Here’s hi-yo and yipee for the streamlined West, with a young cowhand who didn’t stick to his boots and saddle
THAT NIGHT the ranch foreman figured on going dancing with the girl from New York—but he didn’t take me into his confidence. What he spoke to me about was something quite a bit different.
“Savoir-faire,” he said, “that’s what we expect of our guides in this outfit.”
He stared at me closely, pushed his big hat off his forehead, looked at the morning mist rising above the poplar trees. “Know what it means?” he asked.
I shook my head. I had an idea what the words meant, without being very sure, but, after all, I was just a hired hand and a new one at that. I had only been riding for ten days at the Three Step dude ranch, having come there looking for work, from my homestead in northern Saskatchewan. My job in a strange piece of country, riding herd on tourists instead of cattle, was to appear anxious to learn, rather than too wise.
This expression, savoir-faire, for instance, I had heard the previous evening at supper. At the Three Step ranch, guides and tourists were fed at the same table. Mrs. Whittaker, who came from Philadelphia, which is a city in the eastern United States, had used it. She was at the ranch when I arrived, and seemed likely to stay on all summer, and perhaps for the winter as well, because she said she was going to learn to ride before she went away. Mrs. Whittaker had contrived to use the words savoir-faire at least once during every supper hour, but as a rule not until dessert time and then only during conversation.
They didn’t seem to me to be words that should be used standing in a corral with a number of strange horses milling about.
The ranch foreman came a step nearer, so that I was backed against the rails of the corral. "Savoir-faire,” he said, “means ‘know how to do.’ It’s a rule of conduct.” It seemed to me there was more to savoir-faire than just that. But he gave me no chance to interrupt even if I had wanted to do so.
“Now,” he said, “this girl you’re taking up the valley riding this morning—do you know why you’re taking her up there?”
“To show her Shuswap Rock,” I said.
“No, no, no!” he said. He had a bad habit of repeating himself. “You’re taking her because Frank and Joe are up in the High Valley looking for that pinto mare and her colt. And I can’t go, having promised to give Mrs. Whittaker her riding lesson this afternoon.
“So, in a way,” he continued, “you’re taking my place and I want you to use some savoir-faire. Don't say first thing out that you’re strange to the country. Pretend
you’ve been raised here all your life in these Alberta foothills. She’s an important party. She's waiting here for her father to come from New York to catch up with her, and then they’re going to go mountain climbing at Mount Robson. If she likes it well enough, she and her father may stay here for the three weeks instead of going on West after mountains as she’s talking of doing now. She’s a good rider and likes horses—even if she can’t be expected to take to every mother’s son that rides them.”
The ranch foreman looked me down and up, at my riding gaiters, my nickel-studded belt, my buckskin vest with the bead markings. “And why do you have to wear a green neckerchief?" he enquired.
rT'HIS GIRL I was to take riding was named Lucy Dunbar. She wasn’t tall. She was a bit on the short side, but she was well put together—all of one piece, so to speak. Her auburn hair was cut in a short bang over her forehead, and hung long and straight and heavy in a bob down the back of her head, bouncing to her movement wrhen her horse broke into a trot.
She wore neat black riding shoes, jodhpurs, and a blue zippered shirt just the color of her eyes. Freckles were scattered across the bridge of her nose. She came down the steps of the ranch house and toward the hitching rail, pulling on her gloves. She broke into a run as she came closer, like a colt let out into a pasture.
She got on her horse, a tall black we had picked out for her. The morning was chilly although the sun was breaking through the mist. The other tourists—there were only three of them, it being early in the season—were in the ranch house by the fireplace, keeping warm. But Miss Dunbar was determined, weather or no weather, to see Shuswap Rock.
We w’ere lining out of the gate at a nice easy canter, when the foreman, who had come out of the stables on the run, called out to me.
"Hi, you!” he shouted.
When I failed to pull up or to turn around in the saddle, he shouted again, "Herbert!” he said. “Come back here.” The ranch foreman was the only one in the outfit who called me Herbert. Both the other guides and the cook referred to me as “Bert.” even wrhen my back was turned.
He called me Herbert the first night I was in the bunkhouse, when we were rolled up in our blankets for sleep. He sang out from his bunk, “Someone better leave the door ajar. Herbert here may not be properly house broke.” When no one else moved, after a while I got up myself and put the chair against the door to keep it open. I didn’t like being cooped up in a closed space with the ranch foreman.
Now, after he had shouted the third time. Miss Dunbar said, “You’d better go back and see what he wants.”
“Do you think he’s calling to me?” I asked.
She said, “If your name is Herbert, his remarks lend themselves to that interpretation.”
She said she would wait for me, so I pulled up and went back.
“Are you deaf?” the ranch foreman asked. He had his hands on his hips, his weight on his toes, hat pushed forward over his eyes. In his baggy trousers, bulging at the knees, he looked as though he were getting ready to jump.
“I wanted to tell you,” he said, staring up at me, “to be back here at five o’clock. We’re having supper early and I don’t want you to come dragging in here late for it.”
“Sure, we’ll be back,” I said.
“That’sone thing I can say about you,” he said. “You’re never late for your meals—but this is just the sort of a night you would be.” He waved his hand. “Go on. get along! Don’t keep your lady waiting down the trail.”
I rode down the trail. I glanced back once. The foreman was standing where a shaft of the sun broke through the poplar trees. He had a knack of setting himself in spots such as that. He took off his hat and waved it. If you got far enough away from him he appeared quite handsome. I guess he wras about thirty years old, three or four years older than myself, lie was tall, with good broad shoulders. He had curly black hair, and a gold watch chain hung across his ojx?n vest front. He left his w'atch hanging above his bed in the bunk house and pinned his chain in both vest pockets so that it wouldn’t come when he was riding. He played a banjo and sang at night around the campfire for the tourists. It was the same w'ay with his singing; if you got st) far off that you could only remember it. it seemed he had a real pleasant voice.
When I caught up to Miss Dunbar, she was still waving back at him. She showed her teeth, but I couldn’t be sure that she was smiling.
As we rode along I told her about supper being an hour early. We had our lunches with us in the saddle bags, the idea being that we would have them, with some tea, when we got as far as Shuswap Rock.
“What do you suppose the idea is in having supper so early?” I asked. I didn’t expect that Miss Dunbar would know, but after all one of a guide’s jobs, on top of the others he has, is to make conversation if he can. I ’ve known some guides who were no gtxxi at this at all.
“Oh, Mr. Whiffin’’—that was the foreman’s name— “arranged that especially,” Miss Dunbar said. This was when we were crossing the first creek.
“Especially—but for what?” I wanted to know.
“Well, you see.” Miss Dunbar said, “there’s a dance tonight at Entrance and he’s asked me to go with him. We’ve got to meet a motor car on the highway at six-thirty exactly, and he said we would ride down to the road—it’s only two miles—and you'd come with us to take the horses and then come back again to meet us about midnight.” Entrance was a town fifteen miles away. So I was to look after the horses while Charlie Whiflin and Miss Dunbar went to the dance.
“I see.” I said. “And how about Mrs. Whittaker? He’s been giving her riding lessons. She’ll want to go, too.”
Miss Dunbar laughed. “Oh, he’s arranged that,” she said. “He told me that when Mrs. Whittaker came in from her ride this afternoon he thought she’d want to be still for quite some time. He’s going to take her up to the beaver meadows, which is twice as far as she’s ridden before.”
“He certainly does arrange things well, doesn’t he?” I said.
T THOUGHT all this over while we were riding along.
Shuswap Rock is inside the first range of mountains and until we reached it we had little to say. Miss Dunbar asked my name. When I told her it was Bert, she asked why the ranch foreman called me Herbert. I said it was just one of his notions. “I like Herbert better than Bert,” she said. “He shows good taste in that— anyway.”
Then she wanted to know the rest of my name. I told her my full name, which I w-as christened with, but which I didn’t use very often, was Herbert Bog. “Bog,” I said, “spelt as though it had an ‘A’ in it.”
Later she asked me the name of the horse I was riding. I told her it was Sitting Bull. She wondered why a horse had such a name as that. I explained that Sitting Bull, the first time he was roped, sat down on his haunches, that he still had a habit of sitting down in the middle of creek fords and that I rode him because the ranch foreman said I had to.
After a while we got on to the names of mountains and creeks. But all this while I was preoccupied by other matters. For one thing Miss Dunbar sat her horse very well. She guided him as a horse ought to be guided, by the bridle lines on his neck and by her knees against his shoulders. Also, each time I looked back—I was riding first along the trail—I found myself noticing the way the sun fell against her face, and the shadows her eyelashes made, and the way her eyes shone, and counting those freckles across the bridge of her nose, until I got up to fifteen, and thinking that her hair fitted her head like a helmet of bronze. I wished that I had had a pennant, its staff set in my stirrup, to carry before her.
When we dismounted opposite Shuswap Rock, and I had turned the horses loose to graze with their lines dragging, and had made a fire and set the tea-billy to boil, I took out my watch.
“I just broke my watch,” I said to her. “Back there a ways I w'as winding it, and I guess the spring’s broke.” I shook it and showed it to her. The hands were stopped at quarter to eleven.
“Don’t worry about that,” she said, “I’ve got a watch here.” She took a little silver watch from out of a small pocket underneath her belt. “It’s just after twelve,” she said. “We’ve got lots of time.”
I looked at my watch again, before putting it back in my pocket. A new one like it would cost me a dollar, and it would cost twice that to get the broken spring mended. I couldn’t decide just what to do.
I glanced down the hillside toward the creek below us, brawling among its willows. Downstream a bit I saw the black tail of my buckskin, Sitting Bull, swishing in the sunlight against the flies. The black horse Miss Dunbar rode was somewhere near by in the thicket. Across from us to the west, in the dead centre of the valley, was this Shuswap Rock we had come to see. It was a smooth, black tower of rock maybe a hundred feet high, with snow-topped mountains beyond it.
I saw Miss Dunbar, who was interested in mountain climbing, looking at it, too.
“It seems to me,” she said, all of a sudden, “that a person might climb up quite nicely to the top of that rock. Halfway up I see a tree and just beyond it a ledge. If you got that far up, you might make it quite nicely the rest of the way.”
“Sure,” I said, lifting the tea-billy from the fire, “if yoif got that far. If you got out to it at all. There’s a iot of muskeg between here and there, and below that ledge the rock is pretty steep.”
To me it appeared a proposition that a mountain goat of experience would pass by in some disgust.
“But has anyone ever tried to climb it?” Miss Dunbar asked.
I shook my head. It was only the second time I had seen Shuswap Rock, and while I hadn’t had a chance to learn much about it or the country around it, I had read quite a bit. I read railroad folders, those that had pictures and maps enough. Railroad folders, perhaps, don’t say all they might, but they lay what I call a good groundwork for imagination.
“But how do you know no one’s ever tried to get up there—ever?” Miss Dunbar insisted. She was leaning back against a log, sipping her tea, taking a bite now' and then at a sandw'ich, squinting against the sun.
“Well,” I replied, “I can’t say for certain, but I guess I would have heard. That pile of rock over there, you might say, is just sheer from foot to crown. Besides, it’s a sort of landmark, sitting out there by itself in the centre of the valley. Everyone who passes this way sees it. Another thing, it has a story to it.
“A long time ago. they say, even before the fur traders came, Indians lived here. There was good feed for their horses. Another tribe came across the mountains to hunt. They were called the Shuswaps. The people already here were the Stoneys from the south, from down around High River where the Prince of Wales used to have his ranch. Well, a Stoney Indian fellow fell in love with a girl from the Shuswap tribe. They used to meet out there where that rock is now. Then one day the Stoneys went away and the fellow didn’t show up. The Shuswap girl went out there to wait for him. Well, that’s the story. That’s her and she’s still waiting. That’s how it got its name, Shuswap Rock.
“And they say,” I added, regarding Miss Dunbar closely, “that any girl who goes near enough to touch it—well, that in some way or other she’s going to be disappointed, miss an engagement with a man or something like that.”
Most of my story was true anyway. The railroad folders said both Shuswaps and Stoneys used to hunt in the Athabaska valley, and if they did, nothing would be more natural than that a Stoney would fall in love with a Shuswap girl, or the other way about, it made little difference. I didn’t think until afterward that they most probably wouldn’t want to be meeting in the middle of a muskeg, which is swampy ground. However. I guess Miss Dunbar didn’t think of that, and I guess she didn’t read railroad folders.
“My,” she said, “that’s a story. I never heard a story like that before. How that girl was stood up ! Where did you learn about it?”
“Oh, I read a lot at night,” I said.
“Well, I want to go over to that rock and look at it closer,” she said.
“The ground’s too soft. We couldn't get the horses over to it. They’d bog down.” I explained.
She looked at me. “We could walk,” she said.
There was nothing in the world I wanted less than to walk over to that lump of rock and maybe have to try to climb it.
“You know, Miss Dunbar—” I said.
“You might call me Lucy. That’s my first name,” she interrupted.
“Well, Miss Lucy, then—”
“I said Lucy, not Miss Lucy.”
“You’re mighty particular,” I remarked.
“I am about what I'm called, Herbert.”
Herbert, coming from Lucy Dunbar, didn’t sound half so bad as when Charlie Whiffin, the ranch foreman, said it. In fact, I realized I had never understood the full possibilities of the name I bore.
“But what were you going interrupted you?" she asked.
"It was about this walking,’ fellow I knew.”
“Yes. go on.”
"Well, this fellow, who had been raised among’ horses, just like me, took up walking one day. He might have known better. It was in Alberta, too. just east of here. We advised him against it."
"I see.” she said. "A man with a mind of his own.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Don’t bother.” she said. “Continue. Go on. Tell me about this man who took up walking.”
“He bought a big pair of boots with nails on them.” I said, “and I suppose he’s still walking. It was two years ago I knew him and he started out to walk to the Arctic Ocean.”
“You certainly do things in a big way out here,” Lucy Dunbar said to me.
“Perhaps. But you see this creek below us at the foot of the hill? If you followed it until it flows into the Athabaska down there a-ways and kept right on at it for a considerable time, you’d finally get to the Arctic, too. But he wasn’t going that way. He was going through the mountains. He figured he’d do some prospecting along the way.”
“Undoubtedly, an extreme case,” Lucy said.
“No, he wasn’t extreme. He was just unreasonable. But whenever I think of what happened to him, and whenever I get more than a rope’s throw away from a horse, my legs get tired all of a sudden. I become what you might call uneasy. I’ve been so for quite a number of years—going on for twenty-six by now. And the Bogs, you might say, have always been that way—averse to walking—even to my grandfather. Tobias, who was a sprinter and won medals at foot-racing.”
Somehow that story, which was nearer the known truth in every particular, didn’t go over like the other one. We had finished our lunch. I was tidying up, and there was what is sometimes referred to as a “lull in the conversation. ”
“You know,” I said, “what we could do is to ride up the valley a mile or two farther and get a look at that rock from a different angle.”
“No,” Lucy said, “I think I want to go back. You’d better get the horses in.”
“You want to get back to go dancing with that Whiffin fellow?” I said.
“Never mind about why I want to go back,” she said. “Perhaps I’m just tired and the scenery bores me.”
I thought then of my watch, and of how easy it is sometimes to break the mainspring and of the tussle it involves when you set out to do it.
I went down the hill after the horses which had disappeared in the green timber. I looked back and saw Lucy lying in the grass, so that she was entirely covered by it from my sight, except for a few strands of auburn hair, loosened by the wind from her headband, beating above her upturned face like brown butterflies above a flower.
I found the horses in a small meadow among the pines. I tied Sitting Bull with his halter to a tree. The black horse Lucy rode had no halter, so I knotted his bridle lines about
a branch, knowing that if he pulled back the branch would break before the bridle lines. The ranch foreman was opposed to us coming back with broken lines. I set out to return to the camp fire.
It was no way to treat horses, tying them up when they should have been feeding—but it was no way to treat me either, expecting me to escort Lucy and Charlie Whiffin from the ranch to the roadside and then wait for them until they came back from the dance.
Lucy would understand that if I did not bring the horses hack with me they had probably strayed, that I would have to go after them again and that it might take me quite some time to find them. It might well be after five o'clock when I could come upon them again in the timber. Pine trees all look alike and can be very confusing if you're afraid you’ll find what you’re out looking for.
But I thought I might keep her mind off the horses for a time. I figured on asking what was her notion of the words savoir-faire, which the ranch foreman had become so fond of using.
When I got back to where we had had our lunch, Lucy wasn’t there. The trough shaped by her bod y was in the grass where she had been lying. The tin cups were neatly piled into the billy, the papers from our sandwiches thrown on the fire. My rope was where I had left it, still coiled. I had unbuckled it from my pommel, expecting to splice a new Turk's head on its end where it had frayed.
I cast about for tracks, thinking a bear might have been by and frightened her. But there had been no bear go by, nor anything larger than a chipmunk. Down by the creek, where the ground was soft. I saw the imprints of her riding shoes. I followed them They led me. to a series of stones on which she had stepped across the stream. I looked across to where she had gone and saw over the muskeg the black mass of Shuswap Rock, like a great black half-ruined chimney piece upthrust from the valley floor.
I called her name, but only the echoes of my voice came back to me. Suddenly my stomach felt cold, as though I carried a lump of ice in it. I thought of myself riding back to the ranch, leading that black with his empty saddle, and Charlie Whiffin, his hands upon his hips, waiting for me at the end of the trail.
T RAN back to the camp fire, stumbling in my high-heeled -*■ riding gaiters, and reached for my rope. I guess I became excited. I remember getting tangled up in a lot of willows and falling into the creek. I got up and started across the muskeg, but my spurs caught on a piece of down-timber and tripped me up. The ground was soft, and when I got to my feet I began to sink. It was probably the only bit of quicksand in the valley.
My rope came in handy. I had been wondering for some time why I had brought it. As I found myself going down,
I dropped its noose over a stump and pulled myself out.
I left one riding gaiter, a woollen sock and a nickel-plated spur in the mud. I was glad I hadn’t tried to bring the horses across.
I would have saved myself considerably if I had followed Lucy’s tracks more closely. I got onto them again after a while. She had followed a ridge of dry ground which cut across the muskeg.
At that, hobbling along on one high-heeled riding gaiter, with the other foot bare to the winds, it was farther than at first it seemed to Shuswap Rock.
And when I got there, craning my neck and looking up. still I could see no sign of Lucy. The valley was narrow and steep. The sun was already topping the western range of mountains and shadows were stealing out from them.
While I stood there, listening until my own heartbeat sounded loud as a blue grouse drumming on a log, I heard my name whispered.
“Herbert!” 1 heard.
I stepped back so that I could see farther up the rock.
The sun played on the ledge we had seen from the hillside, just above the spruce tree and maybe sixty feet from the ground. And on the ledge, blue as wild flax flowers. I saw the spot of Lucy’s riding shirt.
She looked down at me over the edge, and she was smiling.
"Herbert.” she said, “you look very funny.”
“That’s just the way I feel.”
“Why, you're dripping wet. You’ve got mud on your face. And where’s your other riding shoe?”
“I was in a hurry.” I said, “and it got left behind.”
There was a pause' then while she stared at me and I stared back at her. I gave her stare for stare.
She said, at last. “Well, you see, I was right. It is possible to get up to this ledge.”
“Yes,” I said, “that's the way it seems.”
But how she got there, I couldn’t understand. Merely to look up where she was made me dizzy.
“Keep back,” I said, "keep back. Don't lean so far over or you'll fall.”
She was more than sixty feet above me. I began to see how helpless those knights we read about must have felt after riding across the countryside in armor and finding their ladies with their heads hanging out of tower windows and no janitor around to open the door and let them in to climb the stairs.
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“The problem,” Lucy said, “is to get down. It’s one thing to get up, but going down I can’t see where to put my feet. That’s what I’ve been waiting for you to come and ligure out. And I don’t mind saying, I’m a bit tired of waiting. It’s cold up here.”
“It’s a lot colder down here,” I said, “My feet are cold right through.” The only climbing I had ever done in my life had been up a ladder to a hayloft or onto a horse’s back.
“Well, what are you going to do, Herbert—make a fire to warm your feet, or get me down?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know. That bare rock face had me stumped.
“What are you carrying that rope for, if you’re not going to use it?” Lucy asked. “Look !” she went on, “you drop it over this spruce tree below me. Then you climb up. Take off that useless riding gaiter first, and when you get up here, you can pay the rope out and let me down. Then when I’m down, you’ll still have the rope and you can come down yourself.”
My getting down again sounded a bit like one of those tricks of East Indian magic, but I did as Lucy bade me. I shed my riding gaiter. I roped the spruce tree, shaking the noose of my rope well down to its roots, and went up there hand over hand, walking with my bare feet against the rock face. I didn’t look down once. After leaving the ground, it no longer appeared so inviting as when I was standing on it. As it was my back was that chilly that if I had had to climb any farther I would have been taken with lumbago.
WHEN I COT up to the spruce tree, I loosed my rope from it and scrambled up to the ledge where Lucy was waiting. She was sitting with her arms bent about her knees and her knees against her chin. Her shoulders were shaking as though she were sobbing with fright.
Still, she didn’t seem at all frightened. She showed me how I could snub the rope around an outcrop of rock and let her down slowly to the ground. First of all, I had to make a loop about her waist, tying it so it wouldn’t cut into her too much.
We had to stand up side by side on the narrow ledge to do that. It was surprising how close we had to stand together, and how Lucy—because I guess she was nervous— pressed against me, and how difficult it was for me to see what I was doing, with her hair blowing in my face. My hands became a bit shaky, and my legs a bit unsteady. That was because of the drop below me, I suppose.
“Now, you be careful,” Lucy said, when she was going over the side. “Lean your weight hack against the rope and just let a little of it slip at a time.”
“You seem to know a lot about this sort of business,” I said to her, when she had her legs over the side, her elbows still on the ledge.
“Yes, I know quite a bit about it. More than most people would guess,” she said, looking up at me.
She slipped from sight over the rim of rock.
I let her down, as she told me to do, slowly. I couldn’t see her, having my weight braced against the rope, and leaning back against the rock wall behind me. When I felt the rope go slack, I knew she had hit the ground. I had about another ten feet left to pay out.
“Herbert!” she called from below. “Are you all right?”
I told her I was.
“Now let go the rope,” she said.
I loosened my grasp and the rope whistled through my fingers. “Heh !” I looked over the side. “How am I going to get down now? You’ve taken the rope.”
“That’s just the point,” she said. “How are you going to get down?”
This was no position at all for a mountain guide to find himself in. Savoir-faire was hardly the expression to describe it.
“You’re going to be late for your dancing party with that ranch foreman of yours,” I called down.
“Am I really, Herbert?” I was lying on my stomach, looking over the ledge, and I saw Lucy, my rope coiled about her feet, taking a vanity case from her pocket and primping her hair against the mirror. She appeared very small away down there.
“How long will it take us to ride back?” she asked.
“Maybe three hours,” I said, “and I still have to find the horses.”
“Did you have trouble with the horses, Herbert?”
“Oh, I can get them,” I said. “I know where they are.”
“Well, do you know what time it is now?”
I didn’t know exactly, but I knew it was getting late.
“It’s just going on for three o’clock,” Lucy said. “If we hurried we still could make it back there by five, couldn’t we?”
I reckoned we could.
“If we waited another hour we would most likely be late?” Lucy wanted to know.
I told her I guessed that was so, particularly as I expected to have a bit of trouble, after all, in finding the horses.
“Well, Herbert, you just take it easy up there for a while. I’m going for a little walk. Roll yourself a cigarette and watch the sun go down. I’ll be back shortly.”
She disappeared around a corner of the rock. I was restless and I was worried. Besides, I didn’t smoke cigarettes. I tried to find a way down, but the more I studied what was below me, the better it seemed to stay where I was. Everything below appeared so small, so far away. When I looked over, my head whirred like an old and rusty alarm clock.
Then, since I couldn’t go down, I thought of going up. That’s the way we Bogs are, the whole family of us, including my Great-uncle Percy who was a potato farmer and met my aunt at the head of a flight of stairs. Thorough, with a tendency to get to the bottom of things, even if we have to climb a bit to do it.
Looking up, I saw that it was as Lucy had decided during lunch on the hillside. From where I was on the ledge, it was no trick at all to get to the top. The slope was gentle and easy and my bare feet clung nicely to the rock.
When I got to the top, I looked down the other side—the west slope which we hadn’t been able to see from our lunch place. It was shale, and gradual all the way. It was just a walk down to the bottom.
As I went down, my ears began to burn so that they stung me. I saw footprints there, going up. Lucy’s footprints.
She was waiting for me at the bottom of the slope. I walked on past, as if I hadn’t seen her, barefoot, back along the ridge across the muskeg toward the horses. She followed, running a bit to keep up.
“You don’t understand, Herbert,” she said. “I thought you knew all the time there was an easy way to the top. Anyway, if you’d followed my tracks farther, you would have seen that I took the shale slope. The best slope is alwaÿs the easiest one. When I told you to throw your rope over that tree, I was merely joking. I didn’t think you’d do it. Then when you
did. I felt I had to go down the way you came up, or you'd think I was frightened of it.”
“That’s all right,” I replied over my shoulder, when we were passing close to the mud-hole where I had left my woollen sock, my hand-tooled riding gaiter and nickel-plated spur. “That’s all right. But what were you doing up there in the first place, and why did you jerk the rope out of my hands, leaving me up there in a very humiliating position?”
She ran in front of me then and stopped me.
“Don’t you know?” she asked.
I assured her I didn’t know.
“Well, what time is it, Herbert? Do you know that?” I didn’t know that, either. I was tired of being asked the time, especially since the mainspring of my watch was broken.
“It’s after four o’clock,” she told me.
“We can still make it for that dancing party of yours,” I said, “if we hasten the horses somewhat. At that, though, you’ll probably have to go without your supper. But maybe they’ll serve supper there. Sometimes they do at dances, so I’m told.”
“We’re not going to hasten the horses somewhat,” Lucy said. “I’m tired and they’ll be tired.”
“Well, if you hadn’t climbed up on that rock, we’d have lots of time.”
“Herbert—that’s what I am trying to make you understand. Why do you suppose I went across this muskeg and climbed up on that rock?”
I was figuring that one out all the way home. Lucy never did tell me, definitely.
T5EFORE WE got back to the ranch house, we had another difficulty. Somehow, untying Lucy’s black horse in the shadows under the tree, his bridle came off in my hand, and when I slapped him hard on the rump—I had to slap him twice—he broke away and headed down the trail.
Lucy and I were forced to ride back together on Sitting Bull, herding her horse before us, it being impossible to cut in and head him ofï. And because Lucy had left my rope at the foot of Shuswap Rock, I couldn’t rope him.
I never have hung on so hard on a horse. Lucy, of course, was riding in the saddle, and I was sitting just behind and had to have my arms around her to keep from falling.
When we were crossing the last creek before the ranch, she said she was going to persuade her father to take his holiday at the Three Step, instead of going mountain climbing. She liked the country around the Three Step, she said. She said the change in her plans would likely mean I would have to take her riding every day, because her father, who hadn’t ridden, would take lessons with Mrs. Whittaker from Charlie Whiffin.
When we returned to the ranch house, the cook told us that Mrs. Whittaker hadn’t been so weary from her ride to the beaver meadows after all. She had gone to the dancing party with Charlie Whiffin, when he tired of waiting for Lucy. I said I thought Mrs. Whittaker would be a famous rider one day.
Lucy carried the lantern for me while I put the horses away in the stable, and when we were coming out I asked her what her notion was of the meaning of savoirfaire.
She said, “I think it must mean being able to do the wrong thing at the right time, like Mrs. Whittaker going to the dance tonight.” Lucy said Mrs. Whittaker was a very good sport.
Then she wanted to hear again the story about the Stoney fellow and the Shuswap girl, and we sat down there on a log in the clearing, while the moon came up, and the cook had cocoa and bread and butter waiting for us in the kitchen, and far away a coyote howled on a hillside.
“A long time ago,” I began, “even before the fur traders came ...”