I don't know if anyone still reads in this teeny tiny Dusty's Trail fandom, but if you do and you're reading this, it's for you, with love and thanks! It's just a bit of gentle BUSTY shipping because I feel so terrible that I've been ignoring these two in favour of Mary Ann and Gilligan these days. After all, I started out a Dusty fan before I was a Gilligan fan, and now I love them both as much as the other :-) teobi x
What A Man Shouldn't Do
Mr. Callahan stared forlornly at the mayhem that surrounded him. Pot and pans lay all over the ground- the kettle had bounced and rolled all the way under the wagon and one of the tin mugs had been trodden on and flattened by one of the horses. They had barely been camped for an hour and the place was in total disarray.
"Dusty..." he began, scratching the back of his big, grizzly head.
"I was only trying to help!" Dusty stood in the middle of the mess, still hugging the box that had previously contained the items that now lay scattered on the ground. "How was I meant to know the box was open?"
"Because you packed it, little pal, which means you must have left it open." Mr. Callahan shot a weary glance at Andy, who had stopped tending to the horses and had come over to help pick everything up.
"Well, if I did, I only left it open at the top," Dusty persisted, looking mightily puzzled.
Mr. Callahan slapped on his sweetest smile. "May I suggest that when you hauled it off the back of the wagon, you turned it upside down?"
Dusty frowned. "Why would I do a stupid thing like that?"
Mr. Callahan's smile grew even sweeter. "There are many questions left unanswered in this world, Dusty, but that ain't one of them. Because you always do stupid things like that!"
Dusty shuffled his feet, and looked sheepish. "Oh...yeah. Heh. I guess."
Mr. Callahan softened at the contrite look on Dusty's face. The clumsy scout was a one man disaster area and no mistake, but his heart was in the right place and you couldn't fault him for that. The wagonmaster reached out and patted Dusty's cheek fondly. "Never mind, little pal, what's done is done. Let's just get this mess cleaned up, okay?"
"Sure, Mr. Callahan," Dusty grinned, and promptly stepped on Mr. Callahan's foot.
"Hi, Dusty!" Betsy said brightly. "What brings you down to the creek?"
Dusty perched himself on the edge of a large rock and stared glumly at the pile of freshly washed laundry that Betsy was getting ready to hang on the line. "Mr. Callahan said if I stuck around any longer he was gonna put me in a box and make sure the lid was closed."
Betsy was puzzled. "I don't understand, Dusty."
Dusty explained what had happened- the utensils all over the ground and then the chaos that had ensued when he'd tried to pick everything up. "I'd pick up two things and drop one thing and Andy was getting in my way and then Mr. Callahan stood on a fork which went through his boot and he yelled at me that he was gonna stick the fork someplace the sun didn't shine if I didn't get out of there and go find somebody else to annoy. So I came here."
"To annoy me?" Betsy smiled. She was always amused by Dusty's rapid-fire explanations of how everything always went wrong.
"Yeah. I mean, no! Is that what you think, Betsy?"
"No, of course not. It's what you said." But Dusty still looked puzzled, so Betsy changed the subject. "Never mind, Dusty, you can help me with the laundry."
Dusty's face fell. "The laundry?" He looked around, anxiously. "Where's Lulu? Can't she help you?"
"Lulu's gone with Mrs. Brookhaven to pick wild berries," Betsy said, enjoying the look of discomfiture on Dusty's face.
Dusty's eyebrows rose. "That doesn't sound like Lulu."
Betsy laughed. "I think she wants to use the berry juice to paint her lips with- she's running low on cosmetics."
"Figures," Dusty muttered.
"So? Are you going to help me, seeing as you're here?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Well, I'm not going to let you sit around decorating the place while I work!"
Dusty sighed loudly. He hauled himself to his feet and hitched up his gunbelt. "Okay, well...guess a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Even if it's laundry."
"Try not to sound so disgusted." Betsy returned to the laundry basket and began sorting items. "And there's no need to make that face. Anyone would think you believed the laundry was women's work!"
"Ain't it?" Dusty watched benignly as Betsy separated bed linen and clothing and put them in different piles on top of a large, flat rock. "Laundry is women's work, same way as scouting is men's work and hitching up the teams is men's work."
"What about cooking? That's women's work, but you do it and you're a man. Sometimes I'd like to do a bit of cooking too!"
"Cooking in a kitchen is women's work," Dusty explained, patiently. "But cooking outdoors is men's work."
"I must say, I do prefer to have all my kitchen items around me," Betsy smiled. "And being able to cook more than stew and beans every single day." She stood up straight, pressed a hand to the small of her back. "All right, Dusty. These here are ready to go on the line."
"What about the stuff that's already on the line?"
"That's finished airing and ready to put away."
"Boy, there sure is a lot to remember," Dusty muttered.
"That's why we women do it," Betsy said sweetly. "We can think about a lot of different things at once."
"Really?" said Dusty, recoiling slightly as Betsy held a pillowcase out towards him. "Okay, then. What's nine times ten and twelve times two?" He held the pillowcase between two fingers and stared at it.
"Ninety and twenty four," Betsy replied, almost immediately. "And added together, one hundred and fourteen."
"Lucky guess," Dusty said, shrugging off her answer.
"Lucky guess? Dusty, I'd be a pretty poor schoolteacher if I didn't know how to do a sum like that." Betsy smiled playfully at him. "Did you know the answer?"
"Sure I did! Maybe. Anyway, I still say it was a lucky guess." Ignoring Betsy's gentle laughter, Dusty swiftly changed the subject, indicating the pillowcase still gingerly held between his fingers. "Why did you give me this? This is Mrs. Brookhaven's! See all the little flowers on it?"
"I gave it to you to hang on the line."
Dusty edged over to the line, still unsure. "Mrs. Brookhaven's head has been on this pillowcase," he said. "You know- when she's...in bed."
"Dusty, it's a pillowcase. Just hang it up, please. It won't bite you."
"A man shouldn't be handling a woman's clothes and things!" Dusty protested.
"Dusty, please just hang it on the line, won't you? I've hung three shirts and a pair of socks while you've been standing there staring at a pillowcase. Besides, I have to handle all your things, and let me tell you it's not much fun washing clothes that are covered in mud and...well, you know. What the horses do."
"No, Dusty. After they've eaten grass. I'm not going into detail."
"Because I'm a lady!" Betsy was growing slightly impatient now. "Please, Dusty, just help me with this laundry won't you?"
"I know, I know, shut up and get to work," Dusty muttered.
Betsy smiled as she busied herself with unpegging the items that had been airing. As she began to fold the smaller items, she watched Dusty out of the corner of her eye, stifling back laughter at his clumsiness. He hung the clothes haphazardly, sometimes not even bothering to stretch them out. He hung shirts by one sleeve, pants by one leg and used three pegs for one sock. When he went quiet after a while, she looked over and found him staring at a pair of Lulu's bloomers, his hand hovering over the basket as though frightened to go anywhere near them.
Betsy cleared her throat pointedly and he jumped almost a foot backwards, startled and embarrassed.
"I wasn't looking!" he stammered, going pink.
"You can leave the personal items, Dusty," she laughed.
"They sure don't get any more personal than that," Dusty agreed, unconsciously wiping his hands on the front of his shirt.
"Here," Betsy said, indicating a large pile of linen heaped up on top of the rock. "You can help me fold up these sheets."
Casting one last furtive glance into the basket, Dusty went over and waited while Betsy selected a sheet from the top of the pile. She ran her hands down the edge, locating the two top corners. When she found the corners she handed them to Dusty with strict instructions not to drop them. Then she had him walk a little way backwards with the corners clutched tightly in his hands while she found the bottom two corners.
They stood about six feet apart, holding onto their respective corners.
"Now whatever you do, don't drop anything," Betsy said. "I'm going to shake all the creases out, so make sure you hold on tight!"
Dusty promised not to let go. He stood with his eyes shut tight and his head turned away as the sheet whipcracked up and down, shaken vigorously by Betsy. It created such a fierce breeze he felt his hair blowing around his ears and thought his hat was going to come off. She kept it up for almost a minute, making sure all the creases were out, and only stopped when she was satisfied the sheet wasn't going to get any straighter even if they stood there all day.
Dusty waited another couple of seconds just to be on the safe side, then he cracked open one eye. "I think it's dead now," he said, relieved the ordeal was over.
"Just because we're thousands of miles out in the wilderness, it's no excuse for slovenliness," Betsy said, primly.
"Oh, I agree!" Dusty nodded, even though he had no idea what she was talking about. The sheet was clean- wasn't that enough?
"Now, bring your two corners together, like this." Betsy demonstrated by bringing her hands together and joining the corners, then reaching for the newly folded part of the sheet and raising it level. Dusty copied her, albeit much more slowly, with his tongue sticking out between his lips. "Careful, Dusty!" she exclaimed, when he very nearly dropped his end of the sheet on the ground.
"I'm carefulling, I'm carefulling!" he pouted. "It ain't easy, you know!"
"It's got to be easier than hitching up the horses," Betsy grinned.
"At least Freckles doesn't yell at me not to drop anything," Dusty countered.
"No-one's yelling, Dusty." Betsy waited with infinite patience while Dusty fumbled around with the sheet, finally getting his end to look vaguely like hers. "Now- do the same again...bring your two corners together, just like before."
"But I already did that," Dusty said, confused.
"Well, do it again!" Betsy said, brightly.
"You women. I wish you'd make up your minds." Dusty struggled briefly with the concept of repeating his actions in exactly the same way as before, but this time he managed to join the corners together without too much of a drama.
"Excellent, Dusty," Betsy said. "Now- bring your end to me. Careful not to drop it!"
Dusty took those small steps towards Betsy as slowly as if he were traversing a minefield, never taking his eyes off the sheet, clutched so tightly in his hands that his knuckles had gone white. He only looked up when he reached her, and then he seemed surprised to see her so close. He blinked, trying not to stare at her face while she took the corners from him.
"Now if you'll just be a dear and bring me the bottom edge," Betsy smiled, indicating the lower end of the sheet that hung just above the ground.
Dusty bent down and reached for the trailing edges. He grasped the sheet tightly in both hands and stood up straight.
"Perfect!" said Betsy, delighted that the whole procedure had passed without incident. "Now, just let me have those corners."
Dusty put his hands close to hers. She reached for his corners and took them.
But Dusty wouldn't let go.
"It's all right, Dusty, I've got them," she said, looking up at his face.
"I know," he replied, gazing right back at her.
Meanwhile, their fingers had somehow become gently interlocked.
"Dusty..." said Betsy, momentarily confused by his proximity.
"Betsy," he replied in the same low tone, curling his little fingers so tentatively around hers.
Betsy felt her face flush. Incredibly, she was still worried about dropping the sheet. For that reason, and no other, she told herself, she tightened her own fingers around Dusty's. Unable to stop herself, she looked up into his gentle blue eyes, only able to hold his gaze for a few seconds before she had to look away, torn by a sudden feeling that what she was doing was inappropriate, and what she was thinking was even more so!
She felt him pull gently on her hands, attempting to bring her even closer. She suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do.
And what she wanted him to do.
With the sheet between them, still clutched tightly in their entwined fingers, Betsy and Dusty kissed, as softly and as hesitantly as if it were the first time that either of them had ever kissed anyone. And then, just as Betsy was beginning to feel as if she would definitely drop the sheet (or faint, whichever came first), Dusty broke the kiss and uncurled his fingers from hers, stepping back with an endearingly apologetic smile on his face. "Sorry, Betsy," he said, his voice a little husky. "I shouldn't have done that."
"Well, I..." Betsy clutched the sheet to her bosom, wondering what she had been about to say. Yes, Dusty, how dare you? When he had kissed her so tenderly? "I mean, it's not like you grabbed me or anything..."
"Betsy, you know I'd never do that," he said, surprisingly firmly.
"I know! I know, Dusty. It's just...it was unexpected, that's all. But not unwelcome, really. Not unwelcome." Betsy blushed and smiled coyly. She realised she was hugging the sheet now- hugging it as if it were him. Quickly she finished folding it and set it down on the rock as neatly as her trembling fingers would allow.
"I still shouldn't have done it, Betsy." Dusty said, sheepishly. "So, just tell me if you want me to get lost, and I'll go annoy Freckles or somebody where I won't get into trouble."
"Why would I want you to get lost, Dusty? You're certainly not in trouble with me. Besides..." Betsy pointed to the rock. "There are several more sheets to go yet. You're not getting out of it that easily."
Dusty caught the mischievous twinkle that flashed all too briefly in Betsy's eyes and then was gone. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. It surprised and delighted him to know she didn't mind that he had kissed her. It wasn't even as if he'd planned it- Dusty had realised a while back just how much he liked Betsy, but this was the first time he had ever acted on impulse.
He rubbed the back of his neck in an 'aw, shucks' manner as Betsy began searching for the top corners of the next sheet on the pile. "I guess it must be true then, what they say about women's work," he mused aloud.
"Oh? And what do they say about women's work, Dusty?" asked Betsy, innocently.
"They say it's never done," Dusty replied, his hands already out and waiting.