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The Long Way Round

From: The Flying U's Last Stand

Miss Allen turned to yell encouragingly to the Kid, and she saw that he
was going on slowly, his head turned to watch her. She told him to wait
where he was, and she would come around the mountain and get him and
take him home. "Do you hear me, baby?" she asked imploringly after she
had told him just what she meant to do. "Answer me, baby!"

"I ain't a baby!" his voice came faintly shrill after a minute. "I'm a
rell ole cowpuncher."

Miss Allen thought that was what he said, but at the time she did not
quite understand, except his denial of being a baby; that was clear
enough. She turned to the climb, feeling that she must hurry if she
expected to get him and take him home before dark. She knew that every
minute was precious and must not be wasted. It was well after noon--she
had forgotten to eat her lunch, but her watch said it was nearly one
o'clock already. She had no idea how far she had ridden, but she thought
it must be twelve miles at least.

She had no idea, either, how far she had run down the butte to the
cliff--until she began to climb back. Every rod or so she stopped to
rest and to look back and to call to the Kid who seemed such a tiny mite
of humanity among these huge peaks and fearsome gorges. He seemed to be
watching her very closely always when she looked she could see the pink
blur of his little upturned face. She must hurry. Oh, if she could only
send a wireless to his mother! Human inventions fell far short of the
big needs, after all, she thought as she toiled upward.

From the top of the peak she could see the hazy outline of the Bear
Paws, and she knew just about where the Flying U Coulee lay. She
imagined that she could distinguish the line of its bluff in the far
distance. It was not so very far--but she could not get any word of
cheer across the quivering air lanes. She turned and looked wishfully
down at the Kid, a tinier speck now than before--for she had climbed
quite a distance She waved her hand to him, and her warm brown eyes held
a maternal tenderness. He waved his hat--just like a man; he must be
brave! she thought. She turned reluctantly and went hurrying down the
other side, her blood racing with the joy of having found him, and of
knowing that he was safe.

It seemed to take a long time to climb down that peak; much longer
than she thought it would take. She looked at her watch nervously--two
o'clock, almost! She must hurry, or they would be in the dark getting
home. That did not worry her very much, However, for there would be
searching parties--she would be sure to strike one somewhere in the
hills before dark.

She came finally down to the level--except that it was not level at all,
but a trough-shaped gulch that looked unfamiliar. Still, it was the same
one she had used as a starting point when she began to climb--of course
it was the same one. How in the world could a person get turned around
going straight up the side of a hill and straight down again in the very
same place. This was the gorge where her horse was tied, only it might
be that she was a little below the exact spot; that could happen, of
course. So Miss Allen went up the gorge until it petered out against the
face of the mountain--one might as well call it a mountain and be done
with it, for it certainly was more than a mere hill.

It was some time before Miss Allen would admit to herself that she had
missed the gorge where she had left her horse, and that she did not know
where the gorge was, and that she did not know where she was herself.
She had gone down the mouth of the gulch before she made any admissions,
and she had seen not one solitary thing that she could remember having
ever seen before.

Not even the peak she had climbed looked familiar from where she was.
She was not perfectly sure that it was the same peak when she looked at

Were you ever lost? It is a very peculiar sensation--the feeling that
you are adrift in a world that is strange. Miss Allen had never been
lost before in her life. If she had been, she would have been more
careful, and would have made sure that she was descending that peak by
the exact route she had followed up it, instead of just taking it for
granted that all she need do was get to the bottom.

After an hour or two she decided to climb the peak again, get her
bearings from the top and come down more carefully. She was wild with
apprehension--though I must say it was not for her own plight but
on account of the Kid. So she climbed. And then everything looked so
different that she believed she had climbed another hill entirely. So
she went down again and turned into a gorge which seemed to lead in
the direction where she had seen the little lost boy. She followed that
quite a long way--and that one petered out like the first.

Miss Allen found the gorges filling up with shadow, and she looked up
and saw the sky crimson and gold, and she knew then without any doubts
that she was lost. Miss Allen was a brave young woman, or she would not
have been down in that country in the first place; but just the same
she sat down with her back against a clay bank and cried because of the
eeriness and the silence, and because she was hungry and she knew she
was going to be cold before morning--but mostly because she could not
find that poor, brave little baby boy who had waved his hat when she
left him, and shouted that he was not a baby.

In a few minutes she pulled herself together and went on; there was
nothing to be gained by sitting in one place and worrying. She walked
until it was too dark to see, and then, because she had come upon a
little, level canyon bottom--though one that was perfectly strange--she
stopped there where a high bank sheltered her from the wind that was too
cool for comfort. She called, a few times, until she was sure that the
child was not within hearing. After that she repeated poetry to keep
her mind off the loneliness and the pity of that poor baby alone like
herself. She would not think of him if she could help it.

When she began to shiver so that her teeth chattered, she would walk up
and down before the bank until she felt warm again; then she would sit
with her back against the clay and close her eyes and try to sleep. It
was not a pleasant way in which to pass a whole night, but Miss Allen
endured it as best she could. When the sun tinged the hill-tops she got
up stiffly and dragged herself out of the canyon where she could get the
direction straight in her mind, and then set off resolutely to find the
Kid. She no longer had much thought of finding her horse, though she
missed him terribly, and wished she had the lunch that was tied to the

This, remember, was the fourth day since the Kid rode down through
the little pasture and stood on a piece of fence-post so that he
could fasten the gate. Men had given up hope of finding him alive and
unharmed. They searched now for his body. And then the three women
who lived with Miss Allen began to inquire about the girl, and so the
warning went out that Miss Allen was lost; and they began looking for
her also.

Miss Allen, along towards noon of that fourth day, found a small
stream of water that was fit to drink. Beside the stream she found the
footprints of a child, and they looked quite fresh--as if they had been
made that day. She whipped up her flagging energy and went on hopefully.

It was a long while afterwards that she met him coming down a canyon on
his horse. It must have been past three o'clock, and Miss Allen could
scarcely drag herself along. When she saw him she turned faint, and sat
down heavily on the steep-sloping bank.

The Kid rode up and stopped beside her. His face was terribly dirty and
streaked with the marks of tears he would never acknowledge afterwards.
He seemed to be all right, though, and because of his ignorance of the
danger he had been in he did not seem to have suffered half as much as
had Miss Allen.

"Howdy do," he greeted her, and smiled his adorable little smile that
was like the Little Doctor's. "Are you the lady up on the hill? Do you
know where the bunch is? I'm--lookin' for the bunch."

Miss Allen found strength enough to stand up and put her arms around
him as he sat very straight in his little stock saddle; she hugged him

"You poor baby!" she cried, and her eyes were blurred with tears. "You
poor little lost baby!"

"I ain't a baby!" The Kid pulled himself free. "I'm six years old goin'
on thirty. I'm a rell ole cowpuncher. I can slap a saddle on my string
and ride like a son-a-gun. And I can put the bridle on him my own self
and everything. I--I was lookin' for the bunch. I had to make a dry-camp
and my doughnuts is smashed up and the jelly glass broke but I never
cried when a skink came. I shooed him away and I never cried once. I'm a
rell ole cowpuncher, ain't I? I ain't afraid of skinks. I frowed a rock
at him and I said, git outa here, you damn old skink or I'll knock your
block off!' You oughter seen him go! I--I sure made him hard to ketch,
by cripes!"

Miss Allen stepped back and the twinkle came into her eyes and the
whimsical twist to her lips. She knew children. Not for the world would
she offend this manchild.

"Well, I should say you are a real old cowpuncher!" she exclaimed
admiringly. "Now I'm afraid of skinks. I never would dare knock his
block off! And last night when I was lost and hungry and it got dark,

"Hunh!" The Kid studied her with a condescending pity. "Oh, well--you're
just a woman. Us fellers have to take care of women. Daddy Chip takes
care of Doctor Dell--I guess she'd cry if she couldn't find the bunch
and had to make dry-camp and skinks come around--but I never."

"Of course you never!" Miss Allen agreed emphatically, trying not to
look conscious of any tear-marks on the Kid's sunburned cheeks. "Women
are regular cry babies, aren't they? I suppose," she added guilefully:
"I'd cry again if you rode off to find the bunch an left me down here
all alone. I've lost my horse, an I've lost my lunch, and I've lost
myself, and I'm awful afraid of skunks--skinks."

"Oh, I'll take care of you," the Kid comforted. "I'll give you a
doughnut if you're hungry. I've got some left, but you'll have to pick
out the glass where the jelly broke on it." He reined closer to the bank
and slid off and began untying the sadly depleted bag from behind
the cantle. Miss Allen offered to do it for him, and was beautifully
snubbed. The Kid may have been just a frightened, lost little boy before
he met her--but that was a secret hidden in the silences of the deep
canyons. Now he was a real old cowpuncher, and he was going to take care
of Miss Allen because men always had to take care of women.

Miss Allen offended him deeply when she called him Claude. She was told
bluntly that he was Buck, and that he belonged to the Flying U outfit,
and was riding down here to help the bunch gather some cattle. "But I
can't find the brakes," he admitted grudgingly. "That's where the bunch
is--down in the brakes; I can't seem to locate them brakes."

"Don't you think you ought to go home to your mother?" Miss Allen asked
him while he was struggling with the knot he had tied in the bag.

"I've got to find the bunch. The bunch needs me," said the Kid. "I--I
guess Doctor Dell is s'prised--"

"Who's Doctor Dell? Your mother? Your mother has just about cried
herself sick, she's so lonesome without you."

The Kid looked at her wide-eyed. "Aw, gwan!" he retorted after a minute,
imitating Happy Jack's disbelief of any unpleasant news. "I guess you're
jest loadin' me. Daddy Chip is takin' care of her. He wouldn't let her
be lonesome."

The Kid got the sack open and reached an arm in to the shoulder. He
groped there for a minute and drew out a battered doughnut smeared
liberally with wild currant jelly, and gave it to Miss Allen with an
air of princely generosity and all the chivalry of all the Happy Family
rolled into one baby gesture. Miss Allen took the doughnut meekly and
did not spoil the Kid's pleasure by hugging him as she would have
liked to do. Instead she said: "Thank you, Buck of the Flying U," quite
humbly. Then something choked Miss Allen and she turned her back upon
him abruptly.

"I've got one, two, free, fourteen left," said the Kid, counting them
gravely. "If I had 'membered to bring matches," he added regretfully,
"I could have a fire and toast rabbit legs. I guess you got some glass,
didn't you? I got some and it cutted my tongue so the bleed came--but I
never cried," he made haste to deny stoutly. "I'm a rell ole cowpuncher
now. I just cussed." He looked at her gravely. "You can't cuss where
women can hear," he told Miss Allen reassuringly. "Bud says--"

"Let me see the doughnuts," said miss Allen abruptly. "I think you ought
to let me keep the lunch. That's the woman's part. Men can't bother with

"It ain't lunch, it's grub," corrected the Kid. But he let her have the
bag, and Miss Allen looked inside. There were some dried prunes that
looked like lumps of dirty dough, and six dilapidated doughnuts in a
mess of jelly, and a small glass jar of honey.

"I couldn't get the cover off," the Kid explained, "'theut I busted
it, and then it would all spill like the jelly. Gee I-I wish I had a
beefsteak under my belt!"

Miss Allen leaned over with her elbows on the bank and laughed and
laughed. Miss Allen was closer to hysterics than she had ever been in
her life. The Kid looked at her in astonishment and turned to Silver,
standing with drooping head beside the bank. Miss Allen pulled herself
together and asked him what he was going to do.

"I'm going to LOCATE your horse," he said, "and then I'm going to take
you home." He looked at her disapprovingly. "I don't like you so very
much," he added. "It ain't p'lite to laugh at a feller all the time."

"I won't laugh any more. I think we had better go home right away," said
Miss Allen contritely. "You see, Buck, the bunch came home. They--they
aren't hunting cattle now. They want to find you and tell you. And your
father and mother need you awfully bad, Buck. They've been looking all
over for you, everywhere, and wishing you'd come home."

Buck looked wistfully up and down the canyon. His face at that moment
was not the face of a real old cowpuncher, but the sweet, dirty,
mother-hungry face of a child. "It's a far ways," he said plaintively.
"It's a million miles, I guess I wanted to go home, but I couldn't des'
'zactly 'member--and I thought I could find the bunch, and they'd know
the trail better. Do you know the trail?"

Miss Allen evaded that question and the Kid's wide, wistful eyes. "I
think if we start out, Buck, we can find it. We must go toward the sun,
now. That will be towards home. Shall I put you on your horse?"

The Kid gave her a withering glance and squirmed up into the saddle with
the help of both horn and cantle and by the grace of good luck. Miss
Allen gasped while she watched him.

The Kid looked down at her triumphantly. He frowned a little and flushed
guiltily when he remembered something. "'Scuse me," he said. "I guess

you better ride my horse. I guess I better walk. It ain't p'lite for
ladies to walk and men ride."

"No, no!" Miss Allen reached up with both hands and held the Kid from
dismounting. "I'll walk, Buck. I'd rather. I--why, I wouldn't dare ride
that horse of yours. I'd be afraid he might buck me off." She pinched
her eyebrows together and pursed up her lips in a most convincing

"Hunh!" Scorn of her cowardice was in his tone. "Well, a course I ain't
scared to ride him."

So with Miss Allen walking close to the Kid's stirrup and trying her
best to keep up and to be cheerful and to remember that she must not
treat him like a little, lost boy but like a real old cowpuncher,
they started up the canyon toward the sun which hung low above a dark,
pine-covered hill.

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Previous: Lost Child

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