On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
Helen moved away in the arms of the stranger. She was in a new world. The music was crude, the floor rough. Her partner’s khaki trousers, leather leggings, buckskin vest decorated with bright Indian designs, was a costume unlike that of any other dancing partner she had ever had. Her own sport clothes were quite in keeping with the occasion. How strange and unreal it all was. Suddenly she realized that apart from her finding out about her father, and adjusting to her separation from George, she was tasting a new life – a life which perhaps should have by rights been hers.
“What do you think of the old Kaibab?” Steve Heyden asked. he guided her easily over the crude dancing floor, his cool eyes studying her face.
“I think it’s marvelous. Today as we came up out of the desert and drove into this magnificent forest, I was thrilled! It seemed to me that this old mountain knows a million secrets.”
Heyden laughed cynically.
“I always wonder just how much you Easterners are putting on when you rave about the West. Why, for years my dad and Uncle Billy Crossly chased cattle over this country and didn’t even know there was anything grand about the big gorge out there, or this patch of timber on the back of the old Buckskin. To them it was just good cattle country.”
Was he trying to tease her, or had he no appreciation for the country? She wanted to tell him that at least her father had sensed something of the wonder of the place, but instead she asked,
“Do you mean that you can ride through that forest and not feel – well, I don’t know just how to say it – but sort of lifted out of yourself?”
He laughed again, his bronzed cheeks crinkling about his eyes.
“I’ve sure rode through it hundreds of times without feeling any wings. It often seems more like a big demon, piling up long miles of hard riding.”
At least, his ugly simile indicated a bit of imagination. He was an interesting puzzle. He was large and well proportioned, but she could hardly agree with Miss Fitzgerald that he was handsome. His mouth was too large and his dark brows too shaggy, and a conspicuous red scar zigzagged across his right temple. But she had seen few faces more interesting. That tender twist at the corners of his mouth denied the cynicism of his eyes, and his chin suggested resolution and courage.
“If the forest takes your breath,” he said a moment later, “Wait until you see the canyon from Point Sublime, or Cape Royal, or Bright Angel. If you are staying over here at the park for a few days, how about riding out to Point Sublime in the morning? There are views you can get from a horse’s back that a bus or car can’t take you to.”
“Oh, I’d love to do it! Perhaps, though, my riding experience has been inadequate for such a trip.”
“Not with Maje to take you. That horse has carried greener tourists than you up the old trails.”
“Do you – is it part of your business to – take out parties?”
He grinned. “Well, no. I don’t exactly run a dude concern, if that’s what you mean. But sometimes when I’m not busy on the range, I like to ride out just to keep on speaking terms with the old gorge.”
“I’m glad you don’t happen to be busy tomorrow.”
“So am I. It’s fun to introduce kids like you to the old king.”
Helen flushed. She didn’t know whether it was at the familiar term, or at the warm smile in the grey eyes which for the moment had forgotten their brooding. Quite abruptly she asked,
“Who is this interesting Billy Crossly who used to run cattle with your father?”
“He’s that old scout you were talking to a while ago; the one who told the story about Uncle Jim Owens and the cougars.”
“Yes, I know. But just who or what is he? What makes him a character everyone notices and talks about?”
“Oh, Uncle Billy’s a part of the scenery and the history we’re capitalizing on out here since some of you easterners discovered the Grand Canyon and let us in on it. He knows the old mountain by heart, as you gathered from his story. He sort of feels that he’s in cahoots with that spirit of the mountain you were talking about a minute ago. He knew the country when it was just cattle land, before there was a national preserve or any of the restrictions that have put the jinks on the real West.”
“What do you mean by the real West?” What could be more western than what she was seeing and experiencing at this very moment.
“It was the real West when the country was owned by the old cattle kings who fought over the best range sections and watering holes, and made a real ceremony out of roundups and brandings and shippings.”
The music stopped. Steve clapped for an encore, but the bus-driver interrupted. Would Helen come and see if he had taken off all her luggage?
She followed him from the hall, and when she returned, Steve Heyden was dancing with the dark woman in the striped riding habit who, according to Miss Fitzgerald’s lady Walter Winchell, should be barred from the mountain. Helen smiled. The woman was unusually attractive. It was easy to understand how her place could be a rendezvous for men, and she herself unpopular with the ladies. She studied the moving figures. How grotesque it all was: waitresses in green aprons dancing with city financiers; cowboys in leather chaps and gauntlets, and road hands in corduroys and khaki, guiding sophisticated society tourists over the floor. What sort of life had her father’s boyhood been out here in the days of the old West to which young Heyden had referred?
What if she should discover that some of the land, some of the cattle on this mountain, really belonged to her? It wasn’t at all probable, of course, that such a fairy-like thing should, after all these years, come to pass – but if it could, how it would help to solve the problem of her future.
Wood Russell broke in upon her musings.
“If you’re going to stay with us a while, Mrs. Latimer, I’m sure you’d like to meet some of these folks. We get an interesting group of people out here. Every summer we have a cosmopolitan little community made up of tourists, artists, scientists, besides our own local brands of cowpunchers, rangers, roadworkers, and so on. Some of the people have their own cabins and some stay here with us. But they all join in our social life.”
He led her across the room.
“Mrs. Hawley, may I present Mrs. Latimer?” They were in front of the fat woman Miss Fitzgerald had pointed out as the lady who came out to keep her husband from flirting. “Mrs. Hawley,” Russell explained, “has a mansion up in Salt Lake City, but she leaves it to come out here and have a good time with us every summer.”
“I’m sure I don’t blame her,” said Helen.
“Oh, I don’t come because I specially like camping out, but my husband has a cattle ranch out here, and my daughter insists on coming, so I consider it’s my duty to come and take care of them.”
“This is Miss Bernice Hawley,” Russell said, presenting the little blonde sitting beside the mother.
“Mamma just thinks she has to come,” the girl pouted. “I’d be all right without her.”
A little farther down the line Helen met Mr. Hawley to whom she took an instant dislike. His small blue eyes were shifty. He looked at one from the corners of them. He seemed coarse and sensuous. No wonder his wife knew he’d flirt with every woman he met; but how could any woman respond to his advances?
He asked her to dance, but she told him she wanted to meet the rest of the people.
When she and Russell came to the group around Uncle Billy, the old scout excused himself to the others.
“I recall that I promised this young lady I’d tell her something about the early days out here. Let’s go back by the fire.”
“Now just what is it you want to know? My guess is that you’re a writer and you want some Indian stories, or maybe some unusual dope for a travel article.”
“No, I’m not a writer.” Helen hesitated. Should she tell this old friend of her father’s who she was and what she wanted to know? Not just yet, unless he guessed.
“I was interested in what you were telling about the days when this country was owned by what you called big cattle kings. Were there many of them, and do they still own their property?”
“No and yes. In the old days the mountain was divided into a dozen or so big ranches. Each cattle owner claimed hundreds of acres of range-land and some good watering places. In them days big bunches of cattle could be seen most anywheres on the mountain, and the life of the cowboy was really as interestin’ and as adventuresome as you folks out East ever imagined it was.
“But that’s all changed since the governments took this big chunk for national reserve and made such strict grazin’ laws. the old cattle barons was all pushed off this part of the mountain to poorer ranges. A lot of ‘em went clean out of business before they died. The rest of ‘em didn’t leave much of the real romance of the old days to their followers.”
“But, are there still men out here whom you might call cattle kings?”
“Well, there’s Hawley over there. He owns a big herd. But he ain’t a cattle king in the way the old timers was. He didn’t grow up out of the country like they did, startin’ as a cowhand or a bronco-buster, and workin’ up gradual to be the owner of a outfit of his own. And he can’t make his own laws and enforce ‘em like they used to.”
“What about yourself, Mr. Crossly? You’ve always lived here, haven’t you? Didn’t you ever become a cattle king?”
“No so’s you’d notice it.” There was a touch of wistfulness in his laugh. “I didn’t have the knack, somehow, of gittin’ ahead. I did have ambitions once, though. Me and Sam Huntsman and Steve Heyden’s dad used to plan what we was goin’ to do.”
Helen waited as eager as a child. but the old man paused and sat looking into space. Finally she recalled him.
“Mr. Crossly, where is Sam Huntsman now?”
He started and his quick, dark eyes looked almost frightened.
“They’re both gone,” he answered slowly, “and the business they was doin’ so well with – but you wouldn’t be interested in that story. It’s got too many sad or unfinished chapters in it.”
She was disappointed. The conversation had promised so much. How could she get him talking again?
An outside door opened and a man entered. Uncle Billy got to his feet.
“There’s the doctor from the Lodge. I’ve got to ask him how young Rockwood is. An aviator who takes folks over the canyon,” he explained, “had a little accident tonight and we sent for Doc Grosbeck.”
Helen started. Her eyes sought the newcomer.
It was Ned Grosbeck standing there by the door – George’s college pal who had been best man at her wedding.
Quickly she slipped from the room. If only he had not seen her.
* * *
Helen awoke. Where was she? She turned her eyes from the rough log ceiling to the small window opposite her bed framing a wide sweep of pine trees. She remembered.
She had chosen instead of a room in the hotel this cabin. The walls were of split logs; the floor of rough pine boards. The plank door and two windows opened out to the valley. The sun was streaming through yellow cretonne curtains, and she could hear a squirrel chattering just outside her door.
She got up and crossed to the window. Down in the grassy flat, scores of deer were feeding. They seemed a definite part of a carefully arranged landscape. The pines and quaking aspens bordering the valley appeared to have been marshaled in orderly troops and marched down to the foot of the mountain slopes. What countless numbers of trees! Some of them must have stood there for ages. Others were slender and more freshly green. She breathed in the clean air, and felt again that strange mystic personality she had mentioned to Steve Heyden the evening before – intangible, brooding, profound. “The spirit of the Kaibab,” she whispered.
She was washing her face and hands in cold water from a crockery pitcher on the small washstand, when she heard steps approaching. She slipped on the orange and brown spot dress she had taken from her traveling case and answered the rap on the door.
“A letter for you, Mrs. Latimer.” The waitress handed her a square envelope.
It was from Fred Grosbeck.
“What luck to find you here! I couldn’t be sure it was you when I first saw you last night, it was such a surprise; and by the time I had checked with Russell, you had disappeared.
“Perhaps you and George didn’t know I had been appointed medical director for the Union Pacific Lodge at Bright Angel Point. You’ve no idea how surprised and delighted I am to find you here.
“Where’s George? I must have a visit. Russell tells me you’re going to stay here at the Park for a few days before coming on to the Lodge. Don’t make it too long. I’ll be looking for you.
Helen crumpled the letter. What beastly luck! She’d wanted to get away from everything that would remind her of George until she could be absolutely sure about her decision to make a complete break with him. Fred, of course, would try to persuade her to go back.