The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter XXI. The Coming of the Bluebird
The Harvester stopped at the mail box on his way home and among the mass of matter it contained was something from the Girl. It was a scrap as long as his least finger and three times as wide, and by the postmark it had lain four days in the box. On opening it, he found only her card with a line written across it, but the man went up the hill and into the cabin as if a cyclone were driving him, for he read, "Has your bluebird come?"
He threw his travelling bag on the floor, ran to the telephone, and called the station. "Take this message," he said. "Mrs. David Langston, care of Alexander Herron, 5770 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Found note after four days' absence. Bluebird long past due. The fairies have told it that my fate hereafter lies in your hands.
As always. David."
The Harvester turned from the instrument and bent to embrace Belshazzar, leaping in ecstasy beside him.
"Understand that, Bel?" he asked. "I don't know but it means something. Maybe it doesn't----not a thing! And again, there is a chance----only the merest possibility----that it does. We'll risk it, Bel, and to begin on I have nailed it as hard as I knew how. Next, we will clean the house----until it shines, and then we will fill the cupboard, and if anything does happen we won't be caught napping. Yes, boy, we will take the chance! We can't be any worse disappointed than we have been before and survived it. Come along!"
He picked up the bag and arranged its contents, carefully brushed and folded on his shelves and in his closet. Then he removed the travelling suit, donned the old brown clothes and went to the barn to see that his creatures had been cared for properly. Early the next morning he awoke and after feeding and breakfasting instead of going to harvest spice brush and alder he stretched a line and hung the bedding from room after room to air and sun. He swept, dusted, and washed windows, made beds, and lastly polished the floors throughout the cabin. He set everything in order, and as a finishing touch, filled vases, pitchers, and bowls with the bloom of red bud and silky willow catkins. He searched the south bank, but there was not a violet, even in the most exposed places. By night he was tired and a little of the keen edge of his ardour was dulled. The next day he worked scrubbing the porches, straightening the lawn and hedges, even sweeping the driveway to the bridge clear of wind-whirled leaves and straw. He scouted around the dry-house and laboratory, and spent several extra hours on the barn so that when evening came everything was in perfect order. Then he dressed, ate his supper and drove to the city.
He stopped at the mail box, but there was nothing from the Girl. The Harvester did not know whether he was sorry or glad. A letter might have said the same thing. Nothing meant a delightful possibility, and between the two he preferred the latter. He whistled and sang as he drove to Onabasha, and Belshazzar looked at him with mystified eyes, for this was not the master he had known of late. He did not recognize the dress or the manner, but his dog heart was sympathetic to the man's every mood, and he remembered times when a drive down the levee always had been like this, for to- night the Harvester's tongue was loosened and he talked in the old way.
"Just four words, Bel" he said. "And, as I remarked before, they may mean the most wonderful thing on earth, and possibly nothing at all. But it is in the heart of man to hope, Bel, and so we are going to live royally for a week or two, just on hope, old boy. If anything should happen, we are ready, rooms shining, beds fresh, fireplaces filled and waiting a match, ice chest cool, and when we get back it will be stored. Also a secret, Bel; we are going to a florist and a fruit store. While we are at it, we will do the thing right; but we will stay away from Doc, until we are sure of something. He means well, but we don't like to be pitied, do we, Bel? Our friends don't manage their eyes and voices very well these days. Never mind! Our time will come yet. The bluebird will not fail us, but never before has it been so late."
On his return he filled the pantry shelves with packages, stored the ice chest, and set a basket of delicious fruit on the dining table. Two boxes remained. He opened the larger one and took from it an arm load of white lilies that he carried up the hill and divided between the mounds under the oak. Then he uncovered his head, and standing at the foot of them he looked among the boughs of the big tree and listened intently. After a time a soft, warm wind, catkin-scented, crept from the lake, and began a murmur among the clusters of brown leaves clinging to the branches.
"Mother," said the Harvester, "were you with me? Did I do it right? Did I tell them what you would have had me say for the boys? Are you glad now you held me to the narrow way? Do you want me to go before men if I am asked, as Doc says I will be, and tell them that the only way to abolish pain is for them to begin at the foundation by living clean lives? I don't know if I did any good, but they listened to me. Anyway, I did the best I knew. But that isn't strange; you ground it into me to do that every day, until it is almost an instinct. Mother, dear, can you tell me about the bluebird? Is that softest little rustle of all your voice? and does it say `hope'? I think so, and I thank you for the word."
The man's eyes dropped to earth.
"And you other mother," he said, "have you any message for me? Up where you are can you sweep the world with understanding eyes and tell me why my bluebird does not come? Does it know that this year your child and not chance must settle my fate? Can you look across space and see if she is even thinking of me? But I know that! She had to be thinking of me when she wrote that line. Rather can you tell me---- will she come? Do you think I am man enough to be trusted with her future, if she does? One thing I promise you: if such joy ever comes to me, I will know how to meet it gently, thankfully, tenderly, please God. Good night, little women. I hope you are sleeping well----"
He turned and went down the hill, entered the cabin and took from the other box a mass of Parma violets. He put these in the pink bowl and placed it on the table beside the Girl's bed. He stood for a time, and then began pulling single flowers from the bowl and dropping them over the pillow and snowy spread.
"God, how I love her!" he whispered softly.
At last he went out and closed the door. He was tired and soon fell asleep with the night breeze stirring his hair, and the glamour of moonlight flooding the lake touched his face. Clearly it etched the strong, manly features, the fine brow and chin, and painted in unusual tenderness the soft lines around the mouth. The little owl wavered its love story, a few frogs were piping, and the Harvester lay breathing the perfumed spring air deeply and evenly. Near midnight Belshazzar awakened him by arising from the bedside and walking to the door.
"What is it, Bel?" inquired the Harvester.
The dog whined softly. The man turned his head toward the lake. A ray of red light touched the opposite embankment and came wavering across the surface. The Harvester sat up. Two big, flaming eyes were creeping up the levee.
"That," said the Harvester, "might be Doc coming for me to help him try out my bottled sunshine, or it might be my bluebird."
He tossed back the cover, swung his feet to the floor, setting each in a slipper beside the bed, and arose, dressing as he started for the door. As he opened the screen and stepped on the veranda a passenger car from the city stopped, and the Harvester went down the walk to meet it. His heart turned over when he saw a woman's hand on the door.
"Permit me," he said, taking the handle and bringing it back with a sweep. A tall form arose, bent forward, and descended to the step. The full flare of moonlight fell on the glowing face of the Girl.
"Harvester, is it you?" she asked.
"Yes," gasped the man.
Two hands came fluttering out, and he just had presence of mind to step in range so that they rested on his shoulders.
"Has the bluebird come?"
"Then I am not too late?"
"Never too late to come to me, Ruth."
"I am welcome?"
"I have no words to tell you how welcome."
She swayed forward and the Harvester tried to reach her lips, but they brushed his cheek and touched his ear.
"I have brought one more kiss I want to try," she whispered.
The Harvester crushed her in his arms until he frightened himself for fear he had hurt her, and murmured an ecstasy of indistinct love words to her. Presently her feet touched the ground and she drew away from him.
"Harvester," she whispered, "I couldn't wait any longer; indeed I could not: and I couldn't leave grandfather and grandmother, and I didn't know what in the world to do, so I just brought them along. Are they welcome?"
"Aside from you, I would rather have them than any people on earth," said the Harvester.
There were two sounds in the car; one was an approving murmur, and the other an undeniable snort. The Harvester felt the reassuring pressure of the Girl's hand.
"Please, Ruth," he said, "go turn on the light so that I can see to help grandmother."
A foot stamped before the front seat. "Madam Herron, if you please!" cried an acrid voice.
" `Madam Herron,' " said the Harvester gently, as he set a foot on the step, reached in and bodily picked up a little old lady and started up the walk with her in his arms.
"Careful there, sir!" roared a voice after him.
The Harvester could feel the quake of the laughing woman and he smiled broadly as he entered the cabin, and placed her in a large chair before the fire. Then he wheeled and ran back to the car, reaching it as the man was making an effort to descend. It could be seen that he had been tall, before time and sorrow had bent him, and keen eyes gleamed below shaggy white brows from under his hat brim. He had a white moustache, and his hair was snowy.
"Allow me," said the Harvester reaching a hand.
"If you touch me I will cane you," said Mr. Alexander Herron.
There was nothing to do but step back. The cane, wheel, and a long coat skirt interfering, the old man fell headlong, and only quick hands saved him a severe jolt and bruises. He stood glaring in the moonlight while his hat was restored.
"If you run your car to the curve you can back toward the south and turn easily," said the Harvester to the driver. As the automobile passed them he offered his arm. "May I show you to the fire? These spring nights are chilly."
" `Chilly!' Demnition cold is what they are! I'm frozen to the bone! This will be the end of us both! Dragging people of our age around at this hour of night. Of all the accursed stubbornness!"
"There are three low steps," said the Harvester, "now a straight stretch of walk, now two steps; there you are on the level. Here is an easy chair. It would be better to leave on your coat, until I light the fire."
He knelt and scratched a match, and almost instantly a flame sprang from the heap of dry kindling, and began to wrap around the big logs.
"How pretty!" exclaimed a soft voice.
"Kind of a hunting lodge in the wilds, is it?" growled a rough one. "Marcella, you will take your death here!"
"I'm sure I feel no exposure. Really, Alexander, if I had passed away every time you have prophesied that I would in the past twenty years you'd have the largest private cemetery in existence. If you would not be so pessimistic I could quite enjoy the trip. It's so long since I've ridden in the cars."
"Of all the abandoned places! And for you to be here, after your years in bed!"
"But I'm not nearly so tired as I am at home, Alexander, truly."
"Let me help you, grandfather," offered the Girl.
She went to him and took his hat and stick.
"Leave me my cane," he cried. "Any instant that beast may attack some of us."
The Girl laughed merrily.
"Why grandfather!" she chided, "Bel is the finest dog you ever knew, he is my best friend here. By the hour he has protected me, and he is gentle as a kitten. He's crazy over my coming home."
She knelt on the floor, put her arms around the dog's neck, and the delighted brute quivered with the joy of her caress and the sound of her loved voice.
"Ruthie!" cautioned the gentle lady.
"Put that cur out of doors, where animals belong," roared the old man, lifting his stick.
"Careful!" warned the grave voice of the Harvester.
"I thought you said he was gentle as a kitten!"
"Grandfather, I said that," cried the Girl.
"Well wasn't it the truth?"
"You can see how he loves me. Didn't I ever tell you that Bel made the first friendly overture I ever received in this part of the country? He's watched me by the day, even while I slept."
"Then what's all this infernal fuss about?"
"Try striking him if you want to find out," explained the Harvester gently. "You see, Belshazzar and I are accustomed to living here alone and very quietly. He is excited over the Girl's return, because she is his friend, and he has not forgotten her. Then this is the first time in his life he ever heard an irritable voice from a visitor or saw a cane, and it angers him. He is perfectly safe to guard a baby, if he is gently treated, but he is a sure throat hold to a stranger who bespeaks him roughly or attempts to strike. He would be of no use as a guard to valuable property while I sleep if he were otherwise. Bel, come here! Lie still."
The dog sank to the floor beside the Harvester, but his sharp eyes followed the Girl, and the hair arose on his neck at every rasping note of the old man's voice.
"I wouldn't give such a creature house room for a minute," insisted the guest.
"Wait until you see him work and become acquainted with him, and you will change that verdict," prophesied the Harvester.
"I never was known to change an opinion. Never, sir! Never!" cried the testy voice.
"How unfortunate!" remarked the Harvester suavely.
"Explain yourself! Explain yourself, sir!"
"There never has been, there never will be, a man on this earth," said the Harvester, "wholly free from mistakes. Are you warm now?" He turned to the little lady, cutting off a reply with his question.
"Nice and warm and quite sleepy," she said.
"What may I bring you for a light lunch before you go to bed?"
"Oh, could I have a bite of something?"
"If only I am fortunate enough to have anything you will care for. What about a bowl of hot milk and a slice of toast?"
"Why I think that would be just the thing!"
"Excuse me," said the Harvester rising.
He went to the kitchen and they could hear him moving around.
"I wish the big brute would take his beast along," growled Mr. Alexander Herron.
"Come, Bel," ordered the Girl. "Let's go to the kitchen."
The dog instantly arose and followed her.
"What can I do to help?" she asked as they reached the door.
"Remain where you won't dazzle my eyes," said the Harvester, "until I help the gentle lady and the gentle man to bed."
Presently he came with a white cloth, two spoons, and a plate of bread. He spread the cloth on the table, laid the spoons on it, and opening the little cupboard, took out a long toasting fork, and sticking it into a slice of bread, he held it over the coals. When it grew golden brown he lifted the table beside the chair, and brought a bowl of scalded milk.
"Marcella, that stuff will be too smoky for you! Your stomach will rebel at it."
"Grandfather, there will not be a suspicion of odour," said the Girl. "I have had it that way often."
"Then no wonder you came from this place looking like a picked crane, if that is a sample of what you were fed on!"
The face of the Harvester grew redder than the heat of the fire necessitated, but at the ringing laugh of the Girl he set his teeth and went on toasting bread. Grandmother crumbled some in the milk and picking up the spoon tested the combination. She was very hungry, and it was good. She began eating with relish.
"Alexander, you will be the loser if you don't have some of this," she said. "It's just delicious!"
"Maybe smoked spoon victuals are proper for invalid women," he retorted, "but they are mighty thin diet for a hardy man."
"What about a couple of eggs and some beef extract?" suggested the cook.
"Sounds more sensible by a long shot."
"Ruth, you make this toast," said the Harvester and disappeared.
Presently he placed before his guest a couple of eggs poached in milk, a steaming bowl of beef juice, and a plate of toast. For one instant the Harvester thought this was going into the fire, the next a slice was picked up and smelled testily. The Girl sat on her grandfather's chair arm, and breaking a morsel of toast dipped it into the broth and tasted it.
"Oh but that is good!" she cried. "Why haven't I some also? Am I supposed to have no `tummy'?"
"Your turn next," said the Harvester, as he again gave her the fork and went to the kitchen.
When he returned and served the Girl he found her grandfather eating heartily.
"Why I think this is fun," said the gentle lady. "I haven't had such a fine time in ages. I love the heat of the flame on my body and things taste so good. I could go to sleep without any narcotic, right now."
Close her knee the Harvester knelt on the hearth with his toasting fork. She leaned forward and ran her fingers through his hair.
"You're a braw laddie," she said. "Now I see why Ruthie would come."
The Harvester took the frail hand and kissed it. "Thank you!" he returned.
"Mush!" exploded the grizzled man in the rear.
When no one wanted more food the Harvester stacked and carried away the dishes, swept the hearth, and replaced the toaster.
"Ruth and I often lunched this way last fall," he said. "We liked it for a change."
"Alexander, have you noticed?" asked the little woman as she lifted wet eyes to a beautiful portrait of her daughter beside the chimney.
"D'ye think I'm blind? Saw it as I entered the door. Poor taste! Very! Brown may match the rug and wood-work, but it's a wretched colour for a young girl in her gay time. Should be pink and white with a gold frame."
"That would be beautiful," agreed the Harvester. "We must have one that way. This is not an expensive picture. It is only an enlargement from an old photograph."
"We have a number of very handsome likenesses. Which one can you spare Ruth, Marcella?"
"The one she likes best," said the lady promptly.
"And the other is your mother, no doubt. What a girlish, beautiful face!"
"Wonderfully fine!" growled a gruff old voice tinctured with tears, and the Harvester began to see light.
The old man arose. "Ruthie, help your grandmother to bed," he said. "And you, sir, have the goodness to walk a few steps with me."
The Harvester sprang up and brought Mr. Herron his coat and hat and held the door. The Girl brushed past him.
"To the oak," she whispered.
They went into the night, and without a word the Harvester took his guest's arm and guided him up the hill. When they reached the two mounds the moon shining between the branches touched the lily faces with with holy whiteness.
"She sleeps there," said the Harvester, indicating the place.
Then he turned and went down the path a little distance and waited until he feared the night air would chill the broken old man.
"You can see better to-morrow," he said as he touched the shaking figure and assisted it to arise.
"Your work?" Mr. Alexander Herron touched the lilies with his walking stick.
The Harvester assented.
"Do you mind if I carry one to Marcella?"
The Harvester trembled as he stooped to select the largest and whitest, and with sudden illumination, he fully understood. He helped the tottering old man to the cabin, where he sat silently before the fireplace softly touching the lily face with his lips.
"I have put grandmother in my bed, tucked her in warmly, and she says it is soft and fine," laughed the Girl, coming to them. "Now you go before she falls asleep, and I hope you will rest well."
She bent and kissed him.
The Harvester held the door.
"Can I be of any service?" he inquired.
"No, I'm no helpless child."
"Then to my best wishes for sound sleep the remainder of the night, I will add this," said the Harvester---- "You may rest in peace concerning your dear girl. I sympathize with your anxiety. Good night!"
Alexander Herron threw out his hands in protest.
"I wouldn't mind admitting that you are a gentleman in a month or two," he said, "but it's a demnation humiliation to have it literally wrung from me to-night!"
He banged the door in the face of the amazed Harvester, who turned to the Girl as she leaned against the mantel. He stood absorbing the glowing picture of beauty and health that she made. She had removed her travelling dress and shoes, and was draped in a fleecy white wool kimono and wearing night slippers. Her hair hung in two big braids as it had during her illness. She was his sick girl again in costume, but radiant health glowed on her lovely face. The Harvester touched a match to a few candles and turned out the acetylene lights. Then he stood before her.
"Now, bluebird," he said gently. "Ruth, you always know where to find me, if you will look at your feet. I thought I loved you all in my power when you went, but absence has taught its lessons. One is that I can grow to love you more every day I live, and the other that I probably trifled with the highest gift you had to offer, when I sent you away. I may have been right; Granny and Doc think I was wrong. You know the answer. You said there was another kiss for me. Ruth, is it the same or a different one?"
"It is different. Quite, quite different!"
"And when?" The Harvester stretched out longing arms. The Girl stepped back.
"I don't know," she said. "I had it when I started, but I lost it on the way."
The Harvester staggered under the disappointment.
"Ruth, this has gone far enough that you wouldn't play with me, merely for the sake of seeing me suffer, would you?"
"No!" cried the Girl. "No! I mean it! I knew just what I wanted to say when I started; but we had to take grandmother out of bed. She wouldn't allow me to leave her, and I wouldn't stay away from you any longer. She fainted when we put her on the car and grandfather went wild. He almost killed the porters, and he raved at me. He said my mother had ruined their lives, and now I would be their death. I got so frightened I had a nervous chill and I'm so afraid she will grow worse----"
"You poor child!" shuddered the Harvester. "I see! I understand! What you need is quiet and a good rest."
He placed her in a big easy chair and sitting on the hearth rug he leaned against her knee and said, "Now tell me, unless you are so tired that you should go to bed."
"I couldn't possibly sleep until I have told you," said the Girl.
"If you're merciful, cut it short!" implored the Harvester.
"I think it begins," she said slowly, "when I went because you sent me and I didn't want to go. Of course, as soon as I saw grandfather and grandmother, heard them talk, and understood what their lives had been, and what might have been, why there was only one thing to do, as I could see it, and that was to compensate their agony the best I could. I think I have, David. I really think I have made them almost happy. But I told them all any one could tell about you in the start, and from the first grandmother would have been on your side; but you see how grandfather is, and he was absolutely determined that I should live with them, in their home, all their lives. He thought the best way to accomplish that would be to separate me from you and marry me to the son of his partner.
"There are rooms packed with the lovely things they bought me, David, and everything was as I wrote you. Some of the people who came were wonderful, so gracious and beautiful, I loved almost all of them. They took me places where there were pictures, plays, and lovely parties, and I studied hard to learn some music, to dance, ride and all the things they wanted me to do, and to read good books, and to learn to meet people with graciousness to equal theirs, and all of it. Every day I grew stronger and met more people, and there were different places to go, and always, when anything was to be done, up popped Mr. Herbert Kennedy and said and did exactly the right thing, and he could be extremely nice, David."
"I haven't a doubt!" said the Harvester, laying hold of her kimono.
"And he popped up so much that at last I saw he was either pretending or else he really was growing very fond of me, so one day when we were alone I told him all about you, to make him see that he must not. He laughed at me, and said exactly what you did, that I didn't love you at all, that it was gratitude, that it was the affection of a child. He talked for hours about how grandfather and grandmother had suffered, how it was my duty to live with them and give you up, even if I cared greatly for you; but he said what I felt was not love at all. Then he tried to tell me what he thought love was, and I could see very clearly that if it was like that, I didn't love you, but I came a whole world closer it than loving him, and I told him so. He laughed again and said I was mistaken, and that he was going to teach me what real love was, and then I could not be driven back to you. After that, everybody and everything just pushed me toward him with both hands, except one person. She was a young married woman and I met her at the very first. She was the only real friend I ever had, and at last, the latter part of February, when things were the very worst, I told her. I told her every single thing. She was on your side. She said you were twice the man Herbert Kennedy was, and as soon as I found I could talk to her about you, I began going there and staying as long as I could, just to talk and to play with her baby.
"Her husband was a splendid young fellow, and I grew very fond of him. I knew she had told him, because he suddenly began talking to me in the kindest way, and everything he said seemed to be what I most wanted to hear. I got along fairly well until hints of spring began to come, and then I would wonder about my hedge, and my gold garden, and if the ice was off the lake, and about my boat and horse, and I wanted my room, and oh, David, most of all I wanted you! Just you! Not because you could give me anything to compare in richness with what they could, not because this home was the best I'd ever known except theirs, not for any reason at all only just that I wanted to see your face, hear your voice, and have you pick me up and take me in your arms when I was tired. That was when I almost quit writing. I couldn't say what I wanted to, and I wouldn't write trivial things, so I went on day after day just groping."
"And you killed me alive," said the Harvester.
"I was afraid of that, but I couldn't write. I just couldn't! It was ten days ago that I thought of the bluebird's coming this year and what it would mean to you, and that killed me, Man! It just hurt my heart until it ached, to know that you were out here alone; and that night I couldn't sleep, because I was thinking of you, and it came to me that if I had your lips then I could give you a much, much better kiss than the last, and when it was light I wrote that line.
"Nearly a week later I got your answer early in the morning, and it almost drove me wild. I took it and went for the day with May, and I told her. She took me upstairs, and we talked it over, and before I left she made me promise that I would write you and explain how I felt, and ask you what you thought. She wanted you to come there and see if you couldn't make them at least respect you. I know I was crying, and she was bathing the baby. She went to bring something she had forgotten, and she gave him to me to hold, just his little naked body. He stood on my lap and mauled my face, and pulled my hair, and hugged me with his stout little arms and kissed me big, soft, wet kisses, and something sprang to life in my heart that never before had been there. I just cried all over him and held him fast, and I couldn't give him up when she came back. I saw why I'd wanted a big doll all my life, right then; and oh, dear! the doll you sent was beautiful, but, David, did you ever hold a little, living child in your arms like that?"
"I never did," said the Harvester huskily.
He looked at her face and saw the tears rolling, but he could say no more, so he leaned his head against her knee, and finding one of her hands he drew it to his lips.
"It is wonderful," said the Girl softly. "It awakens something in your heart that makes it all soft and tender, and you feel an awful responsibility, too. Grandmother had them telephone at last, and May helped me bathe my face and fix my hat. When we went to the carriage Mr. Kennedy was there to take me home. We went past grandmother's florist to get her some violets---- David, she is sleeping under yours, with just a few touching her lips. Oh it was lovely of you to get them; your fairies must have told you! She has them every day, and one of the objections she made to coming here was that she couldn't do without them in winter, and she found some on her pillow the very first thing. David, you are wonderful! And grandfather with his lily! I know where he found that! I knew instantly. Ah, there are fairies who tell you, because you deserve to know."
The Girl bent and slipping her arm around his neck hugged him tight an instant, and then she continued unsteadily: "While he was in the shop----Harvester, this is like your wildest dream, but it's truest truth----a boy came down the walk crying papers, and as I live, he called your name. I knew it had to be you because he said, "First drug farm in America! Wonderful medicine contributed to the cause of science! David Langston honoured by National Medical Association!" I just stood in the carriage and screamed, `Boy! Boy!' until the coachman thought I had lost my senses. He whistled and got me the paper. I was shaking so I asked him how to find anything you wanted quickly, and he pointed the column where events are listed; and when I found the third page there was your face so splendidly reproduced, and you seemed so fine and noble to me I forgot about the dress suit and the badge in your buttonhole, or to wonder when or how or why it could have happened. I just sat there shouting in my soul, `David! David! Medicine Man! Harvester Man!' again and again.
"I don't know what I said to Mr. Kennedy or how I got to my room. I scanned it by the column, at last I got to paragraphs, and finally I read all the sentences. David, I kissed that newspaper face a hundred times, and if you could have had those, Man, I think you would have said they were right. David, there is nothing to cry over!"
"I'm not!" said the Harvester, wiping the splashes from her hand. "But, Ruth, forget what I said about being brief. I didn't realize what was coming. I should have said, if you've any mercy at all, go slowly! This is the greatest thing that ever happened or ever will happen to me. See that you don't leave out one word of it."
"I told you I had to tell you first," said the Girl.
"I understand now," said the Harvester, his head against her knee while he pressed her hand to his lips. "I see! Your coming couldn't be perfect without knowing this first. Go on, dear heart, and slowly! You owe me every word."
"When I had it all absorbed, I carried the paper to the library and said, `Grandfather, such a wonderful thing has happened. A man has had a new idea, and he has done a unique work that the whole world is going to recognize. He has stood before men and made a speech that few, oh so few, could make honestly, and he has advocated right living, oh so nobly, and he has given a wonderful gift to science without price, because through it he first saved the life he loved best. Isn't that marvellous, grandfather?' And he said, `Very marvellous, Ruth. Won't you sit down and read to me about it?' And I said, `I can't, dear grandfather, because I have been away from grandmother all day, and she is fretting for me, and to-night is a great ball, and she has spent millions on my dress, I think, and there is an especial reason why I must go, and so I have to see her now; but I want to show you the man's face, and then you can read the story.'
"You see, I knew if I started to read it he would stop me; but if I left him alone with it he would be so curious he would finish. So I turned your name under and held the paper and said, `What do you think of that face, grandfather? Study it carefully,' and, Man, only guess what he said! He said, `I think it is the face of one of nature's noblemen.' I just kissed him time and again and then I said, `So it is grandfather, so it is; for it is the face of the man who twice saved my life, and lifted my mother from almost a pauper grave and laid her to rest in state, and the man who found you, and sent me to you when I was determined not to come.' And I just stood and kissed that paper before him and cried, again and again, `He is one of nature's noblemen, and he is my husband, my dear, dear husband and to-morrow I am going home to him.' Then I laid the paper on his lap and ran away. I went to grandmother and did everything she wanted, then I dressed for the ball. I went to say good-bye to her and show my dress and grandfather was there, and he followed me out and said, `Ruth, you didn't mean it?' I said, `Did you read the paper, grandfather?' and he said 'Yes'; and I said, `Then I should think you would know I mean it, and glory in my wonderful luck. Think of a man like that, grandfather!'
"I went to the ball, and I danced and had a lovely time with every one, because I knew it was going to be the very last, and to-morrow I must start to you.
"On the way home I told Mr. Kennedy what paper to get and to read it. I said good-bye to him, and I really think he cared, but I was too happy to be very sorry. When I reached my room there was a packet for me and, Man, like David of old, you are a wonderful poet! Oh Harvester! why didn't you send them to me instead of the cold, hard things you wrote?"
"What do you mean, Ruth?"
"Those letters! Those wonderful outpourings of love and passion and poetry and song and broken-heartedness. Oh Man, how could you write such things and throw them in the fire? Granny Moreland found them when she came to bring you a pie, and she carried them to Doctor Carey, and he sent them to me, and, David, they finished me. Everything came in a heap. I would have come without them, but never, never with quite the understanding, for as I read them the deeps opened up, and the flood broke, and there did a warm tide go through all my being, like you said it would; and now, David, I know what you mean by love. I called the maids and they packed my trunk and grandmother's, and I had grandfather's valet pack his, and go and secure berths and tickets, and learn about trains, and I got everything ready, even to the ambulance and doctor; but I waited until morning to tell them. I knew they would not let me come alone, so I brought them along. David, what in the world are we going to do with them?"
The Harvester drew a deep breath and looked at the flushed face of the Girl.
"With no time to mature a plan, I would say that we are going to love them, care for them, gradually teach them our work, and interest them in our plans here; and so soon as they become reconciled we will build them such a house as they want on the hill facing us, just across Singing Water, and there they may have every luxury they can provide for themselves, or we can offer, and the pleasure of your presence, and both of them can grow strong and happy. I'll have grandmother on her feet in ten days, and the edge off grandfather's tongue in three. That bluster of his is to drown tears, Ruth; I saw it to- night. And when they pass over we will carry them up and lay them beside her under the oak, and we can take the house we build for them, if you like it better, and use this for a store-room."
"Never!" said the Girl. "Never! My sunshine room and gold garden so long as I live. Never again will I leave them. If this cabin grows too small, we will build all over the hillside; but my room and garden and this and the dining-room and your den there must remain as they are now."
The Harvester arose and drew the davenport before the fireplace, and heaped pillows. "You are so tired you are trembling, and your voice is quivering," he said. He lifted the Girl, laid her down and arranged the coverlet.
"Go to sleep!" he ordered gently. "You have made me so wildly happy that I could run and shout like a madman. Try to rest, and maybe the fairies who aid me will put my kiss back on your lips. I am going to the hill top to tell mother and my God."
He knelt and gathered her in his arms a second, then called Belshazzar to guard, and went into the sweet spring night, to jubilate with that wild surge of passion that sweeps the heart of a strong man when he is most nearly primal. He climbed the hill at a rush, and standing beneath the oak on the summit, he faced the lake, and stretching his arms widely, he waved them, merely to satisfy the demand for action. When urgency for expression came upon him, he laughed a deep rumble of exultation.
The night wind swept the lake and lifted his hair, the odour of spring was intoxicating in his nostrils, small creatures of earth stirred around him, here and there a bird, restless in the delirium of mating fever, lifted its head and piped a few notes on the moon-whitened air. The frogs sang uninterruptedly at the water's edge. The Harvester stood rejoicing. Beating on his brain came a rush of love words uttered in the Girl's dear voice. "I wanted you! Just you! He is my husband! My dear, dear husband! To-morrow I am going home! Now, David, I know what you mean by love!" The Harvester laughed again and sounds around him ceased for a second, then swelled in fuller volume than before. He added his voice. "Thank God! Oh, thank God!" he cried. "And may the Author of the Universe, the spirits of the little mothers who loved us, and all the good fairies who guide us, unite to bring unbounded joy to my Dream Girl and to guard her safely."
The cocks of Medicine Woods began their second salute to dawn. At this sound and with the mention of her name, the Harvester turned down the hill, and striding forcefully approached the cabin. As he passed the Girl's room he stepped softly, smiling as he wondered if its unexpected occupants were resting. He followed Singing Water, and stood looking at the hillside, studying the exact location most suitable for a home for the old people he was so delighted to welcome. That they would remain he never doubted. His faith in the call of the wild had been verified in the Girl; it would reach them also. The hill top would bind them. Their love for the Girl would compel them. They would be company for her and a new interest in life.
"Couldn't be better, not possibly!" commented the delighted Harvester.
He followed the path down Singing Water until he reached the bridge where it turned into the marsh. There he paused, looking straight ahead.
"Wonder if I would frighten her?" he mused. "I believe I'll risk it."
He walked on rapidly, vaulted the fence enclosing his land, crossed the road, and unlatched the gate. As he did so, the door opened, and Granny Moreland stood on the sill, waiting with keen eyes.
"Well I don't need neither specs nor noonday sun to see that you're steppin' like the blue ribbon colt at the County Fair, and lookin' like you owned Kingdom Come," she said. "What's up, David?"
"You are right, dear," said the Harvester. "I have entered my kingdom. The Girl has come and crowned me with her love. She had decided to return, but the letters you sent made her happier about it. I wanted you to know."
Granny leaned against the casing, and began to sob unrestrainedly.
The Harvester supported her tenderly.
"Why don't do that, dear. Don't cry," he begged. "The Girl is home for always, Granny, and I'm so happy I am out to-night trying to keep from losing my mind with joy. She will come to you to-morrow, I know."
Granny tremulously dried her eyes.
"What an old sap-head I am!" she commented. "I stole your letters from your fireplace, pitched a willer plate into the lake----you got to fish that out, come day, David----fooled you into that trip to Doc Carey to get him to mail them to Ruth, and never turned a hair. But after I got home I commenced thinkin' 'twas a pretty ticklish job to stick your nose into other people's business, an' every hour it got worse, until I ain't had a fairly decent sleep since. If you hadn't come soon, boy, I'd 'a' been sick a-bed. Oh, David! Are you sure she's over there, and loves you to suit you now?"
"Yes dear, I am absolutely certain," said the Harvester. "She was so determined to come that she brought the invalid grandmother she couldn't leave and her grandfather. They arrived at midnight. We are all going to live together now."
"Well bless my stars! Fetched you a family! David, I do hope to all that's peaceful I hain't put my foot in it. The moon is the deceivingest thing on earth I know, but does her family 'pear to be an a-gre'-able family, by its light?"
The Harvester's laugh boomed a half mile down the road.
"Finest people on earth, next to you, dear. I'm mighty glad to have them. I'm going to build them a house on my best location, and we are all going to be happy from now on. Go to bed! This night air may chill you. I can't sleep. I wanted you to know first---- so I came over. In mother's stead, will you kiss me, and wish me happiness, dear friend?"
Granny Moreland laid an eager, withered hand on each shoulder, and bent to the radiant young face.
"God bless you, lad, and grant you as great happiness as life ort to fetch every clean, honest man," she prayed fervently, with closed eyes and her lined old face turned skyward. "And, O God, bless Ruth, and help her as You never helped mortal woman before to know her own mind without `variableness, neither shadow of turnin'.' "
The Harvester was on Singing Water bridge before he gave way. There he laughed as never before in his life. Finally he controlled himself and started toward the cabin; but he was chuckling as he passed the driveway, and walked down the broad cement floor leading to his bathing pool, where the moonlight bridged the lake, and fell as a benediction all around him.
He stood a long time, when he recognized the familiar crash of a breaking backlog falling together, and heard the customary leap of the frightened dog. He walked to his door and listened intently, but there was no sound; so he decided the Girl had not been awakened. In the midst of a whitening sheet of gold the Harvester dropped to his stoop and leaned his head against the broad casing. He broke a twig from a hawthorn bush beside him, and sat twisting it in his fingers as he stared down the line of the gold bridge. Never had it seemed so material, so like a path that might be trodden by mortal feet and lead them straight to Heaven. As on the hill top, night again surrounded him and the Harvester's soul drank deep wild draughts of a new joy. Sleep was out of the question. He was too intensely alive to know that he ever again could be weary. He sat there in the moonlight, and with unbridled heart gloried in the joy that had come to him.
He turned his face from the bridge as he heard the click of Belshazzar's nails on the floor of the bathing pool. Then his heart and breath stopped an instant. Beside the dog walked the Girl, one hand on his head the other holding the flowing white robe around her and grasping one of the Harvester's lilies. His first thought was sheer amazement that she was not afraid, for it was evident now that the backlog had awakened her, and she had taken the dog and gone to her mother. Then she had followed the path leading down the hill, around the cabin, and into the sheet of moonlight gilding the shore. She stood there gazing over the lake, oblivious to all things save the entrancing allurement of a perfect spring night beside undulant water. Screened from her with bushes and trees the Harvester scarcely breathed lest he startle her. Then his head swam, and his still heart leaped wildly. She was coming toward him. On her left lay the path to the hill top. A few steps farther she could turn to the right and follow the driveway to the front of the cabin. He leaned forward watching in an agony of suspense. Her beautiful face was transfigured with joy, aflame with love, radiant with smiles, and her tall figure fleecy white, rimmed in gold. Up the shining path of light she steadily advanced toward his door. Then the Harvester understood, and from his exultant heart burst the wordless petition:
"Lord God Almighty, help me to be a man!"
With outstretched arms he arose to meet her.
"My Dream Girl!" he cried hoarsely. "My Dream Girl!"
"Coming, Harvester!" she answered in tones of joy, as she dropped the white flower and lifted her hands to draw his face toward her.
"Is that the kiss you wanted?" she questioned.
"Yes, Ruth," breathed the Harvester.
"Then I am ready to be your wife," she said. "May I share all the remainder of life's joys and sorrows with you?"
The Harvester gathered her in his arms and carried her to the bench on the lake shore. He wrapped the white robe around her and clasped her tenderly as behooved a lover, yet with arms that she knew could have crushed her had they willed. The minutes slipped away, and still he held her to his heart, the reality far surpassing his dream; for he knew that he was awake, and he realized this as the supreme hour that comes to the strongman who knows his love requited.
When the first banner of red light arose above Medicine Woods and Singing Water the cocks on the hillside announced the dawn. As the gold faded to gray, a burst of bubbling notes swelled from a branch almost over their heads where stood a bark-enclosed little house.
"Ruth, do you hear that?" asked the Harvester softly.
"Yes," she answered, "and I see it. A wonderful bird, with Heaven's deepest blue on its back and a breast like a russet autumn leaf, came straight up the lake from the south, and before it touched the limb that song seemed to gush from its throat."
"And for that reason, the greatest nature lover who ever lived says that it `deserves preeminence.' It always settles from its long voyage through the air in an ecstasy of melody. Do you know what it is, Ruth?"
The Girl laid a hand on his cheek and turned his eyes from the bird to her face as she answered, "Yes, Harvester- man, I know. It is your first bluebird----but it is far too late, and Belshazzar has lost high office. I have usurped both their positions. You remain in the woods and reap their harvest, you enter the laboratory and make wonderful, life-giving medicines, you face the world and tell men of the high and holy life they may live if they will, and then----always and forever, you come back to Medicine Woods and to me, Harvester."