On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
Helen stood before the mirror and brushed her hair. It was her hair, she knew, that had reminded Uncle Billy of her father. Her oval face, her fair skin, blue eyes and slightly tilted nose, were her heritage from the Aldrich line. But her hair, thick, reddish-brown and wavy, her large mouth, and determined, pointed chin – these and her restless impulses to be moving, doing, she knew, were characteristics form her father.
She was impatient to have another conversation with the old scout. Perhaps she would see him at breakfast.
She walked past the row of cabins toward the dining room of the hotel, trying to think what gave her that sense of anticipation. When she saw a man galloping down the flat she remembered. Steve Heyden had promised to take her to see the canyon.
Uncle Billy wasn’t in the dining room.
“Has Mr. Crossly been to breakfast yet?” she asked the waitress who came for her. The girl was puzzled.
“You don’t mean Uncle Billy, do you? He doesn’t stay here at the hotel. He has a cabin down by the spring. But I saw him outside a little while ago talking with Steve Heyden. Shall I see if he is still there?”
“No, thanks. I’ll look him up when I am through.”
She found him sitting on a log with Mr. Hawley, whittling industriously.
“You soon got tired of our country dance last night,” Hawley said, looking at her with the same intimate expression that had repelled her at the time of their introduction. “I thought you were coming back to dance with me after you’d gone the hand-shaking round with Russell. Wood bores me with his get-acquainted-with-our-big-happy-family stuff.”
“I didn’t find it boring. I was interested and wanted to meet them all,” Helen told him.
“Most folks like other folks,” observed Uncle Billy, “and this is a great place to find all kinds.”
“Why didn’t you stay last night and meet Dr. Grosbeck?” Hawley asked. “I heard him enquiring of Russell about you. I believe he said you were friends.” He was plainly curious.
What might Fred have told them? At least he couldn’t have revealed the facts about her trouble with George, for he did not know them.
“I was coming back to answer some of your questions after I’d found out how bad young Rockwood was hurt,” Uncle Billy told her.
“How is he?” Helen was eager to change the conversation.
Nothing serious. It hurt his plane more’n it did him, and he seems to feel worse about that than if he’d smashed hisself up. You’ll have to take a ride with the boy before you go home. They’s nothing like seein’ the canyon from the bird’s point of view.”
Hawley was called inside to the telephone.
“Won’t you tell me some more about the old West?” Helen asked. “Something you said about the man you called Huntsman made me want to hear his story.”
Uncle Billy went on whittling. “It’s a sad story and it comes close to me. Sam and me was pals and I was interested in his future. When it was cut off the way it was, well, naturally I don’t like to think about it. There was rumors about his death, too, that ain’t pleasant. Of course I didn’t take no stock in ‘em, but since they affected another friend, naturally I try not to think about it.”
What could he mean? Wasn’t her father’s death accidental as it had been reported to her and Aunt Nettie?
“I sometimes think,” Uncle Billy continued, “that wantin’ not to think about it, makes it stick all the tighter in my mind. Now maybe if I’d tell you, a stranger, Sam’s story, I could quit thinkin’ about parts of it that bother me.” He whittled for a moment in silence.
“I recollect the first time I ever saw Sam. It was at the Bar V ranch just before the round-up the year my dad brought me to ask old Vaughn for a job. At that time the Bar V was right here in Pleasant Valley. The old chuck shack and bunk houses stood down by the springs where I have my cabin now, and the corrals was over there where them rodeo corrals is now. I’d been on the mountain with dad off and on as long as I could remember, and had rode some in regular round-ups; but not as a paid hand. I was such a little runt that everybody took me for a kid long after I’d growed as big as God meant me to. When Dad asked Vaughn to give me a job, he reached out and tweaked my ear and said he’d just took on two youngsters from Texas that mornin’ that filled up his quota. ‘I guess we can take Billy on, though, for a mascot,’ he said.
“A round-up was a real adventure in them days, and to be on Vaughn’s pay roll made me feel ten inches taller.”
“What is a round-up?’ Helen asked.
“Once every year the cattlemen round in their stock from all over the range, cut out what they want to sell, and brand and mark the calves, and cut out the cattle that belongs to other owners. Of course that’s just a rough definition. Besides that it’s long days of hard dangerous ridin’ and testin’ your nerve. It means gettin’ acquainted with the fellers you work with, learnin’ which of ‘em has guts and which is yaller. It means learnin’ to understand and love your horses and dogs. And part of it’s sittin’ around the campfire at night after you’re full of grub, laughin’ over things that made your hair stand up when they happened, and guyin’ each other, and tryin’ to make your yarn sound bigger than the other feller’s; and singin’ songs – lots of times makin’ ‘em up as you go along. Then stretchin’ out on your blankets and lookin’ up at the stars and listenin’ to the howls of the coyotes out in the timber, and to the nearer sounds of your hobbled horses, and the close-up whisperin’ of the pines – till you float off to sleep.”
The old man’s face took on a kind of glow.
“Why, you’re a poet!” Helen cried.
He chuckled. “I’d have to be to make you understand what a round-up used to mean in the old days. But as I was sayin’, it was that mornin’ I got my first job that I met Sam Huntsman. Him and the other Texas cowboy was in the chuck house when Dad and me went in for breakfast. I liked his red hair and his big friendly smile and the way he took to me right off. I knowed he thought I was a lot younger’n him, for he started treatin’ me like a kid brother, when as a matter of fact I was three or four years older’n him. But I was used to that. The other cow-puncher was Tough Heyden, Steve’s dad. Well, it wasn’t no time till the whole Bar V outfit had to acknowledge them Texas hombres as aces when it come to range-ridin’. There was a little jealousy at first, but one thing about cow-punchin’ is it develops fair shootin’, and soon all the old hands, even to the old buckaroos like my dad, was takin’ their hats off to them two kids, and not thinkin’ it was anything but a square deal when old Vaughn made ‘em foremen, and give ‘em a chance to work into the cattle game fer theirselves.
“They was like Davie and Jonathan, them two. After they’d been workin’ for Vaughn about five years they each had a nice little bunch of cattle comin’ for pay. Then they started a outfit of their own, callin’ it the double H Cattle Company.”
The story was beginning to give significance to words and phrases Helen had held vaguely in her memory since childhood.
“It was a little before this time,” Uncle Billy continued, “that Sally Vaughn come into the story. She was a niece of old Vaughn’s – as purty a little fixin’ as anybody ever saw. As she changed from a little girl to a young lady, different ones of the boys tried to shine up to her. I even had my turn when I couldn’t sleep for thinking about her black curls and soft little hands. But after Sam and Tough come, Sally didn’t have eyes for none of us.
“At first they didn’t either of ‘em pay much attention to her, only to tease her. But just a little while ‘fore they pulled out for theirselves, Sam used to stick around the chuck house after supper and play the banjo and him and Sally’d sing together. I don’t think he was ever serious about her, but Sally sure fell for him. And about the same time, Tough fell for her. It was a crazy triangle, and the rest of us used to watch and wonder how it was goin’ to turn out.
“It finally got to worryin’ old Vaughn. We all thought it was to ease things up that made him think of offerin’ the boys the House Rock range. He was sure that someone was goin’ to git hurt and he wanted to make it easier if he could.
“Well, after they started their own outfit, Sam and Tough was so busy they didn’t git over to Bar V very often. But that didn’t keep Sally from goin’ to their camp. She’d ride over and have supper ready for ‘em when they’d come in from work. Nearly always both boys would ride back with her. It was easy to guess how that would happen. Tough would offer to bring her and she’d insist on Sam comin’ too.
“For nearly two summers things went like that. Then Sam went east to take the Double H steers back to the contractors in Chicago.”
Helen knew what was coming now. She wondered how different Uncle Billy’s version would be from the one she knew.
“We was all knocked off the Christmas tree when Sam didn’t come back. It was Vaughn hisself who told us what happened.
“When they was in Chicago, the buyer who had been out here to contract the cattle invited all the boys to his home one night to a party, and if Sam didn’t fall for a friend of the buyer’s daughter who was one of the guests, and well – we couldn’t a believed it if Vaughn hadn’t seen it all – Sam married the girl the very next week and stayed on there in Chicago.
“We hadn’t realized before how much Sally cared. She tried not to show it, but it was just as plain as the nose on your face what was eatin’ her. Tough tried his best to make her forgit, and about Christmas time they was married.”
“Then Sally was this Steve Heyden’s mother?” Helen asked.
“Yes. She didn’t come out to the mountain the next summer because she was expectin’ Steve. We kinda guessed that she wasn’t happy. When we’d run onto her in town, we couldn’t help feelin’ that she was still thinkin;’ about Sam. It was purty certain that Tough knew it too. He wasn’t his old self. When we’d ask about Sam he’d always say that he was fine and they was still pardners and that sometime Sam was comin’ back. Sam had got a job in a packin’ house back there. But you’d never a thought they’d been pals workin’ and sleepin’ and eatin’ together most of their lives.”
Uncle Billy whittled again in silence. It was hard for Helen to realize that she was listening to her own father’s story. He had always seemed like a dream. Though her mother had died the day of Helen’s birth, (she used to wonder if they had passed each other somewhere up in the clouds), Aunt Nettie had told her so many things about her, that she felt she had known her mother. With her father, there had been only his brief visits during the first ten years of her life; then his return west; and – that short letter about his death. She had wondered so many things about him.
“We heard about two years after Sam had left that his wife had died, and we thought he’d come back, but he didn’t. Tough and Sally had their troubles, too. The baby was sickly the first few years. Things wasn’t so good in the cattle business about that time, either. Sally kept needin’ money for doctor bills.
“It was about ten years before Sam come back, and about as soon as he got here we heard that him and Tough was goin’ to break up.
“Sam had decided to sell his share of the ranch and move his part of the cattle down to Texas. We all felt it had somethin’ to do with Sally. Him and Tough just couldn’t git back on their old footin’ again. They acted friendly enough on the outside. But there was something layin’ there between ‘em like a black shadow. It was tough on all three of ‘em.
“Well, they got the cattle divided and Sam started his share out with two cow hands. He was goin’ to finish up his business with Tough and overtake the cattle in a day or two. The next day him and Tough started over to Ryan to finish the deal. Sally and little Steve who was ten or eleven years old then, had come out the night before. I’ll never forget how queer the atmosphere about the whole ranch was after Sally came. You couldn’t help feelin’ that something was goin’ to happen.”
“Hello there. Are you ready for Point Sublime, or has Uncle Billy got you hypnotized with one of his yarns?” Helen had been so engrossed in Crossley’s story that she hadn’t seen Steve approaching, riding one horse and leading another.
With difficulty she pulled herself form the web of the past. She was impatient to hear the rest of Uncle Billy’s story, but she was glad Steve had not forgotten.
“You’ll tell me the rest soon, won’t you?” she begged, but she knew Crossly was relieved at the interruption.
“Excuse me a moment while I get ready, Mr. Heyden.”
She hurried to her cabin. How strange that her life should now be touching the lives of her father’s old friend and the son of his pal. What was that unpleasant rumor about his death? It all seemed far away and unreal.
When she returned Steve looked up approvingly. “Your color scheme matches Maje’s,” he laughed, taking in the details of her yellow-brown riding habit and the orange band about her hair. He helped her into the saddle and adjusted the stirrups. A waitress came from the hotel with a box. “I asked Wood to have us a lunch fixed up,” he explained, putting the box into a saddle bag and springing upon his horse. Helen waved goodbye to Uncle Billy who still leaned against the tree whittling.
“Are we the only ones going?” she asked. “I thought perhaps you took groups of tourists.”
He looked at her, a slow flush creeping up to his cheeks. So she’d thought he was a paid guide. He grinned.
“Sometimes I take a bunch, but today you seem to be my only customer. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Oh, no. You said last night that you were going to present me to the Grand Canyon. I imagine he’ll receive me more graciously if I’m his only votary.”
As they rode around the hotel toward the highway, a girl on a brown pony came galloping up from the flat. Helen recognized Bernice Hawley and spoke to her. She recalled Miss Fitzgerald’s statement that Bernice was infatuated with young Heyden.
“Where have you been so early?” Steve asked the girl.
“Over to the airplane. I went to see how badly Pete Rockwood was hurt and if his plane was smashed up.”
“How is he?”
“He only has a little gash in his head and the plane has a few broken ribs. I thought from all the fuss last night it was a smash-up.”
“You’re not disappointed, are you?” Steve laughed.
“Well, I’d like something to happen. There’s nothing to do around here.”
Steve turned his horse back into the road.
“Why didn’t you ask her to come with us?” asked Helen.
“She’s a pest,” he answered and pretended not to hear Bernice calling, “Are you going to Point Sublime?”
Helen wondered what the girl would think of her.