The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter X. The Chime of the Blue Bells
The Harvester finished his evening work and went to examine the cocoons. Many of the moths had emerged and flown, but the luna cases remained in the bottom of the box. As he stood looking at them one moved and he smiled.
"I'd give something if you would come out and be ready to work on by to-morrow afternoon," he said. "Possibly you would so interest her that she would forget her fear of me. I'd like mighty well to take you along, because she might care for you, and I do need the pattern for my candlestick. Believe I'll lay you in a warmer place."
The first thing the next morning the Harvester looked and found the open cocoon and the wet moth clinging by its feet to a twig he had placed for it.
"Luck is with me!" he exulted. "I'll carry you to her and be mighty careful what I say, and maybe she will forget about the fear."
All the forenoon he cut and spread boneset, saffron, and hemlock on the trays to dry. At noon he put on a fresh outfit, ate a hasty lunch, and drove to Onabasha. He carried the moth in a box, and as he started he picked up a rake. He went to an art store and bought the pencils and paper she had ordered. He wanted to purchase everything he saw for her, but he was fast learning a lesson of deep caution. If he took more than she ordered, she would worry over paying, and if he refused to accept money, she would put that everlasting "why" at him again. The water-colour paper and paint he could not forego. He could make a desire to have the moth coloured explain those, he thought.
Then he went to a furniture store and bought several articles, and forgetting his law against haste, he drove Betsy full speed to the river. He was rather heavily ladened as he went up the bank, and it was only one o'clock. There was an hour. He rolled away the log, raked together and removed the leaves to the ground. He tramped the earth level and spread a large cheap porch rug. On this he opened and placed a little folding table and chair. On the table he spread the pencils, paper, colour box and brushes, and went to the river to fill the water cup. Then he sat on the log he had rolled to one side and waited. After two hours he arose and crept as close the house as he could through the woods, but he could not secure a glimpse of the Girl. He went back and waited an hour more, and then undid his work and removed it. When he came to the moth his face was very grim as he lifted the twig and helped the beautiful creature to climb on a limb. "You'll be ready to fly in a few hours," he said. "If I keep you in a box you will ruin your wings and be no suitable subject, and put you in a cyanide jar I will not. I am hurt too badly myself. I wonder if what Doc said was the right way! It's certainly a temptation."
Then he went home; and again Betsy veered at the hospital, and once more the Harvester explained to her that he did not want to see the doctor. That evening and the following forenoon were difficult, but the Harvester lived through them, and in the afternoon went back to the woods, spread his rug, and set up the table. Only one streak of luck brightened the gloom in his heart. A yellow emperor had emerged in the night, and now occupied the place of yesterday's luna. She never need know it was not the one he wanted, and it would make an excuse for the colour box.
He was watching intently and saw her coming a long way off. He noticed that she looked neither right nor left, but came straight as if walking a bridge. As she reached the place she glanced hastily around and then at him. The Harvester forgave her everything as he saw the look of relief with which she stepped upon the carpet. Then she turned to him.
"I won't have to ask `why' this time," she said. "I know that you did it because I was baby enough to tell what a coward I am. I'm sure you can't afford it, and I know you shouldn't have done it, but oh, what a comfort! If you will promise never to do any such expensive, foolish, kind thing again, I'll say thank you this time. I couldn't come yesterday, because Aunt Molly was worse and Uncle Henry was at home all day."
"I supposed it was something like that," said the Harvester.
She advanced and handed him the roll of bills.
"I had a feeling you would be reckless," she said. "I saw it in your face, so I came back as soon as I could steal away, and sure enough, there lay your money and the books and everything. I hid them in the thicket, so they will be all right. I've almost prayed it wouldn't rain. I didn't dare carry them to the house. Please take the money. I haven't time to argue about it or strength, but of course I can't possibly use it unless I earn it. I'm so anxious to see the pencils and paper."
The Harvester thrust the money into his pocket. The Girl went to the table, opened and spread the paper, and took out the pencils.
"Is my subject in here?" she touched the colour box.
"No, the other."
"Is it alive? May I open it?"
"We will be very careful at first," said the Harvester. "It only left its case in the night and may fly. When the weather is so warm the wings develop rapidly. Perhaps if I remove the lid----"
He took off the cover, exposing a big moth, its lovely, pale yellow wings, flecked with heliotrope, outspread as it clung to a twig in the box. The Girl leaned forward.
"What is it?" she asked.
"One of the big night moths that emerge and fly a few hours in June."
"Is this what you want for your candlestick?"
"If I can't do better. There is one other I prefer, but it may not come at a time that you can get it right."
"What do you mean by `right'?"
"So that you can copy it before it wants to fly."
"Why don't you chloroform and pin it until I am ready?"
"I am not in the business of killing and impaling exquisite creatures like that."
"Do you mean that if I can't draw it when it is just right you will let it go?"
"I told you why."
"I know you said you were not in the business, but why wouldn't you take only one you really wanted to use?"
"I would be afraid," replied the Harvester.
"I must have a mighty good reason before I kill," said the man. "I cannot give life; I have no right to take it away. I will let my statement stand. I am afraid."
"Of what please?"
"An indefinable something that follows me and makes me suffer if I am wantonly cruel."
"Is there any particular pose in which you want this bird placed?"
"Allow me to present you to the yellow emperor, known in the books as eacles imperialis," he said. "I want him as he clings naturally and life size."
She took up a pencil.
"If you don't mind," said the Harvester, "would you draw on this other paper? I very much want the colour, also, and you can use it on this. I brought a box along, and I'll get you water. I had it all ready yesterday."
"Did you have this same moth?"
"No, I had another."
"Did you have the one you wanted most?"
"Yes----but it's no difference."
"And you let it go because I was not here?"
"No. It went on account of exquisite beauty. If kept in confinement it would struggle and break its wings. You see, that one was a delicate green, where this is yellow, plain pale blue green, with a lavender rib here, and long curled trailers edged with pale yellow, and eye spots rimmed with red and black."
As the Harvester talked he indicated the points of difference with a pencil he had picked up; now he laid it down and retreated beyond the limits of the rug.
"I see," said the Girl. "And this is colour?"
She touched the box.
"A few colours, rather," said the Harvester. "I selected enough to fill the box, with the help of the clerk who sold them to me. If they are not right, I have permission to return and exchange them for anything you want."
With eager fingers she opened the box, and bent over it a face filled with interest.
"Oh how I've always wanted this! I scarcely can wait to try it. I do hope I can have it for my very own. Was it quite expensive?"
"No. Very cheap!" said the Harvester. "The paper isn't worth mentioning. The little, empty tin box was only a few cents, and the paints differ according to colour. Some appear to be more than others. I was surprised that the outfit was so inexpensive."
A skeptical little smile wavered on the Girl's face as she drew her slender fingers across the trays of bright colour.
"If one dared accept your word, you really would be a comfort," she said, as she resolutely closed the box, pushed it away, and picked up a pencil.
"If you will take the trouble to inquire at the banks, post office, express office, hospital or of any druggist in Onabasha, you will find that my word is exactly as good as my money, and taken quite as readily."
"I didn't say I doubted you. I have no right to do that until I feel you deceive me. What I said was `dared accept,' which means I must not, because I have no right. But you make one wonder what you would do if you were coaxed and asked for things and led by insinuations."
"I can tell you that," said the Harvester. "It would depend altogether on who wanted anything of me and what they asked. If you would undertake to coax and insinuate, you never would get it done, because I'd see what you needed and have it at hand before you had time."
The Girl looked at him wonderingly.
"Now don't spring your recurrent `why' on me," said the Harvester. "I'll tell you `why' some of these days. Just now answer me this question: Do you want me to remain here or leave until you finish? Which way would you be least afraid?"
"I am not at all afraid on the rug and with my work," she said. "If you want to hunt ginseng go by all means."
"I don't want to hunt anything," said the Harvester. "But if you are more comfortable with me away, I'll be glad to go. I'll leave the dog with you."
He gave a short whistle and Belshazzar came bounding to him. The Harvester stepped to the Girl's side, and dropping on one knee, he drew his hand across the rug close to her skirts.
"Right here, Belshazzar," he said. "Watch! You are on guard, Bel."
"Well of all names for a dog!" exclaimed the Girl. "Why did you select that?"
"My mother named my first dog Belshazzar, and taught me why; so each of the three I've owned since have been christened the same. It means `to protect' and that is the office all of them perform; this one especially has filled it admirably. Once I failed him, but he never has gone back on me. You see he is not a particle afraid of me. Every step I take, he is at my heels."
"So was Bill Sikes' dog, if I remember."
The Harvester laughed.
"Bel," he said, "if you could speak you'd say that was an ugly one, wouldn't you?"
The dog sprang up and kissed the face of the man and rubbed a loving head against his breast.
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "Now lie down and protect this woman as carefully as you ever watched in your life. And incidentally, Bel, tell her that she can't exterminate me more than once a day, and the performance is accomplished for the present. I refuse to be a willing sacrifice. `So was Bill Sikes' dog!' What do you think of that, Bel?"
The Harvester arose and turned to go.
"What if this thing attempts to fly?" she asked.
"Your pardon," said the Harvester. "If the emperor moves, slide the lid over the box a few seconds, until he settles and clings quietly again, and then slowly draw it away. If you are careful not to jar the table heavily he will not go for hours yet."
Again he turned.
"If there is no danger, why do you leave the dog?"
"For company," said the Harvester. "I thought you would prefer an animal you are not afraid of to a man you are. But let me tell you there is no necessity for either. I know a woman who goes alone and unafraid through every foot of woods in this part of the country. She has climbed, crept, and waded, and she tells me she never saw but two venomous snakes this side of Michigan. Nothing ever dropped on her or sprang at her. She feels as secure in the woods as she does at home."
"Isn't she afraid of snakes?"
"She dislikes snakes, but she is not afraid or she would not risk encountering them daily."
"Do you ever find any?"
"Harmless little ones, often. That is, Bel does. He is always nosing for them, because he understands that I work in the earth. I think I have encountered three dangerous ones in my life. I will guarantee you will not find one in these woods. They are too open and too much cleared."
"Then why leave the dog?"
"I thought," said the Harvester patiently, "that your uncle might have turned in some of his cattle, or if pigs came here the dog could chase them away."
She looked at him with utter panic in her face.
"I am far more afraid of a cow than a snake!" she cried. "It is so much bigger!"
"How did you ever come into these woods alone far enough to find the ginseng?" asked the Harvester. "Answer me that!"
"I wore Uncle Henry's top boots and carried a rake, and I suffered tortures," she replied.
"But you hunted until you found what you wanted, and came again to keep watch on it?"
"I was driven--simply forced. There's no use to discuss it!"
"Well thank the Lord for one thing," said the Harvester. "You didn't appear half so terrified at the sight of me as you did at the mere mention of a cow. I have risen inestimably in my own self-respect. Belshazzar, you may pursue the elusive chipmunk. I am going to guard this woman myself, and please, kind fates, send a ferocious cow this way, in order that I may prove my valour."
The Girl's face flushed slightly, and she could not restrain a laugh. That was all the Harvester hoped for and more. He went beyond the edge of the rug and sat on the leaves under a tree. She bent over her work and only bird and insect notes and occasionally Belshazzar's excited bark broke the silence. The Harvester stretched on the ground, his eyes feasting on the Girl. Intensely he watched every movement. If a squirrel barked she gave a nervous start, so precipitate it seemed as if it must hurt. If a windfall came rattling down she appeared ready to fly in headlong terror in any direction. At last she dropped her pencil and looked at him helplessly.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The silence and these awful crashes when one doesn't know what is coming," she said.
"Will it bother you if I talk? Perhaps the sound of my voice will help?"
"I am accustomed to working when people talk, and it will be a comfort. I may be able to follow you, and that will prevent me from thinking. There are dreadful things in my mind when they are not driven out. Please talk! Tell me about the herbs you gathered this morning."
The Harvester gave the Girl one long look as she bent over her work. He was vividly conscious of the graceful curves of her little figure, the coil of dark, silky hair, softly waving around her temples and neck, and when her eyes turned in his direction he knew that it was only the white, drawn face that restrained him. He was almost forced to tell her how he loved and longed for her; about the home he had prepared; of a thousand personal interests. Instead, he took a firm grip and said casually, "Foxglove harvest is over. This plant has to be taken when the leaves are in second year growth and at bloom time. I have stripped my mullein beds of both leaves and flowers. I finished a week ago. Beyond lies a stretch of Parnassus grass that made me think of you, it was so white and delicate. I want you to see it. It will be lovely in a few weeks more."
"You never had seen me a week ago."
"Oh hadn't I?" said the Harvester. "Well maybe I dreamed about you then. I am a great dreamer. Once I had a dream that may interest you some day, after you've overcome your fear of me. Now this bed of which I was speaking is a picture in September. You must arrange to drive home with me and see it then."
"For what do you sell foxglove and mullein?"
"Foxglove for heart trouble, and mullein for catarrh. I get ten cents a pound for foxglove leaves and five for mullein and from seventy-five to a dollar for flowers of the latter, depending on how well I preserve the colour in drying them. They must be sealed in bottles and handled with extreme care."
"Then if I wasn't too childish to be out picking them, I could be earning seventy-five cents a pound for mullein blooms?"
"Yes," said the Harvester, "but until you learned the trick of stripping them rapidly you scarcely could gather what would weigh two pounds a day, when dried. Not to mention the fact that you would have to stand and work mostly in hot sunshine, because mullein likes open roads and fields and sunny hills. Now you can sit securely in the shade, and in two hours you can make me a pattern of that moth, for which I would pay a designer of the arts and crafts shop five dollars, so of course you shall have the same."
"Oh no!" she cried in swift panic. "You were charged too much! It isn't worth a dollar, even!"
"On the contrary the candlestick on which I shall use it will be invaluable when I finish it, and five is very little for the cream of my design. I paid just right. You can earn the same for all you can do. If you can embroider linen, they pay good prices for that, too and wood carving, metal work, or leather things. May I see how you are coming on?"
"Please do," she said.
The Harvester sprang up and looked over the Girl's shoulder. He could not suppress an exclamation of delight.
"Perfect!" he cried. "You can surpass their best drafting at the shop! Your fortune is made. Any time you want to go to Onabasha you can make enough to pay your board, dress you well, and save something every week. You must leave here as soon as you can manage it. When can you go?"
"I don't know," she said wearily. "I'd hate to tell you how full of aches I am. I could not work much just now, if I had the best opportunities in the world. I must grow stronger."
"You should not work at anything until you are well," he said. "It is a crime against nature to drive yourself. Why will you not allow----"
"Do you really think, with a little practice, I can draw designs that will sell?"
The Harvester picked up the sheet. The work was delicate and exact. He could see no way to improve it.
"You know it will sell," he said gently, "because you already have sold such work."
"But not for the prices you offer."
"The prices I name are going to be for new, original designs. I've got a thousand in my head, that old Mother Nature shows me in the woods and on the water every day."
"But those are yours; I can't take them."
"You must," said the Harvester. "I only see and recognize studies; I can't materialize them, and until they are drawn, no one can profit by them. In this partnership we revolutionize decorative art. There are actually birds besides fat robins and nondescript swallows. The crane and heron do not monopolize the water. Wild rose and golden-rod are not the only flowers. The other day I was gathering lobelia. The seeds are used in tonic preparations. It has an upright stem with flowers scattered along it. In itself it is not much, but close beside it always grows its cousin, tall bell-flower. As the name indicates, the flowers are bell shape and I can't begin to describe their grace, beauty, and delicate blue colour. They ring my strongest call to worship. My work keeps me in the woods so much I remain there for my religion also. Whenever I find these flowers I always pause for a little service of my own that begins by reciting these lines:
" 'Neath cloistered boughs, each floral bell that swingeth And tolls its perfume on the passing air, Makes Sabbath in the fields, and ever ringeth A call to prayer."
"Beautiful!" said the Girl.
"It's mighty convenient," explained the Harvester. "By my method, you see, you don't have to wait for your day and hour of worship. Anywhere the blue bell rings its call it is Sunday in the woods and in your heart. After I recite that, I pray my prayer."
"Go on!" said the Girl. "This is no place to stop."
"It is always one and the same prayer, and there are only two lines of it," said the Harvester. "It runs this way---- Let me take your pencil and I will write it for you."
He bent over her shoulder, and traced these lines on a scrap of the wrapping paper:
"Almighty Evolver of the Universe: Help me to keep my soul and body clean, And at all times to do unto others as I would be done by. Amen."
The Girl took the slip and sat studying it; then she raised her eyes to his face curiously, but with a tinge of awe in them.
"I can see you standing over a blue, bell-shaped flower reciting those exquisite lines and praying this wonderful prayer," she said. "Yesterday you allowed the moth you were willing to pay five dollars for a drawing of, to go, because you wouldn't risk breaking its wings. Why you are more like a woman!"
A red stream crimsoned the Harvester's face.
"Well heretofore I have been considered strictly masculine," he said. "To appreciate beauty or to try to be just commonly decent is not exclusively feminine. You must remember there are painters, poets, musicians, workers in art along almost any line you could mention, and no one calls them feminine, but there is one good thing if I am. You need no longer fear me. If you should see me, muck covered, grubbing in the earth or on a raft washing roots in the lake, you would not consider me like a woman."
"Would it be any discredit if I did? I think not. I merely meant that most men would not see or hear the blue bell at all----and as for the poem and prayer! If the woods make a man with such fibre in his soul, I must learn them if they half kill me."
"You harp on death. Try to forget the word."
"I have faced it for months, and seen it do its grinding worst very recently to the only thing on earth I loved or that loved me. I have no desire to forget! Tell me more about the plants."
"Forgive me," said the Harvester gently. "Just now I am collecting catnip for the infant and nervous people, hoarhound for colds and dyspepsia, boneset heads and flowers for the same purpose. There is a heavy head of white bloom with wonderful lacy leaves, called yarrow. I take the entire plant for a tonic and blessed thistle leaves and flowers for the same purpose."
"That must be what I need," interrupted the Girl. "Half the time I believe I have a little fever, but I couldn't have dyspepsia, because I never want anything to eat; perhaps the tonic would make me hungry."
"Promise me you will tell that to the doctor who comes to see your aunt, and take what he gives you."
"No doctor comes to see my aunt. She is merely playing lazy to get out of work. There is nothing the matter with her."
"My uncle says that. Really, she could not stand and walk across a room alone. She is simply worn out."
"I shall report the case," said the Harvester instantly.
"You better not!" said the Girl. "There must be a mistake about you knowing my uncle. Tell me more of the flowers."
The Harvester drew a deep breath and continued:
"These I just have named I take at bloom time; next month come purple thorn apple, jimson weed, and hemlock."
"Isn't that poison?"
"Half the stuff I handle is."
"Aren't you afraid?"
"Terribly," said the Harvester in laughing voice. "But I want the money, the sick folk need the medicine, and I drink water."
The Girl laughed also.
"Look here!" said the Harvester. "Why not tell me just as closely as you can about your aunt, and let me fix something for her; or if you are afraid to trust me, let me have my friend of whom I spoke yesterday."
"Perhaps I am not so much afraid as I was," said the Girl. "I wish I could! How could I explain where I got it and I wonder if she would take it."
"Give it to her without any explanation," said the Harvester. "Tell her it will make her stronger and she must use it. Tell me exactly how she is, and I will fix up some harmless remedies that may help, and can do no harm."
"She simply has been neglected, overworked, and abused until she has lain down, turned her face to the wall, and given up hope. I think it is too late. I think the end will come soon. But I wish you would try. I'll gladly pay----"
"Don't!" said the Harvester. "Not for things that grow in the woods and that I prepare. Don't think of money every minute."
"I must," she said with forced restraint. "It is the price of life. Without it one suffers----horribly---- as I know. What other plants do you gather?"
"Saffron," answered the Harvester. "A beautiful thing! You must see it. Tall, round stems, lacy, delicate leaves, big heads of bright yellow bloom, touched with colour so dark it appears black--one of the loveliest plants that grows. You should see my big bed of it in a week or two more. It makes a picture."
The words recalled him to the Girl. He turned to study her. He forgot his commission and chafed at conventions that prevented his doing what he saw was required so urgently. Fearing she would notice, he gazed away through the forest and tried to think, to plan.
"You are not making noise enough," she said.
So absorbed was the Harvester he scarcely heard her. In an attempt to obey he began to whistle softly. A tiny goldfinch in a nest of thistle down and plant fibre in the branching of a bush ten feet above him stuck her head over the brim and inquired, "P'tseet?" "Pt'see!" answer the Harvester. That began the duet. Before the question had been asked and answered a half dozen times a catbird intruded its voice and hearing a reply came through the bushes to investigate. A wren followed and became very saucy. From----one could not see where, came a vireo, and almost at the same time a chewink had something to say.
Instantly the Harvester answered. Then a blue jay came chattering to ascertain what all the fuss was about, and the Harvester carried on a conversation that called up the remainder of the feathered tribe. A brilliant cardinal came tearing through the thicket, his beady black eyes snapping, and demanded to know if any one were harming his mate, brooding under a wild grape leaf in a scrub elm on the river embankment. A brown thrush silently slipped like a snake between shrubs and trees, and catching the universal excitement, began to flirt his tail and utter a weird, whistling cry.
With one eye on the bird, and the other on the Girl sitting in amazed silence, the Harvester began working for effect. He lay quietly, but in turn he answered a dozen birds so accurately they thought their mates were calling, and closer and closer they came. An oriole in orange and black heard his challenge, and flew up the river bank, answering at steady intervals for quite a time before it was visible, and in resorting to the last notes he could think of a quail whistled "Bob White" and a shitepoke, skulking along the river bank, stopped and cried, "Cowk, cowk!"
At his limit of calls the Harvester changed his notes and whistled and cried bits of bird talk in tone with every mellow accent and inflection he could manage. Gradually the excitement subsided, the birds flew and tilted closer, turned their sleek heads, peered with bright eyes, and ventured on and on until the very bravest, the wren and the jay, were almost in touch. Then, tired of hunting, Belshazzar came racing and the little feathered people scattered in precipitate flight.
"How do you like that kind of a noise?" inquired the Harvester.
The Girl drew a deep breath.
"Of course you know that was the most exquisite sight I ever saw," she said. "I never shall forget it. I did not think there were that many different birds in the whole world. Of all the gaudy colours! And they came so close you could have reached out and touched them."
"Yes," said the Harvester calmly. "Birds are never afraid of me. At Medicine Woods, when I call them like that, many, most of them, in fact, eat from my hand. If you ever have looked at me enough to notice bulgy pockets, they are full of wheat. These birds are strangers, but I'll wager you that in a week I can make them take food from me. Of course, my own birds know me, because they are around every day. It is much easier to tame them in winter, when the snow has fallen and food is scarce, but it only takes a little while to win a bird's confidence at any season."
"Birds don't know what there is to be afraid of," she said.
"Your pardon," said the Harvester, "but I am familiar with them, and that is not correct. They have more to fear than human beings. No one is going to kill you merely to see if he can shoot straight enough to hit. Your life is not in danger because you have magnificent hair that some woman would like for an ornament. You will not be stricken out in a flash because there are a few bits of meat on your frame some one wants to eat. No one will set a seductive trap for you, and, if you are tempted to enter it, shut you from freedom and natural diet, in a cage so small you can't turn around without touching bars. You are in a secure and free position compared with the birds. I also have observed that they know guns, many forms of traps, and all of them decide by the mere manner of a man's passing through the woods whether he is a friend or an enemy. Birds know more than many people realize. They do not always correctly estimate gun range, they are foolishly venturesome at times when they want food, but they know many more things than most people give them credit for understanding. The greatest trouble with the birds is they are too willing to trust us and be friendly, so they are often deceived."
"That sounds as if you were right," said the Girl.
"I am of the woods, so I know I am," answered the Harvester.
"Will you look at this now?"
He examined the drawing closely.
"Where did you learn?" he inquired.
"My mother. She was educated to her finger tips. She drew, painted, played beautifully, sang well, and she had read almost all the best books. Besides what I learned at high school she taught me all I know. Her embroidery always brought higher prices than mine, try as I might. I never saw any one else make such a dainty, accurate little stitch as she could."
"If this is not perfect, I don't know how to criticise it. I can and will use it in my work. But I have one luna cocoon remaining and I would give ten dollars for such a drawing of the moth before it flies. It may open to-night or not for several days. If your aunt should be worse and you cannot come to-morrow and the moth emerges, is there any way in which I could send it to you?"
"What could I do with it?"
"I thought perhaps you could take a piece of paper and the pencils with you, and secure an outline in your room. It need not be worked up with all the detail in this. Merely a skeleton sketch would do. Could I leave it at the house or send it with some one?"
"No! Oh no!" she cried. "Leave it here. Put it in a box in the bushes where I hid the books. What are you going to do with these things?"
"Hide them in the thicket and scatter leaves over them."
"What if it rains?"
"I have thought of that. I brought a few yards of oilcloth to-day and they will be safe and dry if it pours."
"Good!" she said. "Then if the moth comes out you bring it, and if I am not here, put it under the cloth and I will run up some time in the afternoon. But if I were you, I would not spread the rug until you know if I can remain. I have to steal every minute I am away, and any day uncle takes a notion to stay at home I dare not come."
"Try to come to-morrow. I am going to bring some medicine for your aunt."
"Put it under the cloth if I am not here; but I will come if I can. I must go now; I have been away far too long."
The Harvester picked up one of the drug pamphlets, laid the drawing inside it, and placed it with his other books. Then he drew out his pocket book and laid a five-dollar bill on the table and began folding up the chair and putting away the things. The Girl looked at the money with eager eyes.
"Is that honestly what you would pay at the arts and crafts place?"
"It is the customary price for my patterns."
"And are you sure this is as good?"
"I can bring you some I have paid that for, and let you see for yourself that it is better."
"I wish you would!" she cried eagerly. "I need that money, and I would like to have it dearly, if I really have earned it, but I can't touch it if I have not."
"Won't you accept my word?"
"No. I will see the other drawings first, and if I think mine are as good, I will be glad to take the money to-morrow."
"What if you can't come?"
"Put them under the oilcloth. I watch all the time and I think Uncle Henry has trained even the boys so they don't play in the river on his land. I never see a soul here; the woods, house, and everything is desolate until he comes home and then it is like----" she paused.
"I'll say it for you," said the Harvester promptly. "Then it is like hell."
"At its worst," supplemented the Girl. Taking pencils and a sheet of paper she went swiftly through the woods. Before she left the shelter of the trees, the Harvester saw her busy her hands with the front of her dress, and he knew that she was concealing the drawing material. The colour box was left, and he said things as he put it with the chair and table, covered them with the rug and oilcloth, and heaped on a layer of leaves.
Then he drove to the city and Betsy turned at the hospital corner with no interference. He could face his friend that day. Despite all discouragements he felt reassured. He was progressing. Means of communication had been established. If she did not come, he could leave a note and tell her if the moth had not emerged and how sorry he was to have missed seeing her.
"Hello, lover!" cried Doctor Carey as the Harvester entered the office. "Are you married yet?"
"No. But I'm going to be," said the Harvester with confidence.
"Have you asked her?"
"No. We are getting acquainted. She is too close to trouble, too ill, and too worried over a sick relative for me to intrude myself; it would be brutal, but it's a temptation. Doc, is there any way to compel a man to provide medical care for his wife?"
"Can he afford it?"
"Amply. Anything! Worth thousands in land and nobody knows what in money. It's Henry Jameson."
"The meanest man I ever knew. If he has a wife it's a marvel she has survived this long. Won't he provide for her?"
"I suppose he thinks he has when she has a bed to lie on and a roof to cover her. He won't supply food she can eat and medicine. He says she is lazy."
"What do you think?"
"I quote Miss Jameson. She says her aunt is slowly dying from overwork and neglect."
"David, doesn't it seem pretty good, when you say `Miss Jameson'?"
"Loveliest sound on earth, except the remainder of it."
"Jove! That is a beautiful name. Ruth Langston. It will go well, won't it?"
"Music that the birds, insects, Singing Water, the trees, and the breeze can't ever equal. I'm holding on with all my might, but it's tough, Doc. She's in such a dreadful place and position, and she needs so much. She is sick. Can't you give me a prescription for each of them?"
"You just bet I can," said the doctor, "if you can engineer their taking them."
"I suppose you'd hold their noses and pour stuff down them."
"I would if necessary."
"Well, it is."
"All right----I'll fix something, and you see that they use it."
"I can try," said the Harvester.
"Try! Pah! You aren't half a man!"
"That's a half more than being a woman, anyway."
"She called you feminine, did she?" cried the doctor, dancing and laughing. "She ought to see you harvesting skunk cabbage and blue flag or when you are angry enough."
The doctor left the room and it was a half hour before he returned.
"Try that on them according to directions," he said, handing over a couple of bottles.
"Thank you!" said the Harvester, "I will!"
"That sounds manly enough."
"Oh pother! It's not that I'm not a man, or a laggard in love; but I'd like to know what you'd do to a girl dumb with grief over the recent loss of her mother, who was her only relative worth counting, sick from God knows what exposure and privation, and now a dying relative on her hands. What could you do?"
"I'd marry her and pick her out of it!"
"I wouldn't have her, if she'd leave a sick woman for me!"
"I wouldn't either. She's got to stick it out until her aunt grows better, and then I'll go out there and show you how to court a girl."
"I guess not! You keep the girl you did court, courted, and you'll have your hands full. How does that appear to you?"
The Harvester opened the pamphlet he carried and held up the drawing of the moth.
The doctor turned to the light.
"Good work!" he cried. "Did she do that?"
"She did. In a little over an hour."
"Fine! She should have a chance."
"She is going to. She is going to have all the opportunity that is coming to her."
"Good for you, David! Any time I can help!"
The Harvester replaced the sketch and went to the wagon; but he left Belshazzar in charge, and visited the largest dry goods store in Onabasha, where he held a conference with the floor walker. When he came out he carried a heaping load of boxes of every size and shape, with a label on each. He drove to Medicine Woods singing and whistling.
"She didn't want me to go, Belshazzar!" he chuckled to the dog. "She was more afraid of a cow than she was of me. I made some headway to-day, old boy. She doesn't seem to have a ray of an idea what I am there for, but she is going to trust me soon now; that is written in the books. Oh I hope she will be there to- morrow, and the luna will be out. Got half a notion to take the case and lay it in the warmest place I can find. But if it comes out and she isn't there, I'll be sorry. Better trust to luck."
The Harvester stabled Betsy, fed the stock, and visited with the birds. After supper he took his purchases and entered her room. He opened the drawers of the chest he had made, and selecting the labelled boxes he laid them in. But not a package did he open. Then he arose and radiated conceit of himself.
"I'll wager she will like those," he commented proudly, "because Kane promised me fairly that he would have the right things put up for a girl the size of the clerk I selected for him, and exactly what Ruth should have. That girl was slenderer and not quite so tall, but he said everything was made long on purpose. Now what else should I get?"
He turned to the dressing table and taking a notebook from his pocket made this list:
Rugs for bed and bath room. Mattresses, pillows and bedding, Dresses for all occasions. All kinds of shoes and overshoes.
"There are gloves, too!" exclaimed the Harvester. "She has to have some, but how am I going to know what is right? Oh, but she needs shoes! High, low, slippers, everything! I wonder what that clerk wears. I don't believe shoes would be comfortable without being fitted, or at least the proper size. I wonder what kind of dresses she likes. I hope she's fond of white. A woman always appears loveliest in that. Maybe I'd better buy what I'm sure of and let her select the dresses. But I'd love to have this room crammed with girl-fixings when she comes. Doesn't seem as if she ever has had any little luxuries. I can't miss it on anything a woman uses. Let me think!"
Slowly he wrote again: Parasols. Fans. Veils. Hats.
"I never can get them! I think that will keep me busy for a few days," said the Harvester as he closed the door softly, and went to look at the pupae cases. Then he carved on the vine of the candlestick for her dressing table; with one arm around Belshazzar, re-read the story of John Muir's dog, went into the lake, and to bed. Just as he was becoming unconscious the beast lifted an inquiring head and gazed at the man.
"More 'fraid of cow," the Harvester was muttering in a sleepy chuckle.