The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XI. Demonstrated Courtship
When the Harvester saw the Girl coming toward the woods, he spread the rug, opened and placed the table and chair, laid out the colour box, and another containing the last luna.
"Did the green one come out?" she asked, touching the box lightly.
"It did!" said the Harvester proudly, as if he were responsible for the performance. "It is an omen! It means that I am to have my long-coveted pattern for my best candlestick. It also clearly indicates that the gods of luck are with me for the day, and I get my way about everything. There won't be the least use in your asking `why' or interposing objections. This is my clean sweep. I shall be fearfully dictatorial and you must submit, because the fates have pointed out that they favour me to-day, and if you go contrary to their decrees you will have a bad time."
The Girl's smile was a little wan. She sank on a chair and picked up a pencil.
"Lay that down!" cried the Harvester. "You haven't had permission from the Dictator to begin drawing. You are to sit and rest a long time."
"Please may I speak?" asked the Girl.
The Harvester grew foolishly happy. Was she really going to play the game? Of course he had hoped, but it was a hope without any foundation.
"You may," he said soberly.
"I am afraid that if you don't allow me to draw the moth at once, I'll never get it done. I dislike to mention it on your good day, but Aunt Molly is very restless. I got a neighbour's little girl to watch her and call me if I'm wanted. It's quite certain that I must go soon, so if you would like the moth----"
"When luck is coming your way, never hurry it! You always upset the bowl if you grow greedy and crowd. If it is a gamble whether I get this moth, I'll take the chance; but I won't change my foreordained programme for this afternoon. First, you are to sit still ten minutes, shut your eyes, and rest. I can't sing, but I can whistle, and I'm going to entertain you so you won't feel alone. Ready now!"
The Girl leaned her elbows on the table, closed her eyes, and pressed her slender white hands over them.
"Please don't call the birds," she said. "I can't rest if you do. It was so exciting trying to see all of them and guess what they were saying."
"No," said the Harvester gently. "This ten minutes is for relaxation, you know. You ease every muscle, sink limply on your chair, lean on the table, let go all over, and don't think. Just listen to me. I assure you it's going to be perfectly lovely."
Watching intently he saw the strained muscles relaxing at his suggestion and caught the smile over the last words as he slid into a soft whistle. It was an easy, slow, old-fashioned tune, carrying along gently, with neither heights nor depths, just monotonous, sleepy, soothing notes, that went on and on with a little ripple of change at times, only to return to the theme, until at last the Girl lifted her head.
"It's away past ten minutes," she said, "but that was a real rest. Truly, I am better prepared for work."
"Broke the rule, too!" said the Harvester. "It was, for me to say when time was up. Can't you allow me to have my way for ten minutes?"
"I am so anxious to see and draw this moth," she answered. "And first of all you promised to bring the drawings you have been using."
"Now where does my programme come in?" inquired the Harvester. "You are spoiling everything, and I refuse to have my lucky day interfered with; therefore we will ignore the suggestion until we arrive at the place where it is proper. Next thing is refreshments."
He arose and coming over cleared the table. Then he spread on it a paper tray cloth with a gay border, and going into the thicket brought out a box and a big bucket containing a jug packed in ice. The Girl's eyes widened. She reached down, caught up a piece, and holding it to drip a second started to put it in her mouth.
"Drop that!" commanded the Harvester. "That's a very unhealthful proceeding. Wait a minute."
From one end of the box he produced a tin of wafers and from the other a plate. Then he dug into the ice and lifted several different varieties of chilled fruit. From the jug he poured a combination that he made of the juices of oranges, pineapples, and lemons. He set the glass, rapidly frosting in the heat, and the fruit before the Girl.
"Now!" he said.
For one instant she stared at the table. Then she looked at him and in the depths of her dark eyes was an appeal he never forgot.
"I made that drink myself, so it's all right," he assured her. "There's a pretty stiff touch of pineapple in it, and it cuts the cobwebs on a hot day. Please try it!"
"I can't!" cried the Girl with a half-sob. "Think of Aunt Molly!"
"Are you fond of her?"
"No. I never saw her until a few weeks ago. Since then I've seen nothing save her poor, tired back. She lies in a heap facing the wall. But if she could have things like these, she needn't suffer. And if my mother could have had them she would be living to-day. Oh Man, I can't touch this."
"I see," said the Harvester.
He reached over, picked up the glass, and poured its contents into the jug. He repacked the fruit and closed the wafer box. Then he made a trip to the thicket and came out putting something into his pocket.
"Come on!" he said. "We are going to the house."
She stared at him.
"I simply don't dare."
"Then I will go alone," said the Harvester, picking up the bucket and starting.
The Girl followed him.
"Uncle Henry may come any minute," she urged.
"Well if he comes and acts unpleasantly, he will get what he richly deserves."
"And he will make me pay for it afterward."
"Oh no he won't!" said the Harvester, "because I'll look out for that. This is my lucky day. He isn't going to come."
When he reached the back door he opened it and stepped inside. Of all the barren places of crude, disheartening ugliness the Harvester ever had seen, that was the worst.
"I want a glass and a spoon," he said.
The Girl brought them.
"Where is she?"
"In the next room."
At the sound of their voices a small girl came to the kitchen door.
"How do you do?" inquired the Harvester. "Is Mrs. Jameson asleep?"
"I don't know," answered the child. "She just lies there."
The Harvester gave her the glass. "Please fill that with water," he said. Then he picked up the bucket and went into the front room. When the child came with the water he took a bottle from his pocket, filled the spoon, and handed it to her.
"Hold that steadily," he said.
Then he slid his strong hands under the light frame and turned the face of the faded little creature toward him.
"I am a Medicine Man, Mrs. Jameson," he said casually. "I heard you were sick and I came to see if a little of this stuff wouldn't brace you up. Open your lips."
He held out the spoon and the amazed woman swallowed the contents before she realized what she was doing. Then the Harvester ran a hand under her shoulders and lifting her gently he tossed her pillow with the other hand.
"You are a light little body, just like my mother," he commented. "Now I have something else sick people sometimes enjoy."
He held the fruit juice to her lips as he slightly raised her on the pillow. Her trembling fingers lifted and closed around the sparkling glass.
"Oh it's cool!" she gasped.
"It is," said the Harvester, "and sour! I think you can taste it. Try!"
She drank so greedily he drew away the glass and urged caution, but the shaking fingers clung to him and the wavering voice begged for more.
"In a minute," said the Harvester gently. But the fevered woman would not wait. She drank the cooling liquid until she could take no more. Then she watched him fill a small pitcher and pack it in a part of the ice and lay some fruit around it.
"Who, Ruth?" she panted.
"A Medicine Man who heard about you."
"What will Henry say?"
"He won't know," explained the Girl, smoothing the hot forehead. "I'll put it in the cupboard, and slip it to you while he is out of the room. It will make you strong and well."
"I don't want to be strong and well and suffer it all over again. I want to rest. Give me more of the cool drink. Give me all I want, then I'll go to sleep."
"It's wonderful," said the Girl. "That's more than I've heard her talk since I came. She is much stronger. Please let her have it."
The Harvester assented. He gave the child some of the fruit, and told her to sit beside the bed and hold the drink when it was asked for. She agreed to be very careful and watchful. Then he picked up the bucket, and followed by the Girl, returned to the woods.
"Now we have to begin all over again," he said, as she seated herself at the table. "Because of the walk in the heat, this time the programme is a little different."
He replaced the wafer box and opened it, filled the glass, and heaped the cold fruit.
"Your aunt is going to have a refreshing sleep now," he said, "and your mind can be free about her for an hour or two. I am very sure your mother would not want you deprived of anything because she missed it, so you are to enjoy this, if you care for it. At least try a sample."
The Girl lifted the glass to her lips with a trembling hand.
"I'm like Aunt Molly," she said; "I wish I could drink all I could swallow, and then lie down and go to sleep forever. I suppose this is what they have in Heaven."
"No, it's what they drink all over earth at present, but I have a conceit of my own brand. Some of it is too strong of one fruit or of the other, and all too sweet for health. This is compounded scientifically and it's just right. If you are not accustomed to cold drinks, go slowly."
"You can't scare me," said the Girl; "I'm going to drink all I want."
There was a note of excitement in the Harvester's laugh.
"You must have some, too!"
"After a while," he said. "I was thirsty when I made it, so I don't care for any more now. Try the fruit and those wafers. Of course they are not home made-- they are the best I could do at a bakery. Take time enough to eat slowly. I'm going to tell you a tale while you lunch, and it's about a Medicine Man named David Langston. It's a very peculiar story, but it's quite true. This man lives in the woods east of Onabasha, accompanied by his dog, horse, cow, and chickens, and a forest full of birds, flowers, and matchless trees. He has lived there in this manner for six long years, and every spring he and his dog have a seance and agree whether he shall go on gathering medicinal herbs and trying his hand at making medicine or go to the city and live as other men. Always the dog chooses to remain in the woods.
"Then every spring, on the day the first bluebird comes, the dog also decides whether the man shall go on alone or find a mate and bring her home for company. Each year the dog regularly has decided that they live as always. This spring, for some unforeseen reason, he changed his mind, and compelled the man, according to his vow in the beginning, to go courting. The man was so very angry at the idea of having a woman in his home, interfering with his work, disturbing his arrangements, and perhaps wanting to spend more money than he could afford, that he struck the dog for making that decision; struck him for the very first time in his life----I believe you'd like those apricots. Please try one."
"Go on with the story," said the Girl, sipping delicately but constantly at the frosty glass.
The Harvester arose and refilled it. Then he dropped pieces of ice over the fruit.
"Where was I?" he inquired casually.
"Where you struck Belshazzar, and it's no wonder," answered the Girl.
Without taking time to ponder that, the Harvester continued:
"But that night the man had a wonderful, golden dream. A beautiful girl came to him, and she was so gracious and lovely that he was sufficiently punished for striking his dog, because he fell unalterably in love with her."
"Meaning you?" interrupted the Girl.
"Yes," said the Harvester, "meaning me. I----if you like----fell in love with the girl. She came so alluringly, and I was so close to her that I saw her better than I ever did any other girl, and I knew her for all time. When she went, my heart was gone."
"And you have lived without that important organ ever since?"
"Without even the ghost of it! She took it with her. Well, that dream was so real, that the next day I began building over my house, making furniture, and planting flowers for her; and every day, wherever I went, I watched for her."
"I can't see it."
"You won't find a girl you dreamed about in a thousand years."
"Wrong!" cried the Harvester triumphantly. "Saw her in little less than three months, but she vanished and it took some time and difficult work before I located her again; but I've got her all solid now, and she doesn't escape."
"Is she a `lovely and gracious lady'?"
"She is!" said the Harvester, with all his heart.
"Young and beautiful, of course!"
"Please fill this glass. I told you what I was going to do."
The Harvester refilled the glass and the Girl drained it.
"Now won't you set aside these things and allow me to go to work?" she asked. "My call may come any minute, and I'll never forgive myself if I waste time, and don't draw your moth pattern for you."
"It's against my principles to hurry, and besides, my story isn't finished."
"It is," said the Girl. "She is young and lovely, gentle and a lady, you have her `all solid,' and she can't `escape'; that's the end, of course. But if I were you, I wouldn't have her until I gave her a chance to get away, and saw whether she would if she could."
"Oh I am not a jailer," said the Harvester. "She shall be free if I cannot make her love me; but I can, and I will; I swear it."
"You are not truly in earnest?"
"I am in deadly earnest."
"Honestly, you dreamed about a girl, and found the very one?"
"Most certainly, I did."
"It sounds like the wildest romancing."
"It is the veriest reality."
"Well I hope you win her, and that she will be everything you desire."
"Thank you," said the Harvester. "It's written in the book of fate that I succeed. The very elements are with me. The South Wind carried a message to her for me. I am going to marry her, but you could make it much easier for me if you would."
"I! What could I do?" cried the Girl.
"You could cease being afraid of me. You could learn to trust me. You could try to like me, if you see anything likeable about me. That would encourage me so that I could tell you of my Dream Girl, and then you could show me how to win her. A woman always knows about those things better than a man. You could be the greatest help in all the world to me, if only you would."
"I couldn't possibly! I can't leave here. I have no proper clothing to appear before another girl. She would be shocked at my white face. That I could help you is the most improbable dream you have had."
"You must pardon me if I differ from you, and persist in thinking that you can be of invaluable assistance to me, if you will. But you can't influence my Dream Girl, if you fear and distrust me yourself. Promise me that you will help me that much, anyway."
"I'll do all I can. I only want to make you see that I am in no position to grant any favours, no matter how much I owe you or how I'd like to. Is the candlestick you are carving for her?"
"It is," said the Harvester. "I am making a pair of maple to stand on a dressing table I built for her. It is unusually beautiful wood, I think, and I hope she will be pleased with it."
"Please take these things away and let me begin. This is the only thing I can see that I can do for you, and the moth will want to fly before I have finished."
The Harvester cleared the table and placed the box, while the Girl spread the paper and began work eagerly.
"I wonder if I knew there were such exquisite things in all the world," she said. "I scarcely think I did. I am beginning to understand why you couldn't kill one. You could make a chair or a table, and so you feel free to destroy them; but it takes ages and Almighty wisdom to evolve a creature like this, so you don't dare. I think no one else would if they really knew. Please talk while I work."
"Is there a particular subject you want discussed?"
"Anything but her. If I think too strongly of her, I can't work so well."
"Your ginseng is almost dry," said the Harvester. "I think I can bring you the money in a few days."
"So soon!" she cried.
"It dries day and night in an even temperature, and faster than you would believe. There's going to be between seven and eight pounds of it, when I make up what it has shrunk. It will go under the head of the finest wild roots. I can get eight for it sure."
"Oh what good news!" cried the Girl. "This is my lucky day, too. And the little girl isn't coming, so Aunt Molly must be asleep. Everything goes right! If only Uncle Henry wouldn't come home!"
"Let me fill your glass," proffered the Harvester.
"Just half way, and set it where I can see it," said the Girl. She worked with swift strokes and there was a hint of colour in her face, as she looked at him. "I hope you won't think I'm greedy," she said, "but truly, that's the first thing I've had that I could taste in----I can't remember when."
"I'll bring a barrel to-morrow," offered the Harvester, "and a big piece of ice wrapped in coffee sacking."
"You mustn't think of such a thing! Ice is expensive and so are fruits."
"Ice costs me the time required to saw and pack it at my home. I almost live on the fruit I raise. I confess to a fondness for this drink. I have no other personal expenses, unless you count in books, and a very few clothes, such as I'm wearing; so I surely can afford all the fruit juice I want."
"For yourself, yes."
"Also for a couple of women or I am a mighty poor attempt at a man," said the Harvester. "This is my day, so you are not to talk, because it won't do any good. Things go my way."
"Please see what you think of this," she said.
The Harvester arose and bent over her.
"That will do finely," he answered. "You can stop. I don't require all those little details for carving, I just want a good outline. It is finished. See here!"
He drew some folded papers from his pocket and laid them before her.
"Those are what I have been working from," he said.
The Girl took them and studied each carefully.
"If those are worth five dollars to you," she said gently, "why then I needn't hesitate to take as much for mine. They are superior."
"I should say so," laughed the Harvester as he took up the drawing and laid down the money.
"If you would make it half that much I'd feel better about it," she said.
"How could I?" asked the Harvester. "Your fingers are well trained and extremely skilful. Because some one has not been paying you enough for your work is no reason why I should keep it up. From now on you must have what others get. As soon as you can arrange for work, I want to tell you about some designs I have studied out from different things, show you the plants and insects, and have you make some samples. I'll send them to proper places, and see what experts say about the ideas and drawing. Work in the woods is healthful, with proper precautions; it's easy compared with the exactions of being bound to sewing or embroidering in the confinement of a room; it's vividly interesting in the search for new subjects, changes of material, and differing harmonious combinations; it's truly artistic; and it brings the prices high grade stuff always does."
"Almost you give me hope," said the Girl. "Almost, Man----almost! Since mother died, I haven't thought or planned beyond paying for the medicine she took and the shelter she lies in. Oh I didn't mean to say that----!"
She buried her face in her hands. The Harvester suffered until he scarcely knew how to bear it.
"Please finish," he begged. "You hadn't planned beyond the debt, you were saying----"
The Girl lifted her tired, strained face.
"Give me a little more of that delicious drink," she said. "I am ravenous for it. It puts new life in me. This and what you say bring a far away, misty vision of a clean, bright, peaceful room somewhere, and work one could love and live on in comfort; enough to give a desire to finish life to its natural end. Oh Man, you make me hope in spite of myself!"
" `Praise God from whom all blessings flow;' " quoted the Harvester reverently. "Now try one of these peaches. It's juicy and cold. Get that room right in focus in your brain, and nurture the idea. Its walls shall be bright as sunshine, its floor creamy white, and it shall open into a little garden, where only yellow flowers grow, and the birds shall sing. The first ray of sun that peeps over the hills of morning shall fall through its windows across your bed, and you shall work only as you please, after you've had months of play and rest; and it's coming true the instant you can leave here. Dream of it, make up your mind to it, because it's coming. I have a little streak of second sight, and I see it on the way."
"You are talking wildly," said the Girl, "else you are a good genie trying to conjure a room for me."
"This room I am talking of is ready whenever you want to take possession," said the Harvester. "Accept it as a reality, because I tell you I know where it is, that it is waiting, and you can earn your way into it with no obligation to any one."
The Girl stretched out her right hand and slowly turned and opened and closed it. Then she glanced at the Harvester with a weary smile.
"From somewhere I feel a glimmering of the spirit, but Oh, dear Lord, the flesh is weak!" she said.
"That's where nourishing foods, appetizing drinks, plenty of pure, fresh air, and good water come in. Now we have talked enough for one day, and worked too much. The fruit and drink go with you. I will carry it to the house, and you can hide it in your room. I am going to put a bottle of tonic on top that the best surgeon in the state gave me for you. Try to eat something strengthening and then take a spoonful of this, and use all the fruit you want. I'll bring more to-morrow and put it here, with plenty of ice. Now suppose you let the moth go free," he suggested to avoid objections. "You must take my word for it, that it is perfectly harmless, lacking either sting or bite, and hold your hand before it, so that it will climb on your fingers. Then stand where a ray of sunshine falls and in a few minutes it will go out to live its life."
The Girl hesitated a second as she studied the clean-cut, interested face of the man; then she held out her hand, and he urged the moth to climb on her fingers. She stepped where a ray of strong light fell on the forest floor and held the moth in it. The brightness also touched her transparent hand and white face and the gleaming black hair. The Harvester choked down a rising surge of desire for her, and took a new grip on himself.
"Oh!" she cried breathlessly, as the clinging feet suddenly loosened and the luna slowly flew away among the trees. She turned on the Harvester. "You teach me wonders!" she cried. "You give life different meanings. You are not as other men."
"If that be true, it is because I am of the woods. The Almighty does not evolve all his wonders in animal, bird, and flower form; He keeps some to work out in the heart, if humanity only will go to His school, and allow Him to have dominion. Come now, you must go. I will come back and put away all the things and tomorrow I will bring your ginseng money. Any time you cannot come, if you want to tell me why, or if there is anything I can do for you, put a line under the oilcloth. I will carry the bucket."
"I am so afraid," she said.
"I will only go to the edge of the woods. You can see if there is any one at the house first. If not, you can send the child away, and then I will carry the bucket to the door for you, and it will furnish comfort for one night, at least."
They went to the cleared land and the Girl passed on alone. Soon she reappeared and the Harvester saw the child going down the road. He took up the bucket and set it inside the door.
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Nothing but go, before you make trouble."
"Will you hide that stuff and walk back as far as the woods with me? There is something more I want to say to you."
The Girl staggered under the heavy load, and the man turned his head and tried to pretend he did not see. Presently she came out to him, and they returned to the line of the woods. Just as they entered the shade there was a flash before them, and on a twig a few rods away a little gray bird alighted, while in precipitate pursuit came a flaming wonder of red, and in a burst of excited trills, broken whistles, and imploring gestures, perched beside her.
The Harvester hastily drew the Girl behind some bushes.
"Watch!" he whispered. "You are going to see a sight so lovely and so rare it is vouchsafed to few mortals ever to behold."
"What are they fighting about?" she whispered.
"You are witnessing a cardinal bird declare his love," breathed the Harvester.
"Do cardinals love different birds?"
"No. The female is gray, because if she is coloured the same as the trees and branches and her nest, she will have more chance to bring off her young in safety. He is blood red, because he is the bravest, gayest, most ardent lover of the whole woods," explained the Harvester.
The Girl leaned forward breathlessly watching and a slow surge of colour crept into her cheeks. The red bird twisted, whistled, rocked, tilted, and trilled, and the gray sat demurely watching him, as if only half convinced he really meant it. The gay lover began at the beginning and said it all over again with more impassioned gestures than before, and then he edged in touch and softly stroked her wing with his beak. She appeared startled, but did not fly. So again the fountain of half-whistled, half-trilled notes bubbled with the acme of pleading intonation and that time he leaned and softly kissed her as she reached her bill for the caress. Then she fled in headlong flight, while the streak of flame darted after her. The Girl caught her breath in a swift spasm of surprise and wonder. She turned to the Harvester.
"What was it you wanted to say to me?" she asked hurriedly.
The Harvester was not the man to miss the goods the gods provided. Truly this was his lucky day. Unhesitatingly he took the plunge.
"Precisely what he said to her. And if you observed closely, you noticed that she didn't ask him `why.' "
Before she could open her lips, he was gone, his swift strides carrying him through the woods.