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The Harvester By Gene Stratton-Porter Characters: 23247

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:08

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.

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