"I wonder if she would like this," he mused.
When the mullein leaves were deep on the trays of the dry-house he began on the bloom and that was a task he loved. Just to lay off the beds in swaths and follow them, deftly picking the stamens and yellow petals from the blooms. These he would dry speedily in hot air, bottle, and send at once to big laboratories. The listed price was seventy-five cents a pound, but the beautiful golden bottles of the Harvester always brought more. The work was worth while, and he liked the location and gathering of this particular crop: for these reasons he always left it until the last, and then revelled in the gold of sunshine, bird, butterfly, and flower. Several days were required to harvest the mullein and during the time the man worked with nimble fingers, while his brain was intensely occupied with the question of what to do next in his search for the Girl.
When the work was finished, he went to the deep wood to take a peep at acres of thrifty ginseng, and he was satisfied as he surveyed the big bed. Long years he had laboured diligently; soon came the reward. He had not realized it before, but as he studied the situation he saw that he either must begin this harvest at once or employ help. If he waited until September he could not gather one third of the crop alone.
"But the roots will weigh less if I take them now," he argued, "and I can work at nothing in comfort until I have located her. I will go on with my search and allow the ginseng to grow that much heavier. What a picture! It is folly to disturb this now, for I will lose the seed of every plant I dig, and that is worth almost as much as the root. It is a question whether I want to furnish the market with seed, and so raise competition for my bed. I think, be jabbers, that I'll wait for this harvest until the seed is ripe, and then bury part of a head where I dig a root, as the Indians did. That's the idea! The more I grow, the more money; and I may need considerable for her. One thing I'd like to know: Are these plants cultivated? All the books quote the wild at highest rates and all I've ever sold was wild. The start grew here naturally. What I added from the surrounding country was wild, but through and among it I've sown seed I bought, and I've tended it with every care. But this is deep wood and wild conditions. I think I have a perfect right to so label it. I'll ask Doc. And another thing I'll go through the woods west of Onabasha where I used to find ginseng, and see if I can get a little and then take the same amount of plants grown here, and make a test. That way I can discover any difference before I go to market. This is my gold mine, and that point is mighty important to me, so I'll go this very day. I used to find it in the woods northeast of town and on the land Jameson bought, west. Wonder if he lives there yet. He should have died of pure meanness long ago. I'll drive to the river and hunt along the bank."
Early the following morning the Harvester went to Onabasha and stopped at the hospital for news. Finding none, he went through town and several miles into the country on the other side, to a piece of lowland lying along the river bank, where he once had found and carried home to reset a big bed of ginseng. If he could get only a half pound of roots from there now, they would serve his purpose. He went down the bank, Belshazzar at his heels, and at last found the place. Many trees had been cut, but there remained enough for shade; the fields bore the ragged, unattractive appearance of old. The Harvester smiled grimly as he remembered that the man who lived there once had charged him for damage he might do to trees in driving across his woods, and boasted to his neighbours that a young fool was paying for the privilege of doing his grubbing. If Jameson had known what the roots he was so anxious to dispose of brought a pound on the market at that time, he would have been insane with anger. So the Harvester's eyes were dancing with fun and a wry grin twisted his lips as he clambered over the banks of the recently dredged river, and looked at its pitiful condition and straight, muddy flow.
"Appears to match the remainder of the Jameson property," he said. "I don't know who he is or where he came from, but he's no farmer. Perhaps he uses this land to corral the stock he buys until he can sell it again."
He went down the embankment and began to search for the location where he formerly had found the ginseng. When he came to the place he stood amazed, for from seed, roots, and plants he had missed, the growth had sprung up and spread, so that at a rapid estimate the Harvester thought it contained at least five pounds, allowing for what it would shrink on account of being gathered early. He hesitated an instant, and thought of coming later; but the drive was long and the loss would not amount to enough to pay for a second trip. About taking it, he never thought at all. He once had permission from the owner to dig all the shrubs, bushes, and weeds he desired from that stretch of woods, and had paid for possible damages that might occur. As he bent to the task there did come a fleeting thought that the patch was weedless and in unusual shape for wild stuff. Then, with swift strokes of his light mattock, he lifted the roots, crammed them into his sack, whistled to Belshazzar, and going back to the wagon, drove away. Reaching home he washed the ginseng, and spread it on a tray to dry. The first time he wanted the mattock he realized that he had left it lying where he had worked. It was an implement that he had directed a blacksmith to fashion to meet his requirements. No store contained anything half so useful to him. He had worked with it for years and it just suited him, so there was nothing to do but go back. Betsy was too tired to return that day, so he planned to dig his ginseng with something else, finish his work the following morning, and get the mattock in the afternoon.
"It's like a knife you've carried for years, or a gun," muttered the Harvester. "I actually don't know how to get along without it. What made me so careless I can't imagine. I never before in my life did a trick like that. I wonder if I hurried a little. I certainly was free to take it. He always wanted the stuff dug up. Of all the stupid tricks, Belshazzar, that was the worst. Now Betsy and a half day of wasted time must pay for my carelessness. Since I have to go, I'll look a little farther. Maybe there is more. Those woods used to be full of it."
According to this programme, the next afternoon the Harvester again walked down the embankment of the mourning river and through the ragged woods to the place where the ginseng had been. He went forward, stepping lightly, as men of his race had walked the forest for ages, swerving to avoid boughs, and looking straight ahead. Contrary to his usual custom of coming to heel in a strange wood, Belshazzar suddenly darted around the man and took the path they had followed the previous day. The animal was performing his office in life; he had heard or scented something unusual. The Harvester knew what that meant. He looked inquiringly at the dog, glanced around, and then at the earth. Belshazzar proceeded noiselessly at a rapid pace over the leaves: Suddenly the master saw the dog stop in a stiff point. Lifting his feet lightly and straining his eyes before him, the Harvester passed a spice thicket and came in line.
For one second he stood as rigid as Belshazzar. The next his right arm shot upward full length, and began describing circles, his open palm heavenward, and into his face leapt a glorified expression of exultation. Face down in the rifled ginseng bed lay a sobbing girl. Her frame was long and slender, a thick coil of dark hair; bound her head. A second more and the Harvester bent and softly patted Belshazzar's head. The beast broke point and looked up. The man caught the dog's chin in a caressing grip, again touched his head, moved soundless lips, and waved toward the prostrate figure. The dog hesitated. The Harvester made the same motions. Belshazzar softly stepped over the leaves, passed around the feet of the girl, and paused beside her, nose to earth, softly sniffing.
In one moment she came swiftly to a sitting posture.
"Oh!" she cried in a spasm of fright.
Belshazzar reached an investigating nose and wagged an eager tail.
"Why you are a nice friendly dog!" said the trembling voice.
He immediately verified the assertion by offering his nose for a kiss. The girl timidly laid a hand on his head.
"Heaven knows I'm lonely enough to kiss a dog," she said, "but suppose you belong to the man who stole my ginseng, and then ran away so fast he forgot his——his piece he digged with."
Belshazzar pressed closer.
"I am just killed, and I don't care whose dog you are," sobbed the girl.
She threw her arms around Belshazzar's neck and laid her white face against his satiny shoulder. The Harvester could endure no more. He took a step forward, his face convulsed with pain.
"Please don't!" he begged. "I took your ginseng. I'll bring it back to-morrow. There wasn't more than twenty-five or thirty dollars' worth. It doesn't amount to one tear."
The girl arose so quickly, the Harvester could not see how she did it. With a startled fright on her face, and the dark eyes swimming, she turned to him in one long look. Words rolled from the lips of the man in a jumble. Behind the tears there was a dull, expressionless blue in the girl's eyes and her face was so white that it appeared blank. He began talking before she could speak, in an effort to secure forgiveness without condemnation.
"You see, I grow it for a living on land I own, and I've always gathered all there was in the country and no one cared. There never was enough in one place to pay, and no other man wanted to spend the time, and so I've always felt free to take it. Every one knew I did, and no one ever objected before. Once I paid Henry Jameson for the privilege of cleaning it from these woods. That was six or seven years ago, and it didn't occur to me that I wasn't at liberty to dig what has grown since. I'll bring it back at once, and pay you for the shrinkage from gathering it too early. There won't be much over six pounds when it's dry. Please, please don't feel badly. Won't you trust me to return it, and make good the damage I've done?"
The face of the Harvester was eager and his tones appealing, as he leaned forward trying to make her understand.
"Certainly!" said the Girl as she bent to pat the dog, while she dried her eyes under cover of the movement. "Certainly! It can make no difference!"
But as the Harvester drew a deep breath of relief, she suddenly straightened to full height and looked straight at him.
"Oh what is the use to tell a pitiful lie!" she cried. "It does make a difference! It makes all the difference in the world! I need that money! I need it unspeakably. I owe a debt I must pay. What——what did I understand you to say ginseng is worth?"
"If you will take a few steps," said the Harvester, "and make yourself comfortable on this log in the shade, I will tell you all I know about it."
The girl walked swiftly to the log indicated, seated herself, and waited. The Harvester followed to a respectful distance.
"I can't tell to an ounce what wet roots would weigh," he said as easily as he could command his voice to speak with the heart in him beating wildly, "and of course they lose greatly in drying; but I've handled enough that I know the weight I carried home will come to six pounds at the very least. Then you must figure on some loss, because I dug this before it really was ready. It does not reach full growth until September, and if it is taken too soon there is a decrease in weight. I will make that up to you when I return it."
The troubled eyes were gazing on his face intently, and the Harvester studied them as he talked.
"You would think, then, there would be all of six pounds?
"Yes," said the Harvester, "closer eight. When I replace the shrinkage there is bound to be over seven."
"And how much did I understand you to say it brought a pound?"
"That all depends," answered he. "If you cure it yourself, and dry it too much, you lose in weight. If you carry it in a small lot to the druggists of Onabasha, probably you will not get over five dollars for it."
It was a startled cry.
"How much did you expect?" asked the Harvester gently.
"Uncle Henry said he thought he could get fifty cents a pound for all I could find."
"If your Uncle Henry has learned at last that ginseng is a salable article he should know something about the price also. Will you tell me what he said, and how you came to think of gathering roots for the market?"
"There were men talking beneath the trees one Sunday afternoon about old times and hunting deer, and they spoke of people who made money long ago gathering roots and barks, and they mentioned one man who lived by it yet."
"Was his name Langston?"
"Yes, I remember because I liked the name. I was so eager to earn something, and I can't leave here just now because Aunt Molly is very ill, so the thought came that possibly I could gather stuff worth money, after my work was finished. I went out and asked questions. They said nothing brought enough to make it pay any one, except this ginseng plant, and the Langston man almost had stripped the country. Then uncle said he used to get stuff here, and he might have got some of that. I asked what it was like, so they told me and I hunted until I found that, and it seemed a quantity to me. Of course I didn't know it had to be dried. Uncle took a root I dug to a store, and they told him that it wasn't much used any more, but they would give him fifty cents a pound for it. What MAKES you think you can get five dollars?"
"With your permission," said the Harvester.
He seated himself on the log, drew from his pocket an old pamphlet, and spreading it before her, ran a pencil along the line of a list of schedule prices for common drug roots and herbs. Because he understood, his eyes were very bright, and his voice a trifle crisp. A latent anger springing in his breast was a good curb for his emotions. He was closely acquainted with all of the druggists of Onabasha, and he knew that not one of them had offered less than standard prices for ginseng.
"The reason I think so," he said gently, "is because growing it is the largest part of my occupation, and it was a staple with my father before me. I am David Langston, of whom you heard those men speak. Since I was a very small boy I have lived by collecting herbs and roots, and I get more for ginseng than anything else. Very early I tired of hunting other people's woods for herbs, so I began transplanting them to my own. I moved that bed out there seven years ago. What you found has grown since from roots I overlooked and seeds that fell at that time. Now do you think I am enough of an authority to trust my word on the subject?"
There was not a change of expression on her white face.
"You surely should know," she said wearily, "and you could have no possible object in deceiving me. Please go on."
"Any country boy or girl can find ginseng, gather, wash, and dry it, and get five dollars a pound. I can return yours to-morrow and you can cure and take it to a druggist I will name you, and sell for that. But if you will allow me to make a suggestion, you can get more. Your roots are now on the trays of an evaporating house. They will dry to the proper degree desired by the trade, so that they will not lose an extra ounce in weight, and if I send them with my stuff to big wholesale houses I deal with, they will be graded with the finest wild ginseng. It is worth more than the cultivated and you will get closer eight dollars a pound for it than five. There is some speculation in it, and the market fluctuates: but, as a rule, I sell for the highest price the drug brings, and, at times when the season is very dry, I set my own prices. Shall I return yours or may I cure and sell it, and bring you the money?"
"How much trouble would that make you?"
"None. The work of digging and washing is already finished. All that remains is to weigh it and make a memorandum of the amount when I sell. I should very much like to do it. It would be a comfort to see the money go into your hands. If you are afraid to trust me, I will give you the names of several people you can ask concerning me the next time you go to the city."
She looked at him steadily.
"Never mind that," she said. "But why do you offer to do it for a stranger? It must be some trouble, no matter how small you represent it to be."
"Perhaps I am going to pay you eight and sell for ten."
"I don't think you can. Five sounds fabulous to me. I can't believe that. If you wanted to make money you needn't have told me you took it. I never would have known. That isn't your reason!"
"Possibly I would like to atone for those tears I caused," said the Harvester.
"Don't think of that! They are of no consequence to any one. You needn't do anything for me on that account."
"Don't search for a reason," said the Harvester, in his gentlest tones. "Forget that feature of the case. Say I'm peculiar, and allow me to do it because it would be a pleasure. In close two weeks I will bring you the money. Is it a bargain?"
"Yes, if you care to make it."
"I care very much. We will call that settled."
"I wish I could tell you what it will mean to me," said the Girl.
"If you only would," plead the Harvester.
"I must not burden a stranger with my troubles."
"But if it would make the stranger so happy!"
"That isn't possible. I must face life and bear what it brings me alone."
"Not unless you choose," said the Harvester. "That is, if you will pardon me, a narrow view of life. It cuts other people out of the joy of service. If you can't tell me, would you trust a very lovely and gentle woman I could bring to you?"
"No more than you. It is my affair; I must work it out myself."
"I am mighty sorry," said the Harvester. "I believe you err in that decision. Think it over a day or so, and see if two heads are not better than one. You will realize when this ginseng matter is settled that you profited by trusting me. The same will hold good along other lines, if you only can bring yourself to think so. At any rate, try. Telling a trouble makes it lighter. Sympathy should help, if nothing can be done. And as for money, I can show you how to earn sums at least worth your time, if you have nothing else you want to do."
The Girl bent toward him.
"Oh please do tell me!" she cried eagerly. "I've tried and tried to find some way ever since I have been here, but every one else I have met says I can't, and nothing seems to be worth anything. If you only would tell me something I could do!"
"If you will excuse my saying so," said the Harvester, "it appeals to me that ease, not work, is the thing you require. You appear extremely worn. Won't you let me help you find a way to a long rest first?"
"Impossible!" cried the Girl. "I know I am white and appear ill, but truly I never have been sick in all my life. I have been having trouble and working too much, but I'll be better soon. Believe me, there is no rest for me now. I must earn the money I owe first."
"There is a way, if you care to take it," said the Harvester. "In my work I have become very well acquainted with the chief surgeon of the city hospital. Through him I happen to know that he has a free bed in a beautiful room, where you could rest until you are perfectly strong again, and that room is empty just now. When you are well, I will tell you about the work."
As she arose the Harvester stood, and tall and straight she faced him.
"Impossible!" she said. "It would be brutal to leave my aunt. I cannot pay to rest in a hospital ward, and I will not accept charity. If you can put me in the way of earning, even a few cents a day, at anything I could do outside the work necessary to earn my board here, it would bring me closer to happiness than anything else on earth."
"What I suggest is not impossible," said the Harvester softly. "If you will go, inside an hour a sweet and gentle lady will come for you and take you to ease and perfect rest until you are strong again. I will see that your aunt is cared for scrupulously. I can't help urging you. It is a crime to talk of work to a woman so manifestly worn as you are."
"Then we will not speak of it," said the Girl wearily. "It is time for me to go, anyway. I see you mean to be very kind, and while I don't in the least understand it, I do hope you feel I am grateful. If half you say about the ginseng comes true, I can make a payment worth while before I had hoped to. I have no words to tell you what that will mean to me."
"If this debt you speak of were paid, could you rest then?"
"I could lie down and give up in peace, and I think I would."
"I think you wouldn't," said the Harvester, "because you wouldn't be allowed. There are people in these days who make a business of securing rest for the tired and over weary, and they would come and prevent that if you tried it. Please let me make another suggestion. If you owe money to some one you feel needs it and the debt is preying on you, let's pay it."
He drew a small check-book from his pocket and slipped a pen from a band.
"If you will name the amount and give me the address, you shall be free to go to the rest I ask for you inside an hour."
Then slowly from head to foot she looked at him.
"Because your face and attitude clearly indicate that you are over tired. Believe me, you do yourself wrong if you refuse."
"In what way would changing creditors rest me?"
"I thought perhaps you were owing some one who needed the money. I am not a rich man, but I have no one save myself to provide for and I have funds lying idle that I would be glad to use for you. If you make a point of it, when you are rested, you can repay me."
"My creditor needs the money, but I should prefer owing him rather than a perfect stranger. What you suggest would help me not at all. I must go now."
"Very well," said the Harvester. "If you will tell me whom to ask for and where you live, I will come to see you to-morrow and bring you some pamphlets. With these and with a little help you soon can earn any amount a girl is likely to owe. It will require but a little while. Where can I find you?"
The Girl hesitated and for the first time a hint of colour flushed her cheek. But courage appeared to be her strong point.
"Do you live in this part of the country?" she asked.
"I live ten miles from here, east of Onabasha," he answered.
"Do you know Henry Jameson?"
"By sight and by reputation."
"Did you ever know anything kind or humane of him?"
"I never did."
"My name is Ruth Jameson. At present I am indebted to him for the only shelter I have. His wife is ill through overwork and worry, and I am paying for my bed and what I don't eat, principally, by attempting her work. It scarcely would be fair to Uncle Henry to say that I do it. I stagger around as long as I can stand, then I sit through his abuse. He is a pleasant man. Please don't think I am telling you this to harrow your sympathy further. The reason I explain is because I am driven. If I do not, you will misjudge me when I say that I only can see you here. I understood what you meant when you said Uncle Henry should have known the price of ginseng if he knew it was for sale. He did. He knew what he could get for it, and what he meant to pay me. That is one of his original methods with a woman. If he thought I could earn anything worth while, he would allow me, if I killed myself doing it; and then he would take the money by force if necessary. So I can meet you here only. I can earn just what I may in secret. He buys cattle and horses and is away from home much of the day, and when Aunt Molly is comfortable I can have a few hours."
"I understand," said the Harvester. "But this is an added hardship. Why do you remain? Why subject yourself to force and work too heavy for you?"
"Because his is the only roof on earth where I feel I can pay for all I get. I don't care to discuss it, I only want you to say you understand, if I ask you to bring the pamphlets here and tell me how I can earn money."
"I do," said the Harvester earnestly, although his heart was hot in protest. "You may be very sure that I will not misjudge you. Shall I come at two o'clock to-morrow, Miss Jameson?"
"If you will be so kind."
The Harvester stepped aside and she passed him and crossing the rifled ginseng patch went toward a low brown farmhouse lying in an unkept garden, beside a ragged highway. The man sat on the log she had vacated, held his head between his hands and tried to think, but he could not for big waves of joy that swept over him when he realized that at last he had found her, had spoken with her, and had arranged a meeting for the morrow.
"Belshazzar," he said softly, "I wish I could leave you to protect her. Every day you prove to me that I need you, but Heaven knows her necessity is greater. Bel, she makes my heart ache until it feels like jelly. There seems to be just one thing to do. Get that fool debt paid like lightning, and lift her out of here quicker than that. Now, we will go and see Doc, and call off the watch-dogs of the law. Ahead of them, aren't we, Belshazzar? There is a better day coming; we feel it in our bones, don't we, old partner?"
The Harvester started through the woods on a rush, and as the exercise warmed his heart, he grew wonderfully glad. At last he had found her. Uncertainty was over. If ever a girl needed a home and care he thought she did. He was so jubilant that he felt like crying aloud, shouting for joy, but by and by the years of sober repression made their weight felt, so he climbed into the wagon and politely requested Betsy to make her best time to Onabasha. Betsy had been asked to make haste so frequently of late that she at first almost doubted the sanity of her master, the law of whose life, until recently, had been to take his time. Now he appeared to be in haste every day. She had become so accustomed to being urged to hurry that she almost had developed a gait; so at the Harvester's suggestion she did her level best to Onabasha and the hospital, where she loved to nose Belshazzar and rest near the watering tap under a big tree.
The Harvester went down the hall and into the office on the run, and his face appeared like a materialized embodiment of living joy. Doctor Carey turned at his approach and then bounded half way across the room, his hands outstretched.
"You've found her, David!"
The Harvester grabbed the hand of his friend and stood pumping it up and down while he gulped at the lump in his throat, and big tears squeezed from his eyes, but he could only nod his proud head.
"Found her!" exulted Doctor Carey. "Really found her! Well that's great! Sit down and tell me, boy! Is she sick, as we feared? Did you only see her or did you get to talk with her?"
"Well sir," said the Harvester, choking back his emotions, "you remember that ginseng I told you about getting on the old Jameson place last night. To-day, I learned I'd lost that hand-made mattock I use most, and I went back for it, and there she was."
"In the country?"
"Well why didn't we think of it before?"
"I suppose first we would have had to satisfy ourselves that she wasn't in town, anyway."
"Sure! That would be the logical way to go at it! And so you found her?"
"Yes sir, I found her! Just Belshazzar and I! I was going along on my way to the place, and he ran past me and made a stiff point, and when I came up, there she was!"
"There she was?"
"Yes sir; there she was!"
They shook hands again.
"Then of course you spoke to her."
"Yes I spoke to her."
"Were you pleased?"
"With her speech and manner?——yes. But, Doc, if ever a woman needed everything on earth!"
"Well did you get any kind of a start made?"
"I couldn't do so very much. I had to go a little slow for fear of frightening her, but I tried to get her to come here and she won't until a debt she owes is paid, and she's in no condition to work."
"Got any idea how much it is?"
"No, but it can't be any large sum. I tried to offer to pay it, but she had no hesitation in telling me she preferred owing a man she knew to a stranger."
"Well if she is so particular, how did she come to tell you first thing that she was in debt?"
The Harvester explained.
"Oh I see!" said the doctor. "Well you'll have to baby her along with the idea that she is earning money and pay her double until you get that off her mind, and while you are at it, put in your best licks, my boy; perk right up and court her like a house afire. Women like it. All of them do. They glory in feeling that a man is crazy about them."
"Well I'm insane enough over her," said the Harvester, "but I'd hate like the nation for her to know it. Seems as if a woman couldn't respect such an addle-pate as I am lately."
"Don't you worry about that," advised the doctor. "Just you make love to her. Go at it in the good old-fashioned way."
"But maybe the 'good old-fashioned way' isn't my way."
"What's the difference whose way it is, if it wins?"
"But Kipling says: 'Each man makes love his own way!'"
"I seem to have heard you mention that name be fore," said the doctor. "Do you regard him as an authority?"
"I do!" said the Harvester. "Especially when he advises me after my own heart and reason. Miss Jameson is not a silly girl. She's a woman, and twenty-four at least. I don't want her to care for a trick or a pretence. I do want her to love me. Not that I am worth her attention, but because she needs some strong man fearfully, and I am ready and more 'willing' than the original Barkis. But, like him, I have to let her know it in my way, and court her according to the promptings of my heart."
"You deceive yourself!" said the doctor flatly. "That's all bosh! Your tongue says it for the satisfaction of your ears, and it does sound well. You will court her according to your ideas of the conventions, as you understand them, and strictly in accordance with what you consider the respect due her. If you had followed the thing you call the 'promptings of your heart,' you would have picked her up by main force and brought her to my best ward, instead of merely suggesting it and giving up when she said no. If you had followed your heart, you would have choked the name and amount out of her and paid that devilish debt. You walk away in a case like that, and then have the nerve to come here and prate to me about following your heart. I'll wager my last dollar your heart is sore because you were not allowed to help her; but on the proposition that you followed its promptings I wouldn't stake a penny. That's all tommy-rot!"
"It is," agreed the Harvester. "Utter! But what can a man do?"
"I don't know what you can do! I'd have paid that debt and brought her to the hospital."
"I'll go and ask Mrs. Carey about your courtship. I want her help on this, anyway. I can pick up Miss Jameson and bring her here if any man can, but she is nursing a sick woman who depends solely on her for care. She is above average size, and she has a very decided mind of her own. I don't think you would use force and do what you think best for her, if you were in my place. You would wait until you understood the situation better, and knew that what you did was for the best, ultimately."
"I don't know whether I would or not. One thing is sure: I'm mighty glad you have found her. May I tell my wife?"
"Please do! And ask her if I may depend on her if I need a woman's help. Now I'll call off the valiant police and go home and take a good, sound sleep. Haven't had many since I first saw her."
So Betsy trotted down the valley, up the embankment, crossed the railroad, over the levee across Singing Water, and up the hill to the cabin. As they passed it, the Harvester jumped from the wagon, tossed the hitching strap to Belshazzar, and entered. He walked straight to her door, unlocked it, and uncovering, went inside. Softly he passed from piece to piece of the furniture he had made for her, and then surveyed the walls and floor.
"It isn't half good enough," he said, "but it will have to answer until I can do better. Surely she will know I tried and care for that, anyway. I wonder how long it will take me to get her here. Oh, if I only could know she was comfortable and happy! Happy! She doesn't appear as if she ever had heard that word. Well this will be a good place to teach her. I've always enjoyed myself here. I'm going to have faith that I can win her and make her happy also. When I go to the stable to do my work for the night if I could know she was in this cabin and glad of it, and if I could hear her down here singing like a happy care-free girl, I'd scarcely be able to endure the joy of it."
CHAPTER IX. THE HARVESTER GOES COURTING
"She is on Henry Jameson's farm, four miles west of Onabasha," said the Harvester, as he opened his eyes next morning, and laid a caressing hand on Belshazzar's head. "At two o'clock we are going to see her, and we are going to prolong the visit to the ultimate limit, so we should make things count here before we start."
He worked in a manner that accomplished much. There seemed no end to his energy that morning. Despatching the usual routine, he gathered the herbs that were ready, spread them on the shelves of the dry-house, found time to do several things in the cabin, and polish a piece of furniture before he ate his lunch and hitched Betsy to the wagon. He also had recovered his voice, and talked almost incessantly as he worked. When it neared time to start he dressed carefully. He stood before his bookcase and selected several pamphlets published by the Department of Agriculture. He went to his beds and gathered a large arm load of plants. Then he was ready to make his first trip to see the Dream Girl, but it never occurred to him that he was going courting.
He had decided fully that there would be no use to try to make love to a girl manifestly so ill and in trouble. The first thing, it appeared to him, was to dispel the depression, improve the health, and then do the love making. So, in the most business-like manner possible and without a shade of embarrassment, the Harvester took his herbs and books and started for the Jameson woods. At times as he drove along he espied something that he used growing beside the road and stopped to secure a specimen.
He came down the river bank and reached the ginseng bed at half-past one. He was purposely early. He laid down his books and plants, and rolled the log on which she sat the day before to a more shaded location, where a big tree would serve for a back rest. He pulled away brush and windfalls, heaped dry brown leaves, and tramped them down for her feet. Then he laid the books on the log, the arm load of plants beside them, and went to the river to wash his soiled hands.
Belshazzar's short bark told him the Girl was coming, and between the trees he saw the dog race to meet her and she bent to stroke his head. She wore the same dress and appeared even paler and thinner. The Harvester hurried up the bank, wiping his hands on his handkerchief.
"Glad to see you!" he greeted her casually. "I've fixed you a seat with a back rest to-day. Don't be frightened at the stack of herbs. You needn't gather all of those. They are only suggestions. They are just common roadside plants that have some medicinal value and are worth collecting. Please try my davenport."
"Thank you!" she said as she dropped on the log and leaned her head against the tree. It appeared as if her eyes closed a few seconds in spite of her, and while they were shut the Harvester looked steadily and intently on a face of exquisite beauty, but so marred by pallor and lines of care that search was required to recognize just how handsome she was, and if he had not seen her in perfection in the dream the Harvester might have missed glorious possibilities. To bring back that vision would be a task worth while was his thought. With the first faint quiver of an eyelash the Harvester took a few steps and bent over a plant, and as he did so the Girl's eyes followed him.
He appeared so tall and strong, so bronzed by summer sun and wind, his face so keen and intense, that swift fear caught her heart. Why was he there? Why should he take so much trouble for her? With difficulty she restrained herself from springing up and running away. Turning with the plant in his hand the Harvester saw the panic in her eyes, and it troubled his heart. For an instant he was bewildered, then he understood.
"I don't want you to work when you are not able," he said in his most matter-of-fact voice, "but if you still think that you are, I'll be very glad. I need help just now, more than I can tell you, and there seem to be so few people who can be trusted. Gathering stuff for drugs is really very serious business. You see, I've a reputation to sustain with some of the biggest laboratories in the country, not to mention the fact that I sometimes try compounding a new remedy for some common complaint myself. I rather take pride in the fact that my stuff goes in so fresh and clean that I always get anywhere from three to ten cents a pound above the listed prices for it. I want that money, but I want an unbroken record for doing a job right and being square and careful, much more."
He thought the appearance of fright was fading, and a tinge of interest taking its place. She was looking straight at him, and as he talked he could see her summoning her tired forces to understand and follow him, so he continued:
"One would think that as medicines are required in cases of life and death, collectors would use extreme caution, but some of them are criminally careless. It's a common thing to gather almost any fern for male fern; to throw in anything that will increase weight, to wash imperfectly, and commit many other sins that lie with the collector; beyond that I don't like to think. I suppose there are men who deliberately adulterate pure stuff to make it go farther, but when it comes to drugs, I scarcely can speak of it calmly. I like to do a thing right. I raise most of my plants, bushes, and herbs. I gather exactly in season, wash carefully if water dare be used, clean them otherwise if not, and dry them by a hot air system in an evaporator I built purposely. Each package I put up is pure stuff, clean, properly dried, and fresh. If I caught any man in the act of adulterating any of it I'm afraid he would get hurt badly—and usually I am a peaceable man. I am explaining this to show how very careful you must be to keep things separate and collect the right plants if you are going to sell stuff to me. I am extremely particular."
The Girl was leaning toward him, watching his face, and hers was slowly changing. She was deeply interested, much impressed, and more at ease. When the Harvester saw he had talked her into confidence he crossed the leaves, and sitting on the log beside her, picked up the books and opened one.
"Oh I will be careful," said the Girl. "If you will trust me to collect for you, I will undertake only what I am sure I know, and I'll do exactly as you tell me."
"There are a dozen things that bring a price ranging from three to fifteen cents a pound, that are in season just now. I suppose you would like to begin on some common, easy things, that will bring the most money."
Without a breath of hesitation she answered, "I will commence on whatever you are short of and need most to have."
The heart of the Harvester gave a leap that almost choked him, for he was vividly conscious of a broken shoe she was hiding beneath her skirts. He wanted to say "thank you," but he was afraid to, so he turned the leaves of the book.
"I am working just now on mullein," he said.
"Oh I know mullein," she cried, with almost a hint of animation in her voice. "The tall, yellow flower stem rising from a circle of green felt leaves!"
"Good!" said the Harvester. "What a pretty way to describe it! Do you know any more plants?"
"Only a few! I had a high-school course in botany, but it was all about flower and leaf formation, nothing at all of what anything was good for. I also learned a few, drawing them for leather and embroidery designs."
"Look here!" cried the Harvester. "I came with an arm load of herbs and expected to tell you all about foxglove, mullein, yarrow, jimson, purple thorn apple, blessed thistle, hemlock, hoarhound, lobelia, and everything in season now; but if you already have a profession, why do you attempt a new one? Why don't you go on drawing? I never saw anything so stupid as most of the designs from nature for book covers and decorations, leather work and pottery. They are the same old subjects worked over and over. If you can draw enough to make original copies, I can furnish you with flowers, vines, birds, and insects, new, unused, and of exquisite beauty, for every month in the year. I've looked into the matter a little, because I am rather handy with a knife, and I carve candlesticks from suitable pieces of wood. I always have trouble getting my designs copied; securing something new and unusual, never! If you can draw just well enough to reproduce what you see, gathering drugs is too slow and tiresome. What you want to do is to reproduce the subjects I will bring, and I'll buy what I want in my work, and sell the remainder at the arts and crafts stores for you. Or I can find out what they pay for such designs at potteries and ceramic factories. You have no time to spend on herbs, when you are in the woods, if you can draw."
"I am surely in the woods," said the Girl, "and I know I can copy correctly. I often made designs for embroidery and leather for the shop mother and I worked for in Chicago."
"Won't they buy them of you now?"
"Do they pay anything worth while?"
"I don't know how their prices compare with others. One place was all I worked for. I think they pay what is fair."
"We will find out," said the Harvester promptly.
"I——I don't think you need waste the time," faltered the Girl. "I had better gather the plants for a while at least."
"Collecting crude drug material is not easy," said the Harvester. "Drawing may not be either, but at least you could sit while you work, and it should bring you more money. Besides, I very much want a moth copied for a candlestick I am carving. Won't you draw that for me? I have some pupae cases and the moths will be out any day now. If I'd bring you one, wouldn't you just make a copy?"
The Girl gripped her hands together and stared straight ahead of her for a second, then she turned to him.
"I'd like to," she said, "but I have nothing to work with. In Chicago they furnished my material at the shop and I drew the design and was paid for the pattern. I didn't know there would be a chance for anything like that here. I haven't even proper pencils."
"Then the way for you to do this is to strip the first mullein plants you see of the petals. I will pay you seventy-five cents a pound for them. By the time you get a few pounds I can have material you need for drawing here and you can go to work on whatever flowers, vines, and things you can find in the woods, with no thanks to any one."
"I can't see that," said the Girl. "It would appear to me that I would be under more obligations than I could repay, and to a stranger."
"I figure it this way," said the Harvester, watching from the corner of his eye. "I can sell at good prices all the mullein flowers I can secure. You collect for me, I buy them. You can use drawing tools; I get them for you, and you pay me with the mullein or out of the ginseng money I owe you. You already have that coming, and it's just as much yours as it will be ten days from now. You needn't hesitate a second about drawing on it, because I am in a hurry for the moth pattern. I find time to carve only at night, you see. As for being under obligations to a stranger, in the first place all the debt would be on my side. I'd get the drugs and the pattern I want; and, in the second place, I positively and emphatically refuse to be a stranger. It would be so much better to be mutual helpers and friends of the kind worth having; and the sooner we begin, the sooner we can work together to good advantage. Get that stranger idea out of your head right now, and replace it with thoughts of a new friend, who is willing"—the Harvester detected panic in her eyes and ended casually—"to enter a partnership that will be of benefit to both of us. Partners can't be strangers, you know," he finished.
"I don't know what to think," said the Girl.
"Never bother your head with thinking," advised the Harvester with an air of large wisdom. "It is unprofitable and very tiring. Any one can see that you are too weary now. Don't dream of such a foolish thing as thinking. Don't worry over motives and obligations. Say to yourself, 'I'll enter this partnership and if it brings me anything good, I'm that much ahead. If it fails, I have lost nothing.' That's the way to look at it."
Then before she could answer he continued: "Now I want all the mullein bloom I can get. You'll see the yellow heads everywhere. Strip the petals and bring them here, and I'll come for them every day. They must go on the trays as fresh as possible. On your part, we will make out the order now."
He took a pencil and notebook from his pocket.
"You want drawing pencils and brushes; how many, what make and size?"
The Girl hesitated for a moment as if struggling to decide what to do; then she named the articles.
He wrote that down, and asked if there was more.
"I think," he said, "that I can get this order filled in Onabasha. The art stores should keep these things. And shouldn't you have water-colour paper and some paint?"
Then there was a flash across the white face.
"Oh if I only could!" she cried. "All my life I have been crazy for a box of colour, but I never could afford it, and of course, I can't now. But if this splendid plan works, and I can earn what I owe, then maybe I can."
"Well this 'splendid plan' is going to 'work,' don't you bother about that," said the Harvester. "It has begun working right now. Don't worry a minute. After things have gone wrong for a certain length of time, they always veer and go right a while as compensation. Don't think of anything save that you are at the turning. Since it is all settled that we are to be partners, would you name me the figures of the debt that is worrying you? Don't, if you mind. I just thought perhaps we could get along better if I knew. Is it——say five hundred dollars?"
"Oh dear no!" cried the Girl in a panic. "I never could face that! It is not quite one hundred, and that seems big as a mountain to me."
"Forget it!" he cried. "The ginseng will pay more than half; that I know. I can bring you the cash in a little over a week."
She started to speak, hesitated, and at last turned to him.
"Would you mind," she said, "if I asked you to keep it until I can find a way to go to town? It's too far to walk and I don't know how to send it. Would I dare put it in a letter?"
"Never!" said the Harvester. "You want a draft. That money will be too precious to run any risks. I'll bring it to you and you can write a note and explain to whom you want it paid, and I'll take it to the bank for you and get your draft. Then you can write a letter, and half your worry will be over safely."
"It must be done in a sure way," said the Girl. "If I knew I had the money to pay that much on what I owe, and then lost it, I simply could not endure it. I would lie down and give up as Aunt Molly has."
"Forget that too!" said the Harvester. "Wipe out all the past that has pain in it. The future is going to be beautifully bright. That little bird on the bush there just told me so, and you are always safe when you trust the feathered folk. If you are going to live in the country any length of time, you must know them, and they will become a great comfort. Are you planning to be here long?"
"I have no plans. After what I saw Chicago do to my mother I would rather finish life in the open than return to the city. It is horrible here, but at least I'm not hungry, and not afraid——all the time."
"Gracious Heaven!" cried the Harvester. "Do you mean to say that you are afraid any part of the time? Would you kindly tell me of whom, and why?"
"You should know without being told that when a woman born and reared in a city, and all her life confined there, steps into the woods for the first time, she's bound to be afraid. The last few weeks constitute my entire experience with the country, and I'm in mortal fear that snakes will drop from trees and bushes or spring from the ground. Some places I think I'm sinking, and whenever a bush catches my skirts it seems as if something dreadful is reaching up for me; there is a possibility of horror lurking behind every tree and——"
"Stop!" cried the Harvester. "I can't endure it! Do you mean to tell me that you are afraid here and now?"
She met his eyes squarely.
"Yes," she said. "It almost makes me ill to sit on this log without taking a stick and poking all around it first. Every minute I think something is going to strike me in the back or drop on my head."
The Harvester grew very white beneath the tan, and that developed a nice, sickly green complexion for him.
"Am I part of your tortures?" he asked tersely.
"Why shouldn't you be?" she answered. "What do I know of you or your motives or why you are here?"
"I have had no experience with the atmosphere that breeds such an attitude in a girl."
"That is a thing for which to thank Heaven. Undoubtedly it is gracious to you. My life has been different."
"Yet in mortal terror of the woods, and probably equal fear of me, you are here and asking for work that will keep you here."
"I would go through fire and flood for the money I owe. After that debt is paid——"
She threw out her hands in a hopeless gesture. The Harvester drew forth a roll of bills and tossed them into her lap.
"For the love of mercy take what you need and pay it," he said. "Then get a floor under your feet, and try, I beg of you, try to force yourself to have confidence in me, until I do something that gives you the least reason for distrusting me."
She picked up the money and gave it a contemptuous whirl that landed it at his feet.
"What greater cause of distrust could I have by any possibility than just that?" she asked.
The Harvester arose hastily, and taking several steps, he stood with folded arms, his back turned. The Girl sat watching him with wide eyes, the dull blue plain in their dusky depths. When he did not speak, she grew restless. At last she slowly arose and circling him looked into his face. It was convulsed with a struggle in which love and patience fought for supremacy over honest anger. As he saw her so close, his lips drew apart, and his breath came deeply, but he did not speak. He merely stood and looked at her, and looked; and she gazed at him as if fascinated, but uncomprehending.
The call came roaring up the hill. The Girl shivered and became paler.
"Is that your uncle?" asked the Harvester.
"Will you come to-morrow for your drawing materials?"
"Will you try to believe that there is absolutely nothing, either underfoot or overhead, that will harm you?"
"Will you try to think that I am not a menace to public safety, and that I would do much to help you, merely because I would be glad to be of service?"
"Will you try to cultivate the idea that there is nothing in all this world that would hurt you purposely?"
"Ruth!" came a splitting scream in gruff man-tones, keyed in deep anger.
"That SOUNDS like it!" said the Girl, and catching up her skirts she ran through the woods, taking a different route toward the house.
The Harvester sat on the log and tried to think; but there are times when the numbed brain refuses to work, so he really sat and suffered. Belshazzar whimpered and licked his hands, and at last the man arose and went with the dog to the wagon. As they came through Onabasha, Betsy turned at the hospital corner, but the Harvester pulled her around and drove toward the country. Not until they crossed the railroad did he lift his head and then he drew a deep breath as if starved for pure air and spoke. "Not to-day Betsy! I can't face my friends just now. Someway I am making an awful fist of things. Everything I do is wrong. She no more trusts me than you would a rattlesnake, Belshazzar; and from all appearance she takes me to be almost as deadly. What must have been her experiences in life to ingrain fear and distrust in her soul at that rate? I always knew I was not handsome, but I never before regarded my appearance as alarming. And I 'fixed up,' too!"
The Harvester grinned a queer little twist of a grin that pulled and distorted his strained face. "Might as well have gone with a week's beard, a soiled shirt, and a leer! And I've always been as decent as I knew! What's the reward for clean living anyway, if the girl you love strikes you like that?"
Belshazzar reached across and kissed him. The Harvester put his arm around the dog. In the man's disappointment and heart hunger he leaned his head against the beast and said, "I've always got you to love and protect me, anyway, Belshazzar. Maybe the man who said a dog was a man's best friend was right. You always trusted me, didn't you Bel? And you never regretted it but once, and that wasn't my fault. I never did it! If I did, I'm getting good and well paid for it. I'd rather be kicked until all the ribs of one side are broken, Bel, than to swallow the dose she just handed me. I tell you it was bitter, lad! What am I going to do? Can't you help me, Bel?"
Belshazzar quivered in anxiety to offer the comfort he could not speak.
"Of course you are right! You always are, Bel!" said the Harvester. "I know what you are trying to tell me. Sure enough, she didn't have any dream. I am afraid she had the bitterest reality. She hasn't been loving a vision of me, working and searching for me, and I don't mean to her what she does to me. Of course I see that I must be patient and bide my time. If there is anything in 'like begetting like' she is bound to care for me some day, for I love her past all expression, and for all she feels I might as well save my breath. But she has got to awake some day, Bel. She can make up her mind to that. She can't see 'why.' Over and over! I wonder what she would think if I'd up and tell her 'why' with no frills. She will drive me to it some day, then probably the shock will finish her. I wonder if Doc was only fooling or if he really would do what he said. It might wake her up, anyway, but I'm dubious as to the result. How Uncle Henry can roar! He sounded like a fog horn. I'd love to try my muscle on a man like that. No wonder she is afraid of him, if she is of me. Afraid! Well of all things I ever did expect, Belshazzar, that is the limit."
CHAPTER X. THE CHIME OF THE BLUE BELLS
The Harvester finished his evening work and went to examine the cocoons. Many of the moths had emerged and flown, but the luna cases remained in the bottom of the box. As he stood looking at them one moved and he smiled.
"I'd give something if you would come out and be ready to work on by to-morrow afternoon," he said. "Possibly you would so interest her that she would forget her fear of me. I'd like mighty well to take you along, because she might care for you, and I do need the pattern for my candlestick. Believe I'll lay you in a warmer place."
The first thing the next morning the Harvester looked and found the open cocoon and the wet moth clinging by its feet to a twig he had placed for it.
"Luck is with me!" he exulted. "I'll carry you to her and be mighty careful what I say, and maybe she will forget about the fear."
All the forenoon he cut and spread boneset, saffron, and hemlock on the trays to dry. At noon he put on a fresh outfit, ate a hasty lunch, and drove to Onabasha. He carried the moth in a box, and as he started he picked up a rake. He went to an art store and bought the pencils and paper she had ordered. He wanted to purchase everything he saw for her, but he was fast learning a lesson of deep caution. If he took more than she ordered, she would worry over paying, and if he refused to accept money, she would put that everlasting "why" at him again. The water-colour paper and paint he could not forego. He could make a desire to have the moth coloured explain those, he thought.
Then he went to a furniture store and bought several articles, and forgetting his law against haste, he drove Betsy full speed to the river. He was rather heavily ladened as he went up the bank, and it was only one o'clock. There was an hour. He rolled away the log, raked together and removed the leaves to the ground. He tramped the earth level and spread a large cheap porch rug. On this he opened and placed a little folding table and chair. On the table he spread the pencils, paper, colour box and brushes, and went to the river to fill the water cup. Then he sat on the log he had rolled to one side and waited. After two hours he arose and crept as close the house as he could through the woods, but he could not secure a glimpse of the Girl. He went back and waited an hour more, and then undid his work and removed it. When he came to the moth his face was very grim as he lifted the twig and helped the beautiful creature to climb on a limb. "You'll be ready to fly in a few hours," he said. "If I keep you in a box you will ruin your wings and be no suitable subject, and put you in a cyanide jar I will not. I am hurt too badly myself. I wonder if what Doc said was the right way! It's certainly a temptation."
Then he went home; and again Betsy veered at the hospital, and once more the Harvester explained to her that he did not want to see the doctor. That evening and the following forenoon were difficult, but the Harvester lived through them, and in the afternoon went back to the woods, spread his rug, and set up the table. Only one streak of luck brightened the gloom in his heart. A yellow emperor had emerged in the night, and now occupied the place of yesterday's luna. She never need know it was not the one he wanted, and it would make an excuse for the colour box.
He was watching intently and saw her coming a long way off. He noticed that she looked neither right nor left, but came straight as if walking a bridge. As she reached the place she glanced hastily around and then at him. The Harvester forgave her everything as he saw the look of relief with which she stepped upon the carpet. Then she turned to him.
"I won't have to ask 'why' this time," she said. "I know that you did it because I was baby enough to tell what a coward I am. I'm sure you can't afford it, and I know you shouldn't have done it, but oh, what a comfort! If you will promise never to do any such expensive, foolish, kind thing again, I'll say thank you this time. I couldn't come yesterday, because Aunt Molly was worse and Uncle Henry was at home all day."
"I supposed it was something like that," said the Harvester.
She advanced and handed him the roll of bills.
"I had a feeling you would be reckless," she said. "I saw it in your face, so I came back as soon as I could steal away, and sure enough, there lay your money and the books and everything. I hid them in the thicket, so they will be all right. I've almost prayed it wouldn't rain. I didn't dare carry them to the house. Please take the money. I haven't time to argue about it or strength, but of course I can't possibly use it unless I earn it. I'm so anxious to see the pencils and paper."
The Harvester thrust the money into his pocket. The Girl went to the table, opened and spread the paper, and took out the pencils.
"Is my subject in here?" she touched the colour box.
"No, the other."
"Is it alive? May I open it?"
"We will be very careful at first," said the Harvester. "It only left its case in the night and may fly. When the weather is so warm the wings develop rapidly. Perhaps if I remove the lid——"
He took off the cover, exposing a big moth, its lovely, pale yellow wings, flecked with heliotrope, outspread as it clung to a twig in the box. The Girl leaned forward.
"What is it?" she asked.
"One of the big night moths that emerge and fly a few hours in June."
"Is this what you want for your candlestick?"
"If I can't do better. There is one other I prefer, but it may not come at a time that you can get it right."
"What do you mean by 'right'?"
"So that you can copy it before it wants to fly."
"Why don't you chloroform and pin it until I am ready?"
"I am not in the business of killing and impaling exquisite creatures like that."
"Do you mean that if I can't draw it when it is just right you will let it go?"
"I told you why."
"I know you said you were not in the business, but why wouldn't you take only one you really wanted to use?"
"I would be afraid," replied the Harvester.
"I must have a mighty good reason before I kill," said the man. "I cannot give life; I have no right to take it away. I will let my statement stand. I am afraid."
"Of what please?"
"An indefinable something that follows me and makes me suffer if I am wantonly cruel."
"Is there any particular pose in which you want this bird placed?"
"Allow me to present you to the yellow emperor, known in the books as eagles imperialis," he said. "I want him as he clings naturally and life size."
She took up a pencil.
"If you don't mind," said the Harvester, "would you draw on this other paper? I very much want the colour, also, and you can use it on this. I brought a box along, and I'll get you water. I had it all ready yesterday."
"Did you have this same moth?"
"No, I had another."
"Did you have the one you wanted most?"
"Yes——but it's no difference."
"And you let it go because I was not here?"
"No. It went on account of exquisite beauty. If kept in confinement it would struggle and break its wings. You see, that one was a delicate green, where this is yellow, plain pale blue green, with a lavender rib here, and long curled trailers edged with pale yellow, and eye spots rimmed with red and black."
As the Harvester talked he indicated the points of difference with a pencil he had picked up; now he laid it down and retreated beyond the limits of the rug.
"I see," said the Girl. "And this is colour?"
She touched the box.
"A few colours, rather," said the Harvester. "I selected enough to fill the box, with the help of the clerk who sold them to me. If they are not right, I have permission to return and exchange them for anything you want."
With eager fingers she opened the box, and bent over it a face filled with interest.
"Oh how I've always wanted this! I scarcely can wait to try it. I do hope I can have it for my very own. Was it quite expensive?"
"No. Very cheap!" said the Harvester. "The paper isn't worth mentioning. The little, empty tin box was only a few cents, and the paints differ according to colour. Some appear to be more than others. I was surprised that the outfit was so inexpensive."
A skeptical little smile wavered on the Girl's face as she drew her slender fingers across the trays of bright colour.
"If one dared accept your word, you really would be a comfort," she said, as she resolutely closed the box, pushed it away, and picked up a pencil.
"If you will take the trouble to inquire at the banks, post office, express office, hospital or of any druggist in Onabasha, you will find that my word is exactly as good as my money, and taken quite as readily."
"I didn't say I doubted you. I have no right to do that until I feel you deceive me. What I said was 'dared accept,' which means I must not, because I have no right. But you make one wonder what you would do if you were coaxed and asked for things and led by insinuations."
"I can tell you that," said the Harvester. "It would depend altogether on who wanted anything of me and what they asked. If you would undertake to coax and insinuate, you never would get it done, because I'd see what you needed and have it at hand before you had time."
The Girl looked at him wonderingly.
"Now don't spring your recurrent 'why' on me," said the Harvester. "I'll tell you 'why' some of these days. Just now answer me this question: Do you want me to remain here or leave until you finish? Which way would you be least afraid?"
"I am not at all afraid on the rug and with my work," she said. "If you want to hunt ginseng go by all means."
"I don't want to hunt anything," said the Harvester. "But if you are more comfortable with me away, I'll be glad to go. I'll leave the dog with you."
He gave a short whistle and Belshazzar came bounding to him. The Harvester stepped to the Girl's side, and dropping on one knee, he drew his hand across the rug close to her skirts.
"Right here, Belshazzar," he said. "Watch! You are on guard, Bel."
"Well of all names for a dog!" exclaimed the Girl. "Why did you select that?"
"My mother named my first dog Belshazzar, and taught me why; so each of the three I've owned since have been christened the same. It means 'to protect' and that is the office all of them perform; this one especially has filled it admirably. Once I failed him, but he never has gone back on me. You see he is not a particle afraid of me. Every step I take, he is at my heels."
"So was Bill Sikes' dog, if I remember."
The Harvester laughed.
"Bel," he said, "if you could speak you'd say that was an ugly one, wouldn't you?"
The dog sprang up and kissed the face of the man and rubbed a loving head against his breast.
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "Now lie down and protect this woman as carefully as you ever watched in your life. And incidentally, Bel, tell her that she can't exterminate me more than once a day, and the performance is accomplished for the present. I refuse to be a willing sacrifice. 'So was Bill Sikes' dog!' What do you think of that, Bel?"
The Harvester arose and turned to go.
"What if this thing attempts to fly?" she asked.
"Your pardon," said the Harvester. "If the emperor moves, slide the lid over the box a few seconds, until he settles and clings quietly again, and then slowly draw it away. If you are careful not to jar the table heavily he will not go for hours yet."
Again he turned.
"If there is no danger, why do you leave the dog?"
"For company," said the Harvester. "I thought you would prefer an animal you are not afraid of to a man you are. But let me tell you there is no necessity for either. I know a woman who goes alone and unafraid through every foot of woods in this part of the country. She has climbed, crept, and waded, and she tells me she never saw but two venomous snakes this side of Michigan. Nothing ever dropped on her or sprang at her. She feels as secure in the woods as she does at home."
"Isn't she afraid of snakes?"
"She dislikes snakes, but she is not afraid or she would not risk encountering them daily."
"Do you ever find any?"
"Harmless little ones, often. That is, Bel does. He is always nosing for them, because he understands that I work in the earth. I think I have encountered three dangerous ones in my life. I will guarantee you will not find one in these woods. They are too open and too much cleared."
"Then why leave the dog?"
"I thought," said the Harvester patiently, "that your uncle might have turned in some of his cattle, or if pigs came here the dog could chase them away."
She looked at him with utter panic in her face.
"I am far more afraid of a cow than a snake!" she cried. "It is so much bigger!"
"How did you ever come into these woods alone far enough to find the ginseng?" asked the Harvester. "Answer me that!"
"I wore Uncle Henry's top boots and carried a rake, and I suffered tortures," she replied.
"But you hunted until you found what you wanted, and came again to keep watch on it?"
"I was driven—simply forced. There's no use to discuss it!"
"Well thank the Lord for one thing," said the Harvester. "You didn't appear half so terrified at the sight of me as you did at the mere mention of a cow. I have risen inestimably in my own self-respect. Belshazzar, you may pursue the elusive chipmunk. I am going to guard this woman myself, and please, kind fates, send a ferocious cow this way, in order that I may prove my valour."
The Girl's face flushed slightly, and she could not restrain a laugh. That was all the Harvester hoped for and more. He went beyond the edge of the rug and sat on the leaves under a tree. She bent over her work and only bird and insect notes and occasionally Belshazzar's excited bark broke the silence. The Harvester stretched on the ground, his eyes feasting on the Girl. Intensely he watched every movement. If a squirrel barked she gave a nervous start, so precipitate it seemed as if it must hurt. If a windfall came rattling down she appeared ready to fly in headlong terror in any direction. At last she dropped her pencil and looked at him helplessly.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The silence and these awful crashes when one doesn't know what is coming," she said.
"Will it bother you if I talk? Perhaps the sound of my voice will help?"
"I am accustomed to working when people talk, and it will be a comfort. I may be able to follow you, and that will prevent me from thinking. There are dreadful things in my mind when they are not driven out. Please talk! Tell me about the herbs you gathered this morning."
The Harvester gave the Girl one long look as she bent over her work. He was vividly conscious of the graceful curves of her little figure, the coil of dark, silky hair, softly waving around her temples and neck, and when her eyes turned in his direction he knew that it was only the white, drawn face that restrained him. He was almost forced to tell her how he loved and longed for her; about the home he had prepared; of a thousand personal interests. Instead, he took a firm grip and said casually, "Foxglove harvest is over. This plant has to be taken when the leaves are in second year growth and at bloom time. I have stripped my mullein beds of both leaves and flowers. I finished a week ago. Beyond lies a stretch of Parnassus grass that made me think of you, it was so white and delicate. I want you to see it. It will be lovely in a few weeks more."
"You never had seen me a week ago."
"Oh hadn't I?" said the Harvester. "Well maybe I dreamed about you then. I am a great dreamer. Once I had a dream that may interest you some day, after you've overcome your fear of me. Now this bed of which I was speaking is a picture in September. You must arrange to drive home with me and see it then."
"For what do you sell foxglove and mullein?"
"Foxglove for heart trouble, and mullein for catarrh. I get ten cents a pound for foxglove leaves and five for mullein and from seventy-five to a dollar for flowers of the latter, depending on how well I preserve the colour in drying them. They must be sealed in bottles and handled with extreme care."
"Then if I wasn't too childish to be out picking them, I could be earning seventy-five cents a pound for mullein blooms?"
"Yes," said the Harvester, "but until you learned the trick of stripping them rapidly you scarcely could gather what would weigh two pounds a day, when dried. Not to mention the fact that you would have to stand and work mostly in hot sunshine, because mullein likes open roads and fields and sunny hills. Now you can sit securely in the shade, and in two hours you can make me a pattern of that moth, for which I would pay a designer of the arts and crafts shop five dollars, so of course you shall have the same."
"Oh no!" she cried in swift panic. "You were charged too much! It isn't worth a dollar, even!"
"On the contrary the candlestick on which I shall use it will be invaluable when I finish it, and five is very little for the cream of my design. I paid just right. You can earn the same for all you can do. If you can embroider linen, they pay good prices for that, too and wood carving, metal work, or leather things. May I see how you are coming on?"
"Please do," she said.
The Harvester sprang up and looked over the Girl's shoulder. He could not suppress an exclamation of delight.
"Perfect!" he cried. "You can surpass their best drafting at the shop! Your fortune is made. Any time you want to go to Onabasha you can make enough to pay your board, dress you well, and save something every week. You must leave here as soon as you can manage it. When can you go?"
"I don't know," she said wearily. "I'd hate to tell you how full of aches I am. I could not work much just now, if I had the best opportunities in the world. I must grow stronger."
"You should not work at anything until you are well," he said. "It is a crime against nature to drive yourself. Why will you not allow——"
"Do you really think, with a little practice, I can draw designs that will sell?"
The Harvester picked up the sheet. The work was delicate and exact. He could see no way to improve it.
"You know it will sell," he said gently, "because you already have sold such work."
"But not for the prices you offer."
"The prices I name are going to be for NEW, ORIGINAL DESIGNS. I've got a thousand in my head, that old Mother Nature shows me in the woods and on the water every day."
"But those are yours; I can't take them."
"You must," said the Harvester. "I only see and recognize studies; I can't materialize them, and until they are drawn, no one can profit by them. In this partnership we revolutionize decorative art. There are actually birds besides fat robins and nondescript swallows. The crane and heron do not monopolize the water. Wild rose and golden-rod are not the only flowers. The other day I was gathering lobelia. The seeds are used in tonic preparations. It has an upright stem with flowers scattered along it. In itself it is not much, but close beside it always grows its cousin, tall bell-flower. As the name indicates, the flowers are bell shape and I can't begin to describe their grace, beauty, and delicate blue colour. They ring my strongest call to worship. My work keeps me in the woods so much I remain there for my religion also. Whenever I find these flowers I always pause for a little service of my own that begins by reciting these lines:
"'Neath cloistered boughs, each floral bell that swingeth And tolls its perfume on the passing air, Makes Sabbath in the fields, and ever ringeth A call to prayer."
"Beautiful!" said the Girl.
"It's mighty convenient," explained the Harvester. "By my method, you see, you don't have to wait for your day and hour of worship. Anywhere the blue bell rings its call it is Sunday in the woods and in your heart. After I recite that, I pray my prayer."
"Go on!" said the Girl. "This is no place to stop."
"It is always one and the same prayer, and there are only two lines of it," said the Harvester. "It runs this way—— Let me take your pencil and I will write it for you."
He bent over her shoulder, and traced these lines on a scrap of the wrapping paper:
"Almighty Evolver of the Universe: Help me to keep my soul and body clean, And at all times to do unto others as I would be done by. Amen."
The Girl took the slip and sat studying it; then she raised her eyes to his face curiously, but with a tinge of awe in them.
"I can see you standing over a blue, bell-shaped flower reciting those exquisite lines and praying this wonderful prayer," she said. "Yesterday you allowed the moth you were willing to pay five dollars for a drawing of, to go, because you wouldn't risk breaking its wings. Why you are more like a woman!"
A red stream crimsoned the Harvester's face.
"Well heretofore I have been considered strictly masculine," he said. "To appreciate beauty or to try to be just commonly decent is not exclusively feminine. You must remember there are painters, poets, musicians, workers in art along almost any line you could mention, and no one calls them feminine, but there is one good thing if I am. You need no longer fear me. If you should see me, muck covered, grubbing in the earth or on a raft washing roots in the lake, you would not consider me like a woman."
"Would it be any discredit if I did? I think not. I merely meant that most men would not see or hear the blue bell at all——and as for the poem and prayer! If the woods make a man with such fibre in his soul, I must learn them if they half kill me."
"You harp on death. Try to forget the word."
"I have faced it for months, and seen it do its grinding worst very recently to the only thing on earth I loved or that loved me. I have no desire to forget! Tell me more about the plants."
"Forgive me," said the Harvester gently. "Just now I am collecting catnip for the infant and nervous people, hoarhound for colds and dyspepsia, boneset heads and flowers for the same purpose. There is a heavy head of white bloom with wonderful lacy leaves, called yarrow. I take the entire plant for a tonic and blessed thistle leaves and flowers for the same purpose."
"That must be what I need," interrupted the Girl. "Half the time I believe I have a little fever, but I couldn't have dyspepsia, because I never want anything to eat; perhaps the tonic would make me hungry."
"Promise me you will tell that to the doctor who comes to see your aunt, and take what he gives you."
"No doctor comes to see my aunt. She is merely playing lazy to get out of work. There is nothing the matter with her."
"My uncle says that. Really, she could not stand and walk across a room alone. She is simply worn out."
"I shall report the case," said the Harvester instantly.
"You better not!" said the Girl. "There must be a mistake about you knowing my uncle. Tell me more of the flowers."
The Harvester drew a deep breath and continued:
"These I just have named I take at bloom time; next month come purple thorn apple, jimson weed, and hemlock."
"Isn't that poison?"
"Half the stuff I handle is."
"Aren't you afraid?"
"Terribly," said the Harvester in laughing voice. "But I want the money, the sick folk need the medicine, and I drink water."
The Girl laughed also.
"Look here!" said the Harvester. "Why not tell me just as closely as you can about your aunt, and let me fix something for her; or if you are afraid to trust me, let me have my friend of whom I spoke yesterday."
"Perhaps I am not so much afraid as I was," said the Girl. "I wish I could! How could I explain where I got it and I wonder if she would take it."
"Give it to her without any explanation," said the Harvester. "Tell her it will make her stronger and she must use it. Tell me exactly how she is, and I will fix up some harmless remedies that may help, and can do no harm."
"She simply has been neglected, overworked, and abused until she has lain down, turned her face to the wall, and given up hope. I think it is too late. I think the end will come soon. But I wish you would try. I'll gladly pay——"
"Don't!" said the Harvester. "Not for things that grow in the woods and that I prepare. Don't think of money every minute."
"I must," she said with forced restraint. "It is the price of life. Without it one suffers——horribly——as I know. What other plants do you gather?"
"Saffron," answered the Harvester. "A beautiful thing! You must see it. Tall, round stems, lacy, delicate leaves, big heads of bright yellow bloom, touched with colour so dark it appears black—one of the loveliest plants that grows. You should see my big bed of it in a week or two more. It makes a picture."
The words recalled him to the Girl. He turned to study her. He forgot his commission and chafed at conventions that prevented his doing what he saw was required so urgently. Fearing she would notice, he gazed away through the forest and tried to think, to plan.
"You are not making noise enough," she said.
So absorbed was the Harvester he scarcely heard her. In an attempt to obey he began to whistle softly. A tiny goldfinch in a nest of thistle down and plant fibre in the branching of a bush ten feet above him stuck her head over the brim and inquired, "P'tseet?" "Pt'see!" answer the Harvester. That began the duet. Before the question had been asked and answered a half dozen times a catbird intruded its voice and hearing a reply came through the bushes to investigate. A wren followed and became very saucy. From——one could not see where, came a vireo, and almost at the same time a chewink had something to say.
Instantly the Harvester answered. Then a blue jay came chattering to ascertain what all the fuss was about, and the Harvester carried on a conversation that called up the remainder of the feathered tribe. A brilliant cardinal came tearing through the thicket, his beady black eyes snapping, and demanded to know if any one were harming his mate, brooding under a wild grape leaf in a scrub elm on the river embankment. A brown thrush silently slipped like a snake between shrubs and trees, and catching the universal excitement, began to flirt his tail and utter a weird, whistling cry.
With one eye on the bird, and the other on the Girl sitting in amazed silence, the Harvester began working for effect. He lay quietly, but in turn he answered a dozen birds so accurately they thought their mates were calling, and closer and closer they came. An oriole in orange and black heard his challenge, and flew up the river bank, answering at steady intervals for quite a time before it was visible, and in resorting to the last notes he could think of a quail whistled "Bob White" and a shitepoke, skulking along the river bank, stopped and cried, "Cowk, cowk!"
At his limit of calls the Harvester changed his notes and whistled and cried bits of bird talk in tone with every mellow accent and inflection he could manage. Gradually the excitement subsided, the birds flew and tilted closer, turned their sleek heads, peered with bright eyes, and ventured on and on until the very bravest, the wren and the jay, were almost in touch. Then, tired of hunting, Belshazzar came racing and the little feathered people scattered in precipitate flight.
"How do you like that kind of a noise?" inquired the Harvester.
The Girl drew a deep breath.
"Of course you know that was the most exquisite sight I ever saw," she said. "I never shall forget it. I did not think there were that many different birds in the whole world. Of all the gaudy colours! And they came so close you could have reached out and touched them."
"Yes," said the Harvester calmly. "Birds are never afraid of me. At Medicine Woods, when I call them like that, many, most of them, in fact, eat from my hand. If you ever have looked at me enough to notice bulgy pockets, they are full of wheat. These birds are strangers, but I'll wager you that in a week I can make them take food from me. Of course, my own birds know me, because they are around every day. It is much easier to tame them in winter, when the snow has fallen and food is scarce, but it only takes a little while to win a bird's confidence at any season."
"Birds don't know what there is to be afraid of," she said.
"Your pardon," said the Harvester, "but I am familiar with them, and that is not correct. They have more to fear than human beings. No one is going to kill you merely to see if he can shoot straight enough to hit. Your life is not in danger because you have magnificent hair that some woman would like for an ornament. You will not be stricken out in a flash because there are a few bits of meat on your frame some one wants to eat. No one will set a seductive trap for you, and, if you are tempted to enter it, shut you from freedom and natural diet, in a cage so small you can't turn around without touching bars. You are in a secure and free position compared with the birds. I also have observed that they know guns, many forms of traps, and all of them decide by the mere manner of a man's passing through the woods whether he is a friend or an enemy. Birds know more than many people realize. They do not always correctly estimate gun range, they are foolishly venturesome at times when they want food, but they know many more things than most people give them credit for understanding. The greatest trouble with the birds is they are too willing to trust us and be friendly, so they are often deceived."
"That sounds as if you were right," said the Girl.
"I am of the woods, so I know I am," answered the Harvester.
"Will you look at this now?"
He examined the drawing closely.
"Where did you learn?" he inquired.
"My mother. She was educated to her finger tips. She drew, painted, played beautifully, sang well, and she had read almost all the best books. Besides what I learned at high school she taught me all I know. Her embroidery always brought higher prices than mine, try as I might. I never saw any one else make such a dainty, accurate little stitch as she could."
"If this is not perfect, I don't know how to criticise it. I can and will use it in my work. But I have one luna cocoon remaining and I would give ten dollars for such a drawing of the moth before it flies. It may open to-night or not for several days. If your aunt should be worse and you cannot come to-morrow and the moth emerges, is there any way in which I could send it to you?"
"What could I do with it?"
"I thought perhaps you could take a piece of paper and the pencils with you, and secure an outline in your room. It need not be worked up with all the detail in this. Merely a skeleton sketch would do. Could I leave it at the house or send it with some one?"
"No! Oh no!" she cried. "Leave it here. Put it in a box in the bushes where I hid the books. What are you going to do with these things?"
"Hide them in the thicket and scatter leaves over them."
"What if it rains?"
"I have thought of that. I brought a few yards of oilcloth to-day and they will be safe and dry if it pours."
"Good!" she said. "Then if the moth comes out you bring it, and if I am not here, put it under the cloth and I will run up some time in the afternoon. But if I were you, I would not spread the rug until you know if I can remain. I have to steal every minute I am away, and any day uncle takes a notion to stay at home I dare not come."
"Try to come to-morrow. I am going to bring some medicine for your aunt."
"Put it under the cloth if I am not here; but I will come if I can. I must go now; I have been away far too long."
The Harvester picked up one of the drug pamphlets, laid the drawing inside it, and placed it with his other books. Then he drew out his pocket book and laid a five-dollar bill on the table and began folding up the chair and putting away the things. The Girl looked at the money with eager eyes.
"Is that honestly what you would pay at the arts and crafts place?"
"It is the customary price for my patterns."
"And are you sure this is as good?"
"I can bring you some I have paid that for, and let you see for yourself that it is better."
"I wish you would!" she cried eagerly. "I need that money, and I would like to have it dearly, if I really have earned it, but I can't touch it if I have not."
"Won't you accept my word?"
"No. I will see the other drawings first, and if I think mine are as good, I will be glad to take the money to-morrow."
"What if you can't come?"
"Put them under the oilcloth. I watch all the time and I think Uncle Henry has trained even the boys so they don't play in the river on his land. I never see a soul here; the woods, house, and everything is desolate until he comes home and then it is like——" she paused.
"I'll say it for you," said the Harvester promptly. "Then it is like hell."
"At its worst," supplemented the Girl. Taking pencils and a sheet of paper she went swiftly through the woods. Before she left the shelter of the trees, the Harvester saw her busy her hands with the front of her dress, and he knew that she was concealing the drawing material. The colour box was left, and he said things as he put it with the chair and table, covered them with the rug and oilcloth, and heaped on a layer of leaves.
Then he drove to the city and Betsy turned at the hospital corner with no interference. He could face his friend that day. Despite all discouragements he felt reassured. He was progressing. Means of communication had been established. If she did not come, he could leave a note and tell her if the moth had not emerged and how sorry he was to have missed seeing her.
"Hello, lover!" cried Doctor Carey as the Harvester entered the office. "Are you married yet?"
"No. But I'm going to be," said the Harvester with confidence.
"Have you asked her?"
"No. We are getting acquainted. She is too close to trouble, too ill, and too worried over a sick relative for me to intrude myself; it would be brutal, but it's a temptation. Doc, is there any way to compel a man to provide medical care for his wife?"
"Can he afford it?"
"Amply. Anything! Worth thousands in land and nobody knows what in money. It's Henry Jameson."
"The meanest man I ever knew. If he has a wife it's a marvel she has survived this long. Won't he provide for her?"
"I suppose he thinks he has when she has a bed to lie on and a roof to cover her. He won't supply food she can eat and medicine. He says she is lazy."
"What do you think?"
"I quote Miss Jameson. She says her aunt is slowly dying from overwork and neglect."
"David, doesn't it seem pretty good, when you say 'Miss Jameson'?"
"Loveliest sound on earth, except the remainder of it."
"Jove! That is a beautiful name. Ruth Langston. It will go well, won't it?"
"Music that the birds, insects, Singing Water, the trees, and the breeze can't ever equal. I'm holding on with all my might, but it's tough, Doc. She's in such a dreadful place and position, and she needs so much. She is sick. Can't you give me a prescription for each of them?"
"You just bet I can," said the doctor, "if you can engineer their taking them."
"I suppose you'd hold their noses and pour stuff down them."
"I would if necessary."
"Well, it is."
"All right——I'll fix something, and you see that they use it."
"I can try," said the Harvester.
"Try! Pah! You aren't half a man!"
"That's a half more than being a woman, anyway."
"She called you feminine, did she?" cried the doctor, dancing and laughing. "She ought to see you harvesting skunk cabbage and blue flag or when you are angry enough."
The doctor left the room and it was a half hour before he returned.
"Try that on them according to directions," he said, handing over a couple of bottles.
"Thank you!" said the Harvester, "I will!"
"That sounds manly enough."
"Oh pother! It's not that I'm not a man, or a laggard in love; but I'd like to know what you'd do to a girl dumb with grief over the recent loss of her mother, who was her only relative worth counting, sick from God knows what exposure and privation, and now a dying relative on her hands. What could you do?"
"I'd marry her and pick her out of it!"
"I wouldn't have her, if she'd leave a sick woman for me!"
"I wouldn't either. She's got to stick it out until her aunt grows better, and then I'll go out there and show you how to court a girl."
"I guess not! You keep the girl you did court, courted, and you'll have your hands full. How does that appear to you?"
The Harvester opened the pamphlet he carried and held up the drawing of the moth.
The doctor turned to the light.
"Good work!" he cried. "Did she do that?"
"She did. In a little over an hour."
"Fine! She should have a chance."
"She is going to. She is going to have all the opportunity that is coming to her."
"Good for you, David! Any time I can help!"
The Harvester replaced the sketch and went to the wagon; but he left Belshazzar in charge, and visited the largest dry goods store in Onabasha, where he held a conference with the floor walker. When he came out he carried a heaping load of boxes of every size and shape, with a label on each. He drove to Medicine Woods singing and whistling.
"She didn't want me to go, Belshazzar!" he chuckled to the dog. "She was more afraid of a cow than she was of me. I made some headway to-day, old boy. She doesn't seem to have a ray of an idea what I am there for, but she is going to trust me soon now; that is written in the books. Oh I hope she will be there to-morrow, and the luna will be out. Got half a notion to take the case and lay it in the warmest place I can find. But if it comes out and she isn't there, I'll be sorry. Better trust to luck."
The Harvester stabled Betsy, fed the stock, and visited with the birds. After supper he took his purchases and entered her room. He opened the drawers of the chest he had made, and selecting the labelled boxes he laid them in. But not a package did he open. Then he arose and radiated conceit of himself.