Part 3 out of 7
instead of giving his wife a grave by the road, as many did, sent the
man of the house back to Dubuque for a hearse, the women laid out the
corpse, and after a whole day of waiting, the hearse came, and went back
over the road down the Indian trail through the bluffs to some graveyard
in the old town by the river. Virginia Royall sat in the back seat of
the carriage with Buckner Gowdy, and the darky, Pinckney Johnson--we all
knew him afterward--drove solemnly along wearing white gloves which he
had found somewhere. Virginia shrank away over to her own side of the
seat as if trying to get as far from Buckner Gowdy as possible.
The movers moved on, leaving me four of their cows instead of two of
mine, and I went diligently to work breaking them to the yoke. New
prairie schooners came all the time into view from the East, and others
went over the sky-line into the West.
And that day the Fewkes family hove into sight in a light democrat wagon
drawn by a good-sized apology for a horse, poor as a crow, and carrying
sail in the most ferocious way of any beast I ever saw. He had had a bad
case of poll-evil and his head was poked forward as if he was just about
to bite something, and his ears were leered back tight to his head with
an expression of the most terrible anger--I have known people who went
through the world in a good deal the same way for much the same reasons.
Old Man Fewkes was driving, and sitting by him was Mrs. Fewkes in a
faded calico dress, her shoulders wrapped in what was left of a shawl.
Fewkes was letting old Tom take his own way, which he did by rushing
with all vengeance through every bad spot and then stopping to rest as
soon as he reached a good bit of road. The old man was thin and
light-boned, with a high beak of a nose which ought to have indicated
strength of character, I suppose; but the other feature that also tells
a good deal, the chin, was hidden by a gray beard which hung in long
curving locks over his breast and saved him the expense of a collar or
cravat. His hands were like claws--I never saw such hands doing much of
the hard work of the world--and, like his face, were covered with great
patches which, if they had not been so big would have been freckles. His
wife was a perfect picture of those women who had the life drailed out
of them by a yielding to the whiffling winds of influence that carried
the dead leaves of humanity hither and yon in the advance of the
frontier. She sat stooped over on the stiff broad seat, with her
shoulders drawn down as no shoulders but hers could be drawn. It was her
one outstanding point that she had no collar-bones. It doesn't seem
possible that this could be so; but she could bring her shoulders
together in front until they touched. She was rather proud of this--I
suppose every one must have something to be proud of.
I guess the old man's chin must have been pretty weak; for the boys, who
were seated on the back seat, both had high noses and no chins to speak
of. The oldest was over twenty, I suppose, and was named Celebrate. His
mother explained to me that he was born on the Fourth of July, and they
called him at first Celebrate Independence Fewkes; but finally changed
it to Celebrate Fourth--I am telling you this so as to give you an idea
as to what sort of folks they were. Celebrate was tall and well-built,
and could be a good hand if he tried; which he would do once in a while
for half a day or so if flattered. The second son was named Surajah
Dowlah Fewkes--the name was pronounced Surrager by everybody. Old Man
Fewkes said they named him this because a well-read man had told them it
might give him force of character; but it failed. He was a harmless
little chap, and there was nothing bad about him except that he was
addicted to inventions. When they came into camp that day he was
explaining to Celebrate a plan for catching wild geese with fish-hooks
baited with corn, and that evening came to me to see if he couldn't
borrow a long fish-line.
"I can ketch meat for a dozen outfits with it," he said, "if I can
borrow a fish-hook."
Walking along behind the wagon came the fifth member of the family,
Rowena, a girl of seventeen. She went several rods behind the wagon, and
as they rushed and plodded along according to old Tom's temper, I
noticed that she rambled over the prairie a good deal picking flowers;
and you would hardly have thought to look at her that she belonged to
the Fewkes outfit at all. I guess that was the way she wanted it to
look. She was as vigorous as the others were limpsey and boneless; and
there was in her something akin to the golden plovers that were running
in hundreds that morning over the prairies--I haven't seen one for
twenty-five years! That is, she skimmed over the little knolls rather
than walked, as if made of something lighter than ordinary human clay.
Her dress was ragged, faded, and showed through the tears in it a
tattered quilted petticoat, and she wore no bonnet or hat; but carried
in, her hand a boy's cap--which, according to the notions harbored by us
then, it would have been immodest for her to wear. Her hair was brown
and blown all about her head, and her face was tanned to a rich brown--a
very bad complexion then, but just the thing the society girl of to-day
likes to show when she returns from the seashore.
When her family had halted, she did not come to them at once, but made a
circuit or two about the camp, like a shy bird coming to its nest, or as
if she hated to do it; and when she did come it was in a sort of defiant
way, swinging herself and tossing her head, and looking at every one as
bold as brass. I was staring at the astonishing horse, the queer wagon,
and the whole outfit with more curiosity than manners, I reckon, when
she came into the circle, and caught my unmannerly eye.
"Well," she said, her face reddening under the tan, "if you see anything
green throw your hat at it! Sellin' gawp-seed, or what is your
"I beg your pardon," "I meant no offense," and even "Excuse me" were
things I had never learned to say. I had learned to fight any one who
took offense at me; and if they didn't like my style they could lump
it--such was my code of manners, and the code of my class. To beg pardon
was to knuckle under--and it took something more than I was master of in
the way of putting on style to ask to be excused, even if the element of
back-down were eliminated. Remember, I had been "educated" on the canal.
So I tried to look her out of countenance, grew red, retreated, and went
about some sort of needless work without a word--completely defeated. I
thought she seemed rather to like this; and that evening I went over and
offered Mrs. Fewkes some butter and milk, of which I had a plenty.
I was soon on good terms with the Fewkes family. Old Man Fewkes told me
he was going to Negosha--a region of which I had never heard. It was
away off to the westward, he said; and years afterward I made up my mind
that the name was made up of the two words Nebraska and Dakota--not very
well joined together. Mrs. Fewkes was not strong for Negosha; and when
Fewkes offered to go to Texas, she objected because it was so far.
"Why," said the old man indignantly, "it hain't only a matter of fifteen
hundred mile! An' the trees is in constant varder!"
He still harped on Negosha, though, and during the evening while we were
fattening up on my bread and meat, which I had on a broad hint added to
our meal, he told me that what he really wanted was an estate where he
could have an artificial lake and keep some deer and plenty of ducks and
geese. Swans, too, he said could be raised at a profit, and sold to
other well-to-do people. He said that by good farming he could get
along with only a few hundred acres of plow land. Mrs. Fewkes grew more
indulgent to these ideas as the food satisfied her hungry stomach.
Celebrate believed that if he could once get out among 'em he could do
well as a hunter and trapper; while Surajah kept listening to the
honking of the wild geese and planning to catch enough of them with
baited hooks to feed the whole family all the way to Negosha, and
provide plenty of money by selling the surplus to the emigrants. Rowena
sat in her ragged dress, her burst shoes drawn in under her skirt,
looking at her family with an expression of unconcealed scorn. When she
got a chance to speak to me, she did so in a very friendly manner.
"Did you ever see," said she, "such a set of darned infarnal fools as we
Before the evening was over, however, and she had hidden herself away in
her clothes under a thin and ragged comforter in their wagon, she had
joined in the discussion of their castle in Spain in a way that showed
her to be a legitimate Fewkes. She spoke for a white saddle horse, a
beautiful side-saddle, a long blue riding-habit with shot in the seam,
and a man to keep the horse in order. She wanted to be able to rub the
horse with a white silk handkerchief without soiling it. Ah, well!
dreams hovered over all our camps then. The howling of the wolves
couldn't drive them away. Poor Rowena!
MY LOAD RECEIVES AN EMBARRASSING ADDITION
I still had some corn for my cattle, of the original supply which I had
got from Rucker in Madison. Hay was fifteen dollars a ton, and all it
cost the producer was a year's foresight and the labor of putting it up;
for there were millions of acres of wild grass going to waste which made
the sweet-smelling hay that old horsemen still prefer to tame hay. It
hadn't quite the feeding value, pound for pound, that the best timothy
and clover has; but it was a wonderful hay that could be put up in the
clear weather of the fall when the ground is dry and warm, and cured so
as to be free from dust. My teams never got the heaves when I fed
prairie hay. It graveled me like sixty to pay such a price, but I had to
do it because the season was just between hay and grass. Sometimes I
thought of waiting over until the summer of 1856 to make hay for sale to
the movers; but having made my start for my farm I could not bring
myself to give up reaching it that spring. So I only waited occasionally
to break in or rest up the foot-sore and lame cattle for which I traded
from time to time.
The Fewkes family went on after I had given them some butter, some side
pork and a milking of milk. While I was baking pancakes that last
morning, Rowena came to my fire, and snatching the spider away from me
took the job off my hands, baking the cakes while I ate. She was a
pretty girl, slim and well developed, and she had a fetching way with
her eyes after friendly relations were established with her--which was
pretty hard because she seemed to feel that every one looked down on
her, and was quick to take offense.
"Got any saleratus?" she asked.
"No," said I. "Why?"
She stepped over to the Fewkes wagon and brought back a small packet of
saleratus, a part of which she stirred into the batter.
"It's gettin' warm enough so your milk'll sour on you," said she. "This
did. Don't you know enough to use saleratus to sweeten the sour milk?
You better keep this an' buy some at the next store."
"I wish I had somebody along that could cook," said I.
"Can't you cook?" she asked. "I can."
I told her, then, all about my experience on the canal; and how we used
to carry a cook on the boat sometimes, and sometimes cooked for
ourselves. I induced her to sit by me on the spring seat which I had set
down on the ground, and join me in my meal while I told her of my
adventures. She seemed to forget her ragged and unwashed dress, while
she listened to the story of my voyages from Buffalo to Albany, and my
side trips to such places as Oswego. This canal life seemed powerfully
thrilling to the poor girl. She could only tell of living a year or so
at a time on some run-down or never run-up farm in Indiana or Illinois,
always in a log cabin in a clearing; or of her brothers and sisters who
had been "bound out" because the family was so large; and now of this
last voyage in search of an estate in Negosha.
"I can make bread," said she, after a silence. "Kin you?"
When I told her I couldn't she told me how. It was the old-fashioned
salt-rising bread, the receipt for which she gave me; and when I asked
her to write it down I found that she was even a poorer scribe than I
was. We were two mighty ignorant young folks, but we got it down, and
that night I set emptins for the first time, and I kept trying, and
advising with the women-folks, until I could make as good salt-rising
bread as any one. When we had finished this her father was calling her
to come, as they were starting on toward Negosha; and I gave Rowena
money enough to buy her a calico dress pattern at the next settlement.
She tried to resist, and her eyes filled with tears as she took the
money and chokingly tried to thank me for it. She climbed into the wagon
and rode on for a while, but got out and came back to me while old Tom
went on in those mad rushes of his, and circling within a few yards of
me she said, "You're right good," and darted off over the prairie at a
wide angle to the road.
 Our author resists firmly all arguments in favor of the generally
accepted dictionary spelling, "emptyings." He says that the term can not
possibly come from any such idea as things which are emptied, or emptied
out. The editor is reconciled to this view in the light of James Russell
Lowell's discussion of "emptins" in which he says: "Nor can I divine the
original." Mr. Lowell surely must have considered "emptyings"--and
I watched her with a buying eye, as she circled like a pointer pup and
finally caught up with the wagon, a full mile on to the westward. I had
wondered once if she had not deserted the Fewkes party forever. I had
even, such is the imagination of boyhood, made plans and lived them
through in my mind, which put Rowena on the nigh end of the spring seat,
and made her a partner with me in opening up the new farm. But she waved
her hand as she joined her family--or I thought so at least, and waved
back--and was gone.
The Gowdy outfit did not return until after I had about cured the
lameness of my newly-acquired cows and set out on my way over the Old
Ridge Road for the West. The spring was by this time broadening into the
loveliest of all times on the prairies (when the weather is fine), the
days of the full blowth of the upland bird's-foot violets. Some southern
slopes were so blue with them that you could hardly tell the distant
hill from the sky, except for the greening of the peeping grass. The
possblummies were still blowing, but only the later ones. The others
were aging into tassels of down.
The Canada geese, except for the nesters, had swept on in that marvelous
ranked army which ends the migration, spreading from the east to the
west some warm morning when the wind is south, and extending from a
hundred feet in the air to ten thousand, all moved by a common impulse
like myself and my fellow-migrants, pressing northward though, instead
of westward, with the piping of a thousand organs, their wings whirring,
their eyes glistening as if with some mysterious hope, their black
webbed feet folded and stretched out behind, their necks strained out
eagerly to the north, and held a little high I thought as if to peer
over the horizon to catch a glimpse of their promised land of blue
lakes, tall reeds, and broad fields of water-celery and wild rice, with
dry nests downy with the harvests of their gray breasts; and fluffy
goslings swimming in orderly classes after their teachers. And up from
the South following these old honkers came the snow geese, the Wilson
geese, and all the other little geese (we ignorantly called all of them
"brants"), with their wild flutings like the high notes of
clarinets--and the ponds became speckled with teal and coot.
The prairie chickens now became the musicians of the morning and evening
on the uplands, with their wild and intense and almost insane chorus,
repeated over and over until it seemed as if the meaning of it must be
forced upon every mind like a figure in music played with greatening
power by a violinist so that the heart finally almost breaks with
it--"Ka-a-a-a-a-a, ka, ka, ka, ka! _Ka-a-a-a-a-a-a,_ ka, ka, ka, ka, ka,
ka, ka! KA-A-A-A-A-A-A, ka, ka, ka, ka, ka, ka, ka, ka!"--Oh, there is
no way to tell it!--And then the cock filled in the harmony with his
lovely contribution: facing the courted hen, he swelled out the great
orange globes at the sides of his head, fluffed out his feathers,
strutted forward a few steps, and tolled his deep-toned bell, with all
the skill of a ventriloquist, making it seem far away when he was on a
near-by knoll, like a velvet gong sounded with no stroke of the hammer,
as if it spoke from some inward vibration set up by a mysterious
current--a liquid "Do, re, me," here full and distinct, there afar off,
the whole air tremulous with it, the harmony to the ceaseless fugue in
the soprano clef of the rest of the flock--nobody will ever hear it
again! Nobody ever drew from it, and from the howling of the wolves, the
honking of the geese, the calls of the ducks, the strange cries of the
cranes as they soared with motionless wings high overhead, or rowed
their way on with long slow strokes of their great wings, or danced
their strange reels and cotillions in the twilight; and from the myriad
voices of curlew, plover, gopher, bob-o-link, meadowlark, dick-cissel,
killdeer and the rest--day-sounds and night-sounds, dawn-sounds and
dusk-sounds--more inspiration than did the stolid Dutch boy plodding
west across Iowa that spring of 1855, with his fortune in his teams of
cows, in the covered wagon they drew, and the deed to his farm in a flat
packet of treasures in a little iron-bound trunk--among them a
rain-stained letter and a worn-out woman's shoe.
I got the saleratus at Dyersville, and just as I came out of the little
store which was, as I remember it, the only one there, I saw the Gowdy
carriage come down the short street, the horses making an effort to
prance under the skilful management of Pinck Johnson, who occupied the
front seat alone, while Virginia Royall sat in the back seat with
Buckner Gowdy, her arm about the upright of the cover, her left foot
over the side as it might be in case of a person who was ready to jump
out to escape the danger of a runaway, an overturn, or some other peril.
Gowdy did not recognize me, or if he did he did not speak to me. He got
out of the carriage and went first into the store, coming out presently
with some packages in his hand which he tossed to the darky, and then he
joined the crowd of men in front of the saloon across the way. Soon I
saw him go into the gin-mill, the crowd following him, and the noise of
voices grew louder. I had had enough experience with such things to know
pretty well what was going on; the stink of spilled drinks, and
profanity and indecency--there was nothing in them to toll me in from
the flowery prairie.
As I passed the carriage Virginia nodded to me; and looking at her I saw
that she was pale and tremulous, with a look in her eyes like that of a
crazy man I once knew who imagined that he was being followed by enemies
who meant to kill him. There is no word for it but a hunted look.
She came to my wagon, pretty soon, and surprised me by touching my arm
as I was about to start on so as to make a few more miles before
camping. I had got my team straightened out, and ready to start, when I
felt her hand on my arm, and on turning saw her standing close to me,
and speaking almost in a whisper.
"Do you know any one," she asked, "good people--along the road
ahead--people we'll overtake--that would be friends to a girl that
"Be friends," I blundered, "be friends? How be friends?"
"Give her work," she said; "take her in; take care of her. This girl
needs friends--other girls--women--some one to take the place of a
mother and sisters. Yes, and she needs friends to take the place of a
father and brothers. A girl needs friends--friends all the time--as you
were to me back there in the night."
I wondered if she meant herself; and after thinking over it for two or
three days I made up my mind that she did; and then I was provoked at
myself for not understanding: but what could I have done or said if I
had understood? I remembered, though, how she had skithered back to
the carriage as she saw Pinck Johnson coming out of the saloon with Buck
Gowdy; and had then clambered out again and gone into the little hotel
where they seemed to have decided to stay all night; while I went on
over roads which were getting more and more miry as I went west. I had
only been able to tell her of the Fewkes family--Old Man Fewkes, with
his bird's claws and a beard where a chin should have been, Surajah
Dowlah Fewkes with no thought except for silly inventions, Celebrate
Fourth Fewkes with no ideas at all--
 A family word, to the study of which one would like to direct the
attention of the philologists, since traces of it are found in the
conversation of folk of unsophisticated vocabulary outside the Clan van
de Marck. Doubtless it is of Yankee origin, and hence old English. It
may, of course, be derived according to Alice-in-Wonderland principles
from "skip" and "hither" or "thither" or all three; but the claim is
here made that it comes, like monkeys and men, from a common linguistic
"But isn't there a man among them?" she had asked.
"A man!" I repeated.
"A man that knows how to shoot a pistol, or use a knife," she explained;
"and who would shoot or stab for a weak girl with nobody to take cart
I shook my head. Not one of these was a real man in the Kentucky, or
other proper sense: and Ma Fewkes with her boneless shoulders was not
one of those women of whom I had seen many in my life, who could be more
terrible to a wrong-doer than an army with bowie-knives.
"There's only two in the outfit," I went on, "that have got any sprawl
to them; and they are old Tom their bunged-up horse, and Rowena Fewkes."
"Who is she?" inquired Virginia Royall.
"A girl about your age," said I. "She's ragged and dirty, but she has a
And then she had skipped away, as I finally concluded, to keep Gowdy
from seeing her in conversation with me.
I pulled out for Manchester with Nathaniel Vincent Creede, whom
everybody calls just "N.V.," riding in the spring seat with me, and his
carpet-bag and his law library in the back of the wagon.
His library consisted of _Blackstone's Commentaries_--I saw them in his
present library in Monterey Centre only yesterday--_Chitty on Pleading_,
the _Code of Iowa of_ 1851, the _Session Laws_ of the state so far as it
had any session laws--a few thin books bound in yellow and pink boards.
Even these few books made a pretty heavy bundle for a man to carry in
one hand while he lugged all his other worldly goods in the other.
"Books are damned heavy, Mr. Vandemark," said he; "law books are
particularly heavy. My library is small; but there is an adage in our
profession which warns us to beware of the man of one book. He's always
likely to know what's in the damned thing, you know, Mr. Vandemark; and
the truth being a seamless web, if a lawyer knows all about the law in
one book, he's prone to make a hell of a straight guess at what's in the
rest of 'em. Hence beware of the man of one book. I may safely lay claim
to being that man--in a figurative way; though there are half a dozen
volumes or so back there--the small pedestal on which I stand reaching
up toward a place on the Supreme Bench of the United States."
He had had a drink or two with Buckner Gowdy back there in the saloon,
and this had taken the brakes off his tongue--if there were any
provided in his temperament. So, aside from Buck Gowdy, I was the first
of his fellow-citizens of Monterey County to become acquainted with N.V.
Creede. He reminded me at first of Lawyer Jackway of Madison, the
guardian _ad litem_ who had sung the song that still recurred to me
And got the tin,
And sucked another Dutchman in!"
But N.V. looked a little like Jackway from the fact only that he wore a
long frock coat, originally black, a white shirt, and a black cravat. He
was very tall, and very erect, even while carrying those books and that
bag. He was smooth-shaven, and was the first man I ever saw who shaved
every day, and could do the trick without a looking-glass. His eyes were
black and very piercing; and his voice rolled like thunder when he grew
earnest--which he was likely to do whenever he spoke. He would begin to
discuss my cows, the principles of farming, the sky, the birds of
passage, the flowers, the sucking in of the Dutchman--which I told him
all about before we had gone five miles--the mire-holes in the slews,
anything at all--and rising from a joke or a flighty notion which he
earnestly advocated, he would lower his voice and elevate his language
and utter a little gem of an oration. After which he would be still and
solemn for a while--to let it sink in I thought.
N.V. was at that time twenty-seven years old. He; came from Evansville,
Indiana, by the Ohio from Evansville to St. Louis, and thence up the
Mississippi. From Dubuque he had partly walked and partly ridden with
people who were willing to give him a lift.
"I am like unto the Apostle Peter," he said when he asked for the chance
to ride with me, "silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give
"What do you mean?" I asked; for it is just as well always to be sure
beforehand when it comes to pay-though, of course, I should have been
glad to have him with me without money and without price.
"In the golden future of Iowa," he said, "you will occasionally want
legal advice. I will accept transportation in your very safe, but
undeniably slow equipage as a retainer."
"Captain Sproule used to say," I said, "that what you pay the lawyer is
the least of the matter when you go to law."
"Wise Captain Sproule," replied N.V.; "and my rule shall be to keep my
first client, Mr. Jacob T. Vandemark, out of the courts; and in addition
to my prospective legal services, I can wield the goad-stick and
manipulate the blacksnake. Moreover, when these feet of mine get their
blisters healed, I can help drive the cattle; and I can gather firewood,
kindle fires, and perhaps I may suggest that my conversation may not be
I told him I would take him in as a passenger; and there our life-long
friendship began. His conversation was not unprofitable. He had the
vision of the future of Iowa which I had until then lacked. He could see
on every quarter-section a prosperous farm, and he knew what the
building of the railways must mean. As we forded the Maquoketa he
laughed at the settlers working at the timber, grubbing out stumps,
burning off the logs, struggling with roots.
"Your ancestors, the Dutch," said he, "have been held up to ridicule
because they refused to establish a town until they found a place where
dykes had to be built to keep out the sea, though there were plenty of
dry places available. These settlers are acting just as foolishly. They
have been used to grubbing, and they go where grubbing has to be done.
Two miles either way is better land ready for the plow! Why can't every
one be wise like us?"
"They have to have wood for houses, stables, and fuel," I said. "I hope
my land has timber on it."
"The railroads are coming," said he, "and they will bring you coal and
wood and everything you want. They are racing for the crossings of the
Mississippi. Soon they will reach the Missouri--and some day they will
cross the continent to the Pacific. No more Erie Canals; no more Aaron
Burr conspiracies for the control of the mouth of the Mississippi.
Towns! Cities! Counties! States! We are pioneers; but civilization is
treading on our heels. I feel it galling my kibes--and what are a few
blisters to me! I see in my own adopted city of Lithopolis, Iowa, a
future Sparta or Athens or Rome, or anyhow, a Louisville or Cincinnati
or Dubuque--a place in which to achieve greatness--or anyhow, a chance
to deal in town lots, defend criminals, or prosecute them, and where the
unsettled will have to be settled in the courts as well as on the farm.
On to Lithopolis! G'lang, Whiteface, g'lang!"
 The editor acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Honorable N.V.
Creede in the editing of the proofs of this and a few other
"I thought you were going to Monterey Centre," I said.
"Not if the court knows itself," he said, "and it thinks it does.
Lithopolis is the permanent town in Monterey County, and Monterey Centre
is the mushroom."
Monterey County, like all the eastern counties of Iowa, all the counties
along the Missouri, and every other county which was crossed by a
considerable river, was dotted with paper towns. We passed many of these
staked-out sites on the Old Ridge Road; and we heard of them from buyers
of and dealers in their lots.
Lithopolis was laid out by Judge Horace Stone, the great outsider in the
affairs of the county until he died. He platted a town in Howard County
when the town-lot fever first broke out, at a place called Stone's
Ferry, and named it Lithopolis, because his name was Stone, and for the
additional reason that there was a stone quarry there. I've been told
that the word means Stone City. The people insisted upon calling it
Stone's Ferry and would not have the name Lithopolis. Judge Stone raved
and tore, but he was voted down, and pulled up stakes in disgust, sold
out his interests and went on to Monterey County, where he could
establish a new city and name it Lithopolis. He seemed to care more for
the name than anything else, and never seemed to see how funny it was
that he felt it possible to make a city wherever he decreed. This was a
part of the spirit of the time. The prairies were infested with
Romuluses and Remuses, flourishing, not on the milk of the wolves, but
seemingly on their howls, of which they often gave a pretty fair
"But Monterey Centre is the county-seat," I suggested.
"It just thinks it's going to be," said N.V. "The fact is that Monterey
County is not organized, but is attached to the county south of it for
judicial purposes. Let me whisper in your ear that it will soon be
organized, and that the county-seat will not be Monterey Centre, but
Lithopolis--that classic municipality whose sonorous name will be the
admiration of all true Americans and the despair of the spelling classes
in our schools. Lithopolis! It has the cadence of Alexander, and
Alcibiades, and Numa Pompilius, and Belisarius--it reeks of greatness!
Monterey Centre--ever been there? Ever seen that poverty-stricken,
semi-hamlet, squatting on the open prairie, and inhabited by a parcel of
"No," said I; "have you?"
"No," he replied. "What difference does it make? He that goeth up
against Lithopolis and them that dwell therein, the same is a
The beginnings of faction were in our town-sites; for most of them were
in no sense towns, or even villages. There was a future county-seat
fight in the rivalry between Monterey Centre and Lithopolis--and not
only these, but in the rival rivalries of Cole's Grove, Imperial City,
Rocksylvania, New Baltimore, Cathedral Rock, Waynesville and I know not
how many more projects, all ambitiously laid out in the
still-unorganized county of Monterey, and all but one or two now quite
lost to all human memory or thought, except as some diligent abstractor
of titles or real-estate lawyer discovers something of them in the chain
of title of a farm; the spires and gables of the 'fifties realized only
in the towering silo, the spinning windmill, or the vine-clad porch of a
substantial farm-house. But in the heyday of their new-driven corner
stakes, what wars were waged for the power to draw people into them; and
especially, how the county-seat fights raged like prairie fires set out
by those Nimrods who sought to make up in the founding of cities for
what they lacked as hunters, in comparison with the establisher of Babel
and Erech and Accad and Calneh in the land of Shinar.
Between the Maquoketa and Independence I lost N.V. Creede, merely
because I traded for some more lame cows and a young Alderney bull, and
had to stop to break them. He stayed with me two days, and then caught a
ride with one of Judge Horace Stone's teams which was making a quick
trip to Lithopolis.
"Good-by, Mr. Vandemark," said he at parting, "and good luck. I am sorry
not to be able to remunerate you for your hospitality, which I shall
always remember for its improving conversation, its pancakes, its pork
and beans, and its milk and butter, rather than for its breathless
speed. And take the advice of your man of the law in parting: in your
voyages over the inland waterways of life, look not upon the flush when
it is red--not even the straight one; for had I not done that on a
damned steamboat coming up from St. Louis I should not have been thus in
my old age forsaken. And let me tell you, one day my coachman will pull
up at the door of your farm-house and take you and your wife and
children in my coach and four for a drive--perhaps to see the laying of
the corner-stone of the United States court-house in Lithopolis. I go
from your ken, but I shall return--good-by."
I was sorry to see him go. It was lonesome without him; and I was
troubled by my live stock. I soon saw that I was getting so many cattle
that without help in driving them I should be obliged to leave and come
back for some of them. I found a farmer named Westervelt who lived by
the roadside, and had come to Iowa from Herkimer County, in York State.
He even knew some of the relatives of Captain Sproule; so in view of the
fact that he seemed honest, I left my cattle with him, all but four
cows, and promised to return for them not later than the middle of July.
I made him give me a receipt for them, setting forth just what the
bargain was, and I paid him then and there for looking out for them--and
N.V. Creede said afterward that the thing was a perfectly good legal
document, though badly spelled.
"It calls," said he, "for an application of the doctrine of _idem
sonans_--but it will serve, it will serve."
I marveled that the Gowdy carriage still was astern of me after all this
time; and speculated as to whether there was not some other road between
Dyersville and Independence, by which they had passed me; but a few
miles east of Independence they came up behind me as I lay bogged down
in a slew, and drove by on the green tough sod by the roadside. I had
just hitched the cows to the end of the tongue, by means of the chain,
when they trotted by, and sweeping down near me halted. Virginia still
sat as if she had never moved, her hand gripping the iron support of the
carriage top, her foot outside the box as if she was ready to spring
out. Buck Gowdy leaped out and came down to me.
"In trouble, Mr. Vandemark?" he inquired. "Can we be of any assistance?"
"I guess I can make it," I said, scraping the mud off my trousers and
boots. "Gee-up there, Liney!"
My cows settled slowly into the yoke, and standing, as they did now, on
firm ground, they deliberately snaked the wagon, hub-deep as it was, out
of the mire, and stopped at the word on the western side of
"Good work, Mr. Vandemark!" he said. "Those knowledgy folk back along
the road who said you were trading yourself out of your patrimony ought
to see you put the thing through. If you ever need work, come to my
place out in the new Earthly Eden."
"I'll have plenty of work of my own," I said; "but maybe, sometime, I
may need to earn a little money. I'll remember."
I stopped at Independence that night; and so did the Gowdy party. I was
on the road before them in the morning, but they soon passed me,
Virginia looking wishfully at me as they went by, and Buck Gowdy waving
his hand in a way that made me think he must be a little tight--and then
they drove on out of sight, and I pursued my slow way wondering why
Virginia Royall had asked me so anxiously if I knew any good people who
would take in and shelter a friendless girl--and not only take her in,
but fight for her. I could not understand what she had said in any
I had a hard time that day. The road was already cut up and at the
crossings of the swales the sod on which we relied to bear up our wheels
was destroyed by the host of teams that had gone on before me. That
endless stream across the Dubuque ferry was flowing on ahead of me; and
the fast-going part of it was passing me every hour like swift schooners
outstripping a slow, round-bellied Dutch square-rigger.
The mire-holes were getting deeper and deeper; for the weather was
showery. I helped many teams out of their troubles, and was helped by
some; though my load was not overly heavy, and I had four true-pulling
heavy cows that, when mated with the Alderney bull I had left behind me
with Mr. Westervelt, gave me the best stock of cattle--they and my other
cows--in Monterey County, until Judge Horace Stone began bringing in his
pure-bred Shorthorns; and even then, by grading up with Shorthorn blood
I was thought by many to have as good cattle as he had. So I got out of
most of my troubles on the Old Ridge Road with my cows, as I did later
with them and their descendants when the wheat crop failed us in the
'seventies; but I had a hard time that day. It grew better in the
afternoon; and as night drew on I could see the road for miles ahead of
me a solitary stretch of highway, without a team; but far off, coming
over a hill toward me, I saw a figure that looked strange and mysterious
to me, somehow.
It seemed to be a woman or girl, for I could see even at that distance
her skirts blown out by the brisk prairie wind. She came over the hill
as if running, and at its summit she appeared to stop as if looking for
something afar off. At that distance I could not tell whether she gazed
backward, forward, to the left or the right, but it impressed me that
she stood gazing backward over the route to the west along which she had
come. Then, it was plain, she began running down the gentle declivity
toward me, and once she fell and either lay or sat on the ground for
some time. Presently, though, she got up, and began coming on more
slowly, sometimes as if running, most of the time going from side to
side of the road as if staggering--and finally she went out of my sight,
dropping into a wide valley, to the bottom of which I could not see. It
was strange, as it appeared to me; this lone woman, the prairie, night,
and the sense of trouble; but, I thought, like most queer things, it
would have some quite simple explanation if one could see it close-by.
I made camp a few hundred yards from the road by a creek, along the
banks of which grew many willows, and some little groves of box-elders
and popples, which latter in this favorable locality grew eight or ten
feet tall, and were already breaking out their soft greenish catkins and
tender, quivering, pointed leaves: in one of these clumps I hid my
wagon, and in the midst of it I kindled my camp-fire. It seemed already
a little odd to find myself where I could not look out afar over
The little creek ran bank-full, but clear, and not muddy as our streams
now always are after a rain. One of the losses of Iowa through
civilization has been the disappearance of our lovely little brooks.
Then every few miles there ran a rivulet as clear as crystal, its bottom
checkered at the riffles into a brilliant pattern like plaid delaine by
the shining of the clean red, white and yellow granite pebbles through
the crossed ripples from the banks. Now these watercourses are robbed of
their flow by the absorption of the rich plowed fields, are all silted
up, and in summer are dry; and in spring and fall they are muddy
bankless wrinkles in the fields, poached full by the hoofs of cattle and
the snouts of hogs; and through many a swale, you would now be surprised
to know, in 1855 there ran a brook two feet wide in a thousand little
loops, with beautiful dark quiet pools at the turns, some of them
mantled with white water-lilies, and some with yellow. Over-hanging
banks of rooty turf, had these creeks, under which the larger and
soberer fishes lurked in dignified caution like bank presidents, too
wise for any common bait, but eager for the big good things. The
narrower reaches were all overshadowed by the long grass until you had
to part the greenery to see the water. Now such a valley is a forest of
corn unbroken by any vestige of brook, creek, rivulet or rill.
That night at a spot which is now plow-land, I have no doubt, I listened
to the frogs and prairie-chickens while I caught a mess of chubs,
shiners, punkin-seeds and bullheads in a little pond not ten feet broad,
within a hundred yards of my wagon, and then rolled them in flour and
fried them in butter over my fire, wondering all the time about the
woman I had seen coming eastward on the road ahead of me.
I was still in sight of the road, and the twilight was settling down
gradually; the air was so clear that even in the absence of a moon, it
was long after sunset before it was dark; so I could sit in my dwarf
forest, and keep watch of the road to the west to see whether that woman
was really a lonely wanderer against the stream of travel, or only a
stray from some mover's wagon camped ahead of me along the road.
A pack of wolves just off the road and to the west at that moment began
their devilish concert over some wayside carcass--just at the moment
when she came in sight. She appeared in the road where it came into my
view twenty rods or so beyond the creek, and on the other side of it.
I heard her scream when the first howls of the wolves broke the
silence; and then she came running, stumbling, falling, partly toward me
and partly toward a point up-stream, where I thought she must mean to
cross the brook--a thing which was very easy for one on foot, since it
called only for a little jump from one bank to the other. She seemed to
be carrying something which when she fell would fly out of her hand, and
which in spite of her panic she would pick up before she ran on again.
She came on uncertainly, but always running away from the howls of the
wolves, and just before she reached the little creek, she stopped and
looked back, as if for a sight of pursuers--and there were pursuers.
Perhaps a hundred yards back of her I saw four or five slinking dark
forms; for the cowardly prairie wolf becomes bold when fled from, and
partly out of curiosity, and perhaps looking forward to a feast on some
dead or dying animal, they were stalking the girl, silent, shadowy,
evil, and maybe dangerous. She saw them too--and with another scream she
plunged on through the knee-high grass, fell splashing into the icy
water of the creek, and I lost sight of her.
My first thought was that she was in danger of drowning, notwithstanding
the littleness of the brook; and I ran to the point from which I had
heard her plunge into the water, expecting to have to draw her out on
the bank; but I found only a place where the grass was wallowed down as
she had crawled out, and lying on the ground was the satchel she had
been carrying. Dark as it was I could see her trail through the grass as
she had made her way on; and I followed it with her sachel in my hand,
with some foolish notion of opening a conversation with her by giving it
back to her.
A short distance farther, on the upland, were my four cows, tied head
and foot so they could graze, lying down to rest; and staggering on
toward them went the woman's form, zigzagging in bewilderment. She came
all at once upon the dozing cows, which suddenly gathered themselves
together in fright, hampered by their hobbling ropes, and one of them
sent forth that dreadful bellow of a scared cow, worse than a lion's
roar. The woman uttered another piercing cry, louder and shriller than
any she had given yet; she turned and ran back to me, saw my dark form
before her, and fell in a heap in the grass, helpless, unnerved,
quivering, quite done for.
"Don't be afraid," said I; "I won't let them hurt you--I won't let
anything hurt you!"
I didn't go very near her at first, and I did not touch her. I stood
there repeating that the wolves would not hurt her, that it was only a
gentle cow which had made that awful noise, that I was only a boy on my
way to my farm, and not afraid of wolves at all, or of anything else. I
kept repeating these simple words of reassurance over and over, standing
maybe a rod from her; and from that distance stepping closer and closer
until I stood over her, and found that she was moaning and catching her
breath, her face in her arms, stretched out on the cold ground, wet and
miserable, all alone on the boundless prairie except for a foolish boy
who did not know what to do with her or with himself, but was repeating
the promise that he would not let anything hurt her. She has told me
since that if I had touched her she would have died. It was a long time
before she said anything.
"The wolves!" she cried. "The wolves!"
"They are gone," I said. "They are all gone--and I've got a gun."
"Oh! Oh!" she cried: "Keep them away! Keep them away!"
She kept saying this over and over, sitting on the ground and staring
out into the darkness, starting at every rustle of the wind, afraid of
everything. It was a long time before she uttered a word except
exclamations of terror, and every once in a while she broke down in
convulsive sobbings. I thought there was something familiar in her
voice; but I could not see well enough to recognize her features, though
it was plain that she was a young girl.
"The wolves are gone," I said; "I have scared them off."
"Don't let them come back," she sobbed. "Don't let them come back!"
"I've got a little camp-fire over yonder," I said; "and if we go to it,
I'll build it up bright, and that will scare them most to death. They're
cowards, the wolves--camp-fire will make 'em run. Let's go to the fire."
She made an effort to get up, but fell back to the ground in a heap. I
was just at that age when every boy is afraid of girls; and while I had
had my dreams of rescuing damsels from danger and serving them in other
heroic ways as all boys do, when the pinch came I did not know what to
do; she put up her hand, though, and I took it and helped her to her
feet; but she could not walk. Summoning up my courage I picked her up
and carried her toward the fire. She said nothing, except, of course,
that she was too heavy for me to carry; but she clung to me
convulsively. I could feel her heart beating furiously against me, and
she was twitching and quivering in every limb.
"You are the boy who took care of me back there when my sister died,"
said she as I carried her along.
"Are you Mrs. Gowdy's sister?" I asked.
"I am Virginia Royall," she said.
She was very wet and very cold. I set her down on the spring seat where
she could lean back, and wrapped her in a buffalo robe, building up the
fire until it warmed her.
"I'm glad it's you!" she said.
Presently I had hot coffee for her, and some warm milk, with the fish
and good bread and butter, and a few slices of crisp pork which I had
fried, and browned warmed-up potatoes. There was smear-case too, milk
gravy and sauce made of English currants. She began picking at the food,
saying that she could not eat; and I noticed that her lips were pale,
while her face was crimson as if with fever. She had had nothing to eat
for twenty-four hours except some crackers and cheese which she had
hidden in her satchel before running away; so in spite of the fact that
she was in a bad way from all she had gone through, she did eat a fair
meal of victuals.
I thought she ought to be talked to so as to take her mind from her
fright; but I could think of nothing but my way of cooking the victuals,
and how much I wished I could give her a better meal--just the same sort
of talk a woman is always laughed at for--but she did not say much to
me. I suppose her strange predicament began returning to her mind.
I had already made up my mind that she should sleep in the wagon, while
I rolled up in the buffalo robe by the fire; but it seemed a very bad
and unsafe thing to allow her to go to bed wet as she was. I was afraid
to mention it to her, however, until finally I saw her shiver as the
fire died down. I tried to persuade her to use the covered wagon as a
bedroom, and to let me dry her clothes by the fire; but she hung back,
saying little except that she was not very wet, and hesitating and
seeming embarrassed; but after I had heated the bed-clothes by the fire,
and made up the bed as nicely as I could, I got her into the wagon and
handed her the satchel which I had clung to while bringing her back; and
although she had never consented to my plan she finally poked her
clothes out from under the cover at the side of the wagon, in a sort of
damp wad, and I went to work getting them in condition to wear again.
I blushed as I unfolded the wet dress, the underwear, and the
petticoats, and spread them over a drying rack of willow wands which I
had put up by the fire. I had never seen such things before; and it
seemed as if it would be very hard for me to meet Virginia in the open
day afterward--and yet as I watched by the clothes I had a feeling of
exaltation like that which young knights may have had as they watched
through the darkness by their armor for the ceremony of knighthood;
except that no such knight could have had all my thoughts and feelings.
Perhaps the Greek boy who once intruded upon a goddess in her temple had
an experience more like mine; though in my case the goddess had taken
part in the ceremony and consented to it. There would be something
between us forever, I felt, different from anything that had ever taken
place between a boy and girl in all the world (it always begins in that
way), something of which I could never speak to her or to any one,
something which would make her different to me, in a strange, intimate,
unspeakable way, whether I ever saw her again or not. Oh, the lost
enchantment of youth, which makes an idol of a discarded pair of
corsets, and locates a dream land about the combings of a woman's hair;
and lives a century of bliss in a day of embarrassed silence!
It must have been three o'clock, for the rooster of the half-dozen fowls
which I had traded for had just crowed, when Virginia called to me from
"That man," said she in a scared voice, "is hunting for me."
"Yes," said I, only guessing whom she meant.
"If he takes me I shall kill myself!"
"He will never take you from me," I said.
"What can you do?"
"I have had a thousand fights," I said; "and I have never been whipped!"
I afterward thought of one or two cases in which bigger boys had bested
me, though I had never cried "Enough!" and it seemed to me that it was
not quite honest to leave her thinking such a thing of me when it was
not quite so. And it looked a little like bragging; but it appeared to
quiet her, and I let it go. From the mention she had made back there at
Dyersville of men who could fight, using pistol or knife, she apparently
was accustomed to men who carried and used weapons; but, thought I, I
had never owned, much less carried, any weapons except my two hard
fists. Queer enough to say I never thought of the strangeness of a boy's
making his way into a new land with a strange girl suddenly thrown on
his hands as a new and precious piece of baggage to be secreted,
smuggled, cared for and defended.
THE GROVE OF DESTINY
When I had got up in the morning and rounded up my cows I started a fire
and began whistling. I was not in the habit of whistling much; but I
wanted her to wake up and dress so I could get the makings of the
breakfast out of the wagon. After I had the fire going and had whistled
all the tunes I knew--_Lorena, The Gipsy's Warning, I'd Offer Thee This
Hand of Mine,_ and _Joe Bowers_, I tapped on the side of the wagon, and
She gave a scream, and almost at once I heard her voice calling in
terror from the back of the wagon; and on running around to the place I
found that she had stuck her head out of the opening of the wagon cover
and was calling for help and protection.
"Don't be afraid," said I. "There's nobody here but me."
"Somebody called me 'Virginia,'" she cried, her face pale and her whole
form trembling. "Nobody but that man in all this country would call
She hardly ever called Gowdy by any other name but "that man," so far as
I have heard. Something had taken place which struck her with a sort of
dumbness; and I really believe she could not then have spoken the name
Gowdy if she had tried. What it was that happened she never told any
one, unless it was Grandma Thorndyke, who was always dumb regarding the
sort of thing which all the neighbors thought took place. To Grandma
Thorndyke sex must have seemed the original curse imposed on our first
parents; eggs and link sausages were repulsive because they suggested
the insides of animals and vital processes; and a perfect human race
would have been to her made up of beings nourished by the odors of
flowers, and perpetuated by the planting of the parings of finger-nails
in antiseptic earth--or something of the sort. My live-stock business
always had to her its seamy side and its underworld which she always
turned her face away from--though I never saw a woman who could take a
new-born pig, calf, colt or fowl, once it was really brought forth so it
could be spoken of, and raise it from the dead, almost, as she could.
But every trace of the facts up to that time had to be concealed, and if
not they were ignored by Grandma Thorndyke. New England all over!
If Gowdy was actually guilty of the sort of affront to little Virginia
for which the public thought him responsible, I do not see how the girl
could ever have told it to grandma. I do not see how grandma could ever
have been made to understand it. I suspect that the worst that grandma
ever believed, was that Gowdy swore or used what she called vulgar
language in Virginia's presence. Knowing him as we all did afterward, we
suspected that he attempted to treat her as he treated all women--and as
I believe he could not help treating them. It seems impossible of
belief--his wife's orphan sister, the recent death of Ann Gowdy, the
girl's helplessness and she only a little girl; but Buck Gowdy was Buck
Gowdy, and that escape of his wife's sister and her flight over the
prairie was the indelible black mark against him which was pointed at
from time to 'time forever after whenever the people were ready to
forgive those daily misdoings to which a frontier people were not so
critical as perhaps they should have been. Indeed he gained a certain
popularity from his boast that all the time he needed to gain control
over any woman was half an hour alone with her--but of that later, if
"That was me that called you 'Virginia,'" said I. "I want to get into
the wagon to get things for breakfast--after you get up."
"I never thought of your calling me Virginia," she answered--and I had
no idea what was in her mind. I saw no reason why I shouldn't call her
by her first name. "Miss" Royall would have been my name for the wife of
a man named Royall. It was not until long afterward that I found out how
different my manners were from those to which she was accustomed.
I never thought of such a thing as varying from my course of conduct on
her account; and just as would have been the case if my outfit had been
a boat for which time and tide would not wait, I yoked up, after the
breakfast was done, and prepared to negotiate the miry crossing of the
creek and pull out for Monterey County, which I hoped to reach in time
to break some land and plant a small crop. We did not discuss the matter
of her going with me--I think we both took that for granted. She stood
on a little knoll while I was making ready to start, gazing westward,
and when the sound of cracking whips and the shouts of teamsters told of
the approach of movers from the East, even though we were some distance
off the trail, she crept into the wagon so as to be out of sight. She
had eaten little, and seemed weak and spent; and when we started, I
arranged the bed in the wagon for her to lie upon, just as I had done
for Doctor Bliven's woman, and she seemed to hide rather than anything
else as she crept into it. So on we went, the wagon jolting roughly at
times, and at times running smoothly enough as we reached dry roads worn
smooth by travel.
Sometimes as I looked back, I could see her face with the eyes fixed
upon me questioningly; and then she would ask me if I could see any one
coming toward us on the road ahead.
"Nobody," I would say; or, "A covered wagon going the wrong way," or
whatever I saw. "Don't be afraid," I would add; "stand on your rights.
This is a free country. You've got the right to go east or west with any
one you choose, and nobody can say anything against it. And you've got a
friend now, you know."
"Is anybody in sight?" she asked again, after a long silence.
I looked far ahead from the top of a swell in the prairie and then back.
I told her that there was no one ahead so far as I could see except
teams that we could not overtake, and nobody back of us but outfits even
slower than mine. So she came forward, and I helped her over the back of
the seat to a place by my side. For the first time I could get a good
look at her undisturbed--if a bashful boy like me could be undisturbed
journeying over the open prairie with a girl by his side--a girl
altogether in his hands.
First I noticed that her hair, though dark brown, gave out gleams of
bright dark fire as the sun shone through it in certain ways. I kept
glancing at that shifting gleam whenever we turned the slow team so that
her hair caught the sun. I have seen the same flame in the mane of a
black horse bred from a sorrel dam or sire. As a stock breeder I have
learned that in such cases there is in the heredity the genetic unit of
red hair overlaid with black pigment. It is the same in people.
Virginia's father had red hair, and her sister Ann Gowdy had hair which
was a dark auburn. I was fascinated by that smoldering fire in the
girl's hair; and in looking at it I finally grew bolder, as I saw that
she did not seem to suspect my scrutiny, and I saw that her brows and
lashes were black, and her eyes very, very blue--not the buttermilk blue
of the Dutchman's eyes, like mine, with brows and lashes lighter than
the sallow Dutch skin, but deep larkspur blue, with a dark edging to the
pupil--eyes that sometimes, in a dim light, or when the pupils are
dilated, seem black to a person who does not look closely. Her skin,
too, showed her ruddy breed--for though it was tanned by her long
journey in the sun and wind, there glowed in it, even through her
paleness, a tinge of red blood--and her nose was freckled. Glimpses of
her neck and bosom revealed a skin of the thinnest, whitest
texture--quite milk-white, with pink showing through on account of the
heat. She had little strong brown hands, and the foot which she put on
the dashboard was a very trim and graceful foot like that of a
thoroughbred mare, built for flight rather than work, and it swelled
beautifully in its grass-stained white stocking above her slender ankle
to the modest skirt.
A great hatred for Buck Gowdy surged through me as I felt her beside me
in the seat and studied one after the other her powerful
attractions--the hatred, not for the man who misuses the defenseless
girl left in his power by cruel fate; but the lust for conquest over the
man who had this girl in his hands and who, as she feared, was searching
for her. I mention these things because, while they do not excuse some
things that happened, they do show that, as a boy who had lived the
uncontrolled and, by association, the evil life which I had lived, I was
put in a very hard place.
After a while Virginia looked back, and clutched my arm convulsively.
"There's a carriage overtaking us!" she whispered. "Don't stop! Help me
to climb back and cover myself up!"
She was quite out of sight when the carriage turned out to pass, drove
on ahead, and then halted partly across the road so as to show that the
occupants wanted word with me. I brought my wagon to a stop beside them.
"We are looking," said the man in the carriage, "for a young girl
traveling alone on foot over the prairie."
The man was clearly a preacher. He wore a tall beaver hat, though the
day was warm, and a suit of ministerial black. His collar stood out in
points on each side of his chin, and his throat rested on a heavy
stock-cravat which went twice around his neck and was tied in a stout
square knot under his chin on the second turn. Under this black choker
was a shirt of snowy white, as was his collar, while his coat and
trousers looked worn and threadbare. His face was smooth-shaven, and his
hair once black was now turning iron-gray. He was then about sixty
"A girl," said I deceitfully, "traveling afoot and alone on the prairie?
Going which way?"
The woman in the carriage now leaned forward and took part in the
conversation. She was Grandma Thorndyke, of whom I have formerly made
mention. Her hair was white, even then. I think she was a little older
than her husband; but if so she never admitted it. He was a slight small
man, but wiry and strong; while she was taller than he and very spare
and grave. She wore steel-bowed spectacles, and looked through you when
she spoke. I am sure that if she had ever done so awful a thing as to
have put on a man's clothes no one would have seen through her disguise
from her form, or even by her voice, which was a ringing tenor and was
always heard clear and strong carrying the soprano in the First
Congregational Church of Monterey Centre after Elder Thorndyke had
succeeded in getting it built.
"Her name is Royall," said Grandma Thorndyke--I may as well begin
calling her that now as ever--Royall. When last seen she was walking
eastward on this road, where she is subject to all sorts of dangers from
wild weather and wild beasts. A man on horseback named Gowdy, with a
negro, came into Independence looking for her this morning after
searching everywhere along the road from some place west back to the
settlement. She is sixteen years old. There wouldn't be any other girl
traveling alone and without provision. Have you passed such a person?"
"No, I hain't," said I. The name "Genevieve" helped me a little in this
"You haven't heard any of the people on the road speak of this wandering
girl, have you?" asked Elder Thorndyke.
"No," I answered; "and I guess if any of them had seen her they'd have
mentioned it, wouldn't they?"
"And you haven't seen any lone girl or woman at all, even at a
distance?" inquired Grandma Thorndyke.
"If she passed me," I said, turning and twisting to keep from telling an
outright lie, "it was while I was camped last night. I camped quite a
little ways from the track."
"She has wandered off upon the trackless prairie!" exclaimed Grandma
Thorndyke. "God help her!"
"He will protect her," said the elder piously.
"Maybe she met some one going west," I suggested, rather truthfully, I
thought, "that took her in. She may be going back west with some one."
"Mr. Gowdy told us back in Independence," returned Elder Thorndyke,
"that he had inquired of every outfit he met from the time she left him
clear back to that place; and he overtook the only two teams on that
whole stretch of road that were going east. It is hard to understand.
It's a mystery."
"Was he going on east?" I asked--and I thought I heard a stir in the bed
back of me as I waited for the answer.
"No," said the elder, "he is coming back this way, hunting high and low
for her. I have no doubt he will find her. She can not have reached a
point much farther east than this. She is sure to be found somewhere
between here and Independence--or within a short distance of here. There
is nothing dangerous in the weather, the wild animals, or anything, but
the bewilderment of being lost and the lack of food. God will not allow
her to be lost."
"I guess not," said I, thinking of the fate which led me to my last
night's camp, and of Gowdy's search having missed me as he rode by in
They drove on, leaving us standing by the roadside. Virginia crept
forward and peeked over the back of the seat after them until they
disappeared over a hillock. Then she began begging me to go where Gowdy
could not find us. He would soon come along, she said, with that tool of
his, Pinck Johnson, searching high and low for her as that man had said.
Everybody would help him but me. I was all the friend she had. Even
those two good people who were inquiring were helping Gowdy. I must
drive where he could not find us. I must!
"He can't take you from me," I declared, "unless you want to go!"
"What can you do?" she urged wildly. "You are too young to stand in his
way. Nobody can stand in his way. Nobody ever did! And they are two to
one. Let us hide! Let us hide!"
"I can stand in anybody's way," I said, "if I want to."
I was not really afraid of them if worst came to worst, but I did see
that it was two to one; so I thought of evading the search, but the
hiding of a team of four cows and a covered wagon on the open Iowa
prairie was no easy trick. If I turned off the road my tracks would
show for half a mile. If once the problem of hiding my tracks was
solved, the rest would be easy. I could keep in the hollows for a few
miles until out of sight of the Ridge Road, and Gowdy might rake the
wayside to his heart's content and never find us except by accident; but
I saw no way of getting off the traveled way without advertising my
flight. Of course Gowdy would follow up every fresh track because it was
almost the only thing he could do with any prospect of striking the
girl's trail. I thought these things over as I drove on westward. I
quieted her by saying that I had to think it out.
It was a hot afternoon by this time, and looked like a stormy evening.
The clouds were rolling up in the north and west in lofty thunderheads,
pearl-white in the hot sun, with great blue valleys and gorges below,
filled with shadows. Virginia, in a fever of terror, spent a part of her
time looking out at the hind-end of the wagon-cover for Gowdy and Pinck
Johnson, and a part of it leaning over the back of the seat pleading
with me to leave the road and hide her. Presently the clouds touched the
sun, and in a moment the day grew dark. Far down near the horizon I
could see the black fringe of the falling rain under the tumbling
clouds, and in a quarter of an hour the wind began to blow from the
storm, which had been mounting the sky fast enough to startle one. The
storm-cloud was now ripped and torn by lightning, and deep rumbling
peals of thunder came to our ears all the time louder and nearer. The
wind blew sharper, and whistled shrilly through the rigging of my
prairie schooner, there came a few drops of rain, then a scud of finer
spray: and then the whole plain to the northwest turned white with a
driving sheet of water which came on, swept over us, and blotted
everything from sight in a great commingling of wind, water, fire
Virginia cowered on the bed, throwing the quilt over her. My cattle
turned their rumps to the storm and stood heads down, the water running
from their noses, tails and bellies, and from the bows and yokes. I had
stopped them in such a way as to keep us as dry as possible, and tried
to cheer the girl up by saying that this wasn't bad, and that it would
soon be over. In half an hour the rain ceased, and in an hour the sun
was shining again, and across the eastern heavens there was displayed a
beautiful double rainbow, and a faint trace of a third.
"That means hope," I said.
She looked at the wonderful rainbow and smiled a little half-smile.
"It doesn't mean hope," said she, "unless you can think out some way of
throwing that man off our track."
"Oh," I answered, with the brag that a man likes to use when a helpless
woman throws herself on his resources, "I'll find some way if I make up
my mind I don't want to fight them."
"You mustn't think of that," said she. "You are too smart to be so
foolish. See how well you answered the questions of that man and woman."
"And I didn't lie, either," said I, after getting under way again.
"Wouldn't you lie," said she, "for me?"
It was, I suppose, only a little womanly probe into character; but it
thrilled me in a way the poor girl could not have supposed possible.
"I would do anything for you," said I boldly; "but I'd a lot rather
fight than lie."
The cloud-burst had flooded the swales, and across the hollows ran broad
sheets of racing water. I had crossed two or three of these, wondering
whether I should be able to ford the next real watercourse, when we came
to a broad bottom down the middle of which ran a swift shallow stream
which rose over the young grass. For a few rods the road ran directly
down this casual river of flood water, and as I looked back it all at
once came into my mind that I might follow this flood and leave no
track; so instead of swinging back into the road I took instantly the
important resolution to leave the Ridge Road. By voice and whip I turned
my cattle down the stream to the south, and for a mile I drove in water
Looking back I saw that I left no trace except where two lines of open
water showed through the grass on the high spots where cattle and wheels
had passed, and I knew that in an hour the flood would run itself off
and wipe out even this trace. I felt a sense of triumph, and mingled
with this was a queer thrill that set my hands trembling at the
consciousness that the prairie had closed about me and this girl with
the milk-white neck and the fire in her hair who had asked me if I would
not even lie "for her."
We wound down the flooded swale, we left the Ridge Road quite out of
sight, we finally drew up out of the hollow and took to the ridges and
hog-backs making a new Ridge Road for ourselves. Nowhere in sight was
there the slightest trace of humanity or human settlement. We were
alone. Still bearing south I turned westwardly, after rolling up the
covers to let in the drying wind. I kept looking back to see if we were
followed; for now I was suddenly possessed of the impulse to hide, like
a thief making for cover with stolen goods. Virginia, wearied out with
the journey, the strain of her escape, and the nervous tension, was
lying on the couch, often asking me if I saw any one coming up
The country was getting more rolling and broken as we made our way down
toward the Cedar River, or some large creek making into it--but, of
course, journeying without a map or chart I knew nothing about the lay
of the land or the watercourses. I knew, though, that I was getting into
the breaks of a stream. Finally, in the gathering dusk I saw ahead of me
the rounded crowns of trees; and pretty soon we entered one of those
beautiful groves of hardwood timber that were found at wide distances
along the larger prairie streams--I remember many of them and their
names, Buck Grove, Cole's Grove, Fifteen Mile Grove, Hickory Grove,
Crabapple Grove, Marble's Grove, but I never knew the name of this, the
shelter toward which we had been making. I drove in between scattered
burr oaks like those of the Wisconsin oak openings, and stopped my
cattle in an open space densely sheltered by thickets of crabapple, plum
and black-haw, and canopied by two spreading elms. Virginia started up,
ran to the front of the wagon and looked about.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"This is our hiding-place," I replied.
"But that man--won't he follow our tracks?"
"We didn't leave any tracks," I said.
"How could we come without leaving tracks?" she queried, standing close
to me and looking up into my face.
"Did you notice," said I, "that for miles we drove in the water--back
there on the prairie after the rain?"
"We drove in the water when we left the road, and we left no tracks. Not
even an Indian could track us. We can't be tracked. We've lost
I thought at first that she was going to throw her arms about my neck;
but instead she took both my hands and pressed them in a long clasp. It
was the first time she had touched me, or shown emotion toward
me--emotion of the sort for which I was now eagerly longing. I did not
return her pressure. I merely let her hold my hands until she dropped
them. I wanted to do a dozen things, but there is nothing stronger than
the unbroken barriers of a boy's modesty--barriers strong as steel,
which once broken down become as though they never were; while a woman
even in her virgin innocence, is always offering unconscious invitation,
always revealing ways of seeming approach, always giving to the stalled
boy, arguments against his bashfulness--arguments which may prove absurd
or not when he acts upon them. It is the way of a maid with a man,
Nature's way--but a perilous way for such a time and such a situation.
That night we sat about the tiny camp-fire and talked. She told me of
her life in Kentucky, of her grief at the loss of her sister, of many
simple things; and I told her of my farm--a mile square--of my plans,
of my life on the canal--which seemed to impress her as it had Rowena
Fewkes as a very adventurous career. I was sure she was beginning to
like me; but of one thing I did not tell her. I did not mention my long
unavailing search for my mother, nor the worn shoe and the sad farewell
letter in the little iron-bound trunk in the wagon. I searched for tales
which would make of me a man; but when it grew dark I put out the fire.
I was not afraid of Buck Gowdy's finding us; but I did not want any one
to discover us. And that night I drew out the loads of chicken shot from
my gun and reloaded it with buckshot. I could not sleep. After Virginia
had lain down in the wagon, I walked about silently so as not to rouse
her, prowling like a wolf. I crept to the side of the wagon and listened
for her breathing; and when I heard it my hands trembled, and my heart
pounded in my breast. All the things through which I had lived without
partaking of them came back into my mind. I thought of what I heard
every day on the canal--that all women were alike; that they existed
only for that sort of companionship with men with which my eyes were so
ignorantly familiar; that all their protestations and refusals were for
effect only; that a man need only to be a man, to know what he wanted,
and conquer it. And I felt rising in me like a tide the feeling that I
was now a man. The reader who has believed of me that I passed through
that canal life unspotted by its vileness has asked too much of me. The
thing was not possible. I now thought of the irregular companionships of
that old time as inexplicable no longer. They were the things for which
men lived--the inevitable things for every real man. Only this which
agitated me so terribly was different from them--no matter what
happened, it would be pure and blameless--for it would be us!
I suppose it may have been midnight or after, when I heard a far-off
splashing sound in the creek far above us. At first I thought of
buffalo--though there were none in Iowa so far as I knew at that
time--and only a few deer or bear; but finally, as the sound, which was
clearly that of much wading, drew even with my camp, I began to hear the
voices of men--low voices, as if even in that wilderness the speakers
were afraid of being overheard.
"I'm always lookin'," said one, "to find some of these damned movers
campin' in here when we come in with a raise."
"If I find any," said another, "they will be nepoed, damned quick."
This, I knew--I had heard plenty of it--was the lingo of thieves and
what the story-writers call bandits--though we never knew until years
afterward that we had in Iowa a distinct class which we should have
called bandits, but knew it not. They stole horses, dealt in counterfeit
money, and had scattered all over the West from Ohio to the limits of
civilization a great number of "stations" as they called them where any
man "of the right stripe" might hide either himself or his unlawful or
stolen goods. "A raise" was stolen property. "A sight" was a prospect
for a robbery, and to commit it was, to "raise the sight," or if it was
a burglary or a highway robbery, the man robbed was "raked down." A man
killed was "nepoed"--a word which many new settlers in Wisconsin got
from the Indians.
 This bit of frontier argot was rather common in the West in the
'fifties. The reappearance in the same sense of "napoo" for death in the
armies of the Allies in France is a little surprising.--G.v.d.M.
In a country in which horses constitute the means of communication, the
motive power for the farm and the most easily marketable form of
property, the stealing of horses was the commonest sort of crime; and
where the population was so sparse and unorganized, and unprovided with
means of sending news abroad, horse-stealing, offering as it did to the
criminally inclined a ready way of making an easy living, gradually grew
into an occupation which flourished, extended into other forms of crime,
had its connections with citizens who were supposed to be honest,
entered our politics, and finally was the cause of a terrible crisis in
the affairs of Monterey County, and, indeed, of other counties in Iowa
as well as in Illinois.
I softly reached for my shotgun, and then lay very quiet, hoping that
the band would pass our camp by. There were three men as I made them
out, each riding one horse and leading another. They had evidently made
their way into the creek at some point higher up, and were wading
down-stream so as to leave no trail. Cursing as their mounts plunged
into the deep holes in the high water, calling one another and their
steeds the vilest of names seemingly as a matter of ordinary
conversation, they went on down-stream and out of hearing. It did not
take long for even my slow mind to see that they had come to this grove
as I had done, for the purpose of hiding, nor to realize that it might
be very unsafe for us to be detected in any discovery of these men in
possession of whatever property they might have seized. It did not seem
probable that we should be "nepoed"--but, after all, why not? Dead men
tell no tales, cattle as well as merchandise were salable; and as for
Virginia, I could hardly bring myself to look in the face the dangers to
which she might be exposed in this worst case which I found myself
I listened intently for any sound of the newcomers, but everything was
as silent as it had been before they had passed like evil spirits of the
night; and from this fact I guessed that, they had made camp farther
down-stream among the trees. I stepped to the back of the wagon, and
putting in my hand I touched the girl's hair. She took my hand in hers,
and then dropped it.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"Don't be scared," I said, "but be very still. Some men just went by,
and I'm afraid they are bad."
"Is it that man?" she asked.
"No," said I, "strangers--bad characters. I want them to go on without
knowing we're here."
She seemed rather relieved at that, and told me that she was not
frightened. Then she asked me where they went. I told her, and said that
when it got lighter I meant to creep after them and see if they were
still in the grove.
"Don't leave me," said she. "I reckon I'm a little frightened, after
all, and it's very lonesome in here all alone. Please get into the
wagon with me!"
I said nothing. Instead I sat for some time on the wagon-tongue and
asked myself what I should do, and what she meant by this invitation.
At last I started up, and trembling like a man climbing the gallows, I
climbed into the wagon. There, sitting in the spring seat in the gown
she had worn yesterday, with her little shoes on the dashboard, sat
Virginia trying to wrap herself in the buffalo-robe.
I folded it around her and took my seat by her side. With scarcely a
whisper between us we sat there and watched the stars wheel over to the
west and down to their settings. At last I felt her leaning over against
my shoulder, and found that she was asleep; and softly putting my arms
about her outside the warm buffalo-robe, I held her sleeping like a baby
until the shrill roundelays of the meadow-larks told me it was morning.
Then after taking away my arms I awakened her.
THE GROVE OF DESTINY DOES ITS WORK
Virginia opened her eyes and smiled at me. I think this was the first
time that she had given me more than just a trace of a smile; but now
she smiled, a very sweet winning smile; and getting spryly out of the
wagon she said that she had been a lazy and useless passenger all the
time she had been with me, and that from then on she was going to do the
cooking. I told her that I wasn't going to let her do it, that I was
strong and liked to cook; and I stammered and blundered when I tried to
hint that I liked cooking for her. She looked very dense at this and
insisted that I should build the fire, and show her where the things
were; and when I had done so she pinned back her skirts and went about
the work in a way that threw me into a high fever.
"You may bring the new milk," said she, "and by that time I'll have a
fine breakfast for you."
When the milk was brought, breakfast was still a little behindhand, but
she would not let me help. Anyhow, I felt in spite of my talk that I
wanted to do some other sort of service for her: I wanted to show off,
to prove myself a protector, to fight for her, to knock down or drive
off her foes and mine; and as I saw the light smoke curling up through
the tree-tops I asked myself where those men were who had made their way
past us in such a dark and secret sort of way and with so much bad talk
back there in the middle of the night. I wondered if they had camped
where they could see the smoke of our fire, or hear our voices or the
other sounds we made.
I almost wished that they might. I had now in a dim, determined,
stubborn way claimed this girl in my heart for my own; and I felt
without really thinking of it, that I could best foreclose my lien by
defeating all comers before I dragged her yielding to my cave. It is the
way of all male animals--except spiders, perhaps, and bees--and a male
animal was all that I was that morning. I picked up my gun and told her
that I must find out where those men were before breakfast.
"No, no!" said she anxiously, "don't leave me! They might shoot
I smiled disdainfully.
"If there's any shooting to be done, I'll shoot first. I won't let them
see me, though; but I must find out what they are up to. Wait and keep
quiet. I'll soon be back."
I knew that I should find their horses' hoof-marks at whatever place
they had left the stream; and I followed the brook silently, craftily
and slowly, like a hunter trailing a wild beast, examining the bank of
soft black rooty earth for their tracks. Once or twice I passed across
open spaces in the grove. Here I crept on my belly through the brush and
weeds shoving my gun along ahead of my body.
My heart beat high. I never for a moment doubted the desperate character
of the men, and in this I think I showed good judgment; for what honest
horsemen would have left the Ridge Road, or if any honest purpose had
drawn them away, what honest men would have forced their horses to wade
in the channel of a swollen stream in the middle of the night? They must
have been trying to travel without leaving tracks, just as I had done.
Their talk showed them to be bad characters, and their fox-like actions
proved the case against them. So I crawled forward believing fully that
I should be in danger if they once found out that I had uncovered their
lurking-place. I carefully kept from making any thrashing or swishing of
boughs, any crackling of twigs, or from walking with a heavy footfall;
and I wondered more and more as I neared what I knew must be the other
end of the grove, why they had not left the water and made camp. For
what other purpose had they come to this patch of woods?
At last I heard the stamping of horses, and I lay still for a while and
peered all about me for signs of the animals or their possessors. I
moved slowly, then, so as to bring first this open space in line with my
eyes, and then that, until, crawling like a lizard, I found my men. They
were lying on the ground, wrapped in blankets, all asleep, very near the
other end of the grove. In the last open spot of the timber, screened
from view from the prairie by clumps of willows and other bushes, were
six horses, picketed for grazing. There were two grays, a black, two
bays and a chestnut sorrel--the latter clearly a race-horse. They were
all good horses. There were rifles leaning against the trees within
reach of the sleeping men; and from under the coat which one of them was
using for a pillow there stuck out the butt of a navy revolver.
Something--perhaps it was that consciousness which horses have of the
approach of other beings, scent, hearing, or a sense of their own which
we can not understand--made the chestnut race-horse lift his head and
nicker. One of the men rose silently to a sitting posture, and reached
for his rifle. For a moment he seemed to be looking right at me; but his
eyes passed on, and he carefully examined every bit of foliage and every
ant-hill and grass-mound, and all the time he strained his ears for
sounds. I held my breath. At last he lay down again; but in a few
minutes he got up, and woke the others.
This was my first sight of Bowie Bushyager. Everybody in Monterey
County, and lots of other people will remember what the name of Bowie
Bushyager once meant; but it meant very little more than that of his
brother, Pitt Bushyager, who got up, grumbling and cursing when Bowie
shook him awake. Bowie was say twenty-eight then, and a fine specimen of
a man in build and size. He was six feet high, had a black beard which
curled about his face, and except for his complexion, which was almost
that of an Indian, his dead-black eye into which you could see no
farther than into a bullet, and for the pitting of his face by smallpox,
he would have been handsome.
"Shut up!" said he to his brother Pitt. "It's time we're gittin' our
grub and pullin' out."
Pitt was even taller than Bowie, and under twenty-five in years. His
face was smooth-shaven except for a short, curly black mustache and a
little goatee under his mouth His eyes were larger than Bowie's and deep
brown, his hair curled down over his rolling collar, and he moved with
an air of ease and grace that were in contrast with the slow power of
Bowie. There was no doubt of it--Pitt Bushyager was handsome in a rough,
daredevil sort of way.
I am describing them, not from the memory of that morning, but because I
knew them well afterward. I knew all the Bushyager boys, and their
father and mother and sisters; and in spite of everything, I rather
liked both Pitt and Claib. Bowie was a forbidding fellow, and Asher, who
was between Bowie and Pitt in age, while he was as big and strong as any
of them, was the gentlest man I ever saw in his manners. He did more of
the planning than Bowie did. Claiborne Bushyager was about my own age;
while Forrest was older than Bowie. He was always able to convince
people that he was not a member of the gang, and now, an old
white-haired, soft-spoken man, still owns the original Bushyager farm,
with two hundred acres added, where I must confess he has always made
enough money by good farming to account for all the property he has.
These men were an important factor in the history of Monterey County for
many years, and I knew all of them well; but had they known that I saw
them that morning in the grove I guess I should not have lived to write
this history; though it was years before the people came to believing
such things of them. The third man in the grove I never saw again.
Judging from what we learned afterward, I think it is safe to say that
this Unknown was one of the celebrated Bunker gang of bandits, whose
headquarters were on the Iowa River somewhere between Eldora and
Steamboat Rock, in Hardin County. He was a small man with light hair and
eyes, and kept both the Bushyagers on one side of him all the time I had
them in view. When he spoke it was almost in a whisper, and he kept
darting sharp glances from side to side all the time, and especially at
the Bushyagers. When they left he rode the black horse and led one of
the grays. I know, because I crept back to my own camp, took my
breakfast with Virginia, and then spied on the Bushyagers until
dinner-time. After dinner I still found them there arguing about the
policy of starting on or waiting until night. Bowie wanted to start; but
finally the little light-haired man had his way; and they melted away
across the knolls to the west just after sunset. I returned with all the
air of having driven them off, and ate my third meal cooked by
I do not know how long we camped in this lonely little forest; for I
lost reckoning as to time. Once in a while Virginia would ask me when I
thought it would be safe to go on our way; and I always told her that it
would be better to wait.
I had forgotten my farm. When I was with her, I could not overcome my
bashfulness, my lack of experience, my ignorance of every manner of
approach except that of the canallers to the waterside women, with which
I suddenly found myself as familiar through memory as with the route
from my plate to my mouth; that way I had fully made up my mind to
adopt; but something held me back.
I now began leaving the camp and from some lurking-place in the distance
watching her as a cat watches a bird. I lived over in my mind a thousand
times the attack I would make upon her defense, and her yielding after a
show of resistance. I became convinced at last that she would not make
even a show of resistance; that she was probably wondering what I was
waiting for, and making up her mind that, after all, I was not much of
I saw her one evening, after looking about to see if she was observed,
take off her stockings and go wading in the deep cool water of the
creek--and I lay awake at night wondering whether, after all, she had
not known that I was watching her, and had so acted for my benefit--and
then I left my tossed couch and creeping to the side of the wagon
listened, trembling in every limb, with my ear to the canvas until I was
able to make out her regular breathing only a few inches from my ear.
And when in going away--as I always did, finally--I made a little noise
which awakened her, she called and asked me if I had heard anything, I
said no, and pacified her by saying that I had been awake and watching
all the time. Then I despised myself for saying nothing more.
I constantly found myself despising my own decency. I felt the girl in
my arms a thousand times as I had felt her for those delicious hours the
night she had invited me to share the wagon with her, and we had sat in
the spring seat wrapped in the buffalo-robe, as she slept with her head
on my shoulder. I tormented myself by asking if she had really slept, or
only pretended to sleep. Once away from her, once freed from the
innocent look in her eyes, I saw in her behavior that night every
advance which any real man might have looked for, as a signal to action.
Why had I not used my opportunity to make her love me--to force from her
the confession of her love? Had I not failed, not only in doing what I
would have given everything I possessed or ever hoped to possess to have
been able to do; but also had I not failed in that immemorial duty which
man owes to woman, and which she had expected of me? Would she not laugh
at me with some more forceful man when she had found him? Was she not
scorning me even now?
I had heard women talk of greenhorns and backwoods boys in those days
when I had lived a life in which women played an important, a
disturbing, and a baleful part for every one but the boy who lived his
strange life on the tow-path or in the rude cabin; and now these outcast
women came back to me and through the very memories of them poisoned and
corrupted my nature. They peopled my dreams, with their loud voices,
their drunkenness, their oaths, their obscenities, their lures, their
tricks, their awful counterfeit of love; and, a figure apart from them
in these dreams, partaking of their nature only so far as I desired to
have it so, walked Virginia Royall, who had come to me across the
prairie to escape a life with Buckner Gowdy. But to the meaning of this
fact I shut the eye of my mind. I was I, and Gowdy was Gowdy. It was no
time for thought. Every moment I pressed closer and closer to that
action which I was sure would have been taken by Eben Sproule, or Bill
the Sailor--the only real friends I had ever possessed.
We used to go fishing along the creek; and ate many a savory mess of
bullheads, sunfish and shiners, which I prepared and cooked. We had
butter, and the cows, eased of the labors of travel, grew sleek and
round, and gave us plenty of milk. I saved for Virginia all the eggs
laid by my hens, except those used by her in the cooking. She gave me
the daintiest of meals; and I taught her to make bread. To see her
molding it with her strong small hands, was enough to have made me
insane if I had had any sense left. She showed me how to make vinegar
pies; and I failed in my pies made of the purple-flowered prairie
oxalis; but she triumphed over me by using the deliriously acid leaves
as a flavoring for sandwiches--we were getting our first experience as
prairie-dwellers in being deprived of the common vegetable foods of the
garden and forest. One day I cooked a delicious mess of cowslip greens
with a ham-bone. She seemed to be happy; and I should have been if I had
not made myself so miserable. I remember almost every moment of this
time--so long ago.
One day as we were fishing we were obliged to clamber along the bank
where a tree crowded us so far over the water that Virginia, in stooping
to pass under the body of the tree, was about to fall; and I jumped down
into the stream and caught her in my arms as she was losing her hold. I
found her arms about my neck as she clung to me; and, standing in the
water, I turned her about in my arms, rather roughly of necessity,
caught one arm about her waist and the other under the hollows of her
knees and held her so.
"Don't let me fall," she begged.
"I won't," I said--and I could say no more.
"You've got your feet all wet," said she.
"I don't care," I said--and stopped.
"How clumsy of me!" she exclaimed.
"It was a hard place to get around," said I.
"I hope you didn't lose the fish," said she.
"No," said I, "I dropped the string of them in the grass."
Now this conversation lasted a second, from one way of looking at it,
and a very long time from another; and all the time I was standing
there, knee-deep in the water, with Virginia's arms about my neck, her
cheek almost against mine, one of my arms about her waist and the other
under the hollows of her knees--and I had made no movement for putting
"You're very strong," said she, "or you would have dropped me in the
"Oh," said I, "that's nothing"--and I pressed her closer.
"How will you get me back on land?" she asked; and really it was a
subject which one might have expected to come up sooner or later.
I turned about with her and looked down-stream; then I turned back and
looked up-stream; then I looked across to the opposite bank, at least
six feet away; then I carried her up-stream for a few yards; then I
started back down-stream.
"There's no good place there," said I--and I looked a long, long look
into her eyes which happened to be scanning my face just then. She
"Any place will do," she said. "Let me down right here where I can get
And slowly, reluctantly, with great pains that she should not be
scratched by briars, bitten by snakes, brushed by poison-ivy, muddied by
the wet bank, or threatened with another fall, I put her down. She
looked diligently in the grass for the fish, picked them up, and ran off
to camp. After she had disappeared, I heard the bushes rustle, and
looked up as I sat on the bank wringing the water from my socks and
pouring it from my boots.
"Thank you for keeping me dry," said she. "You did it very nicely. And
now you must stay in the wagon while I dry your socks and boots for
you--you poor wet boy!"
She had not objected to my holding her so long; she rather seemed to
like it; she seemed willing to go on camping here as long as I wished;
she was wondering why I was so backward and so bashful; she was in my
hands; why hold back? Why not use my power? If I did not I should make
myself forever ridiculous to all men and to all women--who, according to
my experience, were never in higher feather than when ridiculing some
greenhorn of a boy. This thing must end. My affair with Virginia must be
brought to a crisis and pushed to a decision. At once!
I wandered off again and from my vantage-point I began to watch her and
gather courage from watching her. I could still feel her in my arms--so
much more of a woman than I had at first suspected from seeing her about
the camp. I could see her in my mind's eye wading the stream like a
beautiful ghost. I could think of nothing but her all the time,--of her
and the wild life of boats and backwoods harbors.
And at last I grew suddenly calm. I began to laugh at myself for my lack
of decision. I would carefully consider the matter, and that night I
I took my gun and wandered off across the prairie after a few birds for
our larder. There were upland plover in great plenty; and before I had
been away from the camp fifteen minutes I had several in my pockets. It
was early in the afternoon; but instead of walking back to camp at once
I sat down on a mound at the mouth of the old den of a wolf or badger
and laid my plans; much as a wolf or badger might have done.
Then I went back. The sun was shining with slanting mid-afternoon rays
down among the trees by the creek. I looked for Virginia; but she was
not about the wagon, neither sitting in the spring seat, nor on her
box-by the fire, nor under her favorite crabapple-tree. I looked boldly
in the wagon, without the timid tapping which I had always used to
announce my presence--for what did I care now for her privacy?--but she
was not there. I began searching for her along the creek in the secluded
nooks which abounded, and at last I heard her voice.
I was startled. To whom could she be speaking? I would have nobody
about, now. I would show him, whoever he was! This grove was mine as
long as I wanted to stay there with my girl. The blood rose to my head
as I went quietly forward until I could see Virginia.
She was alone! She had taken a blanket from the wagon and spread it on
the ground upon the grass under a spreading elm, and scattered about on
it were articles of clothing which she had taken from her satchel--that
satchel to which the poor child had clung so tightly while she had come
to my camp across the prairie on the Ridge Road that night--which now
seemed so long ago. There was a dress on which she had been sewing; for
the needle was stuck in the blanket with the thread still in the
garment; but she was not working. She had in her lap as she sat
cross-legged on the blanket, a little wax doll to which she was babbling
and talking as little girls do. She had taken off its dress, and was
carefully wiping its face, telling it to shut its eyes, saying that
mama wouldn't hurt it, asking it if she wasn't a bad mama to keep it
shut up all the time in that dark satchel, asking it if it wasn't afraid
in the dark, assuring it that mama wouldn't let anybody hurt it--and all
this in the sweetest sort of baby-talk. And then she put its dress on,
gently smoothed its hair, held it for a while against her bosom as she
swayed from side to side telling it to go to sleep, hummed gently a
cradle song, and put it back in the satchel as a mother might put her
sleeping baby in its cradle. I crept silently away.
It was dark when I returned to camp, and she had supper ready and was
anxiously awaiting me. She ran to me and took my hand affectionately.
"What kept you so long?" she asked earnestly. "I have been anxious. I
thought something must have happened to you!"
And as we approached the fire, she looked in my face, and cried out in
"Something has happened to you. You are as white as a sheet. What is it?
Are you sick? What shall I do if you get sick!"
"No," I said, "I am not sick. I am all right--now."
"But something has happened," she insisted. "You are weak as well as
pale. Let me do something for you. What was it?"
"A snake," I said, for an excuse. "A rattlesnake. It struck at me and
missed. It almost struck me. I'll be all right now."
The longer I live the surer I am that I told her very nearly the truth.
That night we sat up late and talked. She was only a dear little child,
now, with a bit of the mother in her. She was really affectionate to me,
more so than ever before, and sometimes I turned cold as I thought of
how her affection might have been twisted into deviltry had it not been
so strangely brought home to me that she was a child, with a good deal
of the mother in her. I turned cold as I thought of her playing with her
doll while I had been out on the prairie laying poison plots against her
innocence, her defenselessness, her trust in me.
Why, she was like my mother! I had not thought of my mother for days.
When she had been young like Virginia, she must have been as beautiful;
and she had played with dolls; but never except while she was an
innocent child, as Virginia now was.
For the first time I talked of mother to Virginia. I told her of my
mother's goodness to me while Rucker was putting me out to work in the
factory--and Virginia grew hot with anger at Rucker, and very pitiful of
the poor little boy going to work before daylight and coming home after
dark. I told her of my running away, and of my life on the canal, with
all the beautiful things I had seen and the interesting things I had
done, leaving out the fighting and the bad things. I told her of how I
had lost my mother, and my years of search for her, ending at that
unmarked grave by the lake. Virginia's eyes shone with tears and she
softly pressed my hand.
I took from my little iron-bound trunk that letter which I had found in
the old hollow apple-tree, and we read it over together by the
flickering light of a small fire which I kindled for the purpose; and
from the very bottom of the trunk, wrapped in a white handkerchief
which I had bought for this use, I took that old worn-out shoe which I
had found that dark day at Tempe--and I began telling Virginia how it
was that it was so run over, and worn in such a peculiar way.
My mother had worked so hard for me that she had had a good deal of
trouble with her feet--and such a flood of sorrow came over me that I
broke down and cried. I cried for my mother, and for joy at being able
to think of her again, and for guilt, and with such a mingling of
feeling that finally I started to rush off into the darkness--but
Virginia clung to me and wiped away my tears and would not let me go.
She said she was afraid to be left alone, and wanted me with her--and
that I was a good boy. She didn't wonder that my mother wanted to work
for me--it must have been almost the only comfort she had.
"If she had only lived," I said, "so I could have made a home for her!"
"She knows all about that," said Virginia; "and when she sees you making
a home for some one else, how happy it will make her!"
Virginia was the older of the two, now, the utterer of words of comfort;
and I was the child. The moon rose late, but before we retired it
flooded the grove with light. The wolves howled on the prairie, and the
screech-owls cried pitifully in the grove; but I was happy. I told
Virginia that we must break camp in the morning and move on. I must get
to my land, and begin making that home. She sighed; but she did not
protest. She would always remember this sojourn in the grove, she said;
she had felt so safe! She hardly knew what she would do when we reached
the next settlement; but she must think out some way to get back to
Kentucky. When the time came for her to retire, I carried her to the
wagon and lifted her in--and then went to my own bed to sleep the first
sound sweet sleep I had enjoyed for days. The air had been purified by
IN DEFENSE OF THE PROPRIETIES
Virginia and I arrived in Waterloo about two days after we left the
Grove of Destiny, as my granddaughter Gertrude insists on calling the
place at which we camped after we left Independence. We went in a sort
of rather guess-way back to the Ridge Road, very happy, talking to each
other about ourselves all the while, and admiring everything we saw
along the way. The wild sweet-williams were in bloom, now, and scattered
among them were the brilliant orange-colored puccoons; and the grass
even on the knolls was long enough to wave in the wind like a rippling
sea. It was a cool and sunny spell of weather, with fleecy clouds
chasing one another up from the northwest like great ships under full
sail running wing-and-wing before the northwest wind which blew strong
day and night. It was a new sort of weather to me--the typical
high-barometer weather of the prairies after a violent "low." The
driving clouds on the first day were sometimes heavy enough to spill
over a scud of rain (which often caught Virginia like a cold splash from
a hose), and were whisked off to the southeast in a few minutes,
followed by a brilliant burst of sunshine--and all the time the shadows
of the clouds raced over the prairie in big and little bluish patches
speeding forever onward over a groundwork of green and gold dotted with
the white and purple and yellow of the flowers.
We were now on terms of simple trust and confidence. We played. We bet
each other great sums of money as to whether or not the rain-scud coming
up in the west would pass over us, or miss us, or whether or not the
shadow of a certain cloud would pass to the right or the left. People
with horse teams who were all the time passing us often heard us
laughing, and looked at us and smiled, waving their hands, as Virginia
would cry out, "I won that time!" or "You drove slow, just to beat me!"
or "Well, I lost, but you owe me twenty-five thousand dollars yet!"
Once an outfit with roan horses and a light wagon stopped and hailed us.
The woman, sitting by her husband, had been pointing at us and
talking to him.
"Right purty day," he said.
"Most of the time," I answered; for it had just sloshed a few barrels of
water from one of those flying clouds and forced us to cover
"Where's your folks?" he asked.
"We ain't too old to travel alone," I replied; "but we'll catch up with
the young folks at Waterloo!"
He laughed and whipped up his team.
"Go it while you're young!" he shouted as he went out of hearing.
We were rather an unusual couple, as any one could see; though most
people doubtless supposed that there were others of our party riding
back under the cover. Virginia had not mentioned Buckner Gowdy since we
camped in the Grove of Destiny; and not once had she looked with her old
look of terror at an approaching or overtaking team, or scuttled back
into the load to keep from being seen. I guess she had come to believe
in the sufficiency of my protection.
Waterloo was a town of seven or eight years of age--a little straggling
village on the Red Cedar River, as it was then called, building its
future on the growth of the country and the water-power of the stream.
It was crowded with seekers after "country," and its land dealers and
bankers were looking for customers. It seemed to be a strong town in
money, and I had a young man pointed out to me who was said to command
unlimited capital and who was associated with banks and land companies
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