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Wheat in the Ear

Chapter XVIII. — Harvest Home

page 226

Chapter XVIII.
Harvest Home.

The morning was still, as if in soft surprise at its own loveliness; the spell of sunshine overspread mountain and valley to the furthest goal of sight; the landscape was clear and the sky blue; the rich colour of the light compensating for garnered fruit and grain by its illusion of gold, which robbed the stubble fields and fruitless trees of nakedness. The rare flowers were rich in perfume, and the brown berries among the red and yellow leaves glowed ruddily.

The sound of whistling and song came from the dairies, as of men and women emancipated from the thought of labour, love-songs and snatches of psalms vibrating to a sense of poetry and thanksgiving.

The great barn was decorated for the festival with sheaves of wheat, ripe rosy apples, and clusters of purple and white grapes. Through the open windows page 227 the rich light streamed, touching the harmonious tints with its alchemy. Autumn flowers were heaped in every corner, festooned from the rafters, and twined round the rough seats, which were presently filled with the men and women about the farm, gaily dressed in holiday attire.

At the last moment the house-folk arrived—Father in his broadcloth, with his massive grey head held high. The strong light searched out the lines in his face and forehead, but his lips and eyes were smiling. Upon his arm leant Joan—hardly leant; her small hand rested lightly upon it, her attitude self-poised. Her young face looked fairer than usual above her hooded gown.

“Law, what a shame!” whispered a dairymaid to her sweetheart.

Her remark was intended as one of regret at the nature of the bride's adorning. But she was sweet and serene, her proud head covered with its clustering curls.

“She does look like a pretty boy, she does!” said another.

Her eyes were frank and clear, as she turned and smiled, and gave her hand to Stanley Stanton, who followed with Mother upon his arm. The man page 228 looked dazed, like one walking in a dream. He also wore his academical robes, and impressed the onlookers with his gravity and air of distinction. Mother was gay and sweet in lavender silk, bringing in with her visions of her golden age of youth, happiness and affection; the peace and calm of resignation had tranquillised her sweet, old face. But she let the Professor's arm drop at the earliest excuse, and turned to David, who stood handsome and strong, trampling his desire without sigh or lamentation.

Mercy, clothed like the dove outwardly, rustling with grim importance, seated herself as near David as she could, prepared to mourn or rejoice as she read the traces of sorrow or pleasure in his face.

Miss Goodyear conversed with the minister present in easy and subdued tones. Her gown was of silk, the colour of the grapes near which she sat, her only ornaments a deep Vandyke collar of white lace and her crown of golden hair. She was indulging in a little subdued satire at her companion's expense, and the reverend gentleman was looking uneasy; but, above her mirthful smile, her large eyes were pathetic in their sadness.

The harvest thanksgiving was to precede the ceremony, which Father was to conduct. Had the law page 229 allowed, he would himself have married Joan to the Professor. He could not leave to other hands any other duty of this day of days. He took his place at his old desk, massed with late blossoms. His hand trembled slightly as it touched the flowers lightly; his eyes were misty, as they travelled over the faces before him; he saw them through a veil; the blended scents and colours reached his senses; the snow drifts of white wool, the good corn, the attentive eyes of his daughter, the faded face of his wife. He saw also a man riding over wind-torn plains, who, emerging from the storm, heard a child's cry. He bent a little forward, and met Janet's eyes.

“This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

“I'll try, dear,” said Janet in her heart.

Gertrude Goodyear was sitting where she could see Tom Jefferies' face, and also, by a turn of the head, the whole assembly. She noticed how, at his first words, the simpering consciousness that had disfigured most faces sunk instantly from sight, that his affirmation dominated the thought of all present. He meant that all should give thanks. She would watch this thing; it might be interesting. Would this one mind prove superior to the slumbering page 230 passion in that young man by the window, stir that hard-faced serving woman? The young man looked through the open space to the dark-browed hills. A little tremulous spasm passed over Mercy's face as she smoothed her dress. The Professor's eyes were gazing through his glasses with the careful attention with which a scholar bestows upon the matter in hand.

“Rejoice and be glad in it!” repeated Father to those at the end of the barn. Then he gave out a hymn, and melodious bass voices declared manfully:

“'We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land.’”

“Come, girl,” said Father's eyes to Joan; but Gertrude noted that she did not sing; nor did David. Gertrude never sang. The Professor had drawn himself up and pushed his hair from his eyes. He looked as though he could plunge wildly into a controversy, when the melodious but unscientific assertion followed:

“'But it is fed and watered
By God's Almighty hand.

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He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star.’”

A few broken words passed from his lips; his astonishment was visible. Then the next moment he grew interested again, and filled with the honourable ambition to possess the fluency of the man who spoke.

Father's text was: “The summer is over, the harvest is past, and my soul is not saved.”

Before he had finished both Stanley Stanton and Gertrude Goodyear had forgotten the occasion and the ceremony to follow him.

With a certain tyranny of force Tom Jefferies commanded the hour. All else but his subject was insignificant. The scholar forgot his pessimistic views on the futility of utterance. The man who spoke found new thoughts to voice an old subject. “Not saved” was not “lost”; the harvest closed a phase of existence—did not limit a soul's possibilities; every experience yielded some golden grains of truth which, re-sown later, would yield again. The sublime discontent of a man was the hint of his possibilities. From the winter of check or disappointment a healthy mind drew fresh resource.

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To the man whose attainment had seemed absolutely fixed, who was bound by external form, this testimony of inspiration—for it was absurd to suppose the lecturer represented a trained mental development—came with a new surprise, a surprise pregnant with hope. Might not he, also, in an hour of inspiration, one day rise superior to the technicalities which had so fatally crushed him? Might he not also receive his thought and express it well in a new way? But to gain this man's vision of the ideal? How to obtain the far sight of the poet?

No limitation! Gertrude lifted her yearning eyes and kept them steadily fixed upon the rugged face. What of ridicule and irritation, and that dead wall reached again and again? But this labourer spoke of the gathered grain that others would sow, handing the harvest on from one generation to another. Something was garnered from every field; every experience held its ear, its golden truth contained within itself.

At this point Joan met David's eyes. His said: “As you have sown, so also will you reap.” Hers answered: “The individual wills, not circumstances; I shall be mistress of my fate.”

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There was a stir when Father ceased. Mother gave a little cry and pressed to the side of her child. Joan turned to her and held her hand in a reassuring clasp. The folk at the back pushed forward. The moment had come when a girl is the centre of interest, when all sorts and conditions have a common heart towards her. The women were divided between smiles and tears, but one in sympathy, as recollection of their own wedding that had been, or thought of one to be, compelled them.

The nervous tension was again visible in the Professor's face. He met the eyes of the sternvisaged young man near the window, who, it occurred to him, had not recognised him as the bridegroom-elect. He felt grateful for the omission of salutation, yet puzzled and troubled at the aloofness of David's demeanour. The uplifting which had resulted from Tom Jefferies' magnetic force was suddenly overwhelmed by the new power of the antagonism of the dark eyes. Stanley Stanton turned away, feeling an opponent behind him; he could not put the new impressions into order. He had so long been encompassed by the functions and expressions of the university, and the boyish, ingenuous faces of students, that he was at sea in page 234 these strange surroundings. But a foreboding of sorrow, an instinct that the strong, passionate face would connect with it, swept over him for a moment. He turned uneasily and looked towards David again, with a feeling of propitiation, but the antagonism had died from the young man's face; he had turned, and was gazing out of the window.

“Who giveth this woman to be this man's wife?” asked the clergyman, in clear, grave tones.

“I do!” affirmed Father solemnly.

“Wilt thou have this woman …?”

“I will!”

The Professor's voice was earnest and humble.

“Wilt thou have this man …?”

The girl had paled. She did not look at Stanley Stanton, but at her questioner, half defiantly. There was an almost perceptible pause, then she answered:

“I will!”

“I wish you happiness, Mrs. Stanton,” were the next words of which Joan was conscious. They fell upon her startled senses with a shock. She looked up and saw a pale, smiling face above her. David's eyes seemed to burn her; the voice, in which he so coldly acknowledged her husband's right, to reproach her.

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“Thank you,” she answered icily; she made no appeal in tone or glance against his condemnation, but turned, giving her hand to her mother.

“Don't leave me, dear,” she said, with something like entreaty.

Janet patted the hand she held, with no eyes, even of triumph, towards Miss Goodyear. An hour previously she had had her doubts and demurs; but her daughter was wife now, and the married mother had only one desire, that the married daughter might walk without resistance or reluctance where the bridegroom walked. She turned with a new feeling towards the husband of her girl. He had a claim, and she was ready to acknowledge it.

“God deal by you as you by her,” she said brokenly; and then looked into his face eagerly for sign of response.

“Amen,” responded he earnestly and simply; “amen … mother.”

Janet's face flushed. The moment was heavy with pain and hope. She put her hands upon the stooping shoulders, reached up, and kissed Stanley Stanton upon the lips.

“My son!” she said.

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To Janet, marriage was a sacrament, and the husband of her daughter was no longer a stranger in her eyes; henceforward he must enter into both her joys and worries, nor must she rebel against his decree.

David saw and understood. He turned sharply.

“Come, lads and lasses,” he cried, and led the way, strewing the first flowers for the bride. He was the merriest of the merry that day—the life of the festivities.

Twilight had descended upon the fields and plains, the mountain steeps looked bleak and cold. In the porch stood mother and Miss Goodyear, the latter cloaked for a journey.

“I wish you'd stay, at least for to-night,” Janet was saying, almost piteously, looking into the austere face of her departing guest.

“Thank you, no,” responded Gertrude, gazing not at her hostess, but out where the shadows lingered.

“I'm sorry,” resumed Janet gently. “It wouldn't be so bad if you could reach home to-night; but I don't like the thought of a woman leaving my house this time of the evening to put up at a wayside inn. I know them inns. You reach them page 237 dead tired, and won't be able to get a wink of sleep for the clatter beneath; and, most likely, you'll catch your death of cold from damp sheets. It's a poor way to have you treated, after coming so far to do our Johnnie honour.”

The woman said “our” with marked emphasis; but Gertrude listened in stony silence.

“I know you're sore at heart,” proceeded Janet boldly, her pale face growing paler, and her lips tremulous at her own boldness. “You couldn't live with Joan—seven years—and not miss her. But you'll see her oftener than I.”

She struggled on with what she had to say in spite of the discouragement of Gertrude's frowning silence.

“You've been good to her. I wronged you once. I was jealous. I feared you'd keep my maid away from me. I'm sorry; for you're as lonesome as me to-night, and I'm as lonesome as you. She left us both. We both know what it is to rear and lose; but I've this advantage over you, I've got her father to comfort me, and that's why I want you to stay. I can't bear the thought of your going away all alone—at night, too.”

She paused.

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“Thank you,” said Gertrude, with a courteous inclination of the head, but with no indication that her determination was shaken.

Janet went on with difficulty.

“Once you asked me, didn't I think a teacher shared with a child's parents. I said no. It wasn't true. Your patience and cleverness have had a deal to do with making Johnnie what she is. I knew it then, but wouldn't say so. But to-day—when the man—took her—from teacher and mother alike—I own it. I've been mother of her body, you of her mind. The man has triumphed over both.”

Janet was giving voice to a wider truth than she knew. It was the deliberate expression of her personal feeling.

The blood rose to the listener's proud face.

“It is the mother's tragedy,” she said gently.

It was the first sign she had given that she understood, or identified herself with the moment.

“I deserve that you should pity me,” she added, in tones of self-contempt. “I permitted myself a weakness that I despised in others. It clouded my judgment. Not all the optimism on earth can save from suffering the individual who fluctuates between page 239 sentiment and duty. I have regained my ballast. Here is the buggy; good-night.”

With an imperative gesture, she waved Janet's outstretched hands aside.

Then—Janet afterwards told how as she stood looking after her, chilled by her coldness—she suddenly came back from the buggy steps, and, taking both Janet's hands, looked at her quite humbly.

“My mother died when I was a little child…. Will you kiss me … mother of Johnnie?”

Then she went out in cold, proud, pale reserve to face her loneliness.

The sound of the buggy wheels had died away, when Father joined Mother where she stood. The house was silent in the shadow, the windows in darkness, for the revels were over. The occasional echo of a voice floated to them from a distance, or a straggling rocket shot into the air, burst and fell; but presently sound died from the fields and road, as the last revellers departed. Mother had huddled to Father's shoulder; his arm had strayed to her waist. The two old faces were indistinct in the shadow. The two aged lovers were thinking of their youth. Their minds travelled back together picking up old page 240 incidents, forgotten chains, remembering foolish wisdoms, and wise follies, and all the resources of their innocent affection. The weight of Janet grew heavier against Tom's shoulder, the grip of his arm firmer about her waist. They had had their divisions, their separate ambitions, infinitely great or infinitely small, according to the standard of the world outside their world; but an invisible cord bound them always each to each, in spite of contraries. They understood each other. They had no need for words. There had been no disillusion; neither had changed to the other; each was still the other's belief. With one mind they dwelt upon the epoch of their lives—their child late given; then Janet, quoting for the first time in her life, expressed the thought of both:

“'And the reapers reaped,
And the sun fell, and all the land was dark.’”

Later, the woman turned over dainty and small garments in a lavender-scented closet, and sang her old song abstractedly:

“'Heigh, oh! daisies and buttercups,
Fair yellow daffodils, stately and tall;
When the wind wakes how they rock in their grasses,
And dance with the cuckoo-buds slender and small!
page 241 Here's two bonnie boys, and here's mother's own lasses,
Eager to gather them all.’”

And David lay by the meadow gate, with his shamed face hidden in the tussock grass.

A hundred miles away Professor Stanton quoted, with smiling lips:

“'I have led her home, my love, my only friend,
There is none like her—none.’”