Chapter XIV. Snowy Wings
 

The Harvester sat at the table in deep thoughts until the lights in the Girl's room were darkened and everything was quiet. Then he locked the screens inside and went into the night. The moon flooded all the hillside, until coarse print could have been read with keen eyes in its light. A restlessness, born of exultation he could not allay or control, was on him. She had not forgotten! After this, the dream would be effaced by reality. It was the beginning. He scarcely had dared hope for so much. Surely it presaged the love with which she some day would come to him and crown his life. He walked softly up and down the drive, passing her windows, unable to think of sleep. Over and over he dwelt on the incidents of the day, so inevitably he came to his promise.

"Merciful Heaven!" he muttered. "How can such things happen? The poor, overworked, tired, suffering girl. It will give her some comfort. She will feel better. It has to be done. I believe I will do the worst part of it while she sleeps."

He went to the cabin, crept very close to one of her windows and listened intently. Surely no mortal awake could lie motionless so long. She must be sleeping. He patted Belshazzar, whispered, "Watch, boy, watch for your life!" and then crossed to the dry-house. Beside it he found a big roll of coffee sacks that he used in collecting roots, and going to the barn, he took a spade and mattock. Then he climbed the hill to the oak; in the white moonlight laid off his measurements and began work. His heart was very tender as he lifted the earth, and threw it into the tops of the big bags he had propped open.

"I'll line it with a couple of sheets and finish the edge with pond lilies and ferns," he planned, "and I'll drag this earth from sight, and cover it with brush until I need it."

Sometimes he paused in his work to rest a few minutes and then he stood and glanced around him. Several times he went down the hill and slipped close to a window, but he could not hear a sound. When his work was finished, he stood before the oak, scraping clinging earth from the mattock with which he had cut roots he had been compelled to remove. He was tired now and he thought he would go to his room and sleep until daybreak. As he turned the implement he remembered how through it he had found her, and now he was using it in her service. He smiled as he worked, and half listened to the steady roll of sound encompassing him. A cool breath swept from the lake and he wondered if it found her wet, hot cheek. A wild duck in the rushes below gave an alarm signal, and it ran in subdued voice, note by note, along the shore. The Harvester gripped the mattock and stood motionless. Wild things had taught him so many lessons he heeded their warnings instinctively. Perhaps it was a mink or muskrat approaching the rushes. Listening intently, he heard a stealthy step coming up the path behind him.

The Harvester waited. He soundlessly moved around the trunk of the big tree. An instant more the night prowler stopped squarely at the head of the open grave, and jumped back with an oath. He stood tense a second, then advanced, scratched a match and dropped it into the depths of the opening. That instant the Harvester recognized Henry Jameson, and with a spring landed between the man's shoulders and sent him, face down, headlong into the grave. He snatched one of the sacks of earth, and tipping it, gripped the bottom and emptied the contents on the head and shoulders of the prostrate man. Then he dropped on him and feeling across his back took an ugly, big revolver from a pocket. He swung to the surface and waited until Henry Jameson crawled from under the weight of earth and began to rise; then, at each attempt, he knocked him down. At last he caught the exhausted man by the collar and dragged him to the path, where he dropped him and stood gloating.

"So!" he said; "It's you! Coming to execute your threat, are you? What's the matter with my finishing you, loading your carcass with a few stones into this sack, and dropping you in the deepest part of the lake."

There was no reply.

"Ain't you a little hasty?" asked the Harvester. "Isn't it rather cold blooded to come sneaking when you thought I'd be asleep? Don't you think it would be low down to kill a man on his wedding day?"

Henry Jameson arose cautiously and faced the Harvester.

"Who have you killed?" he panted.

"No one," answered the Harvester. "This is for the victim of a member of your family, but I never dreamed I'd have the joy of planting any of you in it first, even temporarily. Did you rest well? What I should have done was to fill in, tread down, and leave you at the bottom."

Jameson retreated a few steps. The Harvester laughed and advanced the same distance.

"Now then," he said, "explain what you are doing on my premises, a few hours after your threat, and armed with another revolver before I could return the one I took from you this afternoon. You must grow them on bushes at your place, they seem so numerous. Speak up! What are you doing here?"

There was no answer.

"There are three things it might be," mused the Harvester. "You might think to harm me, but you're watched on that score and I don't believe you'd enjoy the result sure to follow. You might contemplate trying to steal Ruth's money again, but we'll pass that up. You might want to go through my woods to inform yourself as to what I have of value there. But, in all prob- ability, you are after me. Well, here I am. Go ahead! Do what you came to!"

The Harvester stepped toward the lake bank and Jameson, turning to watch him, exposed a face ghastly through its grime.

"Look here!" cried the Harvester, sickening. "We will end this right now. I was rather busy this afternoon, but I wasn't too hurried to take that little weapon of yours to the chief of police and tell him where and how I got it and what occurred. He was to return it to you to-morrow with his ultimatum. When I have added the history of to-night, reinforced by another gun, he will understand your intentions and know where you belong. You should be confined, but because your name is the same as the Girl's, and there is of your blood in her veins, I'll give you one more chance. I'll let you go this time, but I'll report you, and deliver this implement to be added to your collection at headquarters. And I tell you, and I'll tell them, that if ever I find you on my premises again, I'll finish you on sight. Is that clear?"

Jameson nodded.

"What I should do is to plump you squarely into confinement, as I could easily enough, but that's not my way. I am going to let you off, but you go knowing the law. One thing more: Don't leave with any distorted ideas in your head. I saw Ruth the day she stepped from the cars in Onabasha and I loved her. I wanted to court and marry her, as any man would the girl he loves, but you spoiled that with your woman killing brutality. So I married her in Onabasha this afternoon. You can see the records at the county clerk's office and interview the minister who performed the ceremony, if you doubt me. Ruth is in her room, comfortable as I can make her, asleep and unafraid, thank God! This grave is for her mother. The Girl wants her lifted from the horrible place you put her, and laid where it is sheltered and pleasant. Now, I'll see you off my land. Hurry yourself!"

With the Harvester following, Henry Jameson went back over the path he had come, until he reached and mounted the horse he had ridden. As the Harvester watched him, Jameson turned in the saddle and spoke for the second time.

"What will you give me in cold cash to tell you who she is, and where her mother's people are?"

The Harvester leaped for the bridle and missed. Jameson bent over the horse and lashed it to a run. Half way to the oak the Harvester remembered the revolver, but being unaccustomed to weapons, he had forgotten it when he needed it most. He replaced the earth in the sack and dragged it away, then plunged into the lake, and afterward went to bed, where he slept soundly until dawn. First, he slipped into the living- room and wrote a note to the Girl. Then he fed Belshazzar and ate a hearty breakfast. He stationed the dog at her door, gave him the note, and went to the oak. There he arranged everything neatly and as he desired, and then hitching Betsy he quietly guided her down the drive and over the road to Onabasha. He went to an undertaking establishment, made all his arrangements, and then called up and talked with the minister who had performed the marriage ceremony the previous day.

The sun shining in her face awoke Ruth and she lay revelling in the light. "Maybe it will colour me faster than the powder," she thought. "How peculiar for him to say what he did! I always thought men detested it. But he is not like any one else. "She lay looking around the beautiful room and wondering where the Harvester was. She could not hear him. Then, slowly and painfully, she dragged her aching limbs from the bed and went to the door. The dog was gone from the porch and she could not see the man at the stable. She selected a frock and putting it on opened the door. Belshazzar arose and offered this letter:

DEAR RUTH:

I have gone to keep my promise. You are locked in with Bel. Please obey me and do not step outside the door until four o'clock. Then put on a pretty white dress, and with the dog, come to the bridge to meet me. I hope you will not suffer and fret. Put away your clothing, arrange the rooms to keep busy, or better yet, lie in the swing and rest. There is food in the ice chest, pantry, and cellar. Forgive me for leaving you to-day, but I thought you would feel easier to have this over. I am so glad to bring your mother here. I hope it will make you happy enough to meet us with a smile. Do not forget the pink box until the reality comes.

With love,
DAVID.

The Girl went to the kitchen and found food. She offered to share with Belshazzar, but she could see from his indifference he was not hungry. Then she returned to the room flooded with light, and filled with treasures, and tried to decide how she would arrange her clothing. She spent hours opening boxes and putting dainty, pretty garments in the drawers, hanging the dresses, and placing the toilet articles. Often she wearily dropped to the chairs and couches, or gazed from door and windows at the pictures they framed. "I wonder why he doesn't want me to go outside," she thought. "I wouldn't be afraid in the least, with Bel. I'd just love to go across to that wonderful little river of Singing Water and sit in the shade; but I won't open the door until four o'clock, just as he wrote."

When she thought of where he had gone, and why, the swift tears filled her eyes, but she forced them back and resolutely went to investigate the dining-room. Then for two hours she was a home builder, with a touch of that homing instinct found in the heart of every good woman. First, she looked where the Harvester had said the dishes were, and suddenly sat on the floor exulting. There was a quantity of old chipped and cracked white ware and some gorgeous baking powder prizes; but there were also big blue, green, and pink bowls, several large lustre plates, and a complete tea set without chip or blemish, two beautiful pitchers, and a number of willow pieces. She set the green bowl on the dining table, the blue on the living-room, and took the pink herself, while a beautiful yellow one she placed in the dining- room window seat.

"Oh, if I only dared fill them with those lovely flowers!" She stood in the window and gazed longingly toward the lake. "I know what colour I'd like to put in each of them," she said, "but I promised not to touch anything, and the ones I want most I never saw before, and I'm not to go out anyway. I can't see the sense in that, when I'm not at all afraid, but if he does this wonderful thing for me I must do what he asks. Oh mother, mother! Are you really coming to this beautiful place and to rest at last?"

She sank to the window seat and lay trembling, but she bravely restrained the tears. After a time she remembered the upstairs and went to see the coverlets. She found a half dozen beautiful ones, and smiled as she examined the stiffly conventionalized birds facing each other in the border designs, and in one corner of each blanket she read, woven in the cloth----

     Peter and John
        Hartman
        Wooster
         Ohio
         1837

She took a blue and a green one, several fine skins from the fur box the Harvester had told her about, and went downstairs. It required all her strength to push the heavy tables before the fireplaces. She spread papers on them to stand on, and tacked a skin above each mantel. She set all of the candlesticks, except those she wanted to use, in the lower part of an empty bookcase. A pair of black walnut she placed on the living- room mantel, together with a big blue plate, a yellow one, and an old brass candlestick. She admired the effect very much. She spread the blue coverlet on the couch, and arranged the blue bowl and some books on the table. Here and there she hung a skin across a chair back, or spread it in a wide window seat. Having exhausted all her resources, she returned to the dining- room, spread a skin before the hearth and in each window seat, set a pink and green lustre plate on the mantel, and a pair of oak candlesticks, and arranged the lustre tea set on the side table. The pink coverlet she took for herself, and after resting a time she was surprised on going back to the rooms to see how homelike they appeared.

At three o'clock she dressed and at almost four unlocked the screen, called Belshazzar to her side, and slowly went down the drive to the bridge. She had used the pink powder, put on a beautiful white dress, carefully arranged her hair, and she wore the pearl ornament. Once her fingers strayed to the pendant and she said softly, "I think both he and mother would like me to wear it."

At the foot of the hill she stopped at a bench and sat in the shade waiting. Belshazzar stretched beside her, and gazed at her with questioning, friendly dog eyes. The Girl looked from Singing Water to the lake, and up the hill to make sure it was real. She tried to quiet her quivering muscles and nerves. He had asked her to meet him with a smile. How could she? He could not have understood what it meant when he made the request. There never would be any way to make him realize; indeed, why should he? The smile must be ready. He had loved his mother deeply, and yet he had said he did not grieve to lay her to rest. Earth had not been kind. Then why should she sorrow for her mother? Again life had been not only unkind, but bitterly cruel.

Belshazzar arose and watched down the drive. The Girl looked also. Through the gate and up the levee came a strange procession. First walked the Harvester alone, with bared head, and he carried an arm load of white lilies. A carriage containing a man and several women followed. Then came a white hearse with snowy plumes, and behind that another carriage filled with people, and Betsy followed drawing men in the spring wagon. The Girl arose and as she stepped to the drive she swayed uncertainly an instant.

"Gracious Heaven!" she gasped. "He is bringing her in white, and with flowers and song!"

Then she lifted her head, and with a smile on her lips she went to meet him. As she reached his side, he tenderly put an arm around her, and came on steadily.

"Courage Girl!" he whispered. "Be as brave as she was!"

Around the driveway and up the hill he half carried her, to a seat he had placed under the oak. Before her lay the white-lined grave, and the Harvester arranged his lilies around it. The teams stopped at the barn and men came up the hill bearing a white burden. Behind them followed the minister who yesterday had performed their marriage ceremony, and after him a choir of trained singers softly chanting:

     "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,
     For they shall cease from their labours."

"But David," panted the Girl, "It was mean and poor. That is not she!"

"Sush!" said the Harvester. "It is your mother. The location was high and dry, and it has been only a short time. We wrapped her in white silk, laid her on a soft cushion and pillow, and housed her securely. She can sleep well now, Ruth. Listen!"

Covered with white lilies, slowly the casket sank into earth. At its head stood the minister and as it began to disappear, the white doves, frightened by the strange conveyances at the stable, came circling above. The minister looked up. He lifted a clear tenor, and softly and purely he sang, while at a wave of his hand the choir joined him:

     "Oh, come angel band!  Oh, come, and around me stand!
     Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home!"

He uttered a low benediction, and singing, the people turned and went downhill. The Harvester gathered the Girl in his arms and carried her to the lake. He laid her in his boat and taking the oars sent it along the bank in the shade, and through cool, green places.

"Now cry all you choose!" he said.

The overstrained Girl covered her face and sobbed wildly. After a time he began to talk to her gently, and before she realized it, she was listening.

"Death has been kinder to her than life, Ruth," he said. "She is lying as you saw her last, I think. We lifted her very tenderly, wrapped her carefully, and brought her gently as we could. Now they shall rest together, those little mothers of ours, to whom men were not kind; and in the long sleep we must forget, as they have forgotten, and forgive, as no doubt they have forgiven. Don't you want to take some lilies to them before we go to the cabin? Right there on your left are unusually large ones."

The Girl sat up, dried her eyes and gathered the white flowers. When the last vehicle crossed the bridge, the Harvester tied the boat and helped her up the hill. The old oak stretched its wide arms above two little mounds, both moss covered and scattered with flowers. The Girl added her store and then went to the Harvester, and sank at his feet.

"Ruth, you shall not!" cried the man. "I simply will not have that. Come now, I will bring you back this evening."

He helped her to the veranda and laid her in the swing. He sat beside her while she rested, and then they went into the cabin for supper. Soon he had her telling what she had found, and he was making notes of what was yet required to transform the cabin into a home. The Harvester left it to her to decide whether he should roof the bridge the next day or make a trip for furnishings. She said he had better buy what they needed and then she could make the cabin homelike while he worked on the bridge.