They mounted the horses and Dixie lead the way as they rode out onto the open prairie.
As the horses plodded along, Grant said, “I’m already enjoying it.”
“Enjoying what?” Dixie asked.
“You just told me to relax and enjoy it, take it as is comes. Well I’m already enjoying it.”
“As am I,” she said, turning her face away from him.
“I’d like to know something,” he said.
“You ask and I’ll try to answer.”
“Why were you so mad at me after the plane crash? It wasn’t really my fault you know?”
“You looked an absolute fright. Your face and clothes were covered with blood and I thought you were terribly hurt.”
“Do you always become angry with people who are seriously injured?”
“Well, maybe I was worried about you. Maybe I wouldn’t want to see you hurt. It may even be that I like you, at least enough so that I wouldn’t want you injured.”
“Well, maybe I like you too, but I wouldn’t be mad at you if you were hurt.”
“But you weren’t hurt. You were doing a dumb thing flying around the country with Uncle Tom and I didn’t sleep for a week while you were gone.”
“Next time, you might just tell me you’re worried without being so harsh.”
“Next time, Mr. Collins, don’t do dumb things.”
She laughed as she urged her horse into a trot.
Grant’s horse followed and he saw the white canvas of the tipi in a grove of trees beside the large pond. The day had warmed. A small herd of buffalo gathered to cool in the glade began to run at their approach.
“Look! Buffalo! There are the buffalo,” Grant shouted.
“I told you we might see them. These are Uncle Tom’s pets. He keeps them to remind him of the old days. He doesn’t let anyone hurt his buffalo.”
“I saw all of this from the airplane, but I never dreamed how beautiful it would be. You do know that there is a large bear that lives in those woods?”
“Uncle Tom told me to keep and eye out.”
Riding to the edge of the pond, they let the horses quench their thirst. They then tied the horses in the shade and loosened the cinch straps so that the animals could rest. Dixie removed her saddle bags and spread a blanket in front of the tipi.
“Koko fixed a picnic. Roast beef sandwiches and eggs. There’s tea in that canteen if you’d care for some.”
Grant stopped in his tracks when she removed a Colt revolver from the lunch sack and placed it on the blanket.
“Where on earth did you get a gun?”
“I told you, Uncle Tom told me to keep an eye out for that bear.”
“He is a man who gives warnings seriously,’ Grant said, laughing nervously.
“He said it was ‘just in case.’ He showed me how to shoot it last summer. ‘In case’ I wanted to go riding alone.”
Grant walked to the shore of the ancient pond. The water had been impounded by beavers. For many generations, the animals had dammed a rivulet, which originated at a spring about a half mile upstream. Although copper toned from the annual leaf litter, the small lake was crystal clear. He could see many fish darting about and he wondered how many men and animals had fed on this bounty of trout and slaked a thirst in these bronze hued depths.
“It really warmed up since this morning,” he said as he walked toward the blanket.
Grant prepared to sit down for their picnic. Dixie held her hand palm out.
“Hold it there, stinky boy. You’re not eating lunch on my blanket smelling like that. Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”
Grant’s face was a blank stare. His cheeks reddened.
Dixie suppressed a laugh. His look was that of a small boy caught with dirty hands at the dinner table. His obvious discomfort was quite endearing.
“Go wash the shirt and it wouldn’t hurt to wash the red woolies too…maybe?”
“But I would have to…” he gasped.
“Mr. Collins,” she said in feigned exasperation, “I have three brothers…one older and two younger. I seriously doubt that the sight of your manly torso is likely to wither me. Queen Victoria passed along about twenty years ago you know. I, too, have gone to college and I am a big girl. Now, go take a bath!”
Grant unfastened the ties on the tipi door and entered to undress.
He emerged with his shirt modestly wrapped around his waist, carrying his red union suit. The light breeze on his bare skin felt sensuous. He ran to the pond making “Oh-oh” sounds, his soft bare feet unaccustomed to the rocks and rough plants. He dropped his clothing on the shore and plunged into the cool depths.
Enveloped in the luxurious, near decadent, feeling of freedom, he floated in mid-pond, at once wishing that she would join him while shamed of his thoughts.
His modesty had prevented him from looking at Dixie after coming out of the tipi. When a movement caught his peripheral vision he looked over to see her standing at the waters edge, ready to dive into the lake. She was wearing only her ankle length cotton under drawers and a mercerized lace sleeveless vest.
“You’re not the only one who gets a swim.”
He heard her laugh before she disappeared beneath the water.
Grant was frozen in stunned disbelief. Except for the renderings in the Sears catalog he had not seen a woman in undergarments since he was a child. Treading water, he watched for her to reappear.
Something touched his leg and he pulled away reflexively. He could see the bright copper outline of her white cotton clothing beneath the surface as she pursued him into shallower water. When he stood chest deep, she emerged in front of him laughing.
“Did you think a creature had you?” she laughed.
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