On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
For a time Steve watched Helen’s riding critically. Soon she forgot herself in enjoyment of her surroundings. How far away were the feelings of futility and defeat with which she had started on this journey. Already she was a new person, once again alert and eager for life.
“You’re not such a tenderfoot as I expected,” Steve told her. “You’ll make it O.K. You almost ride as if you’d been born to the saddle. Some people couldn’t learn to ride in a million years. Others take to it like ducks to water. You like it, don’t you?”
“Yes. But I haven’t ridden much.” How surprised he would be if she should say, “I ought to be a good rider; my father was a cowboy.”
As they neared the edge of the forest, Steve pointed out the young aviator’s camp.
“Shall we call on Pete? There’s his plane by the edge of the trees. Bernice was right. It doesn’t seem to be much worse for his accident.”
They found the young flier, his head bandaged, out by the plane, mending the fabric.
“How are you and Pegasus this morning?” Steve asked.
“Both of us rarin’ to go.”
“Pegasus,” said Helen after the formality of introduction. “That’s a unique name. Sometime I’m coming to see how much better your winged steed is than this lovely horse of Mr. Heyden’s.”
“Well be waiting for you,” Peter said as his visitors departed.
They left the road and followed a trail through the trees. Soon it became steep and rugged.
“There’s another mile or two of climb before the first glimpse of the canyon,” Steve said. “Are you tired?”
“Not at all. It’s glorious.”
Helen smiled to herself as Steve talked of the country. He had the same air of proprietorship he had laughed at in Uncle Billy. Wood Russell had it, too, though he also had poked fun at the old scout. But she didn’t blame them for loving it; she was beginning to feel something of the same spirit herself. After all, it was her country, too, even though she had never seen it before.
The trail became steeper. Once Maje’s foot slipped on a loose rock. With a swift, sure movement Steve caught Helen and kept her from falling. She was trembling, but denied that she was frightened and insisted that they go on.
They rode more slowly after that, and Steve kept one hand on Maje’s bridle to guide him around the great boulders. How quick and sure his arm had caught her, and how concerned his dark eyes had been. Bernice Hawley, Helen understood, could easily care for a man like Steve.
“We really ought to have taken the road,” he said when the trail became even steeper. “But I did want you to see the canyon first from a point that nothing but a narrow trail leads to. Do you feel nervous about going on? We could cross over to the road yet.”
“No. I’m fine, and I want to learn to ride.”
At last they reached the top. Then suddenly they came to the canyon rim.
That one exclamation and Helen gazed speechless. Her eyes blurred. The sight overwhelmed her. The crust of the brown earth had suddenly opened to an enchanting inner world. Over it all stretched the serene blue of the sky, splashed with colored clouds, shifting, changing, glowing.
She was motionless, her face transfigured.
Steve watched her exultingly. He was proud of the canyon. The lights and shadows had seldom been finer. It was almost as if the old monarch were posing a bit for his guest.
“Well, what do you think of him?” he finally asked, dismounting and helping her. For a moment she stood without answering. Then she turned and walked a little distance from the brink.
“I can’t stand any more now.” There was a break in her voice. “I’m drunk.”
Steve smiled appreciatively. He led the horses to a cedar tree and secured them.
“Suppose we rest here a while and eat our lunch. Then we can ride along the rim to some of the other points and take the road back.”
He removed the saddles and spread the saddle blankets under a tree.
“Seeing that,” Helen waved toward the canyon, “makes everything else seem insignificant, doesn’t it? We and our little worries don’t even seem pin-points in the great scheme of things.”
“Wait until you stand on Bright Angel Point some night when it’s raining. It’s when the canyon’s filled with black clouds and zigzags of lightning and bellowing thunder – that’s when you feel smaller than a speck.”
It was late afternoon before they started back to the Park. As they came down the road through the thick trees, Steve suddenly stopped. He peered through the timber ahead. Helen heard horses’ hoofs, and a few seconds later glimpsed a wide brimmed hat.
Steve seized her bridle and quickly guided their two horses behind a huge boulder into a thick clump of trees. He gave a sign for silence.
Presently, two horsemen passed. Helen caught sight only of the wide hat on the dark head of one rider, and the red whiskered face of the other. She wondered at Steve’s excitement.
“I must find out for sure who those fellows are,” he said. “I believe one is Lon Dean, the Indian boy I left on my ranch watching my calves. Will you wait here? I want to see which direction they go when they reach the forks.”
What could it mean? Steve’s face was grim – almost old – as he wheeled his horse and followed them.
As Helen waited, she recalled Uncle Billy’s unfinished story. Now it seemed remote, more like fiction than reality. Could it be that the old scout really felt that Tough Heyden might have murdered her father? If that were true – Steve was the son of her father’s murderer! She wouldn’t permit such thoughts to spoil her day.
There was a clatter of hoofs on the rocky road. She thought it was Steve and rode back to the trail. But the rider was coming from the opposite direction. It was Mr. Hawley.
As he drew in his reins she realized that her dislike for him increased each time they met.
“Well, well, if it isn’t our little new friend, Mrs. Latimer. I didn’t anticipate such a pleasure as meeting a charming woman, a way out here. Are you lost?”
In spite of the note of lightness in his words, Helen perceived that he was nervous and excited.
“I’ve been for my first look at the Grand Canyon,” she told him. His eyes kept shifting from her face back over the road, and he was evidently listening.
“That’s Steve Heyden’s horse, isn’t it? Did he come with you?”
“Yes.” Helen thought he tried to blink out the concern her answer perceptibly aroused, and the casualness of his next question was forced.
“I don’t suppose you happened to meet a couple of cow-punchers on your way down from the point?”
“No … No … We didn’t meet anyone.” Why was she deceiving him?
“Where’s Steve?” Hawley looked at her with sudden suspicion.
“He’ll be here in a minute. He just went back along the road to look for – a pin I lost … a family heirloom that means much to me.” Her cheeks burned. Hawley continued to scan the road and to listen.
Presently Steve came around a bend. He slowed down a little at sight of Hawley, but called out genially.
“Hello, George. Where you headed for?”
“Did you find Mrs. Latimer’s pin?”
Steve’s quick glance interpreted the look Helen flashed him, but she knew that Hawley caught it also.
“No. I didn’t find it. Shall we be going on?”
They left Hawley, clearly puzzled, staring up the road.
* * *
Steve’s face was stern. His eyes were black with brooding. Helen waited for him to make an explanation, but they rode for a time in silence. Finally he seemed to make an effort to throw off his mood.
“You probably thought it was queer the way I left you. I appreciate the way you tried to throw Hawley off the scent.”
“I bungled it, but somehow I thought you’d rather he didn’t know about the men.”
“Your hunch was OK. And at least he’s still puzzled. But not half so much as I am. I can’t understand the fellow, but at least I’ve quit having any confidence in him or any belief that he’s trying to help clear up the mystery.”
“Yes. There’s queer things going on around here. I keep losing cattle and can’t find who’s stealing them. I’m sure one of those fellows we saw was the Indian boy I left at my ranch day before yesterday, and I can’t savvy why he’d be away over here on this side of the mountain – leaving the calves – and with that red-headed stranger.”
“Do you hire Indians?”
“Lon’s not an ordinary Indian. Fact is, we’re almost like brothers. His mother used to cook for my dad when I was a kid, and after my mother got sick and had to be taken to – a hospital, Molly, Lon’s mother, about raised me.”:
“I’ve always wanted to see an Indian woman – squaws – that’s what they call them, isn’t it?”
“Molly’s keeping house for Tess Morley now.” Steve lapsed into silence.
“I didn’t know cattle stealing was still going on.” Helen wanted to hear more. “From what Uncle Billy said, I thought things were different now.”
“They are. That is, they’re supposed to be. I don’t know of a single cattle man who’s lost stock – I mean in bunches – in the last ten years, but me. There’s some kind of hoodoo tagging me around – has been ever since my dad died and left me the House Rock outfit.”
After a moment he went on. “I was only a kid when Dad died, hadn’t turned sixteen, and even though I’d been on the range practically all my life, I was pretty inexperienced. Uncle Billy tried to help keep things together until I was old enough to take responsibility.”
“Were you losing cattle then?”
“Yes. And there was another mystery that I’ve always felt sure was connected with this cattle stealing. It goes back a long way. My dad and that Sam Huntsman Uncle Billy mentioned last night used to be pardners. Then Sam went to Chicago and stayed for about ten years. When he came back he sold his share of the outfit to Dad and was going to Texas. He started out with his share of the herds with two or three men and was going to follow them after he’d finished up the deal. He and Dad were riding along the Powell Trail when Sam’s horse slipped and they both crashed down the canyon.”
“Yes, it was ghastly. I was a kid about twelve when it happened and I can’t forget how hideous things were for a long time after. Mother collapsed and Dad was never the same. He’d been so close to them, you see.”
Helen was trembling. Did Steve know those rumors of which Uncle Billy had hinted – that it hadn’t been an accident? That might explain the brooding look that haunted his eyes; she’d noticed it last night while they were dancing, and several times today.
“A few weeks after Sam’s accident, Uncle Billy and old man Vaughn, who used to have a big outfit there at V.T., found out some way that Sam Huntsman’s cattle hadn’t been taken to Texas; that they hadn’t even left the mountain. They’d just disappeared – dropped out of existence.”
“But how could they?”
“We’ve had hunches, dozens of them. But none of them lead us anywhere. The officers are as helpless as I am. Hawley’s a deputy. But I didn’t even bother to tell him just now that I’m sure that when I get to House Rock tonight I’ll find my calves gone. He’s been trying for years to help solve the mystery – at least pretending to.”
Helen’s mind was racing in two or three directions. There were things she must find out.
“This Sam Huntsman. What about his – family? Didn’t they ever come out to see about his property?”
“As I remember, his wife died a year or so after they were married.”
“And there were no children?”
“Uncle Billy thinks there was a child, but it must have died, too, because we never heard a word after Uncle Billy wrote to someone he knew about – a sister-in-law I believe, after the accident.”
“If there had been a child,” Helen ventured cautiously, “this herd of cattle that disappeared, would belong to it?”
“Sure, and half of my ranch over in House Rock Valley, too.”
They emerged from the timber into Pleasant Valley. As they neared the Hotel Steve turned suddenly.
“I’m asking you not to say anything about those fellows we saw. I’ve got to find out for sure if that was Lon Dean. There may be a clue.”
“Of course.” What would Steve do if she suddenly said, “I’m as concerned about this business as you are. I’m that child of San Huntsman’s”?
“If the thieves should be caught and the Huntsman cattle recovered, what would be done with them?” she asked.
“Uncle Billy and I used to talk about that. He’s always said that they’d belong to me; but if such a miracle should happen, I’d see that he got them. I’d like to see Uncle Billy set up. He’s never been able to hold on to anything for himself – always more interested in helping the other fellow. I’ve tried to take him in with me but he won’t come – Say, I believe that’s him down the road now, coming to meet us. Wonder if he’s got some dope.”
“What’s up?” Steve asked when they met the old scout.
But Uncle Billy didn’t answer.
“I begun to wonder if you two had eloped. Steve, we must git out to the ranch pronto. I’ve got the supplies ready and have arranged with Jack and Curley to bring them on their pack horses. We’d best go right now. Mrs. Latimer will excuse you if you don’t go on with her, won’t you?” His little black eyes were popping. He was impatient to be away.
“What shall I do with the horse?” Helen asked. If only she might go along with them!
“Ask Wood Russell to have one of his boys take him down to Uncle Billy’s place,” said Steve. “And if you want to ride again before I get back, have them get Maje for you – any time.”
“Thanks. I hope you find everything all right.”
“That’s too good to hope.” Steve waved to her as they rode away.