By Gene Stratton-Porter
Author Of A Girl Of The Limberlost, Freckles, Etc.
THIS PORTION OF THE LIFE OF A MAN OF TO-DAY IS OFFERED IN THE HOPE THAT IN CLEANLINESS, POETIC TEMPERMENT, AND MENTAL FORCE, A LIKENESS WILL BE SEEN TO HENRY DAVID THOREAU
I. Belshazzar's Decision II. The Effect of a Dream III. Harvesting the Forest IV. A Commission for the South Wind V. When the Harvester Made Good VI. To Labour and to Wait VII. The Quest of the Dream Girl VIII. Belshazzar's Record Point IX. The Harvester Goes Courting X. The Chime of the Blue Bells XI. Demonstrated Courtship XII. ''The Way of a Man with a Maid'' XIII. When the Dream Came True XIV. Snowy Wings XV. The Harvester Interprets Life XVI. Granny Moreland's Visit XVII. Love Invades Science XVIII. The Better Man XIX. A Vertical Spine XX. The Man in the Background XXI. The Coming of the Bluebird
DAVID LANGSTON, A Harvester of the Woods. RUTH JAMESON, A Girl of the City. GRANNY MORELAND, An Interested Neighbour. DR. CAREY, Chief Surgeon of the Onabasha Hospital. MRS. CAREY, Wife of the Doctor. DR. HARMON, Who Concludes to Leave the City. MOLLY BARNET, A Hospital Nurse with a Heart. HENRY JAMESON, A Trader Without a Heart. ALEXANDER HERRON, Who Made a Concession. MRS. HERRON, A Gentle Woman. THE KENNEDYS, Philadelphia Lawyers.
CHAPTER I. BELSHAZZAR'S DECISION
"Bel, come here!" The Harvester sat in the hollow worn in the hewed log stoop by the feet of his father and mother and his own sturdier tread, and rested his head against the casing of the cabin door when he gave the command. The tip of the dog's nose touched the gravel between his paws as he crouched flat on earth, with beautiful eyes steadily watching the master, but he did not move a muscle.
"Bel, come here!"
Twinkles flashed in the eyes of the man when he repeated the order, while his voice grew more imperative as he stretched a lean, wiry hand toward the dog. The animal's eyes gleamed and his sensitive nose quivered, yet he lay quietly.
"Belshazzar, kommen Sie hier!"
The body of the dog arose on straightened legs and his muzzle dropped in the outstretched palm. A wind slightly perfumed with the odour of melting snow and unsheathing buds swept the lake beside them, and lifted a waving tangle of light hair on the brow of the man, while a level ray of the setting sun flashed across the water and illumined the graven, sensitive face, now alive with keen interest in the game being played.
"Bel, dost remember the day?" inquired the Harvester.
The eager attitude and anxious eyes of the dog betrayed that he did not, but was waiting with every sense alert for a familiar word that would tell him what was expected.
"Surely you heard the killdeers crying in the night," prompted the man. "I called your attention when the ecstasy of the first bluebird waked the dawn. All day you have seen the gold-yellow and blood-red osiers, the sap-wet maples and spring tracing announcements of her arrival on the sunny side of the levee."
The dog found no clew, but he recognized tones he loved in the suave, easy voice, and his tail beat his sides in vigorous approval. The man nodded gravely.
"Ah, so! Then you realize this day to be the most important of all the coming year to me; this hour a solemn one that influences my whole after life. It is time for your annual decision on my fate for a twelve-month. Are you sure you are fully alive to the gravity of the situation, Bel?"
The dog felt himself safe in answering a rising inflection ending in his name uttered in that tone, and wagged eager assent.
"Well then," said the man, "which shall it be? Do I leave home for the noise and grime of the city, open an office and enter the money-making scramble?"
Every word was strange to the dog, almost breathlessly waiting for a familiar syllable. The man gazed steadily into the animal's eyes. After a long pause he continued:
"Or do I remain at home to harvest the golden seal, mullein, and ginseng, not to mention an occasional hour with the black bass or tramps for partridge and cotton-tails?"
The dog recognized each word of that. Before the voice ceased, his sleek sides were quivering, his nostrils twitching, his tail lashing, and at the pause he leaped up and thrust his nose against the face of the man. The Harvester leaned back laughing in deep, full-chested tones; then he patted the dog's head with one hand and renewed his grip with the other.
"Good old Bel!" he cried exultantly. "Six years you have decided for me, and right——every time! We are of the woods, Bel, born and reared here as our fathers before us. What would we of the camp fire, the long trail, the earthy search, we harvesters of herbs the famous chemists require, what would we do in a city? And when the sap is rising, the bass splashing, and the wild geese honking in the night! We never could endure it, Bel.
"When we delivered that hemlock at the hospital to-day, did you hear that young doctor talking about his 'lid'? Well up there is ours, old fellow! Just sky and clouds overhead for us, forest wind in our faces, wild perfume in our nostrils, muck on our feet, that's the life for us. Our blood was tainted to begin with, and we've lived here so long it is now a passion in our hearts. If ever you sentence us to life in the city, you'll finish both of us, that's what you'll do! But you won't, will you? You realize what God made us for and what He made for us, don't you, Bel?"
As he lovingly patted the dog's head the man talked and the animal trembled with delight. Then the voice of the Harvester changed and dropped to tones of gravest import.
"Now how about that other matter, Bel? You always decide that too. The time has come again. Steady now! This is far more important than the other. Just to be wiped out, Bel, pouf! That isn't anything and it concerns no one save ourselves. But to bring misery into our lives and live with it daily, that would be a condition to rend the soul. So careful, Bel! Cautious now!"
The voice of the man dropped to a whisper as he asked the question.
"What about the girl business?"
Trembling with eagerness to do the thing that would bring more caressing, bewildered by unfamiliar words and tones, the dog hesitated.
"Do I go on as I have ever since mother left me, rustling for grub, living in untrammelled freedom? Do I go on as before, Bel?"
The Harvester paused and waited the answer, with anxiety in his eyes as he searched the beast face. He had talked to that dog, as most men commune with their souls, for so long and played the game in such intense earnest that he felt the results final with him. The animal was immovable now, lost again, his anxious eyes watching the face of the master, his eager ears waiting for words he recognized. After a long time the man continued slowly and hesitantly, as if fearing the outcome. He did not realize that there was sufficient anxiety in his voice to change its tones.
"Or do I go courting this year? Do I rig up in uncomfortable store-clothes, and parade before the country and city girls and try to persuade the one I can get, probably——not the one I would want——to marry me, and come here and spoil all our good times? Do we want a woman around scolding if we are away from home, whining because she is lonesome, fretting for luxuries we cannot afford to give her? Are you going to let us in for a scrape like that, Bel?"
The bewildered dog could bear the unusual scene no longer. Taking the rising inflection, that sounded more familiar, for a cue, and his name for a certainty, he sprang forward, his tail waving as his nose touched the face of the Harvester. Then he shot across the driveway and lay in the spice thicket, half the ribs of one side aching, as he howled from the lowest depths of dog misery.
"You ungrateful cur!" cried the Harvester. "What has come over you? Six years I have trusted you, and the answer has been right, every time! Confound your picture! Sentence me to tackle the girl proposition! I see myself! Do you know what it would mean? For the first thing you'd be chained, while I pranced over the country like a half-broken colt, trying to attract some girl. I'd have to waste time I need for my work and spend money that draws good interest while we sleep, to tempt her with presents. I'd have to rebuild the cabin and there's not a chance in ten she would not fret the life out of me whining to go to the city to live, arrange for her here the best I could. Of all the fool, unreliable dogs that ever trod a man's tracks, you are the limit! And you never before failed me! You blame, degenerate pup, you!"
The Harvester paused for breath and the dog subsided to a pitiful whimper. He was eager to return to the man who had struck him the first blow his pampered body ever had received; but he could not understand a kick and harsh words for him, so he lay quivering with anxiety and fear.
"You howling, whimpering idiot!" exclaimed the Harvester. "Choose a day like this to spoil! Air to intoxicate a mummy! Roots swelling! Buds bursting! Harvest close and you'd call me off and put me at work like that, would you? If I ever had supposed lost all your senses, I never would have asked you. Six years you have decided my fate, when the first bluebird came, and you've been true blue every time. If I ever trust you again! But the mischief is done now.
"Have you forgotten that your name means 'to protect?' Don't you remember it is because of that, it is your name? Protect! I'd have trusted you with my life, Bell! You gave it to me the time you pointed that rattler within six inches of my fingers in the blood-root bed. You saw the falling limb in time to warn me. You always know where the quicksands lie. But you are protecting me now, like sin, ain't you? Bring a girl here to spoil both our lives! Not if I know myself! Protect!"
The man arose and going inside the cabin closed the door. After that the dog lay in abject misery so deep that two big tears squeezed from his eyes and rolled down his face. To be shut out was worse than the blow. He did not take the trouble to arise from the wet leaves covering the cold earth, but closing his eyes went to sleep.
The man leaned against the door and ran his fingers through his hair as he anathematized the dog. Slowly his eyes travelled around the room. He saw his tumbled bed by the open window facing the lake, the small table with his writing material, the crude rack on the wall loaded with medical works, botanies, drug encyclopaedias, the books of the few authors who interested him, and the bare, muck-tracked floor. He went to the kitchen, where he built a fire in the cook stove, and to the smoke-house, from which he returned with a slice of ham and some eggs. He set some potatoes boiling and took bread, butter and milk from the pantry. Then he laid a small note-book on the table before him and studied the transactions of the day.
10 lbs. wild cherry bark 6 cents $.60 5 " wahoo root bark 25 " 1.25 20 " witch hazel bark 5 " 1.00 5 " blue flag root 12 " .60 10 " snake root 18 " 1.80 10 " blood root 12 " 1.20 15 " hoarhound 10 " 1.50 ——- $7.95
"Not so bad," he muttered, bending over the figures. "I wonder if any of my neighbours who harvest the fields average as well at this season. I'll wager they don't. That's pretty fair! Some days I don't make it, and then when a consignment of seeds go or ginseng is wanted the cash comes in right properly. I could waste half of it on a girl and yet save money. But where is the woman who would be content with half? She'd want all and fret because there wasn't more. Blame that dog!"
He put the book in his pocket, prepared and ate his supper, heaped a plate generously, placed it on the floor beneath the table, and set away the food that remained.
"Not that you deserve it," he said to space. "You get this in honour of your distinguished name and the faithfulness with which you formerly have lived up to its import. If you hadn't been a dog with more sense than some men, I wouldn't take your going back on me now so hard. One would think an animal of your intelligence might realize that you would get as much of a dose as I. Would she permit you to eat from a plate on the kitchen floor? Not on your life, Belshazzar! Frozen scraps around the door for you! Would she allow you to sleep across the foot of the bed? Ho, ho, ho! Would she have you tracking on her floor? It would be the barn, and growling you didn't do at that. If I'd serve you right, I'd give you a dose and allow you to see how you like it. But it's cutting off my nose to spite my face, as the old adage goes, for whatever she did to a dog, she'd probably do worse to a man. I think not!"
He entered the front room and stood before a long shelf on which were arranged an array of partially completed candlesticks carved from wood. There were black and white walnut, red, white, and golden oak, cherry and curly maple, all in original designs. Some of them were oddities, others were failures, but most of them were unusually successful. He selected one of black walnut, carved until the outline of his pattern was barely distinguishable. He was imitating the trunk of a tree with the bark on, the spreading, fern-covered roots widening for the base, from which a vine sprang. Near the top was the crude outline of a big night moth climbing toward the light. He stood turning this stick with loving hands and holding it from him for inspection.
"I am going to master you!" he exulted. "Your lines are right. The design balances and it's graceful. If I have any trouble it will be with the moth, and I think I can manage. I've got to decide whether to use cecropia or polyphemus before long. Really, on a walnut, and in the woods, it should be a luna, according to the eternal fitness of things——but I'm afraid of the trailers. They turn over and half curl and I believe I had better not tackle them for a start. I'll use the easiest to begin on, and if I succeed I'll duplicate the pattern and try a luna then. The beauties!"
The Harvester selected a knife from the box and began carving the stick slowly and carefully. His brain was busy, for presently he glanced at the floor.
"She'd object to that!" he said emphatically. "A man could no more sit and work where he pleased than he could fly. At least I know mother never would have it, and she was no nagger, either. What a mother she was! If one only could stop the lonely feeling that will creep in, and the aching hunger born with the body, for a mate; if a fellow only could stop it with a woman like mother! How she revelled in sunshine and beauty! How she loved earth and air! How she went straight to the marrow of the finest line in the best book I could bring from the library! How clean and true she was and how unyielding! I can hear her now, holding me with her last breath to my promise. If I could marry a girl like mother——great Caesar! You'd see me buying an automobile to make the run to the county clerk. Wouldn't that be great! Think of coming in from a long, difficult day, to find a hot supper, and a girl such as she must have been, waiting for me! Bel, if I thought there was a woman similar to her in all the world, and I had even the ghost of a chance to win her, I'd call you in and forgive you. But I know the girls of to-day. I pass them on the roads, on the streets, see them in the cafe's, stores, and at the library. Why even the nurses at the hospital, for all the gravity of their positions, are a giggling, silly lot; and they never know that the only time they look and act presentably to me is when they stop their chatter, put on their uniforms, and go to work. Some of them are pretty, then. There's a little blue-eyed one, but all she needs is feathers to make her a 'ha! ha! bird.' Drat that dog!"
The Harvester took the candlestick and the box of knives, opened the door, and returned to the stoop. Belshazzar arose, pleading in his eyes, and cautiously advanced a few steps. The man bent over his work and paid not the slightest heed, so the discouraged dog sank to earth and fixedly watched the unresponsive master. The carving of the candlestick went on steadily. Occasionally the Harvester lifted his head and repeatedly sucked his lungs full of air. Sometimes for an instant he scanned the surface of the lake for signs of breaking fish or splash of migrant water bird. Again his gaze wandered up the steep hill, crowned with giant trees, whose swelling buds he could see and smell. Straight before him lay a low marsh, through which the little creek that gurgled and tumbled down hill curved, crossed the drive some distance below, and entered the lake of Lost Loons.
While the trees were bare, and when the air was clear as now, he could see the spires of Onabasha, five miles away, intervening cultivated fields, stretches of wood, the long black line of the railway, and the swampy bottom lands gradually rising to the culmination of the tree-crowned summit above him. His cocks were crowing warlike challenges to rivals on neighbouring farms. His hens were carolling their spring egg-song. In the barn yard ganders were screaming stridently. Over the lake and the cabin, with clapping snowy wings, his white doves circled in a last joy-flight before seeking their cotes in the stable loft. As the light grew fainter, the Harvester worked slower. Often he leaned against the casing, and closed his eyes to rest them. Sometimes he whistled snatches of old songs to which his mother had cradled him, and again bits of opera and popular music he had heard on the streets of Onabasha. As he worked, the sun went down and a half moon appeared above the wood across the lake. Once it seemed as if it were a silver bowl set on the branch of a giant oak; higher, it rested a tilted crescent on the rim of a cloud.
The dog waited until he could endure it no longer, and straightening from his crouching position, he took a few velvet steps forward, making faint, whining sounds in his throat. When the man neither turned his head nor gave him a glance, Belshazzar sank to earth again, satisfied for the moment with being a little closer. Across Loon Lake came the wavering voice of a night love song. The Harvester remembered that as a boy he had shrunk from those notes until his mother explained that they were made by a little brown owl asking for a mate to come and live in his hollow tree. Now he rather liked the sound. It was eloquent of earnest pleading. With the lonely bird on one side, and the reproachful dog eyes on the other, the man grinned rather foolishly.
Between two fires, he thought. If that dog ever catches my eye he will come tearing as a cyclone, and I would not kick him again for a hundred dollars. First time I ever struck him, and didn't intend to then. So blame mad and disappointed my foot just shot out before I knew it. There he lies half dead to make up, but I'm blest if I forgive him in a hurry. And there is that insane little owl screeching for a mate. If I'd start out making sounds like that, all the girls would line up and compete for possession of my happy home.
The Harvester laughed and at the sound Belshazzar took courage and advanced five steps before he sank belly to earth again. The owl continued its song. The Harvester imitated the cry and at once it responded. He called again and leaned back waiting. The notes came closer. The Harvester cried once more and peered across the lake, watching for the shadow of silent wings. The moon was high above the trees now, the knife dropped in the box, the long fingers closed around the stick, the head rested against the casing, and the man intoned the cry with all his skill, and then watched and waited. He had been straining his eyes over the carving until they were tired, and when he watched for the bird the moonlight tried them; for it touched the lightly rippling waves of the lake in a line of yellow light that stretched straight across the water from the opposite bank, directly to the gravel bed below, where lay the bathing pool. It made a path of gold that wavered and shimmered as the water moved gently, but it appeared sufficiently material to resemble a bridge spanning the lake.
"Seems as if I could walk it," muttered the Harvester.
The owl cried again and the man intently watched the opposite bank. He could not see the bird, but in the deep wood where he thought it might be he began to discern a misty, moving shimmer of white. Marvelling, he watched closer. So slowly he could not detect motion it advanced, rising in height and taking shape.
"Do I end this day by seeing a ghost?" he queried.
He gazed intently and saw that a white figure really moved in the woods of the opposite bank.
"Must be some boys playing fool pranks!" exclaimed the Harvester.
He watched fixedly with interested face, and then amazement wiped out all other expression and he sat motionless, breathless, looking, intently looking. For the white object came straight toward the water and at the very edge unhesitatingly stepped upon the bridge of gold and lightly, easily advanced in his direction. The man waited. On came the figure and as it drew closer he could see that it was a very tall, extremely slender woman, wrapped in soft robes of white. She stepped along the slender line of the gold bridge with grace unequalled.
From the water arose a shining mist, and behind the advancing figure a wall of light outlined and rimmed her in a setting of gold. As she neared the shore the Harvester's blood began to race in his veins and his lips parted in wonder. First she was like a slender birch trunk, then she resembled a wild lily, and soon she was close enough to prove that she was young and very lovely. Heavy braids of dark hair rested on her head as a coronet. Her forehead was low and white. Her eyes were wide-open wells of darkness, her rounded cheeks faintly pink, and her red lips smiling invitation. Her throat was long, very white, and the hands that caught up the fleecy robe around her were rose-coloured and slender. In a panic the Harvester saw that the trailing robe swept the undulant gold water, but was not wet; the feet that alternately showed as she advanced were not purple with cold, but warm with a pink glow.
She was coming straight toward him, wonderful, alluring, lovely beyond any woman the Harvester ever had seen. Straightway the fountains of twenty-six years' repression overflowed in the breast of the man and all his being ran toward her in a wave of desire. On she came, and now her tender feet were on the white gravel. When he could see clearly she was even more beautiful than she had appeared at a distance. He opened his lips, but no sound came. He struggled to rise, but his legs would not bear his weight. Helpless, he sank against the casing. The girl walked to his feet, bent, placed a hand on each of his shoulders, and smiled into his eyes. He could scent the flower-like odour of her body and wrapping, even her hair. He struggled frantically to speak to her as she leaned closer, yet closer, and softly but firmly laid lips of pulsing sweetness on his in a deliberate kiss.
The Harvester was on his feet now. Belshazzar shrank into the shadows.
"Come back!" cried the man. "Come back! For the love of mercy, where are you?"
He ran stumblingly toward the lake. The bridge of gold was there, the little owl cried lonesomely; and did he see or did he only dream he saw a mist of white vanishing in the opposite wood?
His breath came between dry lips, and he circled the cabin searching eagerly, but he could find nothing, hear nothing, save the dog at his heels. He hurried to the stoop and stood gazing at the molten path of moonlight. One minute he was half frozen, the next a rosy glow enfolded him. Slowly he lifted a hand and touched his lips. Then he raised his eyes from the water and swept the sky in a penetrant gaze.
"My gracious Heavenly Father," said the Harvester reverently. "Would it be like that?"
CHAPTER II. THE EFFECT OF A DREAM
Fully convinced at last that he had been dreaming, the Harvester picked up his knives and candlestick and entered the cabin. He placed them on a shelf and turned away, but after a second's hesitation he closed the box and arranged the sticks neatly. Then he set the room in order and carefully swept the floor. As he replaced the broom he thought for an instant, then opened the door and whistled softly. Belshazzar came at a rush. The Harvester pushed the plate of food toward the hungry dog and he ate greedily. The man returned to the front room and closed the door.
He stood a long time before his shelf of books, at last selected a volume of "Medicinal Plants" and settled to study. His supper finished, Belshazzar came scratching and whining at the door. Several times the man lifted his head and glanced in that direction, but he only returned to his book and read again. Tired and sleepy, at last, he placed the volume on the shelf, went to a closet for a pair of bath towels, and hung them across a chair. Then he undressed, opened the door, and ran for the lake. He plunged with a splash and swam vigorously for a few minutes, his white body growing pink under the sting of the chilled water. Over and over he scanned the golden bridge to the moon, and stood an instant dripping on the gravel of the landing to make sure that no dream woman was crossing the wavering floor! He rubbed to a glow and turned back the covers of his bed. The door and window stood wide. Before he lay down, the Harvester paused in arrested motion a second, then stepped to the kitchen door and lifted the latch.
As the man drew the covers over him, the dog's nose began making an opening, and a little later he quietly walked into the room. The Harvester rested, facing the lake. The dog sniffed at his shoulder, but the man was rigid. Then the click of nails could be heard on the floor as Belshazzar went to the opposite side. At his accustomed place he paused and set one foot on the bed. There was not a sound, so he lifted the other. Then one at a time he drew up his hind feet and crouched as he had on the gravel. The man lay watching the bright bridge. The moonlight entered the window and flooded the room. The strong lines on the weather-beaten face of the Harvester were mellowed in the light, and he appeared young and good to see. His lithe figure stretched the length of the bed, his hair appeared almost white, and his face, touched by the glorifying light of the moon, was a study.
One instant his countenance was swept with ultimate scorn; then gradually that would fade and the lines soften, until his lips curved in child-like appeal and his eyes were filled with pleading. Several times he lifted a hand and gently touched his lips, as if a kiss were a material thing and would leave tangible evidence of having been given. After a long time his eyes closed and he scarcely was unconscious before Belshazzar's cold nose touched the outstretched hand and the Harvester lifted and laid it on the dog's head.
"Forgive me, Bel," he muttered. "I never did that. I wouldn't have hurt you for anything. It happened before I had time to think."
They both fell asleep. The clear-cut lines of manly strength on the face of the Harvester were touched to tender beauty. He lay smiling softly. Far in the night he realized the frost-chill and divided the coverlet with the happy Belshazzar.
The golden dream never came again. There was no need. It had done its perfect work. The Harvester awoke the next morning a different man. His face was youthful and alive with alert anticipation. He began his work with eager impetuosity, whistling and singing the while, and he found time to play with and talk to Belshazzar, until that glad beast almost wagged off his tail in delight. They breakfasted together and arranged the rooms with unusual care.
"You see," explained the Harvester to the dog, "we must walk neatly after this. Maybe there is such a thing as fate. Possibly your answer was right. There might be a girl in the world for me. I don't expect it, but there is a possibility that she may find us before we locate her. Anyway, we should work and be ready. All the old stock in the store-house goes out as soon as we can cart it. A new cabin shall rise as fast as we can build it. There must be a basement and furnace, too. Dream women don't have cold feet, but if there is a girl living like that, and she is coming to us or waiting for us to come to her, we must have a comfortable home to offer. There should be a bathroom, too. She couldn't dip in the lake as we do. And until we build the new house we must keep the old one clean, just on the chance of her happening on us. She might be visiting some of the neighbours or come from town with some one or I might see her on the street or at the library or hospital or in some of the stores. For the love of mercy, help me watch for her, Bel! The half of my kingdom if you will point her for me!"
The Harvester worked as he talked. He set the rooms in order, put away the remains of breakfast, and started to the stable. He turned back and stood for a long time, scanning the face in the kitchen mirror. Once he went to the door, then he hesitated, and finally took out his shaving set and used it carefully and washed vigorously. He pulled his shirt together at the throat, and hunting among his clothing, found an old red tie that he knotted around his neck. This so changed his every-day appearance that he felt wonderfully dressed and whistled gaily on his way to the barn. There he confided in the old gray mare as he curried and harnessed her to the spring wagon.
"Hardly know me, do you, Betsy?" he inquired. "Well, I'll explain. Our friend Bel, here, has doomed me to go courting this year. Wouldn't that durnfound you? I was mad as hornets at first, but since I've slept on the idea, I rather like it. Maybe we are too lonely and dull. Perhaps the right woman would make life a very different matter. Last night I saw her, Betsy, and between us, I can't tell even you. She was the loveliest, sweetest girl on earth, and that is all I can say. We are going to watch for her to-day, and every trip we make, until we find her, if it requires a hundred years. Then some glad time we are going to locate her, and when we do, well, you just keep your eye on us, Betsy, and you'll see how courting straight from the heart is done, even if we lack experience."
Intoxicated with new and delightful sensations his tongue worked faster than his hands.
"I don't mind telling you, old faithful, that I am in love this morning," he said. "In love heels over, Betsy, for the first time in all my life. If any man ever was a bigger fool than I am to-day, it would comfort me to know about it. I am acting like an idiot, Betsy. I know that, but I wish you could understand how I feel. Power! I am the head-waters of Niagara! I could pluck down the stars and set them in different places! I could twist the tail from the comet! I could twirl the globe on my palm and topple mountains and wipe lakes from the surface! I am a live man, Betsy. Existence is over. So don't you go at any tricks or I might pull off your head. Betsy, if you see the tallest girl you ever saw, and she wears a dark diadem, and has big black eyes and a face so lovely it blinds you, why you have seen Her, and you balk, right on the spot, and stand like the rock of Gibraltar, until you make me see her, too. As if I wouldn't know she was coming a mile away! There's more I could tell you, but that is my secret, and it's too precious to talk about, even to my best friends. Bel, bring Betsy to the store-room."
The Harvester tossed the hitching strap to the dog and walked down the driveway to a low structure built on the embankment beside the lake. One end of it was a dry-house of his own construction. Here, by an arrangement of hot water pipes, he evaporated many of the barks, roots, seeds, and leaves he grew to supply large concerns engaged in the manufacture of drugs. By his process crude stock was thoroughly cured, yet did not lose in weight and colour as when dried in the sun or outdoor shade.
So the Harvester was enabled to send his customers big packages of brightly coloured raw material, and the few cents per pound he asked in advance of the catalogued prices were paid eagerly. He lived alone, and never talked of his work; so none of the harvesters of the fields adjoining dreamed of the extent of his reaping. The idea had been his own. He had been born in the cabin in which he now lived. His father and grandfather were old-time hunters of skins and game. They had added to their earnings by gathering in spring and fall the few medicinal seeds, leaves, and barks they knew. His mother had been of different type. She had loved and married the picturesque young hunter, and gone to live with him on the section of land taken by his father. She found life, real life, vastly different from her girlhood dreams, but she was one of those changeless, unyielding women who suffer silently, but never rue a bargain, no matter how badly they are cheated. Her only joy in life had been her son. For him she had worked and saved unceasingly, and when he was old enough she sent him to the city to school and kept pace with him in the lessons he brought home at night.
Using what she knew of her husband's work as a guide, and profiting by pamphlets published by the government, every hour of the time outside school and in summer vacations she worked in the woods with the boy, gathering herbs and roots to pay for his education and clothing. So the son passed the full high-school course, and then, selecting such branches as interested him, continued his studies alone.
From books and drug pamphlets he had learned every medicinal plant, shrub, and tree of his vicinity, and for years roamed far afield and through the woods collecting. After his father's death expenses grew heavier and the boy saw that he must earn more money. His mother frantically opposed his going to the city, so he thought out the plan of transplanting the stuff he gathered, to the land they owned and cultivating it there. This work was well developed when he was twenty, but that year he lost his mother.
From that time he went on steadily enlarging his species, transplanting trees, shrubs, vines, and medicinal herbs from such locations as he found them to similar conditions on his land. Six years he had worked cultivating these beds, and hunting through the woods on the river banks, government land, the great Limberlost Swamp, and neglected corners of earth for barks and roots. He occasionally made long trips across the country for rapidly diminishing plants he found in the woodland of men who did not care to bother with a few specimens, and many big beds of profitable herbs, extinct for miles around, now flourished on the banks of Loon Lake, in the marsh, and through the forest rising above. To what extent and value his venture had grown, no one save the Harvester knew. When his neighbours twitted him with being too lazy to plow and sow, of "mooning" over books, and derisively sneered when they spoke of him as the Harvester of the Woods or the Medicine Man, David Langston smiled and went his way.
How lonely he had been since the death of his mother he never realized until that morning when a new idea really had taken possession of him. From the store-house he heaped packages of seeds, dried leaves, barks, and roots into the wagon. But he kept a generous supply of each, for he prided himself on being able to fill all orders that reached him. Yet the load he took to the city was much larger than usual. As he drove down the hill and passed the cabin he studied the location.
"The drainage is perfect," he said to Belshazzar beside him on the seat. "So is the situation. We get the cool breezes from the lake in summer and the hillside warmth in winter. View down the valley can't be surpassed. We will grub out that thicket in front, move over the driveway, and build a couple of two-story rooms, with basement for cellar and furnace, and a bathroom in front of the cabin and use it with some fixing over for a dining-room and kitchen. Then we will deepen and widen Singing Water, stick a bushel of bulbs and roots and sow a peck of flower seeds in the marsh, plant a hedge along the drive, and straighten the lake shore a little. I can make a beautiful wild-flower garden and arrange so that with one season's work this will appear very well. We will express this stuff and then select and fell some trees to-night. Soon as the frost is out of the ground we will dig our basement and lay the foundations. The neighbours will help me raise the logs; after that I can finish the inside work. I've got some dried maple, cherry, and walnut logs that would work into beautiful furniture. I haven't forgotten the prices McLean offered me. I can use it as well as he. Plain way the best things are built now, I believe I could make tables and couches myself. I can see plans in the magazines at the library. I'll take a look when I get this off. I feel strong enough to do all of it in a few days and I am crazy to commence. But I scarcely know where to begin. There are about fifty things I'd like to do. But to fell and dry the trees and get the walls up come first, I believe. What do you think, old unreliable?"
Belshazzar thought the world was a place of beauty that morning. He sniffed the icy, odorous air and with tilted head watched the birds. A wearied band of ducks had settled on Loon Lake to feed and rest, for there was nothing to disturb them. Signs were numerous everywhere prohibiting hunters from firing over the Harvester's land. Beside the lake, down the valley, crossing the railroad, and in the farther lowlands, the dog was a nervous quiver, as he constantly scented game or saw birds he wanted to point. But when they neared the city, he sat silently watching everything with alert eyes. As they reached the outer fringe of residences the Harvester spoke to him.
"Now remember, Bel," he said. "Point me the tallest girl you ever saw, with a big braid of dark hair, shining black eyes, and red velvet lips, sweeter than wild crab apple blossoms. Make a dead set! Don't allow her to pass us. Heaven is going to begin in Medicine Woods when we find her and prove to her that there lies her happy home.
"When we find her," repeated the Harvester softly and exultantly. "When we find her!"
He said it again and again, pronouncing the words with tender modulations. Because he was chanting it in his soul, in his heart, in his brain, with his lips, he had a hasty glance for every woman he passed. Light hair, blue eyes, and short figures got only casual inspection: but any tall girl with dark hair and eyes endured rather close scrutiny that morning. He drove to the express office and delivered his packages and then to the hospital. In the hall the blue-eyed nurse met him and cried gaily, "Good morning, Medicine Man!"
"Ugh! I scalp pale-faces!" threatened the Harvester, but the girl was not afraid and stood before him laughing. She might have gone her way quite as well. She could not have differed more from the girl of the newly begun quest. The man merely touched his wide-brimmed hat as he walked around her and entered the office of the chief surgeon.
A slender, gray-eyed man with white hair turned from his desk, smiled warmly, pushed a chair, and reached a welcoming hand.
"Ah good-morning, David," he cried. "You bring the very breath of spring with you. Are you at the maples yet?"
"Begin to-morrow," was the answer. "I want to get all my old stock off hands. Sugar water comes next, and then the giddy sassafras and spring roots rush me, and after that, harvest begins full force, and all my land is teeming. This is going to be a big year. Everything is sufficiently advanced to be worth while. I have decided to enlarge the buildings."
"Store-room too small?"
"Everything!" said the Harvester comprehensively. "I am crowded everywhere."
The keen gray eyes bent on him searchingly.
"Ho, ho!" laughed the doctor. "'Crowded everywhere.' I had not heard of cramped living quarters before. When did you meet her?"
"Last night," replied the Harvester. "Her home is already in construction. I chose seven trees as I drove here that are going to fall before night."
So casual was the tone the doctor was disarmed.
"I am trying your nerve remedy," he said.
Instantly the Harvester tingled with interest.
"How does it work?" he inquired.
"Finely! Had a case that presented just the symptoms you mentioned. High-school girl broken down from trying to lead her classes, lead her fraternity, lead her parents, lead society——the Lord only knows what else. Gone all to pieces! Pretty a case of nervous prostration as you ever saw in a person of fifty. I began on fractional doses with it, and at last got her where she can rest. It did precisely what you claimed it would, David."
"Good!" cried the Harvester. "Good! I hoped it would be effective. Thank you for the test. It will give me confidence when I go before the chemists with it. I've got a couple more compounds I wish you would try when you have safe cases where you can do no harm."
"You are cautious for a young man, son!"
"The woods do that. You not only discover miracles and marvels in them, you not only trace evolution and the origin of species, but you get the greatest lessons taught in all the world ground into you early and alone——courage, caution, and patience."
"Those are the rocks on which men are stranded as a rule. You think you can breast them, David?"
The Harvester laughed.
"Aside from breaking a certain promise mother rooted in the blood and bones of me, if I am afraid of anything, I don't know it. You don't often see me going head-long, do you? As to patience! Ten years ago I began removing every tree, bush, vine, and plant of medicinal value from the woods around to my land; I set and sowed acres in ginseng, knowing I must nurse, tend, and cultivate seven years. If my neighbours had understood what I was attempting, what do you think they would have said? Cranky and lazy would have become adjectives too mild. Lunatic would have expressed it better. That's close the general opinion, anyway. Because I will not fell my trees, and the woods hide the work I do, it is generally conceded that I spend my time in the sun reading a book. I do, as often as I have an opportunity. But the point is that this fall, when I harvest that ginseng bed, I will clear more money than my stiffest detractor ever saw at one time. I'll wager my bank account won't compare so unfavourably with the best of them now. I did well this morning. Yes, I'll admit this much: I am reasonably cautious, I'm a pattern for patience, and my courage never has failed me yet, anyway. But I must rap on wood; for that boast is a sign that I probably will meet my Jonah soon."
"David, you are a man after my own heart," said the doctor. "I love you more than any other friend I have I wouldn't see a hair of your head changed for the world. Now I've got to hurry to my operation. Remain as long as you please if there is anything that interests you; but don't let the giggling little nurse that always haunts the hall when you come make any impression. She is not up to your standard."
"Don't!" said the Harvester. "I've learned one of the big lessons of life since last I saw you, Doc. I have no standard. There is just one woman in all the world for me, and when I find her I will know her, and I will be happy for even a glance; as for that talk of standards, I will be only too glad to take her as she is."
"David! I supposed what you said about enlarged buildings was nonsense or applied to store-rooms."
"Go to your operation!"
"David, if you send me in suspense, I may operate on the wrong man. What has happened?"
"Nothing!" said the Harvester. "Nothing!"
"David, it is not like you to evade. What happened?"
"Nothing! On my word! I merely saw a vision and dreamed a dream."
"You! A rank materialist! Saw a vision and dreamed a dream! And you call it nothing. Worst thing that could happen! Whenever a man of common-sense goes to seeing things that don't exist, and dreaming dreams, why look out! What did you see? What did you dream?"
"You woman!" laughed the Harvester. "Talk about curiosity! I'd have to be a poet to describe my vision, and the dream was strictly private. I couldn't tell it, not for any price you could mention. Go to your operation."
The doctor paused on the threshold.
"You can't fool me," he said. "I can diagnose you all right. You are poet enough, but the vision was sacred; and when a man won't tell, it's always and forever a woman. I know all now I ever will, because I know you, David. A man with a loose mouth and a low mind drags the women of his acquaintance through whatever mire he sinks in; but you couldn't tell, David, not even about a dream woman. Come again soon! You are my elixir of life, lad! I revel in the atmosphere you bring. Wish me success now, I am going to a difficult, delicate operation."
"I do!" cried the Harvester heartily. "I do! But you can't fail. You never have and that proves you cannot! Good-bye!"
Down the street went the Harvester, passing over city pave with his free, swinging stride, his head high, his face flushed with vivid outdoor tints, going somewhere to do something worth while, the impression always left behind him. Men envied his robust appearance and women looked twice, always twice, and sometimes oftener if there was any opportunity; but twice at least was the rule. He left a little roll of bills at the bank and started toward the library. When he entered the reading room an attendant with an eager smile hastily came toward him.
"What will you have this morning, Mr. Langston?" she asked in the voice of one who would render willing service.
"Not the big books to-day," laughed the Harvester. "I've only a short time. I'll glance through the magazines."
He selected several from a table and going to a corner settled with them and for two hours was deeply engrossed. He took an envelope from his pocket, traced lines, and read intently. He studied the placing of rooms, the construction of furniture, and all attractive ideas were noted. When at last he arose the attendant went to replace the magazines on the table. They had been opened widely, and as she turned the leaves they naturally fell apart at the plans for houses or articles of furniture.
The Harvester slowly went down the street. Before every furniture store he paused and studied the designs displayed in the windows. Then he untied Betsy and drove to a lumber mill on the outskirts of the city and made arrangements to have some freshly felled logs of black walnut and curly maple sawed into different sizes and put through a course in drying.
He drove back to Medicine Woods whistling, singing, and talking to Belshazzar beside him. He ate a hasty lunch and at three o'clock was in the forest, blazing and felling slender, straight-trunked oak and ash of the desired proportions.
CHAPTER III. HARVESTING THE FOREST
The forest is never so wonderful as when spring wrestles with winter for supremacy. While the earth is yet ice bound, while snows occasionally fly, spring breathes her warmer breath of approach, and all nature responds. Sunny knolls, embankments, and cleared spaces become bare, while shadow spots and sheltered nooks remain white. This perfumes the icy air with a warmer breath of melting snow. The sap rises in the trees and bushes, sets buds swelling, and they distil a faint, intangible odour. Deep layers of dead leaves cover the frozen earth, and the sun shining on them raises a steamy vapour unlike anything else in nature. A different scent rises from earth where the sun strikes it. Lichen faces take on the brightest colours they ever wear, and rough, coarse mosses emerge in rank growth from their cover of snow and add another perfume to mellowing air. This combination has breathed a strange intoxication into the breast of mankind in all ages, and bird and animal life prove by their actions that it makes the same appeal to them.
Crows caw supremacy from tall trees; flickers, drunk on the wine of nature, flash their yellow-lined wings and red crowns among trees in a search for suitable building places; nut-hatches run head foremost down rough trunks, spying out larvae and early emerging insects; titmice chatter; the bold, clear whistle of the cardinal sounds never so gaily; and song sparrows pipe from every wayside shrub and fence post. Coons and opossums stir in their dens, musk-rat and ground-hog inspect the weather, while squirrels race along branches and bound from tree to tree like winged folk.
All of them could have outlined the holdings of the Harvester almost as well as any surveyor. They understood where the bang of guns and the snap of traps menaced life. Best of all, they knew where cracked nuts, handfuls of wheat, oats, and crumbs were scattered on the ground, and where suet bones dangled from bushes. Here, too, the last sheaf from the small wheat field at the foot of the hill was stoutly fixed on a high pole, so that the grain was free to all feathered visitors.
When the Harvester hitched Betsy, loaded his spiles and sap buckets into the wagon, and started to the woods to gather the offering the wet maples were pouring down their swelling sides, almost his entire family came to see him. They knew who fed and passed every day among them, and so were unafraid.
After the familiarity of a long, cold winter, when it had been easier to pick up scattered food than to search for it, they became so friendly with the man, the dog, and the gray horse that they hastily snatched the food offered at the barn and then followed through the woods. The Harvester always was particular to wear large pockets, for it was good company to have living creatures flocking after him, trusting to his bounty. Ajax, a shimmering wonder of gorgeous feathers, sunned on the ridge pole of the old log stable, preened, spread his train, and uttered the peacock cry of defiance, to exercise his voice or to express his emotions at all times. But at feeding hour he descended to the park and snatched bites from the biggest turkey cocks and ganders and reigned in power absolute over ducks, guineas, and chickens. Then he followed to the barn and tried to frighten crows and jays, and the gentle white doves under the eaves.
The Harvester walked through deep leaves and snow covering the road that only a forester could have distinguished. Over his shoulder he carried a mattock, and in the wagon were his clippers and an ax. Behind him came Betsy drawing the sap buckets and big evaporating kettles. Through the wood ranged Belshazzar, the craziest dog in all creation. He always went wild at sap time. Here was none of the monotony of trapping for skins around the lake. This marked the first full day in the woods for the season. He ranged as he pleased and came for a pat or a look of confidence when he grew lonely, while the Harvester worked.
At camp the man unhitched Betsy and tied her to the wagon and for several hours distributed buckets. Then he hung the kettles and gathered wood for the fire. At noon he returned to the cabin for lunch and brought back a load of empty syrup cans, and barrels in which to collect the sap. While the buckets filled at the dripping trees, he dug roots in the sassafras thicket to fill orders and supply the demand of Onabasha for tea. Several times he stopped to cut an especially fine tree.
"You know I hate to kill you," he apologized to the first one he felled. "But it certainly must be legitimate for a man to take enough of his trees to build a home. And no other house is possible for a creature of the woods but a cabin, is there? The birds use of the material they find here; surely I have the right to do the same. Seems as if nothing else would serve, at least for me. I was born and reared here, I've always loved you; of course, I can't use anything else for my home."
He swung the ax and the chips flew as he worked on a straight half-grown oak. After a time he paused an instant and rested, and as he did so he looked speculatively at his work.
"I wonder where she is to-day," he said. "I wonder what she is going to think of a log cabin in the woods. Maybe she has been reared in the city and is afraid of a forest. She may not like houses made of logs. Possibly she won't want to marry a Medicine Man. She may dislike the man, not to mention his occupation. She may think it coarse and common to work out of doors with your hands, although I'd have to argue there is a little brain in the combination. I must figure out all these things. But there is one on the lady: She should have settled these points before she became quite so familiar. I have that for a foundation anyway, so I'll go on cutting wood, and the remainder will be up to her when I find her. When I find her," repeated the Harvester slowly. "But I am not going to locate her very soon monkeying around in these woods. I should be out where people are, looking for her right now."
He chopped steadily until the tree crashed over, and then, noticing a rapidly filling bucket, he struck the ax in the wood and began gathering sap. When he had made the round, he drove to the camp, filled the kettles, and lighted the fire. While it started he cut and scraped sassafras roots, and made clippings of tag alder, spice brush and white willow into big bundles that were ready to have the bark removed during the night watch, and then cured in the dry-house.
He went home at evening to feed the poultry and replenish the ever-burning fire of the engine and to keep the cabin warm enough that food would not freeze. With an oilcloth and blankets he returned to camp and throughout the night tended the buckets and boiling sap, and worked or dozed by the fire between times. Toward the end of boiling, when the sap was becoming thick, it had to be watched with especial care so it would not scorch. But when the kettles were freshly filled the Harvester sat beside them and carefully split tender twigs of willow and slipped off the bark ready to be spread on the trays.
"You are a good tonic," he mused as he worked, "and you go into some of the medicine for rheumatism. If she ever has it we will give her some of you, and then she will be all right again. Strange that I should be preparing medicinal bark by the sugar camp fire, but I have to make this hay, not while the sun shines, but when the bark is loose, while the sap is rising. Wonder who will use this. Depends largely on where I sell it. Anyway, I hope it will take the pain out of some poor body. Prices so low now, not worth gathering unless I can kill time on it while waiting for something else. Never got over seven cents a pound for the best I ever sold, and it takes a heap of these little quills to make a pound when they are dry. That's all of you——about twenty-five cents' worth. But even that is better than doing nothing while I wait, and some one has to keep the doctors supplied with salicin and tannin, so, if I do, other folks needn't bother."
He arose and poured more sap into the kettles as it boiled away and replenished the fire. He nibbled a twig when he began on the spice brush. As he sat on the piled wood, and bent over his work he was an attractive figure. His face shone with health and was bright with anticipation. While he split the tender bark and slipped out the wood he spoke his thoughts slowly:
"The five cents a pound I'll get for you is even less, but I love the fragrance and taste. You don't peel so easy as the willow, but I like to prepare you better, because you will make some miserable little sick child well or you may cool some one's fevered blood. If ever she has a fever, I hope she will take medicine made from my bark, because it will be strong and pure. I've half a notion to set some one else gathering the stuff and tending the plants and spend my time in the little laboratory compounding different combinations. I don't see what bigger thing a man can do than to combine pure, clean, unadulterated roots and barks into medicines that will cool fevers, stop chills, and purify bad blood. The doctors may be all right, but what are they going to do if we men behind the prescription cases don't supply them with unadulterated drugs. Answer me that, Mr. Sapsucker. Doc says I've done mighty well so far as I have gone. I can't think of a thing on earth I'd rather do, and there's money no end in it. I could get too rich for comfort in short order. I wouldn't be too wealthy to live just the way I do for any consideration. I don't know about her, though. She is lovely, and handsome women usually want beautiful clothing, and a quantity of things that cost no end of money. I may need all I can get, for her. One never can tell."
He arose to stir the sap and pour more from the barrels to the kettles before he began on the tag alder he had gathered.
"If it is all the same to you, I'll just keep on chewing spice brush while I work," he muttered. "You are entirely too much of an astringent to suit my taste and you bring a cent less a pound. But you are thicker and dry heavier, and you grow in any quantity around the lake and on the marshy places, so I'll make the size of the bundle atone for the price. If I peel you while I wait on the sap I'm that much ahead. I can spread you on drying trays in a few seconds and there you are. Howl your head off, Bel, I don't care what you have found. I wouldn't shoot anything to-day, unless the cupboard was bare and I was starvation hungry. In that case I think a man comes first, and I'd kill a squirrel or quail in season, but blest if I'd butcher a lot or do it often. Vegetables and bread are better anyway. You peel easier even than the willow. What jolly whistles father used to make!
"There was about twenty cents' worth of spice, and I'll easy raise it to a dollar on this. I'll get a hundred gallons of syrup in the coming two weeks and it will bring one fifty if I boil and strain it carefully and can guarantee it contains no hickory bark and brown sugar. And it won't! Straight for me or not at all. Pure is the word at Medicine Woods; syrup or drugs it's the same thing. Between times I can fell every tree I'll need for the new cabin, and average a dollar a day besides on spice, alder, and willow, and twice that for sassafras for the Onabasha markets; not to mention the quantities I can dry this year. Aside from spring tea, they seem to use it for everything. I never yet have had enough. It goes into half the tonics, anodyne, and stimulants; also soap and candy. I see where I grow rich in spite of myself, and also where my harvest is going to spoil before I can garner it, if I don't step lively and double even more than I am now. Where the cabin is to come in——well it must come if everything else goes.
"The roots can wait and I'll dig them next year and get more and larger pieces. I won't really lose anything, and if she should come before I am ready to start to find her, why then I'll have her home prepared. How long before you begin your house, old fire-fly?" he inquired of a flaming cardinal tilting on a twig.
He arose to make the round of the sap buckets again, then resumed his work peeling bark, and so the time passed. In the following ten days he collected and boiled enough sap to make more syrup than he had expected. His earliest spring store of medicinal twigs, that were peeled to dry in quills, were all collected and on the trays; he had digged several wagon loads of sassafras and felled all the logs of stout, slender oak he would require for his walls. Choice timber he had been curing for candlestick material he hauled to the saw-mills to have cut properly, for the thought of trying his hand at tables and chairs had taken possession of him. He was sure he could make furniture that would appear quite as well as the mission pieces he admired on display in the store windows of the city. To him, chairs and tables made from trees that grew on land that had belonged for three generations to his ancestors, trees among which he had grown, played, and worked, trees that were so much his friends that he carefully explained the situation to them before using an ax or saw, trees that he had cut, cured, and fashioned into designs of his own, would make vastly more valuable furnishings in his home than anything that could be purchased in the city.
As he drove back and forth he watched constantly for her. He was working so desperately, planning far ahead, doubling and trebling tasks, trying to do everything his profession demanded in season, and to prepare timber and make plans for the new cabin, as well as to start a pair of candlesticks of marvellous design for her, that night was one long, unbroken sleep of the thoroughly tired man, but day had become a delightful dream.
He fed the chickens to produce eggs for her. He gathered barks and sluiced roots on the raft in the lake, for her. He grubbed the spice thicket before the door and moved it into the woods to make space for a lawn, for her. His eyes were wide open for every woven case and dangling cocoon of the big night moths that propagated around him, for her. Every night when he left the woods from one to a dozen cocoons, that he had detected with remarkable ease while the trees were bare, were stuck in his hat band. As he arranged them in a cool, dry place he talked to them.
"Of course I know you are valuable and there are collectors who would pay well for you, but I think not. You are the prettiest thing God made that I ever saw, and those of you that home with me have no price on your wings. You are much safer here than among the crows and jays of the woods. I am gathering you to protect you, and to show to her. If I don't find her by June, you may go scot free. All I want is the best pattern I can get from some of you for candlestick designs. Of everything in the whole world a candlestick should be made of wood. It should be carved by hand, and of all ornamentations on earth the moth that flies to the night light is the most appropriate. Owls are not so bad. They are of the night, and they fly to light, too, but they are so old. Nobody I ever have known used a moth. They missed the best when they neglected them. I'll make her sticks over an original pattern; I'll twine nightshade vines, with flowers and berries around them, and put a trailed luna on one, and what is the next prettiest for the other? I'll think well before if decide. Maybe she'll come by the time I get to carving and tell me what she likes. That would beat my taste or guessing a mile."
He carefully arranged the twigs bearing cocoons in a big, wire-covered box to protect them from the depredations of nibbling mice and the bolder attacks of the saucy ground squirrels that stored nuts in his loft and took possession of the attic until their scampering sometimes awoke him in the night.
Every trip he made to the city he stopped at the library to examine plans of buildings and furniture and to make notes. The oak he had hauled was being hewed into shape by a neighbour who knew how, and every wagon that carried a log to the city to be dressed at the mill brought back timber for side walls, joists, and rafters. Night after night he sat late poring over his plans for the new rooms, above all for her chamber. With poised pencil he wavered over where to put the closet and entrance to her bath. He figured on how wide to make her bed and where it should stand. He remembered her dressing table in placing windows and a space for a chest of drawers. In fact there was nothing the active mind of the Harvester did not busy itself with in those days that might make a woman a comfortable home. Every thought emanated from impulses evolved in his life in the woods, and each was executed with mighty tenderness.
A killdeer sweeping the lake close two o'clock one morning awakened him. He had planned to close the sugar camp for the season that day, but when he heard the notes of the loved bird he wondered if that would not be a good time to stake out the foundations and begin digging. There was yet ice in the ground, but the hillside was rapidly thawing, and although the work would be easier later, so eager was the Harvester to have walls up and a roof over that he decided to commence.
But when morning came and he and Belshazzar breakfasted and fed Betsy and the stock, he concluded to return to his first plan and close the camp. All the sap collected that day went into the vinegar barrel. He loaded the kettles, buckets, and spiles and stopped at the spice thicket to cut a bale of twigs as he passed. He carried one load to the wagon and returned for another. Down wind on swift wing came a bird and entered the bushes. Motionless the Harvester peered at it. A mourning dove had returned to him through snow, skifting over cold earth. It settled on a limb and began dressing its plumage. At that instant a wavering, "Coo coo a'gh coo," broke in sobbing notes from the deep wood. Without paying the slightest heed, the dove finished a wing, ruffled and settled her feathers, and opened her bill in a human-like yawn. The Harvester smiled. The notes swelled closer in renewed pleading. The cry was beyond doubt a courting male and this an indifferent female. Her beady eyes snapped, her head turned coquettishly, a picture of self-possession, she hid among the dense twigs of the spice thicket. Around the outside circled the pleading male.
With shining eyes the Harvester watched. These were of the things that made life in the woods most worth while. More insistent grew the wavering notes of the lover. More indifferent became the beloved. She was superb in her poise as she amused herself in hiding. A perfect burst of confused, sobbing notes broke on the air. Then away in the deep wood a softly-wavering, half-questioning "Coo-ah!" answered them. Amazement flashed into the eyes of the Harvester, but his face was not nearly so expressive as that of the bird. She lifted a bewildered head and grew rigid in an attitude of tense listening. There was a pause. In quicker measure and crowding notes the male called again. Instantly the soft "Coo!" wavered in answer. The surprised little hen bird of the thicket hopped straight up and settled on her perch again, her dark eyes indignant as she uttered a short "Coo!" The muscles of the Harvester's chest were beginning to twitch and quiver. More intense grew the notes of the pleading male. Softly seductive came the reply. The clapping of his wings could be heard as he flew in search of the charmer. "A'gh coo!" cried the deserted female as she tilted off the branch and tore through the thicket in pursuit, with wings hastened by fright at the ringing laugh of the Harvester.
"Not so indifferent after all, Bel," he said to the dog standing in stiff point beside him. "That was all 'pretend!' But she waited just a trifle too long. Now she will have to fight it out with a rival. Good thing if some of the flirtatious women could have seen that. Help them to learn their own minds sooner."
He laughed as he heaped the twigs on top of the wagon and started down the hill chuckling. Belshazzar followed, leading Betsy straight in the middle of the road by the hitching strap. A few yards ahead the man stopped suddenly with lifted hand. The dog and horse stood motionless. A dove flashed across the road and settled in sight on a limb. Almost simultaneously another perched beside it, and they locked bills in a long caress, utterly heedless of a plaintive "Coo" in the deep wood.
"Settled!" said the Harvester. "Jupiter! I wish my troubles were that nearly finished! Wish I knew where she is and how to find my way to her lips! Wonder if she will come when I call her. What if I should find her, and she would have everything on earth, other lovers, and indifference worse than Madam Dove's for me. Talk about bitterness! Well I'd have the dream left anyway. And there are always two sides. There is just a possibility that she may be poor and overworked, sick and tired, and wondering why I don't come. Possibly she had a dream, too, and she wishes I would hurry. Dear Lord!"
The Harvester began to perspire as he strode down the hill. He scarcely waited to hang the harness properly. He did not stop to unload the wagon until night, but went after an ax and a board that he split into pegs. Then he took a ball of twine, a measuring line, and began laying out his foundation, when the hard earth would scarcely hold the stakes he drove into it. When he found he only would waste time in digging he put away the neatly washed kettles, peeled the spice brush, spread it to dry, and prepared his dinner. After that he began hauling stone and cement for his basement floor and foundation walls. Occasionally he helped at hewing logs when the old man paused to rest. That afternoon the first robin of the season hailed him in passing.
"Hello!" cried the Harvester. "You don't mean to tell me that you have beaten the larks! You really have! Well since I see it, I must believe, but you are early. Come around to the back door if crumbs or wheat will do or if you can make out on suet and meat bones! We are good and ready for you. Where is your mate? For any sake, don't tell me you don't know. One case of that kind at Medicine Woods is enough. Say you came ahead to see if it is too cold or to select a home and get ready for her. Say anything on earth except that you love her, and want her until your body is one quivering ache, and you don't know where she is."
CHAPTER IV. A COMMISSION FOR THE SOUTH WIND
The next morning the larks trailed ecstasy all over the valley, the following day cuckoos were calling in the thickets, a warm wind swept from the south and set swollen buds bursting, while the sun shone, causing the Harvester to rejoice. Betsy's white coat was splashed with the mud of the valley road; the feet of Belshazzar left tracks over lumber piles; and the Harvester removed his muck-covered shoes at the door and wore slippers inside. The skunk cabbage appeared around the edge of the forest, rank mullein and thistles lay over the fields in big circles of green, and even plants of delicate growth were thrusting their heads through mellowing earth and dead leaves, to reach light and air.
Then the Harvester took his mattock and began to dig. His level best fell so far short of what he felt capable of doing and desired to accomplish that the following day he put two more men on the job. Then the earth did fly, and so soon as the required space was excavated the walls were lined with stone and a smooth basement floor was made of cement. The night the new home stood, a skeleton of joists and rafters, gleaming whitely on the banks of Loon Lake, the Harvester went to the bridge crossing Singing Water and slowly came up the driveway to see how the work appeared. He caught his breath as he advanced. He had intended to stake out generous rooms, but this, compared with the cabin, seemed like a big hotel.
"I hope I haven't made it so large it will be a burden," he soliloquized. "It's huge! But while I am at it I want to build big enough, and I think I have."
He stood on the driveway, his arms folded, and looked at the structure as he occasionally voiced his thoughts.
"The next thing is to lay up the side walls and get the roof over. Got to have plenty of help, for those logs are hewed to fourteen inches square and some of them are forty feet long. That's timber! Grew with me, too. Personally acquainted with almost every tree of it. We will bed them in cement, use care with the roof, and if that doesn't make a cool house in the summer, and a warm one in winter, I'll be disappointed. It sets among the trees, and on the hillside just right. We must have a wide porch, plenty of flowers, vines, ferns, and mosses, and when I get everything finished and she sees it——perhaps it will please her."
A great horned owl swept down the hill, crossed the lake, and hooted from the forest of the opposite bank. The Harvester thought of his dream and turned.
"Any women walking the water to-night? Come if you like," he bantered, "I don't mind in the least. In fact, I'd rather enjoy it. I'd be so happy if you would come now and tell me how this appears to you, for it's all yours. I'd have enlarged the store-room, dry-houses and laboratory for myself, but this cabin, never! The old one suited me as it was; but for you——I should have a better home."
The Harvester glanced from the shining skeleton to the bridge of gold and back again.
"Where are you to-night?" he questioned. "What are you doing? Can't you give me a hint of where to search for you when this is ready? I don't know but I am beginning wrong. My little brothers of the wood do differently. They announce their intentions the first thing, flaunt their attractions, and display their strength. They say aloud, for all the listening world to hear, what is in their hearts. They chip, chirp, and sing, warble, whistle, thrill, scream, and hoot it. They are strong on self-expression, and appreciative of their appearance. They meet, court, mate, and THEN build their home together after a mutual plan. It's a good way, too! Lots surer of getting things satisfactory."
The Harvester sat on a lumber pile and gazed questioningly at the framework.
"I wish I knew if I am going at things right," he said. "There are two sides to consider. If she is in a good home, and lovingly cared for, it would be proper to court her and get her promise, if I could——no I'm blest if I'll be so modest——get her promise, as I said, and let her wait while I build the cabin. But if she should be poor, tired, and neglected, then I ought to have this ready when I find her, so I could pick her up and bring her to it, with no more ceremony than the birds."
The Harvester's clear skin flushed crimson.
"Of course, I don't mean no wedding ceremony," he amended. "I was thinking of a long time wasted in preliminaries when in my soul I know I am going to marry my Dream Girl before I ever have seen her in reality. What would be the use in spending much time in courting? She is my wife now, by every law of God. Let me get a glimpse of her, and I'll prove it. But I've got to make tracks, for if she were here, where would I put her? I must hurry!"
He went to the work room and began polishing a table top. He had bought a chest of tools and was spending every spare minute on tables, chair seats, and legs. He had decided to make these first and carve candlesticks later when he had more time. Two hours he worked at the furniture, and then went to bed. The following morning he put eggs under several hens that wanted to set, trimmed his grape-vines, examined the precious ginseng beds, attended his stock, got breakfast for Belshazzar and himself, and was ready for work when the first carpenter arrived. Laying hewed logs went speedily, and before the Harvester believed it possible the big shingles he had ordered were being nailed on the roof. Then came the plumber and arranged for the bathroom, and the furnace man placed the heating pipes. The Harvester had intended the cabin to be mostly the work of his own hands, but when he saw how rapidly skilled carpenters worked, he changed his mind and had them finish the living-room, his room, and the upstairs, and make over the dining-room and kitchen.
Her room he worked on alone, with a little help if he did not know how to join the different parts. Every thing was plain and simple, after plans of his own, but the Harvester laid floors and made window casings, seats, and doors of wood that the big factories of Grand Rapids used in veneering their finest furniture. When one of his carpenters pointed out this to him, and suggested that he sell his lumber to McLean and use pine flooring from the mills the Harvester laughed at him.
"I don't say that I could afford to buy burl maple, walnut, and cherry for wood-work," said the Harvester. "I could not, but since I have it, you can stake your life I won't sell it and build my home of cheap, rapidly decaying wood. The best I have goes into this cabin and what remains will do to sell. I have an idea that when this is done it is going to appear first rate. Anyway, it will be solid enough to last a thousand years, and with every day of use natural wood grows more beautiful. When we get some tables, couches, and chairs made from the same timber as the casings and the floors, I think it will be fine. I want money, but I don't want it bad enough to part with the BEST of anything I have for it. Go carefully and neatly there; it will have to be changed if you don't."
So the work progressed rapidly. When the carpenters had finished the last stroke on the big veranda they remained a day more and made flower boxes, and a swinging couch, and then the greedy Harvester kept the best man with him a week longer to help on the furniture.
"Ain't you going to say a word about her, Langston?" asked this man as they put a mirror-like surface on a curly maple dressing table top.
"Her!" ejaculated the Harvester. "What do you mean?"
"I haven't seen you bathe anywhere except in the lake since I have been here," said the carpenter. "Do you want me to think that a porcelain tub, this big closet, and chest of drawers are for you?"
A wave of crimson swept over the Harvester.
"No, they are not for me," he said simply. "I don't want to be any more different from other men than I can help, although I know that life in the woods, the rigid training of my mother, and the reading of only the books that would aid in my work have made me individual in many of my thoughts and ways. I suppose most men, just now, would tell you anything you want to know. There is only one thing I can say: The best of my soul and brain, the best of my woods and store-house, the best I can buy with money is not good enough for her. That's all. For myself, I am getting ready to marry, of course. I think all normal men do and that it is a matter of plain common-sense that they should. Life with the right woman must be infinitely broader and better than alone. Are you married?"
"Yes. Got a wife and four children."
"Are you sorry?"
"Sorry!" the carpenter shrilled the word. "Sorry! Well that's the best I ever heard! Am I sorry I married Nell and got the kids? Do I look sorry?"
"I am not expecting to be, either," said the Harvester calmly. "I think I have done fairly well to stick to my work and live alone until I am twenty-six. I have thought the thing all over and made up my mind. As soon as I get this house far enough along that I feel I can proceed alone I am going to rush the marrying business just as fast as I can, and let her finish the remainder to her liking."
"Well this ought to please her."
"That's because you find your own work good," laughed the Harvester.
"Not altogether!" The carpenter polished the board and stood it on end to examine the surface as he talked. "Not altogether! Nothing but good work would suit you. I was thinking of the little creek splashing down the hill to the lake; and that old log hewer said that in a few more days things here would be a blaze of colour until fall."
"Almost all the drug plants and bushes leaf beautifully and flower brilliantly," explained the Harvester. "I studied the location suitable to each variety before I set the beds and planned how to grow plants for continuity of bloom, and as much harmony of colour as possible. Of course a landscape gardener would tear up some of it, but seen as a whole it isn't so bad. Did you ever notice that in the open, with God's blue overhead and His green for a background, He can place purple and yellow, pink, magenta, red, and blue in masses or any combination you can mention and the brighter the colour the more you like it? You don't seem to see or feel that any grouping clashes; you revel in each wonderful growth, and luxuriate in the brilliancy of the whole. Anyway, this suits me."
"I guess it will please her, too," said the carpenter. "After all the pains you've taken, she is a good one if it doesn't."
"I'll always have the consolation of having done my best," replied the Harvester. "One can't do more! Whether she likes it or not depends greatly on the way she has been reared."
"You talk as if you didn't know," commented the carpenter.
"You go on with this now," said the Harvester hastily. "I've got to uncover some beds and dig my year's supply of skunk cabbage, else folk with asthma and dropsy who depend on me will be short on relief. I ought to take my sweet flag, too, but I'm so hurried now I think I'll leave it until fall; I do when I can, because the bloom is so pretty around the lake and the bees simply go wild over the pollen. Sometimes I almost think I can detect it in their honey. Do you know I've wondered often if the honey my bees make has medicinal properties and should be kept separate in different seasons. In early spring when the plants and bushes that furnish the roots and barks of most of the tonics are in bloom, and the bees gather the pollen, that honey should partake in a degree of the same properties and be good medicine. In the summer it should aid digestion, and in the fall cure rheumatism and blood disorders."
"Say you try it!" urged the carpenter. "I want a lot of the fall kind. I'm always full of rheumatism by October. Exposure, no doubt."
"Over eating of too much rich food, you mean," laughed the Harvester. "I'd like to see any man expose his body to more differing extremes of weather than I do, and I'm never sick. It's because I am my own cook and so I live mostly on fruits, vegetables, bread, milk, and eggs, a few fish from the lake, a little game once in a great while or a chicken, and no hot drinks; plenty of fresh water, air, and continuous work out of doors. That's the prescription! I'd be ashamed to have rheumatism at your age. There's food in the cupboard if you grow hungry. I am going past one of the neighbours on my way to see about some work I want her to do."
The Harvester stopped for lunch, carried food to Belshazzar, and started straight across country, his mattock, with a bag rolled around the handle, on his shoulder. His feet sank in the damp earth at the foot of the hill, and he laughed as he leaped across Singing Water.
"You noisy chatterbox!" cried the man. "The impetus of coming down the curves of the hill keeps you talking all the way across this muck bed to the lake. With small work I can make you a thing of beauty. A few bushes grubbed, a little deepening where you spread too much, and some more mallows along the banks will do the trick. I must attend to you soon."