The Flying U's Last Stand by B.M. Bower
Chapter 19. Her Name was Rosemary
Andy Green came in from a twenty-hour ride through the Wolf Butte country and learned that another disaster had followed on the heels of the first; that miss Allen had been missing for thirty-six hours. While he bolted what food was handiest in the camp where old Patsy cooked for the searchers, and the horse wrangler brought up the saddle-bunch just as though it was a roundup that held here its headquarters, he heard all that Slim and Cal Emmett could tell him about the disappearance of Miss Allen.
One fact stood significantly in the foreground, and that was that Pink and the Native Son had been the last to speak with her, so far as anyone knew. That was it--so far as anyone knew. Andy's lips tightened. There were many strangers riding through the country, and where there are many strangers there is also a certain element of danger. That Miss Allen was lost was not the greatest fear that drove Andy Green forth without sleep and with food enough to last him a day or two.
First he meant to hunt up Pink and Miguel--which was easy enough, since they rode into camp exhausted and disheartened while he was saddling a fresh horse. From them he learned the direction which Miss Allen had taken when she left them, and he rode that way and never stopped until he had gone down off the benchland and had left the fringe of coulees and canyons behind. Pink and the Native Son had just come from down in here, and they had seen no sign of either her or the Kid. Andy intended to begin where they had left off, and comb the breaks as carefully as it is possible for one man to do. He was beginning to think that the Badlands held the secret of the Kid disappearance, even though they had seen nothing of him when they came out four days ago. Had he seen Chip he would have urged him to send all the searchers--and there were two or three hundred by now--into the Badlands and keep them there until the Kid was found. But he did not see Chip and had no time to hunt him up. And having managed to evade the supervision of any captain, and to keep clear of all parties, he meant to go alone and see if he could find a clue, at least.
It was down in the long canyon which Miss Allen had followed, that Andy found hoof-prints which he recognized. The horse Miss Allen had ridden whenever he saw her--one which she had bought somewhere north of town--had one front foot which turned in toward the other. "Pigeon-toed," he would have called it. The track it left in soft soil was unmistakable. Andy's face brightened when he saw it and knew that he was on her trail. The rest of the way down the canyon he rode alertly, for though he knew she might be miles from there by now, to find the route she had taken into the Badlands was something gained.
The flat, which Andy knew very well--having driven the bunch of cattle whose footprints had so elated Miss Allen--he crossed uneasily. There were so many outlets to this rich little valley. He tried several of them, which took time; and always when he came to soft earth and saw no track of the hoof that turned in toward the other, he would go back and ride into another gulch. And when you are told that these were many, and that much of the ground was rocky, and some was covered with a thick mat of grass, you will not be surprised that when Andy finally took up her trail in the canyon farthest to the right, it was well towards noon. He followed her easily enough until he came to the next valley, which he examined over and over before he found where she had left it to push deeper into the Badlands. And it was the same experience repeated when he came out of that gulch into another open space.
He came into a network of gorges that would puzzle almost anyone, and stopped to water his horse and let him feed for an hour or so. A man's horse meant a good deal to him, down here on such a mission, and even his anxiety could not betray him into letting his mount become too fagged.
After a while he mounted and rode on without having any clue to follow; one must trust to chance, to a certain extent, in a place like this. He had not seen any sign of the Kid, either, and the gorges were filling with shadows that told How low the sun was sliding down the sky. At that time he was not more than a mile or so from the canyon up which Miss Allen was toiling afoot toward the sun; but Andy had no means of knowing that. He went on with drooping head and eyes that stared achingly here and there. That was the worst of his discomfort--his eyes. Lack of sleep and the strain of looking, looking, against wind and sun, had made them red- rimmed and bloodshot. Miss Allen's eyes were like that, and so were the eyes of all the searchers.
In spite of himself Andy's eyes closed now. He had not slept for two nights, and he had been riding all that time. Before he realized it he was asleep in the saddle, and his horse was carrying him into a gulch that had no outlet--there were so many such!--but came up against a hill and stopped there. The shadows deepened, and the sky above was red and gold.
Andy woke with a jerk, his horse having stopped because he could go no farther. But it was not that which woke him. He listened. He would have sworn that he had heard the shrill, anxious whinney of a horse not far away. He turned and examined the gulch, but it was narrow and grassy and had no possible place of concealment, and save himself and his own horse it was empty. And it was not his own horse that whinnied--he was sure of that. Also, he was sure that he had -not dreamed it. A horse had called insistently. Andy knew horses too well not to know that there was anxiety and rebellion in that call.
He waited a minute, his heart beating heavily. He turned and started back down the gulch, and then stopped suddenly. He heard it again--shrill, prolonged, a call from somewhere; where, he could not determine because of the piled masses of earth and rock that flung the sound riotously here and there and confused him as to direction.
Then his own horse turned his head and looked toward the left, and answered the call. From far off the strange horse made shrill reply. Andy got down and began climbing the left- hand ridge on the run, tired as he was. Not many horses ranged down in here--and he did not believe, anyway, that this was any range horse. It did not sound like Silver, but it might be the pigeon-toed horse of Miss Allen. And if it was, then Miss Allen would be there. He took a deep breath and went up the last steep pitch in a spurt of speed that surprised himself.
At the top he stood panting and searched the canyon below him. Just across the canyon was the high peak which Miss Allen had climbed afoot. But down below him he saw her horse circling about in a trampled place under a young cottonwood.
You would never accuse Andy Green of being weak, or of having unsteady nerves, I hope.
But it is the truth that he felt his knees give way while he looked; and it was a minute or two before he had any voice with which to call to her. Then he shouted, and the great hill opposite flung back the echoes maddeningly.
He started running down the ridge, and brought up in the canyon's bottom near the horse. It was growing shadowy now to the top of the lower ridges, although the sun shone faintly on the crest of the peak. The horse whinnied and circled restively when Andy came near. Andy needed no more than a glance to tell him that the horse had stood tied there for twenty-four hours, at the very least. That meant. . . .
Andy turned pale. He shouted, and the canyon mocked him with echoes. He looked for her tracks. At the base of the peak he saw the print of her riding boots; farther along, up the slope he saw the track again. Miss Allen, then, must have climbed the peak, and he knew why she had done so. But why had she not come down again?
There was only one way to find out, and he took the method in the face of his weariness. He climbed the peak also, with now and then a footprint to guide him. He was not one of these geniuses at trailing who could tell, by a mere footprint, what had been in Miss Allen's mind when she had passed that way; but for all that it seemed logical that she had gone up there to see if she could not glimpse the kid--or possibly the way home.
At the top he did not loiter. He saw, before he reached the height, where Miss Allen had come down again--and he saw where she had, to avoid a clump of boulders and a broken ledge, gone too far to one side. He followed that way. She had descended at an angle, after that, which took her away from the canyon.
In Montana there is more of daylight after the sun has gone than there is in some other places. Andy, by hurrying, managed to trail Miss Allen to the bottom of the peak before it grew really dusky. He knew that she had been completely lost when she reached the bottom, and had probably wandered about at random since then. At any rate, there were no tracks anywhere save her own, so that he felt less anxiety over her safety than, when he had started out looking for her.
Andy knew these breaks pretty well. He went over a rocky ridge, which Miss Allen had not tried to cross because to her it seemed exactly in the opposite direction from where she had started, and so he came to her horse again. He untied the poor beast and searched for a possible trail over the ridge to where his own horse waited; and by the time he had found one and had forced the horse to climb to the top and then descend into the gulch, the darkness lay heavy upon the hills.
He picketed Miss Allen's horse with his rope', and fashioned a hobble for his own mount. Then he ate a little of the food he carried and sat down to rest and smoke and consider how best he could find Miss Allen or the Kid--or both. He believed Miss Allen to be somewhere not far away--since she was afoot, and had left her lunch tied to the saddle. She could not travel far without food.
After a little he climbed back up the ridge to where he had noticed a patch of brush, and there he started a fire. Not a very large one, but large enough to be seen for a long distance where the vision was not blocked by intervening hills. Then he sat down beside it and waited and listened and tended the fire. It was all that he could do for the present, and it seemed pitifully little. If she saw the fire, he believed that she would come; if she did not see it, there was no hope of his finding her in the dark. Had there been fuel on the high peak, he might have gone up there to start his fire; but that was out of the question, since the peak was barren.
Heavy-eyed, tired in every fibre of his being, Andy dragged up a dead buck-bush and laid the butt of it across his blaze. Then he lay down near it--and went to sleep as quickly as if he had been chloroformed.
It may have been an hour after that--it may have been more. He sat up suddenly and listened. Through the stupor of his sleep he had heard Miss Allen call. At least, he believed he had heard her call, though he knew he might easily have dreamed it. He knew he had been asleep, because the fire had eaten part of the way to the branches of the bush and had died down to smoking embers. He kicked the branch upon the coals and a blaze shot up into the night. He stood up and walked a little distance away from the fire so that he could see better, and stood staring down into the canyon.
From below he heard a faint call--he was sure of it. The wonder to him was that he had heard it at all in his sleep. His anxiety must have been strong enough even then to send the signal to his brain and rouse him.
He shouted, and again he heard a faint call. It seemed to be far down the canyon. He started running that way.
The next time he shouted, she answered him more clearly. And farther along he distinctly heard and recognized her voice. You may be sure he ran, after that!
After all, it was not so very far, to a man who is running recklessly down hill. Before he realized how close he was he saw her standing before him in the starlight. Andy did not stop. He kept right on running until he could catch her in his arms; and when he had her there he held her close and then he kissed her. That was not proper, of course--but a man does sometimes do terribly improper things under the stress of big emotions; Andy had been haunted by the fear that she was dead.
Well, Miss Allen was just as improper as he was, for that matter. She did say "Oh!" in a breathless kind of way, and then she must have known who he was. There surely could be no other excuse for the way she clung to him and without the faintest resistance let him kiss her.
"Oh, I've found him!" she whispered after the first terribly unconventional greetings were over. "I've found him, Mr. Green. I couldn't come up to the fire, because he's asleep and I couldn't carry him, and I wouldn't wake him unless I had to. He's just down here--I was afraid to go very far, for fear of losing him again. Oh, Mr. Green! I--"
"My name is Andy," he told her. "What's your name?"
"Mine? It's--well, it's Rosemary. Never mind now. I should think you'd be just wild to see that poor little fellow--he's a brick, though."
"I've been wild," said Andy, "over a good many things--you, for one. Where's the Kid?"
They went together, hand in hand--terribly silly, wasn't it?--to where the Kid lay wrapped in the gray blanket in the shelter of a bank. Andy struck a match and held it so that he could see the Kid face--and Miss Allen, looking at the man whose wooing had been so abrupt, saw his mouth tremble and his lashes glisten as he stared down while the match-blaze lasted.
"Poor little tad--he's sure a great Kid," he said huskily when the match went out. He stood up and put his arm around Miss Allen just as though that was his habit. "And it was you that found him!" he murmured with his face against hers. "And I've found you both, thank God."