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The Harvester By Gene Stratton-Porter Characters: 26862

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:08

The sassafras and skunk cabbage were harvested. The last workman was gone. There was not a sound at Medicine Woods save the babel of bird and animal notes and the never-ending accompaniment of Singing Water. The geese had gone over, some flocks pausing to rest and feed on Loon Lake, and ducks that homed there were busy among the reeds and rushes. In the deep woods the struggle to maintain and reproduce life was at its height, and the courting songs of gaily coloured birds were drowned by hawk screams and crow calls of defiance.

Every night before he plunged into the lake and went to sleep the Harvester made out a list of the most pressing work that he would undertake on the coming day. By systematizing and planning ahead he was able to accomplish an unbelievable amount. The earliest rush of spring drug gathering was over. He could be more deliberate in collecting the barks he wanted. Flowers that were to be gathered at bloom time and leaves were not yet ready. The heavy leaf coverings he had helped the winds to heap on his beds of lily of the valley, bloodroot, and sarsaparilla were removed carefully.

Inside the cabin the Harvester cleaned the glass, swept the floors with a soft cloth pinned over the broom, and hung pale yellow blinds at the windows. Every spare minute he worked on making furniture, and with each piece he grew in experience and ventured on more difficult undertakings. He had progressed so far that he now allowed himself an hour each day on the candlesticks for her. Every evening he opened her door and with soft cloths polished the furniture he had made. When her room was completed and the dining-room partially finished, the Harvester took time to stain the cabin and porch roofs the shade of the willow leaves, and on the logs and pillars he used oil that served to intensify the light yellow of the natural wood. With that much accomplished he felt better. If she came now, in a few hours he would be able to offer a comfortable room, enough conveniences to live until more could be provided, and of food there was always plenty.

His daily programme was to feed and water his animals and poultry, prepare breakfast for himself and Belshazzar, and go to the woods, dry-house or store-room to do the work most needful in his harvesting. In the afternoon he laboured over furniture and put finishing touches on the new cabin, and after supper he carved and found time to read again, as before his dream.

He was so happy he whistled and sang at his work much of the time at first, but later there came days when doubts crept in and all his will power was required to proceed steadily. As the cabin grew in better shape for occupancy each day, more pressing became the thought of how he was going to find and meet the girl of his dream. Sometimes it seemed to him that the proper way was to remain at home and go on with his work, trusting her to come to him. At such times he was happy and gaily whistled and sang:

"Stay in your chimney corner,

Don't roam the world about,

Stay in your chimney corner,

And your own true love will find you out."

But there were other days while grubbing in the forest, battling with roots in the muck and mire of the lake bank, staggering under a load for two men, scarcely taking time to eat and sleep enough to keep his condition perfect, when that plan seemed too hopeless and senseless to contemplate. Then he would think of locking the cabin, leaving the drugs to grow undisturbed by collecting, hiring a neighbour to care for his living creatures, and starting a search over the world to find her. There came times when the impulse to go was so strong that only the desire to take a day more to decide where, kept him. Every time his mind was made up to start the following day came the counter thought, what if I should go and she should come in my absence? In the dream she came. That alone held him, even in the face of the fact that if he left home some one might know of and rifle the precious ginseng bed, carefully tended these seven years for the culmination the coming fall would bring. That ginseng was worth many thousands and he had laboured over it, fighting worms and parasites, covering and uncovering it with the changing seasons, a siege of loving labour.

Sometimes a few hours of misgiving tortured him, but as a rule he was cheerful and happy in his preparations. Without intending to do it he was gradually furnishing the cabin. Every few days saw a new piece finished in the workshop. Each trip to Onabasha ended in the purchase of some article he could see would harmonize with his colour plans for one of the rooms. He had filled the flower boxes for the veranda with delicate plants that were growing luxuriantly.

Then he designed and began setting a wild-flower garden outside her door and started climbing vines over the logs and porches, but whatever he planted he found in the woods or took from beds he cultivated. Many of the medicinal vines had leaves, flowers, twining tendrils, and berries or fruits of wonderful beauty. Every trip to the forest he brought back a half dozen vines, plants, or bushes to set for her. All of them either bore lovely flowers, berries, quaint seed pods, or nuts, and beside the drive and before the cabin he used especial care to plant a hedge of bittersweet vines, burning bush, and trees of mountain ash, so that the glory of their colour would enliven the winter when days might be gloomy.

He planted wild yam under her windows that its queer rattles might amuse her, and hop trees where their castanets would play gay music with every passing wind of fall. He started a thicket along the opposite bank of Singing Water where it bubbled past her window, and in it he placed in graduated rows every shrub and small tree bearing bright flower, berry, or fruit. Those remaining he used as a border for the driveway from the lake, so that from earliest spring her eyes would fall on a procession of colour beginning with catkins and papaw lilies, and running through alders, haws, wild crabs, dogwood, plums, and cherry intermingled with forest saplings and vines bearing scarlet berries in fall and winter. In the damp soil of the same character from which they were removed, in the shade and under the skilful hand of the Harvester, few of these knew they had been transplanted, and when May brought the catbirds and orioles much of this growth was flowering quite as luxuriantly as the same species in the woods.

The Harvester was in the store-house packing boxes for shipment. His room was so small and orders so numerous that he could not keep large quantities on hand. All crude stuff that he sent straight from the drying-house was fresh and brightly coloured. His stock always was marked prime A-No. 1. There was a step behind him and the Harvester turned. A boy held out a telegram. The man opened it to find an order for some stuff to be shipped that day to a large laboratory in Toledo.

His hands deftly tied packages and he hastily packed bottles and nailed boxes. Then he ran to harness Betsy and load. As he drove down the hill to the bridge he looked at his watch and shook his head.

"What are you good for at a pinch, Betsy?" he asked as he flecked the surprised mare's flank with a switch. Belshazzar cocked his ears and gazed at the Harvester in astonishment.

"That wasn't enough to hurt her," explained the man. "She must speed up. This is important business. The amount involved is not so much, but I do love to make good. It's a part of my religion, Bel. And my religion has so precious few parts that if I fail in the observance of any of them it makes a big hole in my performances. Now we don't want to end a life full of holes, so we must get there with this stuff, not because it's worth the exertion in dollars and cents, but because these men patronize us steadily and expect us to fill orders, even by telegraph. Hustle, Betsy!"

The whip fell again and Belshazzar entered indignant protest.

"It isn't going to hurt her," said the Harvester impatiently. "She may walk all the way back. She can rest while I get these boxes billed and loaded if she can be persuaded to get them to the express office on time. The trouble with Betsy is that she wants to meander along the road with a loaded wagon as her mother and grandmother before her wandered through the woods wearing a bell to attract the deer. Father used to say that her mother was the smartest bell mare that ever entered the forest. She'd not only find the deer, but she'd make friends with them and lead them straight as a bee-line to where he was hiding. Betsy, you must travel!"

The Harvester drew the lines taut, and the whip fell smartly. The astonished Betsy snorted and pranced down the valley as fast as she could, but every step indicated that she felt outraged and abused. This was the loveliest day of the season. The sun was shining, the air was heavy with the perfume of flowering shrubs and trees, the orchards of the valley were white with bloom. Farmers were hurrying back and forth across fields, leaving up turned lines of black, swampy mould behind them, and one progressive individual rode a wheeled plow, drove three horses and enjoyed the shelter of a canopy.

"Saints preserve us, Belshazzar!" cried the Harvester. "Do you see that? He is one of the men who makes a business of calling me shiftless. Now he thinks he is working. Working! For a full-grown man, did you ever see the equal? If I were going that far I'd wear a tucked shirt, panama hat, have a pianola attachment, and an automatic fan."

The Harvester laughed as he again touched Betsy and hurried to Onabasha. He scarcely saw the delights offered on either hand, and where his eyes customarily took in every sight, and his ears were tuned for the faintest note of earth or tree top, to day he saw only Betsy and listened for a whistle he dreaded to hear at the water tank. He climbed the embankment of the railway at a slower pace, but made up time going down hill to the city.

"I am not getting a blame thing out of this," he complained to Belshazzar. "There are riches to stagger any scientist wasting to-day, and all I've got to show is one oriole. I did hear his first note and see his flash, and so unless we can take time to make up for this on the home road we will have to christen it oriole day. It's a perfumed golden day, too; I can get that in passing, but how I loathe hurrying. I don't mind planning things and working steadily, but it's not consistent with the dignity of a sane man to go rushing across country with as much appreciation of the delights offered right now as a chicken with its head off would have. We will loaf going back to pay for this! And won't we invite our souls? We will stop and gather a big bouquet of crab apple blossoms to fill the green pitcher for her. Maybe some of their wonderful perfume will linger in her room. When the petals fall we will scatter them in the drawers of her dresser, and they may distil a faint flower odour there. We could do that to all her furniture, but perhaps she doesn't like perfume. She'll be compelled to after she reaches Medicine Woods. Betsy, you must travel faster!"

The whip fell again and the Harvester stopped at the depot with a few minutes to spare. He threw the hitching strap to Belshazzar, and ran into the express office with an arm load of boxes.

"Bill them!" he cried. "It's a rush order. I want it to go on the next express. Almost due I think. I'll help you and we can book them afterward."

The expressman ran for a truck and they hastily weighed and piled on boxes. When the last one was loaded from the wagon, a heap more lying in the office were added, pitched on indiscriminately as the train pulled under the sheds of the Union Station.

"I'll push," cried the Harvester, "and help you get them on."

Hurrying as fast as he could the expressman drew the heavy truck through the iron gates and started toward the train slowing to a stop, and the Harvester pushed. As they came down the platform they passed the dining and sleeping cars of the long train and were several times delayed by descending passengers. Just opposite the day coach the expressman narrowly missed running into several women leading small children and stopped abruptly. A toppling box threatened the head of the Harvester. He peered around the truck and saw they must wait a few seconds. He put in the time watching the people. A gray-haired old man, travelling in a silk hat, wavered on the top step and went his way. A fat woman loaded with bundles puffed as she clung trembling a second in fear she would miss the step she could not see. A tall, slender girl with a face coldly white came next, and from the broken shoe she advanced, the bewildered fright of big, dark eyes glancing helplessly, the Harvester saw that she was poor, alone, ill, and in trouble. Pityingly he turned to watch her, and as he gauged her height, saw her figure, and a dark coronet of hair came into view, a ghastly pallor swept his face.

"Merciful God!" he breathed, "that's my Dream Girl!"

The truck started with a jerk. The toppling box fell, struck a passing boy, and knocked him down. The mother screamed and the Harvester sprang to pick up the child and see that he was not dangerously hurt. Then he ran after the truck, pitched on the box, and whirling, sped beside the train to

ward the gates of exit. There was the usual crush, but he could see the tall figure passing up the steps to the depot. He tried to force his way and was called a brute by a crowded woman. He ran down the platform to the gates he had entered with the truck. They were automatic and had locked. Then he became a primal creature being cheated of a lawful mate and climbed the high iron fence and ran for the waiting room.

He swept it at a glance, not forgetting the women's apartment and the side entrance. Then he hurried to the front exit. Up the street leading from the city there were few people and he could see no sign of the slight, white-faced girl. He crossed the sidewalk and ran down the gutter for a block and breathlessly waited the passing crowd on the corner. She was not among it. He tried one more square. Still he could not see her. Then he ran back to the depot. He thought surely he must have missed her. He again searched the woman's and general waiting room and then he thought of the conductor. From him it could be learned where she entered the car. He ran for the station, bolted the gate while the official called to him, and reached the track in time to see the train pull out within a few yards of him.

"You blooming idiot!" cried the angry expressman as the Harvester ran against him, "where did you go? Why didn't you help me? You are white as a sheet! Have you lost your senses?"

"Worse!" groaned the Harvester. "Worse! I've lost what I prize most on earth. How could I reach the conductor of that train?"

"Telegraph him at the next station. You can have an answer in a half hour."

The Harvester ran to the office, and with shaking hand wrote this message:

"Where did a tall girl with big black eyes and wearing a gray dress take your train? Important."

Then he went out and minutely searched the depot and streets. He hired an automobile to drive him over the business part of Onabasha for three quarters of an hour. Up one street and down another he went slowly where there were crowds, faster as he could, but never a sight of her. Then he returned to the depot and found his message. It read, "Transferred to me at Fort Wayne from Chicago."

"Chicago baggage!" he cried, and hurried to the check room. He had lost almost an hour. When he reached the room he found the officials busy and unwilling to be interrupted. Finally he learned there had been a half dozen trunks from Chicago. All were taken save two, and one glance at them told the Harvester that they did not belong to the girl in gray. The others had been claimed by men having checks for them. If she had been there, the officials had not noticed a tall girl having a white face and dark eyes. When he could think of no further effort to make he drove to the hospital.

Doctor Carey was not in his office, and the Harvester sat in the revolving chair before the desk and gripped his head between his hands as he tried to think. He could not remember anything more he could have done, but since what he had done only ended in failure, he was reproaching himself wildly that he had taken his eyes from the Girl an instant after recognizing her. Yet it was in his blood to be decent and he could not have run away and left a frightened woman and a hurt child. Trusting to his fleet feet and strength he had taken time to replace the box also, and then had met the crowd and delay. Just for the instant it appeared to him as if he had done all a man could, and he had not found her. If he allowed her to return to Chicago, probably he never would. He leaned his head on his hands and groaned in discouragement.

Doctor Carey whirled the chair so that it faced him before the Harvester realized that he was not alone.

"What's the trouble, David?" he asked tersely.

The Harvester lifted a strained face.

"I came for help," he said.

"Well you will get it! All you have to do is to state what you want."

That seemed simplicity itself to the doctor. But when it came to putting his case into words, it was not easy for the Harvester.

"Go on!" said the doctor.

"You'll think me a fool."

The doctor laughed heartily.

"No doubt!" he said soothingly. "No doubt, David! Probably you are; so why shouldn't I think so. But remember this, when we make the biggest fools of ourselves that is precisely the time when we need friends, and when they stick to us the tightest, if they are worth while. I've been waiting since latter February for you to tell me. We can fix it, of course; there's always a way. Go on!"

"Well I wasn't fooling about the dream and the vision I told you of then, Doc. I did have a dream-and it was a dream of love. I did see a vision-and it was a beautiful woman."

"I hope you are not nursing that experience as something exclusive and peculiar to you," said the doctor. "There is not a normal, sane man living who has not dreamed of love and the most exquisite woman who came from the clouds or anywhere and was gracious to him. That's a part of a man's experience in this world, and it happens to most of us, not once, but repeatedly. It's a case where the wish fathers the dream."

"Well it hasn't happened to me 'on repeated occasions,' but it did one night, and by dawn I was converted. How CAN a dream be so real, Doc? How could I see as clearly as I ever saw in the daytime in my most alert moment, hear every step and garment rustle, scent the perfume of hair, and feel warm breath strike my face? I don't understand it!"

"Neither does any one else! All you need say is that your dream was real as life. Go on!"

"I built a new cabin and pretty well overturned the place and I've been making furniture I thought a woman would like, and carrying things from town ever since."

"Gee! It was reality to you, lad!"

"Nothing ever more so," said the Harvester.

"And of course, you have been looking for her?"

"And this morning I saw her!"


"Not the ghost of a chance for a mistake. Her height, her eyes, her hair, her walk, her face; only something terrible has happened since she came to me. It was the same girl, but she is ill and in trouble now."

"Where is she?"

"Do you suppose I'd be here if I knew?"

"David, are you dreaming in daytime?"

"She got off the Chicago train this morning while I was helping Daniels load a big truck of express matter. Some of it was mine, and it was important. Just at the wrong instant a box fell and knocked down a child and I got in a jam--"

"And as it was you, of course you stopped to pick up the child and do everything decent for other folks, before you thought of yourself, and so you lost her. You needn't tell me anything more. David, if I find her, and prove to you that she has been married ten years and has an interesting family, will you thank me?"

"Can't be done!" said the Harvester calmly. "She has been married only since she gave herself to me in February, and she is not a mother. You needn't bank on that."

"You are mighty sure!"

"Why not? I told you the dream was real, and now that I have seen her, and she is in this very town, why shouldn't I be sure?"

"What have you done?"

The Harvester told him.

"What are you going to do next?"

"Talk it over with you and decide."

The doctor laughed.

"Well here are a few things that occur to me without time for thought. Talk to the ticket agents, and leave her description with them. Make it worth their while to be on the lookout, and if she goes anywhere to find out all they can. They could make an excuse of putting her address on her ticket envelope, and get it that way. See the baggagemen. Post the day police on Main Street. There is no chance for her to escape you. A full-grown woman doesn't vanish. How did she act when she got off the car? Did she appear familiar?"

"No. She was a stranger. For an instant she looked around as if she expected some one, then she followed the crowd. There must have been an automobile waiting or she took a street car. Something whirled her out of sight in a few seconds."

"Well we will get her in range again. Now for the most minute description you can give."

The Harvester hesitated. He did not care to describe the Dream Girl to any one, much less the living, suffering face and poorly clad form of the reality.

"Cut out your scruples," laughed the doctor. "You have asked me to help you; how can I if I don't know what kind of a woman to look for?"

"Very tall and slender," said the Harvester. "Almost as tall as I am."

"Unusually tall you think?"

"I know!"

"That's a good point for identification. How about her complexion, hair, and eyes?"

"Very large, dark eyes, and a great mass of black hair."

The doctor roared.

"The eyes may help," he said. "All women have masses of hair these days. I hope--"

"Her hair is fast to her head," said the Harvester indignantly. "I saw it at close range, and I know. It went around like a crown."

The doctor choked down a laugh. He wanted to say that every woman's hair was like a crown at present, but there were things no man ventured with David Langston; those who knew him best, least of any. So he suggested, "And her colouring?"

"She was white and rosy, a lovely thing in the dream," said the Harvester, "but something dreadful has happened. That's all wiped out now. She was very pale when she left the car."

"Car sick, maybe."

"Soul sick!" was the grim reply.

Then Doctor Carey appeared so disturbed the Harvester noticed it.

"You needn't think I'd be here prating about her if I wasn't FORCED. If she had been rosy and well as she was in the dream, I'd have made my hunt alone and found her, too. But when I saw she was sick and in trouble, it took all the courage out of me, and I broke for help. She must be found at once, and when she is you are probably the first man I'll want. I am going to put up a pretty stiff search myself, and if I find her I'll send or get her to you if I can. Put her in the best ward you have and anything money will do--"

The face of the doctor was growing troubled.

"Day coach or Pullman?" he asked.


"How was she dressed?"

"Small black hat, very plain. Gray jacket and skirt, neat as a flower."

"What you'd call expensively dressed?"

The Harvester hesitated.

"What I'd call carefully dressed, but--but poverty poor, if you will have it, Doc."

Doctor Carey's lips closed and then opened in sudden resolution.

"David, I don't like it," he said tersely.

The Harvester met his eye and purposely misunderstood him.

"Neither do I!" he exclaimed. "I hate it! There is something wrong with the whole world when a woman having a face full of purity, intellect, and refinement of extreme type glances around her like a hunted thing; when her appearance seems to indicate that she has starved her body to clothe it. I know what is in your mind, Doc, but if I were you I wouldn't put it into words, and I wouldn't even THINK it. Has it been your experience in this world that women not fit to know skimp their bodies to cover them? Does a girl of light character and little brain have the hardihood to advance a foot covered with a broken shoe? If I could tell you that she rode in a Pullman, and wore exquisite clothing, you would be doing something. The other side of the picture shuts you up like a clam, and makes you appear shocked. Let me tell you this: No other woman I ever saw anywhere on God's footstool had a face of more delicate refinement, eyes of purer intelligence. I am of the woods, and while they don't teach me how to shine in society, they do instil always and forever the fineness of nature and her ways. I have her lessons so well learned they help me more than anything else to discern the qualities of human nature. If you are my friend, and have any faith at all in my common sense, get up and do something!"

The doctor arose promptly.

"David, I'm an ass," he said. "Unusually lop-eared, and blind in the bargain. But before I ask you to forgive me, I want you to remember two things: First, she did not visit me in my dreams; and, second, I did not see her in reality. I had nothing to judge from except what you said: you seemed reluctant to tell me, and what you did say was--was--disturbing to a friend of yours. I have not the slightest doubt if I had seen her I would agree with you. We seldom disagree, David. Now, will you forgive me?"

The Harvester suddenly faced a window. When at last he turned, "The offence lies with me," he said, "I was hasty. Are you going to help me?"

"With all my heart! Go home and work until your head clears, then come back in the morning. She did not come from Chicago for a day. You've done all I know to do at present."

"Thank you," said the Harvester.

He went to Betsy and Belshazzar, and slowly drove up and down the streets until Betsy protested and calmly turned homeward. The Harvester smiled ruefully as he allowed her to proceed.

"Go slow and take it easy," he said as they reached the country. "I want to think."

Betsy stopped at the barn, the white doves took wing, and Ajax screamed shrilly before the Harvester aroused in the slightest to anything around him. Then he looked at Belshazzar and said emphatically: "Now, partner, don't ever again interfere when I am complying with the observances of my religion. Just look what I'd have missed if I hadn't made good with that order!"

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