories of European nations, and to understand mathematics and business methods.” It was then that I got the first inkling that more than his manner was borrowed, but at the moment I was so shocked by the confession of illiteracy that I missed the important revelation.
“To read and write?” I asked.
He nodded gravely.
“You speak your own tongue, of course; and Spanish?”
“I do not know Navajo, senor,” he said. “It is of no use. Of Spanish, but a few words.” He explained blandly, “It is a language of such courtesy. It makes those who come to the ranch feel important. Then they are easily happy.”
I felt my face burning, but as far as I could tell in the dusk, he was serious.
“You have never lived with your own people?”
“With the Navajos? No, senor.”
“You can drop the ‘senor’,” I said.
“As you wish.”
“And how long do you intend to work at these studies?” “Until I have mastered them, senor.” I looked at him.
“I am sorry,” he said, bowing slightly. “I have used the word so long.” And after a moment, “You would judge the time better than I. I had thought a year, perhaps.” “A whole year for that?” I inquired lightly. “If it seems necessary,” he said.
“It might be,” I admitted. “And you wish to work by yourself?”
“Of course.” He nearly said the “senor,” so it was an honest habit.
We talked about books and hours for a short time, and about his previous work, which was none. Then I returned to my room. I wanted to get him straight, but didn’t, then, or until the end. The answer was so simple and single that I couldn’t find it in the tangled mass of his apparently irreconcilable traits, Indian and codfish aristocracy, ignorance and delicacy, egotism and ill-veiled timidity, superficiality and mystery. I finally made myself go to sleep because it was getting worse.
Mrs. Grayborg was right about Peter’s privileges. Cuyler not only let him keep his hair, but ordered his jewelry returned. Except for canceled authority, I didn’t mind the hair; he would be the queer. The jewelry was another thing. It wouldn’t matter with the little ones who stayed in the summer, who would no more be jealous of him than of me; but to the older ones, when they returned, it would be a notable distinction. I wouldn’t ask favors of Peter Carr, but short of that, I did what I could, made a ceremony of returning the ornaments, and told him how the others would feel. He listened attentively, thanked me for returning them, and was wearing them the next day. He even added, at times, a ceremonial necklace of huge silver beads and claws, with a double crescent pendant. That finished him with Reilly, who after that kept asking me how my new girl was getting along. I didn’t like it either, but I wasn’t so sure what it meant. It seemed to me he was not merely being obstinate, but rather observing a pledge of some moral significance.
Yet he continued to deny his Navajo heritage when I tried to break the tedium of alphabet and copying exercises by drawing him out on their customs and ritual and art. He declared, almost savagely, that they, and all they stood for, were dead, It was a sore point with him, as if he were less certain of it than of most of his queer code.
Gradually I let him lead me into the talk he wanted, the life of European societies, important historical events, the names of, and recognizable keys to, famous works of music, art, and literature. But even here he wanted facts, just facts; he was an insatiable sink for facts, and never put facts together, never saw a direction, never thought, just remembered. When I would try to make him draw a heap of facts into a theory or a trend, he would take my theories as facts too, and come up days later with one of them worked neatly into his assiduous parlor conversation, and state it as dogmatically as he would say Columbus discovered America in 1492. It made me sick to hear my way of thinking begin to come out of him pat, sharing the honor of his devotion with that detestable voice I had heard from the start. I let it go, and stuck to his drills, to pointing out identifying themes in master compositions played on my terrible little portable and identifying figures or groupings in my pile of bad art prints, and to the undigested facts, only trying to keep enough related facts together so that his practice conversations wouldn’t sound like quiz programs. Only once in a while 1 he would suddenly fall silent in the middle of his execrable but beautifully voiced parrotings, and stare for a long time through the window at the empty quad, so that I felt sick with pity for him, felt that he also knew his hollowness, and the futility of the facts he had chosen to dump into it. The rest of the time he was a Santa Fe poster which had unfortunately learned to talk. Outside of his work, I tried to forget him.
He made problems, though, that wouldn’t let me forget him. About six weeks after his arrival, something came up which looked to me really serious. He’d been living in a separate cabin which we’d need again in the fall. That was bad enough. Now there was a new bungalow going up in the grove, quite a place for one boy, to judge by the foundations and the plans the contractor showed me, which called for a bedroom, a bath with separate shower, a kitchen, a study with built-in bookcases, and a living room with a big plate glass window like a show case front, looking up at the Sierra, which was all we had to look at, or the best. A dozen workers were going strong on it on the west edge of the grove, which was really just a clump of big cottonwoods across the entrance road from the main quad, but a place marked and of the elect in the minds of our students, not only because they were the only trees on the place except a scattering of half dead poplars and aspens, but because, until now, Cuyler’s own residence had stood alone on its eastern edge.
I went to the office. Oh, yes, Mrs. Grayborg said, the bungalow was for Peter Carr. It would, she declared, banging a ledger down on the desk, guarantee him some privacy from the common herd. Since he was unusually sensitive, she said, making a forcible entry with a stub pen, it was necessary that he have some protection, as well as quiet in which to pursue his studies.
“Cuyler didn’t say that?” I asked.
“Well, I certainly didn’t,” she said.
I went back to see Cuyler on one of those rare days when he was in. It was no use. He just stood there, his plump, almost caricatured political self, chewed a cigar and stared at me through his heavy glasses. Probably fresh from being put in his place, he had just finished, as his heavy breathing and bright look showed, putting Mrs. Grayborg in hers. She was staring at her typewriter with a tired, stupefied look. He listened to me with that bright look too, of patiently waiting to say something that mattered.
“Has Peter been making trouble?” he asked me, chewing the cigar into the other corner of his mouth, and patting his belly with both hands, preparatory to downing me.
“No,” I said, “but this layout of his will. This isn’t a private school, and I’m not a private tutor.” Cuyler withdrew his cigar and stared at me steadily. “Who asked you what it is?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I know what it is. And what’s he doing here anyway? We can’t give him anything he couldn’t get better a dozen other places, if he has that much to spend. And without making a hundred other kids feel like mud.”
“They are mud,” Cuyler said. “If you don’t shoot your mouth off, they’ll never know the difference. They’ll never even think he’s one of them. And he’s not. I happen to know.”
He paused to let me understand how intimately he knew.
“I happen to know his connections,” he said.
“Would you mind giving me some idea?” I asked.
“I most certainly would. You’re a bigot, Gates. You’ve got no tolerance. If you knew who’s behind him, he wouldn’t have a prayer with you.”
“I don’t see how he’s going to anyway, unless I get some idea what he’s after.”
“He told you, didn’t he?”
“Everything but why, and that’s everything, in his case. I’m just guessing.”
“What he wants to tell you is enough. Never mind guessing.”
“And as for their being mud,” he blocked me, “they are mud. If you’d get rid of your half-baked parlor notions, and get out and see how they really live—”
“I’ve seen,” I told him. I’d been on the reservations, and in the pine-nut camps and fishing shelters fifty times to his accidental one, and he knew it.
“While, as for taking care of any little jealousies that may arise, I think that’s my province,” Cuyler said, as if finally.
“One might think so.”
“Now, you listen to me, Gates.” He planted his feet apart, removed his cigar again, and pointed it at me. “You’re hired to teach; to teach, and to carry out arrangements as handed to you. Just that. Peter Carr’s arrangements are according to my orders. That’s enough for you.”
Then he made one of those oily shifts I most detested. I believe he thought them subtle, these conclusions intended to soothe without weakening his position.
“Peter’s friends have reasons of their own for sending him to an Indian school, good reasons, in my opinion, and actually, Gates, you yourself are the chief reason they chose this one. You don’t find many Indian schools with a teacher who has three college degrees. You know that. And I’m sure you’ll find Peter worth your time. Maybe,” he said, looking bright again, “maybe in more ways than one.”
I tried to go on, but he waved an affable hand. “Some other time, Gates. I’m up to my ears, and I have to get back to see Senator Niles this evening. If there’s any trouble, just come to me. But there won’t be.”
“You’re up to Mrs. Grayborg’s ears, you mean,” I thought. Actually, all I got out of it was that Peter had friends.
I was still hot about the mess being prepared for Reilly and me, when another incident occurred which gave me a new angle on Peter Carr, or his friends. I believe now that it revealed the friends more than Peter, but perhaps, with time, I’ve romanticized Peter a little myself.
I was working on my old Ford in a patch of shade behind the tool shed. I was halfway under the hood, and didn’t see Peter Carr when he came.
“A little difficulty, Mr. Gates?”
“No,” I said, without looking up. “Plenty.”
“You seem to have a great deal of trouble with that car, Mr. Gates.”
“It’s that kind of car.”
“Do you like that sort of work?” he asked. There was a tone in his voice like a cat walking in water. “I do not,” I said.
“I should think you’d let a mechanic do it.” “First get it to the mechanic.”
After a moment he said, “It’s a rather inexpensive car, isn’t it?”
I stood up and looked at him. I was sweating and greasy, and there he stood, just in the edge of the shadow, cool in all his silver and a white silk blouse that made his hands and face look like well carved mahogany. He was smoking a long Russian cigarette. “Well, it’s no Rolls-Royce,” I said, and turned back. He began to tell me seriously what a fine car the Rolls-Royce was. He spoke of the pleasure of driving an Hispano-Suiza too, and even had a good word for the Cadillac and Packard.
“I know all that,” I said. “But this is what I’ve got. It’s a six year old Ford.”
“But for a man with your interests,” he said. “The continual annoyance.”
I gave up, sat down on the running board and lit a cigarette myself, while he related to me with delicate gravity the experience of an acquaintance of his, a man with tastes much like mine, and similarly in straitened circumstances, those were his words, who had solved the problem with a reconditioned Pierce-Arrow. Towards the end, because I kept looking at him, his exposition was less confident.
“I couldn’t let this go,” I told him. “It’s bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and most of my spare time. You have to love anything that’s this much trouble, after six years.”
That was too much for him. Neither in his natural self, if there were such, nor in the personality he had selected, was there enough humor to let him be sure what I meant. He hung around for a minute, not saying anything, and then wandered away. I wondered what this new glimpse promised for the fall. I was constantly wondering, at this time, what would happen in the fall, and almost hoping, I believe, that it would be enough to shake Cuyler, though I knew that would end by shaking Reilly and me.
Actually, I think it helped. Cuyler was right in spite of himself. Peter Carr was so perfectly isolated in his donned conceit that he offered little to keep animosity alive. The bungalow was finished by the time school began, and he had moved into it, along with three truckloads of overstuffed furniture, Navajo rugs, and leather-bound classics, which he had insisted I list for him, and which he was already reading for hours each day, his parroted facility in speech having brought him along rapidly after the first painful steps, though in the same infuriating way, remembering facts and memorized opinion taken as fact, and nothing else. With regular classes again, and helping Reilly on the football field, I moved Peter’s hours to the evening, and since he studied most of the day, and ran alone for exercise, he didn’t cross the other students much.
They were curious when they first saw him, of course. He was in full panoply, crossing the quad towards my classroom. I was standing in the door, and saw them watching him in little groups, the boys sober-faced and intent, thinking pretty deadly things, I guessed, and many of the girls giggling.
One of the girls danced out a few steps from her group, and gave him a languishing look, and then pillowed one cheek on her two hands and gazed after him soulfully. At this pantomime, her friends wriggled in ecstasy. Even among the boys there were slow grins. The girl was Jenny Jackson. I looked to see if Jim Blood was among the boys, and he was, sitting on a step of the dorm, his massive shoulders hunched over, and his big flat face turned at Peter Carr too, and grinning a little. It was a good beginning; better than a serious one, anyway.
Actually there was only one complication, and that had to do with Jenny, and so with Jim Blood, which might, with a more normal climax, have caused plenty of trouble.
Jenny was a very pretty and pert Shoshone girl, considerably more intelligent and sensitive than most of her schoolmates, and with the drawing power of a doe in the spring. I don’t mean she was loose. She wasn’t; she set a high value on herself. But in a delicate way she had the urge, and the charms that derive from it. She was the cause, I suspected, of a lot of dreaming in the monastic dormitory, though, because of Jim Blood, the dreams didn’t even get as far as conversation.
Jim wasn’t Jenny’s choice. She was his. He couldn’t get anywhere with her, but he’d marked her off, and his sign was enough. Jim was older than most of the boys, older than Peter, I’d guess, and besides being very powerful, the school’s best athlete, he was a vindictive, silent sort, whose little humor was malicious. Not that he was openly a bully. He’d never had a fight at the school. But fundamentally he was dangerous.
Perhaps, at first, Jenny saw in Peter Carr’s separateness nothing more than a hope of escaping Jim Blood, though later it was certainly more than that. However that was, after the first two or three weeks she began to make an open play for Peter. She watched him constantly, and knew his whole routine, I think. She kept crossing him on the quad, standing near him at the football games, and especially taking late afternoon walks that would intercept him when he came in from his long runs on the desert. When that wasn’t enough, she began to come to my classroom in the evenings, with excuses about borrowing books or getting help with assignments. She came two or three times a week, as often as she felt it safe to ask for a pass from the matron. They weren’t hard to get. Jenny was a good student, good enough to make us think of college for her, and she’d never caused any trouble.
She was quick to understand Peter. When she found him in agony over childish rudiments, punctuation, arithmetic, spelling, she didn’t stay, but when we were talking, she would often sit for an hour, listening. I doubt if she saw, then at least, through the worldly pose into the terrible emptiness of the boy. She would watch him intently as he gave me back, in flawless periods, that stored tripe, and sometimes I would see her soft, rather round mouth silently shaping words after him. She began to borrow my copies of some of the books he was reading, and finally, after some weeks, even to enter tentatively into the talk. I found her a pleasing antidote. Unlike Peter, everything she wanted was to help form an opinion, and though her entries were timid, her inalienable whimsical pertness got into her speech as into her movements.
As far as Peter Carr was concerned, though, she wasn’t there. He would wait patiently until she was done, which was never long under this silent pressure, and then take up the conversation as if nothing had been said since my last remark or his. I wondered how she bore up under this freezing, but you can’t tell, perhaps it was even a stimulus. She quickly learned to speak only to me, but she continued to come and sit with us, and listen to Peter, and watch him.
Why it happened so suddenly, when it did happen, I will never understand. He may have been more responsive elsewhere, though I doubt that. Perhaps her active imagination had built the situation up falsely. Perhaps she was applying a desperation measure to the only opportunity offered. Certainly that part of Peter’s encouragement which I witnessed was very slight.
She had come in early that evening, and we were talking about “Laughing Boy” which I had given her to read, behind Cuyler’s back. She had decided Peter was a kind of Laughing Boy. It was the first time she’d talked to me about Peter, and I’d underrated her penetration. Or perhaps I hadn’t. Perhaps she had missed the Laughing Boy. I’ll never be sure, because Peter came in before I could start digging, and afterwards, of course, she would never open up to me either.
Peter said good evening to Jenny. That much he always did. All she said was good evening too, but he looked at her again after she’d said it. Since she was already there, we didn’t mention his drill work, but drifted into our conversation. It was the usual talk, but there was an important difference that charged it with a kind of warm inspiration usually wholly lacking, Twice Peter made a direct reply to a remark of Jenny’s. Jenny was excited and exalted. She talked more than usual. Still Peter remained affable, except that once he raised an eyebrow of fellowly condescension at me.
At eight-thirty, as usual, Jenny got up to go. She was still quietly excited. I didn’t realize how much, but tried to let her down gently with some pedagogical admonition.
“Yes, Mr. Gates,” she said, her eyes loving even upon me. “Goodnight, Mr. Gates.”
In the door she said, “Goodnight, Peter Carr,”
The whole name. I hadn’t toned her down a bit.
Peter stood up and said, “Goodnight, Jenny. Sleep well.”
She hesitated, looking at him with her lips a little apart. She didn’t say anything more, though, but bobbed her head quickly at him, and clutching her books, went out, closing the door very quietly, Through the window, I saw her in the moonlight, running across the snowy quad. She was making wild little excursions to the side, and sometimes skipping.
That was all there was to it. The only external difference was that Peter had never before used her name or told her to sleep well. Peter and I worked at his punctuation for half an hour, and then, from the door, I watched him cross the quad in that slow, limber gait, and when he was gone into shadows on the other side, went back to work of my own.
I don’t think it was more than fifteen minutes before he returned. He didn’t seem upset, only a little more self-consciously haughty.
“Would you please get the matron for me, Mr. Gates?” he asked.
“The matron? Why, what’s the matter?” I knew, all right.
“That girl,” he said, “is in my bedroom.”
He nodded. “I thought I’d better report it, to avoid misunderstanding.” “Can’t you put her out?”
“It would be better to have someone in authority, I think.”
I was as stiff as he was. “If you prefer,” I said.
It was early still, and the older girls at the dormitory would be up. There wouldn’t be a chance of Jenny being brought in by the matron without the whole school guessing. I was afraid we would lose all we hoped of Jenny under their flogging. An unsuccessful amorous advance was the funniest thing they could think of, and their humor was more durable than delicate.
I got up. “I’ll go over with you,” I said.
“It would be better to call the matron.”
“We won’t need the matron,” I said angrily. “I won’t have the whole damned school laughing at her.”
“The girl is in my bed,” he said quietly. “I doubt if she has anything on, and she refuses to come out.”
I stared at him while I thought what they would do with that. He thought I doubted him. “It is so,” he said.
It was, too. I went over without calling the matron. Jenny’s books were on the living room table, and she had the door locked now. I talked to her, but she wouldn’t come out, or make any answer to my arguments except “no, no” as if she were crying. Peter Carr sat down across the room and watched me pleading like a fool with “no, no” through a locked door. Finally I told her I would have to call the matron. She knew what that meant, but she told me, wildly, to go ahead and call her. I looked at my watch. It was just after ten o’clock. I told her what time it was, and that I’d give her till eleven, and then I’d have to call the matron, if she wasn’t already looking for her. She didn’t answer me.
I sat down with one of Peter’s handsome leather books, and pretended to read. I figured that an hour, if it didn’t bring her out, would at least make it late enough to give her a chance, of getting in without being seen.
At half-past there had been no sound from the room, except perhaps a sound of smothered crying so quiet I might have imagined it. I got up and threw the book onto the table and signaled Peter to come outside. I wrote out an excuse for Jenny, and left it on the table. At the bedroom door I told her about the excuse, and that I would give her a half hour with nobody there. She didn’t answer, and we went outside. Peter was satirically agreeable to everything I tried.
I intended to walk out the main road towards the mountains, which were snow-covered, and looked immense and impending in the moonlight, but from the porch I saw somebody among the shadows of the trees. When I went towards his tree he moved back to another, and when he crossed an open patch of moonlight, not furtively, but slowly, I recognized Jim Blood’s squat, long-armed figure. I kept my voice down when I called to him.
“Is that you, Jim Blood?”
I had to repeat the question before he said, “Yeah,” gruffly. I played the face-saving ignorance which is always the first move of badgered authority.
“What are you doing, wandering around after lights out?” I wanted to know. “Get back to the dormitory before I have to report you.”
It didn’t take. He stood there in the shadow without saying anything.
“You get on over to the dorm,” I ordered. “Or do I have to call Reilly and take you back? Move along now.”
I walked towards him. Then he retreated. I stopped and watched him go out from under the trees and across the road in the moonlight, stopping to look back two or three times. He disappeared in the shadow of the office building. I knew he hadn’t gone any farther, but I was glad to let it go at that.
Jenny made us go most of the way. Even when the matron came, she wouldn’t open the door. We had to break it open. She was still in bed. She stared at us sullenly, and wasn’t crying now, if she had been. Her uniform and shoes and coarse cotton stockings were in a little heap on the floor.
I thought she was even going to make the matron pull her out and dress her, for she made no answer, but just kept staring when the matron, who was a big and quick-tempered woman, ordered her, from the doorway, to get up. But when the matron started for her, she jumped out of bed with no attention to my being there. Peter Carr wasn’t. He was on the porch, with his back turned, smoking a cigarette. Jenny was screaming at the matron, “Don’t you touch me; don’t you touch me.” The matron said she didn’t intend to, to hurry up and get her clothes on, and came out to wait with me in the living room.
Jenny didn’t take long. She came out with her hair down loose on her shoulders, and didn’t look at us or pick up her books, but after a moment’s pause went across the room in a stiff walk that was unlike her, and across the porch. She wouldn’t detour, and Peter had to move aside to let her down the steps. The matron followed her, and I went as far as the porch.
At the foot of the steps, though, she stopped and turned on Peter. The moon was behind her, but the light from the door was on her face, and it was wild with fury and contempt. She spoke very quietly though. “Woman-man,” she said. She said it in Piute. It’s an insult in any language, but in Piute it has specific moral and physiological connotations for which we have no equally concentrated counterpart.
If he understood, he didn’t show it.
She looked at him a moment, waiting, and then smiled, and said it again, even more quietly, and went on back to the dormitory, walking well ahead of the matron.
We couldn’t hush the story, because she chose to tell it herself. She made “woman-man” a name which stuck to Peter Carr. They had all chosen, after a short time, to consider him something of a sissy, and now their judgment was confirmed in a delightfully literal way. Jenny was clever. She came out of it with a kind of spicy glory, which may have been why she made us come and get her, and even Jim Blood seemed now to accept her estimate of Peter as a fact, which put Peter safely beneath his attentions.
Their cold avoidance, however, bothered Peter no more than the previous light heckling. I was half inclined, then, to agree with them myself. Jenny was a beautiful girl, and not one to make such an offer lightly. At any rate, that ended our worry about the others, excepting Jenny. Poor Jenny, we’d lost her as much as if the school had picked on her. She didn’t go loose, but she didn’t get over it either. Pride in her revenge wasn’t enough. She became savage and brittle, until the whole school was afraid of her, and the next fall she didn’t come back.
It was June again, the heat and summer quiet returned, before Peter Carr’s culture was considered complete, and his gods were revealed. The car arrived for him one afternoon, a dust-colored Rolls-Royce driven by a chauffeur in livery. In the back seat was a big-breasted, middle-aged woman in a big brimmed hat and a dress with a big flower pattern. Cuyler came out of the office to meet her, with an affectionate arm around Peter Carr’s shoulders. He sent one of the boys for me. It would take a Rolls-Royce to put that much unguarded expression on a small Piute.
The woman, Varney was her name, was pleased at the progress dear Peter had made. It was clear, she said, in the letters he had written her. She thanked me. She repeated Cuyler’s line about my being unusual. She also repeated, several times, in varying forms, an enlightening perception of her own to the effect that Peter was a remarkable character, so intelligent, so sensitive, and how fortunate it was that they had been able to find a man like myself, able to cultivate that character and intelligence, in a place which would not damage his fundamental Indian nature, with its gift for simple, deep—she said bone-deep—realities with which the white man has largely lost touch. She looked at Peter often, with terrifying affection, while she reconstructed him. I was ashamed for him, as for a shy child being talked about to his face. But when I finally looked at him, he was obviously even kindled by this exposure. He was smiling, and not sardonically. He was back in his world, with the people who amounted to something.
Mrs. Varney thanked me again, with details, and then went into the office. Cuyler held the door open for her, and for Peter after her. Then he closed it.
The chauffeur, understanding that I was disposed of, got out of the car and lit a cigarette. He spit twice before he spoke.
“Damned Indian doll,” he said. “You’d think he owned creation.”
I asked if Peter Carr had lived in Boston. “Who, him? Oh, I get you; the way he talks, eh?” I nodded.
“Naw. Born on a ranch in New Mexico, and never been off it before. It’s a dude ranch, you know, high-class place, thousand bucks a summer. Mostly women from back east. He heard it from them, that’s all.
“His clothes,” he went on, “they’re Mrs. Varney’s idea. Mustn’t forget his great heritage,” he lisped. “The sap,” he said violently, “he don’t even know he’s nothing but a toy.”
He sat down on the running board and looked at me speculatively. “She’s a widow,” he said. “They’re getting married this summer.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Won’t that be a nice package to drive around,” he said. “Opening doors for that coffee-colored fake. Kee-rist.
“Hell,” he said, leaning over and spitting again, “a fellow’s gotta live.”
“Yes,” I said, “sure,” and went back to my papers.