On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
The next morning, without seeing Steve, but being again reassured by Fred that he was going to be all right, Helen returned to the Park.
She learned from Wood Russell that Uncle Billy had come to the hotel before going to the ranch and had taken Hawley and several others with him to investigate some clue Lon Dean thought he had regarding the stolen cattle.
Helen had been surprised to learn that Hawley was a deputy sheriff.
“Yes,” Wood told her, “he’s been an officer almost ever since he’s been here. He doesn’t have much to do. There used to be a bootleg escapade once in a while, but now since things are wide open, nobody’s worrying about bootleggers. Steve’s trouble is about all the law-breaking that’s been going on around here for some time, and that’s a stumper. Every time he loses a bunch of cattle, they follow the tracks to a certain place where they just disappear. Hawley has spent days out there with Steve, and they’ve had officers from Fredonia and Flagstaff. But it’s always the same. I can’t imagine that Lon has solved the riddle; but how I wish somebody could. It’s uncanny, and it’s getting Steve’s goat. He doesn’t seem himself any more.”
“Steve thinks,” Wood went on, “that the thieves are connected with someone right here on the mountain who knows just exactly what he’s doing every day. The cattle always disappear when he’s away from the ranch, but right while some of his men are there watching – sometimes just while they’re in the cabin for dinner. But if that theory about the thieves being right here on the mountain was true, we ought to find his cattle in some of the other herds, and he’s never found any, though he always looks at round-up time.”
“Does Mrs. Morley have any cattle?” Helen asked.
“No – not that I know of.”
“How long has she been here, Mr. Russell, and what is her business?”
“Well, she was here when we built the hotel – and that’s been eight years. She must have been here off and on for about ten or twelve years. She was younger and more girlish when I first knew her, but not any more popular than she is now. As to her business, I think she’s bought up a lot of mining stock out there north of her place. Her main business, though, I think, is just to have a good time and to help others enjoy themselves.”
Helen spent most of the next day in her cabin, thinking. She felt sure she had some small clues, and she was to put them together into a logical theory. At last she was ready to act.
She rode to Pete Rockwood’s camp and asked him to take her for a ride in his plane.
“I’m not ready to fly over the canyon yet. I’m saving that for a special thrill. Today I want to fly over the mountain and see how the forest and the cattle ranches look to a bird.”
“All right. I’ll take you any place you want to go.”
The plane lifted and headed back over the mountain.
“Tell me about the various ranches and points of interest,” Helen said through the tube.
“That clearing over to the left is Jacob’s Lake,” Pete said. “On the right is Hawley’s ranch. Want to fly over it?”
“Yes.” In a few moments they were sailing over a large tract of land thickly dotted with grazing cattle.
“It’s one of the best ranches on the mountain. He’s one of the biggest owners in the West. You can see his herds scattered all over this side of the ridge. His land goes clear down to the rim of the canyon on this side.”
“Can you fly a little lower?” she asked. “I’ve never seen a herd of cattle.”
“You’ll have a good chance here. Looks like they’re having a round-up. See, the cowboys are gathering them in from all over the range. We can skim right over their backs if you say. There aren’t many traffic rules out here.”
The plane zoomed down so low over one of the bunches of cattle that Helen could see each animal very distinctly. They passed above the ranch buildings and Pete told her which were the mess hall, and the sleeping quarters. She could see the huge corrals and sheds. They could even make out the figures of the men at work.
“It looks as if they’re getting ready for branding,” Rockwood explained.
Helen started. Two weeks ago Bernice Hawley had spent two or three days at her father’s ranch during the branding round-up. She had told Helen many details of the operation. It was strange they would be branding again – though perhaps not so strange either. This tiny piece of information fitted into her picture puzzle.
“What makes you think they are getting ready for branding?”
“You see the men over there unloading barrels. That’s probably tar and other substances they heat up for the brands. This is about the time of the year that a lot of marking and branding is done, and I don’t see why else they’d be rounding in the cattle. It’s early to gather in the sale stock.”
“Is House Rock Valley far from here?”
“It’s just opposite – on the other side of the mountain, but it will only take Pegasus a few minutes to get us there.”
The plane lifted while they flew over the higher ridges separating the two ranches. They skirted a cut-back in the canyon which formed a huge notch between the two rangelands. Helen studied the topography of the country, every sense alert. She leaned out looking through the field glasses Pete had given her. No, she was not mistaken. That was a line of cattle moving slowly along a trail on the face of the canyon following this cut-back.
“There’s House Rock Valley below us now,” Rockwood announced.
Helen looked down at the clearing. She could see the corrals and the ranch buildings near the edge of the wooded hills. A surge of emotion swept over her. Her father had helped to build those structures. If he had lived she might have spent happy summers with him there. The cattle she saw scattered here and there might have been hers – hers and Steve’s together.
“Can we land here?” she asked.
“Sure.” He brought the plane to the ground a short distance from the buildings.
The place seemed deserted. They went into the main building. It seemed to have been recently occupied, for a fire still burned in the stove and used dishes were on the table.
“Shall we have lunch?” Pete asked.
“We should wait for our hosts to invite us, shouldn’t we?”
“Not in this part of the world. Out here they expect people to help themselves and make themselves at home. Cabins are always left open and stocked with food. I’ll make us some sour-dough flapjacks. It’s funny nobody’s around. This is Steve Heyden’s place, you know – have you heard how he is since the rodeo?”
“I think he’s getting along all right.” What would Pete do if she told him her relationship to this ranch?
Before their food was ready Uncle Billy, Hawley, and several other men came to the cabin.
They had observed the plane from the other side of the clearing and had come to see what the landing might signify. They were surprised to see Helen.
“I’m out sight seeing,” she explained. “We just thought we’d give you a friendly call and see if you’ve caught the cattle thieves yet.”
“Has Steve been losing more cattle?” Rockwood asked.
“Yes.” Uncle Billy told him. “His calves went a few weeks ago, and the day of the rodeo a bunch of young steers he had rounded up so he could keep a special watch over them dropped out of sight. Of course Steve don’t know that yet. And he don’t know that Lon is gone again.”
“Wasn’t he here when you came out that night?” asked Helen, amazed.
“Not a hide nor hair of him. So we don’t have no idee what that clue was that he thought he had.”
“Do you think he’s been kidnapped again by the thieves?”
“Nobody knows what’s happened to him,” Hawley said. “It seems useless to try to solve the mystery of this ranch. I’ve been working on it for years, but it beats me.” Helen looked at him closely and she thought his eyes shifted from her direct gaze.
She was eager to have a few words alone with Uncle Billy, and finally succeeded in drawing him aside.
“Uncle Billy, I believe I know where those lost cattle are.”
She had no chance to say more for she saw Hawley approaching. She gave her old friend a sign for silence, but he looked incredulous.
As she was flying back with Pete Rockwood she led him to talk of Hawley.
“He’s a queer chap. I’ve taken him around quite a little in my plane; to Texas a couple of times and quite often to Salt Lake City. Somehow he doesn’t seem to belong here as most of the cattle men do – Uncle Billy and Steve Heyden for instance. I think he has a swell little girl, though. She seems more like the West than he does. But she could fit in anywhere. She’d be a little peach – if she wasn’t so crazy about Steve Heyden.”
“I don’t see why she shouldn’t care for you even more than for Steve. You’re nearer her age and you seem more her type,” Helen told him.
“Do you really think that? Gosh, I wish you’d tell her.”
“I did have one inning. She let me bring her home from the Lodge the other night after Steve’s accident. She was so broken up over that, that she even let me comfort her a little.”
The next day Helen rode to the Lodge. She must tell Steve what she had learned, for action must be taken at once if the mystery was to be solved. She hoped he was well enough to talk and help her plan what to do.
To her surprise he was up and around. In fact he was outside somewhere – the bellboy told her – taking a short walk – perhaps on one of the nearby trails.
Fred, she found, had been called to a sick man at a road camp back on the mountain.
She sat in the lobby waiting. As the minutes passed she became restless and went out on the porch to look for Steve. Presently she walked out onto one of the footpaths below the lodge.
She didn’t want to get far away as he might return by some other path; so she sat on a bench overlooking the canyon. She began tracing with her eyes resemblances in the natural structures before her, to famous pieces of sculptured art. Presently she heard voices on the opposite side of the rocky projection in the path near which she sat.
“Tess, I don’t understand. You can’t mean what you seem to be saying.”
Helen despised eavesdropping and started up. Then she realized she couldn’t retreat without being discovered, and to go on was impossible, for Tess and Steve were on the narrow trail. Besides, there was distress in Steve’s voice. What could the woman be saying to torture him?
“You can’t expect me to believe that you don’t understand what I mean, Steve. I’m throwing myself at you. And I’ve never done that for any man. I’m forgetting that there is such a thing as pride, for I love you. You’ve known for a long time that I’ve wanted you. But you’ve ignored me. I tell you, Steve, that loving you has made a different woman of me. I want to be decent. I promise if you’ll come to me, you’ll be the only one. I don’t expect you to marry me, at least not now; not until I’ve proved myself and have made you want to marry me.”
“My God, woman, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I! I’ve been thinking of nothing else for weeks. I know you don’t care for me now. You may even imagine that you love someone else; but you’re not the kind to be satisfied with another man’s wife. And I can make you care. Isn’t it something worth while that I’m offering you? This mystery is breaking you. You’re not only losing your cattle; you’re losing your health. And you’ll lose your mind, too, before you’ll ever solve the riddle. You ought to know that, after twelve years of trying. Isn’t my offer to disclose the whole thing worth anything to you?”
“Yes,” shouted Steve. “But by [gosh] it’s not worth the thing you ask. Get out of my way and let me pass.”
There was a slight skirmish on the other side of the boulder and Steve, head bandaged and white with anger and disgust, rushed past Helen up the path toward the Lodge.
For a moment she sat motionless, then she followed him.