He led her into what had been the front room of the old cabin, now a large, long dining-room having on each side wide windows with deep seats. The fireplace backwall was against that of the living-room, but here the mantel was bare. All the wood-work, chairs, the dining table, cupboards, and carving table were golden oak. Only a few rugs and furnishings and a woman's touch were required to make it an unusual and beautiful room. The kitchen was shining with a white hard-wood floor, white wood-work, and pale green walls. It was a light, airy, sanitary place, supplied with a pump, sink, hot and cold water faucets, refrigerator, and every modern convenience possible to the country.
Then the Harvester almost carried the Girl up the stairs and showed her three large sleeping rooms, empty and bare save for some packing cases.
"I didn't know about these, so I didn't do anything. When you find time to plan, tell me what you want, and I'll make—or buy it. They are good-sized, cool rooms. They all have closets and pipes from the furnace, so they will be comfortable in winter. Now there is your place remaining. I'll leave you while I stable Betsy and feed the stock."
He guided her to the door opening from the living-room to the east.
"This is the sunshine spot," he said. "It is bathed in morning light, and sheltered by afternoon shade. Singing Water is across the drive there to talk to you always. It comes pelting down so fast it never freezes, so it makes music all winter, and the birds are so numerous you'll have to go to bed early for they'll wake you by dawn. I noticed this room was going to be full of sunshine when I built it, and I craved only brightness for you, so I coaxed all of it to stay that I could. Every stroke is the work of my hands, and all of the furniture. I hope you will like it. This is the room of which I've been telling you, Ruth. Go in and take possession, and I'll entreat God and all His ministering angels to send you sunshine and joy."
He opened the door, guided her inside, closed it, and went swiftly to his work.
The Girl stood and looked around her with amazed eyes. The floor was pale yellow wood, polished until it shone like a table top. The casings, table, chairs, dressing table, chest of drawers, and bed were solid curly maple. The doors were big polished slabs of it, each containing enough material to veneer all the furniture in the room. The walls were of plaster, tinted yellow, and the windows with yellow shades were curtained in dainty white. She could hear the Harvester carrying the load from the wagon to the front porch, the clamour of the barn yard; and as she went to the north window to see the view, a shining peacock strutted down the walk and went to the Harvester's hand for grain, while scores of snow-white doves circled over his head. She stepped on deep rugs of yellow goat skins, and, glancing at the windows on either side, she opened the door.
Outside it lay a porch with a railing, but no roof. On each post stood a box filled with yellow wood-flowers and trailing vines of pale green. A big tree rising through one corner of the floor supplied the cover. A gate opened to a walk leading to the driveway, and on either side lay a patch of sod, outlined by a deep hedge of bright gold. In it saffron, cone-flowers, black-eyed Susans, golden-rod, wild sunflowers, and jewel flower grew, and some of it, enough to form a yellow line, was already in bloom. Around the porch and down the walk were beds of yellow violets, pixie moss, and every tiny gold flower of the woods. The Girl leaned against the tree and looked around her and then staggered inside and dropped on the couch.
"What planning! What work!" she sobbed. "What taste! Why he's a poet! What wonderful beauty! He's an artist with earth for his canvas, and growing things for colours."
She lay there staring at the walls, the beautiful wood-work and furniture, the dressing table with its array of toilet articles, a low chair before it, and the thick rug for her feet. Over and over she looked at everything, and then closed her eyes and lay quietly, too weary and overwhelmed to think. By and by came tapping at the door, and she sprang up and crossing to the dressing table straightened her hair and composed her face.
"Ajax demands to see you," cried a gay voice.
The Girl stepped outside.
"Don't be frightened if he screams at you," warned the Harvester as she passed him. "He detests a stranger, and he always cries and sulks."
It was a question what was in the head of the bird as he saw the strange looking creature invading his domain, and he did scream, a wild, high, strident wail that delighted the Harvester inexpressibly, because it sent the Girl headlong into his arms.
"Oh, good gracious!" she cried. "Has such a beautiful bird got a noise in it like that? Why I've fed them in parks and I never heard one explode before."
Then how the Harvester laughed.
"But you see you are in the woods now, and this is not a park bird. It will be the test of your power to see how soon you can coax him to your hand."
"How do I work to win him?"
"I am afraid I can't tell you that," said the Harvester. "I had to invent a plan for myself. It required a long time and much petting, and my methods might not avail for you. It will interest you to study that out. But the member of the family it is positively essential that you win to a life and death allegiance is Belshazzar. If you can make him love you, he will protect you at every turn. He will go before you into the forest and all the crawling, creeping things will get out of his way. He will nose around the flowers you want to gather, and if he growls and the hair on the back of his neck rises, never forget that you must heed that warning. A few times I have not stopped for it, and I always have been sorry. So far as anything animate or uncertain footing is concerned, you are always perfectly safe if you obey him. About touching plants and flowers, you must confine yourself to those you are certain you know, until I can teach you. There are gorgeous and wonderfully attractive things here, but some of them are rank poison. You won't handle plants you don't know, until you learn, Ruth?"
"I will not," she promised instantly.
She went to the seat under the porch tree and leaning against the trunk she studied the hill, and the rippling course of Singing Water where it turned and curved before the cabin, and started across the vivid little marsh toward the lake. Then she looked at the Harvester. He seated himself on the low railing and smiled at her.
"You are very tired?" he asked.
"No," she said. "You are right about the air being better up here. It is stimulating instead of depressing."
"So far as pure air, location, and water are concerned," said the Harvester, "I consider this place ideal. The lake is large enough to cool the air and raise sufficient moisture to dampen it, and too small to make it really cold and disagreeable. The slope of the hill gives perfect drainage. The heaviest rains do not wet the earth for more than three hours. North, south, and west breezes sweep the cool air from the water to the cabin in summer. The same suns warm us here on the winter hillside. My violets, spring beauties, anemones, and dutchman's breeches here are always two weeks ahead of those in the woods. I am not afraid of your not liking the location or the air. As for the cabin, if you don't care for that, it's very simple. I'll transform it into a laboratory and dry-house, and build you whatever you want, within my means, over there on the hill just across Singing Water and facing the valley toward Onabasha. That's a perfect location. The thing that worries me is what you are going to do for company, especially while I am away."
"Don't trouble yourself about anything," she said. "Just say in your heart, 'she is going to be stronger than she ever has been in her life in this lovely place, and she has more right now than she ever had or hoped to have.' For one thing, I am going to study your books. I never have had time before. While we sewed or embroidered, mother talked by the hour of the great writers of the world, told me what they wrote, and how they expressed themselves, but I got to read very little for myself."
"Books are my company," said the Harvester.
"Do your friends come often?"
"Almost never! Doc and his wife come most, and if you look out some day and see a white-haired, bent old woman, with a face as sweet as dawn, coming up the bank of Singing Water, that will be my mother's friend, Granny Moreland, who joins us on the north over there. She is frank and brusque, so she says what she thinks with unmistakable distinctness, but her heart is big and tender and her philosophy keeps her sweet and kindly despite the ache of rheumatism and the weight of seventy years."
"I'd love to have her come," said the Girl. "Is that all?"
"Your favourite word," laughed the Harvester. "The reason lies with me, or rather with my mother. Some day I will tell you the whole story, and the cause. I think now I can encompass it in this. The place is an experiment. When medicinal herbs, roots, and barks became so scarce that some of the most important were almost extinct, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to stop travelling miles and poaching on the woods of other people, and turn our land into an herb garden. For four years before mother went, and six since, I've worked with all my might, and results are beginning to take shape. While I've been at it, of course, my neighbours had an inkling of what was going on, and I've been called a fool, lazy, and a fanatic, because I did not fell the trees and plow for corn. You readily can see I'm a little short of corn ground out there," he waved toward the marsh and lake, "and up there," he indicated the steep hill and wood. "But somewhere on this land I've been able to find muck for mallows, water for flags and willows, shade for ferns, lilies, and ginseng, rocky, sunny spaces for mullein, and open, fertile beds for Bouncing Bet——just for examples. God never evolved a place better suited for an herb farm; from woods to water and all that goes between, it is perfect."
"And indescribably lovely," added the Girl.
"Yes, I think it is," said the Harvester. "But in the days when I didn't know how it was coming out, I was sensitive about it; so I kept quiet and worked, and allowed the other fellow to do the talking. After a while the ginseng bed grew a treasure worth guarding, and I didn't care for any one to know how much I had or where it was, as a matter of precaution. Ginseng and money are synonymous, and I was forced to be away some of the time."
"Would any one take it?"
"Certainly!" said the Harvester. "If they knew it was there, and what it is worth. Then, as I've told you, much of the stuff here must not be handled except by experts, and I didn't want people coming in my absence and taking risks. The remainder of my reason for living so alone is cowardice, pure and simple."
"Cowardice? You! Oh no!"
"Thank you!" said the Harvester. "But it is! Some day I'll tell you of a very solemn oath I've had to keep. It hasn't been easy. You wouldn't understand, at least not now. If the day ever comes when I think you will, I'll tell you. Just now I can express it by that one word. I didn't dare fail or I felt I would be lost as my father was before me. So I remained away from the city and its temptations and men of my age, and worked in the woods until I was tired enough to drop, read books that helped, tinkered with the carving, and sometimes I had an idea, and I went into that little building behind the dry-house, took out my different herbs, and tried my hand at compounding a new cure for some of the pains of humanity. It isn't bad work, Ruth. It keeps a fellow at a fairly decent level, and some good may come of it. Carey is trying several formulae for me, and if they work I'll carry them higher. If you want money, Girl, I know how to get it for you."
"Don't you want it?"
"Not one cent more than I've got," said the Harvester emphatically. "When any man accumulates more than he can earn with his own hands, he begins to enrich himself at the expense of the youth, the sweat, the blood, the joy of his fellow men. I can go to the city, take a look, and see what money does, as a rule, and it's another thing I'm afraid of. You will find me a dreadful coward on those two points. I don't want to know society and its ways. I see what it does to other men; it would be presumption to reckon myself stronger. So I live alone. As for money, I've watched the cross cuts and the quick and easy ways to accumulate it; but I've had something in me that held me to the slow, sure, clean work of my own hands, and it's yielded me enough for one, for two even, in a reasonable degree. So I've worked, read, compounded, and carved. If I couldn't wear myself down enough to sleep by any other method, I went into the lake, and swam across and back; and that is guaranteed to put any man to rest, clean and unashamed."
"Six years," said the Girl softly, as she studied him. "I think it has set a mark on you. I believe I can trace it. Your forehead, brow, and eyes bear the lines and the appearance of all experience, all comprehension, but your lips are those of a very young lad. I shouldn't be surprised if I had that kiss ready for you, and I really believe I can make it worth while."
"Oh good Lord!" cried the Harvester, turning a backward somersault over the railing and starting in big bounds up the drive toward the stable. He passed around it and into the woods at a rush and a few seconds later from somewhere on the top of the hill his strong, deep voice swept down, "Glory, glory hallelujah!"
He sang it through at the top of his lungs, that majestic old hymn, but there was no music at all, it was simply a roar. By and by he came soberly to the barn and paused to stroke Betsy's nose.
"Stop chewing grass and listen to me," he said. "She's here, Betsy! She's in our cabin. She's going to remain, you can stake your oats on that. She's going to be the loveliest and sweetest girl in all the world, and because you're a beast, I'll tell you something a man never could know. Down with your ear, you critter! She's going to kiss me, Betsy! This very night, before I lay me, her lips meet mine, and maybe you think that won't be glorious. I supposed it would be a year, anyway, but it's now! Ain't you glad you are an animal, Betsy, and can keep secrets for a fool man that can't?"
He walked down the driveway, and before the Girl had a chance to speak, he said, "I wonder if I had not better carry those things into your room, and arrange your bed for you."
"I can," she said.
"Oh no!" exclaimed the Harvester. "You can't lift the mattress and heavy covers. Hold the door and tell me how."
He laid a big bundle on the floor, opened it, and took out the shoes.
"Your shoe box is in the closet there."
"I didn't know what that door was, so I didn't open it."
"That is a part of my arrangements for you," said the Harvester. "Here is a closet with shelves for your covers and other things. They are bare because I didn't know just what should be put on them. This is the shoe box here in the corner; I'll put these in it now."
He knelt and in a row set the shoes in the curly maple box and closed it.
"There you are for all kinds of places and varieties of weather. This adjoining is your bathroom. I put in towels, soaps; brushes, and everything I could think of, and there is hot water ready for you——rain water, too."
The Girl followed and looked into a shining little bathroom, with its white porcelain tub and wash bowl, enamelled wood-work, dainty green walls, and white curtains and towels. She could see no accessory she knew of that was missing, and there were many things to which she never had been accustomed. The Harvester had gone back to the sunshine room, and was kneeling on the floor beside the bundle. He began opening boxes and handing her dresses.
"There are skirt, coat, and waist hangers on the hooks," he said. "I only got a few things to start on, because I didn't know what you would like. Instead of being so careful with that dress, why don't you take it off, and put on a common one? Then we will have something to eat, and go to the top of the hill and watch the moon bridge the lake."
While she hung the dresses and selected the one to wear, he placed the mattress, spread the padding and sheets, and encased the pillow. Then he bent and pressed the springs with his hands.
"I think you will find that soft and easy enough for health," he said. "All the personal belongings I had that clerk put up for you are in that chest of drawers there. I put the little boxes in the top and went down. You can empty and arrange them to-morrow. Just hunt out what you will need now. There should be everything a girl uses there somewhere. I told them to be very careful about that. If the things are not right or not to your taste, you can take them back as soon as you are rested, and they will exchange them for you. If there is anything I have missed that you can think of that you need to-night, tell me and I'll go and get it."
The Girl turned toward him.
"You couldn't be making sport of me," she said, "but Man! Can't you see that I don't know what to do with half you have here? I never saw such things closely before. I don't know what they are for. I don't know how to use them. My mother would have known, but I do not. You overwhelm me! Fifty times I've tried to tell you that a room of my very own, such a room as this will be when to-morrow's sun comes in, and these, and these, and these," she turned from the chest of boxes to the dressing table, bed, closet, and bath, "all these for me, and you know absolutely nothing about me——I get a big lump in my throat, and the words that do come all seem so meaningless, I am perfectly ashamed to say them. Oh Man, why do you do it?"
"I thought it was about time to spring another 'why' on me," said the Harvester. "Thank God, I am now in a position where I can tell you 'why'! I do it because you are the girl of my dream, my mate by every law of Heaven and earth. All men build as well as they know when the one woman of the universe lays her spell on them. I did all this for myself just as a kind of expression of what it would be in my heart to do if I could do what I'd like. Put on the easiest dress you can find and I will go and set out something to eat."
She stood with arms high piled with the prettiest dresses that could be selected hurriedly, the tears running down her white cheeks and smiled through them at him.
"There wouldn't be any of that liquid amber would there?" she asked.
"Quarts!" cried the Harvester. "I'll bring some. ... Does it really hit the spot, Ruth?" he questioned as he handed her the glass.
She heaped the dresses on the bed and took it.
"It really does. I am afraid I am using too much."
"I don't think it possibly can hurt you. To-morrow we will ask Doc. How soon will you be ready for lunch?"
"I don't want a bite."
"You will when you see and smell it," said the Harvester. "I am an expert cook. It's my chiefest accomplishment. You should taste the dishes I improvise. But there won't be much to-night, because I want you to see the moon rise over the lake."
He went away and the Girl removed her dress and spread it on the couch. Then she bathed her face and hands. When she saw the discoloured cloth, it proved that she had been painted, and made her very indignant. Yet she could not be altogether angry, for that flush of colour had saved the Harvester from being pitied by his friend. She stood a long time before the mirror, staring at her gaunt, colourless face; then she went to the dressing table and committed a crime. She found a box of cream and rubbed it on for a foundation. Then she opened some pink powder, and carefully dusted her cheeks.
"I am utterly ashamed," she said to the image in the mirror, "but he has done so much for me, he is so, so——I don't know a word big enough——that I can't bear him to see how ghastly I am, how little worth it. Perhaps the food, better air, and outdoor exercise will give me strength and colour soon. Until it does I'm afraid I'm going to help out all I can with this. It is wonderful how it changes one. I really appear like a girl instead of a bony old woman."
Then she looked over the dresses, selected a pretty white princesse, slipped it on, and went to the kitchen. But the Harvester would not have her there. He seated her at the dining table, beside the window overlooking the lake, lighted a pair of his home-made candles in his finest sticks, and placed before her bread, butter, cold meat, milk, and fruit, and together they ate their first meal in their home.
"If I had known," said the Harvester, "Granny Moreland is a famous cook. She is a Southern woman, and she can fry chicken and make some especial dishes to surpass any one I ever knew. She would have been so pleased to come over and get us an all-right supper."
"I'd much rather have this, and be by ourselves," said the Girl.
"Well, you can bank on it, I would," agreed the Harvester. "For instance, if any one were here, I might feel restrained about telling you that you are exactly the beautiful, flushed Dream Girl I have adored for months, and your dress most becoming. You are a picture to blind the eyes of a lonely bachelor, Ruth."
"Oh why did you say that?" wailed the Girl. "Now I've got to feel like a sneak or tell you——and I didn't want you to know."
"Don't you ever tell me or any one else anything you don't want to," said the Harvester roundly. "It's nobody's business!"
"But I must! I can't begin with deception. I was fool enough to think you wouldn't notice. Man, they painted me! I didn't know they were doing it, but when it all washed off, I looked so ghastly I almost frightened myself. I hunted through the boxes they put up for you and found some pink powder——"
"But don't all the daintiest women powder these days, and consider it indispensable? The clerk said so, and I've noticed it mentioned in the papers. I bought it for you to use."
"Yes, just powder, but Man, I put on a lot of cold cream first to stick the powder good and thick. Oh I wish I hadn't!"
"Well since you've told it, is your conscience perfectly at ease? No you don't! You sit where you are! You are lovely, and if you don't use enough powder to cover the paleness, until your colour returns, I'll hold you and put it on. I know you feel better when you appear so that every one must admire you."
"Yes, but I'm a fraud!"
"You are no such thing!" cried the Harvester hotly. "There hasn't a woman in ten thousand got any such rope of hair. I have been seeing the papers on the hair question, too. No one will believe it's real. If they think your hair is false, when it is natural, they won't be any more fooled when they think your colour is real, and it isn't. Very soon it will be and no one need ever know the difference. You go on and fix up your level best. To see yourself appearing well will make you ambitious to become so as soon as possible."
"Harvester-man," said the Girl, gazing at him with wet luminous eyes, "for the sake of other women, I could wish that all men had an oath to keep, and had been reared in the woods."
"Here is the place we adjourn to the moon," cried the Harvester. "I don't know of anything that can cure a sudden accession of swell head like gazing at the heavens. One finds his place among the atoms naturally and instantaneously with the eyes on the night sky. Should you have a wrap? You should! The mists from the lake are cool. I don't believe there is one among my orders. I forgot that. But upstairs with mother's clothing there are several shawls and shoulder capes. All of them were washed and carefully packed. Would you use one, Ruth?"
"Why not give it to me. Wouldn't she like me to wear her things better than to have them lying in moth balls?"
The Harvester looked at her and shook his head, marvelling.
"I can't tell how pleased she would be," he said.
"Where are her belongings?" asked the Girl. "I could use them to help furnish the house, and it wouldn't appear so strange to you."
The Harvester liked that.
"All the washed things are in those boxes upstairs; also some fine skins I've saved on the chance of wanting them. Her dishes are in the bottom of the china closet there; she was mighty proud of them. The furniture and carpets were so old and abused I burned them. I'll go bring a wrap."
He took the candle and climbed the stairs, soon returning with a little white wool shawl and a big pink coverlet.
"Got this for her Christmas one time," he said. "She'd never had a white one and she thought it was pretty."
He folded it around the Girl's shoulders and picked up the coverlet.
"You're never going to take that to the woods!" she cried.
She took it in her hands to find a corner.
"Just as I thought! It's a genuine Peter Hartman! It's one of the things that money can't buy, or, rather, one that takes a mint of money to own. They are heirlooms. They are not manufactured any more. At the art store where I worked they'd give you fifty dollars for that. It is not faded or worn a particle. It would be lovely in my room; you mustn't take a treasure like that out of doors."
"Ruth, are you in earnest?" demanded the Harvester. "I believe there are six of them upstairs."
"Plutocrat!" cried the Girl. "What colours?"
"More of this pinkish red, blue, and pale green."
"Famous! May I have them to help furnish with to-morrow?"
"Certainly! Anything you can find, any way on earth you want it, only in my room. That is taboo, as I told you. What am I going to take to-night?"
"Isn't the rug you had in the woods in the wagon yet? Use that!"
"Of course! The very thing! Bel, proceed!"
"Are you going to leave the house like this?"
"Suppose some one breaks in!"
"Nothing worth carrying away, except what you have on. No one to get in. There is a big swamp back of our woods, marsh in front, we're up here where we can see the drive and bridge. There is nothing possible from any direction. Never locked the cabin in my life, except your room, and that was because it was sacred, not that there was any danger. Clear the way, Bel!"
"Clear it of what?"
"Katydids, hoptoads, and other carnivorous animals."
"Now you are making fun of me! Clear it of what?"
"A coon that might go shuffling across, an opossum, or a snake going to the lake. Now are you frightened so that you will not go?"
"No. The path is broad and white and surely you and Bel can take care of me."
"If you will trust us we can."
"Well, I am trusting you."
"You are indeed," said the Harvester. "Now see if you think this is pretty."
He indicated the hill sloping toward the lake. The path wound among massive trees, between whose branches patches of moonlight filtered. Around the lake shore and climbing the hill were thickets of bushes. The water lay shining in the light, a gentle wind ruffled the surface in undulant waves, and on the opposite bank arose the line of big trees. Under a giant oak widely branching, on the top of the hill, the Harvester spread the rug and held one end of it against the tree trunk to protect the Girl's dress. Then he sat a little distance away and began to talk. He mingled some sense with a quantity of nonsense, and appreciated every hint of a laugh he heard. The day had been no amusing matter for a girl absolutely alone among strange people and scenes. Anything more foreign to her previous environment or expectations he could not imagine. So he talked to prevent her from thinking, and worked for a laugh as he laboured for bread.
"Now we must go," he said at last. "If there is the malaria I strongly suspect in your system, this night air is none too good for you. I only wanted you to see the lake the first night in your new home, and if it won't shock you, I brought you here because this is my holy of holies. Can you guess why I wanted you to come, Ruth?"
"If I wasn't so stupid with alternate burning and chills, and so deadened to every proper sensibility, I suppose I could," she answered, "but I'm not brilliant. I don't know, unless it is because you knew it would be the loveliest place I ever saw. Surely there is no other spot in the world quite so beautiful."
"Then would it seem strange to you," asked the Harvester going to the Girl and gently putting his arms around her, "would it seem strange to you, that a woman who once homed here and thought it the prettiest place on earth, chose to remain for her eternal sleep, rather than to rest in a distant city of stranger dead?"
He felt the Girl tremble against him.
"Where is she?"
"Very close," said the Harvester. "Under this oak. She used to say that she had a speaking acquaintance with every tree on our land, and of them all she loved this big one the best. She liked to come here in winter, and feel the sting of the wind sweeping across the lake, and in summer this was her place to read and to think. So when she slept the unwaking sleep, Ruth, I came here and made her bed with my own hands, and then carried her to it, covered her, and she sleeps well. I never have regretted her going. Life did not bring her joy. She was very tired. She used to say that after her soul had fled, if I would lay her here, perhaps the big roots would reach down and find her, and from her frail frame gather slight nourishment and then her body would live again in talking leaves that would shelter me in summer and whisper her love in winter. Of all Medicine Woods this is the dearest spot to me. Can you love it too, Ruth?"
"Oh I can!" cried the Girl; "I do now! Just to see the place and hear that is enough. I wish, oh to my soul I wish——"
"You wish what?" whispered the Harvester gently.
"I dare not! I was wild to think of it. I would be ungrateful to ask it."
"You would be ungracious if you didn't ask anything that would give me the joy of pleasing you. How long is it going to require for you to learn, Ruth, that to make up for some of the difficulties life has brought you would give me more happiness than anything else could? Tell me now."
He gathered her closer.
"Ruth, there is no reason why you should be actively unkind to me. What is it you wish?"
She struggled from his arms and stood alone in white moonlight, staring across the lake, along the shore, deep into the perfumed forest, and then at the mound she now could distinguish under the giant tree. Suddenly she went to him and with both shaking hands gripped his arm.
"My mother!" she panted. "Oh she was a beautiful woman, delicately reared, and her heart was crushed and broken. By the inch she went to a dreadful end I could not avert or allay, and in poverty and grime I fought for a way to save her body from further horror, and it's all so dreadful I thought all feeling in me was dried and still, but I am not quite calloused yet. I suffer it over with every breath. It is never entirely out of my mind. Oh Man, if only you would lift her from the horrible place she lies, where briers run riot and cattle trample and the unmerciful sun beats! Oh if only you'd lift her from it, and bring her here! I believe it would take away some of the horror, the shame, and the heartache. I believe I could go to sleep without hearing the voice of her suffering, if I knew she was lying on this hill, under your beautiful tree, close the dear mother you love. Oh Man, would you——?"
The Harvester crushed the Girl in his arms and shuddering sobs shook his big frame, and choked his voice.
"Ruth, for God's sake, be quiet!" he cried. "Why I'd be glad to! I'll go anywhere you tell me, and bring her, and she shall rest where the lake murmurs, the trees shelter, the winds sing, and earth knows the sun only in long rays of gold light."
She stared at him with strained face.
"You——you wouldn't!" she breathed.
"Ruth, child," said the Harvester, "I tell you I'd be happy. Look at my side of this! I'm in search of bands to bind you to me and to this place. Could you tell me a stronger than to have the mother you idolized lie here for her long sleep? Why Girl, you can't know the deep and abiding joy it would give me to bring her. I'd feel I had you almost secure. Where is she Ruth?"
"In that old unkept cemetery south of Onabasha, where it costs no money to lay away your loved ones."
"Close here! Why I'll go to-morrow! I supposed she was in the city."
She straightened and drew away from him.
"How could I? I had nothing. I could not have paid even her fare and brought her here in the cheapest box the decency of man would allow him to make if her doctor had not given me the money I owe. Now do you understand why I must earn and pay it myself? Save for him, it was charity or her delicate body to horrors. Money never can repay him."
"Ruth, the day you came to Onabasha was she with you?"
"In the express car," said the Girl.
"Where did you go when you left the train shed?"
"Straight to the baggage room, where Uncle Henry was waiting. Men brought and put her in his wagon, and he drove with me to the place and other men lowered her, and that was all."
"You poor Girl!" cried the Harvester. "This time to-morrow night she shall sleep in luxury under this oak, so help me God! Ruth, can you spare me? May I go at once? I can't rest, myself."
"You will?" cried the Girl. "You will?"
She was laughing in the moonlight. "Oh Man, I can't ever, ever tell you!"
"Don't try," said the Harvester. "Call it settled. I will start early in the morning. I know that little cemetery. The man whose land it is on can point me the spot. She is probably the last one laid there. Come now, Ruth. Go to the room I made for you, and sleep deeply and in peace. Will you try to rest?"
"Oh David!" she exulted. "Only think! Here where it's clean and cool; beside the lake, where leaves fall gently and I can come and sit close to her and bring flowers; and she never will be alone, for your dear mother is here. Oh David!"
"It is better. I can't thank you enough for thinking of it. Come now, let me help you."
He half carried her down the hill. Then he made the cabin a glamour of light by putting candles in the sticks he had carved and placing them everywhere.
"There is a lighting plant in the basement," he said, "but I had not expected to use it until winter, and I have no acetylene. Candles were our grandmothers' lights and they are the best anyway. Go bathe your face, Ruth, and wash away all trace of tears. Put on the pink powder, and in a few weeks you will have colour to outdo the wildest rose. You must be as gay as you can the remainder of this night."
"I will!" cried the Girl. "I will! Oh I didn't know a thing on earth could make me happy! I didn't know I really could be glad. Oh if the ice in my heart would melt, and the wall break down, and the girlhood I've never known would come yet! Oh David, if it would!"
"Before the Lord it shall!" vowed the Harvester. "It shall come with the fulness of joy right here in Medicine Woods. Think it! Believe it! Keep it before you! Work for it! Happiness is worth while! All of us have a right to it! It shall be yours and soon."
"I will try! I will!" promised the Girl. "I'll go right now and I'll put on the blessed pink powder so thickly you'll never know what is under it, and soon it won't be needed at all."
She was laughing as she left the room. The Harvester restlessly walked the floor a few minutes and then sat with a notebook and began entering stems.
When the Girl returned, he brought the pillow from her bed, folded the coverlet, and she lay on them in the big swing. He covered her with the white shawl, and while Singing Water sang its loudest, katydids exulted over the delightful act of their ancestor, and a million gauze-winged creatures of night hummed against the screen, in a voice soft and low he told her in a steady stream, as he swayed her back and forth, what each sound of the night was, and how and why it was made all the way from the rumbling buzz of the June bug to the screech of the owl and the splash of the bass in the lake. All of it, as it appealed to him, was the story of steady evolution, the natural processes of reproduction, the joy of life and its battles, and the conquest of the strong in nature. At his hands every sound was stripped of terror. The leaping bass was exulting in life, the screeching owl was telling its mate it had found a fat mouse for the children, the nighthawk was courting, the big bull frogs booming around the lake were serenading the moon. There was not a thing to fear or a voice left with an unsympathetic note in it. She was half asleep when at last he helped her to her room, set a pitcher of frosty, clinking drink on her table, locked her door and window screens inside, spread Belshazzar's blanket on her porch, and set his door wide open, that he might hear if she called, and then said good night and went back to his memorandum book.
"No bad beginning," he muttered softly, "no bad beginning, but I'd almost give my right hand if she hadn't forgotten——"
In her room the exhausted Girl slipped the pins from her hair and sank on the low chair before the dressing-table. She picked up the shining, silver backed brush and stared at the monogram, R. F. L, entwined on it.
"My soul!" she exclaimed. "WAS HE SO SURE AS THAT? Was there ever any other man like him?"
She dropped the brush and with tired hands pushed back the heavy braids. Then she arose and going to the chest of drawers began lifting lids to find a night robe. As she searched the boxes she found every dainty, pretty undergarment a girl ever used and at last the robes. She shook out a long white one, slipped into it, and walked to the bed. That stood as he had arranged it, white, clean, and dainty.
"Everything for me!" she said softly. "Everything for me! Shall there be nothing for him? Oh he makes it easy, easy!"
She stepped to the closet, picked down a lavender silk kimona and drawing it over her gown she gathered it around her and opening the bathroom door, she stepped into a little hall leading to the dining-room. As she entered the living-room the Harvester bent over his book. Her step was very close when he heard it and turned his head. In an instant she touched his shoulders. The Harvester dropped the pencil, and palm downward laid his hands on the table, his promise strong in his heart. The Girl slid a shaking palm under his chin, leaned his head against her breast, and dropped a sweet, tear-wet face on his. With all the strength of her frail arms she gripped him a second, and then gave the kiss, into which she tried to put all she could find no words to express.
CHAPTER XIV. SNOWY WINGS
The Harvester sat at the table in deep thoughts until the lights in the Girl's room were darkened and everything was quiet. Then he locked the screens inside and went into the night. The moon flooded all the hillside, until coarse print could have been read with keen eyes in its light. A restlessness, born of exultation he could not allay or control, was on him. She had not forgotten! After this, the dream would be effaced by reality. It was the beginning. He scarcely had dared hope for so much. Surely it presaged the love with which she some day would come to him and crown his life. He walked softly up and down the drive, passing her windows, unable to think of sleep. Over and over he dwelt on the incidents of the day, so inevitably he came to his promise.
"Merciful Heaven!" he muttered. "How can such things happen? The poor, overworked, tired, suffering girl. It will give her some comfort. She will feel better. It has to be done. I believe I will do the worst part of it while she sleeps."
He went to the cabin, crept very close to one of her windows and listened intently. Surely no mortal awake could lie motionless so long. She must be sleeping. He patted Belshazzar, whispered, "Watch, boy, watch for your life!" and then crossed to the dry-house. Beside it he found a big roll of coffee sacks that he used in collecting roots, and going to the barn, he took a spade and mattock. Then he climbed the hill to the oak; in the white moonlight laid off his measurements and began work. His heart was very tender as he lifted the earth, and threw it into the tops of the big bags he had propped open.
"I'll line it with a couple of sheets and finish the edge with pond lilies and ferns," he planned, "and I'll drag this earth from sight, and cover it with brush until I need it."
Sometimes he paused in his work to rest a few minutes and then he stood and glanced around him. Several times he went down the hill and slipped close to a window, but he could not hear a sound. When his work was finished, he stood before the oak, scraping clinging earth from the mattock with which he had cut roots he had been compelled to remove. He was tired now and he thought he would go to his room and sleep until daybreak. As he turned the implement he remembered how through it he had found her, and now he was using it in her service. He smiled as he worked, and half listened to the steady roll of sound encompassing him. A cool breath swept from the lake and he wondered if it found her wet, hot cheek. A wild duck in the rushes below gave an alarm signal, and it ran in subdued voice, note by note, along the shore. The Harvester gripped the mattock and stood motionless. Wild things had taught him so many lessons he heeded their warnings instinctively. Perhaps it was a mink or muskrat approaching the rushes. Listening intently, he heard a stealthy step coming up the path behind him.
The Harvester waited. He soundlessly moved around the trunk of the big tree. An instant more the night prowler stopped squarely at the head of the open grave, and jumped back with an oath. He stood tense a second, then advanced, scratched a match and dropped it into the depths of the opening. That instant the Harvester recognized Henry Jameson, and with a spring landed between the man's shoulders and sent him, face down, headlong into the grave. He snatched one of the sacks of earth, and tipping it, gripped the bottom and emptied the contents on the head and shoulders of the prostrate man. Then he dropped on him and feeling across his back took an ugly, big revolver from a pocket. He swung to the surface and waited until Henry Jameson crawled from under the weight of earth and began to rise; then, at each attempt, he knocked him down. At last he caught the exhausted man by the collar and dragged him to the path, where he dropped him and stood gloating.
"So!" he said; "It's you! Coming to execute your threat, are you? What's the matter with my finishing you, loading your carcass with a few stones into this sack, and dropping you in the deepest part of the lake."
There was no reply.
"Ain't you a little hasty?" asked the Harvester. "Isn't it rather cold blooded to come sneaking when you thought I'd be asleep? Don't you think it would be low down to kill a man on his wedding day?"
Henry Jameson arose cautiously and faced the Harvester.
"Who have you killed?" he panted.
"No one," answered the Harvester. "This is for the victim of a member of your family, but I never dreamed I'd have the joy of planting any of you in it first, even temporarily. Did you rest well? What I should have done was to fill in, tread down, and leave you at the bottom."
Jameson retreated a few steps. The Harvester laughed and advanced the same distance.
"Now then," he said, "explain what you are doing on my premises, a few hours after your threat, and armed with another revolver before I could return the one I took from you this afternoon. You must grow them on bushes at your place, they seem so numerous. Speak up! What are you doing here?"
There was no answer.
"There are three things it might be," mused the Harvester. "You might think to harm me, but you're watched on that score and I don't believe you'd enjoy the result sure to follow. You might contemplate trying to steal Ruth's money again, but we'll pass that up. You might want to go through my woods to inform yourself as to what I have of value there. But, in all prob-ability, you are after me. Well, here I am. Go ahead! Do what you came to!"
The Harvester stepped toward the lake bank and Jameson, turning to watch him, exposed a face ghastly through its grime.
"Look here!" cried the Harvester, sickening. "We will end this right now. I was rather busy this afternoon, but I wasn't too hurried to take that little weapon of yours to the chief of police and tell him where and how I got it and what occurred. He was to return it to you to-morrow with his ultimatum. When I have added the history of to-night, reinforced by another gun, he will understand your intentions and know where you belong. You should be confined, but because your name is the same as the Girl's, and there is of your blood in her veins, I'll give you one more chance. I'll let you go this time, but I'll report you, and deliver this implement to be added to your collection at headquarters. And I tell you, and I'll tell them, that if ever I find you on my premises again, I'll finish you on sight. Is that clear?"
"What I should do is to plump you squarely into confinement, as I could easily enough, but that's not my way. I am going to let you off, but you go knowing the law. One thing more: Don't leave with any distorted ideas in your head. I saw Ruth the day she stepped from the cars in Onabasha and I loved her. I wanted to court and marry her, as any man would the girl he loves, but you spoiled that with your woman killing brutality. So I married her in Onabasha this afternoon. You can see the records at the county clerk's office and interview the minister who performed the ceremony, if you doubt me. Ruth is in her room, comfortable as I can make her, asleep and unafraid, thank God! This grave is for her mother. The Girl wants her lifted from the horrible place you put her, and laid where it is sheltered and pleasant. Now, I'll see you off my land. Hurry yourself!"
With the Harvester following, Henry Jameson went back over the path he had come, until he reached and mounted the horse he had ridden. As the Harvester watched him, Jameson turned in the saddle and spoke for the second time.
"What will you give me in cold cash to tell you who she is, and where her mother's people are?"
The Harvester leaped for the bridle and missed. Jameson bent over the horse and lashed it to a run. Half way to the oak the Harvester remembered the revolver, but being unaccustomed to weapons, he had forgotten it when he needed it most. He replaced the earth in the sack and dragged it away, then plunged into the lake, and afterward went to bed, where he slept soundly until dawn. First, he slipped into the living-room and wrote a note to the Girl. Then he fed Belshazzar and ate a hearty breakfast. He stationed the dog at her door, gave him the note, and went to the oak. There he arranged everything neatly and as he desired, and then hitching Betsy he quietly guided her down the drive and over the road to Onabasha. He went to an undertaking establishment, made all his arrangements, and then called up and talked with the minister who had performed the marriage ceremony the previous day.
The sun shining in her face awoke Ruth and she lay revelling in the light. "Maybe it will colour me faster than the powder," she thought. "How peculiar for him to say what he did! I always thought men detested it. But he is not like any one else." She lay looking around the beautiful room and wondering where the Harvester was. She could not hear him. Then, slowly and painfully, she dragged her aching limbs from the bed and went to the door. The dog was gone from the porch and she could not see the man at the stable. She selected a frock and putting it on opened the door. Belshazzar arose and offered this letter:
I have gone to keep my promise. You are locked in with Bel. Please obey me and do not step outside the door until four o'clock. Then put on a pretty white dress, and with the dog, come to the bridge to meet me. I hope you will not suffer and fret. Put away your clothing, arrange the rooms to keep busy, or better yet, lie in the swing and rest. There is food in the ice chest, pantry, and cellar. Forgive me for leaving you to-day, but I thought you would feel easier to have this over. I am so glad to bring your mother here. I hope it will make you happy enough to meet us with a smile. Do not forget the pink box until the reality comes.
The Girl went to the kitchen and found food. She offered to share with Belshazzar, but she could see from his indifference he was not hungry. Then she returned to the room flooded with light, and filled with treasures, and tried to decide how she would arrange her clothing. She spent hours opening boxes and putting dainty, pretty garments in the drawers, hanging the dresses, and placing the toilet articles. Often she wearily dropped to the chairs and couches, or gazed from door and windows at the pictures they framed. "I wonder why he doesn't want me to go outside," she thought. "I wouldn't be afraid in the least, with Bel. I'd just love to go across to that wonderful little river of Singing Water and sit in the shade; but I won't open the door until four o'clock, just as he wrote."
When she thought of where he had gone, and why, the swift tears filled her eyes, but she forced them back and resolutely went to investigate the dining-room. Then for two hours she was a home builder, with a touch of that homing instinct found in the heart of every good woman. First, she looked where the Harvester had said the dishes were, and suddenly sat on the floor exulting. There was a quantity of old chipped and cracked white ware and some gorgeous baking powder prizes; but there were also big blue, green, and pink bowls, several large lustre plates, and a complete tea set without chip or blemish, two beautiful pitchers, and a number of willow pieces. She set the green bowl on the dining table, the blue on the living-room, and took the pink herself, while a beautiful yellow one she placed in the dining-room window seat.
"Oh, if I only dared fill them with those lovely flowers!" She stood in the window and gazed longingly toward the lake. "I know what colour I'd like to put in each of them," she said, "but I promised not to touch anything, and the ones I want most I never saw before, and I'm not to go out anyway. I can't see the sense in that, when I'm not at all afraid, but if he does this wonderful thing for me I must do what he asks. Oh mother, mother! Are you really coming to this beautiful place and to rest at last?"
She sank to the window seat and lay trembling, but she bravely restrained the tears. After a time she remembered the upstairs and went to see the coverlets. She found a half dozen beautiful ones, and smiled as she examined the stiffly conventionalized birds facing each other in the border designs, and in one corner of each blanket she read, woven in the cloth——
Peter and John Hartman Wooster Ohio 1837
She took a blue and a green one, several fine skins from the fur box the Harvester had told her about, and went downstairs. It required all her strength to push the heavy tables before the fireplaces. She spread papers on them to stand on, and tacked a skin above each mantel. She set all of the candlesticks, except those she wanted to use, in the lower part of an empty bookcase. A pair of black walnut she placed on the living-room mantel, together with a big blue plate, a yellow one, and an old brass candlestick. She admired the effect very much. She spread the blue coverlet on the couch, and arranged the blue bowl and some books on the table. Here and there she hung a skin across a chair back, or spread it in a wide window seat. Having exhausted all her resources, she returned to the dining-room, spread a skin before the hearth and in each window seat, set a pink and green lustre plate on the mantel, and a pair of oak candlesticks, and arranged the lustre tea set on the side table. The pink coverlet she took for herself, and after resting a time she was surprised on going back to the rooms to see how homelike they appeared.
At three o'clock she dressed and at almost four unlocked the screen, called Belshazzar to her side, and slowly went down the drive to the bridge. She had used the pink powder, put on a beautiful white dress, carefully arranged her hair, and she wore the pearl ornament. Once her fingers strayed to the pendant and she said softly, "I think both he and mother would like me to wear it."
At the foot of the hill she stopped at a bench and sat in the shade waiting. Belshazzar stretched beside her, and gazed at her with questioning, friendly dog eyes. The Girl looked from Singing Water to the lake, and up the hill to make sure it was real. She tried to quiet her quivering muscles and nerves. He had asked her to meet him with a smile. How could she? He could not have understood what it meant when he made the request. There never would be any way to make him realize; indeed, why should he? The smile must be ready. He had loved his mother deeply, and yet he had said he did not grieve to lay her to rest. Earth had not been kind. Then why should she sorrow for her mother? Again life had been not only unkind, but bitterly cruel.
Belshazzar arose and watched down the drive. The Girl looked also. Through the gate and up the levee came a strange procession. First walked the Harvester alone, with bared head, and he carried an arm load of white lilies. A carriage containing a man and several women followed. Then came a white hearse with snowy plumes, and behind that another carriage filled with people, and Betsy followed drawing men in the spring wagon. The Girl arose and as she stepped to the drive she swayed uncertainly an instant.
"Gracious Heaven!" she gasped. "He is bringing her in white, and with flowers and song!"
Then she lifted her head, and with a smile on her lips she went to meet him. As she reached his side, he tenderly put an arm around her, and came on steadily.
"Courage Girl!" he whispered. "Be as brave as she was!"
Around the driveway and up the hill he half carried her, to a seat he had placed under the oak. Before her lay the white-lined grave, and the Harvester arranged his lilies around it. The teams stopped at the barn and men came up the hill bearing a white burden. Behind them followed the minister who yesterday had performed their marriage ceremony, and after him a choir of trained singers softly chanting:
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, For they shall cease from their labours."
"But David," panted the Girl, "It was mean and poor. That is not she!"
"Sush!" said the Harvester. "It is your mother. The location was high and dry, and it has been only a short time. We wrapped her in white silk, laid her on a soft cushion and pillow, and housed her securely. She can sleep well now, Ruth. Listen!"
Covered with white lilies, slowly the casket sank into earth. At its head stood the minister and as it began to disappear, the white doves, frightened by the strange conveyances at the stable, came circling above. The minister looked up. He lifted a clear tenor, and softly and purely he sang, while at a wave of his hand the choir joined him:
"Oh, come angel band! Oh, come, and around me stand! Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home!"
He uttered a low benediction, and singing, the people turned and went downhill. The Harvester gathered the Girl in his arms and carried her to the lake. He laid her in his boat and taking the oars sent it along the bank in the shade, and through cool, green places.
"Now cry all you choose!" he said.
The overstrained Girl covered her face and sobbed wildly. After a time he began to talk to her gently, and before she realized it, she was listening.
"Death has been kinder to her than life, Ruth," he said. "She is lying as you saw her last, I think. We lifted her very tenderly, wrapped her carefully, and brought her gently as we could. Now they shall rest together, those little mothers of ours, to whom men were not kind; and in the long sleep we must forget, as they have forgotten, and forgive, as no doubt they have forgiven. Don't you want to take some lilies to them before we go to the cabin? Right there on your left are unusually large ones."
The Girl sat up, dried her eyes and gathered the white flowers. When the last vehicle crossed the bridge, the Harvester tied the boat and helped her up the hill. The old oak stretched its wide arms above two little mounds, both moss covered and scattered with flowers. The Girl added her store and then went to the Harvester, and sank at his feet.
"Ruth, you shall not!" cried the man. "I simply will not have that. Come now, I will bring you back this evening."
He helped her to the veranda and laid her in the swing. He sat beside her while she rested, and then they went into the cabin for supper. Soon he had her telling what she had found, and he was making notes of what was yet required to transform the cabin into a home. The Harvester left it to her to decide whether he should roof the bridge the next day or make a trip for furnishings. She said he had better buy what they needed and then she could make the cabin homelike while he worked on the bridge.
CHAPTER XV. THE HARVESTER INTERPRETS LIFE
They went through the rooms together, and the Girl suggested the furnishings she thought necessary, while the Harvester wrote the list. The following morning he was eager to have her company, but she was very tired and begged to be allowed to wait in the swing, so again he drove away and left her with Belshazzar on guard. When he had gone, she went through the cabin arranging the furniture the best she could, then dressed and went to the swinging couch. It was so wide and heavy a light wind rocked it gently, and from it she faced the fern and lily carpeted hillside, the majesty of big trees of a thousand years, and heard the music of Singing Water as it sparkled diamond-like where the sun rays struck its flow. Across the drive and down the valley to the brilliant bit of marsh it hurried on its way to Loon Lake.
There were squirrels barking and racing in the big trees and over the ground. They crossed the sodded space of lawn and came to the top step for nuts, eating them from cunning paws. They were living life according to the laws of their nature. She knew that their sharp, startling bark was not to frighten her, but to warn straying intruders of other species of their kindred from a nest, because the Harvester had told her so. He had said their racing here and there in wild scramble was a game of tag and she found it most interesting to observe.
Birds of brilliant colour flashed everywhere, singing in wild joy, and tilted on the rising hedge before her, hunting berries and seeds. Their bubbling, spontaneous song was an instinctive outpouring of their joy over mating time, nests, young, much food, and running water. Their social, inquiring, short cry was to locate a mate, and call her to good feeding. The sharp wild scream of a note was when a hawk passed over, a weasel lurked in the thicket, or a black snake sunned on the bushes. She remembered these things, and lay listening intently, trying to interpret every sound as the Harvester did.
Birds of wide wing hung as if nailed to the sky, or wheeled and sailed in grandeur. They were searching the landscape below to locate a hare or snake in the waving grass or carrion in the fields. The wonderful exhibitions of wing power were their expression of exultation in life, just as the song sparrow threatened to rupture his throat as he swung on the hedge, and the red bird somewhere in the thicket whistled so forcefully it sounded as if the notes might hurt him.
On the lake bass splashed in a game with each other. Grebes chattered, because they were very social. Ducks dived and gobbled for roots and worms of the lake shore, and congratulated each other when they were lucky.
Killdeer cried for slaughter, in plaintive tones, as their white breasts gleamed silver-like across the sky. They insisted on the death of their ancient enemies, because the deer had trampled nests around the shore, roiled the water, spoiled the food hunting, and had been wholly unmindful of the laws of feathered folk from the beginning.
Behind the barn imperial cocks crowed challenges of defiance to each other and all the world, because they once had worn royal turbans on their heads, and ruled the forests, even the elephants and lions. Happy hens cackled when they deposited an egg, and wandered through their park singing the spring egg song unceasingly.
Upon the barn Ajax spread and exulted in glittering plumage, and screamed viciously. He was sending a wireless plea to the forests of Ceylon for a gray mate to come and share the ridge pole with him, and help him wage red war on the sickening love making of the white doves he hated.
Everything was beautiful, some of it was amusing, all instructive, and intensely interesting. The Girl wanted to know about the brown, yellow, and black butterflies sailing from flower to flower. She watched big black and gold bees come from the forest for pollen and listened to their monotonous bumbling. Her first humming bird poised in air, and sipped nectar before her astonished eyes. It was marvellous, but more wonderful to the Girl than anything she saw or heard was the fact that because of the Harvester's teachings she now could trace through all of it the ordained processes of the evolution of life. Everything was right in its way, all necessary to human welfare, and so there was nothing to fear, but marvels to learn and pictures to appreciate. She would have taken Belshazzar and gone out, but the Harvester had exacted a promise that she would not. The fact was, he could see that she was coming gradually to a sane and natural view of life and living things, and he did not want some sound or creature to frighten her, and spoil what he had accomplished. So she swayed in the swing and watched, and tried to interpret sights and sounds as he did.
Before an hour she realized that she was coming speedily into sympathy with the wild life around her; for, instead of shivering and shrinking at unaccustomed sounds, she was listening especially for them, and trying to arrive at a sane version. Instead of the senseless roar of commerce, manufacture, and life of a city, she was beginning to appreciate sounds that varied and carried the Song of Life in unceasing measure and absorbing meaning, while she was more than thankful for the fresh, pure air, and the blessed, God-given light. It seemed to the Girl that there was enough sunshine at Medicine Woods to furnish rays of gold for the whole world.
"Bel," she said to the dog standing beside her, "it's a shame to separate you from the Medicine Man and pen you here with me. It's a wonder you don't bite off my head and run away to find him. He's gone to bring more things to make life beautiful. I wanted to go with him, but oh Bel, there's something dreadfully wrong with me. I was afraid I'd fall on the streets and frighten and shame him. I'm so weak, I scarcely can walk straight across one of these big, cool rooms that he has built for me. He can make everything beautiful, Bel, a home, rooms, clothing, grounds, and life——above everything else he can make life beautiful. He's so splendid and wonderful, with his wide understanding and sane interpretation and God-like sympathy and patience. Why Belshazzar, he can do the greatest thing in all the world! He can make you forget that the grave annihilates your dear ones by hideous processes, and set you to thinking instead that they come back to you in whispering leaves and flower perfumes. If I didn't owe him so much that I ought to pay, if this wasn't so alluringly beautiful, I'd like to go to the oak and lie beside those dear women resting there, and give my tired body to furnish sap for strength and leaves for music. He can take its bitterest sting——from death, Bel——and that's the most wonderful thing——in life, Bel——"
Her voice became silent, her eyes closed; the dog stretched himself beside her on guard, and it was so the Harvester found them when he drove home from the city. He heaped his load in the dining-room, stabled Betsy, carried the things he had brought where he thought they belonged, and prepared food. When she awakened she came to him.
"How is it going, Girl?" asked the Harvester.
"I can't tell you how lovely it has been!"
"Do you really mean that your heart is warming a little to things here?"
"Indeed I do! I can't tell you what a morning I've had. There have been such myriad things to see and hear. Oh, Harvester, can you ever teach me what all of it means?"
"I can right now," said the Harvester promptly. "It means two things, so simple any little child can understand——the love of God and the evolution of life. I am not precisely clear as to what I mean when I say God. I don't know whether it is spirit, matter, or force; it is that big thing that brings forth worlds, establishes their orbits, and gives us heat, light, food, and water. To me, that is God and His love. Just that we are given birth, sheltered, provisioned, and endowed for our work. Evolution is the natural consequence of this. It is the plan steadily unfolding. If I were you, I wouldn't bother my head over these questions, they never have been scientifically explained to the beginning; I doubt if they ever will be, because they start with the origin of matter and that is too far beyond man for him to penetrate. Just enjoy to the depths of your soul——that's worship. Be thankful for everything——that's praising God as the birds praise him. And 'do unto others' that's all there is of love and religion combined in one fell swoop."
"You should go before the world and tell every one that!"
"No! It isn't my vocation," said the Harvester. "My work is to provide pain-killer. I don't believe, Ruth, that there is any one on the footstool who is doing a better job along that line. I am boastfully proud of it——just of sending in the packages that kill fever, refresh poor blood, and strengthen weak hearts; unadulterated, honest weight, fresh, and scrupulously clean. My neighbours have a different name for it; I call it a man's work."
"Every one who understands must," said the Girl. "I wish I could help at that. I feel as if it would do more to wipe out the pain I've suffered and seen her endure than anything else. Man, when I grow strong enough I want to help you. I believe that I am going to love it here."
"Don't ever suppress your feelings, Ruth!" hastily cried the Harvester. "It will be very bad for you. You will become wrought up, and 'het up,' as Granny Moreland says, and it will make you very ill. When we drive the fever from your blood, the ache from your bones, the poison of wrong conditions from your soul, and good, healthy, red corpuscles begin pumping through your little heart like a windmill, you can stake your life you're going to love it here. And the location and work are not all you're going to care for either, honey. Now just wait! That was not 'nominated in the bond.' I'm allowed to talk. I never agreed not to SAY things. What I promised was not to DO them. So as I said, honey, sit at this table, and eat the food I've cooked; and by that time the furniture van will be here, and the men will unload, and you shall reign on a throne and tell me where and how."
"Oh if I were only stronger, David!"
"You are!" said the Harvester. "You are much better than you were yesterday. You can talk, and that's all that's necessary. The rooms are ready for furniture. The men will carry it where you want it. A decorator is coming to hang the curtains. By night we will be settled; you can lie in the swing while I read to you a story so wonderful that the wildest fairy tale you ever heard never touched it."
"What will it be, David?"
"Eat all the red raspberries and cream, bread and butter, and drink all the milk you can. There's blood, beefsteak, and bones in it. As I was saying, you have come here a stranger to a strange land. The first thing is for you to understand and love the woods. Before you can do that you should master the history of one tree; just the same as you must learn to know and love me before your childlike trust in all mankind returns again. Understand? Well, the fates knew you were on the way, coming trembling down the brink, Ruth, so they put it into the heart of a great man to write largely of a wonderful tree, especially for your benefit. After it had fallen he took it apart, split it in sections, and year by year spread out history for all the world to read. It made a classic story filled with unsurpassed wonders. It was a pine of a thousand years, close the age of our mother tree, Ruth, and when we have learned from Enos Mills how to wrest secrets from the hearts of centuries, we will climb the hill and measure our oak, and then I will estimate, and you will write, and we will make a record for our tree."
"Oh, I'd like that!"
"So would I," said the Harvester. "And a million other things I can think of that we can learn together. It won't require long for me to teach you all I know, and by that time your hand will be clasped in mine, and our 'hearts will beat as one,' and you will give me a kiss every night and morning, and a few during the day for interest, and we will go on in life together and learn songs, miracles, and wonders until the old oak calls us. Then we will ascend the hill gladly and lie down and offer up our bodies, and our children will lay flowers over our hearts, and gather the herbs and paint the pictures? Amen. I hear a van on the bridge. Just you go to your room and lie down until I get things unloaded and where they belong. Then you and the decorator can make us home-like, and to-morrow we will begin to live. Won't that be great, Ruth?"
"With you, yes, I think it will."
"That will do for this time," said the Harvester, as he opened the door to her room. "Lie and rest until I say ready."
As he went to meet the men, she could hear him singing lustily, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
"What a child he is!" she said. "And what a man!"
For an hour heavy feet sounded through the cabin carrying furniture to different rooms. Then with a floor brush in one hand, and a polishing cloth in the other, the Harvester tapped at her door and helped the Girl upstairs. He had divided the space into three large, square sleeping chambers. In each he had set up a white iron bed, a dressing table, and wash stand, and placed two straight-backed and one rocking chair, all white. The walls were tinted lightly with green added to the plaster. There was a mattress and a stack of bedding on each bed, and a large rug and several small ones on the floors. He led her to the rocking chair in the middle room, where she could see through the open doors of the other two.
"Now," said the Harvester, "I didn't know whether the room with two windows toward the lake and one on the marsh, or two facing the woods and one front, was the guest chamber. It seemed about an even throw whether a visitor would prefer woods or water, so I made them both guest chambers, and got things alike for them. Now if we are entertaining two, one can't feel more highly honoured than the other. Was that a scheme?"
"Fine!" said the Girl. "I don't see how it could be surpassed."
"'Be sure you are right, then go ahead,'" quoted the Harvester. "Now I'll make the beds and Mr. Rogers can hang the curtains. Is white correct for sleeping rooms? Won't that wash best and always be fresh?"
"It will," said the Girl. "White wash curtains are much the nicest."
"Make them short Mr. Rogers; keep them off the floor," advised the Harvester. "And simple——don't arrange any thing elaborate that will tire a woman to keep in order. Whack them off the right length and pin them to the poles."
"How about that, Mrs. Langston?" asked the decorator.
"I am quite sure that is the very best thing to do," said the Girl; and the curtains were hung while the mattress was placed.
"Now about this?" inquired the Harvester. "Do I put on sheets and fix these beds ready to use?"
"I would not," said the Girl. "I would spread the pad and the counterpane and lay the sheets and pillows in the closet until they are wanted. They can be sunned and the bed made delightfully fresh."
"Of course," said the Harvester.
When he had finished, he spread a cover on the dressing table and laid out white toilet articles and grouped a white wash set with green decorations on the stand. Then he brushed the floor, spread a big green rug in the middle and small ones before the bed, stand, and table, and coming out closed the door.
"Guest chamber with lake view is now ready for company," announced the Harvester. "Repeat the operation on the woods room, finished also. Why do some people make work of things and string them out eternally and fuss so much? Isn't this simple and easy, Ruth?"
"Yes, if you can afford it," said the Girl.
"Forbear!" cried the Harvester. "We have the goods, the dealer has my check. Excuse me ten minutes, until I furnish another room."
The laughing Girl could catch glimpses of him busy over beds and dresser, floor and rugs; then he came where she sat.
"Woods guest chamber ready," he said. "Now we come to the interior apartment, that from its view might be called the marsh room. Aside from being two windows short, it is exactly similar to the others. It occurred to me that, in order to make up for the loss of those windows, and also because I may be compelled to ask some obliging woman to occupy it in case your health is precarious at any time, and in view of the further fact that if any such woman could be found, and would kindly and willingly care for us, my gratitude would be inexpressible; on account of all these things, I got a shade the BEST furnishings for this room."
The Girl stared at him with blank face.
"You see," said the Harvester, "this is a question of ethics. Now what is a guest? A thing of a day! A person who disturbs your routine and interferes with important concerns. Why should any one be grateful for company? Why should time and money be lavished on visitors? They come. You overwork yourself. They go. You are glad of it. You return the visit, because it's the only way to have back at them; but why pamper them unnecessarily? Now a good housekeeper, that means more than words can express. Comfort, kindness, sanitary living, care in illness! Here's to the prospective housekeeper of Medicine Woods! Rogers, hang those ruffled embroidered curtains. Observe that whereas mere guest beds are plain white, this has a touch of brass. Where guest rugs are floor coverings, this is a work of art. Where guest brushes are celluloid, these are enamelled, and the dresser cover is hand embroidered. Let me also call your attention to the chairs touched with gold, cushioned for ease, and a decorated pitcher and bowl. Watch the bounce of these springs and the thickness of this mattress and pad, and notice that where guests, however welcome, get a down cover of sateen, the lady of the house has silkaline. Won't she prepare us a breakfast after a night in this room?"
"David, are you in earnest?" gasped the Girl.
"Don't these things prove it?" asked the Harvester. "No woman can enter my home, when my necessities are so great I have to hire her to come, and take the WORST in the house. After my wife, she gets the best, every time. Whenever I need help, the woman who will come and serve me is what I'd call the real guest of the house. Friend? Where are your friends when trouble comes? It always brings a crowd on account of the excitement, and there is noise and racing; but if your soul is saved alive, it is by a steady, trained hand you pay to help you. Friends come and go, but a good housekeeper remains and is a business proposition—one that if conducted rightly for both parties and on a strictly common-sense basis, gives you living comfort. Now that we have disposed of the guests that go and the one that remains, we will proceed downward and arrange for ourselves."
"David, did you ever know any one who treated a housekeeper as you say you would?"
"No. And I never knew any one who raised medicinal stuff for a living, but I'm making a gilt-edged success of it, and I would of a housekeeper, too."
"It doesn't seem——"
"That's the bedrock of all the trouble on the earth," interrupted the Harvester. "We are a nation and a part of a world that spends our time on 'seeming.' Our whole outer crust is 'seeming.' When we get beneath the surface and strike the BEING, then we live as we are privileged by the Almighty. I don't think I give a tinker how anything SEEMS. What concerns me is how it IS. It doesn't 'seem' possible to you to hire a woman to come into your home and take charge of its cleanliness and the food you eat—the very foundation of life—and treat her as an honoured guest, and give her the best comfort you have to offer. The cold room, the old covers, the bare floor, and the cast off furniture are for her. No wonder, as a rule, she gives what she gets. She dignifies her labour in the same ratio that you do. Wait until we need a housekeeper, and then gaze with awe on the one I will raise to your hand."
"Don't! It's wearing! Come tell me how to make our living-room less bare than it appears at present."
They went downstairs together, followed by the decorator, and began work on the room. The Girl was placed on a couch and made comfortable and then the Harvester looked around.
"That bundle there, Rogers, is the curtains we bought for this room. If you and my wife think they are not right, we will not hang them."
The decorator opened the package and took out curtains of tan-coloured goods with a border of blue and brown.
"Those are not expensive," said the Harvester, "but to me a window appears bare with only a shade, so I thought we'd try these, and when they become soiled we'll burn them and buy some fresh ones."
"Good idea!" laughed the Girl. "As a house decorator you surpass yourself as a Medicine Man."
"Fix these as you did those upstairs," ordered the Harvester. "We don't want any fol-de-rols. Put the bottom even with the sill and shear them off at the top."
"No, I am going to arrange these," said the decorator, "you go on with your part."
"All right!" agreed the Harvester. "First, I'll lay the big rug."
He cleared the floor, spread a large rug with a rich brown centre and a wide blue border. Smaller ones of similar design and colour were placed before each of the doors leading from the room.
"Now for the hearth," said the Harvester, "I got this tan goat skin. Doesn't that look fairly well?"
It certainly did; and the Girl and the decorator hastened to say so. The Harvester replaced the table and chairs, and then sat on the couch at the Girl's feet.
"I call this almost finished," he remarked. "All we need now is a bouquet and something on the walls, and that is serious business. What goes on them usually remains for a long time, and so it should be selected with care. Ruth, have you a picture of your mother?"
"None since she was my mother. I have some lovely girl photographs."
"Good!" cried the Harvester. "Exactly the thing! I have a picture of my mother when she was a pretty girl. We will select the best of yours and have them enlarged in those beautiful brown prints they make in these days, and we'll frame one for each side of the mantel. After that you can decorate the other walls as you see things you want. Fifteen minutes gone; we are ready to take up the line of march to the dining-room. Oh I forgot my pillows! Here are a half dozen tan, brown, and blue for this room. Ruth, you arrange them."
The Girl heaped four on the couch, stood one beside the hearth, and laid another in a big chair.
"Now I don't know what you will think of this," said the Harvester. "I found it in a magazine at the library. I copied this whole room. The plan was to have the floor, furniture, and casings of golden oak and the walls pale green. Then it said get yellow curtains bordered with green and a green rug with yellow figures, so I got them. I had green leather cushions made for the window seats, and these pillows go on them. Hang the saffron curtains, Rogers, and we will finish in good shape for dinner by six. By the way, Ruth, when will you select your dishes? It will take a big set to fill all these shelves and you shall have exactly what you want."
"I can use those you have very well."
"Oh no you can't!" cried the Harvester. "I may live and work in the woods, but I am not so benighted that I don't own and read the best books and magazines, and subscribe for a few papers. I patronize the library and see what is in the stores. My money will buy just as much as any man's, if I do wear khaki trousers. Kindly notice the word. Save in deference to your ladyship I probably would have said pants. You see how ELITE I can be if I try. And it not only extends to my wardrobe, to a 'yaller' and green dining-room, but it takes in the 'chany' as well. I have looked up that, too. You want china, cut glass, silver cutlery, and linen. Ye! Ye! You needn't think I don't know anything but how to dig in the dirt. I have been studying this especially, and I know exactly what to get."
"Come here," said the Girl, making a place for him beside her. "Now let me tell you what I think. We are going to live in the woods, and our home is a log cabin——"
"With acetylene lights, a furnace, baths, and hot and cold water——" interpolated the Harvester.
The Girl and the decorator laughed.
"Anyway," said she, "if you are going to let me have what I would like, I'd prefer a set of tulip yellow dishes with the Dutch little figures on them. I don't know what they cost, but certainly they are not so expensive as cut glass and china."
"Is that earnest or is it because you think I am spending too much money?"
"It is what I want. Everything else is different; why should we have dishes like city folk? I'd dearly love to have the Dutch ones, and a white cloth with a yellow border, glass where it is necessary, and silver knives, forks, and spoons."
"That would be great, all right!" endorsed the decorator. "And you have got a priceless old lustre tea set there, and your willow ware is as fine as I ever saw. If I were you, I wouldn't buy a dish with what you have, except the yellow set."
"Great day!" ejaculated the Harvester. "Will you tell me why my great grandmother's old pink and green teapot is priceless?"
The Girl explained pink lustre. "That set in the shop I knew in Chicago would sell for from three to five hundred dollars. Truly it would! I've seen one little pink and green pitcher like yours bring nine dollars there. And you've not only got the full tea set, but water and dip pitchers, two bowls, and two bread plates. They are priceless, because the secret of making them is lost; they take on beauty with age, and they were your great-grandmother's."
The Harvester reached over and energetically shook hands.
"Ruth, I'm so glad you've got them!" he bubbled. "Now elucidate on my willow ware. What is it? Where is it? Why have I willow ware and am not informed. Who is responsible for this? Did my ancestors buy better than they knew, or worse? Is willow ware a crime for which I must hide my head, or is it further riches thrust upon me? I thought I had investigated the subject of proper dishes quite thoroughly; but I am very certain I saw no mention of lustre or willow. I thought, in my ignorance, that lustre was a dress, and willow a tree. Have I been deceived? Why is a blue plate or pitcher willow ware?"
"Bring that platter from the mantel," ordered the Girl, "and I will show you."
The Harvester obeyed and followed the finger that traced the design.
"That's a healthy willow tree!" he commented. "If Loon Lake couldn't go ahead of that it should be drained. And will you please tell me why this precious platter from which I have eaten much stewed chicken, fried ham, and in youthful days sopped the gravy——will you tell me why this relic of my ancestors is called a willow plate, when there are a majority of orange trees so extremely fruitful they have neglected to grow a leaf? Why is it not an orange plate? Look at that boat! And in plain sight of it, two pagodas, a summer house, a water-sweep, and a pair of corpulent swallows; you would have me believe that a couple are eloping in broad daylight."
"Perhaps it's night! And those birds are doves."
"Never!" cried the Harvester. "There is a total absence of shadows. There is no moon. Each orange tree is conveniently split in halves, so you can see to count the fruit accurately; the birds are in flight. Only a swallow or a stork can fly in decorations, either by day or by night. And for any sake look at that elopement! He goes ahead carrying a cane, she comes behind lugging the baggage, another man with a cane brings up the rear. They are not running away. They have been married ten years at least. In a proper elopement, they forget there are such things as jewels and they always carry each other. I've often looked up the statistics and it's the only authorized version. As I regard this treasure, I grow faint when I remember with what unnecessary force my father bore down when he carved the ham. I'll bet a cooky he split those orange trees. Now me——I'll never dare touch knife to it again. I'll always carve the meat on the broiler, and gently lift it to this platter with a fork. Or am I not to be allowed to dine from my ancestral treasure again?"
"Not in a green and yellow room," laughed the Girl. "I'll tell you what I think. If I had a tea table to match the living-room furniture, and it sat beside the hearth, and on it a chafing dish to cook in, and the willow ware to eat from, we could have little tea parties in there, when we aren't very hungry or to treat a visitor. It would help make that room 'homey,' and it's wonderful how they harmonize with the other things."
"How much willow ware have I got to 'bestow' on you?" inquired the Harvester. "Suppose you show me all of it. A guilty feeling arises in my breast, and I fear me I have committed high crimes!"
"Oh Man! You didn't break or lose any of those dishes, did you?"
"Show me!" insisted the Harvester.
The Girl arose and going to the cupboard he had designed for her china she opened it, and set before him a teapot, cream pitcher, two plates, a bowl, a pitcher, the meat platter, and a sugar bowl. "If there were all of the cups, saucers, and plates, I know where they would bring five hundred dollars," she said.
"Ruth, are you getting even with me for poking fun at them, or are you in earnest?" asked the Harvester.
"I mean every word of it."
"You really want a small, black walnut table made especially for those old dishes?"
"Not if you are too busy. I could use it with beautiful effect and much pleasure, and I can't tell you how proud I'd be of them."
The Harvester's face flushed. "Excuse me," he said rising. "I have now finished furnishing a house; I will go and take a peep at the engine." He went into the kitchen and hearing the rattle of dishes the Girl followed. She stepped in just in time to see him hastily slide something into his pocket. He picked up a half dozen old white plates and saucers and several cups and started toward the evaporator. He heard her coming.
"Look here, honey," he said turning, "you don't want to see the dry-house just now. I have terrific heat to do some rapid work. I won't be gone but a few minutes. You better boss the decorator.
"I'm afraid that wasn't very diplomatic," he muttered. "It savoured a little of being sent back. But if what she says is right, and she should know if they handle such stuff at that art store, she will feel considerably better not to see this."
He set his load at the door, drew an old blue saucer from his pocket and made a careful examination. He pulled some leaves from a bush and pushed a greasy cloth out of the saucer, wiped it the best he could, and held it to light.
"That is a crime!" he commented. "Saucer from your maternal ancestors' tea set used for a grease dish. I am afraid I'd better sink it in the lake. She'd feel worse to see it than never to know. Wish I could clean off the grease! I could do better if it was hot. I can set it on the engine."
The Harvester placed the saucer on the engine, entered the dry-house, and closed the door. In the stifling air he began pouring seed from beautiful, big willow plates to the old white ones.
"About the time I have ruined you," he said to a white plate, "some one will pop up and discover that the art of making you is lost and you are priceless, and I'll have been guilty of another blunder. Now there are the dishes mother got with baking powder. She thought they were grand. I know plenty well she prized them more than these blue ones or she wouldn't have saved them and used these for every day. There they set, all so carefully taken care of, and the Girl doesn't even look at them. Thank Heaven, there are the four remaining plates all right, anyway! Now I've got seed in some of the saucers; one is there; where on earth is the last one? And where, oh unkind fates! are the cups?"
He found more saucers and set them with the plates. As he passed the engine he noticed the saucer on it was bubbling grease, literally exuding it from the particles of clay.
"Hooray!" cried the Harvester. He took it up, but it was so hot he dropped it. With a deft sweep he caught it in air, and shoved it on a tray. Then he danced and blew on his burned hand. Snatching out his handkerchief he rubbed off all the grease, and imagined the saucer was brighter.
"If 'a little is good, more is better,'" quoted the Harvester.
Wadding the handkerchief he returned the saucer to the engine. Then he slipped out, dripping perspiration, glanced toward the cabin, and ran into the work room. The first object he saw was a willow cup half full of red paint, stuck and dried as if to remain forever. He took his knife and tried to whittle it off, but noticing that he was scratching the cup he filled it with turpentine, set it under a work bench, turned a tin pan over it, and covered it with shavings. A few steps farther brought one in sight, filled with carpet tacks. He searched everywhere, but could find no more, so he went to the laboratory. Beside his wash bowl at the door stood the last willow saucer. He had used it for years as a soap dish. He scraped the contents on the bench and filled the dish with water. Four cups held medicinal seeds and were in good condition. He lacked one, although he could not remember of ever having broken it. Gathering his collection, he returned to the dry-house to see how the saucer was coming on. Again it was bubbling, and he polished off the grease and set back the dish. It certainly was growing better. He carried his treasures into the work room, and went to the barn to feed. As he was leaving the stable he uttered a joyous exclamation and snatched from a window sill a willow cup, gummed and smeared with harness oil.
"The full set, by hokey!" marvelled the Harvester. "Say, Betsy, the only name for this is luck! Now if I only can clean them, I'll be ready to make her tea table, whatever that is. My I hope she will stay away until I get these in better shape!"
He filled the last cup with turpentine, set it with the other under the work bench, stacked the remaining pieces, polished the saucer he was baking, and went to bring a dish pan and towel. He drew some water from the pipes of the evaporator, put in the soap, and carried it to the work room. There he carefully washed and wiped all the pieces, save two cups and one saucer. He did not know how long it would require to bake the grease from that, but he was sure it was improving. He thought he could clean the paint cup, but he imagined the harness oil one would require baking also.
As he stood busily working over the dishes, with light step the Girl came to the door. She took one long look and understood. She turned and swiftly went back to the cabin, but her shoulders were shaking. Presently the Harvester came in and explained that after finishing in the dry-house he had gone to do the feeding. Then he suggested that before it grew dark they should go through the rooms and see how they appeared, and gather the flowers the Girl wanted. So together they decided everything was clean, comfortable, and harmonized.
Then they went to the hillside sloping to the lake. For the dining-room, the Girl wanted yellow water lilies, so the Harvester brought his old boat and gathered enough to fill the green bowl. For the living-room, she used wild ragged robins in the blue bowl, and on one end of the mantel set a pitcher of saffron and on the other arrowhead lilies. For her room, she selected big, blushy mallows that grew all along Singing Water and around the lake.
"Isn't that slightly peculiar?" questioned the Harvester.
"Take a peep," said the Girl, opening her door.
She had spread the pink coverlet on her couch, and when she set the big pink bowl filled with mallows on the table the effect was exquisite.
"I think perhaps that's a little Frenchy," she said, "and you may have to be educated to it; but salmon pink and buttercup yellow are colours I love in combination."
She closed the door and went to find something to eat, and then to the swing, where she liked to rest, look, and listen. The Harvester suggested reading to her, but she shook her head.
"Wait until winter," she said, "when the days are longer and cold, and the snow buries everything, and then read. Now tell me about my hedge and the things you have planted in it."
The Harvester went out and collected a bunch of twigs. He handed her a big, evenly proportioned leaf of ovate shape, and explained: "This is burning bush, so called because it has pink berries that hang from long, graceful stems all winter, and when fully open they expose a flame-red seed pod. It was for this colour on gray and white days that I planted it. In the woods I grow it in thickets. The root bark brings twenty cents a pound, at the very least. It is good fever medicine."
"Is it poison?"
"No. I didn't set anything acutely poisonous in your hedge. I wanted it to be a mass of bloom you were free to cut for the cabin all spring, an attraction to birds in summer, and bright with colour in winter. To draw the feathered tribe, I planted alder, wild cherry, and grape-vines. This is cherry. The bark is almost as beautiful as birch. I raise it for tonics and the birds love the cherries. This fern-like leaf is from mountain ash, and when it attains a few years' growth it will flame with colour all winter in big clusters of scarlet berries. That I grow in the woods is a picture in snow time, and the bark is one of my standard articles."
The Girl raised on her elbow and looked at the hedge.
"I see it," she said. "The berries are green now. I suppose they change colour as they ripen."
"Yes," said the Harvester. "And you must not confuse them with sumac. The leaves are somewhat similar, but the heads differ in colour and shape. The sumac and buckeye you must not touch, until we learn what they will do to you. To some they are slightly poisonous, to others not. I couldn't help putting in a few buckeyes on account of the big buds in early spring. You will like the colour if you are fond of pink and yellow in combination, and the red-brown nuts in grayish-yellow, prickly hulls, and the leaf clusters are beautiful, but you must use care. I put in witch hazel for variety, and I like its appearance; it's mighty good medicine, too; so is spice brush, and it has leaves that colour brightly, and red berries. These selections were all made for a purpose. Now here is wafer ash; it is for music as well as medicine. I have invoked all good fairies to come and dwell in this hedge, and so I had to provide an orchestra for their dances. This tree grows a hundred tiny castanets in a bunch, and when they ripen and become dry the wind shakes fine music from them. Yes, they are medicine; that is, the bark of the roots is. Almost without exception everything here has medicinal properties. The tulip poplar will bear you the loveliest flowers of all, and its root bark, taken in winter, makes a good fever remedy."
"How would it do to eat some of the leaves and see if they wouldn't take the feverishness from me?"
"It wouldn't do at all," said the Harvester. "We are well enough fixed to allow Doc to come now, and he is the one to allay the fever."
"Oh no!" she cried. "No! I don't want to see a doctor. I will be all right very soon. You said I was better."
"You are," said the Harvester. "Much better! We will have you strong and well soon. You should have come in time for a dose of sassafras. Your hedge is filled with that, because of its peculiar leaves and odour. I put in dogwood for the white display around the little green bloom, lots of alder for bloom and berries, haws for blossoms and fruit for the squirrels, wild crab apples for the exquisite bloom and perfume, button bush for the buttons, a few pokeberry plants for the colour, and I tried some mallows, but I doubt if it's wet enough for them. I set pecks of vine roots, that are coming nicely, and ferns along the front edge. Give it two years and that hedge will make a picture that will do your eyes good."
"Can you think of anything at all you forgot?"
"Yes indeed!" said the Harvester. "The woods are full of trees I have not used; some because I overlooked them, some I didn't want. A hedge like this, in perfection, is the work of years. Some species must be cut back, some encouraged, but soon it will be lovely, and its colour and fruit attract every bird of the heavens and butterflies and insects of all varieties. I set several common cherry trees for the robins and some blackberry and raspberry vines for the orioles. The bloom is pretty and the birds you'll have will be a treat to see and hear, if we keep away cats, don't fire guns, scatter food, and move quietly among them. With our water attractions added, there is nothing impossible in the way of making friends with feathered folk."