On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
Helen had a sense of deflation. All the exhilaration of a half hour ago had been killed by the inexplicable inference in Tess’s look. She still sat on Maje, undecided what to do. She saw Steve walk around to the pens, and knew he had gone to get ready for his “bronco-busting” exhibition. She shuddered. She didn’t want to see it. She wanted to get away – and to cry over something she couldn’t explain.
Turning Maje to the south she rode, unobserved, to the edge of the forest. Not caring where she went, she gave the horse the reins.
Maje chose a trail they had been on before. It wound through a dense growth of aspen trees to a small clearing where there had once been a cabin and a corral. Steve had told her this was one of Uncle Jim Owen’s old camping grounds.
She rode directly to the tiny spring where Steve had brought her after her roping practice one day. Now she recalled each detail of that afternoon. He had produced sandwiches and chocolate bars from his saddlebag, and they had sat on the grass by the spring. They had knelt to drink from the cold trickle that came from a tiny crevice in the rocks. She recalled just how Steve had looked as he stretched himself full length under the trees. An unruly lock of dark hair had tumbled over his forehead. As on other occasions she had felt an impulse to pat it back into place.
Suddenly the truth burst upon her.
She was in love with Steve Heyden!
Her face burned with the knowledge. She had left George’s home not three months ago in anger and humiliation because George had allowed his affections to wander. It was incredible that in so short a time her hurt had healed and she could find her pulses quickening at the thought of another man.
She tied Maje to an aspen tree and slaked her thirst at the spring. Then she sat where she had sat that other day near Steve and stared helplessly up at the blue sky. She must face this new creature which was herself and try to understand what could have happened. She must decide what was to be done.
There were two things, she told herself, which should have made it impossible for this to happen. First, the possibility that Steve Heyden’s father had murdered her father. Second, the fact that she was George Latimer’s wife.
What a paradox! She must conquer this strange new emotion.
But even as she made the resolution, she was recalling Steve’s every word, every gesture since their first meeting, and wondering if he loved her.
The knowledge that Bernice Hawley loved him and that Tess Morley desired him aroused in Helen the primitive impulse toward possession. She found herself arguing that Steve was not responsible for actions of his father. Even if his father had been a murderer, such sins should not be visited upon innocent children. Such a truth would be as horrifying to Steve as to herself.
And as for the other horn of her dilemma, she didn’t belong to George now. He himself had broken the bond between them. In the experience of this new emotion, she knew that she never had really loved George. There had been congeniality – infatuation perhaps – and the influence of Aunt Nettie’s approval. But all that – she now realized – was not love.
Steve did not love Bernice Hawley, but what of Tess Morley? Would he fall under her spell? She recalled Steve’s face while Tess was twirling her lariat. Other men were victims of her lure; why not Steve Heyden? His foster mother lived with Tess. Doubtless he was there often. He had gone there for Lon. Was he but one of Tess’s many? The thought was maddening.
If that were true, she could not remain on the mountain. Yet where could she go? Not back to Aunt Nettie and George. She could never return to her old life. The West had come to mean peace to her, and – home.
No matter which way her thoughts turned, she faced a wall.
A crashing noise on the trail beyond the spring startled her. She sprang to her feet as a horseman rode into the clearing.
It was Lon Dean. His horse was flecked with foam. Its nostrils were oozing blood. At sight of her Lon deliberated for a moment. Then he recognized Maje and he rode to her.
“You go find Steve,” he commanded. “Tell him come quick. Steers gone. Tell him bring officers. Tell him I got clue. Tell him come to Jim’s cave.”
He sat waiting for her to act.
“Hurry. Tell him bring plenty help.”
Comprehending but vaguely the significance of her instructions, but impelled by Lon’s urgent manner, she mounted her horse and hurried on her strange errand.
The need of delivering Lon’s message as soon as possible drove all else from her mind.
By the time she emerged from the forest, it was growing dusk. She urged Maje to a run as she came into Pleasant Valley.
The rodeo would be over. Would Steve be with the crowd over at Tess Morley’s?
As she neared the hotel, she could see long lines of cars driving toward the outer end of the valley from the rodeo grounds. That last scheduled event introduced by Steve’s exhibition – how had it ended? Steve was to ride Demon, the meanest horse on the mountain. Then, each in turn, the contestants who had signed for the event were to try to ride him. She was glad she had not stayed to watch.
She urged Maje on. Even now it was so late perhaps any effort to follow Lon’s clue would be futile.
She drew near the flat. What a large group of people were in front of the hotel. Something had happened. Her heart sank.
She rode to the rear of the building and tied Maje to a tree. She entered the hotel through a side door and spoke to a bellboy.
“Will you please go out there and ask Steve Heyden to come in here for a moment?”
He stared at her.
“Steve? Didn’t you know it was Steve who got hurt? – maybe killed in the last event?”
Helen felt her knees giving way. She slid into a chair.
“No! No! Where is he?”
“They took him out to the Lodge. The doctor said he might have to operate.”
For a moment she closed her eyes, then she asked,
“Is Uncle Billy Crossley here?”
“He went to help take Steve. It was sure a tough accident and busted up the rodeo. Too bad it was Steve that had to get it.”
She groped toward the door. In a moment she was on Maje again headed toward Bright Angel Point. She had forgotten about Lon Dean out in the gathering night waiting for help. She was conscious of only one thing – she must see Steve and make sure he was not – going to die.
When Helen neared Bright Angel Point she asked herself what she was going to do when she reached the Lodge. She had but one clear purpose. That was to find out for herself how seriously Steve was hurt. What if he were dead? No! God wouldn’t be so cruel! It was all a hopeless tangle. Tut – there was a sweetness even in her pain.
She reached the Lodge and left Maje at a hitching post.
“I came to inquire about Steve Heyden,” she told the bellboy. “He was injured at the V.T. rodeo this afternoon. Can you tell me how he is?”
Then she saw Bernice Hawley coming toward her. “I’ll see if Dr. Grosbeck can come,” the boy said, and left the two girls together. Bernice’s face was swollen and stained with weeping. Helen reached for her hands, but Bernice drew back, and burst into a hysterical tirade.
“You lied to me. You said you were married. Dr. Grosbeck told me last night that you are separated from your husband. Why can’t you let Steve alone? Aren’t there other men just as good for all you and Tess Morley want of them?”
With an effort Helen controlled herself. Bernice was nothing but a child, and she was suffering.
“You mustn’t talk like that, Bernice, dear. You know the things you are trying to think of me are not true. Steve is my friend, just as he is yours. How is he?”
“I hate you. Why did you have to come out here and spoil everything? I hate you.”
Helen forced calmness into her own voice.
“You mustn’t make a foolish scene here, Bernice. Those people over there can hear you.”
“I don’t care who hears. I love him and I could have got him if women like you and Tess Morley had stayed where you belong. I hate you both.” The girl rushed through the door to the balcony overlooking the canyon.
The bellboy returned.
“Dr. Grosbeck is still busy.”
“Do you know how Mr. Heyden is?”
“I think they found that he isn’t hurt as bad as they thought at first.”
“Thank you. is Mr. Crossley here?”
“Uncle Billy? He’s coming right there.”
The old scout appeared through a swinging door and Helen hastened to meet him.
“How is he, Uncle Billy? Tell me what happened.”
He took her hands and led her to a seat.”
“I was glad you wasn’t there. It was that vicious horse – Demon. We never shoulda let Steve do it. The beast threw him against the gate post and then tried to paw him to death. It looked like he would have him killed before we could do anything. Then Wood run for a gun and shot the animal.”
“But how is Steve? He’s not going to die!”
“The doctor thinks he’ll be all right if they ain’t no internal injuries. It seems like a miracle after seein’ what happened.”
Helen’s hands were clenched. Uncle Billy watched her face.
“Where was you when it happened?”
Now she remembered about Lon.
“Uncle Billy, Steve’s steers are gone, but Lon Dean says he has a clue.”
“Lon? Can he remember what’s happened? Where did you see him? You don’t mean the steers in the south pasture that we’ve been watchin’?”
As calmly as she could, Helen told him all she knew.
“If Lon has found out the truth,” he was very excited, “it may mean everything to you and Steve both. I must go and get some help – and find Lon.”
“Do you want to take Maje? I can find a chance to get back to the Park tomorrow.”
“Maybe that will be best, if you’d like to stay.” He looked at her understandingly. “I come out in the doctor’s car.”
He held out his hand.
“Don’t look so frightened.” He patted her arm. “Steve’s going to be all right – and maybe everything else is, too.” He’d read her secret.
After he’d gone Helen arranged for a room. She’d ask Bernice to share it with her. but she was told that Bernice had gone back to the Park with Pete Rockwood.
Helen left word for the bellboy to call her as soon as Dr. Grosbeck was free. Then she went to her room and tried to relax.
She took off her riding clothes, had a hot bath, and lay down to try to compose herself. But she could not remain quiet. She put on her clothes and sat before the window overlooking the canyon.
What was she going to do? Did Steve love her? He’d been frightened that day Maje stumbled into the gopher hole and she had been knocked senseless. Another day she’d got something in her eye as they were riding and when he was trying to remove it by turning the eyelid back as she directed, his hands had trembled. When she’d caught her breath with pain as the speck was removed, he’d put his hands on her shoulders for a moment like a caress, then had turned quickly away and mounted his horse. There were other such trifling incidents, but they probably meant nothing. It was true what she’d told Bernice – Steve wasn’t the kind of man who would permit himself to fall in love with another man’s wife.
There was a tap at her door.
“Dr. Grosbeck will see you in the lobby,” the boy told her.
Fred met her coldly. “Helen, I can’t understand you. You’re in love with Steve Heyden. I wouldn’t have needed to be told. Your face betrays you. Does George have any idea of this real reason for your leaving him?”
“Oh, Fred, you are all wrong. I never saw Steve Hayden before I came here this summer. And I didn’t know until this afternoon that I love him. You see, we have business interests that throw us together. His father and mine were partners in the cattle business out here years ago. Perhaps you didn’t know that my father belonged to this country. That was why I came here instead of going someplace else when I had to get away.”
He was still perplexed.
“Surely you don’t think I’m the kind of creature Bernice Hawley has got it into her head that I am.”
He laughed and took her hands.
“Of course not. I’ve known you too long for that. And of course I can understand that Bernice is just a jealous kid infatuated by an older man and that she isn’t responsible for all she imagines.”
“Thanks, Fred. And now will you tell me how he is?”
“We thought at first it was very serious. But as far as I can find, he has nothing but a few superficial injuries – a rather painful gash on his head and some nasty bruises where his body struck the gate. But if nothing of an internal nature develops, after he recovers from the shock, he’ll soon be all right. By the way, that Morley woman is still hovering around his door. What’s her claim?”
Helen bit her lip.
“I don’t know.”
“You haven’t had dinner and neither have I,” Fred said. “It’s after regular hours, but I’m on good terms with the kitchen staff; let’s go foraging.”