The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XIX. A Vertical Spine
By middle September the last trace of illness had been removed from the premises, and it was rapidly disappearing from the face and form of the Girl. She was showing a beautiful roundness, there was lovely colour on her cheeks and lips, and in her dark eyes sparkled a touch of mischief. Rigidly she followed the rules laid down for diet and exercise, and as strength flowed through her body, and no trace of pain tormented her, she began revelling in new and delightful sensations. She loved to pull her boat as she willed, drive over the wood road, study the books, cook the new dishes, rearrange furniture, and go with the Harvester everywhere.
But that was greatly the management of the man. He was so afraid that something might happen to undo all the wonders accomplished in the Girl, and again whiten her face with pain, that he scarcely allowed her out of his sight. He remained in the cabin, helping when she worked, and then drove with her and a big blanket to the woods, arranged her chair and table, found some attractive subject, and while the wind ravelled her hair and flushed her cheeks, her fingers drew designs. At noon they went to the cabin to lunch, and the Girl took a nap, while the Harvester spread his morning's reaping on the shelves to dry. They returned to the woods until five o'clock; then home again and the Girl dressed and prepared supper, while the Harvester spread his stores and fed the stock. Then he put on white clothing for the evening. The Girl rested while he washed the dishes, and they explored the lake in the little motor boat, or drove to the city for supplies, or to see their friends.
"Are you even with your usual work at this time of the year?" she asked as they sat at breakfast.
"I am," said the Harvester. "The only things that have been crowded out are the candlesticks. They will have to remain on the shelf until the herbs and roots are all in, and the long winter evenings come. Then I'll use the luna pattern and finish yours first of all."
"What are you going to do to-day?"
"Start on a regular fall campaign. Some of it for the sake of having it, and some because there is good money in it. Will you come?"
"Indeed yes. May I help, or shall I take my drawing along?"
"Bring your drawing. Next fall you may help, but as yet you are too close suffering for me to see you do anything that might be even a slight risk. I can't endure it."
"Baby!" she jeered.
"Christen me anything you please," laughed the Harvester. "I'm short on names anyway."
He went to harness Betsy, and the Girl washed the dishes, straightened the rooms, and collected her drawing material. Then she walked up the hill, wearing a shirt and short skirt of khaki, stout shoes, and a straw hat that shaded her face. She climbed into the wagon, laid the drawing box on the seat, and caught the lines as the Harvester flung them to her. He went swinging ahead, Belshazzar to heel, the Girl driving after. The white pigeons circled above, and every day Ajax allowed his curiosity to overcome his temper, and followed a little farther.
"Whoa, Betsy!" The Girl tugged at the lines; but Betsy took the bit between her teeth, and plodded after the Harvester. She pulled with all her might, but her strength was not nearly sufficient to stop the stubborn animal.
"Whoa, David!" cried the Girl.
"What is it?" the Harvester turned.
"Won't you please wait until I can take off my hat? I love to ride bareheaded through the woods, and Betsy won't stop until you do, no matter how hard I pull."
"Betsy, you're no lady!" said the Harvester. "Why don't you stop when you're told?"
"I shan't waste any more strength on her," said the Girl. "Hereafter I shall say, `Gee, David,' `Haw, David,' `Whoa, David,' and then she will do exactly as you."
The Harvester stopped half way up the hill, and beside a large, shaded bed spread the rug, and set up the little table and chair for the Girl.
"Want a plant to draw?" he asked. "This is very important to us. It has a string of names as long as a princess, but I call it goldenseal, because the roots are yellow. The chemists ask for hydrastis. That sounds formidable, but it's a cousin of buttercups. The woods of Ohio and Indiana produce the finest that ever grew, but it is so nearly extinct now that the trade can be supplied by cultivation only. I suspect I'm responsible for its disappearance around here. I used to get a dollar fifty a pound, and most of my clothes and books when a boy I owe to it. Now I get two for my finest grade; that accounts for the size of these beds."
"It's pretty!" said the Girl, studying a plant averaging a foot in height. On a slender, round, purplish stem arose one big, rough leaf, heavily veined, and having from five to nine lobes. Opposite was a similar leaf, but very small, and a head of scarlet berries resembling a big raspberry in shape. The Harvester shook the black woods soil from the yellow roots, and held up the plant.
"You won't enjoy the odour," he said.
"Well I like the leaves. I know I can use them some way. They are so unusual. What wonderful colour in the roots!"
"One of its names is Indian paint," explained the Harvester. "Probably it furnished the squaws of these woods with colouring matter. Now let's see what we can get out of it. You draw the plant and I'll dig the roots."
For a time the Girl bent over her work and the Harvester was busy. Belshazzar ranged the woods chasing chipmunks. The birds came asking questions. When the drawing was completed, other subjects were found at every turn, and the Girl talked almost constantly, her face alive with interest. The May-apple beds lay close, and she drew from them. She learned the uses and prices of the plant, and also made drawings of cohosh, moonseed and bloodroot. That was so wonderful in its root colour, the Harvester filled the little cup with water and she began to paint. Intensely absorbed she bent above the big, notched, silvery leaves and the blood-red roots, testing and trying to match them exactly. Every few minutes the Harvester leaned over her shoulder to see how she was progressing and to offer suggestions. When she finished she picked up a trailing vine of moonseed.
"You have this on the porch," she said. "I think it is lovely. There is no end to the beautiful combinations of leaves, and these are such pretty little grape-like clusters; but if you touch them the slightest you soil the wonderful surface."
"And that makes the fairies very sad," said the Harvester. "They love that vine best of any, because they paint its fruit with the most care. `Bloom' the scientists call it. You see it on cultivated plums, grapes, and apples, but never in any such perfection as on moonseed and black haws in the woods. You should be able to design a number of pretty things from the cohosh leaves and berries, too. You scarcely can get a start this fall, but early in the spring you can begin, and follow the season. If your work comes out well this winter, I'll send some of it to the big publishing houses, and you can make book and magazine covers and decorations, if you would like."
" `If I would like!' How modest! You know perfectly well that if I could make a design that would be accepted, and used on a book or magazine, I would almost fly. Oh do you suppose I could?"
"I don't `suppose' anything about it, I know," said the Harvester. "It is not possible that the public can be any more tired of wild roses, golden-rod, and swallows than the poor art editors who accept them because they can't help themselves. Dangle something fresh and new under their noses and see them snap. The next time I go to Onabasha I'll get you some popular magazines, and you can compare what is being used with what you see here, and judge for yourself how glad they would be for a change. And potteries, arts and crafts shops, and wall paper factories, they'd be crazy for the designs I could furnish them. As for money, there's more in it than the herbs, if I only could draw."
"I can do that," said the Girl. "Trail the vine and give me an idea how to scale it. I'll just make studies now, and this winter I'll conventionalize them and work them into patterns. Won't that be fun?"
"That's more than fun, Ruth," said the Harvester solemnly. "That is creation. That touches the provinces of the Almighty. That is taking His unknown wonders and making them into pleasure and benefit for thousands, not to mention filling your face with awe divine, and lighting your eyes with interest and ambition. That is life, Ruth. You are beginning to live right now."
"I see," said the Girl. "I understand! I am!"
"You get your subjects now. When the harvest is over I'll show you what I have in my head, and before Christmas the fun will begin."
"Sketch a sarsaparilla plant and this yam vine. It grows on your veranda too----the rattle box, you remember. The leaves and seeding arrangements are wonderful. You can do any number of things with them, and all will be new."
He called her attention to and brought her samples of ginger leaves, Indian hemp, queen-of-the-meadow, cone-flower, burdock, baneberry, and Indian turnip, as he harvested them in turn. When they came to the large beds of orange pleurisy root the Girl cried out with pleasure.
"We will take its prosaic features first," said the Harvester. "It is good medicine and worth handling. Forget that! The Bird Woman calls it butterfly flower. That's better. Now try to analyze a single bloom of this gaudy mass, and you will see why there's poetry coming."
He knelt beside the Girl, separating the blooms and pointing out their marvellous colour and construction. She leaned against his shoulder, and watched with breathless interest. As his bare head brought its mop of damp wind-rumpled hair close, she ran her fingers through it, and with her handkerchief wiped his forehead.
"Sometimes I almost wish you'd get sick," she said irrelevantly.
"In the name of common sense, why?" demanded the Harvester.
"Oh it must be born in the heart of a woman to want to mother something," answered the Girl. "I feel sometimes as if I would like to take care of you, as if you were a little fellow. David, I know why your mother fought to make you the man she desired. You must have been charming when small. I can shut my eyes and just see the boy you were, and I should have loved you as she did."
"How about the man I am?" inquired the Harvester promptly. "Any leanings toward him yet, Ruth?"
"It's getting worser and worser every day and hour," said the Girl. "I don't understand it at all. I wouldn't try to live without you. I don't want you to leave my sight. Everything you do is the way I would have it. Nothing you ever say shocks or offends me. I'd love to render you any personal service. I want to take you in my arms and hug you tight half a dozen times a day as a reward for the kind and lovely things you do for me."
A dull red flamed up the neck and over the face of the Harvester. One arm lifted to the chair back, the other dropped across the table so that the Girl was almost encircled.
"For the love of mercy, Ruth, why haven't I had a hint of this before?" he cried.
"You said you'd hate me. You said you'd drop me into the deepest part of the lake if I deceived you; and if I have to tell the truth, why, that is all of it. I think it is nonsense about some wonderful feeling that is going to take possession of your heart when you love any one. I love you so much I'd gladly suffer to save you pain or sorrow. But there are no thrills; it's just steady, sober, common sense that I should love you, and I do. Why can't you be satisfied with what I can give, David?"
"Because it's husks and ashes," said the Harvester grimly. "You drive me to desperation, Ruth. I am almost wild for your love, but what you offer me is plain, straight affection, nothing more. There isn't a trace of the feeling that should exist between man and wife in it. Some men might be satisfied to be your husband, and be regarded as a father or brother. I am not. The red bird didn't want a sister, Ruth, he was asking for a mate. So am I. That's as plain as I know how to put it. There is some way to awaken you into a living, loving woman, and, please God, I'll find it yet, but I'm slow about it; there's no question of that. Never you mind! Don't worry! Some of these days I have faith to believe it will sweep you as a tide sweeps the shore, and then I hope God will be good enough to let me be where you will land in my arms."
The Girl sat looking at him between narrowed lids. Suddenly she took his head between her hands, drew his face to hers and deliberately kissed him. Then she drew away and searched his eyes.
"There!" she challenged. "What is the matter with that?"
The Harvester's colour slowly faded to a sickly white.
"Ruth, you try me almost beyond human endurance," he said. " `What's the matter with that?' " He arose, stepped back, folded his arms, and stared at her. " `What's the matter with that?' " he repeated. "Never was I so sorely tempted in all my life as I am now to lie to you, and say there is nothing, and take you in my arms and try to awaken you to what I mean by love. But suppose I do----and fail! Then comes the agony of slow endurance for me, and the possibility that any day you may meet the man who can arouse in you the feelings I cannot. That would mean my oath broken, and my heart as well; while soon you would dislike me beyond tolerance, even. I dare not risk it! The matter is, that was the loving caress of a ten-year-old girl to a big brother she admired. That's all! Not much, but a mighty big defect when it is offered a strong man as fuel on which to feed consuming passion."
"Consuming passion," repeated the Girl. "David you never lie, and you never exaggerate. Do you honestly mean that there is something----oh, there is! I can see it! You are really suffering, and if I come to you, and try my best to comfort you, you'll only call it baby affection that you don't want. David, what am I going to do?"
"You are going to the cabin," said the Harvester, "and cook us a big supper. I am dreadfully hungry. I'll be along presently. Don't worry, Ruth, you are all right! That kiss was lovely. Tell me that you are not angry with me."
Her eyes were wet as she smiled at him.
"If there is a bigger brute than a man anywhere on the footstool, I should like to meet it," said the Harvester, "and see what it appears like. Go along, honey; I'll be there as soon as I load."
He drove to the dry-house, washed and spread his reaping on the big trays, fed the stock, dressed in the white clothing and entered the kitchen. That the Girl had been crying was obvious, but he overlooked it, helped with the work, and then they took a boat ride. When they returned he proposed that she should select her favourite likeness of her mother, and the next time he went to the city he would take it with his, and order the enlargements he had planned. To save carrying a lighted lamp into the closet he brought her little trunk to the living-room, where she opened it and hunted the pictures. There were several, and all of them were of a young, elegantly dressed woman of great beauty. The Harvester studied them long.
"Who was she, Ruth?" he asked at last.
"I don't know, and I have no desire to learn."
"Can you explain how the girl here represented came to marry a brother of Henry Jameson?"
"Yes. I was past twelve when my father came the last time, and I remember him distinctly. If Uncle Henry were properly clothed, he is not a bad man in appearance, unless he is very angry. He can use proper language, if he chooses. My father was the best in him, refined and intensified. He was much taller, very good looking, and he dressed and spoke well. They were born and grew to manhood in the East, and came out here at the same time. Where Uncle Henry is a trickster and a trader in stock, my father went a step higher, and tricked and traded in men----and women! Mother told me this much once. He saw her somewhere and admired her. He learned who she was, went to her father's law office and pretended he was representing some great business in the West, until he was welcomed as a promising client. He hung around and when she came in one day her father was forced to introduce them. The remainder is the same world-old story----a good looking, glib-tongued man, plying every art known to an expert, on an innocent girl."
"Is he dead, Ruth?"
"We thought so. We hoped so."
"Your mother did not feel that her people might be suffering for her as she was for them?"
"Not after she appealed to them twice and received no reply."
"Perhaps they tried to find her. Maybe she has a father or mother who is longing for word from her now. Are you very sure you are right in not wanting to know?"
"She never gave me a hint from which I could tell who or where they were. In so gentle a woman as my mother that only could mean she did not want them to know of her. Neither do I. This is the photograph I prefer; please use it."
"I'll put back the trunk in the morning, when I can see better," said the Harvester.
The Girl closed it, and soon went to bed. But there was no sleep for the man. He went into the night, and for hours he paced the driveway in racking thought. Then he sat on the step and looked at Belshazzar before him.
"Life's growing easier every minute, Bel," said the Harvester. "Here's my Dream Girl, lovely as the most golden instant of that wonderful dream, offering me---- offering me, Bel----in my present pass, the lips and the love of my little sister who never was born. And I've hurt Ruth's feelings, and sent her to bed with a heartache, trying to make her see that it won't do. It won't, Bel! If I can't have genuine love, I don't want anything. I told her so as plainly as I could find words, and set her crying, and made her unhappy to end a wonderful day. But in some way she has got to learn that propinquity, tolerance, approval, affection, even----is not love. I can't take the risk, after all these years of waiting for the real thing. If I did, and love never came, I would end ----well, I know how I would end----and that would spoil her life. I simply have got to brace up, Bel, and keep on trying. She thinks it is nonsense about thrills, and some wonderful feeling that takes possession of you. Lord, Bel! There isn't much nonsense about the thing that rages in my brain, heart, soul, and body. It strikes me as the gravest reality that ever overtook a man.
"She is growing wonderfully attached to me. `Couldn't live without me,' Bel, that is what she said. Maybe it would be a scheme to bring Granny here to stay with her, and take a few months in some city this winter on those chemical points that trouble me. There is an old saying about `absence making the heart grow fonder.' Maybe separation is the thing to work the trick. I've tried about everything else I know.
"But I'm in too much of a hurry! What a fool a man is! A few weeks ago, Bel, I said to myself that if Harmon were away and had no part in her life I'd be the happiest man alive. Happiest man alive! Bel, take a look at me now! Happy! Well, why shouldn't I be happy? She is here. She is growing in strength and beauty every hour. She cares more for me day by day. From an outside viewpoint it seems as if I had almost all a man could ask in reason. But when was a strong man in the grip of love ever reasonable? I think the Almighty took a pretty grave responsibility when He made men as He did. If I had been He, and understood the forces I was handling, I would have been too big a coward to do it. There is nothing for me, Bel, but to move on doing my level best; and if she doesn't awaken soon, I will try the absent treatment. As sure as you are the most faithful dog a man ever owned, Bel, I'll try the absent treatment."
The Harvester arose and entered the cabin, stepping softly, for it was dark in the Girl's room, and he could not hear a sound there. He turned up the lights in the living-room. As he did so the first thing he saw was the little trunk. He looked at it intently, then picked up a book. Every page he turned he glanced again at the trunk. At last he laid down the book and sat staring, his brain working rapidly. He ended by carrying the trunk to his room. He darkened the living-room, lighted his own, drew the rain screens, and piece by piece carefully examined the contents. There were the pictures, but the name of the photographer had been removed. There was not a word that would help in identification. He emptied it to the bottom, and as he picked up the last piece his fingers struck in a peculiar way that did not give the impression of touching a solid surface. He felt over it carefully, and when he examined with a candle he plainly could see where the cloth lining had been cut and lifted.
For a long time he knelt staring at it, then he deliberately inserted his knife blade and raised it. The cloth had been glued to a heavy sheet of pasteboard the exact size of the trunk bottom. Beneath it lay half a dozen yellow letters, and face down two tissue-wrapped photographs. The Harvester examined them first. They were of a man close forty, having a strong, aggressive face, on which pride and dominant will power were prominently indicated. The other was a reproduction of a dainty and delicate woman, with exquisitely tender and gentle features. Long the Harvester studied them. The names of the photographer and the city were missing. There was nothing except the faces. He could detect traces of the man in the poise of the Girl and the carriage of her head, and suggestions of the woman in the refined sweetness of her expression. Each picture represented wealth in dress and taste in pose. Finally he laid them together on the table, picked up one of the letters, and read it. Then he read all of them.
Before he finished, tears were running down his cheeks, and his resolution was formed. These were the appeals of an adoring mother, crazed with fear for the safety of an only child, who unfortunately had fallen under the influence of a man the mother dreaded and feared, because of her knowledge of life and men of his character. They were one long, impassioned plea for the daughter not to trust a stranger, not to believe that vows of passion could be true when all else in life was false, not to trust her untried judgment of men and the world against the experience of her parents. But whether the tears that stained those sheets had fallen from the eyes of the suffering mother or the starved and deserted daughter, there was no way for the Harvester to know. One thing was clear: It was not possible for him to rest until he knew if that woman yet lived and bore such suffering. But every trace of address had been torn away, and there was nothing to indicate where or in what circumstances these letters had been written.
A long time the Harvester sat in deep thought. Then he returned all the letters save one. This with the pictures he made into a packet that he locked in his desk. The trunk he replaced and then went to bed. Early the next morning he drove to Onabasha and posted the parcel. The address it bore was that of the largest detective agency in the country. Then he bought an interesting book, a box of fruit, and hurried back to the Girl. He found her on the veranda, Belshazzar stretched close with one eye shut and the other on his charge, whose cheeks were flushed with lovely colour as she bent over her drawing material. The Harvester went to her with a rush, and slipping his fingers under her chin, tilted back her head against him.
"Got a kiss for me, honey?" he inquired.
"No sir," answered the Girl emphatically. "I gave you a perfectly lovely one yesterday, and you said it was not right. I am going to try just once more, and if you say again that it won't do, I'm going back to Chicago or to my dear Uncle Henry, I haven't decided which."
Her lips were smiling, but her eyes were full of tears.
"Why thank you, Ruth! I think that is wonderful," said the Harvester. "I'll risk the next one. In the meantime, excuse me if I give you a demonstration of the real thing, just to furnish you an idea of how it should be."
The Harvester delivered the sample, and went striding to the marsh. The dazed Girl sat staring at her work, trying to realize what had happened; for that was the first time the Harvester had kissed her on the lips, and it was the material expression a strong man gives the woman he loves when his heart is surging at high tide. The Girl sat motionless, gazing at her study.
In the marsh she knew the Harvester was reaping queen-of-the-meadow, and around the high borders, elecampane and burdock. She could hear his voice in snatches of song or cheery whistle; notes that she divined were intended to keep her from worrying. Intermingled with them came the dog's bark of defiance as he digged for an escaping chipmunk, his note of pleading when he wanted a root cut with the mattock, his cry of discovery when he thought he had found something the Harvester would like, or his yelp of warning when he scented danger. The Girl looked down the drive to the lake and across at the hedge. Everywhere she saw glowing colour, with intermittent blue sky and green leaves, all of it a complete picture, from which nothing could be spared. She turned slowly and looked toward the marsh, trying to hear the words of the song above the ripple of Singing Water, and to see the form of the man. Slowly she lifted her handkerchief and pressed it against her lips, as she whispered in an awed voice,
"My gracious Heaven, is that the kind of a kiss he is expecting me to give him? Why, I couldn't----not to save my life."
She placed her brushes in water, set the colour box on the paper, and went to the kitchen to prepare the noon lunch. As she worked the soft colour deepened in her cheeks, a new light glowed in her eyes, and she hummed over the tune that floated across the marsh. She was very busy when the Harvester came, but he spoke casually of his morning's work, ate heartily, and ordered her to take a nap while he washed roots and filled the trays, and then they went to the woods together for the afternoon.
In the evening they came home to the cabin and finished the day's work. As the night was chilly, the Harvester heaped some bark in the living-room fireplace, and lay on the rug before it, while the Girl sat in an easy chair and watched him as he talked. He was telling her about some wonderful combinations he was going to compound for different ailments and he laughingly asked her if she wanted to be a millionaire's wife and live in a palace.
"Of course I could if I wanted to!" she suggested.
"You could!" cried the Harvester. "All that is necessary is to combine a few proper drugs in one great remedy and float it. That is easy! The people will do the remainder."
"You talk as if you believe that," marvelled the Girl.
"Want it proven?" challenged the Harvester.
"No!" she cried in swift alarm. "What do we want with more than we have? What is there necessary to happiness that is not ours now? Maybe it is true that the `love of money is the root of all evil.' Don't you ever get a lot just to find out. You said the night I came here that you didn't want more than you had and now I don't. I won't have it! It might bring restlessness and discontent. I've seen it make other people unhappy and separate them. I don't want money, I want work. You make your remedies and offer them to suffering humanity for just a living profit, and I'll keep house and draw designs. I am perfectly happy, free, and unspeakably content. I never dreamed that it was possible for me to be so glad, and so filled with the joy of life. There is only one thing on earth I want. If I only could----"
"Could what, Ruth?"
"Could get that kiss right----"
The Harvester laughed.
"Forget it, I tell you!" he commanded. "Just so long as you worry and fret, so long I've got to wait. If you quit thinking about it, all `unbeknownst' to yourself you'll awake some morning with it on your lips. I can see traces of it growing stronger every day. Very soon now it's going to materialize, and then get out of my way, for I'll be a whirling, irresponsible lunatic, with the wild joy of it. Oh I've got faith in that kiss of yours, Ruth! It's on the way. The fates have booked it. There isn't a reason on earth why I should be served so scurvy a trick as to miss it, and I never will believe that I shall----"
"David," interrupted the Girl, "go on talking and don't move a muscle, just reach over presently and fix the fire or something, and then turn naturally and look at the window beside your door."
"Shall miss it," said the Harvester steadily. "That would be too unmerciful. What do you see, Ruth?"
"A face. If I am not greatly mistaken, it is my Uncle Henry and he appears like a perfect fiend. Oh David, I am afraid!"
"Be quiet and don't look," said the Harvester.
He turned and tossed a piece of bark on the fire. Then he reached for the poker, pushed it down and stirred the coals. He arose as he worked.
"Rise slowly and quietly and go to your room. Stay there until I call you."
With the Girl out of the way, the Harvester pottered over the fire, and when the flame leaped he lifted a stick of wood, hesitated as if it were too small, and laying it down, started to bring a larger one. In the dining- room he caught a small stick from the wood box, softly stepped from the door, and ran around the house. But he awakened Belshazzar on the kitchen floor, and the dog barked and ran after him. By the time the Harvester reached the corner of his room the man leaped upon a horse and went racing down the drive. The Harvester flung the stick of wood, but missed the man and hit the horse. The dog sprang past the Harvester and vanished. There was the sound and flash of a revolver, and the rattle of the bridge as the horse crossed it. The dog came back unharmed. The Harvester ran to the telephone, called the Onabasha police, and asked them to send a mounted man to meet the intruder before he could reach a cross road; but they were too slow and missed him. However, the Girl was certain she had recognized her uncle, and was extremely nervous; but the Harvester only laughed and told her it was a trip made out of curiosity. Her uncle wanted to see if he could learn if she were well and happy, and he finally convinced her that this was the case, although he was not very sanguine himself.
For the next three days the Harvester worked in the woods and he kept the Girl with him every minute. By the end of that time he really had persuaded himself that it was merely curiosity. So through the cooling fall days they worked together. They were very happy. Before her wondering eyes the Harvester hung queer branches, burs, nuts, berries, and trailing vines with curious seed pods. There were masses of brilliant flowers, most of them strange to the Girl, many to the great average of humanity. While she sat bending over them, beside her the Harvester delved in the black earth of the woods, or the clay and sand of the open hillside, or the muck of the lake shore, and lifted large bagfuls of roots that he later drenched on the floating raft on the lake, and when they had drained he dried them. Some of them he did not wet, but scraped and wiped clean and dry. Often after she was sleeping, and long before she awoke in the morning, he was at work carry- ing heaped trays from the evaporator to the store- room, and tying the roots, leaves, bark, and seeds into packages.
While he gathered trillium roots the Girl made drawings of the plant and learned its commercial value. She drew lady's slipper and Solomon's seal, and learned their uses and prices; and carefully traced wild ginger leaves while nibbling the aromatic root. It was difficult to keep from protesting when the work carried them around the lake shore and to the pokeberry beds, for the colour of these she loved. It required careful explanation as to the value of the roots and seeds as blood purifier, and the argument that in a few more days the frost would level the bed, to induce her to consent to its harvesting. But when the case was properly presented, she put aside her drawing and stained her slender fingers gathering the seeds, and loved the work.
The sun was golden on the lake, the birds of the upland were clustering over reeds and rushes, for the sake of plentiful seed and convenient water. Many of them sang fitfully, the notes of almost all of them were melodious, and the day was a long, happy dream. There was but little left to gather until ginseng time. For that the Harvester had engaged several boys to help him, for the task of digging the roots, washing and drying them, burying part of the seeds and preparing the remainder for market seemed endless for one man to attempt. After a full day the Harvester lay before the fire, and his head was so close the Girl's knee that her fingers were in reach of his hair. Every time he mended the fire he moved a little, until he could feel the touch of her garments against him. Then he began to plan for the winter; how they would store food for the long, cold days, how much fuel would be required, when they would go to the city for their winter clothing, what they would read, and how they would work together at the drawings.
"I am almost too anxious to wait longer to get back to my carving," he said. "Whoever would have thought this spring that fall would come and find the birds talking of going, the caterpillars spinning winter quarters, the animals holing up, me getting ready for the cold, and your candlesticks not finished. Winter is when you really need them. Then there is solid cheer in numbers of candles and a roaring wood fire. The furnace is going to be a good thing to keep the floors and the bathroom warm, but an open fire of dry, crackling wood is the only rational source of heat in a home. You must watch for the fairy dances on the backwall, Ruth, and learn to trace goblin faces in the coals. Sometimes there is a panorama of temples and trees, and you will find exquisite colour in the smoke. Dry maple makes a lovely lavender, soft and fine as a floating veil, and damp elm makes a blue, and hickory red and yellow. I almost can tell which wood is burning after the bark is gone, by the smoke and flame colour. When the little red fire fairies come out and dance on the backwall it is fun to figure what they are celebrating. By the way, Ruth, I have been a lamb for days. I hope you have observed! But I would sleep a little sounder to-night if you only could give me a hint whether that kiss is coming on at all."
He tipped back his head to see her face, and it was glorious in the red firelight; the big eyes never appeared so deep and dark. The tilted head struck her hand, and her fingers ran through his hair.
"You said to forget it," she reminded him, "and then it would come sooner."
"Which same translated means that it is not here yet. Well, I didn't expect it, so I am not disappointed; but begorry, I do wish it would materialize by Christmas. I think I will work for that. Wouldn't it make a day worth while, though? By the way, what do you want for Christmas, Ruth?"
"A doll," she answered.
The Harvester laughed. He tipped his head again to see her face and suddenly grew quiet, for it was very serious.
"I am quite in earnest," she said. "I think the big dolls in the stores are beautiful, and I never owned only a teeny little one. All my life I've wanted a big doll as badly as I ever longed for anything that was not absolutely necessary to keep me alive. In fact, a doll is essential to a happy childhood. The mother instinct is so ingrained in a girl that if she doesn't have dolls to love, even as a baby, she is deprived of a part of her natural rights. It's a pitiful thing to have been the little girl in the picture who stands outside the window and gazes with longing soul at the doll she is anxious to own and can't ever have. Harvester, I was always that little girl. I am quite in earnest. I want a big, beautiful doll more than anything else."
As she talked the Girl's fingers were idly threading the Harvester's hair. His head lightly touched her knee, and she shifted her position to afford him a comfortable resting place. With a thrill of delight that shook him, the man laid his head in her lap and looked into the fire, his face glowing as a happy boy's.
"You shall have the loveliest doll that money can buy, Ruth," he promised. "What else do you want?"
"A roasted goose, plum pudding, and all those horrid indigestible things that Christmas stories always tell about; and popcorn balls, and candy, and everything I've always wanted and never had, and a long beautiful day with you. That's all!"
"Ruth, I'm so happy I almost wish I could go to Heaven right now before anything occurs to spoil this," said the Harvester.
The wheels of a car rattled across the bridge. He whirled to his knees, and put his arms around the Girl.
"Ruth," he said huskily. "I'll wager a thousand dollars I know what is coming. Hug me tight, quick! and give me the best kiss you can----any old kind of a one, so you touch my lips with yours before I've got to open that door and let in trouble."
The Girl threw her arms around his neck and with the imprint of her lips warm on his the Harvester crossed the room, and his heart dropped from the heights with a thud. He stepped out, closing the door behind him, and crossing the veranda, passed down the walk. He recognized the car as belonging to a garage in Onabasha, and in it sat two men, one of whom spoke.
"Are you David Langston?"
"Yes," said the Harvester.
"Did you send a couple of photographs to a New York detective agency a few days ago with inquiries concerning some parties you wanted located?"
"I did," said the Harvester. "But I was not expecting any such immediate returns."
"Your questions touched on a case that long has been in the hands of the agency, and they telegraphed the parties. The following day the people had a letter, giving them the information they required, from another source."
"That is where Uncle Henry showed his fine Spencerian hand," commented the Harvester. "It always will be a great satisfaction that I got my fist in first."
"Is Miss Jameson here?"
"No," said the Harvester. "My wife is at home. Her surname was Ruth Jameson, but we have been married since June. Did you wish to speak with Mrs. Langston?"
"I came for that purpose. My name is Kennedy. I am the law partner and the closest friend of the young lady's grandfather. News of her location has prostrated her grandmother so that he could not leave her, and I was sent to bring the young woman."
"Oh!" said the Harvester. "Well you will have to interview her about that. One word first. She does not know that I sent those pictures and made that inquiry. One other word. She is just recovering from a case of fever, induced by wrong conditions of life before I met her. She is not so strong as she appears. Understand you are not to be abrupt. Go very gently! Her feelings and health must be guarded with extreme care."
The Harvester opened the door, and as she saw the stranger, the Girl's eyes widened, and she arose and stood waiting.
"Ruth," said the Harvester, "this is a man who has been making quite a search for you, and at last he has you located."
The Harvester went to the Girl's side, and put a reinforcing arm around her.
"Perhaps he brings you some news that will make life most interesting and very lovely for you. Will you shake hands with Mr. Kennedy?"
The Girl suddenly straightened to unusual height.
"I will hear why he has been making `quite a search for me,' and on whose authority he has me `located,' first," she said.
A diabolical grin crossed the face of the Harvester, and he took heart.
"Then please be seated, Mr. Kennedy," he said, "and we will talk over the matter. As I understand, you are a representative of my wife's people."
The Girl stared at the Harvester.
"Take your chair, Ruth, and meet this as a matter of course," he advised casually. "You always have known that some day it must come. You couldn't look in the face of those photographs of your mother in her youth and not realize that somewhere hearts were aching and breaking, and brains were busy in a search for her."
The Girl stood rigid.
"I want it distinctly understood," she said, "that I have no use on earth for my mother's people. They come too late. I absolutely refuse to see or to hold any communication with them."
"But young lady, that is very arbitrary!" cried Mr. Kennedy. "You don't understand! They are a couple of old people, and they are slowly dying of broken hearts!"
"Not so badly broken or they wouldn't die slowly," commented the Girl grimly. "The heart that was really broken was my mother's. The torture of a starved, overworked body and hopeless brain was hers. There was nothing slow about her death, for she went out with only half a life spent, and much of that in acute agony, because of their negligence. David, you often have said that this is my home. I choose to take you at your word. Will you kindly tell this man that he is not welcome in this house, and I wish him to leave it at once?"
The Harvester stepped back, and his face grew very white.
"I can't, Ruth," he said gently.
"Because I brought him here."
"You brought him here! You! David, are you crazy? You!"
"It is through me that he came."
The Girl caught the mantel for support.
"Then I stand alone again," she said. "Harvester, I had thought you were on my side."
"I am at your feet," said the man in a broken voice. "Ruth dear, will you let me explain?"
"There is only one explanation, and with what you have done for me fresh in my mind, I can't put it into words."
"Ruth, hear me!"
"I must! You force me! But before you speak understand this: Not now, or through all eternity, do I forgive the inexcusable neglect that drove my mother to what I witnessed and was helpless to avert."
"My dear! My dear!" said the Harvester, "I had hoped the woods had done a more perfect work in your heart. Your mother is lying in state now, Girl, safe from further suffering of any kind; and if I read aright, her tired face and shrivelled frame were eloquent of forgiveness. Ruth dear, if she so loved them that her heart was broken and she died for them, think what they are suffering! Have some mercy on them."
"Get this very clear, David," said the Girl. "She died of hunger for food. Her heart was not so broken that she couldn't have lived a lifetime, and got much comfort out of it, if her body had not lacked sustenance. Oh I was so happy a minute ago. David, why did you do this thing?"
The Harvester picked up the Girl, placed her in a chair, and knelt beside her with his arms around her.
"Because of the pain in the world, Ruth," he said simply. "Your mother is sleeping sweetly in the long sleep that knows neither anger nor resentment; and so I was forced to think of a gentle-faced, little old mother whose heart is daily one long ache, whose eyes are dim with tears, and a proud, broken old man who spends his time trying to comfort her, when his life is as desolate as hers."
"How do you know so wonderfully much about their aches and broken hearts?"
"Because I have seen their faces when they were happy, Ruth, and so I know what suffering would do to them. There were pictures of them and letters in the bottom of that old trunk. I searched it the other night and found them; and by what life has done to your mother and to you, I can judge what it is now bringing them. Never can you be truly happy, Ruth, until you have forgiven them, and done what you can to comfort the remainder of their lives. I did it because of the pain in the world, my girl."
"What about my pain?"
"The only way on earth to cure it is through forgiveness. That, and that only, will ease it all away, and leave you happy and free for life and love. So long as you let this rancour eat in your heart, Ruth, you are not, and never can be, normal. You must forgive them, dear, hear what they have to say, and give them the comfort of seeing what they can discover of her in you. Then your heart will be at rest at last, your soul free, you can take your rightful place in life, and the love you crave will awaken in your heart. Ruth, dear you are the acme of gentleness and justice. Be just and gentle now! Give them their chance! My heart aches, and always will ache for the pain you have known, but nursing and brooding over it will not cure it. It is going to take a heroic operation to cut it out, and I chose to be the surgeon. You have said that I once saved your body from pain Ruth, trust me now to free your soul."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to speak kindly to this man, who through my act has come here, and allow him to tell you why he came. Then I want you to do the kind and womanly thing your duty suggests that you should."
"David, I don t understand you!"
"That is no difference," said the Harvester. "The point is, do you trust me?"
The Girl hesitated. "Of course I do," she said at last.
"Then hear what your grandfather's friend has come to say for him, and forget yourself in doing to others as you would have them----really, Ruth, that is all of religion or of life worth while. Go on, Mr. Kennedy."
The Harvester drew up a chair, seated himself beside the Girl, and taking one of her hands, he held it closely and waited.
"I was sent here by my law partner and my closest friend, Mr. Alexander Herron, of Philadelphia," said the stranger. "Both he and Mrs. Herron were bitterly opposed to your mother's marriage, because they knew life and human nature, and there never is but one end to men such as she married."
"You may omit that," said the Girl coldly. "Simply state why you are here."
"In response to an inquiry from your husband concerning the originals of some photographs he sent to a detective agency in New York. They have had the case for years, and recognizing the pictures as a clue, they telegraphed Mr. Herron. The prospect of news after years of fruitless searching so prostrated Mrs. Herron that he dared not leave her, and he sent me."
"Kindly tell me this," said the Girl. "Where were my mother's father and mother for the four years immediately following her marriage?"
"They went to Europe to avoid the humiliation of meeting their friends. There, in Italy, Mrs. Herron developed a fever, and it was several years before she could be brought home. She retired from society, and has been confined to her room ever since. When they could return, a search was instituted at once for their daughter, but they never have been able to find a trace. They have hunted through every eastern city they thought might contain her."
"And overlooked a little insignificant place like Chicago, of course."
"I myself conducted a personal search there, and visited the home of every Jameson in the directory or who had mail at the office or of whom I could get a clue of any sort."
"I don't suppose two women in a little garret room would be in the directory, and there never was any mail."
"Did your mother ever appeal to her parents?"
"She did," said the Girl. "She admitted that she had been wrong, asked their forgiveness, and begged to go home. That was in the second year of her marriage, and she was in Cleveland. Afterward she went to Chicago, from there she wrote again."
"Her father and mother were in Italy fighting for the mother's life, two years after that. It is very easy to become lost in a large city. Criminals do it every day and are never found, even with the best detectives on their trail. I am very sorry about this. My friends will be broken-hearted. At any time they would have been more than delighted to have had their daughter return. A letter on the day following the message from the agency brought news that she was dead, and now their only hope for any small happiness at the close of years of suffering lies with you. I was sent to plead with you to return with me at once and make them a visit. Of course, their home is yours. You are their only heir, and they would be very happy if you were free, and would remain permanently with them."
"How do they know I will not be like the father they so detested?"
"They had sufficient cause to dislike him. They have every reason to love and welcome you. They are consumed with anxiety. Will you come?"
"No. This is for me to decide. I do not care for them or their property. Always they have failed me when my distress was unspeakable. Now there is only one thing I ask of life, more than my husband has given me, and if that lay in his power I would have it. You may go back and tell them that I am perfectly happy. I have everything I need. They can give me nothing I want, not even their love. Perhaps, sometime, I will go to see them for a few days, if David will go with me."
"Young woman, do you realize that you are issuing a death sentence?" asked the lawyer gently.
"It is a just one."
"I do not believe your husband agrees with you. I know I do not. Mrs. Herron is a tiny old lady, with a feeble spark of vitality left; and with all her strength she is clinging to life, and pleading with it to give her word of her only child before she goes out unsatisfied. She knows that her daughter is gone, and now her hopes are fastened on you. If for only a few days, you certainly must go with me."
"I will not!"
The lawyer turned to the Harvester.
"She will be ready to start with you to-morrow morning, on the first train north," said the Harvester. "We will meet you at the station at eight."
"I----I am afraid I forgot to tell my driver to wait."
"You mean your instructions were not to let the Girl out of your sight," said the Harvester. "Very well! We have comfortable rooms. I will show you to one. Please come this way."
The Harvester led the guest to the lake room and arranged for the night. Then he went to the telephone and sent a message to an address he had been furnished, asking for an immediate reply. It went to Philadelphia and contained a description of the lawyer, and asked if he had been sent by Mr. Herron to escort his grand- daughter to his home. When the Harvester returned to the living-room the Girl, white and defiant, waited before the fire. He knelt beside her and put his arms around her, but she repulsed him; so he sat on the rug and looked at her.
"No wonder you felt sure you knew what that was!" she cried bitterly.
"Ruth, if you will allow me to lift the bottom of that old trunk, and if you will read any one of the half dozen letters I read, you will forgive me, and begin making preparations to go."
"It's a wonder you don't hold them before me and force me to read them," she said.
"Don't say anything you will be sorry for after you are gone, dear."
"I'm not going!"
"Oh yes you are!"
"Because it is right that you should, and right is inexorable. Also, because I very much wish you to; you will do it for me."
"Why do you want me to go?"
"I have three strong reasons: First, as I told you, it is the only thing that will cleanse your heart of bitterness and leave it free for the tenanting of a great and holy love. Next, I think they honestly made every effort to find your mother, and are now growing old in despair you can lighten, and you owe it to them and yourself to do it. Lastly, for my sake. I've tried everything I know, Ruth, and I can't make you love me, or bring you to a realizing sense of it if you do. So before I saw that chest I had planned to harvest my big crop, and try with all my heart while I did it, and if love hadn't come then, I meant to get some one to stay with you, and I was going away to give you a free perspective for a time. I meant to plead that I needed a few weeks with a famous chemist I know to prepare me better for my work. My real motive was to leave you, and let you see if absence could do anything for me in your heart. You've been very nearly the creature of my hands for months, my girl; whatever any one else may do, you're bound to miss me mightily, and I figured that with me away, perhaps you could solve the problem alone I seem to fail in helping you with. This is only a slight change of plans. You are going in my stead. I will harvest the ginseng and cure it, and then, if you are not at home, and the loneliness grows unbearable, I will take the chemistry course, until you decide when you will come, if ever."
" `If ever?' "
"Yes," said the Harvester. "I am growing accustomed to facing big propositions----I will not dodge this. The faces of the three of your people I have seen prove refinement. Their clothing indicates wealth. These long, lonely years mean that they will shower you with every outpouring of loving, hungry hearts. They will keep you if they can, my dear. I do not blame them. The life I propose for you is one of work, mostly for others, and the reward, in great part, consists of the joy in the soul of the creator of things that help in the world. I realize that you will find wealth, luxury, and lavish love. I know that I may lose you forever, and if it is right and best for you, I hope I will. I know exactly what I am risking, but I yet say, go."
"I don't see how you can, and love me as you prove you do."
"That is a little streak of the inevitableness of nature that the forest has ground into my soul. I'd rather cut off my right hand than take yours with it, in the parting that will come in the morning; but you are going, and I am sending you. So long as I am shaped like a human being, it is in me to dignify the possession of a vertical spine by acting as nearly like a man as I know how. I insist that you are my wife, because it crucifies me to think otherwise. I tell you to-night, Ruth, you are not and never have been. You are free as air. You married me without any love for me in your heart, and you pretended none. It was all my doing. If I find that I was wrong, I will free you without a thought of results to me. I am a secondary proposition. I thought then that you were alone and helpless, and before the Almighty, I did the best I could. But I know now that you are entitled to the love of relatives, wealth, and high social position, no doubt. If I allowed the passion in my heart to triumph over the reason of my brain, and worked on your feelings and tied you to the woods, without knowing but that you might greatly prefer that other life you do not know, but to which you are entitled, I would go out and sink myself in Loon Lake."
"David, I love you. I do not want to go. Please, please let me remain with you."
"Not if you could say that realizing what it means, and give me the kiss right now I would stake my soul to win! Not by any bribe you can think of or any allurement you can offer. It is right that you go to those suffering old people. It is right you know what you are refusing for me, before you renounce it. It is right you take the position to which you are entitled, until you understand thoroughly whether this suits you better. When you know that life as well as this, the people you will meet as intimately as me, then you can decide for all time, and I can look you in the face with honest, unwavering eye; and if by any chance your heart is in the woods, and you prefer me and the cabin to what they have to offer----to all eternity your place here is vacant, Ruth. My love is waiting for you; and if you come under those conditions, I never can have any regret. A clear conscience is worth restraining passion a few months to gain, and besides, I always have got the fact to face that when you say `I love,' and when I say `I love,' it means two entirely different things. When you realize that the love of man for woman, and woman for man, is a thing that floods the heart, brain, soul, and body with a wonderful and all-pervading ecstasy, and if I happen to be the man who makes you realize it, then come tell me, and we will show God and His holy angels what earth means by the Heaven inspired word, `radiance.' "
"David, there never will be any other man like you."
"The exigencies of life must develop many a finer and better."
"You still refuse me? You yet believe I do not love you?"
"Not with the love I ask, my girl. But if I did not believe it was germinating in your heart, and that it would come pouring over me in a torrent some glad day, I doubt if I could allow you to go, Ruth! I am like any other man in selfishness and in the passions of the body."
"Selfishness! You haven't an idea what it means," said the Girl. "And what you call love----there I haven't. But I know how to appreciate you, and you may be positively sure that it will be only a few days until I will come back to you."
"But I don't want you until you can bring the love I crave. I am sending you to remain until that time, Ruth."
"But it may be months, Man!"
"Then stay months."
"But it may be----"
"It may be never! Then remain forever. That will be proof positive that your happiness does not lie in my hands."
"Why should I not consider you as you do me?"
"Because I love you, and you do not love me."
"You are cruel to yourself and to me. You talk about the pain in the world. What about the pain in my heart right now? And if I know you in the least, one degree more would make you cry aloud for mercy. Oh David, are we of no consideration at all?"
The muscles of the Harvester's face twisted an instant.
"This is where we lop off the small branches to grow perfect fruit later. This is where we do evil that good may result. This is where we suffer to-night in order we may appreciate fully the joy of love's dawning. If I am causing you pain, forgive me, dear heart. I would give my life to prevent it, but I am powerless. It is right! We cannot avoid doing it, if we ever would be happy."
He picked up the Girl, and held her crushed in his arms a long time. Then he set her inside her door and said, "Lay out what you want to take and I will help you pack, so that you can get some sleep. We must be ready early in the morning."
When the clothing to be worn was selected, the new trunk packed, and all arrangements made, the Girl sat in his arms before the fire as he had held her when she was ill, and then he sent her to bed and went to the lake shore to fight it out alone. Only God and the stars and the faithful Belshazzar saw the agony of a strong man in his extremity.
Near dawn he heard the tinkle of the bell and went to receive his message and order a car for morning. Then he returned to the merciful darkness of night, and paced the driveway until light came peeping over the tree tops. He prepared breakfast and an hour later put the Girl on the train, and stood watching it until the last rift of smoke curled above the spires of the city.