The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XIII. When the Dream Came True
At first the road lay between fertile farms dotted with shocked wheat, covered with undulant seas of ripening oats, and forests of growing corn. The larks were trailing melody above the shorn and growing fields, the quail were ingathering beside the fences, and from the forests on graceful wings slipped the nighthawks and sailed and soared, dropping so low that the half moons formed by white spots on their spread wings showed plainly.
"Why is this country so different from the other side of the city?" asked the Girl.
"It is older," replied the Harvester, "and it lies higher. This was settled and well cultivated when that was a swamp. But as a farming proposition, the money is in the lowland like your uncle's. The crops raised there are enormous compared with the yield of these fields."
"I see," said she. "But this is much better to look at and the air is different. It lacks a soggy, depressing quality."
"I don't allow any air to surpass that of Medicine Woods," said the Harvester, "by especial arrangement with the powers that be."
Then they dipped into a little depression and arose to cross the railroad and then followed a longer valley that was ragged and unkempt compared with the road between cultivated fields. The Harvester was busy trying to plan what to do first, and how to do it most effectively, and working his brain to think if he had everything the Girl would require for her comfort; so he drove silently through the deepening shadows. She shuddered and awoke him suddenly. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
Her thoughts had gone on a journey, also, and the way had been rough, for her face wore a strained appearance. The hands lying bare in her lap were tightly gripped, so that the nails and knuckles appeared blue. The Harvester hastily cast around seeking for the cause of the transformation. A few minutes ago she had seemed at ease and comfortable, now she was close open panic. Nothing had been said that would disturb her. With brain alert he searched for the reason. Then it began to come to him. The unaccustomed silence and depression of the country might have been the beginning. Coming from the city and crowds of people to the gloomy valley with a man almost a stranger, going she knew not where, to conditions she knew not what, with the experiences of the day vivid before her. The black valley road was not prepossessing, with its border of green pools, through which grew swamp bushes and straggling vines. The Harvester looked carefully at the road, and ceased to marvel at the Girl. But he disliked to let her know he understood, so he gave one last glance at those gripped hands and casually held out the lines.
"Will you take these just a second?" he asked. "Don't let them touch your dress. We must not lose of our load, because it's mostly things that will make you more comfortable."
He arose, and turning, pretended to see that everything was all right. Then he resumed his seat and drove on.
"I am a little ashamed of this stretch through here," he said apologetically. "I could have managed to have it cleared and in better shape long ago, but in a way it yields a snug profit, and so far I've preferred the money. The land is not mine, but I could grub out this growth entirely, instead of taking only what I need."
"Is there stuff here you use?" the Girl aroused herself to ask, and the Harvester saw the look of relief that crossed her face at the sound of his voice.
"Well I should say yes," he laughed. "Those bushes, numerous everywhere, with the hanging yellow-green balls, those, in bark and root, go into fever medicines. They are not so much used now, but sometimes I have a call, and when I do, I pass the beds on my----on our land, and come down here and get what is needed. That bush," he indicated with the whip, "blooms exquisitely in the spring. It is a relative of flowering dogwood, and the one of its many names I like best is silky cornel. Isn't that pretty?"
"Yes," she said, "it is beautiful."
"I've planted some for you in a hedge along the driveway so next spring you can gather all you want. I think you'll like the odour. The bark brings more than true dogwood. If I get a call from some house that uses it, I save mine and come down here. Around the edge are hop trees, and I realize something from them, and also the false and true bitter-sweet that run riot here. Both of them have pretty leaves, while the berries of the true hang all winter and the colour is gorgeous. I've set your hedge closely with them. When it has grown a few months it's going to furnish flowers in the spring, a million different, wonderful leaves and berries in the summer, many fruits the birds love in the fall, and bright berries, queer seed pods, and nuts all winter."
"You planted it for me?"
"Yes. I think it will be beautiful in a season or two; it isn't so bad now. I hope it will call myriads of birds to keep you company. When you cross this stretch of road hereafter, don't see fetid water and straggling bushes and vines; just say to yourself, this helps to fill orders!"
"I am perfectly tolerant of it now," she said. "You make everything different. I will come with you and help collect the roots and barks you want. Which bush did you say relieved the poor souls scorching with fever?"
The Harvester drew on the lines, Betsy swerved to the edge of the road, and he leaned and broke a branch.
"This one," he answered. "Buttonbush, because those balls resemble round buttons. Aren't they peculiar? See how waxy and gracefully cut and set the leaves are. Go on, Betsy, get us home before night. We appear our best early in the morning, when the sun tops Medicine Woods and begins to light us up, and in the evening, just when she drops behind Onabasha back there, and strikes us with a few level rays. Will you take the lines until I open this gate?"
She laid the twig in her lap on the white gloves and took the lines. As the gate swung wide, Betsy walked through and stopped at the usual place.
"Now my girl," said the Harvester, "cross yourself, lean back, and take your ease. This side that gate you are at home. From here on belongs to us."
"To you, you mean," said the Girl.
"To us, I mean," declared the Harvester. "Don't you know that the `worldly goods bestowal' clause in a marriage ceremony is a partial reality. It doesn't give you `all my worldly goods,' but it gives you one third. Which will you take, the hill, lake, marsh, or a part of all of them."
"Oh, is there water?"
"Did I forget to mention that I was formerly sole owner and proprietor of the lake of Lost Loons, also a brook of Singing Water, and many cold springs. The lake covers about one third of our land, and my neighbours would allow me ditch outlet to the river, but they say I'm too lazy to take it."
"Lazy! Do they mean drain your lake into the river?"
"They do," said the Harvester, "and make the bed into a cornfield."
"But you wouldn't?"
She turned to him with confidence.
"I haven't so far, but of course, when you see it, if you would prefer it in a corn----Let's play a game! Turn your head in this direction," he indicated with the whip, "close your eyes, and open them when I say ready."
"Now!" said the Harvester.
"Oh," cried the Girl. "Stop! Please stop!"
They were at the foot of a small levee that ran to the bridge crossing Singing Water. On the left lay the valley through which the stream swept from its hurried rush down the hill, a marshy thicket of vines, shrubs, and bushes, the banks impassable with water growth. Everywhere flamed foxfire and cardinal flower, thousands of wild tiger lilies lifted gorgeous orange-red trumpets, beside pearl-white turtle head and moon daisies, while all the creek bank was a coral line with the first opening bloom of big pink mallows. Rank jewel flower poured gold from dainty cornucopias and lavender beard-tongue offered honey to a million bumbling bees; water smart- weed spread a glowing pink background, and twining amber dodder topped the marsh in lacy mist with its delicate white bloom. Straight before them a white- sanded road climbed to the bridge and up a gentle hill between the young hedge of small trees and bushes, where again flowers and bright colours rioted and led to the cabin yet invisible. On the right, the hill, crowned with gigantic forest trees, sloped to the lake; midway the building stood, and from it, among scattering trees all the way to the water's edge, were immense beds of vivid colour. Like a scarf of gold flung across the face of earth waved the misty saffron, and beside the road running down the hill, in a sunny, open space arose tree-like specimens of thrifty magenta pokeberry. Down the hill crept the masses of colour, changing from dry soil to water growth.
High around the blue-green surface of the lake waved lacy heads of wild rice, lower cat-tails, bulrushes, and marsh grasses; arrowhead lilies lifted spines of pearly bloom, while yellow water lilies and blue water hyacinths intermingled; here and there grew a pink stretch of water smartweed and the dangling gold of jewel flower. Over the water, bordering the edge, starry faces of white pond lilies floated. Blue flags waved graceful leaves, willows grew in clumps, and vines clambered everywhere.
Among the growth of the lake shore, duck, coot, and grebe voices commingled in the last chattering hastened splash of securing supper before bedtime; crying killdeers crossed the water, and overhead the nighthawks massed in circling companies. Betsy climbed the hill and at every step the Girl cried, "Slower! please go slower!" With wide eyes she stared around her.
"Why didn't you tell me it would be like this?" she demanded in awed tones.
"Have I had opportunity to describe much of anything?" asked the Harvester. "Besides, I was born and reared here, and while it has been a garden of bloom for the past six years only, it always has been a picture; but one forgets to say much about a sight seen every day and that requires the work this does."
"That white mist down there, what is it?" she marvelled.
"Pearls grown by the Almighty," answered the Harvester. "Flowers that I hope you will love. They are like you. Tall and slender, graceful, pearl white and pearl pure----those are the arrowhead Lilies."
"And the wonderful purplish-red there on the bank? Oh, I could kneel and pray before colour like that!'
"Pokeberry!" said the Harvester. "Roots bring five cents a pound. Good blood purifier."
"Man!" cried the Girl. "How can you? I'm not going to ask what another colour is. I'll just worship what I like in silence."
"Will you forgive me if I tell you what a woman whose judgment I respect says about that colour?"
"She says, `God proves that He loves it best of all the tints in His workshop by using it first and most sparingly.' Now are you going to punish me by keeping silent?"
"I couldn't if I tried." Just then they came upon the bridge crossing Singing Water, and there was a long view of its border, rippling bed, and marshy banks; while on the other hand the lake resembled a richly incrusted sapphire.
"Is the house close?"
"Just a few rods, at the turn of the drive."
"Please help me down. I want to remain here a while. I don't care what else there is to see. Nothing can equal this. I wish I could bring down a bed and sleep here. I'd like to have a table, and draw and paint. I understand now what you mean about the designs you mentioned. Why, there must be thousands! I can't go on. I never saw anything so appealing in all my life."
Now the Harvester's mother had designed that bridge and he had built it with much care. From bark-covered railings to solid oak floor and comfortable benches running along the sides it was intended to be a part of the landscape.
"I'll send Belshazzar to the cabin with the wagon," he said, "so you can see better."
"But you must not!" she cried. "I can't walk. I wouldn't soil these beautiful shoes for anything."
"Why don't you change them?" inquired the Harvester.
"I am afraid I forgot everything I had," said the Girl.
"There are shoes somewhere in this load. I thought of them in getting other things for you, but I had no idea as to size, and so I told that clerk to-day when she got your measure to put in every kind you'd need."
"You are horribly extravagant," she said. "But if you have them here, perhaps I could use one pair."
The Harvester mounted the wagon and hunted until he found a large box, and opening it on the bench he disclosed almost every variety of shoe, walking shoe and slipper, a girl ever owned, as well as sandals and high overshoes.
"For pity sake!" cried the Girl. "Cover that box! You frighten me. You'll never get them paid for. You must take them straight back."
"Never take anything back," said the Harvester. " `Be sure you are right, then go ahead,' is my motto. Now I know these are your correct size and that for differing occasions you will want just such shoes as other girls have, and here they are. Simple as life! I think these will serve because they are for street wear, yet they are white inside."
He produced a pair of canvas walking shoes and kneeling before her held out his hand.
When he had finished, he loaded the box on the wagon, gave the hitching strap to Belshazzar, and told him to lead Betsy to the cabin and hold her until he came. Then he turned to the Girl.
"Now," he said, "look as long as you choose. But remember that the law gives you part of this and your lover, which same am I, gives you the remainder, so you are privileged to come here at any hour as often as you please. If you miss anything this evening, you have all time to come in which to re-examine it."
"I'd like to live right here on this bridge," she said. "I wish it had a roof."
"Roof it to-morrow," offered the Harvester. "Simple matter of a few pillars already cut, joists joined, and some slab shingles left from the cabin. Anything else your ladyship can suggest?"
"That you be sensible."
"I was born that way," explained the Harvester, "and I've cultivated the faculty until I've developed real genius. Talking of sense, there never was a proper marriage in which the man didn't give the woman a present. You seem likely to be more appreciative of this bridge than anything else I have, so right here and now would be the appropriate place to offer you my wedding gift. I didn't have much time, but I couldn't have found anything more suitable if I'd taken a year."
He held out a small, white velvet case.
"Doesn't that look as if it were made for a bride?" he asked.
"It does," answered the Girl. "But I can't take it. You are not doing right. Marrying as we did, you never can believe that I love you; maybe it won't ever happen that I do. I have no right to accept gifts and expensive clothing from you. In the first place, if the love you ask never comes, there is no possible way in which I can repay you. In the second, these things you are offering are not suitable for life and work in the woods. In the third, I think you are being extravagant, and I couldn't forgive myself if I allowed that."
"You divide your statements like a preacher, don't you?" asked the Harvester ingenuously. "Now sit thee here and gaze on the placid lake and quiet your troubled spirit, while I demolish your `perfectly good' arguments. In the first place, you are now my wife, and you have a right to take anything I offer, if you care for it or can use it in any manner. In the second, you must recognize a difference in our positions. What seems nothing to you means all the world to me, and you are less than human if you deprive me of the joy of expressing feelings I am in honour bound to keep in my heart, by these little material offerings. In the third place, I inherited over six hundred acres of land and water, please observe the water----it is now in evidence on your left. All my life I have been taught to be frugal, economical, and to work. All I've earned either has gone back into land, into the bank, or into books, very plain food, and such clothing as you now see me wearing. Just the value of this place as it stands, with its big trees, its drug crops yielding all the year round, would be difficult to estimate; and I don't mind telling you that on the top of that hill there is a gold mine, and it's mine----ours since four o'clock."
"A gold mine!"
"Acres and acres of wild ginseng, seven years of age and ready to harvest. Do you remember what your few pounds brought?"
"Why it's worth thousands!"
"Exactly! For your peace of mind I might add that all I have done or got is paid for, except what I bought to-day, and I will write a check for that as soon as the bill is made out. My bank account never will feel it Truly, Ruth, I am not doing or going to do anything extravagant. I can't afford to give you diamond necklaces, yachts, and trips to Europe; but you can have the contents of this box and a motor boat on the lake, a horse and carriage, and a trip----say to New York perfectly well. Please take it."
"I wish you wouldn't ask me. I would be happier not to."
"Yes, but I do ask you," persisted the Harvester. "You are not the only one to be considered. I have some rights also, and I'm not so self-effacing that I won't insist upon them. From your standpoint I am almost a stranger. You have spent no time considering me in near relations; I realize that. You feel as if you were driven here for a refuge, and that is true. I said to Belshazzar one day that I must remember that you had no dream, and had spent no time loving me, and I do I know how this wedding seems to you, but it's going to mean something different and better soon, please God. I can see your side; now suppose you take a look at mine. I did have a dream, it was my dream, and beyond the sum of any delight I ever conceived. On the strength of it I rebuilt my home and remodelled these premises. Then I saw you, and from that day I worked early and late. I lost you and I never stopped until I found you; and I would have courted and won you, but the fates intervened and here you are! So it's my delight to court and win you now. If you knew the difference between having a dream that stirred the least fibre of your being and facing the world in a demand for realization of it, and then finding what you coveted in the palm of your hand, as it were, you would know what is in my heart, and why expression of some kind is necessary to me just now, and why I'll explode if it is denied. It will lower the tension, if you will accept this as a matter of fact; as if you rather expected and liked it, if you can."
The Harvester set his finger on the spring.
"Don't!" she said. "I'll never have the courage if you do. Give it to me in the case, and let me open it. Despite your unanswerable arguments, I am quite sure that is the only way in which I can take it."
The Harvester gave her the box.
"My wedding gift!" she exclaimed, more to herself than to him. "Why should I be the buffet of all the unkind fates kept in store for a girl my whole life, and then suddenly be offered home, beautiful gifts, and wonderful loving kindness by a stranger?"
The Harvester ran his fingers through his crisp hair, pulled it into a peak, stepped to the seat and sitting on the railing, he lifted his elbows, tilted his head, and began a motley outpouring of half-spoken, half-whistled trills and imploring cries. There was enough similarity that the Girl instantly recognized the red bird. Out of breath the Harvester dropped to the seat beside her.
"And don't you keep forgetting it!" he cried. "Now open that box and put on the trinket; because I want to take you to the cabin when the sun falls level on the drive."
She opened the case, exposing a thread of gold that appeared too slender for the weight of an exquisite pendant, set with shimmering pearls.
"If you will look down there," the Harvester pointed over the railing to the arrowhead lilies touched with the fading light, "you will see that they are similar."
"They are!" cried the Girl. "How lovely! Which is more beautiful I do not know. And you won't like it if I say I must not."
She held the open case toward the Harvester.
" `Possession is nine points in the law,' " he quoted. "You have taken it already and it is in your hands; now make the gift perfect for me by putting it on and saying nothing more."
"My wedding gift!" repeated the Girl. Slowly she lifted the beautiful ornament and held it in the light. "I'm so glad you just force me to take it," she said. "Any half-normal girl would be delighted. I do accept it. And what's more, I am going to keep and wear it and my ring at suitable times all my life, in memory of what you have done to be kind to me on this awful day."
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "That is a flash of the proper spirit. Allow me to put it on you."
"No!" said the Girl. "Not yet! After a while! I want to hold it in my hands, where I can see it!"
"Now there is one other thing," said the Harvester.
"If I had known for any length of time that this day was coming and bringing you, as most men know when a girl is to be given into their care, I could have made it different. As it is, I've done the best I knew. All your after life I hope you will believe this: Just that if you missed anything to-day that would have made it easier for you or more pleasant, the reason was because of my ignorance of women and the conventions, and lack of time. I want you to know and to feel that in my heart those vows I took were real. This is undoubtedly all the marrying I will ever want to do. I am old-fashioned in my ways, and deeply imbued with the spirit of the woods, and that means unending evolution along the same lines.
"To me you are my revered and beloved wife, my mate now; and I am sure nothing will make me feel any different. This is the day of my marriage to the only woman I ever have thought of wedding, and to me it is joy unspeakable. With other men such a day ends differently from the close of this with me. Because I have done and will continue to do the level best I know for you, this oration is the prologue to asking you for one gift to me from you, a wedding gift. I don't want it unless you can bestow it ungrudgingly, and truly want me to have it. If you can, I will have all from this day I hope for at the hands of fate. May I have the gift I ask of you, Ruth?"
She lifted startled eyes to his face.
"Tell me what it is?" she breathed.
"It may seem much to you," said the Harvester; "to me it appears only a gracious act, from a wonderful woman, if you will give me freely, one real kiss. I've never had one, save from a Dream Girl, Ruth, and you will have to make yours pretty good if it is anything like hers. You are woman enough to know that most men crush their brides in their arms and take a thousand. I'll put my hands behind me and never move a muscle, and I won't ask for more, if you will crown my wedding day with only one touch of your lips. Will you kiss me just once, Ruth?"
The Girl lifted a piteous face down which big tears suddenly rolled.
"Oh Man, you shame me!" she cried. "What kind of a heart have I that it fails to respond to such a plea? Have I been overworked and starved so long there is no feeling in me? I don't understand why I don't take you in my arms and kiss you a hundred times, but you see I don't. It doesn't seem as if I ever could."
"Never mind," said the Harvester gently. "It was only a fancy of mine, bred from my dream and unreasonable, perhaps. I am sorry I mentioned it. The sun is on the stoop now; I want you to enter your home in its light. Come!"
He half lifted her from the bench. "I am going to help you up the drive as I used to assist mother," he said, fighting to keep his voice natural. "Clasp your hands before you and draw your elbows to your sides. Now let me take one in each palm, and you will scoot up this drive as if you were on wheels."
"But I don't want to `scoot'," she said unsteadily. "I must go slowly and not miss anything."
"On the contrary, you don't want to do any such thing----you should leave most of it for to-morrow."
"I had forgotten there would be any to-morrow. It seems as if the day would end it and set me adrift again."
"You are going to awake in the gold room with the sun shining on your face in the morning, and it's going to keep on all your life. Now if you've got a smile in your anatomy, bring it to the surface, for just beyond this tree lies happiness for you."
His voice was clear and steady now, his confidence something contagious. There was a lovely smile on her face as she looked at him, and stepped into the line of light crossing the driveway; and then she stopped and cried, "Oh lovely! Lovely! Lovely!" over and over. Then maybe the Harvester was not glad he had planned, worked unceasingly, and builded as well as he knew.
The cabin of large, peeled, golden oak logs, oiled to preserve them, nestled like a big mushroom on the side of the hill. Above and behind the building the trees arose in a green setting. The roof was stained to their shades. The wide veranda was enclosed in screening, over which wonderful vines climbed in places, and round it grew ferns and deep-wood plants. Inside hung big baskets of wild growth; there was a wide swinging seat, with a back rest, supported by heavy chains. There were chairs and a table of bent saplings and hickory withes. Two full stories the building arose, and the western sun warmed it almost to orange-yellow, while the graceful vines crept toward the roof.
The Girl looked at the rapidly rising hedge on each side of her, at the white floor of the drive, and long and long at the cabin.
"You did all this since February?" she asked.
"Even to transforming the landscape," answered the Harvester.
"Oh I wish it was not coming night!" she cried. "I don't want the dark to come, until you have told me the name of every tree and shrub of that wonderful hedge, and every plant and vine of the veranda; and oh I want to follow up the driveway and see that beautiful little creek--listen to it chuckle and laugh! Is it always glad like that? See the ferns and things that grow on the other side of it! Why there are big beds of them. And lilies of the valley by the acre! What is that yellow around the corner?"
"Never mind that now," said the Harvester, guiding her up the steps, along the gravelled walk to the screen that he opened, and over a flood of gold light she crossed the veranda, and entered the door.
"Now here it appears bare," said the Harvester, "because I didn't know what should go on the walls or what rugs to get or about the windows. The table, chairs, and couch I made myself with some help from a carpenter. They are solid black walnut and will age finely."
"They are beautiful," said the Girl, softly touching the shining table top with her fingers. "Please put the necklace on me now, I have to use my eyes and hands for other things."
She held out the box and the Harvester lifted the pendant and clasped the chain around her neck. She glanced at the lustrous pearls and then the fingers of one hand softly closed over them. She went through the long, wide living-room, examining the chairs and mantel, stopping to touch and exclaim over its array of half-finished candlesticks. At the door of his room she paused. "And this?" she questioned.
"Mine," said the Harvester, turning the knob. "I'll give you one peep to satisfy your curiosity, and show you the location of the bridge over which you came to me in my dream. All the remainder is yours. I reserve only this."
"Will the `goblins git me' if I come here?"
"Not goblins, but a man alive; so heed your warning. After you have seen it, keep away."
The floor was cement, three of the walls heavy screening with mosquito wire inside, the roof slab shingled. On the inner wall was a bookcase, below it a desk, at one side a gun cabinet, at the other a bath in a small alcove beside a closet. The room contained two chairs like those of the veranda, and the bed was a low oak couch covered with a thick mattress of hemlock twigs, topped with sweet fern, on which the sun shone all day. On a chair at the foot were spread some white sheets, a blanket, and an oilcloth. The sun beat in, the wind drifted through, and one lying on the couch could see down the bright hill, and sweep the lake to the opposite bank without lifting the head. The Harvester drew the Girl to the bedside.
"Now straight in a line from here," he said, "across the lake to that big, scraggy oak, every clear night the moon builds a bridge of molten gold, and once you walked it, my girl, and came straight to me, alone and unafraid; and you were gracious and lovely beyond anything a man ever dreamed of before. I'll have that to think of to-night. Now come see the dining-room, kitchen, and hand-made sunshine."
He led her into what had been the front room of the old cabin, now a large, long dining-room having on each side wide windows with deep seats. The fireplace backwall was against that of the living-room, but here the mantel was bare. All the wood-work, chairs, the dining table, cupboards, and carving table were golden oak. Only a few rugs and furnishings and a woman's touch were required to make it an unusual and beautiful room. The kitchen was shining with a white hard-wood floor, white wood-work, and pale green walls. It was a light, airy, sanitary place, supplied with a pump, sink, hot and cold water faucets, refrigerator, and every modern convenience possible to the country.
Then the Harvester almost carried the Girl up the stairs and showed her three large sleeping rooms, empty and bare save for some packing cases.
"I didn't know about these, so I didn't do anything. When you find time to plan, tell me what you want, and I'll make--or buy it. They are good-sized, cool rooms. They all have closets and pipes from the furnace, so they will be comfortable in winter. Now there is your place remaining. I'll leave you while I stable Betsy and feed the stock."
He guided her to the door opening from the living- room to the east.
"This is the sunshine spot," he said. "It is bathed in morning light, and sheltered by afternoon shade. Singing Water is across the drive there to talk to you always. It comes pelting down so fast it never freezes, so it makes music all winter, and the birds are so numerous you'll have to go to bed early for they'll wake you by dawn. I noticed this room was going to be full of sunshine when I built it, and I craved only brightness for you, so I coaxed all of it to stay that I could. Every stroke is the work of my hands, and all of the furniture. I hope you will like it. This is the room of which I've been telling you, Ruth. Go in and take possession, and I'll entreat God and all His ministering angels to send you sunshine and joy."
He opened the door, guided her inside, closed it, and went swiftly to his work.
The Girl stood and looked around her with amazed eyes. The floor was pale yellow wood, polished until it shone like a table top. The casings, table, chairs, dressing table, chest of drawers, and bed were solid curly maple. The doors were big polished slabs of it, each containing enough material to veneer all the furniture in the room. The walls were of plaster, tinted yellow, and the windows with yellow shades were curtained in dainty white. She could hear the Harvester carrying the load from the wagon to the front porch, the clamour of the barn yard; and as she went to the north window to see the view, a shining peacock strutted down the walk and went to the Harvester's hand for grain, while scores of snow-white doves circled over his head. She stepped on deep rugs of yellow goat skins, and, glancing at the windows on either side, she opened the door.
Outside it lay a porch with a railing, but no roof. On each post stood a box filled with yellow wood-flowers and trailing vines of pale green. A big tree rising through one corner of the floor supplied the cover. A gate opened to a walk leading to the driveway, and on either side lay a patch of sod, outlined by a deep hedge of bright gold. In it saffron, cone-flowers, black-eyed Susans, golden-rod, wild sunflowers, and jewel flower grew, and some of it, enough to form a yellow line, was already in bloom. Around the porch and down the walk were beds of yellow violets, pixie moss, and every tiny gold flower of the woods. The Girl leaned against the tree and looked around her and then staggered inside and dropped on the couch.
"What planning! What work!" she sobbed. "What taste! Why he's a poet! What wonderful beauty! He's an artist with earth for his canvas, and growing things for colours."
She lay there staring at the walls, the beautiful wood- work and furniture, the dressing table with its array of toilet articles, a low chair before it, and the thick rug for her feet. Over and over she looked at everything, and then closed her eyes and lay quietly, too weary and overwhelmed to think. By and by came tapping at the door, and she sprang up and crossing to the dressing table straightened her hair and composed her face.
"Ajax demands to see you," cried a gay voice.
The Girl stepped outside.
"Don't be frightened if he screams at you," warned the Harvester as she passed him. "He detests a stranger, and he always cries and sulks."
It was a question what was in the head of the bird as he saw the strange looking creature invading his domain, and he did scream, a wild, high, strident wail that delighted the Harvester inexpressibly, because it sent the Girl headlong into his arms.
"Oh, good gracious!" she cried. "Has such a beautiful bird got a noise in it like that? Why I've fed them in parks and I never heard one explode before."
Then how the Harvester laughed.
"But you see you are in the woods now, and this is not a park bird. It will be the test of your power to see how soon you can coax him to your hand."
"How do I work to win him?"
"I am afraid I can't tell you that," said the Harvester. "I had to invent a plan for myself. It required a long time and much petting, and my methods might not avail for you. It will interest you to study that out. But the member of the family it is positively essential that you win to a life and death allegiance is Belshazzar. If you can make him love you, he will protect you at every turn. He will go before you into the forest and all the crawling, creeping things will get out of his way. He will nose around the flowers you want to gather, and if he growls and the hair on the back of his neck rises, never forget that you must heed that warning. A few times I have not stopped for it, and I always have been sorry. So far as anything animate or uncertain footing is concerned, you are always perfectly safe if you obey him. About touching plants and flowers, you must confine yourself to those you are certain you know, until I can teach you. There are gorgeous and wonderfully attractive things here, but some of them are rank poison. You won't handle plants you don't know, until you learn, Ruth?"
"I will not," she promised instantly.
She went to the seat under the porch tree and leaning against the trunk she studied the hill, and the rippling course of Singing Water where it turned and curved before the cabin, and started across the vivid little marsh toward the lake. Then she looked at the Harvester. He seated himself on the low railing and smiled at her.
"You are very tired?" he asked.
"No," she said. "You are right about the air being better up here. It is stimulating instead of depressing."
"So far as pure air, location, and water are concerned," said the Harvester, "I consider this place ideal. The lake is large enough to cool the air and raise sufficient moisture to dampen it, and too small to make it really cold and disagreeable. The slope of the hill gives perfect drainage. The heaviest rains do not wet the earth for more than three hours. North, south, and west breezes sweep the cool air from the water to the cabin in summer. The same suns warm us here on the winter hillside. My violets, spring beauties, anemones, and dutchman's breeches here are always two weeks ahead of those in the woods. I am not afraid of your not liking the location or the air. As for the cabin, if you don't care for that, it's very simple. I'll transform it into a laboratory and dry-house, and build you whatever you want, within my means, over there on the hill just across Singing Water and facing the valley toward Onabasha. That's a perfect location. The thing that worries me is what you are going to do for company, especially while I am away."
"Don't trouble yourself about anything," she said. "Just say in your heart, `she is going to be stronger than she ever has been in her life in this lovely place, and she has more right now than she ever had or hoped to have.' For one thing, I am going to study your books. I never have had time before. While we sewed or embroidered, mother talked by the hour of the great writers of the world, told me what they wrote, and how they expressed themselves, but I got to read very little for myself."
"Books are my company," said the Harvester.
"Do your friends come often?"
"Almost never! Doc and his wife come most, and if you look out some day and see a white-haired, bent old woman, with a face as sweet as dawn, coming up the bank of Singing Water, that will be my mother's friend, Granny Moreland, who joins us on the north over there. She is frank and brusque, so she says what she thinks with unmistakable distinctness, but her heart is big and tender and her philosophy keeps her sweet and kindly despite the ache of rheumatism and the weight of seventy years."
"I'd love to have her come," said the Girl. "Is that all?"
"Your favourite word," laughed the Harvester. "The reason lies with me, or rather with my mother. Some day I will tell you the whole story, and the cause. I think now I can encompass it in this. The place is an experiment. When medicinal herbs, roots, and barks became so scarce that some of the most important were almost extinct, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to stop travelling miles and poaching on the woods of other people, and turn our land into an herb garden. For four years before mother went, and six since, I've worked with all my might, and results are beginning to take shape. While I've been at it, of course, my neighbours had an inkling of what was going on, and I've been called a fool, lazy, and a fanatic, because I did not fell the trees and plow for corn. You readily can see I'm a little short of corn ground out there," he waved toward the marsh and lake, "and up there," he indicated the steep hill and wood. "But somewhere on this land I've been able to find muck for mallows, water for flags and willows, shade for ferns, lilies, and ginseng, rocky, sunny spaces for mullein, and open, fertile beds for Bouncing Bet----just for examples. God never evolved a place better suited for an herb farm; from woods to water and all that goes between, it is perfect."
"And indescribably lovely," added the Girl.
"Yes, I think it is," said the Harvester. "But in the days when I didn't know how it was coming out, I was sensitive about it; so I kept quiet and worked, and allowed the other fellow to do the talking. After a while the ginseng bed grew a treasure worth guarding, and I didn't care for any one to know how much I had or where it was, as a matter of precaution. Ginseng and money are synonymous, and I was forced to be away some of the time."
"Would any one take it?"
"Certainly!" said the Harvester. "If they knew it was there, and what it is worth. Then, as I've told you, much of the stuff here must not be handled except by experts, and I didn't want people coming in my absence and taking risks. The remainder of my reason for living so alone is cowardice, pure and simple."
"Cowardice? You! Oh no!"
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "But it is! Some day I'll tell you of a very solemn oath I've had to keep. It hasn't been easy. You wouldn't understand, at least not now. If the day ever comes when I think you will, I'll tell you. Just now I can express it by that one word. I didn't dare fail or I felt I would be lost as my father was before me. So I remained away from the city and its temptations and men of my age, and worked in the woods until I was tired enough to drop, read books that helped, tinkered with the carving, and sometimes I had an idea, and I went into that little building behind the dry-house, took out my different herbs, and tried my hand at compounding a new cure for some of the pains of humanity. It isn't bad work, Ruth. It keeps a fellow at a fairly decent level, and some good may come of it. Carey is trying several formulae for me, and if they work I'll carry them higher. If you want money, Girl, I know how to get it for you."
"Don't you want it?"
"Not one cent more than I've got," said the Harvester emphatically. "When any man accumulates more than he can earn with his own hands, he begins to enrich himself at the expense of the youth, the sweat, the blood, the joy of his fellow men. I can go to the city, take a look, and see what money does, as a rule, and it's another thing I'm afraid of. You will find me a dreadful coward on those two points. I don't want to know society and its ways. I see what it does to other men; it would be presumption to reckon myself stronger. So I live alone. As for money, I've watched the cross cuts and the quick and easy ways to accumulate it; but I've had something in me that held me to the slow, sure, clean work of my own hands, and it's yielded me enough for one, for two even, in a reasonable degree. So I've worked, read, compounded, and carved. If I couldn't wear myself down enough to sleep by any other method, I went into the lake, and swam across and back; and that is guaranteed to put any man to rest, clean and unashamed."
"Six years," said the Girl softly, as she studied him. "I think it has set a mark on you. I believe I can trace it. Your forehead, brow, and eyes bear the lines and the appearance of all experience, all comprehension, but your lips are those of a very young lad. I shouldn't be surprised if I had that kiss ready for you, and I really believe I can make it worth while."
"Oh good Lord!" cried the Harvester, turning a backward somersault over the railing and starting in big bounds up the drive toward the stable. He passed around it and into the woods at a rush and a few seconds later from somewhere on the top of the hill his strong, deep voice swept down, "Glory, glory hallelujah!"
He sang it through at the top of his lungs, that majestic old hymn, but there was no music at all, it was simply a roar. By and by he came soberly to the barn and paused to stroke Betsy's nose.
"Stop chewing grass and listen to me," he said. "She's here, Betsy! She's in our cabin. She's going to remain, you can stake your oats on that. She's going to be the loveliest and sweetest girl in all the world, and because you're a beast, I'll tell you something a man never could know. Down with your ear, you critter! She's going to kiss me, Betsy! This very night, before I lay me, her lips meet mine, and maybe you think that won't be glorious. I supposed it would be a year, anyway, but it's now! Ain't you glad you are an animal, Betsy, and can keep secrets for a fool man that can't?"
He walked down the driveway, and before the Girl had a chance to speak, he said, "I wonder if I had not better carry those things into your room, and arrange your bed for you."
"I can," she said.
"Oh no!" exclaimed the Harvester. "You can't lift the mattress and heavy covers. Hold the door and tell me how."
He laid a big bundle on the floor, opened it, and took out the shoes.
"Your shoe box is in the closet there."
"I didn't know what that door was, so I didn't open it."
"That is a part of my arrangements for you," said the Harvester. "Here is a closet with shelves for your covers and other things. They are bare because I didn't know just what should be put on them. This is the shoe box here in the corner; I'll put these in it now."
He knelt and in a row set the shoes in the curly maple box and closed it.
"There you are for all kinds of places and varieties of weather. This adjoining is your bathroom. I put in towels, soaps; brushes, and everything I could think of, and there is hot water ready for you----rain water, too."
The Girl followed and looked into a shining little bathroom, with its white porcelain tub and wash bowl, enamelled wood-work, dainty green walls, and white curtains and towels. She could see no accessory she knew of that was missing, and there were many things to which she never had been accustomed. The Harvester had gone back to the sunshine room, and was kneeling on the floor beside the bundle. He began opening boxes and handing her dresses.
"There are skirt, coat, and waist hangers on the hooks," he said. "I only got a few things to start on, because I didn't know what you would like. Instead of being so careful with that dress, why don't you take it off, and put on a common one? Then we will have something to eat, and go to the top of the hill and watch the moon bridge the lake."
While she hung the dresses and selected the one to wear, he placed the mattress, spread the padding and sheets, and encased the pillow. Then he bent and pressed the springs with his hands.
"I think you will find that soft and easy enough for health," he said. "All the personal belongings I had that clerk put up for you are in that chest of drawers there. I put the little boxes in the top and went down. You can empty and arrange them to-morrow. Just hunt out what you will need now. There should be everything a girl uses there somewhere. I told them to be very careful about that. If the things are not right or not to your taste, you can take them back as soon as you are rested, and they will exchange them for you. If there is anything I have missed that you can think of that you need to-night, tell me and I'll go and get it."
The Girl turned toward him.
"You couldn't be making sport of me," she said, "but Man! Can't you see that I don't know what to do with half you have here? I never saw such things closely before. I don't know what they are for. I don't know how to use them. My mother would have known, but I do not. You overwhelm me! Fifty times I've tried to tell you that a room of my very own, such a room as this will be when to-morrow's sun comes in, and these, and these, and these," she turned from the chest of boxes to the dressing table, bed, closet, and bath, "all these for me, and you know absolutely nothing about me----I get a big lump in my throat, and the words that do come all seem so meaningless, I am perfectly ashamed to say them. Oh Man, why do you do it?"
"I thought it was about time to spring another `why' on me," said the Harvester. "Thank God, I am now in a position where I can tell you `why'! I do it because you are the girl of my dream, my mate by every law of Heaven and earth. All men build as well as they know when the one woman of the universe lays her spell on them. I did all this for myself just as a kind of expression of what it would be in my heart to do if I could do what I'd like. Put on the easiest dress you can find and I will go and set out something to eat."
She stood with arms high piled with the prettiest dresses that could be selected hurriedly, the tears running down her white cheeks and smiled through them at him.
"There wouldn't be any of that liquid amber would there?" she asked.
"Quarts!" cried the Harvester. "I'll bring some. . . . Does it really hit the spot, Ruth?" he questioned as he handed her the glass.
She heaped the dresses on the bed and took it.
"It really does. I am afraid I am using too much."
"I don't think it possibly can hurt you. To-morrow we will ask Doc. How soon will you be ready for lunch?"
"I don't want a bite."
"You will when you see and smell it," said the Harvester. "I am an expert cook. It's my chiefest accomplishment. You should taste the dishes I improvise. But there won't be much to-night, because I want you to see the moon rise over the lake."
He went away and the Girl removed her dress and spread it on the couch. Then she bathed her face and hands. When she saw the discoloured cloth, it proved that she had been painted, and made her very indignant. Yet she could not be altogether angry, for that flush of colour had saved the Harvester from being pitied by his friend. She stood a long time before the mirror, staring at her gaunt, colourless face; then she went to the dressing table and committed a crime. She found a box of cream and rubbed it on for a foundation. Then she opened some pink powder, and carefully dusted her cheeks.
"I am utterly ashamed," she said to the image in the mirror, "but he has done so much for me, he is so, so---- I don't know a word big enough----that I can't bear him to see how ghastly I am, how little worth it. Perhaps the food, better air, and outdoor exercise will give me strength and colour soon. Until it does I'm afraid I'm going to help out all I can with this. It is wonderful how it changes one. I really appear like a girl instead of a bony old woman."
Then she looked over the dresses, selected a pretty white princesse, slipped it on, and went to the kitchen. But the Harvester would not have her there. He seated her at the dining table, beside the window overlooking the lake, lighted a pair of his home-made candles in his finest sticks, and placed before her bread, butter, cold meat, milk, and fruit, and together they ate their first meal in their home.
"If I had known," said the Harvester, "Granny Moreland is a famous cook. She is a Southern woman, and she can fry chicken and make some especial dishes to surpass any one I ever knew. She would have been so pleased to come over and get us an all-right supper."
"I'd much rather have this, and be by ourselves," said the Girl.
"Well, you can bank on it, I would," agreed the Harvester. "For instance, if any one were here, I might feel restrained about telling you that you are exactly the beautiful, flushed Dream Girl I have adored for months, and your dress most becoming. You are a picture to blind the eyes of a lonely bachelor, Ruth."
"Oh why did you say that?" wailed the Girl. "Now I've got to feel like a sneak or tell you----and I didn't want you to know."
"Don't you ever tell me or any one else anything you don't want to," said the Harvester roundly. "It's nobody's business!"
"But I must! I can't begin with deception. I was fool enough to think you wouldn't notice. Man, they painted me! I didn't know they were doing it, but when it all washed off, I looked so ghastly I almost frightened myself. I hunted through the boxes they put up for you and found some pink powder----"
"But don't all the daintiest women powder these days, and consider it indispensable? The clerk said so, and I've noticed it mentioned in the papers. I bought it for you to use."
"Yes, just powder, but Man, I put on a lot of cold cream first to stick the powder good and thick. Oh I wish I hadn't!"
"Well since you've told it, is your conscience perfectly at ease? No you don't! You sit where you are! You are lovely, and if you don't use enough powder to cover the paleness, until your colour returns, I'll hold you and put it on. I know you feel better when you appear so that every one must admire you."
"Yes, but I'm a fraud!"
"You are no such thing!" cried the Harvester hotly. "There hasn't a woman in ten thousand got any such rope of hair. I have been seeing the papers on the hair question, too. No one will believe it's real. If they think your hair is false, when it is natural, they won't be any more fooled when they think your colour is real, and it isn't. Very soon it will be and no one need ever know the difference. You go on and fix up your level best. To see yourself appearing well will make you ambitious to become so as soon as possible."
"Harvester-man," said the Girl, gazing at him with wet luminous eyes, "for the sake of other women, I could wish that all men had an oath to keep, and had been reared in the woods."
"Here is the place we adjourn to the moon," cried the Harvester. "I don't know of anything that can cure a sudden accession of swell head like gazing at the heavens. One finds his place among the atoms naturally and instantaneously with the eyes on the night sky. Should you have a wrap? You should! The mists from the lake are cool. I don't believe there is one among my orders. I forgot that. But upstairs with mother's clothing there are several shawls and shoulder capes. All of them were washed and carefully packed. Would you use one, Ruth?"
"Why not give it to me. Wouldn't she like me to wear her things better than to have them lying in moth balls?"
The Harvester looked at her and shook his head, marvelling.
"I can't tell how pleased she would be," he said.
"Where are her belongings?" asked the Girl. "I could use them to help furnish the house, and it wouldn't appear so strange to you."
The Harvester liked that.
"All the washed things are in those boxes upstairs; also some fine skins I've saved on the chance of wanting them. Her dishes are in the bottom of the china closet there; she was mighty proud of them. The furniture and carpets were so old and abused I burned them. I'll go bring a wrap."
He took the candle and climbed the stairs, soon returning with a little white wool shawl and a big pink coverlet.
"Got this for her Christmas one time," he said. "She'd never had a white one and she thought it was pretty."
He folded it around the Girl's shoulders and picked up the coverlet.
"You're never going to take that to the woods!" she cried.
She took it in her hands to find a corner.
"Just as I thought! It's a genuine Peter Hartman! It's one of the things that money can't buy, or, rather, one that takes a mint of money to own. They are heirlooms. They are not manufactured any more. At the art store where I worked they'd give you fifty dollars for that. It is not faded or worn a particle. It would be lovely in my room; you mustn't take a treasure like that out of doors."
"Ruth, are you in earnest?" demanded the Harvester. "I believe there are six of them upstairs."
"Plutocrat!" cried the Girl. "What colours?"
"More of this pinkish red, blue, and pale green."
"Famous! May I have them to help furnish with to-morrow?"
"Certainly! Anything you can find, any way on earth you want it, only in my room. That is taboo, as I told you. What am I going to take to-night?"
"Isn't the rug you had in the woods in the wagon yet? Use that!"
"Of course! The very thing! Bel, proceed!"
"Are you going to leave the house like this?"
"Suppose some one breaks in!"
"Nothing worth carrying away, except what you have on. No one to get in. There is a big swamp back of our woods, marsh in front, we're up here where we can see the drive and bridge. There is nothing possible from any direction. Never locked the cabin in my life, except your room, and that was because it was sacred, not that there was any danger. Clear the way, Bel!"
"Clear it of what?"
"Katydids, hoptoads, and other carnivorous animals."
"Now you are making fun of me! Clear it of what?"
"A coon that might go shuffling across, an opossum, or a snake going to the lake. Now are you frightened so that you will not go?"
"No. The path is broad and white and surely you and Bel can take care of me."
"If you will trust us we can."
"Well, I am trusting you."
"You are indeed," said the Harvester. "Now see if you think this is pretty."
He indicated the hill sloping toward the lake. The path wound among massive trees, between whose branches patches of moonlight filtered. Around the lake shore and climbing the hill were thickets of bushes. The water lay shining in the light, a gentle wind ruffled the surface in undulant waves, and on the opposite bank arose the line of big trees. Under a giant oak widely branching, on the top of the hill, the Harvester spread the rug and held one end of it against the tree trunk to protect the Girl's dress. Then he sat a little distance away and began to talk. He mingled some sense with a quantity of nonsense, and appreciated every hint of a laugh he heard. The day had been no amusing matter for a girl absolutely alone among strange people and scenes. Anything more foreign to her previous environment or expectations he could not imagine. So he talked to prevent her from thinking, and worked for a laugh as he laboured for bread.
"Now we must go," he said at last. "If there is the malaria I strongly suspect in your system, this night air is none too good for you. I only wanted you to see the lake the first night in your new home, and if it won't shock you, I brought you here because this is my holy of holies. Can you guess why I wanted you to come, Ruth?"
"If I wasn't so stupid with alternate burning and chills, and so deadened to every proper sensibility, I suppose I could," she answered, "but I'm not brilliant. I don't know, unless it is because you knew it would be the loveliest place I ever saw. Surely there is no other spot in the world quite so beautiful."
"Then would it seem strange to you," asked the Harvester going to the Girl and gently putting his arms around her, "would it seem strange to you, that a woman who once homed here and thought it the prettiest place on earth, chose to remain for her eternal sleep, rather than to rest in a distant city of stranger dead?"
He felt the Girl tremble against him.
"Where is she?"
"Very close," said the Harvester. "Under this oak. She used to say that she had a speaking acquaintance with every tree on our land, and of them all she loved this big one the best. She liked to come here in winter, and feel the sting of the wind sweeping across the lake, and in summer this was her place to read and to think. So when she slept the unwaking sleep, Ruth, I came here and made her bed with my own hands, and then carried her to it, covered her, and she sleeps well. I never have regretted her going. Life did not bring her joy. She was very tired. She used to say that after her soul had fled, if I would lay her here, perhaps the big roots would reach down and find her, and from her frail frame gather slight nourishment and then her body would live again in talking leaves that would shelter me in summer and whisper her love in winter. Of all Medicine Woods this is the dearest spot to me. Can you love it too, Ruth?"
"Oh I can!" cried the Girl; "I do now! Just to see the place and hear that is enough. I wish, oh to my soul I wish----"
"You wish what?" whispered the Harvester gently.
"I dare not! I was wild to think of it. I would be ungrateful to ask it."
"You would be ungracious if you didn't ask anything that would give me the joy of pleasing you. How long is it going to require for you to learn, Ruth, that to make up for some of the difficulties life has brought you would give me more happiness than anything else could? Tell me now."
He gathered her closer.
"Ruth, there is no reason why you should be actively unkind to me. What is it you wish?"
She struggled from his arms and stood alone in white moonlight, staring across the lake, along the shore, deep into the perfumed forest, and then at the mound she now could distinguish under the giant tree. Suddenly she went to him and with both shaking hands gripped his arm.
"My mother!" she panted. "Oh she was a beautiful woman, delicately reared, and her heart was crushed and broken. By the inch she went to a dreadful end I could not avert or allay, and in poverty and grime I fought for a way to save her body from further horror, and it's all so dreadful I thought all feeling in me was dried and still, but I am not quite calloused yet. I suffer it over with every breath. It is never entirely out of my mind. Oh Man, if only you would lift her from the horrible place she lies, where briers run riot and cattle trample and the unmerciful sun beats! Oh if only you'd lift her from it, and bring her here! I believe it would take away some of the horror, the shame, and the heartache. I believe I could go to sleep without hearing the voice of her suffering, if I knew she was lying on this hill, under your beautiful tree, close the dear mother you love. Oh Man, would you----?"
The Harvester crushed the Girl in his arms and shuddering sobs shook his big frame, and choked his voice.
"Ruth, for God's sake, be quiet!" he cried. "Why I'd be glad to! I'll go anywhere you tell me, and bring her, and she shall rest where the lake murmurs, the trees shelter, the winds sing, and earth knows the sun only in long rays of gold light."
She stared at him with strained face.
"You----you wouldn't!" she breathed.
"Ruth, child," said the Harvester, "I tell you I'd be happy. Look at my side of this! I'm in search of bands to bind you to me and to this place. Could you tell me a stronger than to have the mother you idolized lie here for her long sleep? Why Girl, you can't know the deep and abiding joy it would give me to bring her. I'd feel I had you almost secure. Where is she Ruth?"
"In that old unkept cemetery south of Onabasha, where it costs no money to lay away your loved ones."
"Close here! Why I'll go to-morrow! I supposed she was in the city."
She straightened and drew away from him.
"How could I? I had nothing. I could not have paid even her fare and brought her here in the cheapest box the decency of man would allow him to make if her doctor had not given me the money I owe. Now do you understand why I must earn and pay it myself? Save for him, it was charity or her delicate body to horrors. Money never can repay him."
"Ruth, the day you came to Onabasha was she with you?"
"In the express car," said the Girl.
"Where did you go when you left the train shed?"
"Straight to the baggage room, where Uncle Henry was waiting. Men brought and put her in his wagon, and he drove with me to the place and other men lowered her, and that was all."
"You poor Girl!" cried the Harvester. "This time to-morrow night she shall sleep in luxury under this oak, so help me God! Ruth, can you spare me? May I go at once? I can't rest, myself."
"You will?" cried the Girl. "You will?"
She was laughing in the moonlight. "Oh Man, I can't ever, ever tell you!"
"Don't try," said the Harvester. "Call it settled. I will start early in the morning. I know that little cemetery. The man whose land it is on can point me the spot. She is probably the last one laid there. Come now, Ruth. Go to the room I made for you, and sleep deeply and in peace. Will you try to rest?"
"Oh David!" she exulted. "Only think! Here where it's clean and cool; beside the lake, where leaves fall gently and I can come and sit close to her and bring flowers; and she never will be alone, for your dear mother is here. Oh David!"
"It is better. I can't thank you enough for thinking of it. Come now, let me help you."
He half carried her down the hill. Then he made the cabin a glamour of light by putting candles in the sticks he had carved and placing them everywhere.
"There is a lighting plant in the basement," he said, "but I had not expected to use it until winter, and I have no acetylene. Candles were our grandmothers' lights and they are the best anyway. Go bathe your face, Ruth, and wash away all trace of tears. Put on the pink powder, and in a few weeks you will have colour to outdo the wildest rose. You must be as gay as you can the remainder of this night."
"I will!" cried the Girl. "I will! Oh I didn't know a thing on earth could make me happy! I didn't know I really could be glad. Oh if the ice in my heart would melt, and the wall break down, and the girlhood I've never known would come yet! Oh David, if it would!"
"Before the Lord it shall!" vowed the Harvester. "It shall come with the fulness of joy right here in Medicine Woods. Think it! Believe it! Keep it before you! Work for it! Happiness is worth while! All of us have a right to it! It shall be yours and soon."
"I will try! I will!" promised the Girl. "I'll go right now and I'll put on the blessed pink powder so thickly you'll never know what is under it, and soon it won't be needed at all."
She was laughing as she left the room. The Harvester restlessly walked the floor a few minutes and then sat with a notebook and began entering stems.
When the Girl returned, he brought the pillow from her bed, folded the coverlet, and she lay on them in the big swing. He covered her with the white shawl, and while Singing Water sang its loudest, katydids exulted over the delightful act of their ancestor, and a million gauze- winged creatures of night hummed against the screen, in a voice soft and low he told her in a steady stream, as he swayed her back and forth, what each sound of the night was, and how and why it was made all the way from the rumbling buzz of the June bug to the screech of the owl and the splash of the bass in the lake. All of it, as it appealed to him, was the story of steady evolution, the natural processes of reproduction, the joy of life and its battles, and the conquest of the strong in nature. At his hands every sound was stripped of terror. The leaping bass was exulting in life, the screeching owl was telling its mate it had found a fat mouse for the children, the nighthawk was courting, the big bull frogs booming around the lake were serenading the moon. There was not a thing to fear or a voice left with an unsympathetic note in it. She was half asleep when at last he helped her to her room, set a pitcher of frosty, clinking drink on her table, locked her door and window screens inside, spread Belshazzar's blanket on her porch, and set his door wide open, that he might hear if she called, and then said good night and went back to his memorandum book.
"No bad beginning," he muttered softly, "no bad beginning, but I'd almost give my right hand if she hadn't forgotten----"
In her room the exhausted Girl slipped the pins from her hair and sank on the low chair before the dressing- table. She picked up the shining, silver backed brush and stared at the monogram, R. F. L, entwined on it.
"My soul!" she exclaimed. "Was he so sure as that? Was there ever any other man like him?"
She dropped the brush and with tired hands pushed back the heavy braids. Then she arose and going to the chest of drawers began lifting lids to find a night robe. As she searched the boxes she found every dainty, pretty undergarment a girl ever used and at last the robes. She shook out a long white one, slipped into it, and walked to the bed. That stood as he had arranged it, white, clean, and dainty.
"Everything for me!" she said softly. "Everything for me! Shall there be nothing for him? Oh he makes it easy, easy!"
She stepped to the closet, picked down a lavender silk kimona and drawing it over her gown she gathered it around her and opening the bathroom door, she stepped into a little hall leading to the dining-room. As she entered the living-room the Harvester bent over his book. Her step was very close when he heard it and turned his head. In an instant she touched his shoulders. The Harvester dropped the pencil, and palm downward laid his hands on the table, his promise strong in his heart. The Girl slid a shaking palm under his chin, leaned his head against her breast, and dropped a sweet, tear-wet face on his. With all the strength of her frail arms she gripped him a second, and then gave the kiss, into which she tried to put all she could find no words to express.