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Mrs. Gene Stratton-Porter's novel is an illustration of the harmony and intimacy which does rightly exist between a man and a forest. In ' The Harvester ' she has not only dramatized, but proved the purifying and preservative forces that are always present and predominant in such a situation. This is why the story is so popular. It is utterly simple, nothing in the plot to appeal to morbid interest or curiosity. We really prefer what is good and clean in man and in nature if we can get it portrayed in fiction.
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The Harvester, G. Stratton-Porter
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
CHAPTER I. BELSHAZZAR'S DECISION 1
CHAPTER II. THE EFFECT OF A DREAM 10
CHAPTER III. HARVESTING THE FOREST 19
CHAPTER IV. A COMMISSION FOR THE SOUTH WIND 27
CHAPTER V. WHEN THE HARVESTER MADE GOOD 36
CHAPTER VI. TO LABOUR AND TO WAIT 46
CHAPTER VII. THE QUEST OF THE DREAM GIRL 55
CHAPTER VIII. BELSHAZZAR'S RECORD POINT 66
CHAPTER IX. THE HARVESTER GOES COURTING 80
CHAPTER X. THE CHIME OF THE BLUE BELLS 89
CHAPTER XI. DEMONSTRATED COURTSHIP 105
CHAPTER XII. "THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A MAID" 116
CHAPTER XIII. WHEN THE DREAM CAME TRUE 130
CHAPTER XIV. SNOWY WINGS 155
CHAPTER XV. THE HARVESTER INTERPRETS LIFE 162
CHAPTER XVI. GRANNY MORELAND'S VISIT 178
CHAPTER XVII. LOVE INVADES SCIENCE 204
CHAPTER XVIII. THE BETTER MAN 220
CHAPTER XIX. A VERTICAL SPINE 238
CHAPTER XX. THE MAN IN THE BACKGROUND 260
CHAPTER XXI. THE COMING OF THE BLUEBIRD 279
"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
"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?"
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.
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!
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