The Long Way Round





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

it.



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

saddle.



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

tight.



"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,

I--cried!"



"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

lunch--"



"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

manner.



"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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