The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XV. The Harvester Interprets Life
They went through the rooms together, and the Girl suggested the furnishings she thought necessary, while the Harvester wrote the list. The following morning he was eager to have her company, but she was very tired and begged to be allowed to wait in the swing, so again he drove away and left her with Belshazzar on guard. When he had gone, she went through the cabin arranging the furniture the best she could, then dressed and went to the swinging couch. It was so wide and heavy a light wind rocked it gently, and from it she faced the fern and lily carpeted hillside, the majesty of big trees of a thousand years, and heard the music of Singing Water as it sparkled diamond-like where the sun rays struck its flow. Across the drive and down the valley to the brilliant bit of marsh it hurried on its way to Loon Lake.
There were squirrels barking and racing in the big trees and over the ground. They crossed the sodded space of lawn and came to the top step for nuts, eating them from cunning paws. They were living life according to the laws of their nature. She knew that their sharp, startling bark was not to frighten her, but to warn straying intruders of other species of their kindred from a nest, because the Harvester had told her so. He had said their racing here and there in wild scramble was a game of tag and she found it most interesting to observe.
Birds of brilliant colour flashed everywhere, singing in wild joy, and tilted on the rising hedge before her, hunting berries and seeds. Their bubbling, spontaneous song was an instinctive outpouring of their joy over mating time, nests, young, much food, and running water. Their social, inquiring, short cry was to locate a mate, and call her to good feeding. The sharp wild scream of a note was when a hawk passed over, a weasel lurked in the thicket, or a black snake sunned on the bushes. She remembered these things, and lay listening intently, trying to interpret every sound as the Harvester did.
Birds of wide wing hung as if nailed to the sky, or wheeled and sailed in grandeur. They were searching the landscape below to locate a hare or snake in the waving grass or carrion in the fields. The wonderful exhibitions of wing power were their expression of exultation in life, just as the song sparrow threatened to rupture his throat as he swung on the hedge, and the red bird somewhere in the thicket whistled so forcefully it sounded as if the notes might hurt him.
On the lake bass splashed in a game with each other. Grebes chattered, because they were very social. Ducks dived and gobbled for roots and worms of the lake shore, and congratulated each other when they were lucky.
Killdeer cried for slaughter, in plaintive tones, as their white breasts gleamed silver-like across the sky. They insisted on the death of their ancient enemies, because the deer had trampled nests around the shore, roiled the water, spoiled the food hunting, and had been wholly unmindful of the laws of feathered folk from the beginning.
Behind the barn imperial cocks crowed challenges of defiance to each other and all the world, because they once had worn royal turbans on their heads, and ruled the forests, even the elephants and lions. Happy hens cackled when they deposited an egg, and wandered through their park singing the spring egg song unceasingly.
Upon the barn Ajax spread and exulted in glittering plumage, and screamed viciously. He was sending a wireless plea to the forests of Ceylon for a gray mate to come and share the ridge pole with him, and help him wage red war on the sickening love making of the white doves he hated.
Everything was beautiful, some of it was amusing, all instructive, and intensely interesting. The Girl wanted to know about the brown, yellow, and black butterflies sailing from flower to flower. She watched big black and gold bees come from the forest for pollen and listened to their monotonous bumbling. Her first humming bird poised in air, and sipped nectar before her astonished eyes. It was marvellous, but more wonderful to the Girl than anything she saw or heard was the fact that because of the Harvester's teachings she now could trace through all of it the ordained processes of the evolution of life. Everything was right in its way, all necessary to human welfare, and so there was nothing to fear, but marvels to learn and pictures to appreciate. She would have taken Belshazzar and gone out, but the Harvester had exacted a promise that she would not. The fact was, he could see that she was coming gradually to a sane and natural view of life and living things, and he did not want some sound or creature to frighten her, and spoil what he had accomplished. So she swayed in the swing and watched, and tried to interpret sights and sounds as he did.
Before an hour she realized that she was coming speedily into sympathy with the wild life around her; for, instead of shivering and shrinking at unaccustomed sounds, she was listening especially for them, and trying to arrive at a sane version. Instead of the senseless roar of commerce, manufacture, and life of a city, she was beginning to appreciate sounds that varied and carried the Song of Life in unceasing measure and absorbing meaning, while she was more than thankful for the fresh, pure air, and the blessed, God-given light. It seemed to the Girl that there was enough sunshine at Medicine Woods to furnish rays of gold for the whole world.
"Bel," she said to the dog standing beside her, "it's a shame to separate you from the Medicine Man and pen you here with me. It's a wonder you don't bite off my head and run away to find him. He's gone to bring more things to make life beautiful. I wanted to go with him, but oh Bel, there's something dreadfully wrong with me. I was afraid I'd fall on the streets and frighten and shame him. I'm so weak, I scarcely can walk straight across one of these big, cool rooms that he has built for me. He can make everything beautiful, Bel, a home, rooms, clothing, grounds, and life----above everything else he can make life beautiful. He's so splendid and wonderful, with his wide understanding and sane interpretation and God-like sympathy and patience. Why Belshazzar, he can do the greatest thing in all the world! He can make you forget that the grave annihilates your dear ones by hideous processes, and set you to thinking instead that they come back to you in whispering leaves and flower perfumes. If I didn't owe him so much that I ought to pay, if this wasn't so alluringly beautiful, I'd like to go to the oak and lie beside those dear women resting there, and give my tired body to furnish sap for strength and leaves for music. He can take its bitterest sting----from death, Bel----and that's the most wonderful thing----in life, Bel----"
Her voice became silent, her eyes closed; the dog stretched himself beside her on guard, and it was so the Harvester found them when he drove home from the city. He heaped his load in the dining-room, stabled Betsy, carried the things he had brought where he thought they belonged, and prepared food. When she awakened she came to him.
"How is it going, Girl?" asked the Harvester.
"I can't tell you how lovely it has been!"
"Do you really mean that your heart is warming a little to things here?"
"Indeed I do! I can't tell you what a morning I've had. There have been such myriad things to see and hear. Oh, Harvester, can you ever teach me what all of it means?"
"I can right now," said the Harvester promptly. "It means two things, so simple any little child can understand----the love of God and the evolution of life. I am not precisely clear as to what I mean when I say God. I don't know whether it is spirit, matter, or force; it is that big thing that brings forth worlds, establishes their orbits, and gives us heat, light, food, and water. To me, that is God and His love. Just that we are given birth, sheltered, provisioned, and endowed for our work. Evolution is the natural consequence of this. It is the plan steadily unfolding. If I were you, I wouldn't bother my head over these questions, they never have been scientifically explained to the beginning; I doubt if they ever will be, because they start with the origin of matter and that is too far beyond man for him to penetrate. Just enjoy to the depths of your soul----that's worship. Be thankful for everything----that's praising God as the birds praise him. And `do unto others' that's all there is of love and religion combined in one fell swoop."
"You should go before the world and tell every one that!"
"No! It isn't my vocation," said the Harvester. "My work is to provide pain-killer. I don't believe, Ruth, that there is any one on the footstool who is doing a better job along that line. I am boastfully proud of it----just of sending in the packages that kill fever, refresh poor blood, and strengthen weak hearts; unadulterated, honest weight, fresh, and scrupulously clean. My neighbours have a different name for it; I call it a man's work."
"Every one who understands must," said the Girl. "I wish I could help at that. I feel as if it would do more to wipe out the pain I've suffered and seen her endure than anything else. Man, when I grow strong enough I want to help you. I believe that I am going to love it here."
"Don't ever suppress your feelings, Ruth!" hastily cried the Harvester. "It will be very bad for you. You will become wrought up, and `het up,' as Granny Moreland says, and it will make you very ill. When we drive the fever from your blood, the ache from your bones, the poison of wrong conditions from your soul, and good, healthy, red corpuscles begin pumping through your little heart like a windmill, you can stake your life you're going to love it here. And the location and work are not all you're going to care for either, honey. Now just wait! That was not `nominated in the bond.' I'm allowed to talk. I never agreed not to say things. What I promised was not to do them. So as I said, honey, sit at this table, and eat the food I've cooked; and by that time the furniture van will be here, and the men will unload, and you shall reign on a throne and tell me where and how."
"Oh if I were only stronger, David!"
"You are!" said the Harvester. "You are much better than you were yesterday. You can talk, and that's all that's necessary. The rooms are ready for furniture. The men will carry it where you want it. A decorator is coming to hang the curtains. By night we will be settled; you can lie in the swing while I read to you a story so wonderful that the wildest fairy tale you ever heard never touched it."
"What will it be, David?"
"Eat all the red raspberries and cream, bread and butter, and drink all the milk you can. There's blood, beefsteak, and bones in it. As I was saying, you have come here a stranger to a strange land. The first thing is for you to understand and love the woods. Before you can do that you should master the history of one tree; just the same as you must learn to know and love me before your childlike trust in all mankind returns again. Understand? Well, the fates knew you were on the way, coming trembling down the brink, Ruth, so they put it into the heart of a great man to write largely of a wonderful tree, especially for your benefit. After it had fallen he took it apart, split it in sections, and year by year spread out history for all the world to read. It made a classic story filled with unsurpassed wonders. It was a pine of a thousand years, close the age of our mother tree, Ruth, and when we have learned from Enos Mills how to wrest secrets from the hearts of centuries, we will climb the hill and measure our oak, and then I will estimate, and you will write, and we will make a record for our tree."
"Oh, I'd like that!"
"So would I," said the Harvester. "And a million other things I can think of that we can learn together. It won't require long for me to teach you all I know, and by that time your hand will be clasped in mine, and our `hearts will beat as one,' and you will give me a kiss every night and morning, and a few during the day for interest, and we will go on in life together and learn songs, miracles, and wonders until the old oak calls us. Then we will ascend the hill gladly and lie down and offer up our bodies, and our children will lay flowers over our hearts, and gather the herbs and paint the pictures? Amen. I hear a van on the bridge. Just you go to your room and lie down until I get things unloaded and where they belong. Then you and the decorator can make us home- like, and to-morrow we will begin to live. Won't that be great, Ruth?"
"With you, yes, I think it will."
"That will do for this time," said the Harvester, as he opened the door to her room. "Lie and rest until I say ready."
As he went to meet the men, she could hear him singing lustily, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
"What a child he is!" she said. "And what a man!"
For an hour heavy feet sounded through the cabin carrying furniture to different rooms. Then with a floor brush in one hand, and a polishing cloth in the other, the Harvester tapped at her door and helped the Girl upstairs. He had divided the space into three large, square sleeping chambers. In each he had set up a white iron bed, a dressing table, and wash stand, and placed two straight-backed and one rocking chair, all white. The walls were tinted lightly with green added to the plaster. There was a mattress and a stack of bedding on each bed, and a large rug and several small ones on the floors. He led her to the rocking chair in the middle room, where she could see through the open doors of the other two.
"Now," said the Harvester, "I didn't know whether the room with two windows toward the lake and one on the marsh, or two facing the woods and one front, was the guest chamber. It seemed about an even throw whether a visitor would prefer woods or water, so I made them both guest chambers, and got things alike for them. Now if we are entertaining two, one can't feel more highly honoured than the other. Was that a scheme?"
"Fine!" said the Girl. "I don't see how it could be surpassed."
" `Be sure you are right, then go ahead,' " quoted the Harvester. "Now I'll make the beds and Mr. Rogers can hang the curtains. Is white correct for sleeping rooms? Won't that wash best and always be fresh?"
"It will," said the Girl. "White wash curtains are much the nicest."
"Make them short Mr. Rogers; keep them off the floor," advised the Harvester. "And simple----don't arrange any thing elaborate that will tire a woman to keep in order. Whack them off the right length and pin them to the poles."
"How about that, Mrs. Langston?" asked the decorator.
"I am quite sure that is the very best thing to do," said the Girl; and the curtains were hung while the mattress was placed.
"Now about this?" inquired the Harvester. "Do I put on sheets and fix these beds ready to use?"
"I would not," said the Girl. "I would spread the pad and the counterpane and lay the sheets and pillows in the closet until they are wanted. They can be sunned and the bed made delightfully fresh."
"Of course," said the Harvester.
When he had finished, he spread a cover on the dressing table and laid out white toilet articles and grouped a white wash set with green decorations on the stand. Then he brushed the floor, spread a big green rug in the middle and small ones before the bed, stand, and table, and coming out closed the door.
"Guest chamber with lake view is now ready for company," announced the Harvester. "Repeat the operation on the woods room, finished also. Why do some people make work of things and string them out eternally and fuss so much? Isn't this simple and easy, Ruth?"
"Yes, if you can afford it," said the Girl.
"Forbear!" cried the Harvester. "We have the goods, the dealer has my check. Excuse me ten minutes, until I furnish another room."
The laughing Girl could catch glimpses of him busy over beds and dresser, floor and rugs; then he came where she sat.
"Woods guest chamber ready," he said. "Now we come to the interior apartment, that from its view might be called the marsh room. Aside from being two windows short, it is exactly similar to the others. It occurred to me that, in order to make up for the loss of those windows, and also because I may be compelled to ask some obliging woman to occupy it in case your health is precarious at any time, and in view of the further fact that if any such woman could be found, and would kindly and willingly care for us, my gratitude would be inexpressible; on account of all these things, I got a shade the best furnishings for this room."
The Girl stared at him with blank face.
"You see," said the Harvester, "this is a question of ethics. Now what is a guest? A thing of a day! A person who disturbs your routine and interferes with important concerns. Why should any one be grateful for company? Why should time and money be lavished on visitors? They come. You overwork yourself. They go. You are glad of it. You return the visit, because it's the only way to have back at them; but why pamper them unnecessarily? Now a good housekeeper, that means more than words can express. Comfort, kindness, sanitary living, care in illness! Here's to the prospective housekeeper of Medicine Woods! Rogers, hang those ruffled embroidered curtains. Observe that whereas mere guest beds are plain white, this has a touch of brass. Where guest rugs are floor coverings, this is a work of art. Where guest brushes are celluloid, these are enamelled, and the dresser cover is hand embroidered. Let me also call your attention to the chairs touched with gold, cushioned for ease, and a decorated pitcher and bowl. Watch the bounce of these springs and the thickness of this mattress and pad, and notice that where guests, however welcome, get a down cover of sateen, the lady of the house has silkaline. Won't she prepare us a breakfast after a night in this room?"
"David, are you in earnest?" gasped the Girl.
"Don't these things prove it?" asked the Harvester. "No woman can enter my home, when my necessities are so great I have to hire her to come, and take the worst in the house. After my wife, she gets the best, every time. Whenever I need help, the woman who will come and serve me is what I'd call the real guest of the house. Friend? Where are your friends when trouble comes? It always brings a crowd on account of the excitement, and there is noise and racing; but if your soul is saved alive, it is by a steady, trained hand you pay to help you. Friends come and go, but a good housekeeper remains and is a business proposition--one that if conducted rightly for both parties and on a strictly common-sense basis, gives you living comfort. Now that we have disposed of the guests that go and the one that remains, we will proceed downward and arrange for ourselves."
"David, did you ever know any one who treated a housekeeper as you say you would?"
"No. And I never knew any one who raised medicinal stuff for a living, but I'm making a gilt-edged success of it, and I would of a housekeeper, too."
"It doesn't seem----"
"That's the bedrock of all the trouble on the earth," interrupted the Harvester. "We are a nation and a part of a world that spends our time on `seeming.' Our whole outer crust is `seeming.' When we get beneath the surface and strike the being, then we live as we are privileged by the Almighty. I don't think I give a tinker how anything seems. What concerns me is how it is. It doesn't `seem' possible to you to hire a woman to come into your home and take charge of its cleanliness and the food you eat--the very foundation of life--and treat her as an honoured guest, and give her the best comfort you have to offer. The cold room, the old covers, the bare floor, and the cast off furniture are for her. No wonder, as a rule, she gives what she gets. She dignifies her labour in the same ratio that you do. Wait until we need a housekeeper, and then gaze with awe on the one I will raise to your hand."
"Don't! It's wearing! Come tell me how to make our living-room less bare than it appears at present."
They went downstairs together, followed by the decorator, and began work on the room. The Girl was placed on a couch and made comfortable and then the Harvester looked around.
"That bundle there, Rogers, is the curtains we bought for this room. If you and my wife think they are not right, we will not hang them."
The decorator opened the package and took out curtains of tan-coloured goods with a border of blue and brown.
"Those are not expensive," said the Harvester, "but to me a window appears bare with only a shade, so I thought we'd try these, and when they become soiled we'll burn them and buy some fresh ones."
"Good idea!" laughed the Girl. "As a house decorator you surpass yourself as a Medicine Man."
"Fix these as you did those upstairs," ordered the Harvester. "We don't want any fol-de-rols. Put the bottom even with the sill and shear them off at the top."
"No, I am going to arrange these," said the decorator, "you go on with your part."
"All right!" agreed the Harvester. "First, I'll lay the big rug."
He cleared the floor, spread a large rug with a rich brown centre and a wide blue border. Smaller ones of similar design and colour were placed before each of the doors leading from the room.
"Now for the hearth," said the Harvester, "I got this tan goat skin. Doesn't that look fairly well?"
It certainly did; and the Girl and the decorator hastened to say so. The Harvester replaced the table and chairs, and then sat on the couch at the Girl's feet.
"I call this almost finished," he remarked. "All we need now is a bouquet and something on the walls, and that is serious business. What goes on them usually remains for a long time, and so it should be selected with care. Ruth, have you a picture of your mother?"
"None since she was my mother. I have some lovely girl photographs."
"Good!" cried the Harvester. "Exactly the thing! I have a picture of my mother when she was a pretty girl. We will select the best of yours and have them enlarged in those beautiful brown prints they make in these days, and we'll frame one for each side of the mantel. After that you can decorate the other walls as you see things you want. Fifteen minutes gone; we are ready to take up the line of march to the dining-room. Oh I forgot my pillows! Here are a half dozen tan, brown, and blue for this room. Ruth, you arrange them."
The Girl heaped four on the couch, stood one beside the hearth, and laid another in a big chair.
"Now I don't know what you will think of this," said the Harvester. "I found it in a magazine at the library. I copied this whole room. The plan was to have the floor, furniture, and casings of golden oak and the walls pale green. Then it said get yellow curtains bordered with green and a green rug with yellow figures, so I got them. I had green leather cushions made for the window seats, and these pillows go on them. Hang the saffron curtains, Rogers, and we will finish in good shape for dinner by six. By the way, Ruth, when will you select your dishes? It will take a big set to fill all these shelves and you shall have exactly what you want."
"I can use those you have very well."
"Oh no you can't!" cried the Harvester. "I may live and work in the woods, but I am not so benighted that I don't own and read the best books and magazines, and subscribe for a few papers. I patronize the library and see what is in the stores. My money will buy just as much as any man's, if I do wear khaki trousers. Kindly notice the word. Save in deference to your ladyship I probably would have said pants. You see how elite I can be if I try. And it not only extends to my wardrobe, to a `yaller' and green dining-room, but it takes in the `chany' as well. I have looked up that, too. You want china, cut glass, silver cutlery, and linen. Ye! Ye! You needn't think I don't know anything but how to dig in the dirt. I have been studying this especially, and I know exactly what to get."
"Come here," said the Girl, making a place for him beside her. "Now let me tell you what I think. We are going to live in the woods, and our home is a log cabin----"
"With acetylene lights, a furnace, baths, and hot and cold water----" interpolated the Harvester.
The Girl and the decorator laughed.
"Anyway," said she, "if you are going to let me have what I would like, I'd prefer a set of tulip yellow dishes with the Dutch little figures on them. I don't know what they cost, but certainly they are not so expensive as cut glass and china."
"Is that earnest or is it because you think I am spending too much money?"
"It is what I want. Everything else is different; why should we have dishes like city folk? I'd dearly love to have the Dutch ones, and a white cloth with a yellow border, glass where it is necessary, and silver knives, forks, and spoons."
"That would be great, all right!" endorsed the decorator. "And you have got a priceless old lustre tea set there, and your willow ware is as fine as I ever saw. If I were you, I wouldn't buy a dish with what you have, except the yellow set."
"Great day!" ejaculated the Harvester. "Will you tell me why my great grandmother's old pink and green teapot is priceless?"
The Girl explained pink lustre. "That set in the shop I knew in Chicago would sell for from three to five hundred dollars. Truly it would! I've seen one little pink and green pitcher like yours bring nine dollars there. And you've not only got the full tea set, but water and dip pitchers, two bowls, and two bread plates. They are priceless, because the secret of making them is lost; they take on beauty with age, and they were your great- grandmother's."
The Harvester reached over and energetically shook hands.
"Ruth, I'm so glad you've got them!" he bubbled. "Now elucidate on my willow ware. What is it? Where is it? Why have I willow ware and am not informed. Who is responsible for this? Did my ancestors buy better than they knew, or worse? Is willow ware a crime for which I must hide my head, or is it further riches thrust upon me? I thought I had investigated the subject of proper dishes quite thoroughly; but I am very certain I saw no mention of lustre or willow. I thought, in my ignorance, that lustre was a dress, and willow a tree. Have I been deceived? Why is a blue plate or pitcher willow ware?"
"Bring that platter from the mantel," ordered the Girl, "and I will show you."
The Harvester obeyed and followed the finger that traced the design.
"That's a healthy willow tree!" he commented. "If Loon Lake couldn't go ahead of that it should be drained. And will you please tell me why this precious platter from which I have eaten much stewed chicken, fried ham, and in youthful days sopped the gravy----will you tell me why this relic of my ancestors is called a willow plate, when there are a majority of orange trees so extremely fruitful they have neglected to grow a leaf? Why is it not an orange plate? Look at that boat! And in plain sight of it, two pagodas, a summer house, a water-sweep, and a pair of corpulent swallows; you would have me believe that a couple are eloping in broad daylight."
"Perhaps it's night! And those birds are doves."
"Never!" cried the Harvester. "There is a total absence of shadows. There is no moon. Each orange tree is conveniently split in halves, so you can see to count the fruit accurately; the birds are in flight. Only a swallow or a stork can fly in decorations, either by day or by night. And for any sake look at that elopment! He goes ahead carrying a cane, she comes behind lugging the baggage, another man with a cane brings up the rear. They are not running away. They have been married ten years at least. In a proper elopement, they forget there are such things as jewels and they always carry each other. I've often looked up the statistics and it's the only authorized version. As I regard this treasure, I grow faint when I remember with what unnecessary force my father bore down when he carved the ham. I'll bet a cooky he split those orange trees. Now me----I'll never dare touch knife to it again. I'll always carve the meat on the broiler, and gently lift it to this platter with a fork. Or am I not to be allowed to dine from my ancestral treasure again?"
"Not in a green and yellow room," laughed the Girl. "I'll tell you what I think. If I had a tea table to match the living-room furniture, and it sat beside the hearth, and on it a chafing dish to cook in, and the willow ware to eat from, we could have little tea parties in there, when we aren't very hungry or to treat a visitor. It would help make that room `homey,' and it's wonderful how they harmonize with the other things."
"How much willow ware have I got to `bestow' on you?" inquired the Harvester. "Suppose you show me all of it. A guilty feeling arises in my breast, and I fear me I have committed high crimes!"
"Oh Man! You didn't break or lose any of those dishes, did you?"
"Show me!" insisted the Harvester.
The Girl arose and going to the cupboard he had designed for her china she opened it, and set before him a teapot, cream pitcher, two plates, a bowl, a pitcher, the meat platter, and a sugar bowl. "If there were all of the cups, saucers, and plates, I know where they would bring five hundred dollars," she said.
"Ruth, are you getting even with me for poking fun at them, or are you in earnest?" asked the Harvester.
"I mean every word of it."
"You really want a small, black walnut table made especially for those old dishes?"
"Not if you are too busy. I could use it with beautiful effect and much pleasure, and I can't tell you how proud I'd be of them."
The Harvester's face flushed. "Excuse me," he said rising. "I have now finished furnishing a house; I will go and take a peep at the engine." He went into the kitchen and hearing the rattle of dishes the Girl followed. She stepped in just in time to see him hastily slide something into his pocket. He picked up a half dozen old white plates and saucers and several cups and started toward the evaporator. He heard her coming.
"Look here, honey," he said turning, "you don't want to see the dry-house just now. I have terrific heat to do some rapid work. I won't be gone but a few minutes. You better boss the decorator.
"I'm afraid that wasn't very diplomatic," he muttered. "It savoured a little of being sent back. But if what she says is right, and she should know if they handle such stuff at that art store, she will feel considerably better not to see this."
He set his load at the door, drew an old blue saucer from his pocket and made a careful examination. He pulled some leaves from a bush and pushed a greasy cloth out of the saucer, wiped it the best he could, and held it to light.
"That is a crime!" he commented. "Saucer from your maternal ancestors' tea set used for a grease dish. I am afraid I'd better sink it in the lake. She'd feel worse to see it than never to know. Wish I could clean off the grease! I could do better if it was hot. I can set it on the engine."
The Harvester placed the saucer on the engine, entered the dry-house, and closed the door. In the stifling air he began pouring seed from beautiful, big willow plates to the old white ones.
"About the time I have ruined you," he said to a white plate, "some one will pop up and discover that the art of making you is lost and you are priceless, and I'll have been guilty of another blunder. Now there are the dishes mother got with baking powder. She thought they were grand. I know plenty well she prized them more than these blue ones or she wouldn't have saved them and used these for every day. There they set, all so carefully taken care of, and the Girl doesn't even look at them. Thank Heaven, there are the four remaining plates all right, anyway! Now I've got seed in some of the saucers; one is there; where on earth is the last one? And where, oh unkind fates! are the cups?"
He found more saucers and set them with the plates. As he passed the engine he noticed the saucer on it was bubbling grease, literally exuding it from the particles of clay.
"Hooray!" cried the Harvester. He took it up, but it was so hot he dropped it. With a deft sweep he caught it in air, and shoved it on a tray. Then he danced and blew on his burned hand. Snatching out his handkerchief he rubbed off all the grease, and imagined the saucer was brighter.
"If `a little is good, more is better,' " quoted the Harvester.
Wadding the handkerchief he returned the saucer to the engine. Then he slipped out, dripping perspiration, glanced toward the cabin, and ran into the work room. The first object he saw was a willow cup half full of red paint, stuck and dried as if to remain forever. He took his knife and tried to whittle it off, but noticing that he was scratching the cup he filled it with turpentine, set it under a work bench, turned a tin pan over it, and covered it with shavings. A few steps farther brought one in sight, filled with carpet tacks. He searched everywhere, but could find no more, so he went to the laboratory. Beside his wash bowl at the door stood the last willow saucer. He had used it for years as a soap dish. He scraped the contents on the bench and filled the dish with water. Four cups held medicinal seeds and were in good condition. He lacked one, although he could not remember of ever having broken it. Gathering his collection, he returned to the dry-house to see how the saucer was coming on. Again it was bubbling, and he polished off the grease and set back the dish. It certainly was growing better. He carried his treasures into the work room, and went to the barn to feed. As he was leaving the stable he uttered a joyous exclamation and snatched from a window sill a willow cup, gummed and smeared with harness oil.
"The full set, by hokey!" marvelled the Harvester. "Say, Betsy, the only name for this is luck! Now if I only can clean them, I'll be ready to make her tea table, whatever that is. My I hope she will stay away until I get these in better shape!"
He filled the last cup with turpentine, set it with the other under the work bench, stacked the remaining pieces, polished the saucer he was baking, and went to bring a dish pan and towel. He drew some water from the pipes of the evaporator, put in the soap, and carried it to the work room. There he carefully washed and wiped all the pieces, save two cups and one saucer. He did not know how long it would require to bake the grease from that, but he was sure it was improving. He thought he could clean the paint cup, but he imagined the harness oil one would require baking also.
As he stood busily working over the dishes, with light step the Girl came to the door. She took one long look and understood. She turned and swiftly went back to the cabin, but her shoulders were shaking. Presently the Harvester came in and explained that after finishing in the dry-house he had gone to do the feeding. Then he suggested that before it grew dark they should go through the rooms and see how they appeared, and gather the flowers the Girl wanted. So together they decided everything was clean, comfortable, and harmonized.
Then they went to the hillside sloping to the lake. For the dining-room, the Girl wanted yellow water lilies, so the Harvester brought his old boat and gathered enough to fill the green bowl. For the living-room, she used wild ragged robins in the blue bowl, and on one end of the mantel set a pitcher of saffron and on the other arrowhead lilies. For her room, she selected big, blushy mallows that grew all along Singing Water and around the lake.
"Isn't that slightly peculiar?" questioned the Harvester.
"Take a peep," said the Girl, opening her door.
She had spread the pink coverlet on her couch, and when she set the big pink bowl filled with mallows on the table the effect was exquisite.
"I think perhaps that's a little Frenchy," she said, "and you may have to be educated to it; but salmon pink and buttercup yellow are colours I love in combination."
She closed the door and went to find something to eat, and then to the swing, where she liked to rest, look, and listen. The Harvester suggested reading to her, but she shook her head.
"Wait until winter," she said, "when the days are longer and cold, and the snow buries everything, and then read. Now tell me about my hedge and the things you have planted in it."
The Harvester went out and collected a bunch of twigs. He handed her a big, evenly proportioned leaf of ovate shape, and explained: "This is burning bush, so called because it has pink berries that hang from long, graceful stems all winter, and when fully open they expose a flame-red seed pod. It was for this colour on gray and white days that I planted it. In the woods I grow it in thickets. The root bark brings twenty cents a pound, at the very least. It is good fever medicine."
"Is it poison?"
"No. I didn't set anything acutely poisonous in your hedge. I wanted it to be a mass of bloom you were free to cut for the cabin all spring, an attraction to birds in summer, and bright with colour in winter. To draw the feathered tribe, I planted alder, wild cherry, and grape-vines. This is cherry. The bark is almost as beautiful as birch. I raise it for tonics and the birds love the cherries. This fern-like leaf is from mountain ash, and when it attains a few years' growth it will flame with colour all winter in big clusters of scarlet berries. That I grow in the woods is a picture in snow time, and the bark is one of my standard articles."
The Girl raised on her elbow and looked at the hedge.
"I see it," she said. "The berries are green now. I suppose they change colour as they ripen."
"Yes," said the Harvester. "And you must not confuse them with sumac. The leaves are somewhat similar, but the heads differ in colour and shape. The sumac and buckeye you must not touch, until we learn what they will do to you. To some they are slightly poisonous, to others not. I couldn't help putting in a few buckeyes on account of the big buds in early spring. You will like the colour if you are fond of pink and yellow in combination, and the red-brown nuts in grayish-yellow, prickly hulls, and the leaf clusters are beautiful, but you must use care. I put in witch hazel for variety, and I like its appearance; it's mighty good medicine, too; so is spice brush, and it has leaves that colour brightly, and red berries. These selections were all made for a purpose. Now here is wafer ash; it is for music as well as medicine. I have invoked all good fairies to come and dwell in this hedge, and so I had to provide an orchestra for their dances. This tree grows a hundred tiny castanets in a bunch, and when they ripen and become dry the wind shakes fine music from them. Yes, they are medicine; that is, the bark of the roots is. Almost without exception everything here has medicinal properties. The tulip poplar will bear you the loveliest flowers of all, and its root bark, taken in winter, makes a good fever remedy."
"How would it do to eat some of the leaves and see if they wouldn't take the feverishness from me?"
"It wouldn't do at all," said the Harvester. "We are well enough fixed to allow Doc to come now, and he is the one to allay the fever."
"Oh no!" she cried. "No! I don't want to see a doctor. I will be all right very soon. You said I was better."
"You are," said the Harvester. "Much better! We will have you strong and well soon. You should have come in time for a dose of sassafras. Your hedge is filled with that, because of its peculiar leaves and odour. I put in dogwood for the white display around the little green bloom, lots of alder for bloom and berries, haws for blossoms and fruit for the squirrels, wild crab apples for the exquisite bloom and perfume, button bush for the buttons, a few pokeberry plants for the colour, and I tried some mallows, but I doubt if it's wet enough for them. I set pecks of vine roots, that are coming nicely, and ferns along the front edge. Give it two years and that hedge will make a picture that will do your eyes good."
"Can you think of anything at all you forgot?"
"Yes indeed!" said the Harvester. "The woods are full of trees I have not used; some because I overlooked them, some I didn't want. A hedge like this, in perfection, is the work of years. Some species must be cut back, some encouraged, but soon it will be lovely, and its colour and fruit attract every bird of the heavens and butterflies and insects of all varieties. I set several common cherry trees for the robins and some blackberry and raspberry vines for the orioles. The bloom is pretty and the birds you'll have will be a treat to see and hear, if we keep away cats, don't fire guns, scatter food, and move quietly among them. With our water attractions added, there is nothing impossible in the way of making friends with feathered folk."
"There is one thing I don't understand," said the Girl. "You wouldn't risk breaking the wing of a moth by keeping it when you wanted a drawing very much; you don't seem to kill birds and animals that other people do. You almost worship a tree; now how can you take a knife and peel the bark to sell or dig up beautiful bushes by the root."
"Perhaps I've talked too much about the woods," said the Harvester gently. "I've longed inexpressibly for sympathetic company here, because I feel rooted for life, so I am more than anxious that you should care for it. I may have made you feel that my greatest interest is in the woods, and that I am not consistent when I call on my trees and plants to yield of their store for my purposes. Above everything else, the human proposition comes first, Ruth. I do love my trees, bushes, and flowers, because they keep me at the fountain of life, and teach me lessons no book ever hints at; but above everything come my fellow men. All I do is for them. My heart is filled with feeling for the things you see around you here, but it would be joy to me to uproot the most beautiful plant I have if by so doing I could save you pain. Other men have wives they love as well, little children they have fathered, big bodies useful to the world, that are sometimes crippled with disease. There is nothing I would not give to allay the pain of humanity. It is not inconsistent to offer any growing thing you soon can replace, to cure suffering. Get that idea out of your head! You said you could worship at the shrine of the pokeberry bed, you feel holier before the arrowhead lilies, your face takes on an appearance of reverence when you see pink mallow blooms. Which of them would you have hesitated a second in uprooting if you could have offered it to subdue fever or pain in the body of the little mother you loved?"
"Oh I see!" cried the Girl. "Like everything else you make this different. You worship all this beauty and grace, wrought by your hands, but you carry your treasure to the market place for the good of suffering humanity. Oh Man! I love the work you do!"
"Good!" cried the Harvester. "Good! And Ruth- girl, while you are about it, see if you can't combine the man and his occupation a little."