“Well, Lorry, it’s really foolish of you to feel so badly when there’s nothing the matter. If you wanted to kiss Alice and she let you—why, that isn’t wrong. A boy kissed me once when I was going to school in the East. I just boxed his ears and laughed at him. It is only when you act grumpy or feel badly that I worry about you. I just want to be your little mother then—and try to help you.”
“You make me feel like I wasn’t fit to ever touch your hand again,” he told her.
“But you mustn’t feel that way,” she said cheerily. “I want you to be brave and strong and happy; just as you were that day we camped here. And you will, won’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m takin’ orders from you.”
“But you mustn’t wait for me to tell you. Just be yourself, and then I know you will never be ashamed of anything you do. I must go now. Good-bye, Lorry.”
She gave her hand, and he drew her to him. But she turned her face away as he bent his head above her.
“No; not now, Lorry. I—can’t. Please don’t.”
“I—guess you’re right. I reckon you showed me just where I stand. Yes, you’re plumb right about it, Dorothy. But I’m comin’ back—”
“I’ll wait for you,” she said softly.
He turned briskly to the ponies. The pack-horses plodded up the trail as he mounted Gray Leg and rode over to her.
She reached up and patted Gray Leg’s nose. “Good-bye, everybody!” she chirruped. And she kissed Gray Leg’s nose.
Back in the ranges, far from the Big Spring, Lorry made his camp that night. As he hobbled the horses he talked to them affectionately after his manner when alone with them.
“And you, you old trail-hitter,” he said to Gray Leg, “I reckon you think you’re some ladies’ man, don’t you? Well, you got a right to be proud. Step along there, and ‘tend to your grazin’ and don’t go to rubbin’ noses with the other horses. You’re a fool if you do.”
The week following Lorry’s departure the Westons left for the East. As for Dorothy, she confessed to herself that she was not sorry. While Alice had been unusually nice to every one, Dorothy felt that Alice was forcing herself to appear natural and happy. Mrs. Weston knew this, and wondered what the cause could be. Mrs. Weston had found Dorothy delightful and Bronson interesting, but she had been so long in the West that its novelty had worn thin. She did not regret it when they shipped their machine from Stacey and took the Overland for New York.
A few days after they had gone, Bud Shoop rode up to the Blue Mesa. It was evident that he wanted to talk with Bronson, so Dorothy coaxed Bondsman to her favorite tree, and sat stroking his shaggy head as she read from a new book that Shoop had brought with the mail.
The genial Bud was in a fix. Perhaps Bronson, who had been a newspaper man and knew something about politics, could help him out. Bronson disclaimed any special keenness of political intelligence, but said he would be glad to do anything he could for Shoop.