"Oh, I hope not. I'm afraid of storms."
"Are you? Why?"
"Have you ever been down in one of these walled-up pockets in a bad storm?"
"No, now I think of it, I haven't."
"Well, it's terrible. Every summer I get scared to death and hide somewhere in the dark. Storms up on the sage are bad, but nothing to what they are down here in the canyons. And in this little valley--why, echoes can rap back and forth so quick they'll split our ears."
"We're perfectly safe here, Bess."
"I know. But that hasn't anything to do with it. The truth is I'm afraid of lightning and thunder, and thunder-claps hurt my head.
If we have a bad storm, will you stay close to me?"
When they got back to camp the afternoon was closing, and it was exceedingly sultry. Not a breath of air stirred the aspen leaves, and when these did not quiver the air was indeed still. The dark-purple clouds moved almost imperceptibly out of the west.
"What have we for supper?" asked Bess.
"Bern, can't you think of another new way to cook rabbit?" went on Bess, with earnestness.
"What do you think I am--a magician?" retorted Venters.
"I wouldn't dare tell you. But, Bern, do you want me to turn into a rabbit?"
There was a dark-blue, merry flashing of eyes and a parting of lips; then she laughed. In that moment she was naive and wholesome.
"Rabbit seems to agree with you," replied Venters. "You are well and strong--and growing very pretty."
Anything in the nature of compliment he had never before said to her, and just now he responded to a sudden curiosity to see its effect. Bess stared as if she had not heard aright, slowly blushed, and completely lost her poise in happy confusion.
"I'd better go right away," he continued, "and fetch supplies from Cottonwoods."
A startlingly swift change in the nature of her agitation made him reproach himself for his abruptness.
"No, no, don't go!" she said. "I didn't mean--that about the rabbit. I--I was only trying to be--funny. Don't leave me all alone!"
"Bess, I must go sometime."
"Wait then. Wait till after the storms."
The purple cloud-bank darkened the lower edge of the setting sun, crept up and up, obscuring its fiery red heart, and finally passed over the last ruddy crescent of its upper rim.
The intense dead silence awakened to a long, low, rumbling roll of thunder.
"Oh!" cried Bess, nervously.
"We've had big black clouds before this without rain," said Venters. "But there's no doubt about that thunder. The storms are coming. I'm glad. Every rider on the sage will hear that thunder with glad ears."