That first day some of the leaders had begun to wander and make trouble. For that reason Trove was walking beside the buckboard in front of the drove.
“We’ll stop to-night on Cedar Hill,” said the boss, about mid-afternoon. “Martha Vaughn has got the best pasture and the prettiest girl in this part o’ the country. If you don’t fall in love with that girl, you ought t’ be licked.”
Now Trove had no very high opinion of girls. Up there in Brier Dale he had seen little of them. At the red schoolhouse, even, they were few and far from his ideal. And they were a foolish lot there in Hillsborough, it seemed to him—all save two or three who were, he owned, very sweet and beautiful; but he had seen how they tempted other boys to extravagance, and was content with a sly glance at them now and then.
“I don’t ever expect to fall in love,” said Trove, confidently.
“Wal, love is a thing that always takes ye by surprise,” the other answered. “Mrs. Vaughn is a widow, an’ we generally stop there the first day out. She’s a poor woman, an’ it gives her a lift.”
They came shortly to the little weather-stained house of the widow. As they approached, a girl, with arms bare to the elbow, stood looking at them, her hand shading her eyes.
“Co’ boss! Co’ boss! Co’ boss!” she was calling, in a sweet, girlish treble.
Trove came up to the gate, and presently her big, dark eyes were looking into his own. That very moment he trembled before them as a reed shaken by the wind. Long after then, he said that something in her voice had first appealed to him. Her soft eyes were, indeed, of those that quicken the hearts of men. It is doubtful if there were, in all the world, a lovelier thing than that wild flower of girlhood up there in the hills. She was no dream of romance, dear reader. In one of the public buildings of a certain capital her portrait has been hanging these forty years, and wins, from all who pass it, the homage of a long look. But Trove said, often, that she was never quite so lovely as that day she stood calling the cows—her shapely, brown face aglow with the light of youth, her dark hair curling on either side as it fell to her shoulders.
“Good day,” said he, a little embarrassed.
“Good day,” said she, coolly, turning toward the house.
Trove was now in the midst of the cattle. Suddenly a dog rushed upon them, and they took fright. For a moment the boy was in danger of being trampled, but leaped quickly to the backs of the cows and rode to safety. After supper the men sat talking in the stable door, beyond which, on the hay, they were to sleep that night. But Trove stood a long time with the girl, whose name was Polly, at the little gate of the widow.
They seemed to meet there by accident. For a moment they were afraid of each other. After a little hesitation Polly picked a sprig of lilac. He could see a tremble in her hand as she gave it to him, and he felt his own blushes.