On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
“I come close to the tree in the cave,” Lon explained to the group listening to his strange story of the stolen steers. “I hear sound. I listen. Steers bellow back in hill, ver’ strange. I heap scart. I listen more. I hear men. Tree move little more. Then come still. I wait little while. Then I look at tree. I bring axe to cut down. When I hit, it jump off ground and show door. I show you.”
Lon struck the dead tree which was apparently rooted to the floor of the cave, and it sprang upward to the ceiling of the cavern, revealing an aperture in the wall of the cave which led to an open valley behind.
Upon examination they found that this tree was suspended from the rock roof of the cave by rawhide ropes, ingeniously concealed in the dead branches. When it was lowered into place by the ropes which were operated from the rear side of the cave by crude but cleverly contrived pulleys, it fit firmly onto the floor and appeared to have at one time grown there. It was so close against the wall that no light came through from the other side of the opening when the tree was in place. But when it was lifted, a doorway, two and a half feet wide and five feet high, was opened.
Both Steve and Uncle Billy had been in the cave hundreds of times, and they could now scarcely believe their eyes.
Lon went on to tell how he had gone through the opening to the box-like canyon into which he now conducted the others. They could see where this led out through a sort of tunnel to the notch in the Grand Canyon itself. Fresh tracks from the steers were still visible.
They examined the stone weights which raised and lowered the tree. The pulleys were so arranged that a heavy jar on the tree itself, or a jerk from the outside on one of the ropes would lift the tree. It lowered itself automatically as the ropes unwound.
Lon explained that after he had made the discovery and had connected it with his former experience, he had started to the Park to tell Steve. He had met Helen and had relayed the message to her, returning to make further investigations. He had followed the stolen steers at a safe distance, and when they were bedded for the night on a shelf of the canyon trail, he had returned to the ranch, expecting to find Steve with help.
When he had found Hawley with Uncle Billy and the others, he had hidden on the ridge above the cabins, waiting for an opportunity to reveal what he knew without giving the discovery away to Hawley.
“But I don’t understand yet,” Steve said, “just where the cattle are now, or how Hawley is going to get them to his range.”
“This trail around the face of the canyon,” explained Helen, “joins your range land with his. I’m sure I saw that train of steers down under the rim of the canyon when I was flying with Pete Rockwood yesterday. His men are taking them to his corrals where the brands will be changed from Double H to Crossed Four Bar.”
“I wonder if you can be right.”
“There’s one way to find out; to be at Hawley’s ranch when those steers arrive and catch him red-handed in the act of changing your brand.”
“We’ll try,” Steve declared, new fire in his eyes. “Uncle Billy, Lon will take you around this secret trail. You can keep out of sight and follow the thieves onto Hawley’s range with the steers so there’ll be no alibi. Helen – Mrs. Latimer – and I will go to the Park and phone to Fredonia for some real officers and be out at Hawley’s ranch when the cattle are brought in.”
Steve and Helen made the trip back to the Park almost in silence.
Once he said, “I can’t help thinking how it must seem to you – having your dad go the way he did – and then coming out here to find things in a mess like this. I promise I’ll try to make it up to you the best I can.”
“You have nothing to make up, Steve. If Mr. Hawley or someone else took my father’s cattle, that was not your fault.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time making your husband believe that it isn’t somebody’s fault.” Still she did not tell him.
It was almost dark when they reached the hotel. Steve put his call through for the officers, then prepared for bed. Helen insisted upon his allowing Wood Russell to dress his wounds and upon his staying at the hotel instead of going to Uncle Billy’s cabin as he planned. He looked ill with weariness and anxiety.
When Wood had finished, Steve came to tell Helen good night. She was in one corner of the lobby, pretending to read.
“It’s strange to think who you really are – and that our dads were pals.”
“They were like David and Jonathan, Uncle Billy told me.” She was afraid to look into his dark brooding eyes lest he should read her secret.
“It would have been great if we could have known each other when we were kids, and grown up as friends.”
“But we are friends now, aren’t we?” Helen stood up and held out her hands.
“Yes – friends,” he repeated. He held her hands lightly for a moment, then gripped them close.
“Good night,” he said abruptly and hurried from the room.
Helen found a letter form Aunt Nettie waiting in her cabin.
“Your foolishness,” it informed her, “has cost you dear. George has started suit for divorce, charging you with desertion. Can’t you come to your senses? If you will hurry home it may not be too late.” Without finishing, Helen crushed the letter in her hands. Her heart was singing.
Early the next morning Bernice Hawley came to Helen’s cabin.
“I’m sorry for the things I said to you at the Lodge. Pete Rockwood has been showing me how foolish I’ve been – in more ways than one. I’ve found out that I do care for him – even more than for Steve. hope you’ll forgive me and forget how nasty I was.”
Helen patted the girl’s hand and kissed her cheek.
“It’s all right, dear. I know that in your heart you know better, and I’m glad about you and Pete. I promised to say a good word for him, but evidently he didn’t need it.”
“I came early because I’m going to Salt Lake today. Dad is selling out. Pete’s going to take him to Texas tomorrow to finish up his deal. I may not see you again. But I just had to tell you that I know that you’re not like Tess Morley and that I hope you’ll be good to Steve.”
“There’s nothing between Steve and me. But I’m glad you came to tell me good bye, and hope you and Pete will be very happy.”
As Bernice walked away, Helen felt like adding a little prayer for that wish. She was sorry for the humiliation and shame Bernice was sure to have to face as her father’s daughter.
She hurried to the hotel to inform Steve about Hawley’s plans to sell. That explained why his men were rounding up the cattle.
“We haven’t been any too soon,” Steve said excitedly. “I hope there’s no way he can give us the slip now. Those officers ought to be coming.”
They still hadn’t arrived, however, when he and Helen had finished breakfast.
“To play safe,” Steve said, “I’m going out to that observation tower overlooking Hawleys’ ranch. You know where it is, don’t you? The one the rangers use to watch for forest fires on the west side of the mountain.”
“Yes, I know.”
“As soon as the officers come, bring them out. We can see from there when my – our – steers are brought up out of the canyon onto the range.”
A moment later he added:
“The more I think of it, the stronger the evidence seems. Hawley’s herd is your cattle plus what he has stolen from me. Fortunately, as we were saying yesterday, there are ways of discovering changed brands even on old cattle. I believe we’ll be able to prove that he and maybe that red-bearded rascal were the men your father hired to drive his cattle to Texas. Your trip out here may be worth while yet.”
For a moment he stood as if he were going to say something more, but instead, he walked to his horse and rode away.
Steve had not been gone long when the officers arrived. Helen made the necessary explanations.
At first they were incredulous about Hawley’s part in the affair. It was difficult for them to believe that he had violated his deputyship in such a manner. But Helen’s story was so convincing that they went with her, at least eager to find out the truth.
When they reached the tower, Steve was waiting impatiently. He could already see the cattle coming up from the rim of the canyon. In a short time they would be in the clearing where Hawley and his men were waiting to complete their job.
Steve tried to persuade Helen to go back to the hotel. “There might be shooting,” he explained. But she would not listen.
The officers rode on ahead down the ridge to the clearing where the branding was to be done. A little back from the edge of the timber they waited to explain their plan.
“You two,” said the sheriff, “wait here while we creep down a little closer. We’ll whistle when the moment comes.”
Again Steve wanted Helen to go back.
“It’s really dangerous with fellows who would do what these have done. Your husband would never forgive me if I let you in on a thing like this.”
“My husband knows I would let myself in on it if I wanted to be there,” she told him.
Steve leaned towards her, and placing one hand on her saddle horn drew their mounts close together.
“Helen – would he care very much – if I kissed you – once – for what we might have been to each other?”
“We won’t ask him,” she said, lifting her face.
For a moment their lips clung; their senses blurred into a great joy. Then the sheriff’s whistle came through the trees.
They rode into the clearing. Hawley was shouting directions as the steers were driven into the enclosure. He stood with the branding iron waiting for his men to fasten a second steer securely enough that he might place the new brand exactly over the old one.
Helen was surprised to see Tess Morley on the opposite side of the corral with her movie camera, taking pictures of what was going on.
“Why should she want pictures of this?’ she wondered aloud. Steve said nothing, but he thought he knew.
The people in the corral were so intent on what they were doing that they did not see the sheriff’s party until the officer called:
“Hold on, Hawley! Your jig’s up!” The officers, with pistols and handcuffs in evidence scaled the fence.
Hawley looked at them a moment with dropping jaw. Then he threw the branding iron in their direction and shouted an oath.
As they drew nearer he pointed to a red-headed man who was in the act of mounting a horse.
“Don’t forget Red Morley there and his girl, Tess, if you’re going to take anybody. It was them who planned this racket.”
Like a flash the red-bearded man was in the saddle. Spurs struck and he sped in the direction from which the cattle had just come. But he was met by Uncle Billy and Lon and brought back, cursing. Tess did not move.
The officers snapped handcuffs onto Hawley and read their warrant.
“You fellows bring the other two,” the sheriff ordered his deputies and Uncle Billy. We’ll go over in this cabin and have a little chat.”
Tess, with her head high, gave one glance in Steve’s direction and walked toward the cabin, leaving the camera on the tripod by the fence.
Steve and Helen stood looking over the corral full of milling cattle. Down in the edge of the clearing they could see another herd struggling around a bed of salt.
“It’s too good to have the puzzle solved,” Steve sighed. “And it’s better still to know you’ll have your father’s herd.”
Helen did not speak. Her eyes were far away. After a little Steve broke the silence again.
“It’s going to be a job for a good lawyer to figure out what’s my share and what’s yours.”
She brought her eyes to him then and asked slowly, “Why need we bother to have it figured out? Why can’t we go on as partners with the Double H Cattle Company our fathers started?”
Steve started, not daring to hope what her words suggested.
“But your husband – would he –”
“My husband,” said Helen, with a look for Steve which he could not mistake, “is an unfortunate incident in my past.” Her hand crept into his. “For us there is only the present and the future.”
He took her into his arms and held her close. Twilight flung her mantle over the valley and the brooding spirit of the Kaibab filled their souls with wordless content.