“No,” said I, “it won’t do. You can have her!”
I really felt as if I was giving-up something that had belonged to me. I felt the pangs of renunciation.
We walked back to the wagon in silence, and found. Virginia and Grandma Thorndyke sitting on the spring seat with grandma’s arm about the girl, with a handkerchief in her hand, just as if she had been wiping the tears from Virginia’s eyes; but the girl was laughing and talking in a manner more lively than I had ever seen her exhibit. She was as happy, apparently, as I was gloomy and downcast.
I wanted the Thorndykes to go away so that I could have a farewell talk with Virginia; but they stayed on and stayed on, and finally, after dark, grandma rose with a look at Virginia which she seemed to understand, and they took my girl’s satchel and all walked off together toward the tavern.
I sat down and buried my face in my hands, Virginia’s good-by had been so light, so much like the parting of two mere strangers. And after all what was I to her but a stranger? She was of a different sort from me. She had lived in cities. She had a good education—at least I thought so. She was like the Thorndykes—city folks, educated people, who could have no use for a clodhopper like me, a canal hand, a rough character. And just as I had plunged myself into the deepest despair, I heard a light footfall, and Virginia knelt down before me on the ground and pulled my hands from my eyes.
“Don’t cry,” said she. “We’ll see each other again. I came back to bid you good-by, and to say that you’ve been so good to me that I can’t think of it without tears! Good-by, Jacob!”
She lifted my face between her two hands, kissed me the least little bit, and ran off. Back in the darkness I saw the tall figure of Grandma Thorndyke, who seemed to be looking steadily off into the distance. Virginia locked arms with her and they went away leaving me with my cows and my empty wagon—filled with the goods in which I took so much pride when I left Madison.
With the first rift of light in the east I rose from my sleepless bed under the wagon—I would not profane her couch inside by occupying it—and yoked up my cattle. Before noon I was in Cedar Falls; and from there west I found the Ridge Road growing less and less a beaten track owing to decreasing travel; but plainly marked by stakes which those two pioneers had driven along the way as I have said for the guidance of others in finding a road which they had missed themselves.
We were developing citizenship and the spirit of America. Those wagon loads of stakes cut on the Cedar River in 1854 and driven in the prairie sod as guides for whoever might follow showed forth the true spirit of the American pioneer.