"Now what does the boy want?" laughed a white-haired old woman, as the Harvester entered the door. "Mebby you think I don't know what you're up to! I even can hear the hammering and the voices of the men when the wind is in the south. I've been wondering how soon you'd need me. Out with it!"
"I want you to get a woman and come over and spend a day with me. I'll come after you and bring you back. I want you to go over mother's bedding and have what needs it washed. All I want you to do is to superintend, and tell me now what I will want from town for your work."
"I put away all your mother's bedding that you were not using, clean as a ribbon."
"But it has been packed in moth preventives ever since and out only four times a year to air, as you told me. It must smell musty and be yellow. I want it fresh and clean."
"So what I been hearing is true, David?"
"Quite true!" said the Harvester.
"Whose girl is she, and when are you going to jine hands?"
The Harvester lifted his clear eyes and hesitated.
"Doc Carey laid you in my arms when you was born, David. I tended you 'fore ever your ma did. All your life you've been my boy, and I love you same as my own blood; it won't go no farther if you say so. I'll never tell a living soul. But I'm old and 'til better weather comes, house bound; and I get mighty lonely. I'd like to think about you and her, and plan for you, and love her as I always did you folks. Who is she, David? Do I know the family?"
"No. She is a stranger to these parts," said the unhappy Harvester.
"David, is she a nice girl 'at your ma would have liked?"
"She's the only girl in the world that I'd marry," said the Harvester promptly, glad of a question he could answer heartily. "Yes. She is gentle, very tender and——and affectionate," he went on so rapidly that Granny Moreland could not say a word, "and as soon as I bring her home you shall come to spend a day and get acquainted. I know you will love her! I'll come in the morning, then. I must hurry now. I am working double this spring and I'm off for the skunk cabbage bed to-day."
"You are working fit to kill, the neighbours say. Slavin' like a horse all day, and half the night I see your lights burning."
"Do I appear killed?" laughingly inquired the Harvester.
"You look peart as a struttin' turkey gobbler," said the old woman. "Go on with your work! Work don't hurt a-body. Eat a-plenty, sleep all you ort, and you CAN'T work enough to hurt you."
"So the neighbours say I'm working now? New story, isn't it? Usually I'm too lazy to make a living, if I remember."
"Only to those who don't sense your purceedings, David. I always knowed how you grubbed and slaved an' set over them fearful books o' yours."
"More interesting than the wildest fiction," said the man. "I'm making some medicine for your rheumatism, Granny. It is not fully tested yet, but you get ready for it by cutting out all the salt you can. I haven't time to explain this morning, but you remember what I say, leave out the salt, and when Doc thinks it's safe I'll bring you something that will make a new woman of you."
He went swinging down the road, and Granny Moreland looked after him.
"While he was talkin'," she muttered, "I felt full of information as a flock o' almanacs, but now since he's gone, 'pears to me I don't know a thing more 'an I did to start on."
"Close call," the Harvester was thinking. "Why the nation did I admit anything to her? People may talk as they please, so long as I don't sanction it, but I have two or three times. That's a fool trick. Suppose I can't find her? Maybe she won't look at me if I can. Then I'd have started something I couldn't finish. And if anybody thinks I'll end this by taking any girl I can get, if I can't find Her, why they think wrongly. Just the girl of my golden dream or no woman at all for me. I've lived alone long enough to know how to do it in comfort. If I can't find and win her I have no intention of starting a boarding house."
The Harvester began to laugh. "'I'd rather keep bachelor's hall in Hell than go to board in Heaven!'" he quoted gaily. "That's my sentiment too. If you can't have what you want, don't have anything. But there is no use to become discouraged before I start. I haven't begun to hunt her yet. Until I do, I might as well believe that she will walk across the bridge and take possession just as soon as I get the last chair leg polished. She might! She came in the dream, and to come actually couldn't be any more real. I'll make a stiff hunt of it before I give up, if I ever do. I never yet have made a complete failure of anything. But just now I am hunting skunk cabbage. It's precisely the time to take it."
Across the lake, in the swampy woods, close where the screech owl sang and the girl of the golden dream walked in the moonlight the Harvester began operations. He unrolled the sack, went to one end of the bed and systematically started a swath across it, lifting every other plant by the roots. Flowering time was almost past, but the bees knew where pollen ripened, and hummed incessantly over and inside the queer cone-shaped growths with their hooked beaks. It almost appeared as if the sound made inside might be to give outsiders warning not to poach on occupied territory, for the Harvester noticed that no bee entered a pre-empted plant.
With skilful hand each stroke brought up a root and he tossed it to one side. The plants were vastly peculiar things. First they seemed to be a curled leaf with no flower. In colour they shaded from yellow to almost black mahogany, and appeared as if they were a flower with no leaf. Closer examination proved there was a stout leaf with a heavy outside mid-rib, the tip of which curled over in a beak effect, that wrapped around a peculiar flower of very disagreeable odour. The handling of these plants by the hundred so intensified this smell the Harvester shook his head.
"I presume you are mostly mine," he said to the busy little workers around him. "If there is anything in my theory of honey having varying medicinal properties at different seasons, right now mine should be good for Granny's rheumatism and for nervous and dropsical people. I shouldn't think honey flavoured with skunk cabbage would be fit to eat. But, of course, it isn't all this. There is catkin pollen on the wind, hazel and sassafras are both in bloom now, and so are several of the earliest little flowers of the woods. You can gather enough of them combined to temper the disagreeable odour into a racy sweetness, and all the shrub blooms are good tonics, too, and some of the earthy ones. I'm going to try giving some of you empty cases next spring and analyzing the honey to learn if it isn't good medicine."
The Harvester straightened and leaned on the mattock to fill his lungs with fresh air and as he delightedly sniffed it he commented, "Nothing else has much of a chance since I've stirred up the cabbage bed. I can scent the catkins plainly, being so close, and as I came here I could detect the hazel and sassafras all right."
Above him a peculiar, raucous chattering for an instant hushed other wood voices. The Harvester looked up, laughing gaily.
"So you've decided to announce it to your tribe at last, have you?" he inquired. "You are waking the sleepers in their dens to-day? Well, there's nothing like waiting until you have a sure thing. The bluebirds broke the trail for the feathered folk the twenty-fourth of February. The sap oozed from the maples about the same time for the trees. The very first skunk cabbage was up quite a month ago to signal other plants to come on, and now you are rousing the furred folk. I'll write this down in my records——'When the earliest bluebird sings, when the sap wets the maples, when the skunk cabbage flowers, and the first striped squirrel barks, why then, it is spring!'"
He bent to his task and as he worked closer the water he noticed sweet-flag leaves waving two inches tall beneath the surface.
"Great day!" he cried. "There you are making signs, too! And right! Of course! Nature is always right. Just two inches high and it's harvest for you. I can use a rake, and dried in the evaporator you bring me ten cents a pound; to the folks needing a tonic you are worth a small fortune. No doubt you cost that by the time you reach them; but I fear I can't gather you just now. My head is a little preoccupied these days. What with the cabbage, and now you, and many of the bushes and trees making signs, with a new cabin to build and furnish, with a girl to find and win, I'm what you might call busy. I've covered my book shelf. I positively don't dare look Emerson or Maeterlinck in the face. One consolation! I've got the best of Thoreau in my head, and if I read Stickeen a few times more I'll be able to recite that. There's a man for you, not to mention the dog! Bel, where are you? Would you stick to me like that? I think you would. But you are a big, strong fellow. Stickeen was only such a mite of a dog. But what a man he followed! I feel as if I should put on high-heeled slippers and carry a fan and a lace handkerchief when I think of him. And yet, most men wouldn't consider my job so easy!"
The Harvester rapidly pitched the evil-smelling plants into big heaps and as he worked he imitated the sounds around him as closely as he could. The song sparrow laughed at him and flew away in disgust when he tried its notes. The jay took time to consider, but was not fooled. The nut-hatch ran head first down trees, larvae hunting, and was never a mite deceived. But the killdeer on invisible legs, circling the lake shore, replied instantly; so did the lark soaring above, and the dove of the elm thicket close beside. The glittering black birds flashing over every tree top answered the "T'check, t'chee!" of the Harvester quite as readily as their mates.
The last time he paused to rest he had studied scents. When he straightened again he was occupied with every voice of earth and air around and above him, and the notes of singing hens, exultant cocks, the scream of geese, the quack of ducks, the rasping crescendo of guineas running wild in the woods, the imperial note of Ajax sunning on the ridge pole and echoes from all of them on adjoining and distant farms.
"'Now I see the full meaning and beauty of that word sound!'" quoted the Harvester. "'I thank God for sound. It always mounts and makes me mount!'"
He breathed deeply and stood listening, a superb figure of a man, his lean face glowing with emotion.
"If she could see and hear this, she would come," he said softly. "She would come and she would love it as I do. Any one who understands, and knows how to translate, cares for this above all else earth has to offer. They who do not, fail to read as they run!"
He shifted feet mired in swamp muck, and stood as if loath to bend again to his task. He lifted a weighted mattock and scraped the earth from it, sniffing it delightedly the while. A soft south wind freighted with aromatic odours swept his warm face. The Harvester removed his hat and shook his head that the breeze might thread his thick hair.
"I've a commission for you, South Wind," he said whimsically. "Go find my Dream Girl. Go carry her this message from me. Freight your breath with spicy pollen, sun warmth, and flower nectar. Fill all her senses with delight, and then, close to her ear, whisper it softly, 'Your lover is coming!' Tell her that, O South Wind! Carry Araby to her nostrils, Heaven to her ears, and then whisper and whisper it over and over until you arouse the passion of earth in her blood. Tell her what is rioting in my heart, and brain, and soul this morning. Repeat it until she must awake to its meaning, 'Your lover is coming.'"
CHAPTER V. WHEN THE HARVESTER MADE GOOD
The sassafras and skunk cabbage were harvested. The last workman was gone. There was not a sound at Medicine Woods save the babel of bird and animal notes and the never-ending accompaniment of Singing Water. The geese had gone over, some flocks pausing to rest and feed on Loon Lake, and ducks that homed there were busy among the reeds and rushes. In the deep woods the struggle to maintain and reproduce life was at its height, and the courting songs of gaily coloured birds were drowned by hawk screams and crow calls of defiance.
Every night before he plunged into the lake and went to sleep the Harvester made out a list of the most pressing work that he would undertake on the coming day. By systematizing and planning ahead he was able to accomplish an unbelievable amount. The earliest rush of spring drug gathering was over. He could be more deliberate in collecting the barks he wanted. Flowers that were to be gathered at bloom time and leaves were not yet ready. The heavy leaf coverings he had helped the winds to heap on his beds of lily of the valley, bloodroot, and sarsaparilla were removed carefully.
Inside the cabin the Harvester cleaned the glass, swept the floors with a soft cloth pinned over the broom, and hung pale yellow blinds at the windows. Every spare minute he worked on making furniture, and with each piece he grew in experience and ventured on more difficult undertakings. He had progressed so far that he now allowed himself an hour each day on the candlesticks for her. Every evening he opened her door and with soft cloths polished the furniture he had made. When her room was completed and the dining-room partially finished, the Harvester took time to stain the cabin and porch roofs the shade of the willow leaves, and on the logs and pillars he used oil that served to intensify the light yellow of the natural wood. With that much accomplished he felt better. If she came now, in a few hours he would be able to offer a comfortable room, enough conveniences to live until more could be provided, and of food there was always plenty.
His daily programme was to feed and water his animals and poultry, prepare breakfast for himself and Belshazzar, and go to the woods, dry-house or store-room to do the work most needful in his harvesting. In the afternoon he laboured over furniture and put finishing touches on the new cabin, and after supper he carved and found time to read again, as before his dream.
He was so happy he whistled and sang at his work much of the time at first, but later there came days when doubts crept in and all his will power was required to proceed steadily. As the cabin grew in better shape for occupancy each day, more pressing became the thought of how he was going to find and meet the girl of his dream. Sometimes it seemed to him that the proper way was to remain at home and go on with his work, trusting her to come to him. At such times he was happy and gaily whistled and sang:
"Stay in your chimney corner, Don't roam the world about, Stay in your chimney corner, And your own true love will find you out."
But there were other days while grubbing in the forest, battling with roots in the muck and mire of the lake bank, staggering under a load for two men, scarcely taking time to eat and sleep enough to keep his condition perfect, when that plan seemed too hopeless and senseless to contemplate. Then he would think of locking the cabin, leaving the drugs to grow undisturbed by collecting, hiring a neighbour to care for his living creatures, and starting a search over the world to find her. There came times when the impulse to go was so strong that only the desire to take a day more to decide where, kept him. Every time his mind was made up to start the following day came the counter thought, what if I should go and she should come in my absence? In the dream she came. That alone held him, even in the face of the fact that if he left home some one might know of and rifle the precious ginseng bed, carefully tended these seven years for the culmination the coming fall would bring. That ginseng was worth many thousands and he had laboured over it, fighting worms and parasites, covering and uncovering it with the changing seasons, a siege of loving labour.
Sometimes a few hours of misgiving tortured him, but as a rule he was cheerful and happy in his preparations. Without intending to do it he was gradually furnishing the cabin. Every few days saw a new piece finished in the workshop. Each trip to Onabasha ended in the purchase of some article he could see would harmonize with his colour plans for one of the rooms. He had filled the flower boxes for the veranda with delicate plants that were growing luxuriantly.
Then he designed and began setting a wild-flower garden outside her door and started climbing vines over the logs and porches, but whatever he planted he found in the woods or took from beds he cultivated. Many of the medicinal vines had leaves, flowers, twining tendrils, and berries or fruits of wonderful beauty. Every trip to the forest he brought back a half dozen vines, plants, or bushes to set for her. All of them either bore lovely flowers, berries, quaint seed pods, or nuts, and beside the drive and before the cabin he used especial care to plant a hedge of bittersweet vines, burning bush, and trees of mountain ash, so that the glory of their colour would enliven the winter when days might be gloomy.
He planted wild yam under her windows that its queer rattles might amuse her, and hop trees where their castanets would play gay music with every passing wind of fall. He started a thicket along the opposite bank of Singing Water where it bubbled past her window, and in it he placed in graduated rows every shrub and small tree bearing bright flower, berry, or fruit. Those remaining he used as a border for the driveway from the lake, so that from earliest spring her eyes would fall on a procession of colour beginning with catkins and papaw lilies, and running through alders, haws, wild crabs, dogwood, plums, and cherry intermingled with forest saplings and vines bearing scarlet berries in fall and winter. In the damp soil of the same character from which they were removed, in the shade and under the skilful hand of the Harvester, few of these knew they had been transplanted, and when May brought the catbirds and orioles much of this growth was flowering quite as luxuriantly as the same species in the woods.
The Harvester was in the store-house packing boxes for shipment. His room was so small and orders so numerous that he could not keep large quantities on hand. All crude stuff that he sent straight from the drying-house was fresh and brightly coloured. His stock always was marked prime A-No. 1. There was a step behind him and the Harvester turned. A boy held out a telegram. The man opened it to find an order for some stuff to be shipped that day to a large laboratory in Toledo.
His hands deftly tied packages and he hastily packed bottles and nailed boxes. Then he ran to harness Betsy and load. As he drove down the hill to the bridge he looked at his watch and shook his head.
"What are you good for at a pinch, Betsy?" he asked as he flecked the surprised mare's flank with a switch. Belshazzar cocked his ears and gazed at the Harvester in astonishment.
"That wasn't enough to hurt her," explained the man. "She must speed up. This is important business. The amount involved is not so much, but I do love to make good. It's a part of my religion, Bel. And my religion has so precious few parts that if I fail in the observance of any of them it makes a big hole in my performances. Now we don't want to end a life full of holes, so we must get there with this stuff, not because it's worth the exertion in dollars and cents, but because these men patronize us steadily and expect us to fill orders, even by telegraph. Hustle, Betsy!"
The whip fell again and Belshazzar entered indignant protest.
"It isn't going to hurt her," said the Harvester impatiently. "She may walk all the way back. She can rest while I get these boxes billed and loaded if she can be persuaded to get them to the express office on time. The trouble with Betsy is that she wants to meander along the road with a loaded wagon as her mother and grandmother before her wandered through the woods wearing a bell to attract the deer. Father used to say that her mother was the smartest bell mare that ever entered the forest. She'd not only find the deer, but she'd make friends with them and lead them straight as a bee-line to where he was hiding. Betsy, you must travel!"
The Harvester drew the lines taut, and the whip fell smartly. The astonished Betsy snorted and pranced down the valley as fast as she could, but every step indicated that she felt outraged and abused. This was the loveliest day of the season. The sun was shining, the air was heavy with the perfume of flowering shrubs and trees, the orchards of the valley were white with bloom. Farmers were hurrying back and forth across fields, leaving up turned lines of black, swampy mould behind them, and one progressive individual rode a wheeled plow, drove three horses and enjoyed the shelter of a canopy.
"Saints preserve us, Belshazzar!" cried the Harvester. "Do you see that? He is one of the men who makes a business of calling me shiftless. Now he thinks he is working. Working! For a full-grown man, did you ever see the equal? If I were going that far I'd wear a tucked shirt, panama hat, have a pianola attachment, and an automatic fan."
The Harvester laughed as he again touched Betsy and hurried to Onabasha. He scarcely saw the delights offered on either hand, and where his eyes customarily took in every sight, and his ears were tuned for the faintest note of earth or tree top, to day he saw only Betsy and listened for a whistle he dreaded to hear at the water tank. He climbed the embankment of the railway at a slower pace, but made up time going down hill to the city.
"I am not getting a blame thing out of this," he complained to Belshazzar. "There are riches to stagger any scientist wasting to-day, and all I've got to show is one oriole. I did hear his first note and see his flash, and so unless we can take time to make up for this on the home road we will have to christen it oriole day. It's a perfumed golden day, too; I can get that in passing, but how I loathe hurrying. I don't mind planning things and working steadily, but it's not consistent with the dignity of a sane man to go rushing across country with as much appreciation of the delights offered right now as a chicken with its head off would have. We will loaf going back to pay for this! And won't we invite our souls? We will stop and gather a big bouquet of crab apple blossoms to fill the green pitcher for her. Maybe some of their wonderful perfume will linger in her room. When the petals fall we will scatter them in the drawers of her dresser, and they may distil a faint flower odour there. We could do that to all her furniture, but perhaps she doesn't like perfume. She'll be compelled to after she reaches Medicine Woods. Betsy, you must travel faster!"
The whip fell again and the Harvester stopped at the depot with a few minutes to spare. He threw the hitching strap to Belshazzar, and ran into the express office with an arm load of boxes.
"Bill them!" he cried. "It's a rush order. I want it to go on the next express. Almost due I think. I'll help you and we can book them afterward."
The expressman ran for a truck and they hastily weighed and piled on boxes. When the last one was loaded from the wagon, a heap more lying in the office were added, pitched on indiscriminately as the train pulled under the sheds of the Union Station.
"I'll push," cried the Harvester, "and help you get them on."
Hurrying as fast as he could the expressman drew the heavy truck through the iron gates and started toward the train slowing to a stop, and the Harvester pushed. As they came down the platform they passed the dining and sleeping cars of the long train and were several times delayed by descending passengers. Just opposite the day coach the expressman narrowly missed running into several women leading small children and stopped abruptly. A toppling box threatened the head of the Harvester. He peered around the truck and saw they must wait a few seconds. He put in the time watching the people. A gray-haired old man, travelling in a silk hat, wavered on the top step and went his way. A fat woman loaded with bundles puffed as she clung trembling a second in fear she would miss the step she could not see. A tall, slender girl with a face coldly white came next, and from the broken shoe she advanced, the bewildered fright of big, dark eyes glancing helplessly, the Harvester saw that she was poor, alone, ill, and in trouble. Pityingly he turned to watch her, and as he gauged her height, saw her figure, and a dark coronet of hair came into view, a ghastly pallor swept his face.
"Merciful God!" he breathed, "that's my Dream Girl!"
The truck started with a jerk. The toppling box fell, struck a passing boy, and knocked him down. The mother screamed and the Harvester sprang to pick up the child and see that he was not dangerously hurt. Then he ran after the truck, pitched on the box, and whirling, sped beside the train toward the gates of exit. There was the usual crush, but he could see the tall figure passing up the steps to the depot. He tried to force his way and was called a brute by a crowded woman. He ran down the platform to the gates he had entered with the truck. They were automatic and had locked. Then he became a primal creature being cheated of a lawful mate and climbed the high iron fence and ran for the waiting room.
He swept it at a glance, not forgetting the women's apartment and the side entrance. Then he hurried to the front exit. Up the street leading from the city there were few people and he could see no sign of the slight, white-faced girl. He crossed the sidewalk and ran down the gutter for a block and breathlessly waited the passing crowd on the corner. She was not among it. He tried one more square. Still he could not see her. Then he ran back to the depot. He thought surely he must have missed her. He again searched the woman's and general waiting room and then he thought of the conductor. From him it could be learned where she entered the car. He ran for the station, bolted the gate while the official called to him, and reached the track in time to see the train pull out within a few yards of him.
"You blooming idiot!" cried the angry expressman as the Harvester ran against him, "where did you go? Why didn't you help me? You are white as a sheet! Have you lost your senses?"
"Worse!" groaned the Harvester. "Worse! I've lost what I prize most on earth. How could I reach the conductor of that train?"
"Telegraph him at the next station. You can have an answer in a half hour."
The Harvester ran to the office, and with shaking hand wrote this message:
"Where did a tall girl with big black eyes and wearing a gray dress take your train? Important."
Then he went out and minutely searched the depot and streets. He hired an automobile to drive him over the business part of Onabasha for three quarters of an hour. Up one street and down another he went slowly where there were crowds, faster as he could, but never a sight of her. Then he returned to the depot and found his message. It read, "Transferred to me at Fort Wayne from Chicago."
"Chicago baggage!" he cried, and hurried to the check room. He had lost almost an hour. When he reached the room he found the officials busy and unwilling to be interrupted. Finally he learned there had been a half dozen trunks from Chicago. All were taken save two, and one glance at them told the Harvester that they did not belong to the girl in gray. The others had been claimed by men having checks for them. If she had been there, the officials had not noticed a tall girl having a white face and dark eyes. When he could think of no further effort to make he drove to the hospital.
Doctor Carey was not in his office, and the Harvester sat in the revolving chair before the desk and gripped his head between his hands as he tried to think. He could not remember anything more he could have done, but since what he had done only ended in failure, he was reproaching himself wildly that he had taken his eyes from the Girl an instant after recognizing her. Yet it was in his blood to be decent and he could not have run away and left a frightened woman and a hurt child. Trusting to his fleet feet and strength he had taken time to replace the box also, and then had met the crowd and delay. Just for the instant it appeared to him as if he had done all a man could, and he had not found her. If he allowed her to return to Chicago, probably he never would. He leaned his head on his hands and groaned in discouragement.
Doctor Carey whirled the chair so that it faced him before the Harvester realized that he was not alone.
"What's the trouble, David?" he asked tersely.
The Harvester lifted a strained face.
"I came for help," he said.
"Well you will get it! All you have to do is to state what you want."
That seemed simplicity itself to the doctor. But when it came to putting his case into words, it was not easy for the Harvester.
"Go on!" said the doctor.
"You'll think me a fool."
The doctor laughed heartily.
"No doubt!" he said soothingly. "No doubt, David! Probably you are; so why shouldn't I think so. But remember this, when we make the biggest fools of ourselves that is precisely the time when we need friends, and when they stick to us the tightest, if they are worth while. I've been waiting since latter February for you to tell me. We can fix it, of course; there's always a way. Go on!"
"Well I wasn't fooling about the dream and the vision I told you of then, Doc. I did have a dream—and it was a dream of love. I did see a vision—and it was a beautiful woman."
"I hope you are not nursing that experience as something exclusive and peculiar to you," said the doctor. "There is not a normal, sane man living who has not dreamed of love and the most exquisite woman who came from the clouds or anywhere and was gracious to him. That's a part of a man's experience in this world, and it happens to most of us, not once, but repeatedly. It's a case where the wish fathers the dream."
"Well it hasn't happened to me 'on repeated occasions,' but it did one night, and by dawn I was converted. How CAN a dream be so real, Doc? How could I see as clearly as I ever saw in the daytime in my most alert moment, hear every step and garment rustle, scent the perfume of hair, and feel warm breath strike my face? I don't understand it!"
"Neither does any one else! All you need say is that your dream was real as life. Go on!"
"I built a new cabin and pretty well overturned the place and I've been making furniture I thought a woman would like, and carrying things from town ever since."
"Gee! It was reality to you, lad!"
"Nothing ever more so," said the Harvester.
"And of course, you have been looking for her?"
"And this morning I saw her!"
"Not the ghost of a chance for a mistake. Her height, her eyes, her hair, her walk, her face; only something terrible has happened since she came to me. It was the same girl, but she is ill and in trouble now."
"Where is she?"
"Do you suppose I'd be here if I knew?"
"David, are you dreaming in daytime?"
"She got off the Chicago train this morning while I was helping Daniels load a big truck of express matter. Some of it was mine, and it was important. Just at the wrong instant a box fell and knocked down a child and I got in a jam——"
"And as it was you, of course you stopped to pick up the child and do everything decent for other folks, before you thought of yourself, and so you lost her. You needn't tell me anything more. David, if I find her, and prove to you that she has been married ten years and has an interesting family, will you thank me?"
"Can't be done!" said the Harvester calmly. "She has been married only since she gave herself to me in February, and she is not a mother. You needn't bank on that."
"You are mighty sure!"
"Why not? I told you the dream was real, and now that I have seen her, and she is in this very town, why shouldn't I be sure?"
"What have you done?"
The Harvester told him.
"What are you going to do next?"
"Talk it over with you and decide."
The doctor laughed.
"Well here are a few things that occur to me without time for thought. Talk to the ticket agents, and leave her description with them. Make it worth their while to be on the lookout, and if she goes anywhere to find out all they can. They could make an excuse of putting her address on her ticket envelope, and get it that way. See the baggagemen. Post the day police on Main Street. There is no chance for her to escape you. A full-grown woman doesn't vanish. How did she act when she got off the car? Did she appear familiar?"
"No. She was a stranger. For an instant she looked around as if she expected some one, then she followed the crowd. There must have been an automobile waiting or she took a street car. Something whirled her out of sight in a few seconds."
"Well we will get her in range again. Now for the most minute description you can give."
The Harvester hesitated. He did not care to describe the Dream Girl to any one, much less the living, suffering face and poorly clad form of the reality.
"Cut out your scruples," laughed the doctor. "You have asked me to help you; how can I if I don't know what kind of a woman to look for?"
"Very tall and slender," said the Harvester. "Almost as tall as I am."
"Unusually tall you think?"
"That's a good point for identification. How about her complexion, hair, and eyes?"
"Very large, dark eyes, and a great mass of black hair."
The doctor roared.
"The eyes may help," he said. "All women have masses of hair these days. I hope——"
"Her hair is fast to her head," said the Harvester indignantly. "I saw it at close range, and I know. It went around like a crown."
The doctor choked down a laugh. He wanted to say that every woman's hair was like a crown at present, but there were things no man ventured with David Langston; those who knew him best, least of any. So he suggested, "And her colouring?"
"She was white and rosy, a lovely thing in the dream," said the Harvester, "but something dreadful has happened. That's all wiped out now. She was very pale when she left the car."
"Car sick, maybe."
"Soul sick!" was the grim reply.
Then Doctor Carey appeared so disturbed the Harvester noticed it.
"You needn't think I'd be here prating about her if I wasn't FORCED. If she had been rosy and well as she was in the dream, I'd have made my hunt alone and found her, too. But when I saw she was sick and in trouble, it took all the courage out of me, and I broke for help. She must be found at once, and when she is you are probably the first man I'll want. I am going to put up a pretty stiff search myself, and if I find her I'll send or get her to you if I can. Put her in the best ward you have and anything money will do——"
The face of the doctor was growing troubled.
"Day coach or Pullman?" he asked.
"How was she dressed?"
"Small black hat, very plain. Gray jacket and skirt, neat as a flower."
"What you'd call expensively dressed?"
The Harvester hesitated.
"What I'd call carefully dressed, but——but poverty poor, if you will have it, Doc."
Doctor Carey's lips closed and then opened in sudden resolution.
"David, I don't like it," he said tersely.
The Harvester met his eye and purposely misunderstood him.
"Neither do I!" he exclaimed. "I hate it! There is something wrong with the whole world when a woman having a face full of purity, intellect, and refinement of extreme type glances around her like a hunted thing; when her appearance seems to indicate that she has starved her body to clothe it. I know what is in your mind, Doc, but if I were you I wouldn't put it into words, and I wouldn't even THINK it. Has it been your experience in this world that women not fit to know skimp their bodies to cover them? Does a girl of light character and little brain have the hardihood to advance a foot covered with a broken shoe? If I could tell you that she rode in a Pullman, and wore exquisite clothing, you would be doing something. The other side of the picture shuts you up like a clam, and makes you appear shocked. Let me tell you this: No other woman I ever saw anywhere on God's footstool had a face of more delicate refinement, eyes of purer intelligence. I am of the woods, and while they don't teach me how to shine in society, they do instil always and forever the fineness of nature and her ways. I have her lessons so well learned they help me more than anything else to discern the qualities of human nature. If you are my friend, and have any faith at all in my common sense, get up and do something!"
The doctor arose promptly.
"David, I'm an ass," he said. "Unusually lop-eared, and blind in the bargain. But before I ask you to forgive me, I want you to remember two things: First, she did not visit me in my dreams; and, second, I did not see her in reality. I had nothing to judge from except what you said: you seemed reluctant to tell me, and what you did say was——was——disturbing to a friend of yours. I have not the slightest doubt if I had seen her I would agree with you. We seldom disagree, David. Now, will you forgive me?"
The Harvester suddenly faced a window. When at last he turned, "The offence lies with me," he said, "I was hasty. Are you going to help me?"
"With all my heart! Go home and work until your head clears, then come back in the morning. She did not come from Chicago for a day. You've done all I know to do at present."
"Thank you," said the Harvester.
He went to Betsy and Belshazzar, and slowly drove up and down the streets until Betsy protested and calmly turned homeward. The Harvester smiled ruefully as he allowed her to proceed.
"Go slow and take it easy," he said as they reached the country. "I want to think."
Betsy stopped at the barn, the white doves took wing, and Ajax screamed shrilly before the Harvester aroused in the slightest to anything around him. Then he looked at Belshazzar and said emphatically: "Now, partner, don't ever again interfere when I am complying with the observances of my religion. Just look what I'd have missed if I hadn't made good with that order!"
CHAPTER VI. TO LABOUR AND TO WAIT
"We have reached the 'beginning of the end,' Ajax!" said the Harvester, as the peacock ceased screaming and came to seek food from his hand. "We have seen the Girl. Now we must locate her and convince her that Medicine Woods is her happy home. I feel quite equal to the latter proposition, Ajax, but how the nation to find her sticks me. I can't make a search so open that she will know and resent it. She must have all the consideration ever paid the most refined woman, but she also has got to be found, and that speedily. When I remember that look on her face, as if horrors were snatching at her skirts, it takes all the grit out of me. I feel weak as a sapling. And she needs all my strength. I've simply got to brace up. I'll work a while and then perhaps I can think."
So the Harvester began the evening routine. He thought he did not want anything to eat, but when he opened the cupboard and smelled the food he learned that he was a hungry man and he cooked and ate a good supper. He put away everything carefully, for even the kitchen was dainty and fresh and he wanted to keep it so for her. When he finished he went into the living-room, stood before the fireplace, and studied the collection of half-finished candlesticks grouped upon it. He picked up several and examined them closely, but realized that he could not bind himself to the exactions of carving that evening. He took a key from his pocket and unlocked her door. Every day he had been going there to improve upon his work for her, and he loved the room, the outlook from its windows; he was very proud of the furniture he had made. There was no paper-thin covering on her chairs, bed, and dressing table. The tops, seats, and posts were solid wood, worth hundreds of dollars for veneer.
To-night he folded his arms and stood on the sill hesitating. While she was a dream, he had loved to linger in her room. Now that she was reality, he paused. In one golden May day the place had become sacred. Since he had seen the Girl that room was so hers that he was hesitating about entering because of this fact. It was as if the tall, slender form stood before the chest of drawers or sat at the dressing table and he did not dare enter unless he were welcome. Softly he closed the door and went away. He wandered to the dry-house and turned the bark and roots on the trays, but the air stifled him and he hurried out. He tried to work in the packing room, but walls smothered him and again he sought the open.
He espied a bundle of osier-bound, moss-covered ferns that he had found in the woods, and brought the shovel to transplant them; but the work worried him, and he hurried through with it. Then he looked for something else to do and saw an ax. He caught it up and with lusty strokes began swinging it. When he had chopped wood until he was very tired he went to bed. Sleep came to the strong, young frame and he awoke in the morning refreshed and hopeful.
He wondered why he had bothered Doctor Carey. The Harvester felt able that morning to find his Dream Girl without assistance before the day was over. It was merely a matter of going to the city and locating a woman. Yesterday, it had been a question of whether she really existed. To-day, he knew. Yesterday, it had meant a search possibly as wide as earth to find her. To-day, it was narrowed to only one location so small, compared with Chicago, that the Harvester felt he could sift its population with his fingers, and pick her from others at his first attempt. If she were visiting there probably she would rest during the night, and be on the streets to-day.
When he remembered her face he doubted it. He decided to spend part of the time on the business streets and the remainder in the residence portions of the city. Because it was uncertain when he would return, everything was fed a double portion, and Betsy was left at a livery stable with instructions to care for her until he came. He did not know where the search would lead him. For several hours he slowly walked the business district and then ranged farther, but not a sight of her. He never had known that Onabasha was so large. On its crowded streets he did not feel that he could sift the population through his fingers, nor could he open doors and search houses without an excuse.
Some small boys passed him eating bananas, and the Harvester looked at his watch and was amazed to find that the day had advanced until two o'clock in the afternoon. He was tired and hungry. He went into a restaurant and ordered lunch; as he waited a girl serving tables smiled at him. Any other time the Harvester would have returned at least a pleasant look, and gone his way. To-day he scowled at her, and ate in hurried discomfort. On the streets again, he had no idea where to go and so he went to the hospital.
"I expected you early this morning," was the greeting of Doctor Carey. "Where have you been and what have you done?"
"Nothing," said the Harvester. "I was so sure she would be on the streets I just watched, but I didn't see her."
"We will go to the depot," said the doctor. "The first thing is to keep her from leaving town."
They arranged with the ticket agents, expressmen, telegraphers, and, as they left, the Harvester stopped and tipped the train caller, offering further reward worth while if he would find the Girl.
"Now we will go to the police station," said the doctor.
"I'll see the chief and have him issue a general order to his men to watch for her, but if I were you I'd select a half dozen in the down town district, and give them a little tip with a big promise!"
"Good Lord! How I hate this," groaned the Harvester.
"Want to find her by yourself?" questioned his friend.
"Yes," said the Harvester, "I do! And I would, if it hadn't been for her ghastly face. That drives me to resort to any measures. The probabilities are that she is lying sick somewhere, and if her comfort depends on the purse that dressed her, she will suffer. Doc, do you know how awful this is?"
"I know that you've got a great imagination. If the woods make all men as sensitive as you are, those who have business to transact should stay out of them. Take a common-sense view. Look at this as I do. If she was strong enough to travel in a day coach from Chicago; she can't be so very ill to-day. Leaving life by the inch isn't that easy. She will be alive this time next year, whether you find her or not. The chances are that her stress was mental anyway, and trouble almost never overcomes any one."
"You, a doctor and say that!"
"Oh, I mean instantaneously——in a day! Of course if it grinds away for years! But youth doesn't allow it to do that. It throws it off, and grows hopeful and happy again. She won't die; put that out of your mind. If I were you I would go home now and go straight on with my work, trusting to the machinery you have set in motion. I know most of the men with whom we have talked. They will locate her in a week or less. It's their business. It isn't yours. It's your job to be ready for her, and have enough ahead to support her when they find her. Try to realize that there are now a dozen men on hunt for her, and trust them. Go back to your work, and I will come full speed in the motor when the first man sights her. That ought to satisfy you. I've told all of them to call me at the hospital, and I will tell my assistant what to do in case a call comes while I am away. Straighten your face! Go back to Medicine Woods and harvest your crops, and before you know it she will be located. Then you can put on your Sunday clothes and show yourself, and see if you can make her take notice."
"Idiot!" exclaimed the Harvester, but he started home. When he arrived he attended to his work and then sat down to think.
"Doc is right," was his ultimate conclusion. "She can't leave the city, she can't move around in it, she can't go anywhere, without being seen. There's one more point: I must tell Carey to post all the doctors to report if they have such a call. That's all I can think of. I'll go to-night, and then I'll look over the ginseng for parasites, and to-morrow I'll dive into the late spring growth and work until I haven't time to think. I've let cranesbill get a week past me now, and it can't be dispensed with."
So the following morning, when the Harvester had completed his work at the cabin and barn and breakfasted, he took a mattock and a big hempen bag, and followed the path to the top of the hill. As it ran along the lake bank he descended on the other side to several acres of cleared land, where he raised corn for his stock, potatoes, and coarser garden truck, for which there was not space in the smaller enclosure close the cabin. Around the edges of these fields, and where one of them sloped toward the lake, he began grubbing a variety of grass having tall stems already over a foot in height at half growth. From each stem waved four or five leaves of six or eight inches length and the top showed forming clusters of tiny spikelets.
"I am none too early for you," he muttered to himself as he ran the mattock through the rich earth, lifting the long, tough, jointed root stalks of pale yellow, from every section of which broke sprays of fine rootlets. "None too early for you, and as you are worth only seven cents a pound, you couldn't be considered a 'get-rich-quick' expedient, so I'll only stop long enough with you to gather what I think my customers will order, and amass a fortune a little later picking mullein flowers at seventy-five cents a pound. What a crop I've got coming!"
The Harvester glanced ahead, where in the cleared soil of the bank grew large plants with leaves like yellow-green felt and tall bloom stems rising. Close them flourished other species requiring dry sandy soil, that gradually changed as it approached the water until it became covered with rank abundance of short, wiry grass, half the blades of which appeared red. Numerous everywhere he could see the grayish-white leaves of Parnassus grass. As the season advanced it would lift heart-shaped velvet higher, and before fall the stretch of emerald would be starred with white-faced, green-striped flowers.
"Not a prettier sight on earth," commented the Harvester, "than just swale wire grass in September making a fine, thick background to set off those delicate starry flowers on their slender stems. I must remember to bring her to see that."
His eyes followed the growth to the water. As the grass drew closer moisture it changed to the rank, sweet, swamp variety, then came bulrushes, cat-tails, water smartweed, docks, and in the water blue flag lifted folded buds; at its feet arose yellow lily leaves and farther out spread the white. As the light struck the surface the Harvester imagined he could see the little green buds several inches below. Above all arose wild rice he had planted for the birds. The red wings swayed on the willows and tilted on every stem that would bear their weight, singing their melodious half-chanted notes, "O-ka-lee!"
Beneath them the ducks gobbled, splashed, and chattered; grebe and coot voices could be distinguished; king rails at times flashed into sight and out again; marsh wrens scolded and chattered; occasionally a kingfisher darted around the lake shore, rolling his rattling cry and flashing his azure coat and gleaming white collar. On a hollow tree in the woods a yellow hammer proved why he was named, because he carpentered industriously to enlarge the entrance to the home he was excavating in a dead tree; and sailing over the lake and above the woods in grace scarcely surpassed by any, a lonesome turkey buzzard awaited his mate's decision as to which hollow log was most suitable for their home.
The Harvester stuffed the grass roots in the bag until it would hold no more and stood erect to wipe his face, for the sun was growing warm. As he drew his handkerchief across his brow, the south wind struck him with enough intensity to attract attention. Instantly the Harvester removed his hat, rolled it up, and put it into his pocket. He stood an instant delighting in the wind and then spoke.
"Allow me to express my most fervent thanks for your kindness," he said. "I thought probably you would take that message, since it couldn't mean much to you, and it meant all the world to me. I thought you would carry it, but, I confess, I scarcely expected the answer so soon. The only thing that could make me more grateful to you would be to know exactly where she is: but you must understand that it's like a peep into Heaven to have her existence narrowed to one place. I'm bound to be able to say inside a few days, she lives at number——I don't know yet, on street——I'll find out soon, in the closest city, Onabasha. And I know why you brought her, South Wind. If ever a girl's cheeks need fanning with your breezes, and painting with sun kisses, I wouldn't mind, since this is strictly private, adding a few of mine; if ever any one needed flowers, birds, fresh air, water, and rest! Good Lord, South Wind, did you ever reach her before you carried that message? I think not! But Onabasha isn't so large. You and the sun should get your innings there. I do hope she is not trying to work! I can attend to that; and so there will be more time when she is found, I'd better hustle now."
He picked up the bag and returned to the dry-house, where he carefully washed the roots and spread them on the trays. Then he took the same bag and mattock and going through the woods in the opposite direction he came to a heavy growth in a cleared space of high ground. The bloom heads were forming and the plant was half matured. The Harvester dug a cylindrical, tapering root, wrinkling lengthwise, wiped it clean, broke and tasted it. He made a wry face. He stood examining the white wood with its brown-red bark and, deciding that it was in prime condition, he began digging the plants. It was common wayside "Bouncing Bet," but the Harvester called it "soapwort." He took every other plant in his way across the bed, and when he digged a heavy load he carried it home, stripped the leaves, and spread them on trays, while the roots he topped, washed, and put to dry also. Then he whistled for Belshazzar and went to lunch.
As he passed down the road to the cabin his face was a study of conflicting emotions, and his eyes had a far away appearance of deep thought. Every tree of his stretch of forest was rustling fresh leaves to shelter him; dogwood, wild crab, and hawthorn offered their flowers; earth held up her tribute in painted trillium faces, spring beauties, and violets, blue, white, and yellow. Mosses, ferns, and lichen decorated the path; all the birds greeted him in friendship, and sang their purest melodies. The sky was blue, the sun bright, the air perfumed for him; Belshazzar, always true to his name, protected every footstep; Ajax, the shimmering green and gold wonder, came up the hill to meet him; the white doves circled above his head. Stumbling half blindly, the Harvester passed unheeding among them, and went into the cabin. When he came out he stood a long time in deep study, but at last he returned to the woods.
"Perhaps they will have found her before night," he said. "I'll harvest the cranesbill yet, because it's growing late for it, and then I'll see how they are coming on. Maybe they'd know her if they met her, and maybe they wouldn't. She may wear different clothing, and freshen up after her trip. She might have been car sick, as Doc suggested, and appear very different when she feels better."
He skirted the woods around the northeast end and stopped at a big bed of exquisite growth. Tall, wiry stems sprang upward almost two feet in height; leaves six inches across were cut in ragged lobes almost to the base, and here and there, enough to colour the entire bed a delicate rose or sometimes a violet purple, the first flowers were unfolding. The Harvester lifted a root and tasted it.
"No doubt about you being astringent," he muttered. "You have enough tannin in you to pucker a mushroom. By the way, those big, corn-cobby fellows should spring up with the next warm rain, and the hotels and restaurants always pay high prices. I must gather a few bushels."
He looked over the bed of beautiful wild alum and hesitated.
"I vow I hate to touch you," he said. "You are a picture right now, and in a week you will be a miracle. It seems a shame to tear up a plant for its roots, just at flowering time, and I can't avoid breaking down half I don't take, getting the ones I do. I wish you were not so pretty! You are one of the colours I love most. You remind me of red-bud, blazing star, and all those exquisite magenta shades that poets, painters, and the Almighty who made them love so much they hesitate about using them lavishly. You are so delicate and graceful and so modest. I wish she could see you! I got to stop this or I won't be able to lift a root. I never would if the ten cents a pound I'll get out of it were the only consideration."
The Harvester gripped the mattock and advanced to the bed. "What I must be thinking is that you are indispensable to the sick folks. The steady demand for you proves your value, and of course, humanity comes first, after all. If I remain in the woods alone much longer I'll get to the place where I'm not so sure that it does. Seems as if animals, birds, flowers, trees, and insects as well, have their right to life also. But it's for me to remember the sick folks! If I thought the Girl would get some of it now, I could overturn the bed with a stout heart. If any one ever needed a tonic, I think she does. Maybe some of this will reach her. If it does, I hope it will make her cheeks just the lovely pink of the bloom. Oh Lord! If only she hadn't appeared so sick and frightened! What is there in all this world of sunshine to make a girl glance around her like that? I wish I knew! Maybe they will have found her by night."
The Harvester began work on the bed, but he knelt and among the damp leaves from the spongy black earth he lifted the roots with his fingers and carefully straightened and pressed down the plants he did not take. This required more time than usual, but his heart was so sore he could not be rough with anything, most of all a flower. So he harvested the wild alum by hand, and heaped large stacks of roots around the edges of the bed. Often he paused as he worked and on his knees stared through the forest as if he hoped perhaps she would realize his longing for her, and come to him in the wood as she had across the water. Over and over he repeated, "Perhaps they will find her by night!" and that so intensified the meaning that once he said it aloud. His face clouded and grew dark.
"Dealish nice business!" he said. "I am here in the woods digging flower roots, and a gang of men in the city are searching for the girl I love. If ever a job seemed peculiarly a man's own, it appears this would be. What business has any other man spying after my woman? Why am I not down there doing my own work, as I always have done it? Who's more likely to find her than I am? It seems as if there would be an instinct that would lead me straight to her, if I'd go. And you can wager I'll go fast enough."
The Harvester appeared as if he would start that instant, but with lips closely shut he finally forced himself to go on with his work. When he had rifled the bed, and uprooted all he cared to take during one season, he carried the roots to the lake shore below the curing house, and spread them on a platform he had built. He stepped into his boat and began dashing pails of water over them and using a brush. As he worked he washed away the woody scars of last year's growth, and the tiny buds appearing for the coming season.
Belshazzar sat on the opposite bank and watched the operation; and Ajax came down and, flying to a dead stump, erected and slowly waved his train to attract the sober-faced man who paid no heed. He left the roots to drain while he prepared supper, then placed them on the trays, now filled to overflowing, and was glad he had finished. He could not cure anything else at present if he wanted to. He was as far advanced as he had been at the same time the previous year. Then he dressed neatly and locking the Girl's room, and leaving Belshazzar to protect it, he went to Onabasha.
"Bravo!" cried Doctor Carey as the Harvester entered his office. "You are heroic to wait all day for news. How much stuff have you gathered?"
"Three crops. How many missing women have you located?"
The doctor laughed. There was no sign of a smile on the face of the Harvester.
"You didn't really expect her to come to light the first day? That would be too easy! We can't find her in a minute."
"It will be no surprise to me if you can't find her at all. I am not expecting another man to do what I don't myself."
"You are not hunting her. You are harvesting the woods. The men you employ are to find her."
"Maybe I am, and maybe I am not," said the Harvester slowly. "To me it appears to be a poor stick of a man who coolly proceeds with money making, and trusts to men who haven't even seen her to search for the girl he loves. I think a few hours of this is about all my patience will endure."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," said the Harvester. "But you can bank on one thing sure——I'm going to do something! I've had my fill of this. Thank you for all you've done, and all you are going to do. My head is not clear enough yet to decide anything with any sense, but maybe I'll hit on something soon. I'm for the streets for a while."
"Better go home and go to bed. You seem very tired."
"I am," said the Harvester. "The only way to endure this is to work myself down. I'm all right, and I'll be careful, but I rather think I'll find her myself."
"Better go on with your work as we planned."
"I'll think about it," said the Harvester as he went out.
Until he was too tired to walk farther he slowly paced the streets of the city, and then followed the home road through the valley and up the hill to Medicine Woods. When he came to Singing Water, Belshazzar heard his steps on the bridge, and came bounding to meet him. The Harvester stretched himself on a seat and turned his face to the sky. It was a deep, dark-blue bowl, closely set with stars, and a bright moon shed a soft May radiance on the young earth. The lake was flooded with light, and the big trees of the forest crowning the hill were silver coroneted. The unfolding leaves had hidden the new cabin from the bridge, but the driveway shone white, and already the upspringing bushes hedged it in. Insects were humming lazily in the perfumed night air, and across the lake a courting whip-poor-will was explaining to his sweetheart just how much and why he loved her. A few bats were wavering in air hunting insects, and occasionally an owl or a nighthawk crossed the lake. Killdeer were glorying in the moonlight and night flight, and cried in pure, clear notes as they sailed over the water. The Harvester was tired and filled with unrest as he stretched on the bridge, but the longer he lay the more the enfolding voices comforted him. All of them were waiting and working out their lives to the legitimate end; there was nothing else for him to do. He need not follow instinct or profit by chance. He was a man; he could plan and reason.
The air grew balmy and some big, soft clouds swept across the moon. The Harvester felt the dampness of rising dew, and went to the cabin. He looked at it long in the moonlight and told himself that he could see how much the plants, vines, and ferns had grown since the previous night. Without making a light, he threw himself on the bed in the outdoor room, and lay looking through the screening at the lake and sky. He was working his brain to think of some manner in which to start a search for the Dream Girl that would have some probability of success to recommend it, but he could settle on no feasible plan. At last he fell asleep, and in the night soft rain wet his face. He pulled an oilcloth sheet over the bed, and lay breathing deeply of the damp, perfumed air as he again slept. In the morning brilliant sunshine awoke him and he arose to find the earth steaming.
"If ever there was a perfect mushroom day!" he said to Belshazzar. "We must hurry and feed the stock and ourselves and gather some. They mean real money."
CHAPTER VII. THE QUEST OF THE DREAM GIRL
The Harvester breakfasted, fed the stock, hitched Betsy to the spring wagon, and went into the dripping, steamy woods. If anyone had asked him that morning concerning his idea of Heaven, he never would have dreamed of describing a place of gold-paved streets, crystal pillars, jewelled gates, and thrones of ivory. These things were beyond the man's comprehension and he would not have admired or felt at home in such magnificence if it had been materialized for him. He would have told you that a floor of last year's brown leaves, studded with myriad flower faces, big, bark-encased pillars of a thousand years, jewels on every bush, shrub, and tree, and tilting thrones on which gaudy birds almost burst themselves to voice the joy of life, while their bright-eyed little mates peered questioningly at him over nest rims——he would have told you that Medicine Woods on a damp, sunny May morning was Heaven. And he would have added that only one angel, tall and slender, with the pink of health on her cheeks and the dew of happiness in her dark eyes, was necessary to enter and establish glory. Everything spoke to him that morning, but the Harvester was silent. It had been his habit to talk constantly to Belshazzar, Ajax, his work, even the winds and perfumes; it had been his method of dissipating solitude, but to-day he had no words, even for these dear friends. He only opened his soul to beauty, and steadily climbed the hill to the crest, and then down the other side to the rich, half-shaded, half-open spaces, where big, rough mushrooms sprang in a night similar to the one just passed.
He could see them awaiting him from afar. He began work with rapid fingers, being careful to break off the heads, but not to pull up the roots. When four heaping baskets were filled he cut heavily leaved branches to spread over them, and started to Onabasha. As usual, Belshazzar rode beside him and questioned the Harvester when he politely suggested to Betsy that she make a little haste.
"Have you forgotten that mushrooms are perishable?" he asked. "If we don't get these to the city all woodsy and fresh we can't sell them. Wonder where we can do the best? The hotels pay well. Really, the biggest prices could be had by——"
Then the Harvester threw back his head and began to laugh, and he laughed, and he laughed. A crow on the fence Joined him, and a kingfisher, heading for Loon Lake, and then Belshazzar caught the infection.
"Begorry! The very idea!" cried the Harvester. "'Heaven helps them that help themselves.' Now you just watch us manoeuvre for assistance, Belshazzar, old boy! Here we go!"
Then the laugh began again. It continued all the way to Onabasha and even into the city. The Harvester drove through the most prosperous street until he reached the residence district. At the first home he stopped, gave the lines to Belshazzar, and, taking a basket of mushrooms, went up the walk and rang the bell.
"All groceries should be delivered at the back door," snapped a pert maid, before he had time to say a word.
The Harvester lifted his hat.
"Will you kindly tell the lady of the house that I wish to speak with her?"
"What name, please?"
"I want to show her some fine mushrooms, freshly gathered," he answered.
How she did it the Harvester never knew. The first thing he realized was that the door had closed before his face, and the basket had been picked deftly from his fingers and was on the other side. After a short time the maid returned.
"What do you want for them, please?"
The last thing on earth the Harvester wanted to do was to part with those mushrooms, so he took one long, speculative look down the hall and named a price he thought would be prohibitive.
"One dollar a dozen."
"How many are there?"
"I count them as I sell them. I do not know."
The door closed again. Presently it opened and the maid knelt on the floor before him and counted the mushrooms one by one into a dish pan and in a few minutes brought back seven dollars and fifty cents. The chagrined Harvester, feeling like a thief, put the money in his pocket, and turned away.
"I was to tell you," said she, "that you are to bring all you have to sell here, and the next time please go to the kitchen door."
"Must be fond of mushrooms," said the disgruntled Harvester.
"They are a great delicacy, and there are visitors." The Harvester ached to set the girl to one side and walk through the house, but he did not dare; so he returned to the street, whistled to Betsy to come, and went to the next gate. Here he hesitated. Should he risk further snubbing at the front door or go back at once. If he did, he only would see a maid. As he stood an instant debating, the door of the house he just had left opened and the girl ran after him. "If you have more, we will take them," she called.
The Harvester gasped for breath.
"They have to be used at once," he suggested.
"She knows that. She wants to treat her friends."
"Well she has got enough for a banquet," he said. "I—I don't usually sell more than a dozen or two in one place."
"I don't see why you can't let her have them if you have more."
"Perhaps I have orders to fill for regular customers," suggested the Harvester.
"And perhaps you haven't," said the maid. "You ought to be ashamed not to let people who are willing to pay your outrageous prices have them. It's regular highway robbery."
"Possibly that's the reason I decline to hold up one party twice," said the Harvester as he entered the gate and went up the walk to the front door.
"You should be taught your place," called the maid after him.
The Harvester again rang the bell. Another maid opened the door, and once more he asked to speak with the lady of the house. As the girl turned, a handsome old woman in cap and morning gown came down the stairs.
"What have you there?" she asked.
The Harvester lifted the leaves and exposed the musky, crimpled, big mushrooms.
"Oh!" she cried in delight. "Indeed, yes! We are very fond of them. I will take the basket, and divide with my sons. You are sure you have no poisonous ones among them?"
"Quite sure," said the Harvester faintly.
"How much do you want for the basket?"
"They are a dollar a dozen; I haven't counted them."
"Dear me! Isn't that rather expensive?"
"It is. Very!" said the Harvester. "So expensive that most people don't think of taking over a dozen. They are large and very rich, so they go a long way."
"I suppose you have to spend a great deal of time hunting them? It does seem expensive, but they are fresh, and the boys are so fond of them. I'm not often extravagant, I'll just take the lot. Sarah, bring a pan."
Again the Harvester stood and watched an entire basket counted over and carried away, and he felt the robber he had been called as he took the money.
At the next house he had learned a lesson. He carpeted a basket with leaves and counted out a dozen and a half into it, leaving the remainder in the wagon. Three blocks on one side of the street exhausted his store and he was showered with orders. He had not seen any one that even resembled a dark-eyed girl. As he came from the last house a big, red motor shot past and then suddenly slowed and backed beside his wagon.
"What in the name of sense are you doing?" demanded Doctor Carey.
"Invading the residence district of Onabasha," said the Harvester. "Madam, would you like some nice, fresh, country mushrooms? I guarantee that there are no poisonous ones among them, and they were gathered this morning. Considering their rarity and the difficult work of collecting, they are exceedingly low at my price. I am offering these for five dollars a dozen, madam, and for mercy sake don't take them or I'll have no excuse to go to the next house."
The doctor stared, then understood, and began to laugh. When at last he could speak he said, "David, I'll bet you started with three bushels and began at the head of this street, and they are all gone."
"Put up a good one!" said the Harvester. "You win. The first house I tried they ordered me to the back door, took a market basket full away from me by force, tried to buy the load, and I didn't see any one save a maid."
The doctor lay on the steering gear and faintly groaned.
The Harvester regarded him sympathetically. "Isn't it a crime?" he questioned. "Mushrooms are no go. I can see that!——or rather they are entirely too much of a go. I never saw anything in such demand. I must seek a less popular article for my purpose. To-morrow look out for me. I shall begin where I left off to-day, but I will have changed my product."
"David, for pity sake," peeped the doctor.
"What do I care how I do it, so I locate her?" superbly inquired the Harvester.
"But you won't find her!" gasped the doctor.
"I've come as close it as you so far, anyway," said the Harvester. "Your mushrooms are on the desk in your office."
He drove slowly up and down the streets until Betsy wabbled on her legs. Then he left her to rest and walked until he wabbled; and by that time it was dark, so he went home.
At the first hint of dawn he was at work the following morning. With loaded baskets closely covered, he started to Onabasha, and began where he had quit the day before. This time he carried a small, crudely fashioned bark basket, leaf-covered, and he rang at the front door with confidence.
Every one seemed to have a maid in that part of the city, for a freshly capped and aproned girl opened the door.
"Are there any young women living here?" blandly inquired the Harvester.
"What's that of your business?" demanded the maid.
The Harvester flushed, but continued, "I am offering something especially intended for young women. If there are none, I will not trouble you."
"There are several."
"Will you please ask them if they would care for bouquets of violets, fresh from the woods?"
"How much are they, and how large are the bunches?"
"Prices differ, and they are the right size to appear well. They had better see for themselves."
The maid reached for the basket, but the Harvester drew back.
"I keep them in my possession," he said. "You may take a sample."
He lifted the leaves and drew forth a medium-sized bunch of long-stemmed blue violets with their leaves. The flowers were fresh, crisp, and strong odours of the woods arose from them.
"Oh!" cried the maid. "Oh, how lovely!"
She hurried away with them and returned carrying a purse.
"I want two more bunches," she said. "How much are they?"
"Are the girls who want them dark or fair?"
"What difference does that make?"
"I have blue violets for blondes, yellow for brunettes, and white for the others."
"Well I never! One is fair, and two have brown hair and blue eyes."
"One blue and two whites," said the Harvester calmly, as if matching women's hair and eyes with flowers were an inherited vocation. "They are twenty cents a bunch."
"Aha!" he chortled to himself as he whistled to Betsy. "At last we have it. There are no dark-eyed girls here. Now we are making headway."
Down the street he went, with varying fortune, but with patience and persistence at every house he at last managed to learn whether there was a dark-eyed girl. There did not seem to be many. Long before his store of yellow violets was gone the last blue and white had disappeared. But he calmly went on asking for dark-eyed girls, and explaining that all the blue and white were taken, because fair women were most numerous.
At one house the owner, who reminded the Harvester of his mother, came to the door. He uncovered and in his suavest tones inquired if a brunette young woman lived there and if she would like a nosegay of yellow violets.
"Well bless my soul!" cried she. "What is this world coming to? Do you mean to tell me that there are now able-bodied men offering at our doors, flowers to match our girls' complexions?"
"Yes madam?" said the Harvester gravely, "and also selling them as fast as he can show them, at prices that make a profit very well worth while. I had an equal number of blue and white, but I see the dark girls are very much in the minority. The others were gone long ago, and I now have flowers to offer brunettes only."
"Well forever more! And you don't call that fiddlin' business for a big, healthy, young man?"
The Harvester's gay laugh was infectious.
"I do not," he said. "I have to start as soon as I can see, tramp long distances in wet woods and gather the violets on my knees, make them into bunches, and bring them here in water to keep them fresh. I have another occupation. I only kill time on these, but I would be ashamed to tell you what I have gotten for them this morning."
"Humph! I'm glad to hear it!" said the woman. "Shame in some form is a sign of grace. I have no use for a human being without a generous supply of it. There is a very beautiful dark-eyed girl in the house, and I will take two bunches for her. How much are they?"
"I have only three remaining," said the Harvester. "Would you like to allow her to make her own selection?"
"When I'm giving things I usually take my choice. I want that, and that one."
"As my stock is so nearly out, I'll make the two for twenty," said the Harvester. "Won't you accept the last one from me, because you remind me just a little of my mother?"
"I will indeed," said she. "Thank you very much! I shall love to have them as dearly as any of the girls. I used to gather them when I was a child, but I almost never see the blue ones any more, and I don't know as I ever expected to see a yellow violet again as long as I live. Where did you get them?"
"In my woods," said the Harvester. "You see I grow several members of the viola pedata family, bird's foot, snake, and wood violet, and three of the odorata, English, marsh, and sweet, for our big drug houses. They use the flowers in making delicate tests for acids and alkalies. The entire plant, flower, seed, leaf, and root, goes into different remedies. The beds seed themselves and spread, so I have more than I need for the chemists, and I sell a few. I don't use the white and yellow in my business; I just grow them for their beauty. I also sell my surplus lilies of the valley. Would you like to order some of them for your house or more violets for to-morrow?"
"Well bless my soul! Do you mean to tell me that lilies of the valley are medicine?"
The Harvester laughed.
"I grow immense beds of them in the woods on the banks of Loon Lake," he said. "They are the convallaris majallis of the drug houses and I scarcely know what the weak-hearted people would do without them. I use large quantities in trade, and this season I am selling a few because people so love them."
"Lilies in medicine; well dear me! Are roses good for our innards too?"
Then the Harvester did laugh.
"I imagine the roses you know go into perfumes mostly," he answered. "They do make medicine of Canadian rock rose and rose bay, laurel, and willow. I grow the bushes, but they are not what you would consider roses."
"I wonder now," said the woman studying the Harvester closely, "if you are not that queer genius I've heard of, who spends his time hunting and growing stuff in the woods and people call him the Medicine Man."
"I strongly suspect madam, I am that man," said the Harvester.
"Well bless me!" cried she. "I've always wanted to see you and here when I do, you look just like anybody else. I thought you'd have long hair, and be wild-eyed and ferocious. And your talk sounds like out of a book. Well that beats me!"
"Me too!" said the Harvester, lifting his hat. "You don't want any lilies to-morrow, then?"
"Yes I do. Medicine or no medicine, I've always liked 'em, and I'm going to keep on liking them. If you can bring me a good-sized bunch after the weak-kneed——"
"Weak-hearted," corrected the Harvester.
"Well 'weak-hearted,' then; it's all the same thing. If you've got any left, as I was saying, you can fetch them to me for the smell."
The Harvester laughed all the way down town. There he went to Doctor Carey's office, examined a directory, and got the names of all the numbers where he had sold yellow violets. A few questions when the doctor came in settled all of them, but the flower scheme was better. Because the yellow were not so plentiful as the white and blue, next day he added buttercups and cowslips to his store for the dark girls. When he had rifled his beds for the last time, after three weeks of almost daily trips to town, and had paid high prices to small boys he set searching the adjoining woods until no more flowers could be found, he drove from the outskirts of the city one day toward the hospital, and as he stopped, down the street came Doctor Carey frantically waving to him. As the big car slackened, "Come on David, quick! I've seen her!" cried the doctor.
The Harvester jumped from the wagon, threw the lines to Belshazzar, and landed in the panting car.
"For Heaven's sake where? Are you sure?"
The car went speeding down the street. A policeman beckoned and cried after it.
"It won't do any good to get arrested, Doc," cautioned the Harvester.
"Now right along here," panted Doctor Carey. "Watch both sides sharply. If I stop you jump out, and tell the blame policemen to get at their job. The party they are hired to find is right under their noses."
The Harvester began to perspire. "Doc, don't you think you should tell me? Maybe she is in some store. Maybe I could do better on foot."
"Shut up!" growled the doctor. "I am doing the best I know."
He hurried up the street for blocks and back again, and at last stopped before a large store and went in. When he returned he drove to the hospital and together they entered the office. There he turned to the Harvester.
"It isn't so hard to understand you now, my boy," he said. "Shades of Diana, but she'll be a beauty when she gets a little more flesh and colour. She came out of Whitlaw's and walked right to the crossing. I almost could have touched her, but I didn't notice. Two girls passed before me, and in hurrying, a tall, dark one knocked off one of your bunches of yellow violets. She glanced at it and laughed, but let it lay. Then your girl hesitated stooped and picked it up. The crazy policeman yelled at me to clear the crossing and it didn't hit me for a half block how tall and white she was and how dark her eyes were. I was just thinking about her picking up the flowers, and that it was queer for her to do it, when like a brick it hit me, THAT'S DAVID'S GIRL! I tried to turn around, but you know what Main Street is in the middle of the day. And those idiots of policemen! They ordered me on, and I couldn't turn for a street car coming, so I called to one of them that the girl we wanted was down the street, and he looked at me like an addle-pate and said, 'What girl? Move on or you'll get in a jam here.' You can use me for a football if I don't go back and smash him. Paid him five dollars myself less than two weeks ago to keep his eyes open. 'TO KEEP HIS EYES OPEN!'" panted the doctor, shaking his fist at David. "Yes sir! 'To keep his eyes open!' And he motioned for things to come along, and so I lost her too."
"I think we had better go back to the street," said the Harvester.
"Oh, I'd been back and forth along that street for nearly an hour before I gave up and came here to see if I could find you, and we've hunted it an hour more! What's the use? She's gone for this time, but by gum, I saw her! And she was worth seeing!"
"Did she appear ill to you?"
The doctor dropped on a chair and threw out his hands hopelessly.
"This was awful sudden, David," he said. "I was going along as I told you, and I noticed her stop and thought she had a good head to wait a second instead of running in before me, and there came those two girls right under the car from the other side. I only had a glimpse of her as she stooped for the flowers. I saw a big braid of hair, but I was half a block away before I got it all connected, and then came the crush in the street, and I was blocked."
The doctor broke down and wiped his face and expressed his feelings unrestrainedly.
"Don't!" said the Harvester patiently. "It's no use to feel so badly, Doc. I know what you would give to have found her for me. I know you did all you could. I let her escape me. We will find her yet. It's glorious news that she's in the city. It gives me heart to hear that. Can't you just remember if she seemed ill?"
The doctor meditated.
"She wasn't the tallest girl I ever saw," he said slowly, "but she was the tallest girl to be pretty. She had on a white waist and a gray skirt and black hat. Her eyes and hair were like you said, and she was plain, white faced, with a hue that might possibly be natural, and it might be confinement in bad light and air and poor food. She didn't seem sick, but she isn't well. There is something the matter with her, but it's not immediate or dangerous. She appeared like a flower that had got a little moisture and sprouted in a cellar."
"You saw her all right!" said the Harvester, "and I think your diagnosis is correct too. That's the way she seemed to me. I've thought she needed sun and air. I told the South Wind so the other day."
"Why you blame fool!" cried the doctor. "Is this thing going to your head? Say, I forgot! There is something else. I traced her in the store. She was at the embroidery counter and she bought some silk. If she ever comes again the clerk is going to hold her and telephone me or get her address if she has to steal it. Oh, we are getting there! We will have her pretty soon now. You ought to feel better just to know that she is in town and that I've seen her."
"I do!" said the Harvester. "Indeed I do!"
"It can't be much longer," said the doctor. "She's got to be located soon. But those policemen! I wouldn't give a nickel for the lot! I'll bet she's walked over them for two weeks. If I were you I'd discharge the bunch. They'd be peacefully asleep if she passed them. If they'd let me alone, I'd have had her. I could have turned around easily. I've been in dozens of closer places."
"Don't worry! This can't last much longer. She's of and in the city or she wouldn't have picked up the flowers. Doc, are you sure they were mine?"
"Yes. Half the girls have been tricked out in yours the past two weeks. I can spot them as far as I can see."
"Dear Lord, that's getting close!" said the Harvester intensely. "Seems as if the violets would tell her."
"Now cut out flowers talking and the South Wind!" ordered the doctor. "This is business. The violets prove something all right, though. If she was in the country, she could gather plenty herself. She is working at sewing in some room in town, either over a store or in a house. If she hadn't been starved for flowers she never would have stopped for them on the street. I could see just a flash of hesitation, but she wanted them too much. David, one bouquet will go in water and be cared for a week. Man, it's getting close! This does seem like a link."
"Since you say it, possibly I dare agree with you," said the Harvester.
"How near are you through with that canvass of yours?"
"About three fourths."
"Well I'd go on with it. After all we have got to find her ourselves. Those senile policemen!"
"I am going on with it; you needn't worry about that. But I've got to change to other flowers. I've stripped the violet beds. There's quite a crop of berries coming, but they are not ripe yet, and a tragedy to pick. The pond lilies are just beginning to open by the thousand. The lake border is blue with sweet-flag that is lovely and the marsh pale gold with cowslips. The ferns are prime and the woods solid sheets of every colour of bloom. I believe I'll go ahead with the wild flowers."
"I would too! David, you do feel better, don't you?"
"I certainly do, Doctor. Surely it won't be long now!"
The Harvester was so hopeful that he whistled and sang on the return to Medicine Woods, and that night for the first time in many days he sat long over a candlestick, and took a farewell peep into her room before he went to bed.
The next day he worked with all his might harvesting the last remnants of early spring herbs, in the dry-room and store-house, and on furniture and candlesticks.
Then he went back to flower gathering and every day offered bunches of exquisite wood and field flowers and white and gold water lilies from door to door.
Three weeks later the Harvester, perceptibly thin, pale, and worried entered the office. He sank into a chair and groaned wearily.
"Isn't this the bitterest luck!" he cried. "I've finished the town. I've almost walked off my legs. I've sold flowers by the million, but I've not had a sight of her."
"It's been almost a tragedy with me," said the doctor gloomily. "I've killed two dogs and grazed a baby, because I was watching the sidewalks instead of the street. What are you going to do now?"
"I am going home and bring up the work to the July mark. I am going to take it easy and rest a few days so I can think more clearly. I don't know what I'll try next. I've punched up the depot and the policemen again. When I get something new thought out I'll let you know."
Then he began emptying his pockets of money and heaping it on the table, small coins, bills, big and little.
"What on earth is that?"
"That," said the Harvester, giving the heap a shove of contempt, "that is the price of my pride and humiliation. That is what it cost people who allowed me to cheek my way into their homes and rob them, as one maid said, for my own purposes. Doc, where on earth does all the money come from? In almost every house I entered, women had it to waste, in many cases to throw away. I never saw so much paid for nothing in all my life. That whole heap is from mushrooms and flowers."
"What are you piling it there for?"
"For your free ward. I don't want a penny of it. I wouldn't keep it, not if I was starving."
"Why David! You couldn't compel any one to buy. You offered something they wanted, and they paid you what you asked."
"Yes, and to keep them from buying, and to make the stuff go farther, I named prices to shame a shark. When I think of that mushroom deal I can feel my face burn. I've made the search I wanted to, and I am satisfied that I can't find her that way. I have kept up my work at home between times. I am not out anything but my time, and it isn't fair to plunder the city to pay that. Take that cussed money and put it where I'll never see or hear of it. Do anything you please, except to ask me ever to profit by a cent. When I wash my hands after touching it for the last time maybe I'll feel better."
"You are a fanatic!"
"If getting rid of that is being a fanatic, I am proud of the title. You can't imagine what I've been through!"
"Can't I though?" laughed the doctor. "In work of that kind you get into every variety of place; and some of it is new to you. Never mind! No one can contaminate you. It is the law that only a man can degrade himself. Knowing things will not harm you. Doing them is a different matter. What you know will be a protection. What you do ruins——if it is wrong. You are not harmed, you are only disgusted. Think it over, and in a few days come back and get your money. It is strictly honest. You earned every cent of it."
"If you ever speak of it again or force it on me I'll take it home and throw it into the lake."
He went after Betsy and slowly drove to Medicine Woods. Belshazzar, on the seat beside him, recognized a silent, disappointed master and whimpered as he rubbed the Harvester's shoulder to attract his attention.
"This is tough luck, old boy," said the Harvester. "I had such hopes and I worked so hard. I suffered in the flesh for every hour of it, and I failed. Oh but I hate the word! If I knew where she is right now, Bel, I'd give anything I've got. But there's no use to wail and get sorry for myself. That's against the law of common decency. I'll take a swim, sleep it off, straighten up the herbs a little, and go at it again, old fellow; that's a man's way. She's somewhere, and she's got to be found, no matter what it costs."
CHAPTER VIII. BELSHAZZAR'S RECORD POINT
The Harvester set the neglected cabin in order; then he carefully and deftly packed all his dried herbs, barks, and roots. Next came carrying the couch grass, wild alum, and soapwort into the store-room. Then followed July herbs. He first went to his beds of foxglove, because the tender leaves of the second year should be stripped from them at flowering time, and that usually began two weeks earlier; but his bed lay in a shaded, damp location and the tall bloom stalks were only in half flower, their pale lavender making an exquisite picture. It paid to collect those leaves, so the Harvester hastily stripped the amount he wanted.
Yarrow was beginning to bloom and he gathered as much as he required, taking the whole plant. That only brought a few cents a pound, but it was used entire, so the weight made it worth while.
Catnip tops and leaves were also ready. As it grew in the open in dry soil and the beds had been weeded that spring, he could gather great arm loads of it with a sickle, but he had to watch the swarming bees. He left the male fern and mullein until the last for different reasons.
On the damp, cool, rocky hillside, beneath deep shade of big forest trees, grew the ferns, their long, graceful fronds waving softly. Tree toads sang on the cool rocks beneath them, chewinks nested under gnarled roots among them, rose-breasted grosbeaks sang in grape-vines clambering over the thickets, and Singing Water ran close beside. So the Harvester left digging these roots until nearly the last, because he so disliked to disturb the bed. He could not have done it if he had not been forced. All of the demand for his fern never could be supplied. Of his products none was more important to the Harvester because this formed the basis of one of the oldest and most reliable remedies for little children. The fern had to be gathered with especial care, deteriorated quickly, and no staple was more subject to adulteration.
So he kept his bed intact, lifted the roots at the proper time, carefully cleaned without washing, rapidly dried in currents of hot air, and shipped them in bottles to the trade. He charged and received fifteen cents a pound, where careless and indifferent workers got ten.
On the banks of Singing Water, at the head of the fern bed, the Harvester stood under a gray beech tree and looked down the swaying length of delicate green. He was lean and rapidly bronzing, for he seldom remembered a head covering because he loved the sweep of the wind in his hair.
"I hate to touch you," he said. "How I wish she could see you before I begin. If she did, probably she would say it was a sin, and then I never could muster courage to do it at all. I'd give a small farm to know if those violets revived for her. I was crazy to ask Doc if they were wilted, but I hated to. If they were from the ones I gathered that morning they should have been all right."
A tree toad dared him to come on; a chipmunk grew saucy as the Harvester bent to an unloved task. If he stripped the bed as closely as he dared and not injure it, he could not fill half his orders; so, deftly and with swift, skilful fingers and an earnest face, he worked. Belshazzar came down the hill on a rush, nose to earth and began hunting among the plants. He never could understand why his loved master was so careless as to go to work before he had pronounced it safe. When the fern bed was finished, the Harvester took time to make a trip to town, but there was no word waiting him; so he went to the mullein. It lay on a sunny hillside beyond the couch grass and joined a few small fields, the only cleared land of the six hundred acres of Medicine Woods. Over rocks and little hills and hollows spread the pale, grayish-yellow of the green leaves, and from five to seven feet arose the flower stems, while the entire earth between was covered with rosettes of young plants. Belshazzar went before to give warning if any big rattlers curled in the sun on the hillside, and after him followed the Harvester cutting leaves in heaps. That was warm work and he covered his head with a floppy old straw hat, with wet grass in the crown, and stopped occasionally to rest.
He loved that yellow-faced hillside. Because so much of his reaping lay in the shade and commonly his feet sank in dead leaves and damp earth, the change was a rest. He cheerfully stubbed his toes on rocks, and endured the heat without complaint. It appeared to him as if a member of every species of butterfly he knew wavered down the hillside. There were golden-brown danais, with their black-striped wings, jetty troilus with an attempt at trailers, big asterias, velvety black with longer trails and wide bands of yellow dots. Coenia were most numerous of all and to the Harvester wonderfully attractive in rich, subdued colours with a wealth of markings and eye spots. Many small moths, with transparent wings and noses red as blood, flashed past him hunting pollen. Goldfinches, intent on thistle bloom, wavered through the air trailing mellow, happy notes behind them, and often a humming-bird visited the mullein. On the lake wild life splashed and chattered incessantly, and sometimes the Harvester paused and stood with arms heaped with leaves, to interpret some unusually appealing note of pain or anger or some very attractive melody. The red-wings were swarming, the killdeers busy, and he thought of the Dream Girl and smiled.