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A short story by Josephine Daskam Bacon

The Farm By The Forest

Title:     The Farm By The Forest
Author: Josephine Daskam Bacon [More Titles by Bacon]

It was years afterward, and in October, the very climax of a late and lingering autumn, that I sat by my friend one afternoon in the ripe orchard and knew suddenly that we were going to speak of one of those strange experiences of hers that, for me, set her more effectually apart from others than any of her many and varied gifts and graces. As before, we fell into the matter suddenly, with no warning, and at a light question from me the like of which I must have asked her many times with no such answer as I then got.

All about us lay the windfalls, piled evenly, rich heaps of sunset colour. The better fruit gleamed through the boughs like fairy lamps and great ladders leaned against these on which the men climbed, picking carefully. Below them the maidservants, laughing and excited at this pleasant change of labour, handed the baskets and filled the gaping barrels. And up the ladders and through the trees and among the tinted heaps raced and played the children of the house, sniffing the heady flavour of the rich fruit, teasing the maids, cajoling the men, staggering under the heavy baskets, pelting each other, even, with the crimson and yellow globes, bringing each specially large and perfect one to their mother for congratulation. She, stopping for the moment her strange, jewelled embroidery, that alone would have marked her for an artist of high powers, would lean over each boy and girl, murmuring her praise, soothing in the same breath the unlucky ones who had not found the most gorgeous fruit, warning the men not to trouble the yet unready apples, quieting the maids if they grew too boisterous, an eye and an ear for everyone and everything.

As the lowering sun struck full on the nearest heap of red and gold, and turned the russet fruit on the bough to bronze nuggets wrapped in leaves of wonderfully wrought jade, a sudden thought tempted me and I spoke quickly, glancing slyly at her calm, contented face.

"Look at that colour!" I said, "does it not cry out to you to be painted? Does it not make you remember that spring orchard of yours that everyone praised so, and from which the great Master predicted your future? Would you not like to escape from all this pleasant, tiny bustle, this network of ceaseless demands upon your hands, your heart, your brain, and once again attack a real work?"

She looked curiously at me.

"A real work?" she repeated.

"I mean an enduring work," I explained, "a thing from which you can lift your hand some day and say, 'This is done. To the best of my power it is finished. Let it stand, and judge me by it.'"

She nodded her head slowly and I saw that she was not really looking at me, though she seemed to be, but beyond me, across the splendid orchard piles, into the stacked gold of the corn far afield.

"That's it," she murmured, "that's just what I told her--'an enduring work.' And what was it she said to me? Oh! I am going again--I am partly there now! Don't you see it? Is that the Lower Orchard? Are those the gray gables of the Farm?"

Her voice thrilled strangely and her eyes were staring, vague: it was as if she hung between sleep and waking. I looked where she pointed, but it was only an enormous ledge of gray rock, curiously slanted, and I said so, softly.

"It is only a rock, broken at the gable angle, dear."

Then she faced me, herself perfectly.

"Oh, you think so?" she answered me with a smile.

The words were strange enough in themselves, but without them her manner would have taught me that she was going to speak of stranger things yet, and I was not disappointed.

"It was just such a day as this," she began, "and the smell of the apples always takes me back, though never as strongly as now. We were in the orchard ... ah, my dear, you will tell it wonderfully well when I have told you, and many will learn as I have learned, but you can never make them see the Dame as I saw her!"

Then she told me the tale of that adventure.

* * * * *

"What you need," said her friend, the great physician, "is change. Change and rest. Where can you go and be sure of absolute quiet?"

"I cannot tell you," she said wearily, "there is always something that I must do----"

"----or think that you must do," he interrupted her.

"It is all the same," she said.

He sighed, and looked at her quietly for a long time.

"It has taken me fifty years to learn that, my dear child," said he, "and you toss it at me in a moment's talk. Since you have learned it, why are you not well and happy?"

"Since I have learned it, I can never be," she told him, and again he looked long at her.

"What is that that you are trying to do?" he asked her at last. "Think carefully and tell me in one sentence."

"I have already thought carefully," she said, "and I can tell you. I am trying to live my husband's life, which I ought not to give up, my children's life, which I must not give up, and my own life, which I cannot give up."

He looked even longer than before at her and the late sun slipped down the polished fittings of his desk and down the gilded covers of the book-filled shelves behind him. Longer than before he looked and the lines deepened in his face and his eyes seemed to grow deeper in his head as she looked back at him. At last he spoke.

"My child," he said, "if I were a poor and hungry doctor it is not to be doubted that I should give you something in a bottle and tell you to come to me again. But I am a wealthy physician and I can afford to tell you truth. I can do nothing for you. You must cure yourself, or fail to do it so completely that I shall be needed to enable you to fail again. When you have repeated this last process sufficiently, I shall no longer be thus enabled and you will die. That is all."

"Die?" said she; "I shall die?"

"You will die," he said, "with everything that the world calls good fortune in your lap. With no excuse for doing so, but with every reason to be glad that you are doing so. Leaving behind you someone who needed you and more whom you needed. Now go home and think, and before you go, drink this."

Silently he poured out for her a tiny glassful of some colourless, aromatic liquid and in silence she drank it and left the room, where the dying sun glinted upon the gilded books. It seemed to her that he touched a bell on the desk with his hand, and though the cordial had already begun to affect her head strangely, she was able to observe that it was in answer to this bell that his office nurse appeared at the door as she reached it and put a steadying arm behind her.

"Come this way," said the nurse, "and sit a moment; do you feel a little dizzy?"

"A little," she answered, and her voice seemed to come from far away; "I am afraid that drink was stronger than it should have been ... if I could sit down ... the doctor...."

She knew that the nurse was helping her to a couch in a tiny room she had never been in before; she knew that she sank upon it and that the nurse settled her upon a bright crimson cushion; she heard her soothing murmur and nodded to show that she was not alarmed, only vexed at her own weakness, and then she ceased to struggle with the overwhelming drowsiness that oppressed her, and slept.

When she woke it was dark in the room. In the street the electric lights glowed, and the people passed steadily by the window; was it midnight, she wondered, or only early dusk? How strange that the doctor and the nurse had forgotten her!

"But, of course he would not have wished me waked," she said, and rose, straightened her dress, waited a moment, and then pulled impatiently at an old-fashioned bell-rope that hung by the door. There was no answer. Again she rang, but the house lay dark and silent. A little housemaid with brown, startled eyes, came at last, just as she was beginning to grow alarmed at the darkness and stillness, and stared at her.

"Was it you that rang, madam?" asked this little housemaid; "the doctor is out: he will not be back to-night."

"And the nurse?" she inquired, vexed at this lack of thought of her.

"The nurse has gone long ago, madam, for the night."

A flood of nervous anger broke over her.

"How disgraceful!" she cried; "how unkind! To leave me here like this! What time is it, pray?"

"It is very late, madam; I could not tell you the hour."

The little housemaid yawned and pressed her tumbled cap straight.

She bit her lips to keep herself from angry tears and rushed through the heavy street door, down the stone steps, out upon the pavement. Angrily she sped along, brushing by the people, who, in turn, stumbled rudely against her. The jostling crowd brimmed her eyes; she walked as one in a mist.

"How cruel everyone is to me!" she whispered to herself and walked faster. Suddenly a thought came to her. Where was she going? Surely she ought not to attempt to walk all the way to her home, so late at night? She must call a carriage. She fumbled vaguely in the little bag at her wrist, but no purse was there; only a few small coins.

"I must get into a street-car," she thought dully, and just then a noisy, lighted street-car rushed toward her on a cross-street and she entered it as it stopped to take in a group of workmen. They shouldered by her roughly, and one of them laid his greasy bundle half upon her lap; she shrunk into a corner. She held out her coin to the brisk collector, but he passed her by, took one from all of the others, and left her, shaking, haunted by a nameless dread.

"Here is my fare!" she called to him, but he, whistling, left her in her corner.

She hid her face in her hands and tried to control her whirling thoughts, but her brain raced like a mill stream and her legs shook under her trailing skirt. All too late she remembered that her carriage was waiting for her at the doctor's: she ought not to have rushed into the street. She was giddy and confused, and knew that her mind was the mind of one in the grip of fever. On and on the street-car rumbled; one by one the workmen brushed by her and got out.

"Have I been here hours or minutes?" she wondered, but dared not speak.

Now she was alone in the car. She peered through the window and saw that it was passing over water; the lights blurred in the dark, shining mirror below.

"Oh, this is wrong! I should never have come this way!" she moaned, and knew that she was lost, lost and alone.

When she dared look through the window again the water was gone, and she felt the motion of the car to be slower. Soon it had stopped. Trembling, she rose from her corner and walked unsteadily to the door.

"Will you kindly tell me where we are? I have made a mistake," she said to the man who had refused to take her money.

He looked at her and spoke to his companion.

"I suppose we're booked for the usual half-hour wait, Jim," he said; "I don't see any green light."

She cried aloud and rushed out of it.

"I think I am mad!" she wept. "I wish I had died with my head on that crimson cushion! What will happen to me? That cruel doctor will have killed me!"

"What is it, madam? Can I help you?"

A soft voice spoke close to her and she grasped the arm of a slender, girlish creature who turned two brown, startled eyes up at her. Now it was for joy that she wept, and clung to the girl, whom her confused brain took to be the brown-eyed housemaid who had spoken to her last.

"Indeed, indeed, you can help me!" she cried. "I am lost--I have come into the country, it seems, a long way, in a terrible street-car where no one would speak to me, and I ought to be in the city, in my home, for I am afraid I am very ill: I seem to be in a sort of fever. Do you know where we are? I have never been here. When will it be day?"

"Very soon, madam," said the little maid, supporting her firmly for all her slenderness, "and I know well where we are. Come home with me; Karen and I plan to be at the Farm by daybreak."

She looked, and there beside them stood a tiny donkey, saddled with a sort of leather chair, and almost at the level of his rough, thin shoulder stood a great sleek-coated hound.

"Let me help you into the saddle, madam," the little maid went on, "and you will find how well you sit there. I am very strong, and I can walk beside."

As in a dream she let the girl half lift her into the seat, and the donkey walked easily along, the hound stepping nobly by them, his mistress leading the sure-footed beast.

There were no lights but the great moon and the kindly little stars, and no streets but narrow lanes, winding through feathery maples and stocky oaks that would be sulphur-yellow and iron-red with the sun behind them, but were now only their own whispering ghosts.

"This must be far from the city," she said softly, and the little maid answered:

"I do not know, madam; I was never there. We have come far, Karen and I, but not from the way you were running. We are going to the Farm to help in the orchard. The Dame sent for me and father always wishes to oblige the Dame. So we came at once."

"And can you send someone back with me?"

"I do not know, madam. The Dame will take care of it."

"I will pay whatever is right--I am not poor," she muttered, holding to one side of the saddle.

"The Dame will know, madam," the little maid repeated, and they went on their way under a lightening sky, for the dawn was coming up white, and even now the moon was paling.

She had no way of telling how long that journey was, for more than once her head nodded forward on her breast and she knew that she fell into a kind of sleep that was not wholly sleep, for she was aware of the little donkey's gentle gait, of the winding, leaf-strewn paths, of the winking stars. Once they went through a bit of rolling pasture-land where the cattle drowsed, dim, misty bulks on either hand, and the steaming breath of a curious horse bathed her startled face. He galloped away and his hurrying feet woke her to the sense that the dawn was upon them. The light was now a pale rosy glow and straight from its heart a beaming arrow struck upon a long brown gable that she took for one of the great ledges of massive rock that time and again had risen beside them. But the little maid knew better, and skipped beside the hound.

"See, madam," she cried, "here is the Farm! And there is my little window in the roof! And there are the doves above the long barn."

She looked and saw that all these things were so, but great weariness filled her and she could think of nothing but the long way back, for she knew that they had come a great way from the city.

"This may all be well for you, child, but it is not the same to me," she said sadly.

"And why not, madam? The Dame is kind to all," the little maid replied, and urged the donkey on.

"What is your name?" she asked, looking for the first time at her guide in the full light of early day. The girl was quaintly dressed, she saw, with a black bodice laced across her young body, a shorter skirt than grown girls wear now, and a scarlet ribbon twisted among the long, dark braids that hung down her shoulders. She had travelled much in older countries than her own and to her eyes this girl had the air of a winsome little peasant that knew her simple station and was happy in it.

"Joan is my name, madam--and I have been told that the miller's Dyrk has called the new brown foal for me--the finest one at the Farm!" she said with a bubble of laughter.

"Now, madam, we are here at last. Let me help you down, and we will surprise the Dame for once, for not often does one catch her asleep. She will be the first always--and here she is!"

They were in the very dooryard of a thriving, deep-eaved farm-house. Asters glistened with dew about the doorstep, a straw-filled kennel for the great hound stood close by, the cocks welcomed in the day from behind a trim green hedge, and slowly across the back-stretching meadow came home a file of sleek, heavy-uddered cattle. She stared at them unseeing, for her head reeled, but Joan mistook her staring and began to prattle:

"You are surprised, no doubt, madam, to see the cows come in from the pasture this early, but here at the Farm the air is so dry and pure that they leave them in the fields all night, and the milk tastes of honey and meadow grass, the miller's Dyrk does say----"

"Child, child, will you never be done with your chatter? The stranger is sick--too sick, I see, to mind herself of the Farm's cows. Help me to take her in!"

"You must be the Dame," she said, and tried to look steadily at the woman who came out of the oaken door to lead her in. She was a strong, sturdy woman, neither tall nor short, with brown, smooth hair and a brown, smooth skin with red blood beneath. Her eyes were like brook water in the sun, that runs over clean pebbles, and she was deep-chested, and stood firm in her quaintly buckled shoes. She wore a chintz gown dyed with little red and yellow flowers that was looped up over the hips, and at her waist hung a bunch of heavy, wrought keys.

"Nay, now, never try to talk," she said, and put a strong arm about her drooping guest. "You are past talking, poor thing! You have done far too much--for others, I'll be bound. Rest first, and then talk after that. Help her up the stairs, now, Joan, and hush thy chatter."

"But you do not know why I am here," she murmured, leaning hard upon the black oaken rail of the polished stair.

"I know you are here, do I not?" the Dame answered quietly; "I should not get you to bed the quicker, whatever I knew. Softly, Joan; softly!"

One last effort and they stood within a long, low-beamed chamber, whose leaded panes shone no more brightly than the polished floor below them. In the centre a great posted bed reared its snowy canopy, and copper jars of water and piles of linen and other washing gear reminded her that she was unworthy of that white bed. On the deep window-sill bloomed pots of gay flowers, and the tall chairs with winged backs were covered with dim prints pictured with strange birds and lions.

"Now," said the Dame, "undress her and into the bed!"

"But I am not clean," she said; "I am dusty from the street."

"Then we will wash you clean," said the Dame. "Joan, go get warm water, child, and the great copper, and make haste with fresh sheets; Lotte will help you."

Deftly she was undressed and her chilled body was chafed and rubbed till Joan and another girl came staggering under a great copper bowl a yard wide. They filled it with steaming water which, as she crouched in it, the Dame poured over her shaking shoulders.

"How white she is," the girls whispered; "how soft her skin must be!"

"Run Lotte," cried the Dame, "and bring me the ruby cordial from the cordial-room, and you, Joan, get the little copper pannikin and heat that bit of broth by the hob and warm the bedgown with the lace your mother made for me!"

The ruby cordial was poured into the bath and a sweet and penetrating odour filled the room. It seemed that her bones ceased to ache from that moment, and when, wrapped in the warmed gown, nestled in fragrant sheets, she sipped at the hot broth Joan held to her lips while Lotte braided her long hair, a peace she had not known fell down upon her, and pillowing her head gently she fell into a deep and restful sleep.

She was wakened by the cooing of many doves and the broad sun of middle-morning that streamed across her white bed. Her mind was as clear as the mind of a child and she laughed a little as she sprang from the great deep bed and put on the clean short petticoat and buckled shoes that lay beside it, glad that her own dusty garments were not there. She wound her long braids about her head and pinned a blue kerchief over her shoulders, then she slipped down the stairs and through the great kitchen with its twinkling pans and sanded stone floor. A woman, bent over the wide fireplace, turned her head in its white cap and spoke to her:

"Dame is in the dairy--'tis built over the brook. Perhaps you will take this with you?"

She lifted the willow-woven basket in her hand and went out through the door across the barnyard, where the doves preened themselves among the clean straw, and found the little stone house above the brook. All about her she heard the busy noises of the country morning; soft voices, men's calls, the stamping of farm horses, the clatter of the household ware, the splash of cleansing water poured, the hissing kettle; but she saw no one. It seemed to her that eyes were upon her and that pauses in the cheery bustle followed her as she walked, but whenever she stopped and tried to meet these eyes there was no one. She moved alone among the unseen workers, and yet she knew they watched her.

In the cool stone dairy the Dame stood at work, pressing and patting at the soft coloured butter. Beaded brown jars of cream were by her and great, fair pans of milk, mounds and balls of primrose-tinted butter, white cheeses wrapped in grape-leaves, clotted cream that quivered at a touch, tall pitchers of whey, loppered milk ready for the spoon and buttermilk in new-washed churns. Through the moist freshness of the stone room the brook ran, chuckling and lapping; great stones roughly mortared together made the floor on either side of it; the Dame stood high on wooden clogs and hummed a ballad wherein the birds sang in the morning, but at night the eggs were broken, and the wind was high and scattered the fledglings.

Even the freshness of her late rest in her heart, her eyes filled at the Dame's song, and often afterward she thought of it when the wind was rising.

"And did you rest well?" said the Dame to her when the song was done.

"Never so well since I was a child," she said. "I have come to thank you for all your care, and to ask you when you can send me home, for I have no idea where I am, and I am sure I have come a long way."

"A long way, indeed!" said the Dame, and looked at her strangely, but when she questioned her this busy Dame only smiled, and told her that it was good to hear of her freshening sleep but no surprise, since all made the same report of the Farm.

"It seems the air here is so pure that a few hours of it do more for the body than days of other parts of the countryside," she said, and when her visitor asked again, "But where am I?" she only answered:

"But are you not ready for your breakfast, then?"

"Indeed I am," said she, "but I fear I have come away from it, to find you."

"Nay," said the Dame, "you have brought it with you," and pointed to the basket. She opened it and spread the wheaten rolls, the jar of honey, the brown, new-laid egg and the clean, homespun napkin upon the Dame's table and ate with wonderful relish, supplying herself with sweet butter and yellow milk from the stores about her, and while she ate and the Dame worked, they talked.

"You must be very busy, Dame, to be up with the dawn," she said.

"Why, that is so," said the Dame, "but women must needs be busy, as you know well, I have no doubt."

She sighed and twisted her idle hands.

"I do not know that I can truly say I am always busy," she said thoughtfully, "but I know that I have much to do--so much that I cannot do it," and again she sighed.

"Why, that is odd," said the Dame, patting her butter; "I have so much to do that I must do it."

She knit her brows and tried to think of an answer, but the answers that came to her mind had a foolish sound as she tried them over, so she said nothing.

"The Farm lets no one rest," the Dame went on, "and you must know that everything you brought with you this morning, the willow basket, the napkin, the egg, the wheaten flour, the honey, all were made here, and that means much work for many hands."

Now this put her in mind of something she had thought of before.

"But surely this is not the usual fashion in this country," she said curiously, "nor your quaint-figured gowns, nor much else about the place, for that matter. All this labour in flax and willow and dairy-house seems like some old picture or some ancient song--who has devised it, pray?"

"Aye, we keep the old ways," said the Dame quietly; "there must be some to do it or they will be lost, I am thinking."

"But so near the city," she said, and again the Dame looked strangely at her.

"Are we so near, then?" said she.

She knit her brows and it seemed that her mind, so clear since she woke, was clouded as to all before that; only the feeling of some great trouble, some dusty hurry, some ruinous failure haunted her. Also for the first time that day she found herself afraid.

"You have not yet told me the name of this town," she said, trying to be calm.

"It is not a town, my dear, it is called the Farm," said the Dame, putting the finished rolls of butter in a brown crock; "there is no town near us."

"But there must be!" she persisted; "you are teasing me. There are always towns, and they are never far from each other in these parts."

"I do not know them, then," said the Dame, gathering her keys and leaving the dairy, "though in truth, my dear, I am a poor judge of such matters, for beyond the Farm--and it is large--I do not go, being too busy always."

"Do you mean," she cried, following through the barnyard, "that you spend all the seasons on this Farm? It is not possible!"

"And why is it not possible?" the Dame asked, looking at her for the first time a little sternly, and she saw that in spite of her smooth country skin she was a woman of middle age; "the seasons are all full. In the spring there is planting, in the summer there is picking, in the autumn there is storing, in the winter there is spinning."

Now these were simple words and plain to understand, and yet something about them troubled her greatly and she felt that she must find an answer for them or know no peace at all.

"That is all very well," she said quickly, "but you are leaving out something without which all the seasons are empty and the year a dull affair."

"And what is that, then?" asked the Dame.

"Pleasure," she said.

"I find pleasure in them all," the Dame said, "and so do those about me."

"But they are all work--they are things that must be done!" she cried, tugging at the Dame's sleeve as she crossed the kitchen threshold; "true pleasure is a thing apart--we must have both, surely."

The Dame blew a little silver whistle hanging among her keys and at once there was a bustle and a running and some dozen maids came hurrying from all parts of the rambling farm-house to hear her orders. But before she busied herself with these she spoke to her guest.

"My dear," she said, "if you come to my time of life and have not found your pleasure in your work, you will never find it in this world. Sit down and think of this."

She sat down upon a carven chest by the open window, where the asters sent out a spicy odour and the hum of bees was not too far distant, and dropped her chin into the cup of her hands and thought.

Meantime, the Dame laid out for each girl her task, not hurried nor yet slow, but so that each was started fairly.

"You, Lotte, order the cordial-room so that there is room for the new bottles and write them down in the store-book. Remember to leave no drippings nor spillings, nor do I look to see my best napkins used for this. Janet, find Big Hans and make the apple-cellar ready for the barrels. Lois, I warn you that I shall go through all the chambers soon, and if all is as well there as when last I peeped under the beds and through the panes and looked at my face in the coppers, when the shoemaker comes, after Michaelmas, there shall be a pair of trim red shoes for those busy feet, and no cost to your father. Trude, the old hen-wife has more of her aches and pains to-day, and you must feed the pullets their extra grain and see to the eggs. Elspeth, the linen is all in to-day and 'tis for you to count it. Joan, if thy sparrow's tongue can hold still for an hour, thou shalt come with me and give out the stores for the pantry and kitchen. Perhaps a bit of potted quince will hold thy teeth together. Hannah, I know, is wise and trusty, and can busy herself as I would, with no telling what and where. But I could not trust you two, Margot and Mary, and old Greta must keep you by her with the candle-work. And should she box your ears, come not into my storeroom with your cryings, but work the harder for it. You others, help in the kitchen, and make ready for the men when they are done with the apples, and hungry. If Will comes to ask about the ale, he may see me in the pantry, but I have no time for Dyrk and his accounts to-day. Nay, now, Sparrow, there is no need to pull at my skirt! 'Tis strange, indeed, that the miller's matters must always be looked into when thou art with me."

They scattered each to her work, and some sang together in rounds and catches and some were silent, but all grew quickly busy. There was but one idle, and she, ashamed of this and trying to still the fear that hung behind her thoughts, followed the fair-haired Elspeth to the linen-room and watched her lift the fragrant white matters from the deep willow crates and pile them on the deeper shelves among twists of blue lavender and strewings of old roses.

"Shall I trouble you by talking?" she asked her, and Elspeth shook her head shyly and answered:

"No, madam, except when I must count the piles, and then I will tell you."

"Do you always do this work?" she said.

"No, madam," Elspeth answered her, "the Dame will have each girl learn all manner of work, so we take it turn about. Before this I was at the washing, and beat the linen on the brook-stones--oh, it was fine to see the fresh air blow through it and sweeten all so quickly! Then Margot and Mary taught me clear-starching. Last year I tied the herbs and tended the herb-attic; I grew the rosemary and sweet-basil in my own garden, and Big Hans brought us marjoram. There is no thyme and summer savoury like the Dame's, though."

"And what does the Dame pay you for all this?" she asked.

"Each of us has a great piece of the fine weaving--enough for body-linen," said Elspeth, "and some of the coarser to lay aside for our chests; a gown and shoes at Christmas; a goose to send home at Michaelmas (and Dame always adds a good flitch of bacon--she is so generous, the Dame!) and a gold piece at Easter. When little Myrta was married she had a silk gown and a great bag of fine flour and pillows and mattress for her bed. And it is well known that Joan will have a silver porringer and spoons and the carved chest with real Damask napkins."

"And you have no sports--no games? You slave here the year round for a flitch of bacon and a bit of linen?"

"No, indeed, madam; it is not so! We are always having a treat! Why, think now: at Christmas, the holidays, the gifts, the carols and the games, with fiddler and spiced wine and all manner of cakes; at harvest, the great dance, the prizes, the ale; at Easter, the church trimming, the gold-pieces sent home and the pick of the lambs for the one that does best at Catechism (but that is the little ones); at mid-summer, the fairings----"

"And who come to these fairs?" she asked quickly.

Elspeth hung her head and coloured, glancing about as one caught in a trap.

"Enough of this nonsense!" the woman cried, upsetting the spotless linen angrily. "Tell me where I am and what game you play here! I will go myself and soon be quit of this wonderful Farm of yours and this masquerading Dame!"

"Elspeth," said the grave voice of the Dame herself, "you will be always at the talk, my child, and now you have made trouble, and you, my dear, if I were to tell you where you were, how would it help you to go elsewhere? Listen to me. Through yonder door you may go at this moment, but I advise you not to go without the great hound, for much is on the moors that is far from safe. And at the end he will only bring you here, for he knows no other way, and you would wander endlessly there."

She looked, and around the edge of the tilled land she saw mile upon mile of desolate moor. Rushing to the window at the end of the hall, she saw the pasture-land she had come through and beyond that a deep forest.

"But I came over water ..." she murmured, and the Dame said gravely:

"I know. All who come here come over water. But they do not go back over it."

Then her eyes grew wide with terror, not at the Dame's simple words, but at something strange that seemed to lie behind them, and she gave her hand to the Dame and walked quietly beside her to the orchard.

Here among the ripe fruit they sat down, the Dame busy at knitting, herself with twisted, idle hands, and she fought away her fear as she saw the stalwart men and the merry girls at work upon the clover-scented piles.

"Why am I afraid? These are simple people working--they are real; they talk and sing!" she said to herself, but her hands trembled and the high sun seemed to her more like the unreal glory of the coloured windows in some great church than the sun she knew.

Hardly was the Dame seated when two fine young boys ran toward her, struggling with each other to reach her first.

"Oh, mother, I have learned my book!" cried one, and the other, "Oh, dear mother, I can do the sum now!"

She kissed them fondly and told them she would hear them soon.

"And where are your sisters?" she asked them.

"Alda is among her doves and Grizel is coming to you for help with the hood she is knitting," said one, and the other:

"But May Ellen is with Joan down in the nut-bins, and mother, they are quarrelling about young Dyrk! Each will have it that he likes her best, the foolish things!"

"Run, then, Roger, and bring them to me," said the Dame; "they are o'er young for such quarrels. We will set them at the apples."

Now, before the Dame had gone once around her knitting she was called from it ten times. Would the Dame have them bring in the russets first? Would the Dame look to the new honey, for they dared not take off the bees alone? Would the Dame hear a sum? Would the Dame say which of two disputants had the right? Would the Dame see the miller? Would she take the pay for the gray mare? And such like questionings that left her alone not a moment.

She who sat idle plucked at the Dame's sleeve and spoke timidly to her.

"One could not work at some great matter, Dame, with so many calls aside from it, I think."

"I think so, too, my dear," the Dame answered her, "and that is why I will be knitting, which is no great matter from which to be called aside."

She bit her lip, and thought, and spoke again.

"Great laws must be made, Dame, and these who make them must keep away from these stinging gnats."

"I know that well," said the Dame, and looked straight at her, "but I, thank God, need never make great laws, but only teach my household to obey them."

She sighed, but spoke again.

"It is not only laws, Dame, but beautiful things the world over must not be disturbed in the making. You could not make a great picture or a great song with Roger and Grizel pulling you here and there."

"And that is true, too," the Dame said, "but I need not make great songs, thank God, but only teach them to my children."

"And still there must be great songs," she said.

"And still there must be great children," said the Dame.

"I know, I know!" she cried, and pressed her hands to her forehead. "I learned that once--in a deep wood. And I have the children. But I would make great pictures, too. Not instead of the children, but with them, Dame, with them!"

"You cannot, nor any other woman," said the Dame, and turned to her knitting.

"But if I tried, if I tried ..." she pleaded.

"It is not by trying that these things are done," said the Dame coldly, "Lotte will not lift the load of russets yonder though she break her back at it, little fool. See, now she is so tired that Hans must carry both them and her."

"She is a country girl," said the pale woman, eagerly.

"Outside and inside she is made after the pattern of yourself and all other women," said the Dame, "and the one truth is true for us all."

"Good Dame," she said, after a moment, while the wagons creaked through the orchard and the girls laughed as the sun slipped lower, "what if I strove no more for greatness, but only made me little pictures to pleasure a few that love me and myself?"

"Why, as for that," said the Dame more kindly--"have a care there, Roger, you will hurt your sister if you play too roughly with her!--as for that, I can see no harm in it. Neither can I see how it should be worth any woman's while, if the thing be not great, and she knows it. It is a child's game."

"That is true," she said bitterly, "though how you should know it who pass your days on a petty farm, far from the great world, I cannot see."

"If you come to my time of life, my dear, and still think that the world is great or petty by so much as it is near a farm or far from it, you will not be having much content in your old age," said the Dame. "Now I must put my mind upon the heel of this stocking."

She wept aloud and saw now that not for nothing had she come upon this secret Farm and that in this glowing orchard she was to learn her hardest lesson. The Dame spoke again, and finally.

"Listen!" she said, "for this is the way of it. No woman living will ever do a great work who could not have borne great children, and if she can bear great children she can do no other great work. Else she would be as God Almighty, who has made both the poet and the poem, the painter and his picture. For He made it before the painter could see it. Now, go and help them with the apples, for the sun is setting and there are yet a few to gather."

She stumbled forward and threw herself upon the fragrant heaps and toiled till the breath left her, nor did she talk any more to Elspeth, who worked beside her, nor to Joan who picked behind. Her back ached and her arms wearied with their load; her legs began again to tremble and her breath came short. And all the time her brows were knotted with a teasing thought and her lips moved ceaselessly. Suddenly she rushed toward the placid Dame and fell on her knees before her.

"Oh, Dame," she cried, "must we always labour so? Can we never achieve, but must we ever do those tasks which the night will undo again? These apples will not stand for the world to see that I picked them; your dairy work is unwoven like a dream. Must it be so?"

"My dear," said the Dame, and her smile was sweeter than the sunlight through the coloured boughs, "it must be always so. Even as the day dies every night and is born with the dawn; even as the orchard leaves but to blossom and blossoms but to fruit, and all is to do another year; even as God makes the harvest for us to spoil, and smiles and makes another; so must women weave what the year will wear and wash what the day will soil. And man, her greatest work, will one day die and moulder into roses that other men shall one day pick. Our men-children finish their lovely toys and set them on the shelf, but our work is too great that we should ever finish it; it is so great that it must needs be made of many tiny matters, done now and again like the growing rains and sheltering snows. We can never be at rest--till God himself rests. Do you understand what I would be saying?"

She wept and laid her head in the Dame's lap and the yellow apples fell about her knees as she knelt. But she answered:

"Yes, dear Dame, I understand. But, oh, Dame, why is it so?"

"I do not know, my dear," answered the Dame, "but I know that we must learn it or we cannot live in the world. Now sleep, for you have been almost too long at the Farm."

She felt the Dame's strong hands upon her head, she heard the voices of the maids and the men, crying, "Sing us a song, dear Dame! Will you not sing us a song?"

Then the Dame began an old, sad ballad of a knight that loved a lady and went for her sake to fight the Pagans; but the moon rose cold over her marble tomb when he came back, and her falcon wailed beneath his hood. There was much more of this quaint sorrow and though she never could remember it she thought of it always when she walked in orchards.

Then she felt that she was being lifted, and in her dream she heard the Dame's deep voice:

"Push her through the wicket--hurry, Joan, she must be off the Farm soon or it will be too late, poor child! Is Karen saddled? Push her!--make haste, make haste! I hear the river--make haste, there! Push!"

"I will not leave the Farm! I will not!" she muttered and struggled to wake and fight with Joan. The red sun cut her opening eyes like a knife, she fought the arms that held her arms and struggled awake, staring into Joan's brown eyes.

But was it Joan? Joan wore no white cap, no tight black dress. The red glow in her eyes, was it the sun or a crimson cushion beneath her head? Whose stern, bearded lips unbent and smiled at her?

"Push, keep pushing!" he said, and raised and lowered her arms.

"Smell this, dear friend," and a strong, smarting odour filled her nostrils, so that she coughed and choked.

"That is better," said someone; "we were frightened. Why did you not tell us your heart was weaker than usual?"

The office nurse fanned her; a strong light was in her face.

"The doctor felt terribly about you--that cordial was not so very strong, he thought. You are all right, now?"

"It was Lotte that kept the cordial-room," she said vaguely, but with speaking her mind cleared and she came to herself again.

"Was I--was it for long?" she asked.

"It was longer than we liked," said the nurse; "of course, you had no idea of what was happening to you. We tried everything."

"I know that a great deal happened," she said; "let me see the doctor before I go."

[The end]
Josephine Daskam Bacon's short story: The Farm By The Forest