THE BETTER MAN
In the middle of the afternoon the Harvester arose and went into the lake,
ate a hearty dinner, and then took up his watch again. For two days and nights
he kept his place, until he had the Girl out of danger, and where careful
nursing was all that was required to insure life and health. As he sat beside
her the last day, his physical endurance strained to the breaking point, she
laid her hand over his, and looked long and steadily into his eyes.
"There are so many things I want to know," she said.
The Harvester's firm fingers closed over hers. "Ruth, have you ever been
sorry that you trusted me?"
"Never!" said the Girl instantly.
"Then suppose you keep it up," said he. "Whatever it is that you want to
know, don't use an iota of strength to talk or to think about it now. Just say
to yourself, he loves me well enough to do what is right, and I know that he
will. All you have to do is to be patient until you grow stronger than you ever
have been in your life, and then you shall have exactly what you want, Ruth.
Sleep like a baby for a week or two. Then, slowly and gradually, we will build
up such a constitution for you that you shall ride, drive, row, swim, dance,
play, and have all that your girlhood has missed in fun and frolic, and all that
your womanhood craves in love and companionship. Happiness has come at last,
Ruth. Take it from me. Everything you crave is yours. The love you want, the
home, and the life. As soon as you are strong enough, you shall know all about
it. Your business is to drink stimulants and sleep now, dear."
"So tired of this bed!"
"It won't be long until you can lie on the couch and the veranda swing
"Glory!" said the Girl. "David, I must have been full of fever for a long
time. I can't remember everything."
"Don't try, I tell you. Life is coming out right for you; that's all you need
"And for you, David?"
"Whenever things are right for you, they are for me, Ruth."
"Don't you ever think of yourself?"
"Not when I am close you."
"Ah! Then I shall have to grow strong very soon and think of you."
The Harvester's smile was pathetic. He was unspeakably tired again.
"Never mind me!" he said. "Only get well."
"David, was there a little horse?"
"There certainly was and is," said the Harvester.
"You had not named him yet, but in a few days I can lead him to the window."
"Was there something said about a boat?"
"Two of them."
"Yes. A row boat for you, and a launch that will take you all over the lake
with only the exertion of steering on your part."
"David, I want my pendant and ring. I am so tired of lying here, I want to
play with them."
"Where do you keep them, Ruth?"
"In the willow teapot. I thought no one would look there."
The Harvester laughed and brought the little boxes. He had to open them, but
the Girl put on the ring and asked him if he would not help her with the
pendant. He slipped the thread around her neck and clasped it. With a sigh of
satisfaction she took the ornament in one hand and closed her eyes. He thought
she was falling asleep, but presently she looked at him.
"You won't allow them to take it from me?"
"Indeed no! There is no reason on earth why you should not have that thread
around your neck if you want it."
"I am going to sleep now. I want two things. May I have them?"
"You may," said the Harvester promptly, "provided they are not to eat."
"No," said the Girl. "I've suffered and made others trouble. I won't bother
you by asking for anything more than is brought me. This is different. You are
completely worn out. Your face frightens me, David, and white hairs that were
not there a few days ago have come along your temples. I can see them."
"You gave me a mighty serious scare, Ruth."
"I know," said the Girl. "Forgive me. I didn't mean to. I want you to leave
me to Doctor Harmon and the nurse and go sleep a week. Then I will be ready for
the swing, and to hear some more about the trees and birds."
"I can keep it up if you really need me, but if you don't I am sleepy. So, if
you feel safe, I think I will go."
"Oh I am safe enough," said the Girl. "It isn't that. I'm so lonely. I've
made up my mind not to grieve for mother, but I miss her so now. I feel so
"But, honey," said the Harvester, "you mustn't do that! Don't you see how all
of us love you? Here is Granny shutting up her house and living here, just to be
with you. The nurse will do anything you say. Here is the man you know best, and
think so much of, staying in the cabin, and so happy to give you all his time,
and anything else you will have, dear. And the Careys come every day, and will
do their best to comfort you, and always I am here for you to fall back on."
"Yes, I'm falling right now," said the Girl. "I almost wish I had the fever
again. No one has touched me for days. I feel as if every one was afraid of me."
The Harvester was puzzled.
"Well, Ruth, I'm doing the best I know," he said. "What is it you want?"
"Nothing!" answered the Girl with slightly dejected inflection. "Say good-bye
to me, and go sleep your week. I'll be very good, and then you shall take me a
drive up the hill when you awaken. Won't that be fine?"
"Say good-bye to me!" She felt a "little lonely!" They all acted as if they
were "afraid" of her. The Harvester indulged in a flashing mental review and
arrived at a decision. He knelt beside the bed, took both slender, cool hands
and covered them with kisses. Then he slid a hand under the pillow and raised
the tired head.
"If I am to say good-bye, I have to do it in my own way, Ruth," he said.
Thereupon he began at the tumbled mass of hair and kissed from her forehead
to her lips, kisses warm and tender.
"Now you go to sleep, and grow strong enough by the time I come back to tell
me whom you love," he said, and went from the room without waiting for any
With short intervals for food and dips in the lake the Harvester very nearly
slept the week. When he finally felt himself again, he bathed, shaved, dressed
freshly, and went to see the Girl. He had to touch her to be sure she was real.
She was extremely weak and tremulous, but her face and hands were fuller, her
colour was good, she was ravenously hungry. Doctor Harmon said she was a little
tryant, and the nurse that she was plain cross. The first thing the Harvester
noticed was that the dull blue look in the depth of the dark eyes was gone. They
were clear, dusky wells, with shining lights at the bottom.
"Well I never would have believed it!" he cried. "Doctor Harmon, you are a
great physician! You have made her all over new, and in a few more days she will
be on the veranda. This is great!"
"Do I appear so much better to you, Harvester?" asked the Girl.
"Has no one thought to show you," cried the Harvester. "Here, let me!"
He stepped to her dressing table, picked up a mirror, and held it before her
so that she could see herself.
"Seems to me I am dreadfully white and thin yet!"
"If you had seen what I saw ten days ago, my Girl, you would think you appear
like a pink, rosy angel now, or a wonderful dream."
"Truly, do I in the least resemble a dream, David?"
"You are a dream. The loveliest one a man ever had. With three months of
right care and exercise you'll be the beautiful woman nature intended. I'm so
proud of you. You are being so brave! Just lie there in patience a few more
days, and out you come again to life; and life that will thrill your being with
"All right," said the Girl, "I will. David are you attending to your herbs?"
"Not for a few weeks."
"You are very much behind?"
"No. Nothing important. I don't make enough to count on what is ready now. I
can soon gather jimson leaves and seed to fill orders, the hemlock is about
right to take the fruit, the mustard is yet in pod, and the saffron and wormseed
can be attended later. I can catch up in two days."
"What about覧about the big bed on the hill?"
The Harvester experienced an inward thrill of delight. She was so impressed
with the value of the ginseng she would not mention it, even before the man she
loved覧no more than that覧"adored"覧 "worshipped!" He smiled at her in
"I'll have to take a peep at that and report," he said.
"Are you rested now?"
"You are dreadfully thin."
"I always am. I'll pick up a little when I get back to work."
"David, I want you to go to work now."
"Can you spare me?"
"Haven't we done well these last few days?"
"I can't tell you how well."
"Then please go gather everything you need to fill orders except the big bed,
and by that time maybe you could take another week off, and I could go to the
hill top and on the lake. I'm so anxious to put my feet on the earth. They feel
"Are your feet well rubbed to draw down the circulation?"
"They are rubbed shiny and almost skinned, David. No one ever had better
care, of that I am sure. Go gather what you should have."
"All right," said the Harvester.
He arose and as he started to leave the room he took one last look at the
Girl to see if he could detect anything he could suggest for her comfort, and
read a message in her eyes. Instantly there was an answering flash in his.
"I'll be back in a minute," he said. "I just noticed discorea villosa has the
finest rattle boxes formed. I've been waiting to show you. And the hop tree has
its castanets all green and gold. In a few more weeks it will begin to play for
you. I'll bring you some."
Soon he returned with the queer seed formations, and as he bent above her,
with his back to Doctor Harmon, he whispered, "What is it?"
Her lips barely formed the one word, "Hurry!"
The Harvester straightened.
"All comfortable, Ruth?" he asked casually.
"You understand, of course, that there is not the slightest necessity for my
going to work if you really want me for anything, even if it's nothing more than
to have me within calling distance, in case you SHOULD want something. The whole
lot I can gather now won't amount to twenty dollars. It's merely a matter of
pride with me to have what is called for. I'd much rather remain, if you can use
me in any way at all."
"Twenty dollars is considerable, when expenses are as heavy as now. And it's
worth more than any money to you not to fail when orders come. I have learned
that, and David, I don't want you to either. You must fill all demands as usual.
I wouldn't forgive myself this winter if you should be forced to send orders
only partly filled because I fell ill and hindered you. Please go and gather all
you possibly will need of everything you take at this season, only remember!"
"There is no danger of my forgetting. If you are going to send me away to
work, you will allow me to kiss your hand before I go, fair lady?"
He did it fervently.
"One word with you, Harmon," he said as he left the room.
Doctor Harmon arose and followed him to the gold garden, and together they
stood beside the molten hedge of sunflowers, coneflowers, elecampane, and jewel
"I merely want to mention that this is your inning," said the Harvester.
"Find out if you are essential to the Girl's happiness as soon as you can, and
the day she tells me so, I will file her petition and take a trip to the city to
study some little chemical quirks that bother me. That's all."
The Harvester went to the dry-house for bags and clipping shears, and the
doctor returned to the sunshine room.
"Ruth," he said, "do you know that the Harvester is the squarest man I ever
"Is he?" asked the Girl.
"He is! He certainly is!"
"You must remember that I have little acquaintance with men," said she. "You
are the first one I ever knew, and the only one except him."
"Well I try to be square," said Doctor Harmon, "but that is where Langston
has me beaten a mile. I have to try. He doesn't. He was born that way."
The Girl began to laugh.
"His environment is so different," she said. "Perhaps if he were in a big
city, he would have to try also."
"Won't do!" said the doctor. "He chose his location. So did I. He is a
stronger physical man than I ever was or ever will be. The struggle that bound
him to the woods and to research, that made him the master of forces that give
back life, when a man like Carey says it is the end, proves him a master. The
tumult in his soul must have been like a cyclone in his forest, when he turned
his back on the world and stuck to the woods. Carey told me about it. Some day
you must hear. It's a story a woman ought to know in order to arrive at proper
values. You never will understand the man until you know that he is clean where
most of us are blackened with ugly sins we have no right on God's footstool to
commit and not so much reason as he. Every man should be as he is, but very few
are. Carey says Langston's mother was a wonderful element in the formation of
his character; but all mothers are anxious, and none of them can build with no
foundation and no soul timber. She had material for a man to her hand, or she
couldn't have made one."
"I see what you mean."
"So far as any inexperienced girl ever sees," said the doctor. "Some day if
you live to fifty you will know, but you can't comprehend it now."
"If you think I lived all my life in Chicago's poverty spots and don't know
unbridled human nature!"
"I found you and your mother unusually innocent women. You may understand
some things. I hope you do. It will help you to decide who is the real man among
the men who come into your life. There are some men, Ruth, who are fit to mate
with a woman, and to perpetuate themselves and their mental and moral forces in
children, who will be like them, and there are others who are not. It is these
'others' who are responsible for the sin of the world, the sickness and
suffering. Any time you are sure you have a chance at a moral man, square and
honest, in control of his brain and body, if you are a wise woman, Ruth, stick
to him as the limpet to the rock."
"You mean stick to the Harvester?"
"If you are a wise woman!"
"When was a woman ever wise?"
"A few have been. They are the only care-free, really happy ones of the
world, the only wives without a big, poison, blue-bottle fly in their ointment."
"I detest flies!" said the Girl.
"So do I," said the doctor. "For this reason I say to you choose the ointment
that never had one in it. Take the man who is 'master of his fate, captain of
his soul.' Stick to the Harvester! He is infinitely the better man!"
"Well have you seen anything to indicate that I wasn't sticking?" asked the
"No. And for your sake I hope I never will."
She laughed softly.
"You do love him, Ruth?"
"As I did my mother, yes. There is not a trace in my heart of the thing he
"You have been stunted, warped, and the fountains of life never have opened.
It will come with right conditions of living."
"Do you think so?"
"I know so. At least there is no one else you love, Ruth?"
"No one except you."
"And do you feel about me just as you do him?"
"No! It is different. What I owe him is for myself. What I owe you is for my
mother. You saw! You know! You understand what you did for her, and what it
meant to me. The Harvester must be the finest man on earth, but when I try to
think of either God or Heaven, your face intervenes."
"That's all right, Ruth, I'm so glad you told me," said Doctor Harmon. "I can
make it all perfectly clear to you. You just go on and worship me all you
please. It's bound to make a cleaner, better man of me. What you feel for me
will hold me to a higher moral level all my life than I ever have known before;
but never forget that you are not going to live in Heaven. You will be here at
least sixty years yet, so when you come to think of selecting a partner for the
relations of the world, you stick to the finest man on earth; see?"
"I do!" said the Girl. "I saw you kiss Molly a week ago. She is lovely, and I
hope you will be perfectly happy. It won't interfere with my worshipping you;
not the least in the world. Go ahead and be joyful!"
The doctor sprang to his feet in crimson confusion. The Girl lay and laughed
"Don't!" she cried. "It's all right! It takes a weight off my soul as heavy
as a mountain. I do adore you, as I said. But every hour since I left Chicago a
big, black cloud has hung over me. I didn't feel free. I didn't feel absolved. I
felt that my obligations to you were so heavy that when I had settled the last
of the money debt I was in honour bound覧"
"Don't, Ruth! Forget those dreadful times, as I told you then! Think only of
a happy future!"
"Let me finish," said the Girl. "Let me get this out of my system with the
other poison. From the day I came here, I've whispered in my heart, 'I am not
free!' But if you love another woman! If you are going to take her to your heart
and to your lips, why that is my release. Oh Man, speak the words! Tell me I am
"Ruth, be quiet, for mercy sake! You'll raise a temperature, and the
Harvester will pitch me into the lake. You are free, child, of course! You
always have been. I understood the awful pressure that was on you with the very
first glimpse I had of your mother. Who was she, Ruth?"
"She never would tell me."
"She thought you would appeal to her people?"
"She knew I would! I couldn't have helped it."
"Would you like to know?"
"I never want to. It is too late. I infinitely prefer to remain in ignorance.
Talk of something else."
"Let me read a wonderful book I found on the Harvester's shelves."
"Anything there will contain wonders, because he only buys what appeals to
him, and it takes a great book to do that. I am going to learn. He will teach
me, and when I come within comprehending distance of him, then we are going on
"What an attractive place this is!"
"Isn't it? I only have seen enough to understand the plan. I scarcely can
wait to set my feet on earth and go into detail. Granny Moreland says that when
spring comes over the hill, and brings up the flowers in the big woods, she'd
rather walk through them than to read Revelation. She says it gives her an idea
of Heaven she can come closer realizing and it seems more stable. You know she
worries about the foundations. She can't understand what supports Heaven. But up
there in Medicine Woods the old dear gets so close her God that some day she is
going to realize that her idea of Heaven there is quite as near right as marble
streets and gold pillars and vastly more probable. The day I reach that hill top
again, Heaven begins for me. Do you know the wonderful thing the Harvester did
"Under the oak?"
"Carey told me. It was marvellous."
"Not such a marvel as another the doctor couldn't have known. The Harvester
made passing out so natural, so easy, so a part of elemental forces, that I
almost have forgotten her tortured body. When I think of her now, it is to
wonder if next summer I can distinguish her whisper among the leaves. Before you
go, I'll take you up there and tell you what he says, and show you what he
means, and you will feel it also."
"What if I shouldn't go?"
"What do you mean?"
"Doctor Carey has offered me a splendid position in his hospital. There would
be work all day, instead of waiting all day in the hope of working an hour.
There would be a living in it for two from the word go. There would be better
air, longer life, more to be got out of it, and if I can make good, Carey's work
to take up as he grows old."
"Take it! Take it quickly!" cried the Girl. "Don't wait a minute! You might
wear out your heart in Chicago for twenty years or forever, and not have an
opportunity to do one half so much good. Take it at once!"
"I was waiting to learn what you and Langston would say."
"He will say take it."
"Then I will be too happy for words. Ruth, you have not only paid the debt,
but you have brought me the greatest joy a man ever had. And there is no need to
wait the ages I thought I must. He can tell in a year if I can do the work, and
I know I can now; so it's all settled, if Langston agrees."
"He will," said the Girl. "Let me tell him!"
"I wish you would," said the doctor. "I don't know just how to go at it."
Then for two days the Harvester and Belshazzar gathered herbs and spread them
on the drying trays. On the afternoon of the third, close three, the doctor came
to the door.
"Langston," he said, "we have a call for you. We can't keep Ruth quiet much
longer. She is tired. We want to change her bed completely. She won't allow
either of us to lift her. She says we hurt her. Will you come and try it?"
"You'll have to give me time to dip and rub off and get into clean clothing,"
he said. "I've been keeping away, because I was working on time, and I smell to
strangulation of stramonium and saffron."
"Can't give you ten seconds," said the doctor. "Our temper is getting
brittle. We are cross as the proverbial fever patient. If you don't come at once
we will imagine you don't want to, and refuse to be moved at all."
"Coming!" cried the Harvester, as he plunged his hands in the wash bowl and
soused his face. A second later he appeared on the porch.
"Ruth," he said, "I am steeped in the odours of the dry-house. Can't you wait
until I bathe and dress?"
"No, I can't," said a fretful voice. "I can't endure this bed another
"Then let Doctor Harmon lift you. He is so fresh and clean."
The Harvester glanced enviously at the shaven face and white trousers and
shirt of the doctor.
"I just hate fresh, clean men. I want to smell herbs. I want to put my feet
in the dirt and my hands in the water."
The Harvester came at a rush. He brought a big easy chair from the
living-room, straightened the cover, and bent above the Girl. He picked her up
lightly, gently, and easing her to his body settled in the chair. She laid her
face on his shoulder, and heaved a deep sigh of content.
"Be careful with my back, Man," she said. "I think my spine is almost worn
"Poor girl," said the Harvester. "That bed should be softer."
"It should not!" contradicted the Girl. "It should be much harder. I'm tired
of soft beds. I want to lie on the earth, with my head on a root; and I wish it
would rain dirt on me. I am bathed threadbare. I want to be all streaky."
"I understand," said the Harvester. "Harmon, bring me a pad and pencil a
minute, I must write an order for some things I want. Will you call up town and
have them sent out immediately?"
On the pad he wrote: "Telephone Carey to get the highest grade curled-hair
mattress, a new pad, and pillow, and bring them flying in the car. Call Granny
and the girl and empty the room. Clean, air, and fumigate it thoroughly. Arrange
the furniture differently, and help me into the living-room with Ruth." He
handed the pad to the doctor.
"Please attend to that," he said, and to the Girl: "Now we go on a journey.
Doc, you and Molly take the corners of the rug we are on and slide us into the
other room until you get this aired and freshened."
In the living-room the Girl took one long look at the surroundings and
suddenly relaxed. She cuddled against the Harvester and lifting a tremulous
white hand, drew it across his unshaven cheek.
"Feels so good," she said. "I'm sick and tired of immaculate men."
The Harvester laughed, tucked her feet in the cover and held her tenderly.
The Girl lay with her cheek against the rough khaki, palpitant with the
excitement of being moved.
"Isn't it great?" she panted.
He caught the hand that had touched his cheek in a tender grip, and laughed a
deep rumble of exultation that came from the depths of his heart.
"There's no name for it, honey," he said. "But don't try to talk until you
have a long rest. Changing positions after you have lain so long may be making
unusual work for your heart. Am I hurting your back?"
"No," said the Girl. "This is the first time I have been comfortable in ages.
Am I tiring you?"
"Yes," laughed the Harvester. "You are almost as heavy as a large sack of
leaves, but not quite equal to a bridge pillar or a log. Be sure to think of
that, and worry considerably. You are in danger of straining my muscles to the
last degree, my heart included."
"Where is your heart?" whispered the Girl.
"Right under your cheek," answered the Harvester. "But for Heaven's sake,
don't intimate that you are taking any interest in it, or it will go to pounding
until your head will bounce. It's one member of my body that I can't control
where you are concerned."
"I thought you didn't like me any more."
"Careful!" warned the Harvester. "You are yet too close Heaven to fib like
that, Ruth. What have I done to indicate that I don't love you more than ever?"
"Stayed away nearly every minute for three awful days, and wouldn't come
without being dragged; and now you're wishing they would hurry and fix that bed,
so you can put me down and go back to your rank old herbs again."
"Well of all the black prevarications! I went when you sent me, and came when
you called. I'd willingly give up my hope of what Granny calls 'salvation' to
hold you as I am for an hour, and you know it."
"It's going to be much longer than that," said the Girl nestling to him. "I
asked for you because you never hurt me, and they always do. I knew you were so
strong that my weight now wouldn't be a load for one of your hands, and I am not
going back to that bed until I am so tired that I will be glad to lie down."
For a long time she was so silent the Harvester thought her going to sleep;
and having learned that for him joy was probably transient, he deliberately got
all he could. He closely held the hand she had not withdrawn, and often lifted
it to his lips. Sometimes he stroked the heavy braid, gently ran his hands
across the tired shoulders, or eased her into a different position. There was
not a doubt in his mind of one thing. He was having a royal, good time, and he
was thankful for the work he had set his assistants that kept them out of the
room. They seemed in no hurry, and from scuffling, laughing, and a steady stream
of talk, they were entertained at least. At last the Girl roused.
"There is something I want to ask you," she said. "I promised Doctor Harmon I
Instantly the heart of the Harvester gave a leap that jarred the head resting
"You don't like him?" questioned the Girl.
"I do!" declared the Harvester. "I like him immensely. There is not a fine,
manly good-looking feature about him that I have missed. I don't fail to do him
justice on every point."
"I'm so glad! Then you will want him to remain."
"Here?" asked the Harvester with a light, hot breath.
"In Onabasha! Doctor Carey has offered him the place of chief assistant at
the hospital. There is a good salary and the chance of taking up the doctor's
work as he grows older. It means plenty to do at once, healthful atmosphere,
congenial society覧everything to a young man. He only had a call once in a while
in Chicago, often among people who received more than they paid, like me, and he
was very lonely. I think it would be great for him."
"And for you, Ruth?"
"It doesn't make the least difference to me; but for his sake, because I
think so much of him, I would like to see him have the place."
"You still think so much of him, Ruth?"
"More, if possible," said the Girl. "Added to all I owed him before, he has
come here and worked for days to save me, and it wasn't his fault that it took a
bigger man. Nothing alters the fact that he did all he could, most graciously
"What do you mean, Ruth?" stammered the Harvester.
"Oh they have worn themselves out!" cried the Girl impatiently. "First,
Granny Moreland told me every least little detail of how I went out, and you
resurrected me. I knew what she said was true, because she worked with you. Then
Doctor Carey told me, and Mrs. Carey, and Doctor Harmon, and Molly, and even
Granny's little assistant has left the kitchen to tell me that I owe my life to
you, and all of them might as well have saved breath. I knew all the time that
if ever I came out of this, and had a chance to be like other women, it would be
your work, and I'm glad it is. I'd hate to be under obligations to some people I
know; but I feel honoured to be indebted to you."
"I'm mighty sorry they worried you. I had no idea覧"
"They didn't 'worry,' me! I am just telling you that I knew it all the time;
"Forget that!" said the Harvester. "Come back to our subject. What was it you
"To know if you have any objections to Doctor Harmon remaining in Onabasha?"
"Certainly not! It will be a fine thing for him."
"Will it make any difference to you in any way?"
"Ruth, that's probing too deep," said the Harvester.
"I don't see why!"
"I'm glad of it!"
"I'd least rather show my littleness to you than to any one else on earth."
"Then you have some feeling about it?"
"Perhaps a trifle. I'll get over it. Give me a little time to adjust myself.
Doctor Harmon shall have the place, of course. Don't worry about that!"
"He will be so happy!"
"And you, Ruth?"
"I'll be happy too!"
"Then it's all right," said the Harvester.
He laid down her hand, drew the cover over it, and slightly shifted her
position to rest her. The door opened, and Doctor Harmon announced that the room
was ready. It was shining and fresh. The bed was now turned with its head to the
north, so that from it one could see the big trees in Medicine Woods, the sweep
of the hillside, the sparkle of mallow-bordered Singing Water, the driveway and
the gold flower garden. Everything was so changed that the room had quite a
different appearance. The instant he laid her on it the Girl said, "This bed is
"Yes it is," said the Harvester. "You see, we were a little excited
sometimes, and we spilled a few quarts of perfectly good medicine on your
mattress. It was hopelessly smelly and ruined; so I am going to cremate it and
this is your splinter new one and a fresh pad and pillow. Now you try them and
see if they are not much harder and more comfortable."
"This is just perfect!" she sighed, as she sank into the bed.
The Harvester bent over her to straighten the cover, when suddenly she
reached both arms around his neck, and gripped him with all her strength.
"Thank you!" she said.
"May I hold you to-morrow?" whispered the Harvester, emboldened by this.
"Please do," said the Girl.
The Harvester, with dog to heel, went to the oak to think.
"Belshazzar, kommen Sie!" said the man, dropping on the seat and holding out
his hand. The dog laid his muzzle in the firm grip.
"Bel," said the Harvester, "I am all at sea. One day I think maybe I have a
little chance, the next覧none at all. I had an hour of solid comfort to-day, now
I'm in the sweat box again. It's a little selfish streak in me, Bel, that hates
to see Harmon go into the hospital and take my place with the Careys. They are
my best and only friends. He is young, social, handsome, and will be ever
present. In three months he will become so popular that I might as well be off
the earth. I wish I didn't think it, but I'm so small that I do. And then there
is my Dream Girl, Bel. The girl you found for me, old fellow. There never was
another like her, and she has my heart for all time. And he has hers. That
hospital plan is the best thing in the world for her. It will keep her where
Carey can have an eye on her, where the air is better, where she can have
company without the city crush, where she is close the country, and a good
living is assured. Bel, it's the nicest arrangement you ever saw for every one
we know, except us."
The Harvester laughed shortly. "Bel," he said, "tell me! If a man lived a
hundred years, could he have the heartache all the way? Seems like I've had it
almost that long now. In fact, I've had it such ages I'd be lonesome without it.
This is some more of my very own medicine, so I shouldn't make a wry face over
taking it. I knew what would happen when I sent for him, and I didn't hesitate.
I must not now.
"Only I got to stop one thing, Bel. I told him I would play square, and I
have. But here it ends. After this, I must step back and be big brother. Lots of
fun in this brother business, Bel. But maybe I am cut out for it. Anyway it's
written! But if it is, how did she come to allow me such privileges as I took
to-day? That wasn't professional by any means. It was just the stiffest
love-making I knew how to do, Bel, and she didn't object by the quiver of an
eyelash. God knows I was watching closely enough for any sign that I was
distasteful. And I might have been well enough. Rough, herb-stained old clothes,
unshaven, everything to offend a dainty girl. She said I might hold her again
to-morrow. And, Bel, what the nation did she hug me like that for, if she's
going to marry him? Boy, I see my way clear to an hour more. While I'm at it,
just to surprise myself, I believe I'll take it like other men. I think I'll go
on a little bender, and make what probably will be the last day a plumb good
one. Something worth remembering is better than nothing at all, Bel! He hasn't
told me that he has won. She didn't SAY she was going to marry him, and she did
say he hurt her, and she wanted me. Bel, how about the grimness of it, if she
should marry him and then discover that he hurts her, and she wants me. Lord God
Almighty, if you have any mercy at all, never put me up against that," prayed
the Harvester, "for my heart is water where she is concerned."
The Harvester arose, and going to the lake, he cut an arm load of big, pink
mallows, covered each mound with fresh flowers, whistled to the dog, and went to
his work. Many things had accumulated, and he cleaned the barn, carried herbs
from the dry-house to the store-room, and put everything into shape. Close noon
the next day he went to Onabasha, and was gone three hours. He came back
barbered in the latest style, and carrying a big bundle. When the hour for
arranging the bed came, he was yet in his room, but he sent word he would be
there in a second.
As he crossed the living-room he pulled a chair to the veranda and placed a
footstool before it. Then he stepped into the sunshine room. A quizzical
expression crossed the face of Doctor Harmon as he closed the book he was
reading aloud to the Girl and arose. Wholly unembarrassed the Harvester smiled.
"Have I got this rigging anywhere near right?" he inquired.
"David, what have you done?" gasped the amazed Girl.
"I didn't feel anywhere near up to the 'mark of my high calling' yesterday,"
quoted the Harvester. "I don't know how I appear, but I'm clean as shaving, soap
and hot water will make me, and my clothing will not smell offensively. Now come
out of that bed for a happy hour. Where is that big coverlet? You are going on
the veranda to-day."
"You look just like every one else," complained Doctor Harmon.
"You look perfectly lovely," declared the Girl.
"The swale sends you this invitation to come and see star-shine at the foot
of mullein hill," said the Harvester, offering a bouquet. It was a loose bunch
of long-stemmed, delicate flowers, each an inch across, and having five
pearl-white petals lightly striped with pale green. Five long gold anthers
arose, and at their base gold stamens and a green pistil. The leaves were
heart-shaped and frosty, whitish-green, resembling felt. The Harvester bent to
"Have some Grass of Parnassus, my dear," he said.
The Girl waved them away. "Go stand over there by the door and slowly turn
around. I want to see you."
The Harvester obeyed. He was freshly and carefully shaven. His hair was
closely cropped at the base of the head, long, heavy, and slightly waving on
top. He wore a white silk shirt, with a rolling collar and tie, white trousers,
belt, hose, and shoes, and his hands were manicured with care.
"Have I made a mess of it, or do I appear anything like other men?" he asked,
The Girl lifted her eyes to Doctor Harmon and smiled.
"Do you observe anything messy?" she inquired.
"You needn't fish for compliments quite so obviously," he answered. "I'll pay
them without being asked. I do not. He is quite correct, and infinitely better
looking than the average. Distinguished is a proper word for the gentleman in my
opinion. But why, in Heaven's name, have we never had the pleasure of seeing you
"Look here, Doc," said the Harvester, "do you mean that you enjoy looking at
me merely because I am dressed this way?"
"I do indeed," said the doctor. "It is good to see you with the garb of work
laid aside, and the stamp of cleanliness and ease upon you."
"By gum, that is rubbing it in a little too rough!" cried the Harvester. "I
bathe oftener than you do. My clothing is always clean when I start out. Of
course, in my work I come hourly in contact with muck, water, and herb juices."
"It's understood that is unavoidable," said Doctor Harmon.
"And if cleanliness is made an issue, I'd rather roll in any of it than put
my finger tips into the daily work of a surgeon," added the Harvester, and the
"That's enough Medicine Man!" she said. "You did not make a 'mess' of it, or
anything else you ever attempted. As for appearing like other men, thank Heaven,
you do not. You look just a whole world bigger and better and finer. Come, carry
me out quickly. I am wild to go. Please put my lovely flowers in water, Molly,
only give me a few to hold."
The Harvester arranged the pink coverlet, picked up the Girl, and carried her
to the living-room.
"We will rest here a little," he said, "and then, if you feel equal to it, we
will try the veranda. Are you easy now?"
She nestled her face against the soft shirt and smiled at him. She lifted her
hand, laid it on his smooth cheek and then the crisp hair.
"Oh Man!" she cried. "Thank God you didn't give me up, too! I want life! I
The Harvester tightened his grip just a trifle. "Then I thank God, too," he
said. "Can you tell me how you are, dear? Is there any difference?"
"Yes," she answered. "I grow tired lying so long, but there isn't the ghost
of an ache in my bones. I can just feel pure, delicious blood running in my
veins. My hands and feet are always warm, and my head cool."
The Harvester's face drew very close. "How about your heart, honey?" he
whispered. "Anything new there?"
"Yes, I am all over new inside and out. I want to shout, run, sing, and swim.
Oh I'd give anything to have you carry me down and dip me in the lake right
"Soon, Girl! That will come soon," prophesied the Harvester.
"I scarcely can wait. And you did say a saddle, didn't you? Won't it be great
to come galloping up the levee, when the leaves are red and the frost is in the
air. Oh am I going fast enough?"
"Much faster than I expected," said the Harvester. "You are surprising all of
us, me most of any. Ruth, you almost make me hope that you regard this as home.
Honey, you are thinking a little of me these days?"
The hand that had fallen from his hair lay on his shoulder. Now it slid
around his neck, and gripped him with all its strength.
"Heaps and heaps!" she said. "All I get a chance to, for being bothered and
fussed over, and everlastingly read mushy stuff that's intended for some one
else. Please take me to the veranda now; I want to tell you something."
His head swam, but the Harvester set his feet firmly, arose, and carried his
Dream Girl back to outdoor life. When he reached the chair, she begged him to go
a few steps farther to the bench on the lake shore.
"I am afraid," said the man.
"It's so warm. There can't be any difference in the air. Just a minute."
The Harvester pushed open the screen, went to the bench, and seating himself,
drew the cover closely around her.
"Don't speak a word for a long time," he said. "Just rest. If I tire you too
much and spoil everything, I will be desperate."
He clasped her to him, laid his cheek against her hair, and his lips on her
forehead. He held her hand and kissed it over and over, and again he watched and
could find no resentment. The cool, pungent breeze swept from the lake, and the
voices of wild life chattered at their feet. Sometimes the water folks splashed,
while a big black and gold butterfly mistook the Girl's dark hair for a perching
place and settled on it, slowly opening its wonderful wings.
"Lie quietly, Girl," whispered the Harvester. "You are wearing a living
jewel, an ornament above price, on your hair. Maybe you can see it when it goes.
"Oh I did!" she cried. "How I love it here! Before long may I lie in the
dining-room window a while so I can see the water. I like the hill, but I love
the lake more."
"Now if you just would love me," said the Harvester, "you would have all
Medicine Woods in your heart."
"Don't hurry me so!" said the Girl. "You gave me a year; and it's only a few
weeks, and I've not been myself, and I'm not now. I mustn't make any mistake,
and all I know for sure is that I want you most, and I can rest best with you,
and I miss you every minute you are gone. I think that should satisfy you."
"That would be enough for any reasonable man," said the Harvester angrily.
"Forgive me, Ruth, I have been cruel. I forgot how frail and weak you are. It is
having Harmon here that makes me unnatural. It almost drives me to frenzy to
know that he may take you from me."
"Then send him away!"
"SEND HIM AWAY?"
"Yes, send him away! I am tired to death of his poetry, and seeing him spoon
around. Send both of them away quickly!"
The Harvester gulped, blinked, and surreptitiously felt for her pulse.
"Oh, I've not developed fever again," she said. "I'm all right. But it must
be a fearful expense to have both of them here by the week, and I'm so tired of
them, Granny says she can take care of me just as well, and the girl who helps
her can cook. No one but you shall lift me, if I don't get my nose Out until I
can walk alone Both of them are perfectly useless, and I'd much rather you'd
send them away."
"There, there! Of course!" said the Harvester soothingly. "I'll do it as soon
as I possibly dare. You don't understand, honey. You are yet delicate beyond
measure, internally. The fever burned so long. Every morsel you eat is measured
and cooked in sterilized vessels, and I'd be scared of my life to have the girl
"Why she is doing it straight along now! She and Granny! Molly isn't out of
Doctor Harmon's sight long enough to cook anything. Granny says there is 'a lot
of buncombe about what they do, and she is going to tell them so right to their
teeth some of these days, if they badger her much more,' and I wish she would,
and you, too."
The Harvester gathered the Girl to him in one crushing bear hug.
"For the love of Heaven, Ruth, you drive me crazy! Answer me just one
question. When you told me that you 'adored and worshipped' Doctor Harmon, did
you mean it, or was that the delirium of fever?"
"I don't know WHAT I told you! If I said I 'adored' him, it was the truth. I
did! I do! I always will! So do I adore the Almighty, but that's no sign I want
him to read poetry to me, and be around all the time when I am wild for a minute
with you. I can worship Doctor Harmon in Chicago or Onabasha quite as well. Fire
him! If you don't, I will!"
"Good Lord!" cried the Harvester, helpless until the Girl had to cling to him
to prevent rolling from his nerveless arms. "Ruth, Ruth, will you feel my
"No, I won't! But you are going to drop me. Take me straight back to my
beautiful new bed, and send them away."
"A minute! Give me a minute!" gasped the Harvester. "I couldn't lift a baby
just now. Ruth, dear, I thought you LOVED the man."
"What made you think so?"
"I didn't either! I never said I loved him. I said I was under obligations to
him; but they are as well repaid as they ever can be. I said I adored him, and I
tell you I do! Give him what we owe him, both of us, in money, and send them
away. If you'd seen as much of them as I have, you'd be tired of them, too.
Please, please, David!"
"Yes," said the Harvester, arising in a sudden tide of effulgent joy. "Yes,
Girl, just as quickly as I can with decency. I覧I'll send them on the lake, and
I'll take care of you."
"You won't read poetry to me?"
"I will not."
"You won't moon at me?"
"Then hurry! But have them take your boat. I am going to have the first ride
"Indeed you are, and soon, too!" said the Harvester, marching up the hill as
if he were leading hosts to battle.
He laid the Girl on the bed and covered her, and called Granny Moreland to
sit beside her a few minutes. He went into the gold garden and proposed that the
doctor and the nurse go rowing until supper time, and they went with alacrity.
When they started he returned to the Girl and, sitting beside her, he told
Granny to take a nap. Then he began to talk softly all about wild music, and how
it was made, and what the different odours sweeping down the hill were, and when
the red leaves would come, and the nuts rattle down, and the frost fairies
enamel the windows, and soon she was sound asleep. Granny came back, and the
Harvester walked around the lake shore to be alone a while and think quietly,
for he was almost too dazed and bewildered for full realization.
As he softly followed the foot path he heard voices, and looking down, he saw
the boat lying in the shade and beneath a big tree on the bank sat the doctor
and the nurse. His arm was around her, and her head was on his shoulder; and she
said very distinctly, "How long will it be until we can go without offending