The night after Uncle Ben came to visit Grandpa, we saw the campfire. It was just a pinpoint of light up on the shadowy hills across Grandpa’s little valley.
“It must be some sheepherder’s camp,” Grandpa said. “I can’t think of why anybody else would have a campfire so high up, can you, Ben?”
Uncle Ben was a bit slow to answer. “Well, now, in the old days—”
In the darkness, I heard Grandpa chuckle. “In the old days you’d say that it was rustlers. Nowadays, a body would expect it to be poachers, right? Well, I think that it’s a sheep camp.”
My brother, Lucas, spoke up. “Can we go see the camp? We’ve never seen a sheep camp, have we, Jerry?”
The thought of what might be up there made me hesitate. I wasn’t a bit anxious to find out whose campfire it was. But Grandpa cleared his throat and spoke up before I could say so. “Well, now, a couple of bright city lads like you might be able to find the sheep camp, come daylight. Don’t you think so, Ben?”
“If it is a sheep camp,” Uncle Ben replied.
“It’s certain that they’d hear the herder’s dog barking before they reached the camp,” Grandpa went on, “and maybe a tinkling sheep bell.”
“It could be a long hike,” Uncle Ben said.
“What’s wrong with the boys riding Old Salt?” Grandpa suggested. “They’ve been trotting that old horse around every day and seem to ride him well enough. They can’t get lost. Old Salt can find his way home from anyplace.”
I couldn’t believe how everything was being decided for Lucas and me. It was true that we’d been learning to ride during our summer vacation at Grandpa’s ranch. But we’d never ridden through trees that could brush us off or to any place where there might be danger.
It was the thought of danger that made me upset—upset at Grandpa for not asking how I felt about going and miffed at Lucas for bringing it up.
At bedtime I really lit into Lucas.
“Maybe I don’t want to go,” I told him.
“Why did you have to bring it up, anyway?”
He just shrugged his shoulders, as he always did, and said, “I just felt prompted to ask.”
Ever since our Primary lessons on promptings and whisperings of the Spirit, Lucas had used that same excuse for a lot of things that he did. But I didn’t buy it. Why should he be prompted any more than me? I wondered. I turned my back on him and jerked the quilt up over me. I knew that I’d have to go because Grandpa wouldn’t let Lucas go by himself, but it was against my liking.
The next morning when we mounted up and started out, I had to tell myself that Lucas probably needed to cling to the saddle horn more than I did and that I knew enough to keep my feet out of Old Salt’s flanks better than he did. But I didn’t think that my legs would get so tired holding them away from Old Salt’s sides. Charley-horse cramps behind my shins started right away, and they got worse the farther up the hill we rode. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Stop and let me off!” I wailed.
Lucas tried to maneuver the horse up to a big rock, but I couldn’t wait. I slid off over Old Salt’s rump. My legs were so wobbly that I crawled to the shade of a cedar tree, sat down, and rubbed them. Then I stretched out, closed my eyes, and didn’t care if I ever got up again.
Lucas slid off the horse, and after a while he said, “Shouldn’t we be hearing the herder’s dog?”
Suddenly I could almost feel the silence. I didn’t even hear Old Salt stomping to discourage the flies. I scrambled up.
“Where’s the horse?” I yelped. “Lucas, where’s Old Salt?”
Lucas started running and looking among the thick cedars.
“Didn’t you tie the reins to a tree or something?” I hollered at him. “Didn’t you even drop the reins over his head?”
Lucas came back looking pale. He hadn’t.
I groaned. That old horse was probably halfway home by now. I started downhill.
“I think that we should go on up a way,” Lucas said, hesitating.
I was still burning at his carelessness. “Well, I’m not going to!” I yelled.
Lucas chewed at his lip a moment, then shrugged and started on up the hill. I watched him wind his way through the cedar trees without looking back.
“There might be rustlers up there!” I hollered after him. “Or poachers!” Soon Lucas was out of sight. And soon the little rocks that his climbing dislodged stopped rolling. I began to feel a long way from Grandpa’s ranch.
From high up the hill, there was a cry. My scalp tingled. Is Lucas in danger? I wondered. I sure don’t want anything to happen to him. He’s my best friend.
I took out after Lucas, climbing as fast as I could. My throat and lungs began to hurt. I stumbled, and my legs felt weak. I prayed silently.
There was no breath left in me when I broke out of the cedars into a small clearing and heard Lucas say, “Lady, what are you doing here?”
To my surprise, a woman was sitting on a sleeping bag beside the cold ashes of a campfire. Her open backpack and a hiking shoe were on the ground next to her. And one leg of her jeans was torn open to the knee. I felt a little sick when I noticed her leg. It was swollen and as big around as the trunk of a small cedar tree.
“I think it’s broken,” she was telling Lucas. “I’ve been praying that someone would come to help me.”
“We saw your campfire,” Lucas explained, “and we thought that it was a sheepherder’s fire.”
“How glad I am that you decided to take a hike today,” she said, wincing a little.
“Oh, we rode,” I told her. “But our horse got loose down below.”
I didn’t lay any blame to Lucas about the horse. I even told the lady that maybe it had been a good thing. When Old Salt got back to the ranch, Grandpa and Uncle Ben would surely come looking for us. And when they did, we would somehow get her safely down the hill.
She gave me a little smile. “I’m sorry that there’s no sheep camp.”
I saw Lucas shrug. Suddenly I began to wonder if Lucas really had been prompted. Maybe this was the way everything was supposed to work out. I felt a strange warmth inside as I hung my arm over Lucas’s shoulder, and I liked the feeling.