Juno the Second
In which a mere male discovers the lovable qualities of the “disgustingly competent” woman
By VIRGINIA BOND
THERE was every reason in the world for the short, narrow-chested, long-necked Brighton to detest Juno II.
What was there, nowadays, with women playing around with radium and what-not, to give a man that comfortable feeling of superiority if he did not exude superior strength and power?
Too, Juno was disgustingly competent.
She cast her flies gently and let them drift over the riffles in a way that made the rainbow' trout abandon caution and grab her concealed hook. She caught more fish than anyone else at the lodge.
Brighton was beginning to wish his old friend, Marwin and Marwin’s mountain lodge, together with Juno II, and Brighton’s own empty fish basket were at the bottom of the distant ocean.
Terrible wish«;, but Brighton was small and his neck was gangling, while Juno II looked like Juno I, except that Juno II was taller.
Juno’s name, of course, was not Juno, at all. It was June Bellman.
Brighton sat on the verandah and scowled darkly at Lost River and the mountains beyond. His scow-l was as dark as the shadows that suddenly began to deepen in the thick pines, announcing the approach of night.
Often he had heard anglers talk about “whipping” a stream, and now Brighton felt he understood. He not only wanted to whip Lost River; he wanted to beat it with a club.
Marwin opened the door of the living room and stepped blandly out. “Brighty, old top, Ann and I have decided you and Miss Bellman are to go canoeing this evening.”
Brighton stirred. A great upheaval was taking place within him. His brow's drew together.
“See here, Ken, I’m no canoeist, and why in the deuce do you always pair me off with that amazon?” “Sorry,” Marwin answered in surprise. “We thought you liked her. She’s a wonderful girl and we intended giving you the cream of the lot.”
“Of course. And she is, I suppose.” Brighton contritely lowered his chin. “In a way I admire her immensely.” He flung out his arm. “But Ken, it’s just this. I may be a shade taller and weigh a pound more; still, you know very well, she seems bigger and stronger than I am—and no man can stand such an outrage. And her manner—I’m forever feeling she may turn suddenly and walk over me without ever knowing I’m there!”
Marwin laughed. “You’re too sensitive. You always were. You forget none of us are perfect.” He started to leave. “However, if you don’t like the cream we’ll furnish you with some of the skimmed milk, tomorrow.” “I’ll thank the sacred toad if you will,”
Brighton continued to feel sorry for himself. When-
ever he thought of Juno’s superlative shoulders and neck, his own body seemed to wither.
The queer part of it was, he could think of nothing else. He tried to put his mind on the scenery, on a letter he had received from his mother, and other things, but the memory of Juno’s lovely body soon crowded them out.
The door opened again and Brighton stood up. The very brusqueness of the sounds told him who was there. Unconsciously a hand sought his too jjrominent Adam’s apple.
Juno was swinging along with a sweater under her arm and humming a tune. She stopped.
“Oh, there you are. I’ve been looking for you. We are to go canoeing. Did you know?”
“Ken was just telling me. Is it time?”
“The moon is coming out.”
“So it is. I hadn’t noticed,” Brighton lied, throwing away his cigarette. He had some dark thoughts about hosts and hostesses who thought they had to plan every movement of their guests.
The pair went down the path to the river.
“I’m not much of a canoeist,” he ventured weakly, as he held the light craft steady for her. Better to be honest about it and not have her find it out later.
“Oh!” she said abruptly, “then I’ll paddle. I really love it, anyway.” Her manner was final.
In silent rage Brighton got in in front. It would have been far more decent of h» * to put up with his feeble efforts, he reflected. She '.ad no consideration for a
man’s pride. And was there anything in the world this woman could not do? Brighton envied her.
Faint stars were out and the moon looked through the trees, but the night was yet dark. Wooded mountains walled them in on each side.
Glumly Brighton watched the outline of Juno as she held the canoe to the centre of the restless stream. Her deftness was in marked contrast to his own poor efforts only a few hours earlier, wrhen the same canoe lurched and wabbled drunkenly as he guided it across the river. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful?” Juno breathed.
“Very,” Brighton answered savagely, thinking only of her skill. He lit a cigarette to ease his feelings.
If only he could find sufficient provocation to spank her; if she could be made to understand that he could spank her if he so desired . . .
She turned until he could see her Grecian profile. “Why do they call this, Lost River?” she asked. “Because it drops out of sight, down hereaway, and emerges again farther down the gorge.” It was invigorating to find there was something she did not know.
“How interesting! You mean it really flows underground and then comes out again a full-fledged river just as it is here?”
Juno paddled faster,
“We’ll go see where it disappears.
Wish I had fished down this way.”
“Don’t go too close,” Brighton cautioned.
“It’s dangerous. The river starts to boil just before it vanishes.”
Juno hurried recklessly on.
“We can tell when to stop,” she answered.
They pushed ahead in the dark, swiftly, silently, and Brighton secretly wished something would happen to relieve her of a portion of her sureness.
She was maddening, and he longed to spank her; but could he? Could he?
Certainly heredity was a mixed-up mess when it produced a huge woman or an undersized man. Mendel, or some of those fellows, ought to do something about it.
Then indignant little waves began to spit at the sides of the canoe. The swells grew larger and the canoe tossed weakly about, and even Juno’s skill could not hold it steady.
In alarm Brighton tried to pierce the darkness ahead.
“I think we’re getting close,” he called sharply. “Better slow up.”
• “But there can’t possibly be any danger,” Juno protested, darting on.
“We are in a boat. We can ride right up to the very bank.”
IIow like her!
Brighton started to rise, but the canoe lurched and he dropped quickly back.
“I—I wouldn’t go any closer,” he advised testily, but she seemed not to hear. As she paddled on, he rose again, trying to see what was ahead.
The canoe rolled to the left and dipped water as Brighty struggled to regain his balance. “Please!” he shouted at her. He had forgotten his position and veered far to the right and the susceptible craft followed with amazing rapidity. A seething, bullying whitecap helped them along. Foam spread over the edge, the canoe settled and a swell poured over the luckless pair. They floundered in foaming water.
“Good lord!” Brighton groaned.
“Now we’re in a fine mess.”
It was inky dark. He lost track of the girl.
Brighton swam furiously to the spot where he had last seen the outline of her head and shoulders bobbing about in the water. Swimming was one of his few accomplishments. He searched breathlessly.
“Pull out of the current,” he shouted above the roar, “or we’ll not make it to shore.”
“Juno!” he screamed, forgetting this was not her name. “Juno! Juno!”
He swam back into the current and called again, frantically. “Juno!” It would serve her right if he left her, but he had upset the canoe. He must help her if possible.
The water pulled and tugged at his body. An awful fear seized him. She had been in front of him. Had the undertow got her? Couldn’t she swim?
He tried to pull out of the ehurning water but could get no leverage. It was like trying to swim in air. He strained every muscle of his body, but slowly, against his frantic efforts, he was sucked under, like a toad being swallowed by a greedy snake, then his body shot forward and was whirled ruthlessly about.
He had the sensation of being poured through an endless tunnel, on and on. A thousand jumbled thoughts floated through his mind. What had become of the canoe? Would he be dashed to pieces? And what of Juno? Perhaps she had made shore but couldn’t hear him call above the noise. He fervently hoped so. She would feel sorry for him. She should. It was all her fault for going where it was dangerous. She was too smart—and too big!
Would this rushing and beating never stop? He was smothering. He needed air. He had to have air !
He began to fight—to kick—to swim, and suddenly thrust his face into thick, black air.
A thousand centuries had passed.
He shook his dripping head and gulped in the raw air.
It w’as glorious to breathe again and get the water from his nose and mouth. Out of the current he stood, waist-deep, in the underground prison. The sudden realization of his plight, as he felt his way around in the blackness, was staggering.
Waves beat and lashed at his legs and hurled themselves against his slender body, trying to shove him along with the current. He never could get back the way he had come. If he ever got out of the tunnel alive it would have to be at the lower end. Mamin had told
him of boards tossed into Lost River, and coming out of the tunnel in splinters.
The roar in his ears was bewildering, the air was musty, and the darkness was an intense thing that gave his eyes a feeling of ineffectiveness. His orbs seemed to bulge forward, straining to find one small ray to fasten on and give him confidence. He was cut off from the world. Trapped. He shivered and tried to think.
He might have stood there indefinitely, shivering and considering his plight, but suddenly he heard an almost human sound-a kind of moan. He listened. There was nothing but the roar. He laughed. It had been the water, of course, curling around a slimy shale rock, or a draught sobbing along some lesser tunnel at the side or overhead.
This time it was unmistakable. He felt a constriction in his throat. "J—Juno!”
“Brighty!” All the relief in the world was in her voice.
Resentment toward the girl vanished like an evil spirit as he floundered through the watery blackness to find her hand. Her presence was electrifying, and he forgot that she was too big. He was just mortally glad, glad that he was gripping the hand of a human being, and that that human being was Juno.
“B-Brighty, wh-where are we?” She was shaking with a chill.
“In hell, I think,” he answered with a burst of honesty, but he wanted to add that it really didn’t matter. He was filled with confidence and he liked having her call him Brighty, though he never cared for the nickname before. With Juno beside him he was again in a world of familiar things. A voice to hear and a hand to press. He was less like one who is stunned.
“I suppose we are in hell, but where else?” Juno asked with traces of humor and confusion.
“We can’t be in more than one place at a time,” he answered blithely, and found himself shrugging his shoulders with exalted nonchalance. It was easy to do these things in the dark.
The girl was silent a moment and when she spoke it was without emotion. “We’ll likely never get out.” “Don’t talk that way! We’re not whipped yet!” Brighton’s flexible fingers tightened over hers and he gained a quick sense of warmth and comfort from the realization that she was returning the pressure.
“Why not talk that way?” she asked. "Surely, if we are in the lower regions we can enjoy free speech!”
It was no time to chuckle, but Brighton couldn't help it. She didn’t nag about upsetting the boat; he almost wished she would. The girl was collecting herself admirably. Remembering her moaning, he had every reason to believe she was as forlorn as he, before they had found each other. He shook a mop of wet hair from his face. “The famous Patrick Murphy once said: ‘Many a false step is made by standing still,’ so let’s follow the current.”
Juno had not released his hand since she had found it, and together they groped along. Her fingers were soft and friendly. How could Brighton remember that he detested her? He never had been able to think of anything to say to her, before, but now he couldn’t keep from talking.
“I’ve never seen so much ‘nothing’ in my life,” he said, wagging his head from side to side in the darkness.
Juno laughed. Then: “Brighty, I had no business paddling on, after you asked me to stop, back there in the canoe. I’m sorry. And it’s nice of you, now, to be so jolly about everything.”
She gave a little tug at his hand and almost laughed again. Her eyes probably were laughing but Brighton couldn’t see them. He only felt the tug.
“It was I, you remember, who rocked the boat,” he answered. She could not see it, but he waved his arm in a magnificent gesture. His hand struck sharply against a jagged rock, but it did not retard the delightful effervescence that accompanies such a sweeping pantomime. “We’re merely in a tunnel. That water’s running through, only proves it is open at the other end.” He was amazed to find this logic slipping easily from his
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Juno the Second
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tongue, while his voice echoed among the rocks, flinging the words back at them.
They bumped their heads against a low, resentful ledge. It brought Brighton quickly back to earth.
“Hello! Here’s a low place,” he said, but the flippancy was gone. He reached out over the water to investigate. “It’s very low. We’ll have to swim, I guess.”
He braced himself against the current and examined the wall ahead. All the way across, the tunnel had lowered and flattened out like a great, yawning mouth. He stood irresolute, yet there was only one decision that could be made. They could not go back. Neither could they remain where they were. Sooner or later the current would get them.
“We’ll have to swim, I guess.” he repeated.
j Juno did not answer, j “I’ll go ahead and reconnoitre,” he ! ventured.
“No, no!” Juno grabbed his shoulder. “I’ll go right along with you.” She shrugged. “No use waiting. Come on.”
They shot out over the water, keeping : clase enough to talk. Occasional waves splashed over their faces and gurgled past j their ears.
! “Are you a good swimmer?” Brighton ' asked.
“Only fair. Have plenty of wind and strength, though. I could keep this up for some time.”
“Good!” He was relieved. He felt instinctively that if he could have selected a companion for this adventure he’d have chosen Juno.
They swam along through the dark tunnel.
“I never swam so fast in my life. Brighty,” said Juno. “I’ll bet we make four or five yards at a stroke.”
“We’re shooting the rapids,” he answered. “Every little while I roll over a boulder.”
Her voice was closer now. “It would be fun if we could only see.”
Brighton reached up and discovered the ceiling had lifted.
“Thank the sacred toad ! We can stand again.” They breathed easier and wabbled along over the rocks once more.
But there was a treachery Brighton had not thought of. They had walked only a short distance when they stepped off over their heads. Brighton came up, shook the water from his face and began to swim.
“Juno, are you still with me?”
“Yes. Uh! I don’t like such surprises. What will it be next?”
“Variety is the spice of life,” he reminded her and was rewarded by a distinct giggle and the tension relaxed again.
“I’m getting a thrill out of this,” she said. “I suppose I’m really scared within an inch of my life and don’t know it.
Somehow, you act as a real stimulant.”
Her voice was throaty and mellow, decidedly pleasing, yet it had taken the darkness to make him realize she even had a voice. Silly, of course, but in the light there was always the matter of beautiful shoulders and an exasperating sureness of manner that obscured everything else.
He began to think of her eyes, and remembered the two shades of blue that made them so clear and restful. He imagined he could see them when she talked.
Brighton tried for a footing and got it.
“We can walk again,” he announced crisply.
She sneezed and the pair hurried on again.
It was steep again. The water raced along, almost pulling them off their feet, and the roar pounded their ears like thunder. They were in the rapids, and working their way along cautiously, keeping up a gay, incessant chatter, playing at not being afraid.
But Brighton was wary. Each step was more dangerous than the last. Their stumbling feet loosened stones that rolled forward like something alive, and often they had to stoop under sharp ledges. Every step threatened disaster.
“Brighty!” fearfully, “we’re coming to a waterfall.”
“Yes.” He tried to appear indifferent but his voice was thin. “Wish we had a flying horse. Don’t you?” He had to lean toward her and speak very loud to make her hear, catching the warmth of her quick breath against his cheek.
The girl did not answer, but moved slowly ahead again. Brighton felt the steady strength of her fingers against his own.
Finally they could no longer keep a footing without bracing themselvas with their hands against the rocky ceiling. When he saw they could walk no farther, Brighton started speaking fast, giving Juno no time for reflection.
“We’re at the brink,” he cried shrilly. “We’d better take it heads up. The water will be mixed with air. Falls can’t be very high. Remember to hunt for solid water.” His hand tightened over hers. “Are you ready?”
Instantly she stiffened; then her hand was gone. “All ready.” •
Her attitude was splendid. Brighton forgot he was small and Juno was large. He forgot everything except the sound of her voice and the restfulness of the eyes he had never remembered seeing until the tunnel made seeing impossible.
“We’ll have to jump,” he shouted.
They did—plunging into a pool and bobbing up like corks.
“O-o-o-o! Another surprise,” Juno laughed. “I expected to drop a mile.”
Brighton scarcely heard. He was treading water, wide-eyed.
“This is queer. There’s no current.” He made a hurried tour round the jagged walls. “Juno, there’s no outlet. We’re in a well.”
The menacing blackness pressed against them. Was this to be the end, treading water like frogs, or clinging to the rocks until . . .
Juno was speaking again. She was a little apart, her voice coming slowly through the darkness, seeming to beat its way.
“There must be ... an outlet . . . there must be. The water keeps . . . coming in.”
“That’s right. Of course! Of course!” Brighton’s mind leaped around searching for logic. “Evidently it empties out at the bottom.”
“Yes,” she answered. “I think I feel it running over my feet.”
Then both were silent. Brighton had visions of dropping through long rocky shafts filled with water, to land—where and how? He remembered the splintered boards, and felt the blood drain from his face.
He caught hold of a ledge to rest his arms and legs and advised Juno to do the same. The very hollowness of the sounds was terrifying.
His legs, hanging idly, began to drift sideways. There was a current. And farther down it would be easy to follow, and it was sideways.
“Juno, there’s another tunnel leading out of here, somewhere below the surface. This well is a reservoir. I remember. There’s a small bluff just above the place where the river comes up out of the ground. Thank the sacred toad, we’ll soon be out of this awful hole!” His voice bounced around the domelike chamber.
Juno was less happy.
“It may be a long way through,” she argued.
“In that case we’ll have to plan carefully. I’ll dive down and find the tunnel.”
“No, no, please! You might not get back. Let’s go together.”
“As you say.” After all, he did not know what was ahead. “When we get under, we’ll have to depend on the current to guide us. Take it easy but swim fast and don’t try to come up till you have to have air. It’ll save a panic.” They removed their shoes. For an instant he held her hand and when she withdrew it Brighton knew her nerve had returned.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” Juno answered evenly.
Brighton never had admired anyone so much in his life. She was magnificent and he wanted to tell her so, but there was a faint splash and she was gone. She had been afraid to wait.
What if they got separated ! There might be two tunnels, or a dozen, and some of the avenues might not lead to the surface at all. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? Too, the lower country was full of springs where water bubbled out of small creviced rocks—offshoots of this river, everyone said.
Brighton swung his body downward, straining to catch up with Juno. He wanted to touch her to assure her he was near, and ¿0 assure himself that they were taking the same tunnel. The thought of Juno below a spring, trying to pick her way through the rocks was horrible.
The absence of a definite sense of direction confused him. His feet grew heavy and the water pounded his ears and smarting eyes. Was Juno close? Or had she branched off to a smaller passage? He widened his strokes in the hope of touching her. It was difficult now to keep his mouth shut. Seconds seemed years, and Juno haunted him. Her eyes, her voice, her gameness . . . “the cream of the lot !”
Water swirling and biting, trying to wedge its way inside of him. He longed for air and rest. He felt compressed, and ached from head to foot. His lips opened and the whole river tried to rush through his nose and mouth; then, half strangling, he made for the surface.
His head came out into warm, sweet air, and above, the stars and moon were shining.
How glorious to be alive!
It was very light after being in a dungeon, and with the first breath he thought of the girl.
“Juno!” It was a wail but he couldn’t help it.
“Brighty! I’m here on the bank. Don’t you see me? Why were you so long getting here?”
“You started first,” he panted, then fel,t a sense of chagrin in having thus to explain and defend himself, but something in Juno’s voice demanded it. A new quality. Or was it new?
Then he saw her bulky outline sitting there on the bank above him. Except for the shape of the head and shoulders, it might have been the stump of a husky pine tree. Brighton gaped at her, -unable to lift his feet. Of course she would chide him, and of course she would arrive first—she was too big!
For a full half minute he stood there
in the middle of the river, a hand clutching his too prominent Adam’s apple. He felt his body shrivelling. Certainly Mendel or some of those fellows ought to do something about this stupidity of heredity.
The girl was enormous. Brighton glowered at her.
She got up, her wet clothes clinging to her body, and loomed above him like the Goddess of Liberty.
“What’s the matter, Brighty? Are you worn out? Shall I help you?”
“No!” he thundered.
But Juno had plunged into the stream, and before he could resist, she had his hand and was leading him to shore. Then, without warning, she boosted him to the bank and crawled nimbly up beside him.
Brighton was all but consumed with humiliation and rage.
“There!” said Juno, in a voice that was well content with things.
Brighton wanted to yell at her and tell her that he was not tired of anything in the world except big women, but all he did was to lean against a tree and glare at her.
“Here’s the trail,” said Juno. “Let’s start before we begin to chill.” And without waiting for Brighton even to agree, she swung into the path.
Brighton dragged along behind her broad, thick shoulders.
They walked in silence for a time, but
in a little clearing Juno stopped and faced him.
“Why do you call me Juno?”
The question shook Brighton like an earthquake. He pretended to empty water from his oozing sweater pockets and tossed away a package of wet cigarettes. Had she ever noticed his ugly neck? His body felt so cold and small that he doubted its presence: there seeming to be only his naked mind for lier to see.
He cleared his throat.
“You are Juno II,’’ he evaded miserably.
“You mean I’m too big.” The words burst hotly from her, like something that had grown too large for the inside. “I can’t help it,” she continued passionately. “I’m crazy about tiny women like Nancy Carroll and . . . and Armida.”
She knew she was too big. And she hated it.
With quick understanding and warmth Brighton moved closer to her. The moon made it possible to see the blue of her eyes, eyes that were on a slightly lower level than his own. Pie was looking down at her . . . an inch . . . two inches. Was it the absence of shoes? He began to feel a little dizzy.
“You’re the most marvellous girl in the world,” he declared with a strange exhilaration in his voice. “What does it matter how large you are?”