I blushed as I unfolded the wet dress, the underwear, and the petticoats, and spread them over a drying rack of willow wands which I had put up by the fire. I had never seen such things before; and it seemed as if it would be very hard for me to meet Virginia in the open day afterward—and yet as I watched by the clothes I had a feeling of exaltation like that which young knights may have had as they watched through the darkness by their armor for the ceremony of knighthood; except that no such knight could have had all my thoughts and feelings.
Perhaps the Greek boy who once intruded upon a goddess in her temple had an experience more like mine; though in my case the goddess had taken part in the ceremony and consented to it. There would be something between us forever, I felt, different from anything that had ever taken place between a boy and girl in all the world (it always begins in that way), something of which I could never speak to her or to any one, something which would make her different to me, in a strange, intimate, unspeakable way, whether I ever saw her again or not. Oh, the lost enchantment of youth, which makes an idol of a discarded pair of corsets, and locates a dream land about the combings of a woman’s hair; and lives a century of bliss in a day of embarrassed silence!
It must have been three o’clock, for the rooster of the half-dozen fowls which I had traded for had just crowed, when Virginia called to me from the wagon.
“That man,” said she in a scared voice, “is hunting for me.”
“Yes,” said I, only guessing whom she meant.
“If he takes me I shall kill myself!”
“He will never take you from me,” I said.
“What can you do?”
“I have had a thousand fights,” I said; “and I have never been whipped!”
I afterward thought of one or two cases in which bigger boys had bested me, though I had never cried “Enough!” and it seemed to me that it was not quite honest to leave her thinking such a thing of me when it was not quite so. And it looked a little like bragging; but it appeared to quiet her, and I let it go. From the mention she had made back there at Dyersville of men who could fight, using pistol or knife, she apparently was accustomed to men who carried and used weapons; but, thought I, I had never owned, much less carried, any weapons except my two hard fists. Queer enough to say I never thought of the strangeness of a boy’s making his way into a new land with a strange girl suddenly thrown on his hands as a new and precious piece of baggage to be secreted, smuggled, cared for and defended.
THE GROVE OF DESTINY
When I had got up in the morning and rounded up my cows I started a fire and began whistling. I was not in the habit of whistling much; but I wanted her to wake up and dress so I could get the makings of the breakfast out of the wagon. After I had the fire going and had whistled all the tunes I knew—Lorena, The Gipsy’s Warning, I’d Offer Thee This Hand of Mine, and Joe Bowers, I tapped on the side of the wagon, and said “Virginia!”