But I was in no frame of mind to realize this. I was drawing nearer and nearer my farm, but for a day or so this gave me no pleasure. My mind was on other things. I was lonelier than I had been since I found Rucker in Madison. I talked to no one—I merely followed the stakes—until one morning I pulled into a strange cluster of houses out on the green prairie, the beginning of a village. I drew up in front of its blacksmith shop and asked the name of the place. The smith lifted his face from the sole of the horse he was shoeing and replied, “Monterey Centre.”
I looked around at my own county, stretching away in green waves on all sides of the brand-new village; which was so small that it did not interfere with the view. I had reached my own county! I had been a part of it on this whole wonderful journey, getting acquainted with its people, picking up the threads of its future, now its history.
Prior to this time I had been courting the country; now I was to be united with it in that holy wedlock which binds the farmer to the soil he tills. Out of this black loam was to come my own flesh and blood, and the bodies, and I believe, in some measure, the souls of my children. Some dim conception of this made me draw in a deep, deep breath of the fresh prairie air.
HELL SLEW, ALIAS VANDEMARK’S FOLLY
That last night before I reached my “home town” of Monterey Centre, I had camped within two or three miles of the settlement. I forgot all that day to inquire where I was: so absent-minded was I with all my botheration because of losing Virginia. I was thinking all the time of seeing her again, wondering if I should ever see her alone or to speak to her, ashamed of my behavior toward her—in my thoughts at least—vexed because I had felt toward her, except for the last two or three days, things that made it impossible to get really acquainted and friendly with her. I was absorbed in the attempt to figure out the meaning of her friendly acts when we parted, especially her coming back, as I was sure she had, against the will of Grandma Thorndyke; and that kiss she had given me was a much greater problem than making time on my journey: I lived it over and over again a thousand times and asked myself what I ought to have done when she kissed me, and never feeling satisfied with myself for not doing more of something or other, I knew not what. It was well for me that my teams were way-wised so that they drove themselves. I could have made Monterey Centre easily that night; for it was only about eight o’clock by the sun next morning when I pulled up at the blacksmith shop, and was told by Jim Boyd, the smith, that I was in Monterey Centre.
And now I did not know what to do. I did not know where my land was, nor how to find out. Monterey Prairie was as blank as the sea, except for a few settlers’ houses scattered about within a mile or two of the village. I sat scratching my head and gazing about me like a lunkhead while Boyd finished shoeing a horse, and had begun sharpening the lay of a breaking-plow—when up rode Pitt Bushyager on one of the horses he and his gang had had in the Grove of Destiny back beyond Waterloo.