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 ourselves up.
“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 in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City,—I suppose he was a Greene, a Weare, a Graves, a Johnson or a Lusch. Many were talking of the Fort Dodge country, and of the new United States Land Office which was just then on the point of opening at Fort Dodge. They tried to send me to several places where land could be bought cheaply, in the counties between the Cedar and the Iowa Rivers, and as far west as Webster County; but when I told them that I had bought land they at once lost interest in me.
We camped down by the river among the trees, and it was late before we were free to sleep, on account of the visits we received from movers and land men; but finally the camp-fires died down, the songs ceased, the music of accordions and fiddles was heard no more, and the camp of emigrants became silent.
Virginia bade me good night, and I rolled up in my blankets under the wagon. I began wondering, after the questions which had been asked as to our relationship, just what was to be the end of this strange journey of the big boy and the friendless girl. We were under some queer sort of suspicion—that was clear. Two or three wives among the emigrants had tried to get a word with Virginia in private; and some of the men had grinned and winked at me in a way that I should have been glad to notice according to my old canal habits; but I had sense enough to see that that would never do.