She laid her lips on mine. It was the first kiss I had ever had from any one since I was a little boy; and as I half struggled against but finally returned it, it thrilled me powerfully. Afterward I was disgusted with myself for kissing this castaway; but as I drove on, leaving her standing in the middle of the road looking after me, it almost seemed as if I were leaving a friend. Perhaps she was, in her way, the nearest thing to a friend I had then in the world—strange as it seems. As for Rucker, he was rejoicing, of course, at having trimmed neatly a dumb-head of a Dutch boy—a wrong to my poor mother, the very thought of which even after all these years, makes my blood boil.
I BECOME COW VANDEMARK
I was off with the spring rush of 1855 for the new lands of the West! I kept thinking as I drove along of Lawyer Jackway’s sarcastic toast, “Sold again, and got the tin, and sucked another Dutchman in!” But after all I couldn’t keep myself from feeling pretty proud, as I watched the play of my horses’ ears as they seemed to take in each new westward view as we went over the tops of the low hills, and as I listened to the “chuck, chuck” of the wagon wheels on their well-greased skeins. Rucker and Jackway might have given me a check on the tow-path; but yet I felt hopeful that I was to make a real success of my voyage of life to a home and a place where I could be somebody. There was pleasure in looking back at my riches in the clean, hard-stuffed straw-tick, the stove, the traveling home which belonged to me.
It seems a little queer to me now to think of it as I look out of my bay-window at my great fields of corn, my pastures dotted with stock, my feedyard full of fat steers; or as I sit in the directors’ room of the bank and take my part as a member of the board. But I am really not as rich now as I was then.
I was going to a country which seemed to be drawing everybody else, and must therefore be a good country—and I had a farm. I had a great farm. It was a mile square. It was almost like the estate that General Cantine had near the canal at Ithaca I thought. To my boy’s mind it looked too big for me; and sometimes I wondered if I should not be able to rent it out to tenants and grow rich on my income, like the Van Rensselaers of the Manor before the Anti-Rent difficulties.
All the while I was passing outfits which were waiting by the roadside, or making bad weather of it for some reason or other; or I was passed by those who had less regard for their horse-flesh than I, or did not realize that the horses had to go afoot; or those that drew lighter loads. There were some carriages which went flourishing along with shining covers; these were the aristocrats; there were other slow-going rigs drawn by oxen. Usually there would be two or more vehicles in a train. They camped by the roadside cooking their meals; they stopped at wayside taverns. They gave me all sorts of how-d’ye-does as I passed. Girls waved their hands at me from the hind-ends of rigs and said bold things—to a boy they would not see again; but which left him blushing and thinking up retorts for the next occasion—retorts that never seemed to fit when the time came; and talkative women threw remarks at me about the roads and the weather.