But, even while she blushed and thrilled with this embarrassment, she fought to put it from her. He, evidently, had not thought of it at all, was, now, not thinking of it. What had been done had been a part of the day’s work, a quick move, made in an emergency, when nothing else would serve. His attitude restored her own composure.
And gratitude welled in her. She struggled to find words for it.
“I—I’m much obleeged to you,” were all she found, and she was conscious of their most complete inadequacy.
“No reason why you should be,” he said gayly. “We got caught in a tight place, that’s all, and we helped one another out of it.”
She laughed derisively. “I helped you out a lot, now didn’t I?” she asked.
Again she made a survey of him, standing where he had been when he had loosed his hold of her, unwearied, smiling, and she looked with actual wonder. Good clothes and careful speech were not, of a necessity, the outward signs of weaklings, it appeared!
Joe Lorey, in a dozen talks with her, had told her that they were. She did not understand that this had been a clumsy and short-sighted strategy, that, finding her more difficult than other mountain girls—the handsome, sturdy young hill-dweller had not been without his conquests among the maidens of his kind; only Madge had baffled him—he had feared that, now when the railroad building in the valley had brought so many “foreigners” into the neighborhood, one of them might fascinate her, and it had been to guard against this, as well as he was able, that he had spoken slightingly of the whole class. He had delighted in repeating to her tales belittling them, deriding them, and she, of course, had quite believed his stories.
But her experience with this one had not justified that point of view, and the matter largely occupied her thoughts as they walked slowly through the thickets of a bit of “second-growth” beyond the fire, which, stopped by the rocky “barrens,” was dying out behind them. Her companion was, to her, an utterly new sort of being, not better trained in mind alone, but better trained in body than any mountaineer she knew; doubtless ignorant of many details of woods-life which would be known to any child there in the mountains, but, on the other hand, even more resourceful, daring, quick, than mountain men would have been, similarly placed, and, to her amazement, physically stronger, too!
The fact that he had shown himself more thoughtful of and courteous to her than any other man had ever been before, made its impression, but a slighter one. Hers were the instincts of true wisdom, and she valued these things less than many of her city sisters might, although she valued them, of course. She looked slyly, wonderingly at him. He was a very pleasant, very admirable sort of creature—this visitor from the unknown, outside world. She quite decided that she did not even think his knickerbockers foolish, after all.