"I'll wager she will like those," he commented proudly, "because Kane promised me fairly that he would have the right things put up for a girl the size of the clerk I selected for him, and exactly what Ruth should have. That girl was slenderer and not quite so tall, but he said everything was made long on purpose. Now what else should I get?"
He turned to the dressing table and taking a notebook from his pocket made this list:
Rugs for bed and bath room. Mattresses, pillows and bedding, Dresses for all occasions. All kinds of shoes and overshoes.
"There are gloves, too!" exclaimed the Harvester. "She has to have some, but how am I going to know what is right? Oh, but she needs shoes! High, low, slippers, everything! I wonder what that clerk wears. I don't believe shoes would be comfortable without being fitted, or at least the proper size. I wonder what kind of dresses she likes. I hope she's fond of white. A woman always appears loveliest in that. Maybe I'd better buy what I'm sure of and let her select the dresses. But I'd love to have this room crammed with girl-fixings when she comes. Doesn't seem as if she ever has had any little luxuries. I can't miss it on anything a woman uses. Let me think!"
Slowly he wrote again:
Parasols. Fans. Veils. Hats.
"I never can get them! I think that will keep me busy for a few days," said the Harvester as he closed the door softly, and went to look at the pupae cases. Then he carved on the vine of the candlestick for her dressing table; with one arm around Belshazzar, re-read the story of John Muir's dog, went into the lake, and to bed. Just as he was becoming unconscious the beast lifted an inquiring head and gazed at the man.
"More 'fraid of cow," the Harvester was muttering in a sleepy chuckle.
CHAPTER XI. DEMONSTRATED COURTSHIP
When the Harvester saw the Girl coming toward the woods, he spread the rug, opened and placed the table and chair, laid out the colour box, and another containing the last luna.
"Did the green one come out?" she asked, touching the box lightly.
"It did!" said the Harvester proudly, as if he were responsible for the performance. "It is an omen! It means that I am to have my long-coveted pattern for my best candlestick. It also clearly indicates that the gods of luck are with me for the day, and I get my way about everything. There won't be the least use in your asking 'why' or interposing objections. This is my clean sweep. I shall be fearfully dictatorial and you must submit, because the fates have pointed out that they favour me to-day, and if you go contrary to their decrees you will have a bad time."
The Girl's smile was a little wan. She sank on a chair and picked up a pencil.
"Lay that down!" cried the Harvester. "You haven't had permission from the Dictator to begin drawing. You are to sit and rest a long time."
"Please may I speak?" asked the Girl.
The Harvester grew foolishly happy. Was she really going to play the game? Of course he had hoped, but it was a hope without any foundation.
"You may," he said soberly.
"I am afraid that if you don't allow me to draw the moth at once, I'll never get it done. I dislike to mention it on your good day, but Aunt Molly is very restless. I got a neighbour's little girl to watch her and call me if I'm wanted. It's quite certain that I must go soon, so if you would like the moth——"
"When luck is coming your way, never hurry it! You always upset the bowl if you grow greedy and crowd. If it is a gamble whether I get this moth, I'll take the chance; but I won't change my foreordained programme for this afternoon. First, you are to sit still ten minutes, shut your eyes, and rest. I can't sing, but I can whistle, and I'm going to entertain you so you won't feel alone. Ready now!"
The Girl leaned her elbows on the table, closed her eyes, and pressed her slender white hands over them.
"Please don't call the birds," she said. "I can't rest if you do. It was so exciting trying to see all of them and guess what they were saying."
"No," said the Harvester gently. "This ten minutes is for relaxation, you know. You ease every muscle, sink limply on your chair, lean on the table, let go all over, and don't think. Just listen to me. I assure you it's going to be perfectly lovely."
Watching intently he saw the strained muscles relaxing at his suggestion and caught the smile over the last words as he slid into a soft whistle. It was an easy, slow, old-fashioned tune, carrying along gently, with neither heights nor depths, just monotonous, sleepy, soothing notes, that went on and on with a little ripple of change at times, only to return to the theme, until at last the Girl lifted her head.
"It's away past ten minutes," she said, "but that was a real rest. Truly, I am better prepared for work."
"Broke the rule, too!" said the Harvester. "It was, for me to say when time was up. Can't you allow me to have my way for ten minutes?"
"I am so anxious to see and draw this moth," she answered. "And first of all you promised to bring the drawings you have been using."
"Now where does my programme come in?" inquired the Harvester. "You are spoiling everything, and I refuse to have my lucky day interfered with; therefore we will ignore the suggestion until we arrive at the place where it is proper. Next thing is refreshments."
He arose and coming over cleared the table. Then he spread on it a paper tray cloth with a gay border, and going into the thicket brought out a box and a big bucket containing a jug packed in ice. The Girl's eyes widened. She reached down, caught up a piece, and holding it to drip a second started to put it in her mouth.
"Drop that!" commanded the Harvester. "That's a very unhealthful proceeding. Wait a minute."
From one end of the box he produced a tin of wafers and from the other a plate. Then he dug into the ice and lifted several different varieties of chilled fruit. From the jug he poured a combination that he made of the juices of oranges, pineapples, and lemons. He set the glass, rapidly frosting in the heat, and the fruit before the Girl.
"Now!" he said.
For one instant she stared at the table. Then she looked at him and in the depths of her dark eyes was an appeal he never forgot.
"I made that drink myself, so it's all right," he assured her. "There's a pretty stiff touch of pineapple in it, and it cuts the cobwebs on a hot day. Please try it!"
"I can't!" cried the Girl with a half-sob. "Think of Aunt Molly!"
"Are you fond of her?"
"No. I never saw her until a few weeks ago. Since then I've seen nothing save her poor, tired back. She lies in a heap facing the wall. But if she could have things like these, she needn't suffer. And if my mother could have had them she would be living to-day. Oh Man, I can't touch this."
"I see," said the Harvester.
He reached over, picked up the glass, and poured its contents into the jug. He repacked the fruit and closed the wafer box. Then he made a trip to the thicket and came out putting something into his pocket.
"Come on!" he said. "We are going to the house."
She stared at him.
"I simply don't dare."
"Then I will go alone," said the Harvester, picking up the bucket and starting.
The Girl followed him.
"Uncle Henry may come any minute," she urged.
"Well if he comes and acts unpleasantly, he will get what he richly deserves."
"And he will make me pay for it afterward."
"Oh no he won't!" said the Harvester, "because I'll look out for that. This is my lucky day. He isn't going to come."
When he reached the back door he opened it and stepped inside. Of all the barren places of crude, disheartening ugliness the Harvester ever had seen, that was the worst.
"I want a glass and a spoon," he said.
The Girl brought them.
"Where is she?"
"In the next room."
At the sound of their voices a small girl came to the kitchen door.
"How do you do?" inquired the Harvester. "Is Mrs. Jameson asleep?"
"I don't know," answered the child. "She just lies there."
The Harvester gave her the glass. "Please fill that with water," he said. Then he picked up the bucket and went into the front room. When the child came with the water he took a bottle from his pocket, filled the spoon, and handed it to her.
"Hold that steadily," he said.
Then he slid his strong hands under the light frame and turned the face of the faded little creature toward him.
"I am a Medicine Man, Mrs. Jameson," he said casually. "I heard you were sick and I came to see if a little of this stuff wouldn't brace you up. Open your lips."
He held out the spoon and the amazed woman swallowed the contents before she realized what she was doing. Then the Harvester ran a hand under her shoulders and lifting her gently he tossed her pillow with the other hand.
"You are a light little body, just like my mother," he commented. "Now I have something else sick people sometimes enjoy."
He held the fruit juice to her lips as he slightly raised her on the pillow. Her trembling fingers lifted and closed around the sparkling glass.
"Oh it's cool!" she gasped.
"It is," said the Harvester, "and sour! I think you can taste it. Try!"
She drank so greedily he drew away the glass and urged caution, but the shaking fingers clung to him and the wavering voice begged for more.
"In a minute," said the Harvester gently. But the fevered woman would not wait. She drank the cooling liquid until she could take no more. Then she watched him fill a small pitcher and pack it in a part of the ice and lay some fruit around it.
"Who, Ruth?" she panted.
"A Medicine Man who heard about you."
"What will Henry say?"
"He won't know," explained the Girl, smoothing the hot forehead. "I'll put it in the cupboard, and slip it to you while he is out of the room. It will make you strong and well."
"I don't want to be strong and well and suffer it all over again. I want to rest. Give me more of the cool drink. Give me all I want, then I'll go to sleep."
"It's wonderful," said the Girl. "That's more than I've heard her talk since I came. She is much stronger. Please let her have it."
The Harvester assented. He gave the child some of the fruit, and told her to sit beside the bed and hold the drink when it was asked for. She agreed to be very careful and watchful. Then he picked up the bucket, and followed by the Girl, returned to the woods.
"Now we have to begin all over again," he said, as she seated herself at the table. "Because of the walk in the heat, this time the programme is a little different."
He replaced the wafer box and opened it, filled the glass, and heaped the cold fruit.
"Your aunt is going to have a refreshing sleep now," he said, "and your mind can be free about her for an hour or two. I am very sure your mother would not want you deprived of anything because she missed it, so you are to enjoy this, if you care for it. At least try a sample."
The Girl lifted the glass to her lips with a trembling hand.
"I'm like Aunt Molly," she said; "I wish I could drink all I could swallow, and then lie down and go to sleep forever. I suppose this is what they have in Heaven."
"No, it's what they drink all over earth at present, but I have a conceit of my own brand. Some of it is too strong of one fruit or of the other, and all too sweet for health. This is compounded scientifically and it's just right. If you are not accustomed to cold drinks, go slowly."
"You can't scare me," said the Girl; "I'm going to drink all I want."
There was a note of excitement in the Harvester's laugh.
"You must have some, too!"
"After a while," he said. "I was thirsty when I made it, so I don't care for any more now. Try the fruit and those wafers. Of course they are not home made—they are the best I could do at a bakery. Take time enough to eat slowly. I'm going to tell you a tale while you lunch, and it's about a Medicine Man named David Langston. It's a very peculiar story, but it's quite true. This man lives in the woods east of Onabasha, accompanied by his dog, horse, cow, and chickens, and a forest full of birds, flowers, and matchless trees. He has lived there in this manner for six long years, and every spring he and his dog have a seance and agree whether he shall go on gathering medicinal herbs and trying his hand at making medicine or go to the city and live as other men. Always the dog chooses to remain in the woods.
"Then every spring, on the day the first bluebird comes, the dog also decides whether the man shall go on alone or find a mate and bring her home for company. Each year the dog regularly has decided that they live as always. This spring, for some unforeseen reason, he changed his mind, and compelled the man, according to his vow in the beginning, to go courting. The man was so very angry at the idea of having a woman in his home, interfering with his work, disturbing his arrangements, and perhaps wanting to spend more money than he could afford, that he struck the dog for making that decision; struck him for the very first time in his life——I believe you'd like those apricots. Please try one."
"Go on with the story," said the Girl, sipping delicately but constantly at the frosty glass.
The Harvester arose and refilled it. Then he dropped pieces of ice over the fruit.
"Where was I?" he inquired casually.
"Where you struck Belshazzar, and it's no wonder," answered the Girl.
Without taking time to ponder that, the Harvester continued:
"But that night the man had a wonderful, golden dream. A beautiful girl came to him, and she was so gracious and lovely that he was sufficiently punished for striking his dog, because he fell unalterably in love with her."
"Meaning you?" interrupted the Girl.
"Yes," said the Harvester, "meaning me. I——if you like——fell in love with the girl. She came so alluringly, and I was so close to her that I saw her better than I ever did any other girl, and I knew her for all time. When she went, my heart was gone."
"And you have lived without that important organ ever since?"
"Without even the ghost of it! She took it with her. Well, that dream was so real, that the next day I began building over my house, making furniture, and planting flowers for her; and every day, wherever I went, I watched for her."
"I can't see it."
"You won't find a girl you dreamed about in a thousand years."
"Wrong!" cried the Harvester triumphantly. "Saw her in little less than three months, but she vanished and it took some time and difficult work before I located her again; but I've got her all solid now, and she doesn't escape."
"Is she a 'lovely and gracious lady'?"
"She is!" said the Harvester, with all his heart.
"Young and beautiful, of course!"
"Please fill this glass. I told you what I was going to do."
The Harvester refilled the glass and the Girl drained it.
"Now won't you set aside these things and allow me to go to work?" she asked. "My call may come any minute, and I'll never forgive myself if I waste time, and don't draw your moth pattern for you."
"It's against my principles to hurry, and besides, my story isn't finished."
"It is," said the Girl. "She is young and lovely, gentle and a lady, you have her 'all solid,' and she can't 'escape'; that's the end, of course. But if I were you, I wouldn't have her until I gave her a chance to get away, and saw whether she would if she could."
"Oh I am not a jailer," said the Harvester. "She shall be free if I cannot make her love me; but I can, and I will; I swear it."
"You are not truly in earnest?"
"I am in deadly earnest."
"Honestly, you dreamed about a girl, and found the very one?"
"Most certainly, I did."
"It sounds like the wildest romancing."
"It is the veriest reality."
"Well I hope you win her, and that she will be everything you desire."
"Thank you," said the Harvester. "It's written in the book of fate that I succeed. The very elements are with me. The South Wind carried a message to her for me. I am going to marry her, but you could make it much easier for me if you would."
"I! What could I do?" cried the Girl.
"You could cease being afraid of me. You could learn to trust me. You could try to like me, if you see anything likeable about me. That would encourage me so that I could tell you of my Dream Girl, and then you could show me how to win her. A woman always knows about those things better than a man. You could be the greatest help in all the world to me, if only you would."
"I couldn't possibly! I can't leave here. I have no proper clothing to appear before another girl. She would be shocked at my white face. That I could help you is the most improbable dream you have had."
"You must pardon me if I differ from you, and persist in thinking that you can be of invaluable assistance to me, if you will. But you can't influence my Dream Girl, if you fear and distrust me yourself. Promise me that you will help me that much, anyway."
"I'll do all I can. I only want to make you see that I am in no position to grant any favours, no matter how much I owe you or how I'd like to. Is the candlestick you are carving for her?"
"It is," said the Harvester. "I am making a pair of maple to stand on a dressing table I built for her. It is unusually beautiful wood, I think, and I hope she will be pleased with it."
"Please take these things away and let me begin. This is the only thing I can see that I can do for you, and the moth will want to fly before I have finished."
The Harvester cleared the table and placed the box, while the Girl spread the paper and began work eagerly.
"I wonder if I knew there were such exquisite things in all the world," she said. "I scarcely think I did. I am beginning to understand why you couldn't kill one. You could make a chair or a table, and so you feel free to destroy them; but it takes ages and Almighty wisdom to evolve a creature like this, so you don't dare. I think no one else would if they really knew. Please talk while I work."
"Is there a particular subject you want discussed?"
"Anything but her. If I think too strongly of her, I can't work so well."
"Your ginseng is almost dry," said the Harvester. "I think I can bring you the money in a few days."
"So soon!" she cried.
"It dries day and night in an even temperature, and faster than you would believe. There's going to be between seven and eight pounds of it, when I make up what it has shrunk. It will go under the head of the finest wild roots. I can get eight for it sure."
"Oh what good news!" cried the Girl. "This is my lucky day, too. And the little girl isn't coming, so Aunt Molly must be asleep. Everything goes right! If only Uncle Henry wouldn't come home!"
"Let me fill your glass," proffered the Harvester.
"Just half way, and set it where I can see it," said the Girl. She worked with swift strokes and there was a hint of colour in her face, as she looked at him. "I hope you won't think I'm greedy," she said, "but truly, that's the first thing I've had that I could taste in——I can't remember when."
"I'll bring a barrel to-morrow," offered the Harvester, "and a big piece of ice wrapped in coffee sacking."
"You mustn't think of such a thing! Ice is expensive and so are fruits."
"Ice costs me the time required to saw and pack it at my home. I almost live on the fruit I raise. I confess to a fondness for this drink. I have no other personal expenses, unless you count in books, and a very few clothes, such as I'm wearing; so I surely can afford all the fruit juice I want."
"For yourself, yes."
"Also for a couple of women or I am a mighty poor attempt at a man," said the Harvester. "This is my day, so you are not to talk, because it won't do any good. Things go my way."
"Please see what you think of this," she said.
The Harvester arose and bent over her.
"That will do finely," he answered. "You can stop. I don't require all those little details for carving, I just want a good outline. It is finished. See here!"
He drew some folded papers from his pocket and laid them before her.
"Those are what I have been working from," he said.
The Girl took them and studied each carefully.
"If those are worth five dollars to you," she said gently, "why then I needn't hesitate to take as much for mine. They are superior."
"I should say so," laughed the Harvester as he took up the drawing and laid down the money.
"If you would make it half that much I'd feel better about it," she said.
"How could I?" asked the Harvester. "Your fingers are well trained and extremely skilful. Because some one has not been paying you enough for your work is no reason why I should keep it up. From now on you must have what others get. As soon as you can arrange for work, I want to tell you about some designs I have studied out from different things, show you the plants and insects, and have you make some samples. I'll send them to proper places, and see what experts say about the ideas and drawing. Work in the woods is healthful, with proper precautions; it's easy compared with the exactions of being bound to sewing or embroidering in the confinement of a room; it's vividly interesting in the search for new subjects, changes of material, and differing harmonious combinations; it's truly artistic; and it brings the prices high grade stuff always does."
"Almost you give me hope," said the Girl. "Almost, Man——almost! Since mother died, I haven't thought or planned beyond paying for the medicine she took and the shelter she lies in. Oh I didn't mean to say that——!"
She buried her face in her hands. The Harvester suffered until he scarcely knew how to bear it.
"Please finish," he begged. "You hadn't planned beyond the debt, you were saying——"
The Girl lifted her tired, strained face.
"Give me a little more of that delicious drink," she said. "I am ravenous for it. It puts new life in me. This and what you say bring a far away, misty vision of a clean, bright, peaceful room somewhere, and work one could love and live on in comfort; enough to give a desire to finish life to its natural end. Oh Man, you make me hope in spite of myself!"
"'Praise God from whom all blessings flow;'" quoted the Harvester reverently. "Now try one of these peaches. It's juicy and cold. Get that room right in focus in your brain, and nurture the idea. Its walls shall be bright as sunshine, its floor creamy white, and it shall open into a little garden, where only yellow flowers grow, and the birds shall sing. The first ray of sun that peeps over the hills of morning shall fall through its windows across your bed, and you shall work only as you please, after you've had months of play and rest; and it's coming true the instant you can leave here. Dream of it, make up your mind to it, because it's coming. I have a little streak of second sight, and I see it on the way."
"You are talking wildly," said the Girl, "else you are a good genie trying to conjure a room for me."
"This room I am talking of is ready whenever you want to take possession," said the Harvester. "Accept it as a reality, because I tell you I know where it is, that it is waiting, and you can earn your way into it with no obligation to any one."
The Girl stretched out her right hand and slowly turned and opened and closed it. Then she glanced at the Harvester with a weary smile.
"From somewhere I feel a glimmering of the spirit, but Oh, dear Lord, the flesh is weak!" she said.
"That's where nourishing foods, appetizing drinks, plenty of pure, fresh air, and good water come in. Now we have talked enough for one day, and worked too much. The fruit and drink go with you. I will carry it to the house, and you can hide it in your room. I am going to put a bottle of tonic on top that the best surgeon in the state gave me for you. Try to eat something strengthening and then take a spoonful of this, and use all the fruit you want. I'll bring more to-morrow and put it here, with plenty of ice. Now suppose you let the moth go free," he suggested to avoid objections. "You must take my word for it, that it is perfectly harmless, lacking either sting or bite, and hold your hand before it, so that it will climb on your fingers. Then stand where a ray of sunshine falls and in a few minutes it will go out to live its life."
The Girl hesitated a second as she studied the clean-cut, interested face of the man; then she held out her hand, and he urged the moth to climb on her fingers. She stepped where a ray of strong light fell on the forest floor and held the moth in it. The brightness also touched her transparent hand and white face and the gleaming black hair. The Harvester choked down a rising surge of desire for her, and took a new grip on himself.
"Oh!" she cried breathlessly, as the clinging feet suddenly loosened and the luna slowly flew away among the trees. She turned on the Harvester. "You teach me wonders!" she cried. "You give life different meanings. You are not as other men."
"If that be true, it is because I am of the woods. The Almighty does not evolve all his wonders in animal, bird, and flower form; He keeps some to work out in the heart, if humanity only will go to His school, and allow Him to have dominion. Come now, you must go. I will come back and put away all the things and tomorrow I will bring your ginseng money. Any time you cannot come, if you want to tell me why, or if there is anything I can do for you, put a line under the oilcloth. I will carry the bucket."
"I am so afraid," she said.
"I will only go to the edge of the woods. You can see if there is any one at the house first. If not, you can send the child away, and then I will carry the bucket to the door for you, and it will furnish comfort for one night, at least."
They went to the cleared land and the Girl passed on alone. Soon she reappeared and the Harvester saw the child going down the road. He took up the bucket and set it inside the door.
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Nothing but go, before you make trouble."
"Will you hide that stuff and walk back as far as the woods with me? There is something more I want to say to you."
The Girl staggered under the heavy load, and the man turned his head and tried to pretend he did not see. Presently she came out to him, and they returned to the line of the woods. Just as they entered the shade there was a flash before them, and on a twig a few rods away a little gray bird alighted, while in precipitate pursuit came a flaming wonder of red, and in a burst of excited trills, broken whistles, and imploring gestures, perched beside her.
The Harvester hastily drew the Girl behind some bushes.
"Watch!" he whispered. "You are going to see a sight so lovely and so rare it is vouchsafed to few mortals ever to behold."
"What are they fighting about?" she whispered.
"You are witnessing a cardinal bird declare his love," breathed the Harvester.
"Do cardinals love different birds?"
"No. The female is gray, because if she is coloured the same as the trees and branches and her nest, she will have more chance to bring off her young in safety. He is blood red, because he is the bravest, gayest, most ardent lover of the whole woods," explained the Harvester.
The Girl leaned forward breathlessly watching and a slow surge of colour crept into her cheeks. The red bird twisted, whistled, rocked, tilted, and trilled, and the gray sat demurely watching him, as if only half convinced he really meant it. The gay lover began at the beginning and said it all over again with more impassioned gestures than before, and then he edged in touch and softly stroked her wing with his beak. She appeared startled, but did not fly. So again the fountain of half-whistled, half-trilled notes bubbled with the acme of pleading intonation and that time he leaned and softly kissed her as she reached her bill for the caress. Then she fled in headlong flight, while the streak of flame darted after her. The Girl caught her breath in a swift spasm of surprise and wonder. She turned to the Harvester.
"What was it you wanted to say to me?" she asked hurriedly.
The Harvester was not the man to miss the goods the gods provided. Truly this was his lucky day. Unhesitatingly he took the plunge.
"Precisely what he said to her. And if you observed closely, you noticed that she didn't ask him 'why.'"
Before she could open her lips, he was gone, his swift strides carrying him through the woods.
CHAPTER XII. "THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A MAID"
The next day the Harvester lifted the oilcloth, and picking up a folded note he read——
"Aunt Molly found rest in the night. She was more comfortable than she had been since I have known her. Close the end she whispered to me to thank you if I ever saw you again. She will be buried to-morrow. Past that, I dare not think."
The Harvester sat on the log and studied the lines. She would not come that day or the next. After a long time he put the note in his pocket, wrote an answer telling her he had been there, and would come on the following day on the chance of her wanting anything he could do, and the next he would bring the ginseng money, so she must be sure to meet him.
Then he went back to the wagon, turned Betsy, and drove around the Jameson land watching closely. There were several vehicles in the barn lot, and a couple of men sitting under the trees of the door yard. Faded bedding hung on the line and women moved through the rooms, but he could not see the Girl. Slowly he drove on until he came to the first house, and there he stopped and went in. He saw the child of the previous day, and as she came forward her mother appeared in the doorway.
The Harvester explained who he was and that he was examining the woods in search of some almost extinct herbs he needed in his business. Then he told of having been at the adjoining farm the day before and mentioned the sick woman. He added that later she had died. He casually mentioned that a young woman there seemed pale and ill and wondered if the neighbours would see her through. He suggested that the place appeared as if the owner did not take much interest, and when the woman finished with Henry Jameson, he said how very important it seemed to him that some good, kind-hearted soul should go and mother the poor girl, and the woman thought she was the very person. Without knowing exactly how he did it, the Harvester left with her promise to remain with the Girl the coming two nights. The woman had her hands full of strange and delicious fruit without understanding why it had been given her, or why she had made those promises. She thought the Harvester a remarkably fine young man to take such interest in strangers and she told him he was welcome to anything he could find on her place that would help with his medicines.
The Harvester just happened to be coming from the woods as the woman freshly dressed left the house, so he took her in the wagon and drove back to the Jameson place, because he was going that way. Then he returned to Medicine Woods and worked with all his might.
First he polished floors, cleaned windows, and arranged the rooms as best he could inside the cabin; then he gave a finishing touch to everything outside. He could not have told why he did it, but he thought it was because there was hope that now the Girl would come to Onabasha. If he found opportunity to bring her to the city, he hoped that possibly he might drive home with her and show Medicine Woods, so everything must be in order. Then he worked with flying fingers in the dry-house, putting up her ginseng for market, and never was weight so liberal.
The next morning he drove early to Onabasha and came home with a loaded wagon, the contents of which he scattered through the cabin where it seemed most suitable, but the greater part of it was for her. He glanced at the bare floors and walls of the other rooms, and thought of trying to improve them, but he was afraid of not getting the right things.
"I don't know much about what is needed here," he said, "but I am perfectly safe in buying anything a girl ever used."
Then he returned to the city, explained the situation to the doctor, and selected the room he wanted in case the Girl could be persuaded to come to the hospital. After that he went to see the doctor's wife, and made arrangements for her to be ready for a guest, because there was a possibility he might want to call for help. He had another jug of fruit juice and all the delicacies he could think of, also a big cake of ice, when he reached the woods. There were only a few words for him.
"I will come to-morrow at two, if at all possible; if not, keep the money until I can."
There was nothing to do except to place his offering under the oilcloth and wait, but he simply was compelled to add a line to say he would be there, and to express the hope that she was comfortable as possible and thinking of the sunshine room. Then he returned to Medicine Woods to wait, and found that possible only by working to exhaustion. There were many things he could do, and one after another he finished them, until completely worn out; and then he slept the deep sleep of weariness.
At noon the next day he bathed, shaved, and dressed in fresh, clean clothing. He stopped in Onabasha for more fruit, and drove to the Jameson woods. He was waiting and watching the usual path the Girl followed, when her step sounded on the other side. The Harvester arose and turned. Her pallor was alarming. She stepped on the rug he had spread, and sank almost breathless to the chair.
"Why do you come a new way that fills you with fear?" asked the Harvester.
"It seems as if Uncle Henry is watching me every minute, and I didn't dare come where he could see. I must not remain a second. You must take these things away and go at once. He is dreadful."
"So am I," said the Harvester, "when affairs go too everlastingly wrong. I am not afraid of any man living. What are you planning to do?"
"I want to ask you, are you sure about the prices of my drawing and the ginseng?"
"Absolutely," said the Harvester. "As for the ginseng it went in fresh and early, best wild roots, and it brought eight a pound. There were eight pounds when I made up weight and here is your money."
He handed her a long envelope addressed to her.
"What is the amount?" she asked.
"I can't believe it."
"You have it in your fingers."
"You know that I would like to thank you properly, if I had words to express myself."
"Never mind that," said the Harvester. "Tell me what you are planning. Say that you will come to the hospital for the long, perfect rest now."
"It is absolutely impossible. Don't weary me by mentioning it. I cannot."
"Will you tell me what you intend doing?"
"I must," she said, "for it depends entirely on your word. I am going to get Uncle Henry's supper, and then go and remain the night with the neighbour who has been helping me. In the morning, when he leaves, she is coming with her wagon for my trunk, and she is going to drive with me to Onabasha and find me a cheap room and loan me a few things, until I can buy what I need. I am going to use fourteen dollars of this and my drawing money for what I am forced to buy, and pay fifty on my debt. Then I will send you my address and be ready for work."
She clutched the envelope and for the first time looked at him.
"Very well," said the Harvester. "I could take you to the wife of my best friend, the chief surgeon of the city hospital, and everything would be ease and rest until you are strong; she would love to have you."
The Girl dropped her hands wearily.
"Don't tire me with it!" she cried. "I am almost falling despite the stimulus of food and drink I can touch. I never can thank you properly for that. I won't be able to work hard enough to show you how much I appreciate what you have done for me. But you don't understand. A woman, even a poverty-poor woman, if she be delicately born and reared, cannot go to another woman on a man's whim, and when she lacks even the barest necessities. I don't refuse to meet your friends. I shall love to, when I can be so dressed that I will not shame you. Until that times comes, if you are the gentleman you appear to be, you will wait without urging me further."
"I must be a man, in order to be a gentleman," said the Harvester. "And it is because the man in me is in hot rebellion against more loneliness, pain, and suffering for you, that the conventions become chains I do not care how soon or how roughly I break. If only you could be induced to say the word, I tell you I could bring one of God's gentlest women to you."
"And probably she would come in a dainty gown, in her carriage or motor, and be disgusted, astonished, and secretly sorry for you. As for me, I do not require her pity. I will be glad to know the beautiful, refined, and gentle woman you are so certain of, but not until I am better dressed and more attractive in appearance than now. If you will give me your address, I will write you when I am ready for work."
Silently the Harvester wrote it. "Will you give me permission to take these things to your neighbour for you?" he asked. "They would serve until you can do better, and I have no earthly use for them."
She hesitated. Then she laughed shortly.
"What a travesty my efforts at pride are with you!" she cried. "I begin by trying to preserve some proper dignity, and end by confessing abject poverty. I yet have the ten you paid me the other day, but twenty-four dollars are not much to set up housekeeping on, and I would be more glad than I can say for these very things."
"Thank you," said the Harvester. "I will take them when I go. Is there anything else?"
"I think not."
"Will you have a drink?"
"Yes, if you have more with you. I believe it is really cooling my blood."
"Are you taking the medicine?"
"Yes," she said, "and I am stronger. Truly I am. I know I appear ghastly to you, but it's loss of sleep, and trying to lay away poor Aunt Molly decently, and——"
"And fear of Uncle Henry," added the Harvester.
"Yes," said the Girl. "That most of all! He thinks I am going to stay here and take her place. I can't tell him I am not, and how I am to hide from him when I am gone, I don't know. I am afraid of him."
"Has he any claim on you?"
"Shelter for the past three months."
"Are you of age?"
"I am almost twenty-four," she said.
"Then suppose you leave Uncle Henry to me," suggested the Harvester.
"Careful now! The red bird told you why!" said the man. "I will not urge it upon you now, but keep it steadily in the back of your head that there is a sunshine room all ready and waiting for you, and I am going to take you to it very soon. As things are, I think you might allow me to tell you——"
She was on her feet in instant panic. "I must go," she said. "Uncle Henry is dogging me to promise to remain, and I will not, and he is watching me. I must go——"
"Can you give me your word of honour that you will go to the neighbour woman to-night; that you feel perfectly safe?"
She hesitated. "Yes, I——I think so. Yes, if he doesn't find out and grow angry. Yes, I will be safe."
"How soon will you write me?"
"Just as soon as I am settled and rest a little."
"Do you mean several days?"
"Yes, several days."
"An eternity!" cried the Harvester with white lips. "I cannot let you go. Suppose you fall ill and fail to write me, and I do not know where you are, and there is no one to care for you."
"But can't you see that I don't know where I will be? If it will satisfy you, I will write you a line to-morrow night and tell you where I am, and you can come later."
"Is that a promise?" asked the Harvester.
"It is," said the Girl.
"Then I will take these things to your neighbour and wait until to-morrow night. You won't fail me?"
"I never in all my life saw a man so wild over designs," said the Girl, as she started toward the house.
"Don't forget that the design I'm craziest about is the same as the red bird's," the Harvester flung after her, but she hurried on and made no reply.
He folded the table and chair, rolled the rug, and shouldering them picked up the bucket and started down the river bank.
Such a faint little call he never would have been sure he heard anything if Belshazzar had not stopped suddenly. The hair on the back of his neck arose and he turned with a growl in his throat. The Harvester dropped his load with a crash and ran in leaping bounds, but the dog was before him. Half way to the house, Ruth Jameson swayed in the grip of her uncle. One hand clutched his coat front in a spasmodic grasp, and with the other she covered her face.
The roar the Harvester sent up stayed the big, lifted fist, and the dog leaped for a throat hold, and compelled the man to defend himself. The Harvester never knew how he covered the space until he stood between them, and saw the Girl draw back and snatch together the front of her dress.
"He took it from me!" she panted. "Make him, oh make him give back my money!"
Then for a few seconds things happened too rapidly to record. Once the Harvester tossed a torn envelope exposing money to the Girl, and again a revolver, and then both men panting and dishevelled were on their feet.
"Count your money, Ruth?" said the Harvester in a voice of deadly quiet.
"It is all here," said she.
"Her money?" cried Henry Jameson. "My money! She has been stealing the price of my cattle from my pockets. I thought I was short several times lately."
"You are lying," said the Harvester deliberately. "It is her money. I just paid it to her. You were trying to take it from her, not the other way."
"Oh, she is in your pay?" leered the man.
"If you say an insulting word I think very probably I will finish you," said the Harvester. "I can, with my naked hands, and all your neighbours will say it is a a good job. You have felt my grip! I warn you!"
"How does my niece come to be taking money from you!"
"You have forfeited all right to know. Ruth, you cannot remain here. You must come with me. I will take you to Onabasha and find you a room."
A horrible laugh broke from the man.
"So that is the end of my saintly niece!" he said.
"Remember!" cried the Harvester advancing a step. "Ruth, will you go to the rest I suggested for you?"
"Will you go to Doctor Carey's wife?"
"Will you marry me and go to the shelter of my home with me?"
Wild-eyed she stared at him.
"Because I love you, and want life made easier for you, above anything else on earth."
"But your Dream Girl!"
"YOU ARE THE DREAM GIRL! I thought the red bird told you for me! I didn't know it would be a shock. I believed I had made you understand."
By that time she was shaking with a nervous chill, and the sight unmanned the Harvester.
"Come with me!" he urged. "We will decide what you want to do on the way. Only come, I beg you."
"First it was marry, now it's decide later," broke in Henry Jameson, crazed with anger. "Move a step and I'll strike you down. I'd better than see you disgraced——"
The Harvester advanced and Jameson stepped back.
"Ruth," said the Harvester, "I know how impossible this seems. It is giving you no chance at all. I had intended, when I found you, to court you tenderly as girl ever was wooed before. Come with me, and I'll do it yet. The new home was built for you. The sunshine room is ready and waiting for you. There is pure air, fresh water, nothing but rest and comfort. I'll nurse you back to health and strength, and you shall be courted until you come to me of your own accord."
"Impossible!" cried the girl.
"Only if you make it so. If you will come now, we can be married in a few hours, and you can be safe in your own home. I realize now that this is unexpected and shocking to you, but if you will come with me and allow me to restore you to health and strength, and if, say, in a year, you are convinced that you do not love me, I will set you free. If you will come, I swear to you that you shall be my wife first, and my honoured guest afterward, until such time as you either tell me you love me or that you never can. Will you come on those terms, Ruth?"
"It will end fear, uncertainty, and work, until you are strong and well. It will give you home, rest, and love, that you will find is worth your consideration. I will keep my word; of that you may be sure."
"No," she cried. "No! But take back this money! Keep it until I tell you to whom to pay it."
She started toward him holding out the envelope.
Henry Jameson, with a dreadful oath, sprang for it, his contorted face a drawn snarl. The Harvester caught him in air and sent him reeling. He snatched the revolver from the Girl and put the money in his pocket.
"Ruth, I can't leave you here," he said. "Oh my Dream Girl! Are you afraid of me yet? Won't you trust me? Won't you come?"
"You are right about that, my lady; you will come back to the house, that's what you'll do," said Henry Jameson, starting toward her.
"No!" cried the Girl retreating. "Oh Heaven help me! What am I to do?"
"Ruth, you must come with me," said the Harvester. "I don't dare leave you here."
She stood between them and gave Henry Jameson one long, searching look. Then she turned to the Harvester.
"I am far less afraid of you. I will accept your offer," she said.
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "I will keep my word and you shall have no regrets. Is there anything here you wish to take with you?"
"I want a little trunk of my mother's. It contains some things of hers."
"Will you show me where it is?"
She started toward the house; he followed, and Henry Jameson fell in line. The Harvester turned on him. "You remain where you are," he said. "I will take nothing but the trunk. I know what you are thinking, but you will not get your gun just now. I will return this revolver to-morrow."
"And the first thing I do with it will be to use it on you," said Henry Jameson.
"I'll report that threat to the police, so that they can see you properly hanged if you do," retorted the Harvester, as he followed the girl.
"Where is his gun?" he asked as he overtook her. When he reached the house he told her to watch the door. He went inside, broke the lock from the gun in the corner, found the trunk, and swinging it to his shoulder, passed Henry Jameson and went back through the woods. The Harvester set the trunk in the wagon, helped the Girl in, and returned for the load he had dropped at her call. Then he took the lines and started for Onabasha.
The Girl beside him was almost fainting. He stopped to give her a drink and tried to encourage her.
"Brace up the best you can, Ruth," he said. "You must go with me for a license; that is the law. Afterward, I'll make it just as easy for you as possible. I will do everything, and in a few hours you will be comfortable in your room. You brave girl! This must come out right! You have suffered more than your share. I will have peace for you the remainder of the way."
She lifted shaking hands and tried to arrange her hair and dress. As they neared the city she spoke.
"What will they ask me?"
"I don't know. But I am sure the law requires you to appear in person now. I can take you somewhere and find out first."
"That will take time. I want to reach my room. What would you think?"
"If you are of age, where you were born, if you are a native of this country, what your father and mother died of, how old they were, and such questions as that. I'll help you all I can. You know those things. don't you?"
"Yes. But I must tell you——"
"I don't want to be told anything," said the Harvester. "Save your strength. All I want to know is any way in which I can make this easier for you. Nothing else matters. I will tell you what I think; if you have any objections, make them. I will drive to the bank and get a draft for what you owe, and have that off your mind. Then we will get the license. After that I'll take you to the side door, slip you in the elevator and to the fitting room of a store where I know the manager, and you shall have some pretty clothing while I arrange for a minister, and I'll come for you with a carriage. That isn't the kind of wedding you or any other girl should have, but there are times when a man only can do his best. You will help me as much as you can, won't you?"
"Anything you choose. It doesn't matter——only be quick as possible."
"There are a few details to which I must attend," said the Harvester, "and the time will go faster trying on dresses than waiting alone. When you are properly clothed you will feel better. What did you say the amount you owe is?"
"You may get a draft for fifty dollars. I will pay the remainder when I earn it."
"Ruth, won't you give me the pleasure of taking you home free from the worry of that debt?"
"I am not going to 'worry.' I am going to work and pay it."
"Very well," said the Harvester. "This is the bank. We will stop here."
They went in and he handed her a slip of paper.
"Write the name and address on that?" he said.
As the slip was returned to him, without a glance he folded it and slid it under a wicket. "Write a draft for fifty dollars payable to that party, and send to that address, from Miss Ruth Jameson," he said.
Then he turned to her.
"That is over. See how easy it is! Now we will go to the court house. It is very close. Try not to think. Just move and speak."
"Hello, Langston!" said the clerk. "What can we do for you here?"
"Show this girl every consideration," whispered the Harvester, as he advanced. "I want a marriage license in your best time. I will answer first."
With the document in his possession, they went to the store he designated, where he found the Girl a chair in the fitting room, while he went to see the manager.
"I want one of your most sensible and accommodating clerks," said the Harvester, "and I would like a few words with her."
When she was presented he scrutinized her carefully and decided she would do.
"I have many thanks and something more substantial for a woman who will help me to carry through a slightly unusual project with sympathy and ability," he said, "and the manager has selected you. Are you willing?"
"If I can," said the clerk.
"She has put up your other orders," interposed the manager; "were they satisfactory?"
"I don't know," said the Harvester. "They have not yet reached the one for whom they were intended. What I want you to do," he said to the clerk, "is to go to the fitting room and dress the girl you find there for her wedding. She had other plans, but death disarranged them, and she has only an hour in which to meet the event most girls love to linger over for months. She has been ill, and is worn with watching; but some time she may look back to her wedding day with joy, and if only you would help me to make the best of it for her, I would be, as I said, under more obligations than I can express."
"I will do anything," said the clerk.
"Very well," said the Harvester. "She has come from the country entirely unprepared. She is delicate and refined. Save her all the embarrassment you can. Dress her beautifully in white. Keep a memorandum slip of what you spend for my account."
"What is the limit?" asked the clerk.
"There is none," said the Harvester. "Put the prettiest things on her you have in the right sizes, and if you are a woman with a heart, be gentle!"
"Is she ready?" inquired the manager at the door an hour later.
"I am," said the Girl stepping through.
The astounded Harvester stood and stared, utterly oblivious of the curious people.
"Here, here, here!" suddenly he whistled it, in the red bird's most entreating tones.
The Girl laughed and the colour in her face deepened.
"Let us go," she said.
"But what about you?" asked the manager of the Harvester.
"Thunder!" cried the man aghast. "I was so busy getting everything else ready, I forgot all about myself. I can't stand before a minister beside her, can I?"
"Well I should say not," said the manager.
"Indeed yes," said the Girl. "I never saw you in any other clothing. You would be a stranger of whom I'd be afraid."
"That settles it!" said the Harvester calmly. "Thank all of you more than words can express. I will come in the first of the week and tell you how we get along."
Then they went to the carriage and started for the residence of a minister.
"Ruth, you are my Dream Girl to the tips of your eyelashes," said the Harvester. "I almost wish you were not. It wouldn't keep me thinking so much of the remainder of that dream. You are the loveliest sight I ever saw."
"Do I really appear well?" asked the Girl, hungry for appreciation.
"Indeed you do!" said the Harvester. "I never could have guessed that such a miracle could be wrought. And you don't seem so tired. Were they good to you?"
"Wonderfully! I did not know there was kindness like that in all the world for a stranger. I did not feel lost or embarrassed, except the first few seconds when I didn't know what to do. Oh I thank you for this! You were right. Whatever comes in life I always shall love to remember that I was daintily dressed and appeared as well as I could when I was married. But I must tell you I am not real. They did everything on earth to me, three of them working at a time. I feel an increase in self-respect in some way. David, I do appear better?"
When she said "David," the Harvester looked out of the window and gulped down his delight. He leaned toward her.
"Shut your eyes and imagine you see the red bird," he said. "In my soul, I am saying to you again and again just what he sang. You are wonderfully beautiful, Ruth, and more than wonderfully sweet. Will you answer me a question?"
"If I can."
"I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me?"
"I said I would."
"Then we are engaged, aren't we?"
"Please remove the glove from your left hand. I want to put on your ring. This will have to be a very short engagement, but no one save ourselves need know."
"David, that isn't necessary."
"I have it here, and believe me, Ruth, it will help in a few minutes; and all your life you will be glad. It is a precious symbol that has a meaning. This wedding won't be hurt by putting all the sacredness into it we can. Please, Ruth!"
"On one condition."
"What is it?"
"That you will accept and wear my mother's wedding ring in exchange," she said. "It is all I have."
"Ruth, do you really wish that?"
"I am more pleased than I can tell you. May I have it now?"
She took off her glove and the Harvester held her hand closely a second, then lifted it to his lips, passionately kissed it and slipped on a ring, the setting a big, lustrous pearl.
"I looked at some others," he said, "but nothing got a second glance save this. They knew you were coming down the ages, and so they got the pearls ready. How beautiful it is on your hand! Put on the glove and wear that ring as if you had owned it for the long, happy year of betrothal every girl should have. You can start yours to-day, and if by this time next year I have not won you to my heart and arms, I'm no man and not worthy of you. Ruth, you will try just a little to love me, won't you?"
"I will try with all my heart," she said instantly.
"Thank you! I am perfectly happy with that. I never expected to marry you before a year, anyway. All the difference will be the blessed fact that instead of coming to see you somewhere else, I now can have you in my care, and court you every minute. You might as well make up your mind to capitulate soon. It's on the books that you do."
"If an instant ever comes when I realize that I love you, I will come straight and tell you; believe me, I will."
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "This is going to be quite a proper wedding after all. Here is the place. It will be over soon and you on the home way. Lord, Ruth——!"
The Girl smiled at him as he opened the carriage door, helped her up the steps and rang the bell.
"Be brave now!" he whispered. "Don't lose your lovely colour. These people will be as kind as they were at the store."
The minister was gentle and wasted no time. His wife and daughter, who appeared for witnesses, kissed Ruth, and congratulated her. She and the Harvester stood, took the vows, exchanged rings, and returned to the carriage, a man and his wife by the laws of man.
"Drive to Seaton's cafe'," the Harvester said.
"Oh David, let us go home!"
"This is so good I hate to stop it for something you may not like so well. I ordered lunch and if we don't eat it I will have to pay for it anyway. You wouldn't want me to be extravagant, would you?"
"No," said the Girl, "and besides, since you mention it, I believe I am hungry."
"Good!" cried the Harvester. "I hoped so! Ruth, you wouldn't allow me to hold your hand just until we reach the cafe'? It might save me from bursting with joy."
"Yes," she said. "But I must take off my lovely gloves first. I want to keep them forever."
"I'd hate the glove being removed dreadfully," said the Harvester, his eyes dancing and snapping.
"I'm sorry I am so thin and shaky," said the Girl. "I will be steady and plump soon, won't I?"
"On your life you will," said the Harvester, taking the hand gently.
Now there are a number of things a man deeply in love can think of to do with a woman's white hand. He can stroke it, press it tenderly, and lay it against his lips and his heart. The Harvester lacked experience in these arts, and yet by some wonderful instinct all of these things occurred to him. There was real colour in the Girl's cheeks by the time he helped her into the cafe'. They were guided to a small room, cool and restful, close a window, beside which grew a tree covered with talking leaves. A waiting attendant, who seemed perfectly adept, brought in steaming bouillon, fragrant tea, broiled chicken, properly cooked vegetables, a wonderful salad, and then delicious ices and cold fruit. The happy Harvester leaned back and watched the Girl daintily manage almost as much food as he wanted to see her eat.
When they had finished, "Now we are going home," he said. "Will you try to like it, Ruth?"
"Indeed I will," she promised. "As soon as I grow accustomed to the dreadful stillness, and learn what things will not bite me, I'll be better."
"I'll have to ask you to wait a minute," he said. "One thing I forgot. I must hire a man to take Betsy home."
"Aren't you going to drive her yourself?"
"No ma'am! We are going in a carriage or a motor," said the Harvester.
"Indeed we are not!" contradicted the Girl. "You have had this all your way so far. I am going home behind Betsy, with Belshazzar at my knee."
"But your dress! People will think I am crazy to put a lovely woman like you in a spring wagon."
"Let them!" said the Girl placidly. "Why should we bother about other people? I am going with Betsy and Belshazzar."
The Harvester had been thinking that he adored her, that it was impossible to love her more, but every minute was proving to him that he was capable of feeling so profound it startled him. To carry the Girl, his bride, through the valley and up the hill in the little spring wagon drawn by Betsy—that would have been his ideal way. But he had supposed that she would be afraid of soiling her dress, and embarrassed to ride in such a conveyance. Instead it was her choice. Yes, he could love her more. Hourly she was proving that.
"Come this way a few steps," he said. "Betsy is here."
The Girl laid her face against the nose of the faithful old animal, and stroked her head and neck. Then she held her skirts and the Harvester helped her into the wagon. She took the seat, and the dog went wild with joy.
"Come on, Bel," she softly commanded.
The dog hesitated, and looked at the Harvester for permission.
"You may come here and put your head on my knee," said the Girl.
"Belshazzar, you lucky dog, you are privileged to sit there and lay your head on the lady's lap," said the Harvester, and the dog quivered with joy.
Then the man picked up the lines, gave a backward glance to the bed of the wagon, high piled with large bundles, and turned Betsy toward Medicine Woods. Through the crowded streets and toward the country they drove, when a big red car passed, a man called to them, then reversed and slowly began backing beside the wagon. The Harvester stopped.
"That is my best friend, Doctor Carey, of the hospital, Ruth," he said hastily. "May I tell him, and will you shake hands with him?"
"Certainly!" said the Girl.
"Is it really you, David?" the doctor peered with gleaming eyes from under the car top.
"Really!" cried the Harvester, as man greets man with a full heart when he is sure of sympathy. "Come, give us your best send-off, Doc! We were married an hour ago. We are headed for Medicine Woods. Doctor Carey, this is Mrs. Langston."
"Mighty glad to know you!" cried the doctor, reaching a happy hand.
The Girl met it cordially, while she smiled on him.
"How did this happen?" demanded the doctor. "Why didn't you let us know? This is hardly fair of you, David. You might have let me and the Missus share with you."
"That is to be explained," said the Harvester. "It was decided on very suddenly, and rather sadly, on account of the death of Mrs. Jameson. I forced Ruth to marry me and come with me. I grow rather frightened when I think of it, but it was the only way I knew. She absolutely refused my other plans. You see before you a wild man carrying away a woman to his cave."
"Don't believe him, Doctor!" laughed the Girl. "If you know him, you will understand that to offer all he had was like him, when he saw my necessity. You will come to see us soon?"
"I'll come right now," said the doctor. "I'll bring my wife and arrive by the time you do."
"Oh no you won't!" said the Harvester. "Do you observe the bed of this wagon? This happened all 'unbeknownst' to us. We have to set up housekeeping after we reach home. We will notify you when we are ready for visitors. Just you subside and wait until you are sent for."
"Why David!" cried the astonished Girl.
"That's the law!" said the Harvester tersely. "Good-bye, Doc; we'll be ready for you in a day or two."
He leaned down and held out his hand. The grip that caught it said all any words could convey; and then Betsy started up the hill.
CHAPTER XIII. WHEN THE DREAM CAME TRUE
At first the road lay between fertile farms dotted with shocked wheat, covered with undulant seas of ripening oats, and forests of growing corn. The larks were trailing melody above the shorn and growing fields, the quail were ingathering beside the fences, and from the forests on graceful wings slipped the nighthawks and sailed and soared, dropping so low that the half moons formed by white spots on their spread wings showed plainly.
"Why is this country so different from the other side of the city?" asked the Girl.
"It is older," replied the Harvester, "and it lies higher. This was settled and well cultivated when that was a swamp. But as a farming proposition, the money is in the lowland like your uncle's. The crops raised there are enormous compared with the yield of these fields."
"I see," said she. "But this is much better to look at and the air is different. It lacks a soggy, depressing quality."
"I don't allow any air to surpass that of Medicine Woods," said the Harvester, "by especial arrangement with the powers that be."
Then they dipped into a little depression and arose to cross the railroad and then followed a longer valley that was ragged and unkempt compared with the road between cultivated fields. The Harvester was busy trying to plan what to do first, and how to do it most effectively, and working his brain to think if he had everything the Girl would require for her comfort; so he drove silently through the deepening shadows. She shuddered and awoke him suddenly. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
Her thoughts had gone on a journey, also, and the way had been rough, for her face wore a strained appearance. The hands lying bare in her lap were tightly gripped, so that the nails and knuckles appeared blue. The Harvester hastily cast around seeking for the cause of the transformation. A few minutes ago she had seemed at ease and comfortable, now she was close open panic. Nothing had been said that would disturb her. With brain alert he searched for the reason. Then it began to come to him. The unaccustomed silence and depression of the country might have been the beginning. Coming from the city and crowds of people to the gloomy valley with a man almost a stranger, going she knew not where, to conditions she knew not what, with the experiences of the day vivid before her. The black valley road was not prepossessing, with its border of green pools, through which grew swamp bushes and straggling vines. The Harvester looked carefully at the road, and ceased to marvel at the Girl. But he disliked to let her know he understood, so he gave one last glance at those gripped hands and casually held out the lines.
"Will you take these just a second?" he asked. "Don't let them touch your dress. We must not lose of our load, because it's mostly things that will make you more comfortable."
He arose, and turning, pretended to see that everything was all right. Then he resumed his seat and drove on.
"I am a little ashamed of this stretch through here," he said apologetically. "I could have managed to have it cleared and in better shape long ago, but in a way it yields a snug profit, and so far I've preferred the money. The land is not mine, but I could grub out this growth entirely, instead of taking only what I need."
"Is there stuff here you use?" the Girl aroused herself to ask, and the Harvester saw the look of relief that crossed her face at the sound of his voice.
"Well I should say yes," he laughed. "Those bushes, numerous everywhere, with the hanging yellow-green balls, those, in bark and root, go into fever medicines. They are not so much used now, but sometimes I have a call, and when I do, I pass the beds on my——on our land, and come down here and get what is needed. That bush," he indicated with the whip, "blooms exquisitely in the spring. It is a relative of flowering dogwood, and the one of its many names I like best is silky cornel. Isn't that pretty?"
"Yes," she said, "it is beautiful."
"I've planted some for you in a hedge along the driveway so next spring you can gather all you want. I think you'll like the odour. The bark brings more than true dogwood. If I get a call from some house that uses it, I save mine and come down here. Around the edge are hop trees, and I realize something from them, and also the false and true bitter-sweet that run riot here. Both of them have pretty leaves, while the berries of the true hang all winter and the colour is gorgeous. I've set your hedge closely with them. When it has grown a few months it's going to furnish flowers in the spring, a million different, wonderful leaves and berries in the summer, many fruits the birds love in the fall, and bright berries, queer seed pods, and nuts all winter."
"You planted it for me?"
"Yes. I think it will be beautiful in a season or two; it isn't so bad now. I hope it will call myriads of birds to keep you company. When you cross this stretch of road hereafter, don't see fetid water and straggling bushes and vines; just say to yourself, this helps to fill orders!"
"I am perfectly tolerant of it now," she said. "You make everything different. I will come with you and help collect the roots and barks you want. Which bush did you say relieved the poor souls scorching with fever?"
The Harvester drew on the lines, Betsy swerved to the edge of the road, and he leaned and broke a branch.
"This one," he answered. "Buttonbush, because those balls resemble round buttons. Aren't they peculiar? See how waxy and gracefully cut and set the leaves are. Go on, Betsy, get us home before night. We appear our best early in the morning, when the sun tops Medicine Woods and begins to light us up, and in the evening, just when she drops behind Onabasha back there, and strikes us with a few level rays. Will you take the lines until I open this gate?"
She laid the twig in her lap on the white gloves and took the lines. As the gate swung wide, Betsy walked through and stopped at the usual place.
"Now my girl," said the Harvester, "cross yourself, lean back, and take your ease. This side that gate you are at home. From here on belongs to us."
"To you, you mean," said the Girl.
"To us, I mean," declared the Harvester. "Don't you know that the 'worldly goods bestowal' clause in a marriage ceremony is a partial reality. It doesn't give you 'all my worldly goods,' but it gives you one third. Which will you take, the hill, lake, marsh, or a part of all of them."
"Oh, is there water?"
"Did I forget to mention that I was formerly sole owner and proprietor of the lake of Lost Loons, also a brook of Singing Water, and many cold springs. The lake covers about one third of our land, and my neighbours would allow me ditch outlet to the river, but they say I'm too lazy to take it."
"Lazy! Do they mean drain your lake into the river?"
"They do," said the Harvester, "and make the bed into a cornfield."
"But you wouldn't?"
She turned to him with confidence.
"I haven't so far, but of course, when you see it, if you would prefer it in a corn——Let's play a game! Turn your head in this direction," he indicated with the whip, "close your eyes, and open them when I say ready."
"Now!" said the Harvester.
"Oh," cried the Girl. "Stop! Please stop!"
They were at the foot of a small levee that ran to the bridge crossing Singing Water. On the left lay the valley through which the stream swept from its hurried rush down the hill, a marshy thicket of vines, shrubs, and bushes, the banks impassable with water growth. Everywhere flamed foxfire and cardinal flower, thousands of wild tiger lilies lifted gorgeous orange-red trumpets, beside pearl-white turtle head and moon daisies, while all the creek bank was a coral line with the first opening bloom of big pink mallows. Rank jewel flower poured gold from dainty cornucopias and lavender beard-tongue offered honey to a million bumbling bees; water smart-weed spread a glowing pink background, and twining amber dodder topped the marsh in lacy mist with its delicate white bloom. Straight before them a white-sanded road climbed to the bridge and up a gentle hill between the young hedge of small trees and bushes, where again flowers and bright colours rioted and led to the cabin yet invisible. On the right, the hill, crowned with gigantic forest trees, sloped to the lake; midway the building stood, and from it, among scattering trees all the way to the water's edge, were immense beds of vivid colour. Like a scarf of gold flung across the face of earth waved the misty saffron, and beside the road running down the hill, in a sunny, open space arose tree-like specimens of thrifty magenta pokeberry. Down the hill crept the masses of colour, changing from dry soil to water growth.
High around the blue-green surface of the lake waved lacy heads of wild rice, lower cat-tails, bulrushes, and marsh grasses; arrowhead lilies lifted spines of pearly bloom, while yellow water lilies and blue water hyacinths intermingled; here and there grew a pink stretch of water smartweed and the dangling gold of jewel flower. Over the water, bordering the edge, starry faces of white pond lilies floated. Blue flags waved graceful leaves, willows grew in clumps, and vines clambered everywhere.
Among the growth of the lake shore, duck, coot, and grebe voices commingled in the last chattering hastened splash of securing supper before bedtime; crying killdeers crossed the water, and overhead the nighthawks massed in circling companies. Betsy climbed the hill and at every step the Girl cried, "Slower! please go slower!" With wide eyes she stared around her.
"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME IT WOULD BE LIKE THIS?" she demanded in awed tones.
"Have I had opportunity to describe much of anything?" asked the Harvester. "Besides, I was born and reared here, and while it has been a garden of bloom for the past six years only, it always has been a picture; but one forgets to say much about a sight seen every day and that requires the work this does."
"That white mist down there, what is it?" she marvelled.
"Pearls grown by the Almighty," answered the Harvester. "Flowers that I hope you will love. They are like you. Tall and slender, graceful, pearl white and pearl pure——those are the arrowhead Lilies."
"And the wonderful purplish-red there on the bank? Oh, I could kneel and pray before colour like that!'
"Pokeberry!" said the Harvester. "Roots bring five cents a pound. Good blood purifier."
"Man!" cried the Girl. "How can you? I'm not going to ask what another colour is. I'll just worship what I like in silence."
"Will you forgive me if I tell you what a woman whose judgment I respect says about that colour?"
"She says, 'God proves that He loves it best of all the tints in His workshop by using it first and most sparingly.' Now are you going to punish me by keeping silent?"
"I couldn't if I tried." Just then they came upon the bridge crossing Singing Water, and there was a long view of its border, rippling bed, and marshy banks; while on the other hand the lake resembled a richly incrusted sapphire.
"Is the house close?"
"Just a few rods, at the turn of the drive."
"Please help me down. I want to remain here a while. I don't care what else there is to see. Nothing can equal this. I wish I could bring down a bed and sleep here. I'd like to have a table, and draw and paint. I understand now what you mean about the designs you mentioned. Why, there must be thousands! I can't go on. I never saw anything so appealing in all my life."
Now the Harvester's mother had designed that bridge and he had built it with much care. From bark-covered railings to solid oak floor and comfortable benches running along the sides it was intended to be a part of the landscape.
"I'll send Belshazzar to the cabin with the wagon," he said, "so you can see better."
"But you must not!" she cried. "I can't walk. I wouldn't soil these beautiful shoes for anything."
"Why don't you change them?" inquired the Harvester.
"I am afraid I forgot everything I had," said the Girl.
"There are shoes somewhere in this load. I thought of them in getting other things for you, but I had no idea as to size, and so I told that clerk to-day when she got your measure to put in every kind you'd need."
"You are horribly extravagant," she said. "But if you have them here, perhaps I could use one pair."
The Harvester mounted the wagon and hunted until he found a large box, and opening it on the bench he disclosed almost every variety of shoe, walking shoe and slipper, a girl ever owned, as well as sandals and high overshoes.
"For pity sake!" cried the Girl. "Cover that box! You frighten me. You'll never get them paid for. You must take them straight back."
"Never take anything back," said the Harvester. "'Be sure you are right, then go ahead,' is my motto. Now I know these are your correct size and that for differing occasions you will want just such shoes as other girls have, and here they are. Simple as life! I think these will serve because they are for street wear, yet they are white inside."
He produced a pair of canvas walking shoes and kneeling before her held out his hand.
When he had finished, he loaded the box on the wagon, gave the hitching strap to Belshazzar, and told him to lead Betsy to the cabin and hold her until he came. Then he turned to the Girl.
"Now," he said, "look as long as you choose. But remember that the law gives you part of this and your lover, which same am I, gives you the remainder, so you are privileged to come here at any hour as often as you please. If you miss anything this evening, you have all time to come in which to re-examine it."
"I'd like to live right here on this bridge," she said. "I wish it had a roof."
"Roof it to-morrow," offered the Harvester. "Simple matter of a few pillars already cut, joists joined, and some slab shingles left from the cabin. Anything else your ladyship can suggest?"
"That you be sensible."
"I was born that way," explained the Harvester, "and I've cultivated the faculty until I've developed real genius. Talking of sense, there never was a proper marriage in which the man didn't give the woman a present. You seem likely to be more appreciative of this bridge than anything else I have, so right here and now would be the appropriate place to offer you my wedding gift. I didn't have much time, but I couldn't have found anything more suitable if I'd taken a year."
He held out a small, white velvet case.
"Doesn't that look as if it were made for a bride?" he asked.
"It does," answered the Girl. "But I can't take it. You are not doing right. Marrying as we did, you never can believe that I love you; maybe it won't ever happen that I do. I have no right to accept gifts and expensive clothing from you. In the first place, if the love you ask never comes, there is no possible way in which I can repay you. In the second, these things you are offering are not suitable for life and work in the woods. In the third, I think you are being extravagant, and I couldn't forgive myself if I allowed that."
"You divide your statements like a preacher, don't you?" asked the Harvester ingenuously. "Now sit thee here and gaze on the placid lake and quiet your troubled spirit, while I demolish your 'perfectly good' arguments. In the first place, you are now my wife, and you have a right to take anything I offer, if you care for it or can use it in any manner. In the second, you must recognize a difference in our positions. What seems nothing to you means all the world to me, and you are less than human if you deprive me of the joy of expressing feelings I am in honour bound to keep in my heart, by these little material offerings. In the third place, I inherited over six hundred acres of land and water, please observe the water——it is now in evidence on your left. All my life I have been taught to be frugal, economical, and to work. All I've earned either has gone back into land, into the bank, or into books, very plain food, and such clothing as you now see me wearing. Just the value of this place as it stands, with its big trees, its drug crops yielding all the year round, would be difficult to estimate; and I don't mind telling you that on the top of that hill there is a gold mine, and it's mine——ours since four o'clock."
"A gold mine!"
"Acres and acres of wild ginseng, seven years of age and ready to harvest. Do you remember what your few pounds brought?"
"Why it's worth thousands!"
"Exactly! For your peace of mind I might add that all I have done or got is paid for, except what I bought to-day, and I will write a check for that as soon as the bill is made out. My bank account never will feel it Truly, Ruth, I am not doing or going to do anything extravagant. I can't afford to give you diamond necklaces, yachts, and trips to Europe; but you can have the contents of this box and a motor boat on the lake, a horse and carriage, and a trip——say to New York perfectly well. Please take it."
"I wish you wouldn't ask me. I would be happier not to."
"Yes, but I do ask you," persisted the Harvester. "You are not the only one to be considered. I have some rights also, and I'm not so self-effacing that I won't insist upon them. From your standpoint I am almost a stranger. You have spent no time considering me in near relations; I realize that. You feel as if you were driven here for a refuge, and that is true. I said to Belshazzar one day that I must remember that you had no dream, and had spent no time loving me, and I do I know how this wedding seems to you, but it's going to mean something different and better soon, please God. I can see your side; now suppose you take a look at mine. I did have a dream, it was my dream, and beyond the sum of any delight I ever conceived. On the strength of it I rebuilt my home and remodelled these premises. Then I saw you, and from that day I worked early and late. I lost you and I never stopped until I found you; and I would have courted and won you, but the fates intervened and here you are! So it's my delight to court and win you now. If you knew the difference between having a dream that stirred the least fibre of your being and facing the world in a demand for realization of it, and then finding what you coveted in the palm of your hand, as it were, you would know what is in my heart, and why expression of some kind is necessary to me just now, and why I'll explode if it is denied. It will lower the tension, if you will accept this as a matter of fact; as if you rather expected and liked it, if you can."
The Harvester set his finger on the spring.
"Don't!" she said. "I'll never have the courage if you do. Give it to me in the case, and let me open it. Despite your unanswerable arguments, I am quite sure that is the only way in which I can take it."
The Harvester gave her the box.
"My wedding gift!" she exclaimed, more to herself than to him. "Why should I be the buffet of all the unkind fates kept in store for a girl my whole life, and then suddenly be offered home, beautiful gifts, and wonderful loving kindness by a stranger?"
The Harvester ran his fingers through his crisp hair, pulled it into a peak, stepped to the seat and sitting on the railing, he lifted his elbows, tilted his head, and began a motley outpouring of half-spoken, half-whistled trills and imploring cries. There was enough similarity that the Girl instantly recognized the red bird. Out of breath the Harvester dropped to the seat beside her.
"And don't you keep forgetting it!" he cried. "Now open that box and put on the trinket; because I want to take you to the cabin when the sun falls level on the drive."
She opened the case, exposing a thread of gold that appeared too slender for the weight of an exquisite pendant, set with shimmering pearls.
"If you will look down there," the Harvester pointed over the railing to the arrowhead lilies touched with the fading light, "you will see that they are similar."
"They are!" cried the Girl. "How lovely! Which is more beautiful I do not know. And you won't like it if I say I must not."
She held the open case toward the Harvester.
"'Possession is nine points in the law,'" he quoted. "You have taken it already and it is in your hands; now make the gift perfect for me by putting it on and saying nothing more."
"My wedding gift!" repeated the Girl. Slowly she lifted the beautiful ornament and held it in the light. "I'm so glad you just force me to take it," she said. "Any half-normal girl would be delighted. I do accept it. And what's more, I am going to keep and wear it and my ring at suitable times all my life, in memory of what you have done to be kind to me on this awful day."
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "That is a flash of the proper spirit. Allow me to put it on you."
"No!" said the Girl. "Not yet! After a while! I want to hold it in my hands, where I can see it!"
"Now there is one other thing," said the Harvester.
"If I had known for any length of time that this day was coming and bringing you, as most men know when a girl is to be given into their care, I could have made it different. As it is, I've done the best I knew. All your after life I hope you will believe this: Just that if you missed anything to-day that would have made it easier for you or more pleasant, the reason was because of my ignorance of women and the conventions, and lack of time. I want you to know and to feel that in my heart those vows I took were real. This is undoubtedly all the marrying I will ever want to do. I am old-fashioned in my ways, and deeply imbued with the spirit of the woods, and that means unending evolution along the same lines.
"To me you are my revered and beloved wife, my mate now; and I am sure nothing will make me feel any different. This is the day of my marriage to the only woman I ever have thought of wedding, and to me it is joy unspeakable. With other men such a day ends differently from the close of this with me. Because I have done and will continue to do the level best I know for you, this oration is the prologue to asking you for one gift to me from you, a wedding gift. I don't want it unless you can bestow it ungrudgingly, and truly want me to have it. If you can, I will have all from this day I hope for at the hands of fate. May I have the gift I ask of you, Ruth?"
She lifted startled eyes to his face.
"Tell me what it is?" she breathed.
"It may seem much to you," said the Harvester; "to me it appears only a gracious act, from a wonderful woman, if you will give me freely, one real kiss. I've never had one, save from a Dream Girl, Ruth, and you will have to make yours pretty good if it is anything like hers. You are woman enough to know that most men crush their brides in their arms and take a thousand. I'll put my hands behind me and never move a muscle, and I won't ask for more, if you will crown my wedding day with only one touch of your lips. Will you kiss me just once, Ruth?"
The Girl lifted a piteous face down which big tears suddenly rolled.
"Oh Man, you shame me!" she cried. "What kind of a heart have I that it fails to respond to such a plea? Have I been overworked and starved so long there is no feeling in me? I don't understand why I don't take you in my arms and kiss you a hundred times, but you see I don't. It doesn't seem as if I ever could."
"Never mind," said the Harvester gently. "It was only a fancy of mine, bred from my dream and unreasonable, perhaps. I am sorry I mentioned it. The sun is on the stoop now; I want you to enter your home in its light. Come!"
He half lifted her from the bench. "I am going to help you up the drive as I used to assist mother," he said, fighting to keep his voice natural. "Clasp your hands before you and draw your elbows to your sides. Now let me take one in each palm, and you will scoot up this drive as if you were on wheels."
"But I don't want to 'scoot'," she said unsteadily. "I must go slowly and not miss anything."
"On the contrary, you don't want to do any such thing——you should leave most of it for to-morrow."
"I had forgotten there would be any to-morrow. It seems as if the day would end it and set me adrift again."
"You are going to awake in the gold room with the sun shining on your face in the morning, and it's going to keep on all your life. Now if you've got a smile in your anatomy, bring it to the surface, for just beyond this tree lies happiness for you."
His voice was clear and steady now, his confidence something contagious. There was a lovely smile on her face as she looked at him, and stepped into the line of light crossing the driveway; and then she stopped and cried, "Oh lovely! Lovely! Lovely!" over and over. Then maybe the Harvester was not glad he had planned, worked unceasingly, and builded as well as he knew.
The cabin of large, peeled, golden oak logs, oiled to preserve them, nestled like a big mushroom on the side of the hill. Above and behind the building the trees arose in a green setting. The roof was stained to their shades. The wide veranda was enclosed in screening, over which wonderful vines climbed in places, and round it grew ferns and deep-wood plants. Inside hung big baskets of wild growth; there was a wide swinging seat, with a back rest, supported by heavy chains. There were chairs and a table of bent saplings and hickory withes. Two full stories the building arose, and the western sun warmed it almost to orange-yellow, while the graceful vines crept toward the roof.
The Girl looked at the rapidly rising hedge on each side of her, at the white floor of the drive, and long and long at the cabin.
"You did all this since February?" she asked.
"Even to transforming the landscape," answered the Harvester.
"Oh I wish it was not coming night!" she cried. "I don't want the dark to come, until you have told me the name of every tree and shrub of that wonderful hedge, and every plant and vine of the veranda; and oh I want to follow up the driveway and see that beautiful little creek—listen to it chuckle and laugh! Is it always glad like that? See the ferns and things that grow on the other side of it! Why there are big beds of them. And lilies of the valley by the acre! What is that yellow around the corner?"
"Never mind that now," said the Harvester, guiding her up the steps, along the gravelled walk to the screen that he opened, and over a flood of gold light she crossed the veranda, and entered the door.
"Now here it appears bare," said the Harvester, "because I didn't know what should go on the walls or what rugs to get or about the windows. The table, chairs, and couch I made myself with some help from a carpenter. They are solid black walnut and will age finely."
"They are beautiful," said the Girl, softly touching the shining table top with her fingers. "Please put the necklace on me now, I have to use my eyes and hands for other things."
She held out the box and the Harvester lifted the pendant and clasped the chain around her neck. She glanced at the lustrous pearls and then the fingers of one hand softly closed over them. She went through the long, wide living-room, examining the chairs and mantel, stopping to touch and exclaim over its array of half-finished candlesticks. At the door of his room she paused. "And this?" she questioned.
"Mine," said the Harvester, turning the knob. "I'll give you one peep to satisfy your curiosity, and show you the location of the bridge over which you came to me in my dream. All the remainder is yours. I reserve only this."
"Will the 'goblins git me' if I come here?"
"Not goblins, but a man alive; so heed your warning. After you have seen it, keep away."
The floor was cement, three of the walls heavy screening with mosquito wire inside, the roof slab shingled. On the inner wall was a bookcase, below it a desk, at one side a gun cabinet, at the other a bath in a small alcove beside a closet. The room contained two chairs like those of the veranda, and the bed was a low oak couch covered with a thick mattress of hemlock twigs, topped with sweet fern, on which the sun shone all day. On a chair at the foot were spread some white sheets, a blanket, and an oilcloth. The sun beat in, the wind drifted through, and one lying on the couch could see down the bright hill, and sweep the lake to the opposite bank without lifting the head. The Harvester drew the Girl to the bedside.
"Now straight in a line from here," he said, "across the lake to that big, scraggy oak, every clear night the moon builds a bridge of molten gold, and once you walked it, my girl, and came straight to me, alone and unafraid; and you were gracious and lovely beyond anything a man ever dreamed of before. I'll have that to think of to-night. Now come see the dining-room, kitchen, and hand-made sunshine."