A VERTICAL SPINE
By middle September the last trace of illness had been removed from the
premises, and it was rapidly disappearing from the face and form of the Girl.
She was showing a beautiful roundness, there was lovely colour on her cheeks and
lips, and in her dark eyes sparkled a touch of mischief. Rigidly she followed
the rules laid down for diet and exercise, and as strength flowed through her
body, and no trace of pain tormented her, she began revelling in new and
delightful sensations. She loved to pull her boat as she willed, drive over the
wood road, study the books, cook the new dishes, rearrange furniture, and go
with the Harvester everywhere.
But that was greatly the management of the man. He was so afraid that
something might happen to undo all the wonders accomplished in the Girl, and
again whiten her face with pain, that he scarcely allowed her out of his sight.
He remained in the cabin, helping when she worked, and then drove with her and a
big blanket to the woods, arranged her chair and table, found some attractive
subject, and while the wind ravelled her hair and flushed her cheeks, her
fingers drew designs. At noon they went to the cabin to lunch, and the Girl took
a nap, while the Harvester spread his morning's reaping on the shelves to dry.
They returned to the woods until five o'clock; then home again and the Girl
dressed and prepared supper, while the Harvester spread his stores and fed the
stock. Then he put on white clothing for the evening. The Girl rested while he
washed the dishes, and they explored the lake in the little motor boat, or drove
to the city for supplies, or to see their friends.
"Are you even with your usual work at this time of the year?" she asked as
they sat at breakfast.
"I am," said the Harvester. "The only things that have been crowded out are
the candlesticks. They will have to remain on the shelf until the herbs and
roots are all in, and the long winter evenings come. Then I'll use the luna
pattern and finish yours first of all."
"What are you going to do to-day?"
"Start on a regular fall campaign. Some of it for the sake of having it, and
some because there is good money in it. Will you come?"
"Indeed yes. May I help, or shall I take my drawing along?"
"Bring your drawing. Next fall you may help, but as yet you are too close
suffering for me to see you do anything that might be even a slight risk. I
can't endure it."
"Baby!" she jeered.
"Christen me anything you please," laughed the Harvester. "I'm short on names
He went to harness Betsy, and the Girl washed the dishes, straightened the
rooms, and collected her drawing material. Then she walked up the hill, wearing
a shirt and short skirt of khaki, stout shoes, and a straw hat that shaded her
face. She climbed into the wagon, laid the drawing box on the seat, and caught
the lines as the Harvester flung them to her. He went swinging ahead, Belshazzar
to heel, the Girl driving after. The white pigeons circled above, and every day
Ajax allowed his curiosity to overcome his temper, and followed a little
"Whoa, Betsy!" The Girl tugged at the lines; but Betsy took the bit between
her teeth, and plodded after the Harvester. She pulled with all her might, but
her strength was not nearly sufficient to stop the stubborn animal.
"Whoa, David!" cried the Girl.
"What is it?" the Harvester turned.
"Won't you please wait until I can take off my hat? I love to ride bareheaded
through the woods, and Betsy won't stop until you do, no matter how hard I
"Betsy, you're no lady!" said the Harvester. "Why don't you stop when you're
"I shan't waste any more strength on her," said the Girl. "Hereafter I shall
say, 'Gee, David,' 'Haw, David,' 'Whoa, David,' and then she will do exactly as
The Harvester stopped half way up the hill, and beside a large, shaded bed
spread the rug, and set up the little table and chair for the Girl.
"Want a plant to draw?" he asked. "This is very important to us. It has a
string of names as long as a princess, but I call it goldenseal, because the
roots are yellow. The chemists ask for hydrastis. That sounds formidable, but
it's a cousin of buttercups. The woods of Ohio and Indiana produce the finest
that ever grew, but it is so nearly extinct now that the trade can be supplied
by cultivation only. I suspect I'm responsible for its disappearance around
here. I used to get a dollar fifty a pound, and most of my clothes and books
when a boy I owe to it. Now I get two for my finest grade; that accounts for the
size of these beds."
"It's pretty!" said the Girl, studying a plant averaging a foot in height. On
a slender, round, purplish stem arose one big, rough leaf, heavily veined, and
having from five to nine lobes. Opposite was a similar leaf, but very small, and
a head of scarlet berries resembling a big raspberry in shape. The Harvester
shook the black woods soil from the yellow roots, and held up the plant.
"You won't enjoy the odour," he said.
"Well I like the leaves. I know I can use them some way. They are so unusual.
What wonderful colour in the roots!"
"One of its names is Indian paint," explained the Harvester. "Probably it
furnished the squaws of these woods with colouring matter. Now let's see what we
can get out of it. You draw the plant and I'll dig the roots."
For a time the Girl bent over her work and the Harvester was busy. Belshazzar
ranged the woods chasing chipmunks. The birds came asking questions. When the
drawing was completed, other subjects were found at every turn, and the Girl
talked almost constantly, her face alive with interest. The May-apple beds lay
close, and she drew from them. She learned the uses and prices of the plant, and
also made drawings of cohosh, moonseed and bloodroot. That was so wonderful in
its root colour, the Harvester filled the little cup with water and she began to
paint. Intensely absorbed she bent above the big, notched, silvery leaves and
the blood-red roots, testing and trying to match them exactly. Every few minutes
the Harvester leaned over her shoulder to see how she was progressing and to
offer suggestions. When she finished she picked up a trailing vine of moonseed.
"You have this on the porch," she said. "I think it is lovely. There is no
end to the beautiful combinations of leaves, and these are such pretty little
grape-like clusters; but if you touch them the slightest you soil the wonderful
"And that makes the fairies very sad," said the Harvester. "They love that
vine best of any, because they paint its fruit with the most care. 'Bloom' the
scientists call it. You see it on cultivated plums, grapes, and apples, but
never in any such perfection as on moonseed and black haws in the woods. You
should be able to design a number of pretty things from the cohosh leaves and
berries, too. You scarcely can get a start this fall, but early in the spring
you can begin, and follow the season. If your work comes out well this winter,
I'll send some of it to the big publishing houses, and you can make book and
magazine covers and decorations, if you would like."
"'If I would like!' How modest! You know perfectly well that if I could make
a design that would be accepted, and used on a book or magazine, I would almost
fly. Oh do you suppose I could?"
"I don't 'suppose' anything about it, I know," said the Harvester. "It is not
possible that the public can be any more tired of wild roses, golden-rod, and
swallows than the poor art editors who accept them because they can't help
themselves. Dangle something fresh and new under their noses and see them snap.
The next time I go to Onabasha I'll get you some popular magazines, and you can
compare what is being used with what you see here, and judge for yourself how
glad they would be for a change. And potteries, arts and crafts shops, and wall
paper factories, they'd be crazy for the designs I could furnish them. As for
money, there's more in it than the herbs, if I only could draw."
"I can do that," said the Girl. "Trail the vine and give me an idea how to
scale it. I'll just make studies now, and this winter I'll conventionalize them
and work them into patterns. Won't that be fun?"
"That's more than fun, Ruth," said the Harvester solemnly. "That is creation.
That touches the provinces of the Almighty. That is taking His unknown wonders
and making them into pleasure and benefit for thousands, not to mention filling
your face with awe divine, and lighting your eyes with interest and ambition.
That is life, Ruth. You are beginning to live right now."
"I see," said the Girl. "I understand! I am!"
"You get your subjects now. When the harvest is over I'll show you what I
have in my head, and before Christmas the fun will begin."
"Sketch a sarsaparilla plant and this yam vine. It grows on your veranda
too覧the rattle box, you remember. The leaves and seeding arrangements are
wonderful. You can do any number of things with them, and all will be new."
He called her attention to and brought her samples of ginger leaves, Indian
hemp, queen-of-the-meadow, cone-flower, burdock, baneberry, and Indian turnip,
as he harvested them in turn. When they came to the large beds of orange
pleurisy root the Girl cried out with pleasure.
"We will take its prosaic features first," said the Harvester. "It is good
medicine and worth handling. Forget that! The Bird Woman calls it butterfly
flower. That's better. Now try to analyze a single bloom of this gaudy mass, and
you will see why there's poetry coming."
He knelt beside the Girl, separating the blooms and pointing out their
marvellous colour and construction. She leaned against his shoulder, and watched
with breathless interest. As his bare head brought its mop of damp wind-rumpled
hair close, she ran her fingers through it, and with her handkerchief wiped his
"Sometimes I almost wish you'd get sick," she said irrelevantly.
"In the name of common sense, why?" demanded the Harvester.
"Oh it must be born in the heart of a woman to want to mother something,"
answered the Girl. "I feel sometimes as if I would like to take care of you, as
if you were a little fellow. David, I know why your mother fought to make you
the man she desired. You must have been charming when small. I can shut my eyes
and just see the boy you were, and I should have loved you as she did."
"How about the man I am?" inquired the Harvester promptly. "Any leanings
toward him yet, Ruth?"
"It's getting worser and worser every day and hour," said the Girl. "I don't
understand it at all. I wouldn't try to live without you. I don't want you to
leave my sight. Everything you do is the way I would have it. Nothing you ever
say shocks or offends me. I'd love to render you any personal service. I want to
take you in my arms and hug you tight half a dozen times a day as a reward for
the kind and lovely things you do for me."
A dull red flamed up the neck and over the face of the Harvester. One arm
lifted to the chair back, the other dropped across the table so that the Girl
was almost encircled.
"For the love of mercy, Ruth, why haven't I had a hint of this before?" he
"You said you'd hate me. You said you'd drop me into the deepest part of the
lake if I deceived you; and if I have to tell the truth, why, that is all of it.
I think it is nonsense about some wonderful feeling that is going to take
possession of your heart when you love any one. I love you so much I'd gladly
suffer to save you pain or sorrow. But there are no thrills; it's just steady,
sober, common sense that I should love you, and I do. Why can't you be satisfied
with what I can give, David?"
"Because it's husks and ashes," said the Harvester grimly. "You drive me to
desperation, Ruth. I am almost wild for your love, but what you offer me is
plain, straight affection, nothing more. There isn't a trace of the feeling that
should exist between man and wife in it. Some men might be satisfied to be your
husband, and be regarded as a father or brother. I am not. The red bird didn't
want a sister, Ruth, he was asking for a mate. So am I. That's as plain as I
know how to put it. There is some way to awaken you into a living, loving woman,
and, please God, I'll find it yet, but I'm slow about it; there's no question of
that. Never you mind! Don't worry! Some of these days I have faith to believe it
will sweep you as a tide sweeps the shore, and then I hope God will be good
enough to let me be where you will land in my arms."
The Girl sat looking at him between narrowed lids. Suddenly she took his head
between her hands, drew his face to hers and deliberately kissed him. Then she
drew away and searched his eyes.
"There!" she challenged. "What is the matter with that?"
The Harvester's colour slowly faded to a sickly white.
"Ruth, you try me almost beyond human endurance," he said. "'What's the
matter with that?'" He arose, stepped back, folded his arms, and stared at her.
"'What's the matter with that?'" he repeated. "Never was I so sorely tempted in
all my life as I am now to lie to you, and say there is nothing, and take you in
my arms and try to awaken you to what I mean by love. But suppose I do覧and
fail! Then comes the agony of slow endurance for me, and the possibility that
any day you may meet the man who can arouse in you the feelings I cannot. That
would mean my oath broken, and my heart as well; while soon you would dislike me
beyond tolerance, even. I dare not risk it! The matter is, that was the loving
caress of a ten-year-old girl to a big brother she admired. That's all! Not
much, but a mighty big defect when it is offered a strong man as fuel on which
to feed consuming passion."
"Consuming passion," repeated the Girl. "David you never lie, and you never
exaggerate. Do you honestly mean that there is something覧oh, there is! I can
see it! You are really suffering, and if I come to you, and try my best to
comfort you, you'll only call it baby affection that you don't want. David, what
am I going to do?"
"You are going to the cabin," said the Harvester, "and cook us a big supper.
I am dreadfully hungry. I'll be along presently. Don't worry, Ruth, you are all
right! That kiss was lovely. Tell me that you are not angry with me."
Her eyes were wet as she smiled at him.
"If there is a bigger brute than a man anywhere on the footstool, I should
like to meet it," said the Harvester, "and see what it appears like. Go along,
honey; I'll be there as soon as I load."
He drove to the dry-house, washed and spread his reaping on the big trays,
fed the stock, dressed in the white clothing and entered the kitchen. That the
Girl had been crying was obvious, but he overlooked it, helped with the work,
and then they took a boat ride. When they returned he proposed that she should
select her favourite likeness of her mother, and the next time he went to the
city he would take it with his, and order the enlargements he had planned. To
save carrying a lighted lamp into the closet he brought her little trunk to the
living-room, where she opened it and hunted the pictures. There were several,
and all of them were of a young, elegantly dressed woman of great beauty. The
Harvester studied them long.
"Who was she, Ruth?" he asked at last.
"I don't know, and I have no desire to learn."
"Can you explain how the girl here represented came to marry a brother of
"Yes. I was past twelve when my father came the last time, and I remember him
distinctly. If Uncle Henry were properly clothed, he is not a bad man in
appearance, unless he is very angry. He can use proper language, if he chooses.
My father was the best in him, refined and intensified. He was much taller, very
good looking, and he dressed and spoke well. They were born and grew to manhood
in the East, and came out here at the same time. Where Uncle Henry is a
trickster and a trader in stock, my father went a step higher, and tricked and
traded in men覧and women! Mother told me this much once. He saw her somewhere
and admired her. He learned who she was, went to her father's law office and
pretended he was representing some great business in the West, until he was
welcomed as a promising client. He hung around and when she came in one day her
father was forced to introduce them. The remainder is the same world-old
story覧a good looking, glib-tongued man, plying every art known to an expert, on
an innocent girl."
"Is he dead, Ruth?"
"We thought so. We hoped so."
"Your mother did not feel that her people might be suffering for her as she
was for them?"
"Not after she appealed to them twice and received no reply."
"Perhaps they tried to find her. Maybe she has a father or mother who is
longing for word from her now. Are you very sure you are right in not wanting to
"She never gave me a hint from which I could tell who or where they were. In
so gentle a woman as my mother that only could mean she did not want them to
know of her. Neither do I. This is the photograph I prefer; please use it."
"I'll put back the trunk in the morning, when I can see better," said the
The Girl closed it, and soon went to bed. But there was no sleep for the man.
He went into the night, and for hours he paced the driveway in racking thought.
Then he sat on the step and looked at Belshazzar before him.
"Life's growing easier every minute, Bel," said the Harvester. "Here's my
Dream Girl, lovely as the most golden instant of that wonderful dream, offering
me覧offering me, Bel覧in my present pass, the lips and the love of my little
sister who never was born. And I've hurt Ruth's feelings, and sent her to bed
with a heartache, trying to make her see that it won't do. It won't, Bel! If I
can't have genuine love, I don't want anything. I told her so as plainly as I
could find words, and set her crying, and made her unhappy to end a wonderful
day. But in some way she has got to learn that propinquity, tolerance, approval,
affection, even覧is not love. I can't take the risk, after all these years of
waiting for the real thing. If I did, and love never came, I would end覧well, I
know how I would end覧and that would spoil her life. I simply have got to brace
up, Bel, and keep on trying. She thinks it is nonsense about thrills, and some
wonderful feeling that takes possession of you. Lord, Bel! There isn't much
nonsense about the thing that rages in my brain, heart, soul, and body. It
strikes me as the gravest reality that ever overtook a man.
"She is growing wonderfully attached to me. 'Couldn't live without me,' Bel,
that is what she said. Maybe it would be a scheme to bring Granny here to stay
with her, and take a few months in some city this winter on those chemical
points that trouble me. There is an old saying about 'absence making the heart
grow fonder.' Maybe separation is the thing to work the trick. I've tried about
everything else I know.
"But I'm in too much of a hurry! What a fool a man is! A few weeks ago, Bel,
I said to myself that if Harmon were away and had no part in her life I'd be the
happiest man alive. Happiest man alive! Bel, take a look at me now! Happy! Well,
why shouldn't I be happy? She is here. She is growing in strength and beauty
every hour. She cares more for me day by day. From an outside viewpoint it seems
as if I had almost all a man could ask in reason. But when was a strong man in
the grip of love ever reasonable? I think the Almighty took a pretty grave
responsibility when He made men as He did. If I had been He, and understood the
forces I was handling, I would have been too big a coward to do it. There is
nothing for me, Bel, but to move on doing my level best; and if she doesn't
awaken soon, I will try the absent treatment. As sure as you are the most
faithful dog a man ever owned, Bel, I'll try the absent treatment."
The Harvester arose and entered the cabin, stepping softly, for it was dark
in the Girl's room, and he could not hear a sound there. He turned up the lights
in the living-room. As he did so the first thing he saw was the little trunk. He
looked at it intently, then picked up a book. Every page he turned he glanced
again at the trunk. At last he laid down the book and sat staring, his brain
working rapidly. He ended by carrying the trunk to his room. He darkened the
living-room, lighted his own, drew the rain screens, and piece by piece
carefully examined the contents. There were the pictures, but the name of the
photographer had been removed. There was not a word that would help in
identification. He emptied it to the bottom, and as he picked up the last piece
his fingers struck in a peculiar way that did not give the impression of
touching a solid surface. He felt over it carefully, and when he examined with a
candle he plainly could see where the cloth lining had been cut and lifted.
For a long time he knelt staring at it, then he deliberately inserted his
knife blade and raised it. The cloth had been glued to a heavy sheet of
pasteboard the exact size of the trunk bottom. Beneath it lay half a dozen
yellow letters, and face down two tissue-wrapped photographs. The Harvester
examined them first. They were of a man close forty, having a strong, aggressive
face, on which pride and dominant will power were prominently indicated. The
other was a reproduction of a dainty and delicate woman, with exquisitely tender
and gentle features. Long the Harvester studied them. The names of the
photographer and the city were missing. There was nothing except the faces. He
could detect traces of the man in the poise of the Girl and the carriage of her
head, and suggestions of the woman in the refined sweetness of her expression.
Each picture represented wealth in dress and taste in pose. Finally he laid them
together on the table, picked up one of the letters, and read it. Then he read
all of them.
Before he finished, tears were running down his cheeks, and his resolution
was formed. These were the appeals of an adoring mother, crazed with fear for
the safety of an only child, who unfortunately had fallen under the influence of
a man the mother dreaded and feared, because of her knowledge of life and men of
his character. They were one long, impassioned plea for the daughter not to
trust a stranger, not to believe that vows of passion could be true when all
else in life was false, not to trust her untried judgment of men and the world
against the experience of her parents. But whether the tears that stained those
sheets had fallen from the eyes of the suffering mother or the starved and
deserted daughter, there was no way for the Harvester to know. One thing was
clear: It was not possible for him to rest until he knew if that woman yet lived
and bore such suffering. But every trace of address had been torn away, and
there was nothing to indicate where or in what circumstances these letters had
A long time the Harvester sat in deep thought. Then he returned all the
letters save one. This with the pictures he made into a packet that he locked in
his desk. The trunk he replaced and then went to bed. Early the next morning he
drove to Onabasha and posted the parcel. The address it bore was that of the
largest detective agency in the country. Then he bought an interesting book, a
box of fruit, and hurried back to the Girl. He found her on the veranda,
Belshazzar stretched close with one eye shut and the other on his charge, whose
cheeks were flushed with lovely colour as she bent over her drawing material.
The Harvester went to her with a rush, and slipping his fingers under her chin,
tilted back her head against him.
"Got a kiss for me, honey?" he inquired.
"No sir," answered the Girl emphatically. "I gave you a perfectly lovely one
yesterday, and you said it was not right. I am going to try just once more, and
if you say again that it won't do, I'm going back to Chicago or to my dear Uncle
Henry, I haven't decided which."
Her lips were smiling, but her eyes were full of tears.
"Why thank you, Ruth! I think that is wonderful," said the Harvester. "I'll
risk the next one. In the meantime, excuse me if I give you a demonstration of
the real thing, just to furnish you an idea of how it should be."
The Harvester delivered the sample, and went striding to the marsh. The dazed
Girl sat staring at her work, trying to realize what had happened; for that was
the first time the Harvester had kissed her on the lips, and it was the material
expression a strong man gives the woman he loves when his heart is surging at
high tide. The Girl sat motionless, gazing at her study.
In the marsh she knew the Harvester was reaping queen-of-the-meadow, and
around the high borders, elecampane and burdock. She could hear his voice in
snatches of song or cheery whistle; notes that she divined were intended to keep
her from worrying. Intermingled with them came the dog's bark of defiance as he
digged for an escaping chipmunk, his note of pleading when he wanted a root cut
with the mattock, his cry of discovery when he thought he had found something
the Harvester would like, or his yelp of warning when he scented danger. The
Girl looked down the drive to the lake and across at the hedge. Everywhere she
saw glowing colour, with intermittent blue sky and green leaves, all of it a
complete picture, from which nothing could be spared. She turned slowly and
looked toward the marsh, trying to hear the words of the song above the ripple
of Singing Water, and to see the form of the man. Slowly she lifted her
handkerchief and pressed it against her lips, as she whispered in an awed voice,
"My gracious Heaven, is THAT the kind of a kiss he is expecting me to give
HIM? Why, I couldn't覧not to save my life."
She placed her brushes in water, set the colour box on the paper, and went to
the kitchen to prepare the noon lunch. As she worked the soft colour deepened in
her cheeks, a new light glowed in her eyes, and she hummed over the tune that
floated across the marsh. She was very busy when the Harvester came, but he
spoke casually of his morning's work, ate heartily, and ordered her to take a
nap while he washed roots and filled the trays, and then they went to the woods
together for the afternoon.
In the evening they came home to the cabin and finished the day's work. As
the night was chilly, the Harvester heaped some bark in the living-room
fireplace, and lay on the rug before it, while the Girl sat in an easy chair and
watched him as he talked. He was telling her about some wonderful combinations
he was going to compound for different ailments and he laughingly asked her if
she wanted to be a millionaire's wife and live in a palace.
"Of course I could if I wanted to!" she suggested.
"You could!" cried the Harvester. "All that is necessary is to combine a few
proper drugs in one great remedy and float it. That is easy! The people will do
"You talk as if you believe that," marvelled the Girl.
"Want it proven?" challenged the Harvester.
"No!" she cried in swift alarm. "What do we want with more than we have? What
is there necessary to happiness that is not ours now? Maybe it is true that the
'love of money is the root of all evil.' Don't you ever get a lot just to find
out. You said the night I came here that you didn't want more than you had and
now I don't. I won't have it! It might bring restlessness and discontent. I've
seen it make other people unhappy and separate them. I don't want money, I want
work. You make your remedies and offer them to suffering humanity for just a
living profit, and I'll keep house and draw designs. I am perfectly happy, free,
and unspeakably content. I never dreamed that it was possible for me to be so
glad, and so filled with the joy of life. There is only one thing on earth I
want. If I only could覧"
"Could what, Ruth?"
"Could get that kiss right覧"
The Harvester laughed.
"Forget it, I tell you!" he commanded. "Just so long as you worry and fret,
so long I've got to wait. If you quit thinking about it, all 'unbeknownst' to
yourself you'll awake some morning with it on your lips. I can see traces of it
growing stronger every day. Very soon now it's going to materialize, and then
get out of my way, for I'll be a whirling, irresponsible lunatic, with the wild
joy of it. Oh I've got faith in that kiss of yours, Ruth! It's on the way. The
fates have booked it. There isn't a reason on earth why I should be served so
scurvy a trick as to miss it, and I never will believe that I shall覧"
"David," interrupted the Girl, "go on talking and don't move a muscle, just
reach over presently and fix the fire or something, and then turn naturally and
look at the window beside your door."
"Shall miss it," said the Harvester steadily. "That would be too unmerciful.
What do you see, Ruth?"
"A face. If I am not greatly mistaken, it is my Uncle Henry and he appears
like a perfect fiend. Oh David, I am afraid!"
"Be quiet and don't look," said the Harvester.
He turned and tossed a piece of bark on the fire. Then he reached for the
poker, pushed it down and stirred the coals. He arose as he worked.
"Rise slowly and quietly and go to your room. Stay there until I call you."
With the Girl out of the way, the Harvester pottered over the fire, and when
the flame leaped he lifted a stick of wood, hesitated as if it were too small,
and laying it down, started to bring a larger one. In the dining-room he caught
a small stick from the wood box, softly stepped from the door, and ran around
the house. But he awakened Belshazzar on the kitchen floor, and the dog barked
and ran after him. By the time the Harvester reached the corner of his room the
man leaped upon a horse and went racing down the drive. The Harvester flung the
stick of wood, but missed the man and hit the horse. The dog sprang past the
Harvester and vanished. There was the sound and flash of a revolver, and the
rattle of the bridge as the horse crossed it. The dog came back unharmed. The
Harvester ran to the telephone, called the Onabasha police, and asked them to
send a mounted man to meet the intruder before he could reach a cross road; but
they were too slow and missed him. However, the Girl was certain she had
recognized her uncle, and was extremely nervous; but the Harvester only laughed
and told her it was a trip made out of curiosity. Her uncle wanted to see if he
could learn if she were well and happy, and he finally convinced her that this
was the case, although he was not very sanguine himself.
For the next three days the Harvester worked in the woods and he kept the
Girl with him every minute. By the end of that time he really had persuaded
himself that it was merely curiosity. So through the cooling fall days they
worked together. They were very happy. Before her wondering eyes the Harvester
hung queer branches, burs, nuts, berries, and trailing vines with curious seed
pods. There were masses of brilliant flowers, most of them strange to the Girl,
many to the great average of humanity. While she sat bending over them, beside
her the Harvester delved in the black earth of the woods, or the clay and sand
of the open hillside, or the muck of the lake shore, and lifted large bagfuls of
roots that he later drenched on the floating raft on the lake, and when they had
drained he dried them. Some of them he did not wet, but scraped and wiped clean
and dry. Often after she was sleeping, and long before she awoke in the morning,
he was at work carry-ing heaped trays from the evaporator to the store-room, and
tying the roots, leaves, bark, and seeds into packages.
While he gathered trillium roots the Girl made drawings of the plant and
learned its commercial value. She drew lady's slipper and Solomon's seal, and
learned their uses and prices; and carefully traced wild ginger leaves while
nibbling the aromatic root. It was difficult to keep from protesting when the
work carried them around the lake shore and to the pokeberry beds, for the
colour of these she loved. It required careful explanation as to the value of
the roots and seeds as blood purifier, and the argument that in a few more days
the frost would level the bed, to induce her to consent to its harvesting. But
when the case was properly presented, she put aside her drawing and stained her
slender fingers gathering the seeds, and loved the work.
The sun was golden on the lake, the birds of the upland were clustering over
reeds and rushes, for the sake of plentiful seed and convenient water. Many of
them sang fitfully, the notes of almost all of them were melodious, and the day
was a long, happy dream. There was but little left to gather until ginseng time.
For that the Harvester had engaged several boys to help him, for the task of
digging the roots, washing and drying them, burying part of the seeds and
preparing the remainder for market seemed endless for one man to attempt. After
a full day the Harvester lay before the fire, and his head was so close the
Girl's knee that her fingers were in reach of his hair. Every time he mended the
fire he moved a little, until he could feel the touch of her garments against
him. Then he began to plan for the winter; how they would store food for the
long, cold days, how much fuel would be required, when they would go to the city
for their winter clothing, what they would read, and how they would work
together at the drawings.
"I am almost too anxious to wait longer to get back to my carving," he said.
"Whoever would have thought this spring that fall would come and find the birds
talking of going, the caterpillars spinning winter quarters, the animals holing
up, me getting ready for the cold, and your candlesticks not finished. Winter is
when you really need them. Then there is solid cheer in numbers of candles and a
roaring wood fire. The furnace is going to be a good thing to keep the floors
and the bathroom warm, but an open fire of dry, crackling wood is the only
rational source of heat in a home. You must watch for the fairy dances on the
backwall, Ruth, and learn to trace goblin faces in the coals. Sometimes there is
a panorama of temples and trees, and you will find exquisite colour in the
smoke. Dry maple makes a lovely lavender, soft and fine as a floating veil, and
damp elm makes a blue, and hickory red and yellow. I almost can tell which wood
is burning after the bark is gone, by the smoke and flame colour. When the
little red fire fairies come out and dance on the backwall it is fun to figure
what they are celebrating. By the way, Ruth, I have been a lamb for days. I hope
you have observed! But I would sleep a little sounder to-night if you only could
give me a hint whether that kiss is coming on at all."
He tipped back his head to see her face, and it was glorious in the red
firelight; the big eyes never appeared so deep and dark. The tilted head struck
her hand, and her fingers ran through his hair.
"You said to forget it," she reminded him, "and then it would come sooner."
"Which same translated means that it is not here yet. Well, I didn't expect
it, so I am not disappointed; but begorry, I do wish it would materialize by
Christmas. I think I will work for that. Wouldn't it make a day worth while,
though? By the way, what do you want for Christmas, Ruth?"
"A doll," she answered.
The Harvester laughed. He tipped his head again to see her face and suddenly
grew quiet, for it was very serious.
"I am quite in earnest," she said. "I think the big dolls in the stores are
beautiful, and I never owned only a teeny little one. All my life I've wanted a
big doll as badly as I ever longed for anything that was not absolutely
necessary to keep me alive. In fact, a doll is essential to a happy childhood.
The mother instinct is so ingrained in a girl that if she doesn't have dolls to
love, even as a baby, she is deprived of a part of her natural rights. It's a
pitiful thing to have been the little girl in the picture who stands outside the
window and gazes with longing soul at the doll she is anxious to own and can't
ever have. Harvester, I was always that little girl. I am quite in earnest. I
want a big, beautiful doll more than anything else."
As she talked the Girl's fingers were idly threading the Harvester's hair.
His head lightly touched her knee, and she shifted her position to afford him a
comfortable resting place. With a thrill of delight that shook him, the man laid
his head in her lap and looked into the fire, his face glowing as a happy boy's.
"You shall have the loveliest doll that money can buy, Ruth," he promised.
"What else do you want?"
"A roasted goose, plum pudding, and all those horrid indigestible things that
Christmas stories always tell about; and popcorn balls, and candy, and
everything I've always wanted and never had, and a long beautiful day with you.
"Ruth, I'm so happy I almost wish I could go to Heaven right now before
anything occurs to spoil this," said the Harvester.
The wheels of a car rattled across the bridge. He whirled to his knees, and
put his arms around the Girl.
"Ruth," he said huskily. "I'll wager a thousand dollars I know what is
coming. Hug me tight, quick! and give me the best kiss you can覧any old kind of
a one, so you touch my lips with yours before I've got to open that door and let
The Girl threw her arms around his neck and with the imprint of her lips warm
on his the Harvester crossed the room, and his heart dropped from the heights
with a thud. He stepped out, closing the door behind him, and crossing the
veranda, passed down the walk. He recognized the car as belonging to a garage in
Onabasha, and in it sat two men, one of whom spoke.
"Are you David Langston?"
"Yes," said the Harvester.
"Did you send a couple of photographs to a New York detective agency a few
days ago with inquiries concerning some parties you wanted located?"
"I did," said the Harvester. "But I was not expecting any such immediate
"Your questions touched on a case that long has been in the hands of the
agency, and they telegraphed the parties. The following day the people had a
letter, giving them the information they required, from another source."
"That is where Uncle Henry showed his fine Spencerian hand," commented the
Harvester. "It always will be a great satisfaction that I got my fist in first."
"Is Miss Jameson here?"
"No," said the Harvester. "My wife is at home. Her surname was Ruth Jameson,
but we have been married since June. Did you wish to speak with Mrs. Langston?"
"I came for that purpose. My name is Kennedy. I am the law partner and the
closest friend of the young lady's grandfather. News of her location has
prostrated her grandmother so that he could not leave her, and I was sent to
bring the young woman."
"Oh!" said the Harvester. "Well you will have to interview her about that.
One word first. She does not know that I sent those pictures and made that
inquiry. One other word. She is just recovering from a case of fever, induced by
wrong conditions of life before I met her. She is not so strong as she appears.
Understand you are not to be abrupt. Go very gently! Her feelings and health
must be guarded with extreme care."
The Harvester opened the door, and as she saw the stranger, the Girl's eyes
widened, and she arose and stood waiting.
"Ruth," said the Harvester, "this is a man who has been making quite a search
for you, and at last he has you located."
The Harvester went to the Girl's side, and put a reinforcing arm around her.
"Perhaps he brings you some news that will make life most interesting and
very lovely for you. Will you shake hands with Mr. Kennedy?"
The Girl suddenly straightened to unusual height.
"I will hear why he has been making 'quite a search for me,' and on whose
authority he has me 'located,' first," she said.
A diabolical grin crossed the face of the Harvester, and he took heart.
"Then please be seated, Mr. Kennedy," he said, "and we will talk over the
matter. As I understand, you are a representative of my wife's people."
The Girl stared at the Harvester.
"Take your chair, Ruth, and meet this as a matter of course," he advised
casually. "You always have known that some day it must come. You couldn't look
in the face of those photographs of your mother in her youth and not realize
that somewhere hearts were aching and breaking, and brains were busy in a search
The Girl stood rigid.
"I want it distinctly understood," she said, "that I have no use on earth for
my mother's people. They come too late. I absolutely refuse to see or to hold
any communication with them."
"But young lady, that is very arbitrary!" cried Mr. Kennedy. "You don't
understand! They are a couple of old people, and they are slowly dying of broken
"Not so badly broken or they wouldn't die slowly," commented the Girl grimly.
"The heart that was really broken was my mother's. The torture of a starved,
overworked body and hopeless brain was hers. There was nothing slow about her
death, for she went out with only half a life spent, and much of that in acute
agony, because of their negligence. David, you often have said that this is my
home. I choose to take you at your word. Will you kindly tell this man that he
is not welcome in this house, and I wish him to leave it at once?"
The Harvester stepped back, and his face grew very white.
"I can't, Ruth," he said gently.
"Because I brought him here."
"You brought him here! You! David, are you crazy? You!"
"It is through me that he came."
The Girl caught the mantel for support.
"Then I stand alone again," she said. "Harvester, I had thought you were on
"I am at your feet," said the man in a broken voice. "Ruth dear, will you let
"There is only one explanation, and with what you have done for me fresh in
my mind, I can't put it into words."
"Ruth, hear me!"
"I must! You force me! But before you speak understand this: Not now, or
through all eternity, do I forgive the inexcusable neglect that drove my mother
to what I witnessed and was helpless to avert."
"My dear! My dear!" said the Harvester, "I had hoped the woods had done a
more perfect work in your heart. Your mother is lying in state now, Girl, safe
from further suffering of any kind; and if I read aright, her tired face and
shrivelled frame were eloquent of forgiveness. Ruth dear, if she so loved them
that her heart was broken and she died for them, think what they are suffering!
Have some mercy on them."
"Get this very clear, David," said the Girl. "She died of hunger for food.
Her heart was not so broken that she couldn't have lived a lifetime, and got
much comfort out of it, if her body had not lacked sustenance. Oh I was so happy
a minute ago. David, why did you do this thing?"
The Harvester picked up the Girl, placed her in a chair, and knelt beside her
with his arms around her.
"Because of the PAIN IN THE WORLD, Ruth," he said simply. "Your mother is
sleeping sweetly in the long sleep that knows neither anger nor resentment; and
so I was forced to think of a gentle-faced, little old mother whose heart is
daily one long ache, whose eyes are dim with tears, and a proud, broken old man
who spends his time trying to comfort her, when his life is as desolate as
"How do you know so wonderfully much about their aches and broken hearts?"
"Because I have seen their faces when they were happy, Ruth, and so I know
what suffering would do to them. There were pictures of them and letters in the
bottom of that old trunk. I searched it the other night and found them; and by
what life has done to your mother and to you, I can judge what it is now
bringing them. Never can you be truly happy, Ruth, until you have forgiven them,
and done what you can to comfort the remainder of their lives. I did it because
of the pain in the world, my girl."
"What about my pain?"
"The only way on earth to cure it is through forgiveness. That, and that
only, will ease it all away, and leave you happy and free for life and love. So
long as you let this rancour eat in your heart, Ruth, you are not, and never can
be, normal. You must forgive them, dear, hear what they have to say, and give
them the comfort of seeing what they can discover of her in you. Then your heart
will be at rest at last, your soul free, you can take your rightful place in
life, and the love you crave will awaken in your heart. Ruth, dear you are the
acme of gentleness and justice. Be just and gentle now! Give them their chance!
My heart aches, and always will ache for the pain you have known, but nursing
and brooding over it will not cure it. It is going to take a heroic operation to
cut it out, and I chose to be the surgeon. You have said that I once saved your
body from pain Ruth, trust me now to free your soul."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to speak kindly to this man, who through my act has come here,
and allow him to tell you why he came. Then I want you to do the kind and
womanly thing your duty suggests that you should."
"David, I don t understand you!"
"That is no difference," said the Harvester. "The point is, do you TRUST me?"
The Girl hesitated. "Of course I do," she said at last.
"Then hear what your grandfather's friend has come to say for him, and forget
yourself in doing to others as you would have them覧really, Ruth, that is all of
religion or of life worth while. Go on, Mr. Kennedy."
The Harvester drew up a chair, seated himself beside the Girl, and taking one
of her hands, he held it closely and waited.
"I was sent here by my law partner and my closest friend, Mr. Alexander
Herron, of Philadelphia," said the stranger. "Both he and Mrs. Herron were
bitterly opposed to your mother's marriage, because they knew life and human
nature, and there never is but one end to men such as she married."
"You may omit that," said the Girl coldly. "Simply state why you are here."
"In response to an inquiry from your husband concerning the originals of some
photographs he sent to a detective agency in New York. They have had the case
for years, and recognizing the pictures as a clue, they telegraphed Mr. Herron.
The prospect of news after years of fruitless searching so prostrated Mrs.
Herron that he dared not leave her, and he sent me."
"Kindly tell me this," said the Girl. "Where were my mother's father and
mother for the four years immediately following her marriage?"
"They went to Europe to avoid the humiliation of meeting their friends.
There, in Italy, Mrs. Herron developed a fever, and it was several years before
she could be brought home. She retired from society, and has been confined to
her room ever since. When they could return, a search was instituted at once for
their daughter, but they never have been able to find a trace. They have hunted
through every eastern city they thought might contain her."
"And overlooked a little insignificant place like Chicago, of course."
"I myself conducted a personal search there, and visited the home of every
Jameson in the directory or who had mail at the office or of whom I could get a
clue of any sort."
"I don't suppose two women in a little garret room would be in the directory,
and there never was any mail."
"Did your mother ever appeal to her parents?"
"She did," said the Girl. "She admitted that she had been wrong, asked their
forgiveness, and begged to go home. That was in the second year of her marriage,
and she was in Cleveland. Afterward she went to Chicago, from there she wrote
"Her father and mother were in Italy fighting for the mother's life, two
years after that. It is very easy to become lost in a large city. Criminals do
it every day and are never found, even with the best detectives on their trail.
I am very sorry about this. My friends will be broken-hearted. At any time they
would have been more than delighted to have had their daughter return. A letter
on the day following the message from the agency brought news that she was dead,
and now their only hope for any small happiness at the close of years of
suffering lies with you. I was sent to plead with you to return with me at once
and make them a visit. Of course, their home is yours. You are their only heir,
and they would be very happy if you were free, and would remain permanently with
"How do they know I will not be like the father they so detested?"
"They had sufficient cause to dislike him. They have every reason to love and
welcome you. They are consumed with anxiety. Will you come?"
"No. This is for me to decide. I do not care for them or their property.
Always they have failed me when my distress was unspeakable. Now there is only
one thing I ask of life, more than my husband has given me, and if that lay in
his power I would have it. You may go back and tell them that I am perfectly
happy. I have everything I need. They can give me nothing I want, not even their
love. Perhaps, sometime, I will go to see them for a few days, if David will go
"Young woman, do you realize that you are issuing a death sentence?" asked
the lawyer gently.
"It is a just one."
"I do not believe your husband agrees with you. I know I do not. Mrs. Herron
is a tiny old lady, with a feeble spark of vitality left; and with all her
strength she is clinging to life, and pleading with it to give her word of her
only child before she goes out unsatisfied. She knows that her daughter is gone,
and now her hopes are fastened on you. If for only a few days, you certainly
must go with me."
"I will not!"
The lawyer turned to the Harvester.
"She will be ready to start with you to-morrow morning, on the first train
north," said the Harvester. "We will meet you at the station at eight."
"I覧I am afraid I forgot to tell my driver to wait."
"You mean your instructions were not to let the Girl out of your sight," said
the Harvester. "Very well! We have comfortable rooms. I will show you to one.
Please come this way."
The Harvester led the guest to the lake room and arranged for the night. Then
he went to the telephone and sent a message to an address he had been furnished,
asking for an immediate reply. It went to Philadelphia and contained a
description of the lawyer, and asked if he had been sent by Mr. Herron to escort
his grand-daughter to his home. When the Harvester returned to the living-room
the Girl, white and defiant, waited before the fire. He knelt beside her and put
his arms around her, but she repulsed him; so he sat on the rug and looked at
"No wonder you felt sure you knew what that was!" she cried bitterly.
"Ruth, if you will allow me to lift the bottom of that old trunk, and if you
will read any one of the half dozen letters I read, you will forgive me, and
begin making preparations to go."
"It's a wonder you don't hold them before me and force me to read them," she
"Don't say anything you will be sorry for after you are gone, dear."
"I'm not going!"
"Oh yes you are!"
"Because it is right that you should, and right is inexorable. Also, because
I very much wish you to; you will do it for me."
"Why do you want me to go?"
"I have three strong reasons: First, as I told you, it is the only thing that
will cleanse your heart of bitterness and leave it free for the tenanting of a
great and holy love. Next, I think they honestly made every effort to find your
mother, and are now growing old in despair you can lighten, and you owe it to
them and yourself to do it. Lastly, for my sake. I've tried everything I know,
Ruth, and I can't make you love me, or bring you to a realizing sense of it if
you do. So before I saw that chest I had planned to harvest my big crop, and try
with all my heart while I did it, and if love hadn't come then, I meant to get
some one to stay with you, and I was going away to give you a free perspective
for a time. I meant to plead that I needed a few weeks with a famous chemist I
know to prepare me better for my work. My real motive was to leave you, and let
you see if absence could do anything for me in your heart. You've been very
nearly the creature of my hands for months, my girl; whatever any one else may
do, you're bound to miss me mightily, and I figured that with me away, perhaps
you could solve the problem alone I seem to fail in helping you with. This is
only a slight change of plans. You are going in my stead. I will harvest the
ginseng and cure it, and then, if you are not at home, and the loneliness grows
unbearable, I will take the chemistry course, until you decide when you will
come, if ever."
"Yes," said the Harvester. "I am growing accustomed to facing big
propositions覧I will not dodge this. The faces of the three of your people I
have seen prove refinement. Their clothing indicates wealth. These long, lonely
years mean that they will shower you with every outpouring of loving, hungry
hearts. They will keep you if they can, my dear. I do not blame them. The life I
propose for you is one of work, mostly for others, and the reward, in great
part, consists of the joy in the soul of the creator of things that help in the
world. I realize that you will find wealth, luxury, and lavish love. I know that
I may lose you forever, and if it is right and best for you, I hope I will. I
know exactly what I am risking, but I yet say, go."
"I don't see how you can, and love me as you prove you do."
"That is a little streak of the inevitableness of nature that the forest has
ground into my soul. I'd rather cut off my right hand than take yours with it,
in the parting that will come in the morning; but you are going, and I am
sending you. So long as I am shaped like a human being, it is in me to dignify
the possession of a vertical spine by acting as nearly like a man as I know how.
I insist that you are my wife, because it crucifies me to think otherwise. I
tell you to-night, Ruth, you are not and never have been. You are free as air.
You married me without any love for me in your heart, and you pretended none. It
was all my doing. If I find that I was wrong, I will free you without a thought
of results to me. I am a secondary proposition. I thought then that you were
alone and helpless, and before the Almighty, I did the best I could. But I know
now that you are entitled to the love of relatives, wealth, and high social
position, no doubt. If I allowed the passion in my heart to triumph over the
reason of my brain, and worked on your feelings and tied you to the woods,
without knowing but that you might greatly prefer that other life you do not
know, but to which you are entitled, I would go out and sink myself in Loon
"David, I love you. I do not want to go. Please, please let me remain with
"Not if you could say that realizing what it means, and give me the kiss
right now I would stake my soul to win! Not by any bribe you can think of or any
allurement you can offer. It is right that you go to those suffering old people.
It is right you know what you are refusing for me, before you renounce it. It is
right you take the position to which you are entitled, until you understand
thoroughly whether this suits you better. When you know that life as well as
this, the people you will meet as intimately as me, then you can decide for all
time, and I can look you in the face with honest, unwavering eye; and if by any
chance your heart is in the woods, and you prefer me and the cabin to what they
have to offer覧to all eternity your place here is vacant, Ruth. My love is
waiting for you; and if you come under those conditions, I never can have any
regret. A clear conscience is worth restraining passion a few months to gain,
and besides, I always have got the fact to face that when you say 'I love,' and
when I say 'I love,' it means two entirely different things. When you realize
that the love of man for woman, and woman for man, is a thing that floods the
heart, brain, soul, and body with a wonderful and all-pervading ecstasy, and if
I happen to be the man who makes you realize it, then come tell me, and we will
show God and His holy angels what earth means by the Heaven inspired word,
"David, there never will be any other man like you."
"The exigencies of life must develop many a finer and better."
"You still refuse me? You yet believe I do not love you?"
"Not with the love I ask, my girl. But if I did not believe it was
germinating in your heart, and that it would come pouring over me in a torrent
some glad day, I doubt if I could allow you to go, Ruth! I am like any other man
in selfishness and in the passions of the body."
"Selfishness! You haven't an idea what it means," said the Girl. "And what
you call love覧there I haven't. But I know how to appreciate you, and you may be
positively sure that it will be only a few days until I will come back to you."
"But I don't want you until you can bring the love I crave. I am sending you
to remain until that time, Ruth."
"But it may be months, Man!"
"Then stay months."
"But it may be覧"
"It may be never! Then remain forever. That will be proof positive that your
happiness does not lie in my hands."
"Why should I not consider you as you do me?"
"Because I love you, and you do not love me."
"You are cruel to yourself and to me. You talk about the pain in the world.
What about the pain in my heart right now? And if I know you in the least, one
degree more would make you cry aloud for mercy. Oh David, are we of no
consideration at all?"
The muscles of the Harvester's face twisted an instant.
"This is where we lop off the small branches to grow perfect fruit later.
This is where we do evil that good may result. This is where we suffer to-night
in order we may appreciate fully the joy of love's dawning. If I am causing you
pain, forgive me, dear heart. I would give my life to prevent it, but I am
powerless. It is right! We cannot avoid doing it, if we ever would be happy."
He picked up the Girl, and held her crushed in his arms a long time. Then he
set her inside her door and said, "Lay out what you want to take and I will help
you pack, so that you can get some sleep. We must be ready early in the
When the clothing to be worn was selected, the new trunk packed, and all
arrangements made, the Girl sat in his arms before the fire as he had held her
when she was ill, and then he sent her to bed and went to the lake shore to
fight it out alone. Only God and the stars and the faithful Belshazzar saw the
agony of a strong man in his extremity.
Near dawn he heard the tinkle of the bell and went to receive his message and
order a car for morning. Then he returned to the merciful darkness of night, and
paced the driveway until light came peeping over the tree tops. He prepared
breakfast and an hour later put the Girl on the train, and stood watching it
until the last rift of smoke curled above the spires of the city.