On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
Steve came in from his ranch to a meeting of the rodeo committee. Helen saw him as he was preparing to go back and was shocked at his appearance. He was thin and haggard, his eyes dark and brooding.
“As I expected,” he told her, “the calves were gone when I had got to the ranch that day we’d seen Lon. You see, because of previous experiences, I always keep a special watch over my unbranded calves. That day, I left Lon on guard. But when some of my other men came in from riding they found both the calves and Lon missing. As usual the search for clues has been useless.”
“You went to Lon when I sent that word about his being at Mrs. Morley’s? Couldn’t he tell you what had happened?”
Steve shook his head.
“By the time I got there, he was delirious. I helped the doctor take him to the Lodge. He hasn’t known anything since and I’m afraid he won’t pull through. [Oh!*] Wouldn’t I like to know who gave him that beastly gash! If we could find that out, we’d know a lot of other things, too.”
Helen was sorry for Steve. Would it help if he knew that she was a sharer, at least to some extent, in his troubles? But Uncle Billy had said to wait.
“Thanks for letting me ride your horse. I’ve been wondering if you’d sell him to me?”
Steve gave her a queer look.
“We don’t sell our pals. Maje is more than that to me. Maje and Prince and Uncle Billy and Molly and Lon are all the family I have.” He laughed, but Helen felt that he was serious. “I’ve told Maje my secrets and my dreams almost as long as I can remember. He’s getting too old for rough range riding, but I couldn’t sell him – to anybody. But I hope you’ll keep on riding him. He needs exercise.”
One afternoon a few days later, Bernice Hawley asked Helen to ride to Bright Angel Point with her. Since their meeting on the trail the day Helen had been to Tess Morley’s, Bernice had been more friendly. Helen accepted the invitation.
When they came opposite Pete Rockwood’s camp. Bernice suggested that they call on the young flier.
“Pete’s awfully nice,” she said, “I like him. He treats me swell. If I hadn’t seen Steve Heyden first, I believe I could fall for Pete.”
They found young Rockwood completely recovered from his accident, and taking tourists over the canyon regularly again. He was glad to see them – especially Bernice, as Helen immediately observed. He was as much enamoured with her as she was with young Heyden; and she was as indifferent to his advances as Steve was to hers. What strange tangles the web of human emotions get into, Helen thought.
Pete invited them to have an air-ride, but a group of tourists came as they were about to start. The girls told him they would come some other day and rode on to Bright Angel Point.
When Helen caught her first glimpse of Grand Canyon Lodge, rising as it seemed, out of the impregnable stone wall of the great gorge itself, she felt almost as she had done at her first sight of the canyon.
Fred Grosbeck came into the lobby a moment after their arrival and offered himself as guide. He led them to points where they could obtain the finest views. Helen was thrilled. The immensity and the grandeur of the great chasm was beyond human comprehension. Fred had them look through telescopes. They could see the El Tovar hotel on the other rim of the canyon fourteen miles away. They even detected the puffing smoke from an incoming train.
Helen knew Fred was watching her closely and trying to make an occasion to speak with her alone; but she forestalled all his efforts.
“When are you coming out here to stay for a while?” he asked. ‘You’d enjoy the changing moods of the canyon. It’s never the same two days – or two hours. At dawn and in the moonlight it’s superb.”
“It must be, and I want to see it in all its moods. But I don’t think I could stand to see it continuously. It’s – too overpowering – too awful. I like better to stay at the Park and make little worshiping rites of my visits. I should hate to think that it ever might become commonplace.”
When they were ready to leave she asked, “How is your patient – the Indian boy?”
“Still bad. Tonight or tomorrow will see the crisis. If that last serum doesn’t help it will soon be over for him.”
“Who’s sick?” Bernice asked.
“A young Indian boy,” Grosbeck answered evasively, and Helen instantly guessed that Steve was trying to keep the fact of Lon’s condition from being generally known.
“Is it Lon Dean? I heard my dad trying to find out where he is.”
“I’m not sure what the kid’s name is. I must go now and see him. But I’ll be looking for you again.”
“I wonder if it can be Lon?” Bernice said as they started toward their horses. “I haven’t seen him around for days, have you?”
“I don’t know him,” Helen answered and began asking questions about the history of the lodge.
When they were riding back toward the Park, Bernice said suddenly, “I believe that doctor is in love with you. The way he looked at you and kept trying to get you out on some special little place where only two could stand made me feel in the way.”
“What an imagination you have,” Helen laughed.
“I don’t think it’s imagination. It’s funny your husband didn’t come with you. All the fellows just naturally think you’re a widow and fall for you.”
“Nonsense.” Then to put a stop to the girl’s conjectures and to forestall any silly gossip, Helen added,
“Dr. Grosbeck is my husband’s closest friend. He was best man at our wedding.”
A few miles from Bright Angel Point the girls saw a group of working men.
“They’re making a trap,” Bernice explained, “to catch cattle for the coming rodeo. Let’s go over and watch them.”
As they rode nearer they saw Tess Morley with her movie camera.
“She just uses that camera as an excuse to be around the men,” Bernice whispered. “I’d like to find out where her husband is, or if she ever had one.”
Tess fascinated Helen. She wanted to know her, so she rode around to the side of the trap where Tess was adjusting her machine for another reel of pictures.
“Do you mind if we watch you?” she asked. “It looks very interesting.”
“It’s a free country,” Tess answered without looking up. Then quite suddenly she turned, her eyes dark with anger.
“I understand you were out to my place not long ago.”
“Yes. Don’t you remember I asked you if I might come. I wanted to see Molly Dean.”
“I hope you were satisfied and got what you were looking for. I prefer, however, that people who call on my help, come when I am home.”
“My, didn’t she scorch you!” Bernice said as she and Helen turned back to the road.
“I wonder why?” Helen mused.
“That’s easy. You’re as good looking as she is, and Steve Heyden likes you.” But Helen knew this was not the explanation.
Preparations went forward for the rodeo. the big corrals across the flat from the hotel became practice arenas. Shouting men and bellowing cattle made the place echo the old days of the Bar V ranch.
Contestants arrived daily to register and to put finishing touches to their training. Girls came for the events open to women.
Helen caught the spirit of the occasion. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced before. She longed to be able to do the things these dark-skinned, supple cow-girls could do. Every day she rode for hours, and practiced running, jumping logs, and throwing a lariat. She grew to love Maje and to understand the hurt she had given Steve when she had asked to buy the horse. The things she was striving to do should come easy for she had inherited potentialities from her father. What she needed was someone to teach her, to show her the technique.
It had been several days since she had seen Steve. Then he came to meet her one afternoon as she returned from practice. He looked more tired and worn than ever. Worry over the cattle mystery and anxiety for Lon Dean were telling on him.
“I thought you and Uncle Billy had been kidnapped,” she greeted him.
“I’d like to be.”
“Where is Uncle Billy? The tourists are disappointed that he never comes to tell his stories anymore. And I feel like an orphan without him. I don’t know what I should have done if you hadn’t left Maje for me.”
Steve leaned over and patted the sorrel’s mane affectionately.
“Uncle Billy’s staying at the ranch. He makes me come in to these meetings for the rodeo, but I can’t get up any enthusiasm this year. Are there any new entrants the last few days?”
“Heaps. They’re coming inf aster and faster, and such excitement and swearing and betting! I’ve caught the spirit myself. I wish I could rope as some of the girls I see out here practicing. Can anyone but a born bronco-buster learn things like that?”
Steve studied her.
“Sure. You surprised me the first minute I saw you on Maje. You don’t sit like an amateur, and you didn’t react like one that day we went to the rim. It almost seems as if you’d been born to the saddle.”
“I have been practicing by myself.” Her face glowed. “I can run and jump logs. Let me show you.”
She touched Maje’s flanks and dashed toward some fallen trees. With the ease and grace of a deer the horse leaped the first log and skimmed along the grassy ground toward the second.
Steve sat on his own horse watching with surprise and admiration. Over the second tree Helen rode on to a third a few hundred yards beyond.
She had almost reached it, when Maje’s hoof went into a gopher hole, and he plunged headlong to his knees. She was hurled to the ground a dozen feet away.
“[DAMN*]!” Steve cried. He spurred his horse toward her. Before he reached the spot, Maje had struggled to his feet and stood motionless as though he realized what had happened.
The blood had drained from Steve’s face. His heart was racing with a wild fear. He leaped to the ground and knelt beside the motionless figure. When he lifted the limp body in his arms, he saw blood trickling down one cheek.
Thank God her heart was beating. But she was like wax; he could not see her breathe. He pressed his handkerchief against the wound on her forehead.
In a few moments she opened her eyes, bewildered.
He laid her gently back upon the grass, shoving his hat under her head.
“Maje stumbled into a gopher hole. Are you hurt much? What about your bones?”
He helped her to stand. She clung to him as she steadied herself on her feet.
“I made a prize exhibition, didn’t I?”
“You did fine. it was that darned hole. Can you walk?”
She was still shaking, so he kept one arm about her.
“I’m all right,” she assured him, after a few moments. “Just a little scratch on my forehead. I hope Maje isn’t hurt.”
The scar on Steve’s cheek stood out white. His hands were still trembling when he began to tighten her saddle girths.
“Fellows learn how to light when they’re thrown. But it looks as if you had an instinct how to do it. A bronco buster couldn’t have done better.”
“Do you think I might learn to really ride?”
“Sure. I’ll teach you.”
“Oh, would you help me? Do you have time?”
“Sure. I’m laying off most everything till after the rodeo. Do you feel like going now? You’re so pale.”
“And so are you.”
“I was darned scared.”
He held her stirrup for her to mount and they rode on to the hotel.
The next morning Steve was waiting with Maje and Prince when Helen came from her cabin.
“I thought we might as well begin those lessons this morning.”
“Are you sure you have time?”
“Uncle Billy’s holding down the ranch until after the rodeo. He told me not to show my face. Says he’s tired of my grumpiness. I’ll go out every night or so to see how things are, of course, but I’ll be around here about every day.”
“He’s coming home tomorrow. He seems all right – physically.”
“I’m glad. What did he tell you?”
“Not a thing. He can’t remember what happened. Doc says his memory may come back. But sometimes after a hurt on the head like Lon’s, it’s hopeless. Do you wonder that I’m grumpy? This mystery’s getting me down.”
If only she might let him know it concerned her too – but not yet. She had a theory of her own. Of course it might be futile, but it seemed plausible to her.
“I suppose we’d better come to some business understanding,” Helen said as they rode to the open space where she was to practice.
“My using Maje, and these lessons you’re going to give me.”
Steve drew his horse to a stop. His face flushed.
“I don’t know what you mean. We don’t do things that way out here.”
“But I must pay you. That’s only right, and it means so much to me to have a chance to learn.”
“Out here in the west we don’t count everything in dollars and cents. Maybe you won’t understand it, but I’ll consider that I’m getting my pay right along. Your husband won’t object to your helping polish off a few corners from a rough fellow like me, will he?”
Helen hesitated. Should she tell him? No. it might spoil everything.
“Come on, let’s begin.” Steve spoke brusquely.
He was a conscientious teacher. He would have her practice over and over the correct maneuvers in throwing a rope for different purposes. He taught her how to let her body swing with the movement of the horse and how to hold her reins to check, or spur him on.
A few days after this training began Helen became aware that she and Steve were the subjects of gossip about the hotel. “Everyone’s talking about the long hours you two spend together and were wondering what your husband would think if he knew,” Bernice told her. Helen knew, too, that Mrs. Carter’s tongue was busy relaying choice surmises. But she wasn’t going to worry about such things.
Steve spent most of his nights at the ranch, but nearly every day he was at the Park, and Helen spent hours riding and roping calves.
Still the mystery of the lost cattle remained unsolved, and the days went by, with Lon Dean trying in vain to remember how he had come to be with a red-bearded stranger near Point Sublime one day, and had arrived at Tess Morley’s place, injured and burning with fever, five days later.
[* Amazingly, this story in the Relief Society Magazine allowed a character to break the third commandment.]