On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
Helen telephoned to the Lodge at Bright Angel, requesting that Dr. Grosbeck go immediately to Tess Morley’s place to attend to an injured man. She was glad she had not needed to talk to Fred.
As she stood looking at a large map in the dining room endeavoring to get her directions clear for her trip to House Rock Valley, Wood Russell came to her with two letters.
“These came on the bus two hours ago, but we couldn’t find you. Both are marked Important. I hope the delay isn’t serious. And by the way, Dr. Grosbeck was over and asked to have you call him on the phone this evening.”
“Thanks,” Helen took the letters and went to her cabin.
She knew the letters would be from Aunt Nettie and George.
Aunt Nettie’s letter was just what Helen might have predicted. She was shocked and amazed. Why hadn’t Helen come and talked things over before talking such a rash step? Poor George was beside himself. She was sure that Helen was magnifying a small indiscretion. When she grew older and more experienced in married life she would learn that part of a wife’s duty was to overlook slight side-steppings of her husband!
Helen was commanded to come home immediately to forestall the scandalous publicity which was sure to commence soon if she did not return within the time of the ordinary tourist’s trip. It was thus Aunt Nettie and George were explaining her absence to their friends.
She crushed the letter and put it together with George’s, unopened, into the small heating stove. She touched a lighted match to them and hurried back to where she had left Maje. In a moment she was riding toward the trail to House Rock.
She had gone but a few miles when she saw two horsemen coming toward her. As they drew nearer she recognized one as Uncle Billy. The other was the boy Curly she had seen about the hotel and who she remembered had been sent to Steve’s ranch with supplies.
“Well, where do you think you are going?” Uncle Billy greeted her.
“I was coming to find you.” She tried to conceal her excitement. “May I talk to you just a minute?” She beckoned him to the side of the trail. “I need some advice.”
As quickly as she could she told about Lon.
Uncle Billy was greatly excited. “I’ll send Curly back to the ranch with a note to Steve. I must go on to the hotel to do some telephonin’ and wait for some letters Steve’s expectin’ on the next bus. But as soon as I can I’ll git back to the ranch, so Steve can hurry to Lon. Something’s goin’ to bust loose pretty soon if I’m not mistaken.”
After Curly had turned back with the note, Helen and Uncle Billy rode on toward the Park. She decided that it was time to make her identity known to him.
“I know you are in a hurry, Uncle Billy,” she said, wondering how to proceed, “but, well, I need some advice, and you are the only one who can give it to me.”
“What is it?”
“First, I want to introduce myself. I am Sammy Huntsman Latimer.”
The old man jerked in his reins so quickly his horse stood on his hind legs. He turned and looked at her unbelievingly.
“The daughter of your old friend Sam Huntsman.”
“Why, that – that – can that be possible?” They had slowed down to a walk and their horses were side by side.
“I knew there was a baby. But I got the impression the little feller died when the mother did. I didn’t even mention it to Sam when he came back. And when we didn’t hear anything after I wrote about his death – Well, we just took it for granted that there wasn’t anybody who cared.”
“The little fellow didn’t die,” said Helen seriously, “and she cared a great deal when your letter came. If you knew my Aunt Nettie you would understand why you didn’t hear anything from your letter. She is good enough in her way, but she never forgave my mother for marrying a cowboy, and I am sure she was glad when your letter came. She thought it would cure me of what she called my foolish notion that I was coming West to live with my father. I was only ten and Aunt Nettie had taken care of me from the day of my birth.”
The old man studied her in silence. Finally he said,
“It’s true! I can see Sam in your chin, the corners of your mouth, and most of all in your hair. I noticed it that first night you came. Don’t you remember? It somehow made me think of Sam, the way it waves back over your forehead. Does Steve know?”
Helen shook her head.
“I didn’t know when I came out here that I would find anyone who had known my father, much as I hoped to. I’ve always wanted to come just to see the things he used to talk and sing to me about. Aunt Nettie tried to make me forget, and I don’t know that I ever should have come – if – if something hadn’t happened that made me feel I had to go some place for a while.”
Uncle Billy reached out and patted her hand.
“Would you like to tell me about that?”
After a little pause she told him briefly about George and why she had left home.
“I didn’t really think much about what I should find here, except that I did have an impression of the wonders of the scenery – and I’d always wanted to come. I even remember lines from some of the songs my father used to sing.”
The old scout smiled.
“Sam and Tough used to make up songs by the yard. I remember the first night old Vaughn got them started at it. He said, ‘What’s the matter with you fellers? You’re always singin’ about Texas and Montana and Wyomin’. Why don’t you sing something about your own country? God never made no better cattle country than right here on this old mountain.’ Well, Sam and Tough started right then to make up a song about the trails of the old Kaibab.
“Some of the rest of us chipped in with a line now and then, but most of the twenty-seven verses was Sam’s and Tough’s. And some of ‘em was real poetry. I recollect this is how one verse went:
“‘There’s a kind of white magic that sifts through the trees,
When the moon sends her kisses along on the breeze,
And a cow-puncher’s life is somethin’ to grab,
When it’s moonlight and June on the old Kaibab.’”
For a moment Uncle Billy sat lost in memories and Helen watched him with a tightness in her throat. Finally he roused himself.
“I don’t reckon you’ve heard about yore father’s cattle.”
“Steve Heyden said they disappeared.”
“That sounds fishy, don’t it? But it’s the gospel truth. We was all so upset about Sam’s death – and what happened after – that we didn’t think about the cattle for a while. Then when we did, we couldn’t find hide nor hair of ‘em. I made a trip clean to Texas to the place he said he was goin’ to take ‘em. But they wasn’t there. Nobody seen ‘em leave this mountain. It’s a mystery that makes you feel creepy. If we’d only knowed about you, we might a tried a little harder.”
“I don’t suppose there’s the least chance in the world of ever finding the cattle after all these years?” Helen asked wistfully.
“I reckon stranger things has happened. There’s been funny things goin’ on ever since that time. You know about Steve’s cattle disappearin’ like they do. I’ve got a hunch that if we ever can find the thieves that’s takin’ Steve’s calves, we’ll maybe find – your herd.”
Helen smiled. It was strange to hear such phrases.
“I’m hopin’ that what Lon Dean knows will help to clear up the mystery.”
Just before they reached the hotel Uncle Billy said,
“I think it would be better if you didn’t tell Steve just yet about you. He’s got enough on his mind. We’ll give him a little time to work out some theories he’s got about the stealing. But you can be sure of one thing. No matter whether you ever git your father’s cattle back or not, Steve’ll be fair with you, and you’ll git your share of the rest of the property.”
Late that afternoon when Helen went from her cabin toward the hotel hoping she might learn something about Lon, she saw Steve and Uncle Billy riding away toward the House Rock trail. She was disappointed and thought that Uncle Billy at least might have informed her of conditions, now that he knew her secret.
That evening she went to the program in the entertainment hall still hoping she might learn something of the tangled affairs which had suddenly become of vital interest to her. She had not been in the room long when Mr. Hawley came and sat beside her.
“I don’t see Mrs. Hawley here tonight,” she said by way of conversation.
“No. She’s gone to Salt Lake to see her doctor. She has no business out here at all. She doesn’t like it and the high altitude doesn’t agree with her. But she insists on coming. Pretends it’s to look after Bernice, but between you and me,” he leaned close to Helen, “I think she knows her old man has a weakness for pretty women.” She drew herself away.
“So I have heard,” she laughed. “Mrs. Carter warned me against you when I first arrived.”
“That old busybody makes me tired.”
“Have you been in the cattle business long?” Helen changed the conversation.
“About twelve years.”
She started. Something seemed to click in her mind. Her thoughts went racing with wild possibilities.
“Was your father a cattle man out here before you? I’ve been interested in hearing of the old-time cattle kings.”
“No. I’m the first cattle man in our family.” He shifted his position and nodded in the direction of a group of tourists who were entering the room. “That’s a pretty little dame in the green suit.” Helen felt that he wished to change the subject, but she persisted.
“You’ve done very well in the business from what I hear. Some men spend a lifetime at it, don’t they, and even then haven’t much to show for it?”
“I suppose you mean Crossley. He’s no business man. He’s always fussing around with other people’s affairs instead of attending to his own. I don’t have much respect for that kind of a fellow.”
There was a movement at the door. Someone was standing outside, peering in. Helen caught a glimpse of a sandy-haired man with a shaggy red beard.
Where had she seen that face before. Her pulses pounded. Hawley caught sight of the man. She was sure he was startled, and that he gave a quick signal. A moment later he excused himself.
“Guess I’ll be turning in. I don’t want the missus to hear any bad reports when she gets back.” He laughed significantly, but his eyes were still on the door, and he hurried away.
Helen stepped quickly to a window and looked out. She saw Mr. Hawley and the unkempt stranger walking swiftly toward Hawley’s cabin. She was sure the bearded man was the one she had seen with Lon Dean the day she and Steve were coming from Point Sublime. And Hawley had been following them that day.
What could be the meaning of it all? Helen soon went to her cabin. She wanted to think.
The next day there was a buzz of excitement around the hotel. Cattlemen and sportsmen had met to arrange for the annual rodeo. Already Helen had heard much of this event and had seen some of the men who would participate, going through their riding and roping exercises out in the flat.
Thereafter, new contestants and fans came and went, and everybody talked of the coming sport. Helen had understood that Steve Heyden was one of the chief promoters of the rodeo, but she looked in vain for him and for Uncle Billy Crossley. What had Steve found when he reached his ranch that day after they’d seen Lon Dean with the stranger? How was Lon? It was strange that she should hear nothing of his accident. Though she refrained from making inquiries, she had ridden twice to Tess Morley’s place, but had found no one at home. Two or three times she’d seen Tess, but always with a group of men, and there had never been an opportunity to talk with her.
Repeatedly she thought of Hawley’s meeting with the red-bearded stranger that night at the dance. What was their business together? What was her own part to be in this strange tangle?
Frequently she went for long rides on Maje. Out on the mountain trails she could, for a time at least, lose herself in the beauty around her.
One morning she saw Fred Grosbeck coming toward the hotel from a car parked near the filling station. She had not called him on the telephone as he had asked. There was no escape; she might as well have it over with.
“Don’t you know you’re treating an old friend pretty shabby?’ he chided, taking both her hands.
“I know, Fred. But I was sure I knew what you wanted to say to me. You’ve had a letter form George, haven’t you?” They walked to the porch and sat down.
“I’ve had three. Helen, the poor devil’s beside himself. You’re not really walking out on him for good, are you? I wouldn’t blame you for punishing him for his foolishness. He deserves that, and he admits he made a fool of himself. But Lord, Helen, you know you’re the girl he’s crazy about.”
She sighed wearily.
“You may as well save your breath, Fred. It’s all over between us. George and I don’t look at fundamentals of life in the same way.”
“But, Helen, you must realize you’re living in a modern world. Little back-slidings such as George is fool enough to indulge in are not unpardonable sins. You’re too sensible to wreck both your lives for a narrow Puritanical idea of morality.”
She got up.
“Please, Fred. I’d rather not talk about it. I’ve done the only thing I can do. It may look Puritanical and narrow, but I can’t help it. I’m what I am, and George is what he is. We don’t look at such things in the same way. It would be foolish to try to patch this thing up, only to have the same trouble again later.”
“But you wouldn’t. I tell you, George is suffering. Won’t you give him another chance?”
“No, Fred, I’m sorry. But for me, love must grow out of confidence and respect. I know George’s attitude too well. Please let’s not talk about it any more. You see, I probably let love and marriage mean too much to me. But I’m that way. It’s got to be everything or nothing. I suppose I’m not a modern.” She held out her hand. “We can still be friends.”
“Of course. But I’m sorry for old George.
“Aren’t you coming out to Bright Angel?” he asked. “I’ve almost given up looking for you. I’d have been over before to take you, but I have a patient who’s been keeping me on the job night and day the last ten days.”
“Is your patient one of the employees of the Lodge?”
“No. It’s a young Indian who got a nasty wound and it’s badly infected – streptococcus. He may not pull through even with all I’m doing. I must get back now. Just came in to meet the bus for some serum I’d sent for.” He started into the lobby. “I’ll be looking for you. and I’ll still be hoping you’ll change your mind about George.”
“Put such hope out of your mind, Fred. Goodbye.”
Helen was relieved to have the conference over. But she was worried about Lon Dean.