Thanks, for creating the Dusty's Trail subcategory. Dusty's Trail was the younger 'sibling' of Gilligan's Island and suffered some knocks for it, but I happen to think it stands on its own as a comedy with some of the most endearing characters (Dusty himself, Mr. Callahan and Mr. Brookhaven spring to mind) and the most ridiculous situations I have ever snorted tea down my nose at. I love love love it! Let's follow the path of Dusty's Trail!
Disclaimers: All characters are the property of somebody other than me. I write for fun, not profit. Otherwise I would probably have at least a dollar. And a nice haircut.
"Oh, come on, Lulu. Please?" Betsy peered into the back of the covered wagon at her showgirl best friend, who was curled up under a blanket with a resolutely stubborn look on what Betsy could see of her beautiful face.
"I said no." The voice that came out of that beautiful face was wilful and petulant. Lulu dragged the blanket further over her head. Now all Betsy could see was her thick, blonde curls poking out.
"But Lulu, you said you would."
"I didn't say when I would."
"Oh, but Lulu, it'll only take a few minutes. You'd just be standing there. I'd be doing all the work."
"No, Betsy, I'm tired. I have such a headache, and this isn't making it any better. I'll help, just not right now. Okay?"
Betsy sighed, turning away from the back of the wagon. There was no point in arguing with Lulu when she was in one of her stubborn moods. The girl was immoveable.
Betsy looked at the large pile of clothing in her arms and sighed again. This was going to be a completely wasted morning now.
As though attracted by the sound of a woman sighing heavily, Dusty appeared. He was carrying an empty pail, swinging it back and forth, no doubt on his way back from feeding his appaloosa pony Freckles. Dusty loved Freckles more than anything, especially as he had been the one to tame the animal...more by sheer luck than by any other method.
"Hey, Betsy," he said cheerfully. "Everything okay?"
"Oh, hello, Dusty. Yes, I guess so."
"You don't look too happy," Dusty observed, peering closely at her.
Betsy began walking back across the clearing. "Oh, it's just that Lulu promised to help me mend all these clothes, but now she's refusing. I had the whole morning planned around it, and now I can't do anything."
Dusty looked at the pile of clothing in Betsy's arms, then shrugged. "If that's all there is,maybe I could help you."
Betsy's face lit up. "You could, Dusty? You'd help me? Oh, but aren't you busy, with the horses and everything?"
Dusty shrugged again, nonchalantly. "Sure, but I can always make time for you, Betsy."
"Oh! Dusty! Thank you!" Betsy did a little jump for joy, which made Dusty grin broadly. "It really won't take long. Come on. Let's get started!"
Out on a scout of the surrounding territory, Mr. Callahan sat up in the saddle when he caught sight of movement in the distance. Mr. Callahan had keen senses- you had to when dealing with someone like Dusty in your life. He shielded his eyes from the harsh glare of the rapidly rising sun and squinted. They had encountered a group of friendly Indians a few days back- he wondered if there could be some of those still following them.
It soon became clear that it was indeed Indians. Three young men on horseback appeared over a ridge and began advancing, small specks kicking up dust, gradually getting bigger as they approached. Mr. Callahan's fingers hovered cautiously near his gun holster until he could ascertain that these were indeed members of the same friendly tribe.
They were. One of them was holding up a piece of white ribbon which trailed behind him in the air. Mr. Callahan relaxed his demeanor and plastered a broad smile across his rugged, weather-beaten features, ready to welcome them.
"Dusty, would you please hold still?" Betsy smiled, kneeling beside the box that Dusty was standing on and pulling on the hem of Lulu's dress.
Dusty squirmed, his hands fumbling at the back of the bodice, trying to keep the ill-fitting garment from falling off and revealing the fact that apart from his ever-present hat and boots, he was only wearing his undershirt and long johns under the dress. His face was a picture of reluctance. "Gee, Betsy, you didn't tell me I'd have to wear the clothes while you fixed 'em."
"Well, why do you think I needed Lulu?" Betsy laughed. "I can't fix a garment if I can't see how it fits." She carried on repairing Lulu's hems, giggling at the worn old pair of boots that kept shuffling about on top of the box.
"This doesn't fit, Betsy," he protested, grimacing. "I can barely breathe!"
"That's because you keep squirming," she replied. "The sooner you relax, the sooner it'll be over."
"Oh, sure. I've heard that before," he muttered above her.
Betsy went quiet, busying herself with her task. She wasn't even going to ask him about that comment.
"What's wrong with Lulu, anyway?" Dusty started up again.
"She said she had a headache."
"Another one?" he blurted. "She just says that. It gets her out of doing stuff."
"Oh?" Betsy was definitely intrigued now. She looked up at his expression of disbelieving scorn. "Such as?"
"Such as whatever Lulu doesn't feel like doing."
That wasn't a real answer, but Betsy decided she wasn't going to push it. She lowered her head again, weaving pins in and out of the bottom of the showgirl dress.
"Betsy," Dusty began again, "be careful with those pins."
"Dusty, I'm nowhere near you with the pins."
"Well...just be careful, anyway," he said assertively.
At that moment, Andy appeared. He must have been washing and shaving at the tree with the mirror because he had a towel round his neck, wet hair and slightly pink cheeks.
"Well, hello, Betsy," he grinned his white-toothed grin, looking Dusty up and down appraisingly. "I don't believe I've been introduced to your beautiful lady friend."
Dusty put his head on one side and pulled a face.
"Why, this here's my good friend Dustina," Betsy giggled, playing along.
"Dustina?" said Dusty incredulously, looking down at the top of her head.
"Yes,down from New York, taking a break from her dance classes. Isn't that right, Dustina?"
"Dance classes?" said Andy, straight faced. "Why Dustina, I'd be happy for you to show me some moves later on."
"I'll show you some moves," Dusty said, still pulling a face.
"I'm afraid I have two left feet," Andy said.
"Really? Well, it just so happens I have two right feet," said Dusty.
"In that case,we oughta make the perfect couple," grinned Andy, mock-flirtatiously.
Dusty picked that moment to start playing along, pouting and fluttering his eyelashes at Andy and Betsy just as Mr. Callahan strode into the clearing on foot, accompanied by the three young Indians.
"Hey, everyone," the gruff wagonmaster said jovially. "You remember our friends from yesterday? They just came back to..." he stared at Dusty who was still preening, unaware that they were being addressed. "...to..."
Andy nudged Dusty. "At ease, Dustina," he hissed.
Dusty blinked, confused at Andy's sudden change of tack. He frowned, peered at his friend, raised his eyebrows questioningly, frowned again, and finally turned around to see what Andy was trying to subtly nod his head at. He did a double take when he saw Mr. Callahan and the three Indians standing in the middle of the clearing eyeing him up and down, their mouths hanging open. His hands grappled with the dress he was wearing and pulled the bodice high up onto his chest. "Hi, Mr. Callahan!" he said, a little too loudly and a little too high-pitched, giving a slight wave with his fingertips.
"Dusty, what are you doing?" Mr. Callahan asked in a sweet voice, trying to stay calm.
"Oh, Mr. Callahan," said Betsy, who had gotten to her feet and was twirling cotton thread nervously between her fingers. "Dusty was just helping me fix these clothes." She looked around at Dusty and shrugged helplessly.
"By parading around in them?" the wagonmaster responded.
Dusty got off the box and started pacing around just as nervously, the skirts of Lulu's showgirl dress swishing around his knees. "I'm not parading around in them, Mr. Callahan," he protested, parading around in them.
The Indians looked at one another, three dark silent faces behind Mr. Callahan. Then they turned back to stare open mouthed at Dusty.
"Hey, Mr. Callahan," Dusty pouted. "Ask those guys to stop looking at me like that. I ain't easy."
Mr. Callahan sighed, resisting the urge to put his face in his hands. He called the Indians forward and changed the subject. "Everyone, these here young friends of ours have come in peace to ask our assistance. It's the birthday of their Chief's second son. They want to present the boy with something unique as a gift. They wondered if there was anything we had that would make a good birthday gift for a man who..." Mr. Callahan turned to the first Indian and waited for the Indian to explain further.
The Indian stepped forward. By this time, Mr. and Mrs. Brookhaven and even Lulu had emerged from the stagecoach and covered wagon respectively and were all hovering at the edge of the clearing.
"Chief's second son," the man said in a firm, deep voice. "First son one day be Chief. Second son not so lucky. Second son different, unique. Second son need different gift. Unique gift for unique son."
"Why does he keep saying 'unique' like that?" Andy asked Betsy out of the side of his mouth. "And what does he mean by 'different'?"
The Indian looked straight at Dusty, who stood in the clearing wearing a fancy showgirl's little black dress complete with feathers round the top of the bodice and a huge bunny bow at the back of the knee-length bouncy frilled skirt. The trio of Indians again looked him up and down with approval, although they all wrinkled their elegant noses somewhat at his longjohn clad legs and scuffed and dirty boots.
"We take her," the Indian stated, turning back towards Mr. Callahan, but swinging his arm around and pointing unmistakeably at Dusty.
There was a brief moment of all around shocked silence at this unexpected turn of events. Then finally Dusty spoke up, wide-eyed and indignant. "Mr. Callahan, what does he mean by 'her'? Tell him I ain't no her!"
Mr. Callahan made placating motions with both hands, palms down. "Now calm down everyone. Let's get this straight. You're saying you want the dress, right? Dress?"
"Dress." the Indian agreed. He strode over to Dusty and put his hand firmly on Dusty's right shoulder, giving the young man an amiable shake. "You, Dress. Me, Straight Arrow." He held his hand out to Dusty. "White man's salute," he said, waiting for Dusty to shake his hand.
"No, no, no...you don't understand." Mr. Callahan went over to the Indian who was still holding onto Dusty's shoulder. Dusty himself looked utterly perplexed, looking from Straight Arrow to Mr. Callahan and back again. "This is Dusty." Mr. Callahan shook Dusty by the left shoulder. "This is dress." He plucked at the feathered bodice.
"This Dress." Straight Arrow shook Dusty by the right shoulder.
"This Dusty," Mr. Callahan repeated, shaking Dusty by the left shoulder. "This dress." he plucked at the bodice again.
"This Dress!" Straight Arrow said louder, shaking Dusty by the right shoulder.
"This Dusty!" retorted Mr. Callahan shaking Dusty by the left shoulder. "This dress!" He plucked at the bodice again.
By this time, Dusty was starting to look a little pained. "This Dusty beginning to feel dis-tressed,"
he said reproachfully, looking at them both from under furrowed brows.
"Dusty," said Mr. Callahan, "these men want you to be a birthday gift for their Chief's second son, who apparently is a bit special." He raised his eyebrows at Dusty in a speculative way. "You know what I'm saying, little pal? Special?" He didn't know how to put it any clearer without offending the ladies or the Indians, but dropping subtle hints to Dusty was generally a waste of time. By the puzzled look on Dusty's face, Mr. Callahan knew he was hollering into an empty room.
"Special," Dusty pondered. "But special is good, right?" He shrugged. "Freckles is special."
"Freckles is a horse," Mr. Callahan muttered.
"Special," Straight Arrow growled.
"Yeah! Special," said Dusty. Sensing an ally, the young man turned to Straight Arrow with a broad grin. "Freckles is special."
"I can't look," said Andy, still standing with Betsy at the edge of the clearing.
"Special is good," Straight Arrow stated, squeezing Dusty's right shoulder.
"Yeah," Dusty agreed. "Special is good." He turned to Mr. Callahan and gave a little nod of his head. "See, Mr. Callahan? Mr. Straight Arrow agrees with me. Special is good."
"Dusty." Mr. Callahan drew a deep, deep breath. "Did you hear any of what I just said to you? They want to give you to their Chief, as a birthday gift to his second son. Who is a bit special."
Dusty watched Mr. Callahan closely, mirroring the big man's minute head movements. If anything was even remotely sinking in, it was taking a heck of a long time. Finally something seemed to dawn in the young man's blue eyes, which widened as he stared at the big wagonmaster. "Me?" he asked, incredulously, then looked down and patted the lacy bodice that didn't even cover his torso properly. "Or this dress?"
"This Dress!" proclaimed Straight Arrow, smiling triumphantly and shaking Dusty forcibly by the right shoulder once again as Dusty forced a smile though gritted teeth.
"Is anyone else getting a sense of deja vu?" asked Andy, as Betsy, the Brookhavens and Lulu all sighed with sheer frustration at the same time.
"Dusty." Mr. Callahan had had enough of trying to get the message through to his little pal. He leaned down towards the young man, crooked his finger to make Dusty move closer. "Just tell them you're not going with them."
"Why would I want to go with them?" Dusty asked. "I don't want to go with them."
"That's right, Dusty. You don't want to go with them. Because they want to give you to the Chief's second son." Mr. Callahan prodded Dusty in the chest on the word 'you' and danced his eyebrows up and down. His eyes bore into Dusty's, trying one last time to alert the boy to what he couldn't say out loud. Dusty squinted with the effort of concentrating. "You, Dusty," Mr. Callahan went on. "Not just the dress. You. Do you get what I'm saying? They. Think. You're. Special." At that, Mr. Callahan fluttered one of the bodice feathers and tipped his little pal a wink.
At last Dusty appeared to understand. His eyes went saucer shaped, his mouth opened, closed, opened again. "Nooo!" he said indignantly. "They think?" He looked around at all the others, accusing them one by one with his eyes. Betsy couldn't meet his stare, she looked down at the ground, embarrassed. Andy shrugged helplessly. Mr. Brookhaven put his arm protectively around Mrs. Brookhaven, who wasn't quite as frail as she appeared but who nonetheless had turned a little pale. Lulu was the only one who stared back, horrified.
"Not them, Dusty. Our other friends here. Mr. Straight Arrow and his brothers."
"Well, I ain't goin'," Dusty said at last. He asserted himself for the second time that morning, pulling himself upright and puffing out his chest. "Hear that, Mr. Straight Arrow? I ain't goin'."
Straight Arrow looked at Dusty with displeasure. "Special," he grunted.
"No sir, I ain't special. As a matter of fact, there's nothing special about me at all. I'm very un-special. Isn't that right, Mr. Callahan?"
Mr. Callahan stepped forward and put his arm protectively around Dusty's shoulders. "That's right little pal," he said fondly, giving the young stagecoach driver an affectionate squeeze, meeting his friend's upturned gaze, "nothing special about you at all."
Straight Arrow looked from the tall, broad, heavy-set older guy to the shorter younger man who was squashed up against him and beaming like a loon. "Special," he said after a moment or two, looking directly at Mr. Callahan, who realised, too late, that standing there with his arm around Dusty's shoulders was probably not helping in the least little bit to get the message across that Dusty wasn't special.
Mr. Callahan dropped his arm quickly. Dusty pulled a face.
"Aw, Mr. Callahan, that was nice. I like it when you hug me. It sure beats a swipe round the back of the head." He was still grinning, the feathers of his bodice fluttering in a sudden breeze that brought a few thunderflies with it.
Straight Arrow smiled. His mind was obviously completely made up now. He stepped forward and took Dusty by the elbow. "Come, Special In Dress. We go now. Chief second son need birthday gift."
"Now, just hold on a cotton pickin' minute!" said an angry female voice. They turned to see Lulu, in another fancy showgirl dress, stride across the clearing in a very unfeminine manner and park herself between Straight Arrow and Dusty with her hands on her hips.
"He ain't no special, mister," she said assertively. "I can vouch for that."
Dusty pursed his lips and nodded. "She knows I ain't special," he agreed.
Straight Arrow was intrigued. He stood with a small, humorous smile playing at the corner of his lips and watched this bolshie newcomer with interest.
"Come on, Dusty. Let's show 'em." Lulu turned to Dusty and pulled him forcibly towards her, intending to kiss him full on the mouth to demonstrate that he was all man and in no way special. Just at the moment their lips met, a tiny swarm of thunderflies landed on Dusty's face and went in his mouth. He jumped back, swatting at his lips and spitting on the floor.
"Ugh!" he spat, grimacing and wiping his mouth. "Ugh...ptooey. Ugh!"
Straight Arrow watched the young man spit, wipe his arm across his mouth and spit some more, bent almost double in his disgust.
Lulu threw her hands up in the air. "Dusty! What...?"
"Lulu, ugh, that was disgusting," Dusty spluttered. "I don't ever want that to happen again!"
Straight Arrow roared with laughter and winked at the perturbed showgirl. "You, painted lady," he guffawed, wagging his index finger from side to side. "You make many men sigh, but you no good for special."
"Well, you can just blow that out your ass," Lulu muttered. "And what's more, you can have him." Without a second glance at the bent over and still spitting Dusty she strode back across the clearing to stand with Betsy and the Brookhavens again.
"Well, little pal, I just don't know what to say," said Mr. Callahan resignedly. "It looks to me like you're just gonna have to go with these nice fellows and be a birthday gift for someone special."
"Well, what if I just refuse?" Dusty said, having finally removed all traces of thunderfly from his mouth.
"You can not refuse," Straight Arrow said firmly.
"Who says I can't refuse?" Dusty squared his shoulders, pulling the bodice up and puffing out his chest, displaying his feathers. "I refuse. I'm not going."
Straight Arrow smiled sweetly. "Me, Straight Arrow," he said, then indicated the other two Indians who still hadn't spoken a word. "My brothers- One Shot, and Kills With A Finger."
"Kills With A Finger?" Dusty said incredulously, folding his arms to indicate his utter disbelief.
Straight Arrow stepped up to Dusty and inserted his index fingertip into the soft spot under Dusty's left ear. "I can give you demonstration," he smiled, leaning right into Dusty's face and arching a dark eyebrow. Kills With A Finger murmured appreciatively from the sidelines.
"Oh-kay," Dusty announced, swinging his arms back and forth. "Anyone want to pack me a bag?"
"Oh, this is awful," Betsy cried. "They're taking Dusty away. I can't bear to look!"
"Well, that ain't gonna help," said Lulu scornfully.
"Oh, Lulu, can't you do something?" Betsy said pleadingly.
"Already tried, hun. You saw what he did. Messed up his big chance there."
"But that must have been a mistake! I've never known him to turn down a kiss from you before. Something must have happened!"
"Maybe it is the dress making him act weird," Andy said, though neither of the girls could tell if he was joking or not. "Besides, Lulu, isn't that the dress you said you wore in St. Louis when you won all that money on the crap table? Isn't that your lucky St. Louis dress?"
Lulu shook her towering pile of blonde curls. "Naw. My lucky St. Louis dress has blue feathers not yeller."
"Oh, but it did have blue feathers," said Betsy, "up until two weeks ago when Freckles ate them while it was hanging out to dry. I had to take some of the yellow feathers from your lucky Arlington dress and attach them on."
"You did what?" Lulu stared at her prim, schoolteacher friend. "You took yeller feathers offa my lucky Arlington dress and put 'em on my lucky St. Louis dress?"
"I had to!" Betsy said. "You can't have a lucky dress without any feathers on it at all!"
"But what about my lucky Arlington dress? Now you're gonna have to take some red feathers offa my lucky Fort Salt dress. I'll be totally confused!"
"Oh! Don't worry about that now, dear!" interjected Mrs. Brookhaven, waving her parasol at the clearing. "They're getting ready to take Dusty!"
Straight Arrow and One Shot had a hold of both of Dusty's elbows while Kills With A Finger went to fetch the horses. Mr. Callahan was still trying to plea bargain, but it was as if the Indians' ears had closed up. They just weren't listening.
Dusty wasn't even struggling. He looked over as Lulu came hurtling back across the clearing, her face red with anger. "Oh, Lulu! You can be the one to look after Freckles for me when I'm gone!" he said cheerfully, but had the breath knocked out of him as the showgirl launched into a full frontal attack.
"Gimme back my dress, you 'ornery toad," she shouted, pulling at the flimsy bodice. "You been paradin' around in my lucky St. Louis dress all this time and I didn't even know it!"
"Lulu, stop!" Dusty begged, shielding himself from her grasping, clawing fingers.
"Get that dress off of your mangy hide!" she cried, pulling him this way and that. Even the Indians moved out of the range of her blows.
The dress tore down the back and fell away. Dusty struggled out of the falling skirts, pushing Lulu away from him as he did so. "Lulu, you're crazy!" he declared.
"When it comes to my lucky St. Louis dress, you bet your sweet bippy I am," she shouted, yanking him off his feet, sending him sprawling into the dirt face down. "Now get your ugly behind out of my clothes and don't ever touch 'em again!" She held the torn garment aloft and strode triumphantly back across the clearing. Mrs. Brookhaven was so impressed she began clapping daintily.
"Bra-vo!" the normally demure and elegant lady said, a twinkle in her eye. "Bra-vo!"
Lulu struck a pose, one hand on her hip, the other twirling her torn dress. "Why, thank you, Mrs. Brookhaven," she drawled, enjoying all the attention.
Dusty was still laid out on the ground, rolling and groaning in pain, his long johns on display for everyone to see. The Indians scowled and grimaced, shaking their heads in complete disapproval.
"You still want him, boys?" Mr. Callahan smiled sweetly. "'cause he's all yours."
"Ugh. No thank you. Second son not that special," Straight Arrow declared, and with that he bid Mr. Callahan farewell and rode off with his equally disgruntled brothers.
Mr. Callahan bent over Dusty and extended his hand. "Come on, little pal, get up. They're gone."
"Gone? Really?" Dusty ventured. "You mean, I didn't have to go with them after all?"
"Nope. I guess they realised you weren't special after all." Mr. Callahan took hold of Dusty's hand and pulled the younger man to his feet.
"Gee, I don't know whether I feel good about that or not," Dusty pondered, frowning to himself.
"Dusty, my boy, I wouldn't even give it a second thought."
Dusty looked up at the wagonmaster and grinned. "Maybe you're right, Mr. Callahan," he said decisively. "Maybe I should just forget the whole thing ever happened."
"Yes, Dusty," the big wagonmaster replied, patting Dusty on the cheek. "you're good at that."
Dusty was down by the creek filling pails of water for their nightly potato ration. He was dressed back in his own clothes, his battered wide-brimmed hat pulled down to shield his eyes against the sun. He was engrossed in his task and didn't notice the approach of Lulu, her skirts swinging against her stockinged legs.
"Hey, Dusty," she said jovially, coming to a halt beside him.
He stood up straight and peered at her, squinting a little. "Hey, Lulu," he said, trying not to sound interested. "Aren't you gonna call me an 'ornery toad?"
"Actually, that's what I wanted to apologise to you for. I didn't mean all that. I was just caught up in the heat of the moment, as they say."
"Oh. Well, I guess that's okay, then." Dusty neither looked nor sounded convinced.
"I get very possessive of m'clothes," Lulu went on, trying to stop him from leaving. "you know how many o' them dresses I got."
Dusty shrugged. "I don't know. They all look the same to me. And they itch."
Lulu laughed. "You ain't thinkin' o' wearin' 'em again, are you?"
"No, I ain't. And that was Betsy's idea in the first place." Dusty looked for a moment as though a light bulb had literally popped above his head. "And if I think about it, it's all because you were meant to be helping Betsy out, not me."
"She told you that?"
"Yeah. So I guess it's your fault those Indians wanted to take me away."
Lulu fidgeted on her slender bootied feet. "Let's not dwell too hard on that though, huh, Dusty?All's well that ends well, as they say."
She linked arms with Dusty as he trudged back to camp with his full pail of water. "I don't like to think of what would have happened to you in that Injun tribe," she mused. "I don't think it would have involved birthday cake somehow."
Dusty's expression said he hadn't a clue what she was talking about, but he went along with it anyway. They came off the creek path and into their clearing with Lulu still chattering away, and she stopped dead so suddenly that Dusty, still moving forward, pitched back and slopped at least a third of the water onto the ground where it seeped, wasted, into the parched earth.
"Well, would you look at that?" Lulu declared. "Looks like Betsy's got herself a brand new model."
Dusty looked across the clearing to where Andy stood sheepishly on the box in what looked like a wedding dress, only all in black with feathers and adornments and God only knew what else, while Betsy worked busily at the waist, sewing and patching small areas of damage.
"Hm," said Dusty, "I don't think I've ever seen that dress before."
Lulu bristled, her cheeks suffusing with areas of livid pink. "That's because you haven't," she muttered ominously. "That, Dusty, is..." and she let go of Dusty's arm and hurtled across the clearing, waving her hands in the air and shrieking like a banshee,"...my lucky 'San Francisco Welcomes Lulu McQueen' dress, you 'ornery toad!"