“I’ve got a little camp-fire over yonder,” I said; “and if we go to it, I’ll build it up bright, and that will scare them most to death. They’re cowards, the wolves—camp-fire will make ’em run. Let’s go to the fire.”
She made an effort to get up, but fell back to the ground in a heap. I was just at that age when every boy is afraid of girls; and while I had had my dreams of rescuing damsels from danger and serving them in other heroic ways as all boys do, when the pinch came I did not know what to do; she put up her hand, though, and I took it and helped her to her feet; but she could not walk. Summoning up my courage I picked her up and carried her toward the fire. She said nothing, except, of course, that she was too heavy for me to carry; but she clung to me convulsively. I could feel her heart beating furiously against me, and she was twitching and quivering in every limb.
“You are the boy who took care of me back there when my sister died,” said she as I carried her along.
“Are you Mrs. Gowdy’s sister?” I asked.
“I am Virginia Royall,” she said.
She was very wet and very cold. I set her down on the spring seat where she could lean back, and wrapped her in a buffalo robe, building up the fire until it warmed her.
“I’m glad it’s you!” she said.
Presently I had hot coffee for her, and some warm milk, with the fish and good bread and butter, and a few slices of crisp pork which I had fried, and browned warmed-up potatoes. There was smear-case too, milk gravy and sauce made of English currants. She began picking at the food, saying that she could not eat; and I noticed that her lips were pale, while her face was crimson as if with fever. She had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours except some crackers and cheese which she had hidden in her satchel before running away; so in spite of the fact that she was in a bad way from all she had gone through, she did eat a fair meal of victuals.
I thought she ought to be talked to so as to take her mind from her fright; but I could think of nothing but my way of cooking the victuals, and how much I wished I could give her a better meal—just the same sort of talk a woman is always laughed at for—but she did not say much to me. I suppose her strange predicament began returning to her mind.
I had already made up my mind that she should sleep in the wagon, while I rolled up in the buffalo robe by the fire; but it seemed a very bad and unsafe thing to allow her to go to bed wet as she was. I was afraid to mention it to her, however, until finally I saw her shiver as the fire died down. I tried to persuade her to use the covered wagon as a bedroom, and to let me dry her clothes by the fire; but she hung back, saying little except that she was not very wet, and hesitating and seeming embarrassed; but after I had heated the bed-clothes by the fire, and made up the bed as nicely as I could, I got her into the wagon and handed her the satchel which I had clung to while bringing her back; and although she had never consented to my plan she finally poked her clothes out from under the cover at the side of the wagon, in a sort of damp wad, and I went to work getting them in condition to wear again.