On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
Steve was pacing the floor of the lobby when Helen reached the Lodge. His surprise at seeing her was reassuring, for she wondered if he could have recognized her when he rushed past.
“Steve,” she said, trying to keep her excitement under control, “I have something very important to talk over with you. Are you well enough to ride? I have Maje and perhaps we can get another horse here.”
He was eager to get away.
“I don’t know what the doctor would say, but I feel all right.” He called a bell-boy and arranged for a horse; in a few moments they were riding away.
For a little time Helen hesitated about telling him what she had come to disclose. He looked so ill and wretched that she wondered if Dr. Grosbeck would have let him come. It seemed to her, however, that the physical danger of this ride could not be as harmful as the mental torture Tess Morley had put him through.
“Well, what did you want to tell me? That you think I’m a bum trainer to get smashed up like I did the other day?”
“Oh, Steve, that was dreadful. I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it.” He looked at her in surprise, but she went on.
“Steve, I believe I know where your lost cattle are. That’s what I came to tell you.”
Quietly she laid her theory before him. As he listened his eyes filled with amazement, but they still held their old cynicism. He’d had theories himself that seemed as logical as hers.
“Haven’t you ever suspected Hawley?”
“Gracious, no! Why should I suspect him? He’s a deputy-sheriff and has been helping me all these years.”
Carefully she told of all her observations which had led to her suspicions. She recalled the day they met Hawley after they’d seen Lon with the questionable-looking stranger. She told of the meeting of Hawley and this same man shortly after Lon had come back wounded. She mentioned, too, that she was quite sure Hawley had ridden from the rodeo with the same man just before Steve went into the corral for his riding exhibition. She told what she had seen as she had flown over the mountain with Pete Rockwood, and the aviator’s comments about the evident preparations for branding.
“Can’t you see, Steve, how easy it would be for him to change your double H to his crossed four bars?”
He looked at her seriously.
“You’re right! And my ear-mark could be easily cut to his, too. But why would he be doing a thing like that to me?”
“The question we’re concerned with first, is to prove that he is doing it. Did you ever examine any of the brands on his old cattle – the ones he claims to have brought here when he bought the ranch?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“I was just thinking –,” but she checked herself. She wouldn’t push her beliefs about Hawley’s original herd just now. “There are ways of telling if new brands have been put over old ones, aren’t there? I heard some men talking about it one day at the hotel.”
“Yes, that isn’t difficult.”
She wasn’t sure that Steve was fully convinced by her theory. His face was troubled and drawn.
“Let’s get to House Rock as soon as we can,” he said. “Hawley should still be there.”
When they came to the top of the ridge overlooking the ranch buildings Helen stopped.
“Steve, before we go on, I must tell you something else.” She hesitated, wondering how he would take her revelation.
“I want to tell you who I am and why I am doubly interested in getting to the bottom of this mystery.”
He regarded her wonderingly, but he had experienced too many surprises and shocks of late for anything to startle him.
“Steve, my father helped your father build those houses and corrals. Together they created and built up the Double H Cattle Company. That herd which disappeared so mysteriously after Sam Huntsman’s death – should be my cattle.”
“You mean– I – I don’t get it. Did Sam Huntsman leave a daughter in Chicago? Are you –?”
“Sammy Huntsman, junior – Helen, to please my aunt.”
“Then you’re not mar– You’re not Mrs. Latimer?”
She hesitated for an instant.
“Yes,” she said slowly, “I’m also Mrs. George Latimer.”
She started Maje on down the trail. Steve’s face was still blank with amazement as he followed her.
A group of men on horses were near the central cabin. Uncle Billy was the first to recognize Steve and Helen. he rode toward them.
“Steve, what are you doing here? What’s Doc Grosbeck thinking of to let you come? You’re like a ghost.”
“I’m all right, old scout. What’s the news? Have you found Lon?”
The old man shook his head mournfully. Weariness and discouragement were in his eyes.
“Hawley thinks we’d as well give it up again.”
“With Lon missing?”
“He says there don’t seem to be nothing else to do. He thinks maybe Lon’ll turn up again like he did before, unless maybe they killed him this time. Anyway, he says, Lon’s only an Injun.”
Steve’s eyes flashed an anger to match that of the old man’s.
“Did he say that?” His face was grim as he rode to the group by the door. Helen feared for what he might do. But his voice was quiet as he greeted the men, though she could see his knuckles standing out white as his hands gripped the pommel of his saddle.
“Uncle Billy tells me it’s the same old story. So we may as well call it off. If you fellows who came out to help Mr. Hawley will leave your bills with him I’ll settle later. Thanks, Hawley, for coming out again.”
“I’m sorry, Steve,” Hawley said as he prepared to go. “It’s a beastly shame this keeps happening to you. Wish I knew how to get to the bottom of it. But, as usual, there’s nothing to get hold of.”
As soon as Hawley and his men were out of sight, Steve turned to Uncle Billy.
“Did you know that Helen is Sam Huntsman’s girl?”
“Yes. I’ve knowed it quite a while. I didn’t tell you, because I knew you’d worry more than ever over how things has gone, and I thought you had enough jist now.”
“We’ve got to find out if Hawley’s at the bottom of this business.”
“Hawley?” Uncle Billy’s eyes fairly popped from their sockets.
“He’s yeller, of course, sayin’ what he did about Lon, but surely –”
“Let’s go in and fix something to eat while Helen tells you what she’s been telling me. Then we must get into action.”
They made Steve lie down on a bunk in one end of the room. Uncle Billy stirred up the fire and Helen put things about the room in order as she repeated her suppositions.
“By my soul, I believe you’re right. And to think we’ve lived here with the skunk all these years and didn’t guess. But how’s he been doin’ it? That’s the part we still got to find out.”
Steve lay watching Helen. His eyes were dark pools of melancholy. She seemed to feel his gaze and turned to look at him.
“How do you like your shack?” he asked.
She guessed what he was thinking and crossed to the bunk.
“Don’t be foolish, Steve. It isn’t my shack.”
“Don’t you think you should send for your husband to come and help straighten out this mess?”
Uncle Billy brought food to Steve.
“Yourn and mine is on the table,” he told Helen.
At that instant there was a noise outside, and the next moment Lon Dean burst into the room. They all gathered around him.
“I see ‘em go. Now I can come out and eat. Give me coffee. Give me bread.” They could see that he was famished and they let him eat for a few moments before trying to get from him the things they wanted so much to know.
It took some time for Lon to make his story comprehensible. Not until he finally led them to Jim’s Cave and revealed one of the strangest inventions ever devised could they be sure they were listening to facts.
Lon explained how he had left the calves on that day before his first disappearance and had gone into the cabin to prepare his dinner. When he came out, the calves were gone. As on previous occasions, he tracked them to Jim’s Cave, where the trail, of course, ended against the solid rock of the cavern. But as he came out of the cave and stood wondering what to do next, he suddenly was aware of a horseman beside him. He didn’t know where the man had come from and was frightened by his sudden appearance.
The stranger told him he had come to help find the cattle thieves and asked Lon to go with him.
Lon got his horse and the two had ridden to the other side of the mountain, past Hawley’s ranch to a trail under the rim of the canyon where Steve’s calves were being driven to Hawley’s range. He didn’t know how the calves had got onto the trail, but he saw immediately that the secret trail led by way of the cutback in the canyon to the ridge joining Steve’s range.
He began asking the red-bearded stranger questions, but he was suddenly knocked in the head, and fell from his horse.
When he regained consciousness it was dark and he was alone. His hands were tied; his head was throbbing. After a while he succeeded in loosening his hands, and bound his bleeding head with a handkerchief.
He crawled back over the trail in the darkness. At dawn he came upon his horse which apparently had escaped from his assailant. He reached a ridge on the mountain that was familiar, but his head hurt so he scarcely knew what he was doing. When he came to a trail leading to Tess Morley’s place, he gave the horse the reins and the next thing he could remember was awakening one day in a bed at the Lodge with Steve and Dr. Grosbeck standing over him, asking him questions about which he knew nothing. He couldn’t recall anything. His memory came back, he explained, the day of the rodeo, when again he was watching the cattle – this time the young steers. The other boys had gone to the rodeo for a few hours, so again he was alone.
When he saw that the steers were gone, he followed as before down to Jim’s Cave where the tracks disappeared. It was at this point, however, that his memory of that other occasion flashed back to him. He felt that the stranger must have come from the cave.
He went inside and to his surprise the dead tree at the back of the cave was moving.